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maura @ 6:00 pm
Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here on this blag. The spring semester was busy, then it was time to attend not one but two commencements, then we went on a family vacation, then we had some illnesses (everyone is better now). It’s been so hot and humid that we didn’t open the windows for 4 straight weeks, though yesterday we were able to open up finally which was amazing. I’ve been slow at book reading recently but I’m all caught up on New Yorkers for the first time in maybe ever? I “cooked” some no-bake granola bars today that I’m hopeful will be a good work snack; ask me about my knife skillz (which have for sure gotten better since watching The Bear).
Everything is fine but it’s been a while since I’ve had a regular writing practice, which is starting to feel weird. There’s been the new job to get up to speed with, and alongside that my goal to keep work to worktimes and not spend too much out of work time on research/writing. Motivation for writing is definitely a challenge for me since the pandemic. My desk at home used to offer me good headspace for writing that I haven’t quite been able to get back to since 2020-2021 had me living at work. I’m still not settled on a solid exercise/meditation routine after being knocked off track by the now-not-so-new job plus last fall’s bout with covid. And all of that was before the high temps/humidity of the past month (I for sure have some kind of summer seasonal affective disorder, sigh).
I don’t have a current research project, either, though there’s one piece of writing with my research partner that we should probably wrap up. I’ve intermittently had some ideas about new research though I’ve also had some concerns about making time for a new project, especially once the new academic year begins with a few new institutional commitments on the horizon. I’m sometimes stuck on wanting to do research that will be actionable in my institution while being wary of the emotional toll that research has sometimes taken on me when actions can’t or won’t be taken. I’m past mid-career, I’m not “required” to research and write.
Perhaps the evergreen task of getting back on the blagging horse is a way back in. Perhaps it feels stranger this time around because in the past 2 years I’ve blagged (and written) less than anytime else in the prior 15 years. As I sat down to write this afternoon I also realized that I’d been neglecting my RSS reader for the past few months, and caught up on several other people’s blags, maybe that will help get me back into the groove, too.
maura @ 11:52 am
I’ve taken a few leave days this month to do some research, trying to make more time and space for getting back to my scholarship while also trying to spend down some of my huge balance of leave days before the semester starts (tomorrow!) and things get too busy (lol too late!).
Right now I’m on a big research project with a big research team that’s ramping up for data collection this spring, plus three presentations on the horizon for April, May, and June. I’ve once again fallen off the writing wagon, but in fairness to me I don’t actually have any required writing in the near term. Presentations are different — I do typically create a script for what I’d like to say, which is helpful both during the presentation and after if we’re sharing slides (I try to aim for non-wordy slides). I know I should get back to more regular blogging (and indeed I missed my scheduled week to post on ACRLog <hangs head>), which could both help fill this interstitial time and make it easier to get back to regular academic writing when that time comes round again, as it certainly will this summer when we write up the results of our spring data collection.
While I haven’t done lots of writing and while January has been busy (not just in my own little world), I’ve definitely had more time to think about my scholarship. I’ve also found myself thinking lots about the data left behind, which I blogged briefly about 7 (seven! would not have guessed it’s been that long!) years ago. In particular I’m again coming back to thinking about the photos students took in response to the prompt “the things you always carry with you.”
Students had such interesting responses to this prompt, and I wonder how those responses might be different today. Even before the pandemic I imagine there have been changes. One photo that stands out to me of a student’s communication devices includes a cellphone, digital camera, satellite radio, and portable videogaming system. That photo was taken in 2009, certainly by even 5 years later there might only be a need for one device for all of those uses: a smartphone.
But with the pandemic things have likely changed again. I know they have for me — I now have 3 different setups for the things I carry with me. For short walks around the neighborhood it’s basically phone, wallet, keys in pockets only: usually a smaller wallet with only a subset of items (no coins) and I tend to leave my car key at home because it’s bulky. For longer walks or drives or shopping I bring my regular smallish purse-like bag, which now always has hand sanitizer (in the beforetimes that lived in my backpack). And for going into work at work, which I do about 2-3 times each month (I’m lucky to be close enough to walk), my regular backpack setup has also had a few changes. I bring two full water bottles because there’s no regular water delivery in the library right now (and no water fountains in the library either). I’ve moved the items I need to get into the building — college ID, a pen to sign in, my office keys — and the bottle of hand sanitizer to an outside pocket, to make it easier to manage showing ID plus the covid19 certification app on my phone to the security guard at the college entrance. I usually stop briefly at the bench outside the library’s entrance to get myself ready to go in, it’s a much different process now than the old swipe-card access we used to have.
