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maura @ 2:39 pm
It’s been a quiet Spring ’round these parts, not really intentionally. The semester was busy, book writing is a slow business, we’ve had some proposals rejected (though have also sent out some that are still under consideration), I finished my junior faculty research leave time. Nothing super huge, but enough to keep me kind of mopey. Plus it rained and rained, and while I prefer cooler weather to heat I seem to be growing more susceptible to prolonged cloudiness as I age. Mope mope mope.
But now it’s July, the kids are out of school, and summer’s begun in earnest. We took a brief vacation to Montreal over the weekend and the combination of mostly ignoring the interwebs for 4 days + reading a leisure (if nonfiction) book + plenty of time in the car to space out while looking at the green hilly landscape has helped clear some of the cobwebs out of my head. There’s lots of writing I want to do this summer, both finishing the book (contract or no contract!) as well as finishing another article I’m working on with colleagues and starting on a couple (perhaps several?) of other articles with other colleagues. I’ve apparently been unintentionally hoarding vacation days, too, and since we don’t have any long trips planned for the summer I’m going to take a bunch of them as writing days, in whole or in part. Though since they’re vacation days (like today, actually), the rule is that I’m not allowed to beat myself up if I don’t get as much work done as I think I should. Any work on the book counts, even if only an hour.
Writing begets writing for me — as I always have to remind myself — so I’m going to try to up the posting levels here as well this summer. Striving for daily blags, even if only a few hundred words (like today, actually). Maybe just for July, maybe the whole summer, we’ll see. Butt in chair, smashing words together, all summer long. Go!
maura @ 9:58 pm
The most surprising thing about the aging process is how it goes through phases of happening all at once. When I turned 40 a few years ago it seemed like no big deal, 40, phhfft, who cares? Things are the same, of course they’re the same, why wouldn’t they be the same? But gradually it’s settled in: aging, it’s for real. All of a sudden my hair is grayer,* my eyes don’t like contact lenses anymore,** and to make matters worse far-sightedness has been added to my near-sightedness, what the what? Of course this is probably only surprising to me — I guess I’d never really read or thought much about the humdrum practicalities of the far side of forty.
* I actually don’t mind the gray at all, never have, though I will cop to a smidge of worry about the nonconformist nature of many of the gray strands. We’ll see how anarchic things get — worst case scenario I will finally have an excuse to see how it looks short, which hasn’t been the case for a long long time.
** After almost 30 years, how could they betray me like that? I used to wear them for 18 hours straight, to a smoke-filled late-night concert, and put them right back in after just a few hours of sleep. And now I can’t wear the plastic see-helpers for more than about 6 hrs at a time. This summer I need to find a good optometrist and explore some options, I think.
Today was another aha moment. Last night I was up late, very late (for me), til about 1am, and I had a touch of the awesome (not) early morning insomnia today so up at 6. And as it turns out, the occasional night of 5 hours of sleep is no longer really feasible if I want to have a productive day. Today was slow. Slooooooooooow. I kept drinking coffee, and it kept not helping. I had a candy bar, because I deserved it. No sugar rush. No rushing of any sort, more like padding down a hallway in soft slippers.
It wasn’t the kind of crushing, I-could-fall-asleep-at-any-moment kind of tiredness that hits you when you’ve done lots of exercise or travel or that kind of thing. It was more the blanket-of-muffle kind of tiredness. Everything seemed a little bit unreal, like I was behind glass. Everything took longer, far loooooonger than usual. It’s not that I didn’t get anything done — I walked Gus to school, finished and crossed a bunch of stuff off my list at work, even went to a meeting. It’s more that I kept losing focus and spacing out, then snapping back to attention.
Today was my least meeting-laden day this week so I’m a little bit sad about this, though not too sad, because I just can’t work up the energy for that. But last night’s waking excess was for a good cause: I’m happy to report that Chapter 6 is drafted and in my research partner’s hands, woo! And that’s worth all the spaciness and wasted coffee money for sure.
maura @ 9:09 am
I’m having a lot of trouble writing lately, most specifically writing chapter 6. Partly I think it’s that chapter 6 is the last chapter in section 1 of the book and in the big outline we did at the very beginning of planning the book it was the most fuzzy chapter in that section. The chapter (which we’ve tentatively titled “Fitting It All In”) begins with a discussion of how the students we talked to manage their time. This is a pretty straightforward writing task: grab the data (student quotes) from the relevant codes, pick the best quotes to include and write expository text around them. Not that it’s nothing — writing is never nothing — but it’s easier than the rest of the chapter.
Because chapter 6 also needs to pull together the threads from chapters 2-5 into a coherent discussion of the scholarly ecosystem of undergraduates, highlighting the overall themes of place, tools, and time. And chapter 6 also needs to set up section 2 of the book: a deep dive into student work on research-based assignments which will