I’m still so fascinated by those data, the photos students took, memorializing their material culture in 2009-2011. I’m just not sure what to do with that fascination, how to think and write about it. Which maybe makes it a good low stakes writing project for me to tackle — what could I do with that data, other than leave it behind?
maura @ 6:47 am
Wow September, where did you go? Into the manuscript for the edited book that my research partner and I delivered to the publisher last weekend, is the real answer. But wow, everything is so much right now, and September was no different. Work is extra busy, home is extra busy, the world continues to fall apart at what feels like extra busy speed (though I realize that much of this perception of speed is the result of the instantaneous notification that comes from our pocket computers).
It’s still weird to me to finish up a big project. The sort of let-down feeling is less so now than with the last book, I think because this semester is already so much busier than this time last year. But the feeling like I’m out of words is the same. How many words do we get? I wrote or cowrote lots of things on sabbatical, are my words used up? Will they come back?
This time around I acutely felt the slowdown in reading that happened as I got closer to the book’s deadline. This feeling was also exacerbated by sabbatical: during sabbatical I had enough time to do my research work + writing and to read a bunch each day (as I blogged about on one of the sabbatical side projects I worked on with a colleague). But once I was back to work and counting down to our deadline it got harder and harder to allocate the brain space needed to read in addition to doing everything else. I left off in the middle of a couple of nonfiction books that were especially challenging, but even fun light reading before bed usually had me falling asleep over the book.
I’m looking forward to finishing those books and starting new ones. And I’m hoping that reading more will help the words come back for writing, too.
maura @ 10:22 am
I am on sabbatical. This is day 5. It’s weird and lovely and a bit scary.
Last week was a whirlwind of prepping for being out of the library for six (6!) months, a blur of writing up report-type documents and submitting paperwork and answering emails and moving my computer into the conference room so my colleague who’s interim chief can be in my office. I also came down with a bad head cold, and while I did stay home a bit there was too much to do to stay home as much as I would have had I not been about to go out on leave.
(Phew, that last sentence was messy. I need to get back to writing daily, I’m creaky and out of practice.)
Yesterday was a snow day. In some ways sabbatical is like a permanent snow day, but since not only the K-12 schools but also the university was closed yesterday I did treat it as a real snow day. My ideal snow day routine is some fun reading (check), some cross-country skiing in the park (check) and some research-related work (check). It was nice to have the chance to use my eyes on nature and take a break from the relentless awful news.
This week I’m letting myself ease into things. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m getting caught up on sleep (to the extent that the relentless awful news allows). I went to a workshop about a digital publishing platform I’d like to learn, I spent some time making plans for my research and writing projects in the always-inspiring Rose Reading Room at the NYPL, and I’m meeting today with colleagues to reactivate my recently-neglected research on games and learning.
I’m not used to having this much autonomy over how I spend my time. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I started keeping a rough log of where my work time goes, using the three broad categories of librarianship, research, and service. My main reason for tracking my time was to dispel any internal false narratives that can crop up all too easily when I’m busy. I can’t complain to myself that I never have enough time for research if my log shows that I spend 5-10 hrs each week (depending on the time of year) outside of regular work hours on my research. Which it did.
Now my time is 100% research. I do still need a plan and a schedule, especially with several different deadlines over the next six months (and beyond). But do I still need a log? I’m not sure. I imagine I’ll have to wait a bit to see what my internal sabbatical narrative turns out to be.
maura @ 10:27 am
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. I think this is the longest gap in posting since I started blagging 11 years ago. Whoa. </Keanu voice>
The quiet is not for lack of writing, though. I’ve written many words in 2016, just not here. It’s been my busiest writing year yet, I think. Two book chapters, 1 chapter proposal, 4 conference proposals, 1 (possibly, still not 100% sure about it) book proposal, 7 library blog posts. And one book, a whole book, co-written with my research partner. It’s in the publisher’s hands now — the ebook version should be out by the end of the year.
I miss blagging here, hoping to get back to a more regular practice now that the big book deadline is past. And I’m thinking about next projects, too. It’s been strange to be suddenly finished with a project that’s been such a huge part of my life this year. I’m cheered (and proud of myself) that I’ve been able to successfully create a habit of 1 hour of morning writing before work every weekday.
I’m also grateful to have the weekends back, especially with this morning’s finally Fall weather. Time to get to it.
maura @ 5:48 pm
This semester is all about deadlines for me, so many deadlines. In addition to the usual work stuff, the chief librarian stuff and department chair stuff, I’ve started the data collection phase of a new research project as well as taken on a few new writing commitments. My research-related to do list is long right now, and I’m working through it as methodically as I can, one deadline at a time, in the evening-and-weekend spaces, slow and steady wins the race. All of it is stuff I really, really want to do, projects that feel meaningful and worthwhile and involve folks I respect and admire. But it’s a lot — after adding the most recent deadline my plate is well and truly full, and I’ve resolved not to say yes to anything else research or writing-related for the foreseeable future.
Lots of these commitments involve writing: a proposal for a book chapter, a draft of another book chapter, perhaps a small grant application, and (I hope) something even bigger looming. There’s research to do as well, both of the literature search-and-review variety and the collecting data in audio/graphical/text variety. I admit that I’ve fallen off the writing wagon again, and have found even blogging here (not to mention library-related blogging) difficult over the past year. Partly I’m sure that was just the busy-ness and challenges of the past year, though last year was also one of revising stuff that had been written/submitted and conference presenting.
This year is different — this year is about writing. I’m only planning to present at one conference this academic year and, while data collection does not = writing, it leads to writing. All of which means that I need to get back into the writing groove, back to a more regular writing practice. It’s *wrimo right now, November — that time when folks write a book or blag or academic writing or other stuff. Longtime readers may remember that I’d done NaBloPoMo several times in the past, though not since 2011. In 2012 and 2013 I did AcWriMo (thank you, blag, for remembering things that I can’t seem to).
It’s already November 7 and I haven’t signed up with any kind of tracking or accountability mechanisms for writing this month, but I have my postit note with all of the deadlines on it that reminds me of my writing goals every day. Slow and steady, let’s go.
maura @ 9:15 pm
It’s not so much that I’ve been writers blocked, exactly. More like an inspiration desert, of sorts — lots of thoughts, but trying to get words onto paper has been difficult. It’s been a very full semester, a full year, really, full of big things both good and bad. And I’m perhaps a bit more tired now at the end of this semester than in years past.
CUNY’s fall semester goes late so I’ve still got 2 more days of work left before break, as does Gus with school. Then it’s 9 days off in a row, which sounds decadent. I have 6 books to read and 2 videogames to play and 2 tv shows to catch up on, woo! And there’s an article idea that’s been kicking around my brain for a while now that I might try to start to draft, too.
Perhaps extra sleep will help me come out on the other end of the inspiration desert. But in the meantime, here are some random recent photos from my phone.
Graffiti from the staircase at work, in one of the classroom buildings. Why indeed?
Graffiti from East Williamsburg across the street from the new gym where Gus does parkour. It’s right near the beginning of the Newtown Creek and is pretty industrial, lots of low warehousy buildings. There must be some kind of understanding with street artists and the building owners because the graffiti is AMAZING, seriously complex and gorgeous. The first time I drove Gus over there I almost crashed the car from all of my neck craning, and I see something new every weekend it seems.
The Lego research scientists set was back in stock for like 1 day, and I got one! Kind of amazing, actually — I just happened to be on twitter in the 10 minutes I had between meetings at exactly the right time, and ordered one up right then and there. Funny, too, as I haven’t been on twitter much lately, just unable to keep up even using my old strategy of scrolling through quickly as I walk between meetings. So many meetings, the mind boggles.
Anyway, not that I need any more stuff in my life, what grown lady does? But women in science toys FTW! And I can always bring it to work to decorate my office, right?
EDITED TO ADD: What slays me is the support strut under the dinosaur skeleton. I mean, that’s not necessary to make the legos structurally sound, but it is totally necessary for a real life dino skeleton in a museum. Swoon.
maura @ 9:37 am
By now everyone has seen the news about Amtrak’s writing residency trips, right? It’s been all over mah twitterz, though since I (unsurprisingly) follow a whole pile o’ academics* and journalists and other writerly folks perhaps that’s just me. There was this article about the joys of writing on trains,** then this one about the practicalities of the whole residency thing. Both are fascinating.
* Shocking, I know, that academics would even use twitter, because we don’t like to talk to anyone but ourselves. Nope, we don’t blog in multiple places or have websites for our research projects or send op-eds to the Times (to get rejected) or nothing, why would you think that? </Kristof rant>
** Though I have to say, her trip on the Lake Shore Limited sounded much more pleasant than when Jonathan and I took the train to Chicago many (eep, more than 15?!) years ago. That’s the sleeper car for you — 18 hrs (one-way, with delays) in the cheap seats was, at times, somewhat unpleasant.
I am, as regular readers know, a huge fan of both train travel and writing on trains. When I think about the writing I’ve done in the past almost-6 (next month!) years since I’ve been a full-time librarian + professor, what I’ve written on train trips stands out. It was on one of our 9 hour Amtrak odysseys to northern Vermont to visit family that I wrote the very first IRB application for what ended up being our huge (because we couldn’t stop collecting data, it was so interesting) research project on how commuter college students do their academic work. I took the train to DC and back a few years ago for a conference, and wrote several blog posts and other small things. And the first book proposal that emerged from the aforementioned research project was also (partially) written on the train, when I took a trip up to Saratoga Springs for another conference. Last month I took the train to Delaware for a family thing and also got lots of writing work done, this time on the theory part of chapter 1 of the book, which was particularly challenging to write. The train helped.
I love writing on trains for all of the same reasons the author of the Paris Review piece does. Travel by train is so pleasant, compared to other forms of travel, that it seems to free up more mental space to accomplish other things. Perhaps most importantly (though also perhaps most difficult to describe), there’s the suspended animation dreamtime aspect of train travel. The time component is critical: with a set amount of time to write, it’s easier to write (that’s why people use pomodoros and all of those other writing strategies). Also, on a train you are physically moving forward: if you get stuck or need to take a break it’s easy to look out the window and let the pleasant scenery rush through your brain and unstick you. On the quiet car it is even more awesome, because there tend to be other folks who are writing (and as the students who participated in our study were quick to tell us, it’s easier to work when the people around you are working too).
All of which has me wondering when my next train trip will be. Really I’d love for us never to fly or drive again when we travel anywhere east of the Mississippi river, but unfortunately train travel is still a smidge too expensive for that to happen in all cases (esp. the sleeper car, and esp. now that the kid is big enough that he’d need his own room). But it’s worth researching for sure.
maura @ 9:08 pm
So as it happens, the hardest thing about writing a book isn’t the writing part. That sounds kind of snotty — like “Oh, writing is so easy for me, I just sit down at the computer and the words stream out of my head through my fingers and onto the screen. And they are awesome amazing words that are perfect the first time.” That never (well, okay, very very rarely) happens — writing is hard work, sometimes very hard. I do all the things that everyone tells you to do: take it bird by bird, keep your butt in the chair for a set amount of time, outline, prewrite, shitty first draft, keep the argument in mind, track of my progress to help motivate me, revise revise revise, etc. But the thing about writing is that, while it’s hard work, at this point I’m old enough and have written enough that it’s hard work that’s known. I know it’s difficult to write a book, but I also have a good sense of the steps and tasks required. It’s challenging — sometimes very challenging — but not an unknown entity.
This is in contrast to trying to find a publisher and get a contract for the book. Which, it turns out, has been really really really hard. Since this is my first book, of course my utter lack of experience with this type of academic publishing is certainly one reason for our difficulty. But there are other likely causes too. Our book isn’t just about libraries, but about commuter students doing their academic work in lots of places. So we’ve sent proposals to university presses rather than library publishers both because they seemed like a better fit and because we’d like the book to be distributed more widely than seems likely with library publishers. It’s been a struggle to figure out how to pitch the book, too, because it’s interdisciplinary and occupies a space that doesn’t seem to have many other published studies. We’re using anthropological methods and theories, but we’re studying higher education, and we do have recommendations/strategies to suggest. So it’s not pure research but not pure policy either. I also think, which has been hard to admit as a recovering academic snob, that we’ve probably aimed too high thus far, sending proposals to fancy university presses that are frankly a stretch for faculty at a public commuter university.
The most frustrating thing about the book thing as opposed to the journal thing is the deafening silence with which proposals are sometimes greeted. I think we’ve finally figured out how to get a better response, which is to send our two-page project overview as an inquiry rather than a full proposal. But it’s taken us a long time to get here. And academic book proposals are MASSIVE — honestly I think the first one we sent in (via postal mail, also not unusual) was over 100 pages including the sample chapters. And when you send something that massive, even the relatively easy ones to those presses that accept submission via email, and don’t ever hear anything back, even after following up, sometimes multiples times… Sigh. I know university presses are strapped — as a librarian, I’m probably more familiar with the contraction of the market for academic monographs than are many faculty in other departments. But it sucks to send a huge number of words that you worked really hard on out into the unresponsive ether.
I’ve also probably slowed us down a bit, too. In my perfect dream world our book would be published open access and freely available to anyone who wanted to read it. We’re working on a website to accompany the book to showcase some of the visual data from the project, and it’d be great if it were easy to connect the two, to go back and forth between them. But books are not articles, and for lots of reasons there just aren’t that many OA monograph publishers yet, especially in the social sciences (things are starting to pick up in the humanities). And we want to go through both peer review and editing, so self-publishing is out. So I think my focus on OA has led us to be too conservative in sending out proposals so far.
Which will change. We’ve revised our original plans somewhat to give the book a tighter focus, and are almost finished with a full draft of the manuscript. We’ve identified some presses that seem like less of a stretch and we have our project overview to send along as an inquiry (along with an offer to send a full proposal). I’m trying to concentrate on looking forward to contacting new presses, as well as the excitement of being almost! finished! with the entire manuscript, and the opportunity to work on the website in earnest once that happens. But it’s hard work with an uncertain ending. Hard hard hard.
maura @ 9:15 am
Hi blag. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Already the end of December, nearly the new year. I’ve written post after post in my head for over a month now, unable to find slash make the time to get the words out. November was busy (including with lots of scholarly kinds of writing, though not quite as much as I’d hoped), and Thanksgiving was late which lent the whole kid’s birthday + xmas prep a bit more urgency this year, given the time constraints.
Of course the thing about not writing is that with every day you don’t write it’s easier to not write the next day. Or the day after. &tc. And that’s how the not writing becomes a routine, much more comfortable and cozy than even the best writing routine. Because inaction is always easier. This is hardly the worst dry spell I’ve ever had, but it feels yucky nonetheless because I know it’s not for lack of material or even, strictly speaking, lack of time. Yeah, I’m busy, but there’s always time for a bit of writing every day, even if only 30 minutes.
This time around it’s most definitely the blahs that have been slowing me down. Nothing huge, really, but lots of little things adding up. We still haven’t had any bites on our book proposal.* I took on a service commitment at work that’s taken up considerably more time than I’d anticipated. A couple of our household appliances went belly up and it’s taken more cognitive effort than I anticipated to incorporate the new ones into my usual chores routines. Lots of my favorite items of clothing have finally worn out, and clothes shopping is one of my least favorite things ever.
*Lest I seem too mopey about this I should note that when we were at a conference last month we spent a long time hashing out a new book strategy, and we’re definitely on a more productive path now. So a new round of proposals should be ready to go out soon, yay!
And there have been some maybe not so little things too. A colleague in another department died; while he wasn’t a young man, it was still very sudden and sad. A dear friend’s parent died too, not suddenly at all but no less sad. I also learned that a colleague in a different department who I respect very much is leaving the college for another position, a big loss for the students and the college.
In addition to the mental reasons there’ve also been some physical reasons for the blahs. Over the fall I started having persistent neck and shoulder tingling and pain, I think related to something I pulled or strained last winter while shoveling snow. Dr visits + testing revealed that I have 2 herniated discs in my neck, hooray. *Not* hooray at all, really annoying, actually. So I’m going to physical therapy and trying to be careful not to slouch or look down much. Which is a pain in the ass, frankly, because it’s difficult to write (or read!) without looking down.
So, back on the wagon with me, though perhaps climbing on a bit more slowly than before. Aging, sigh.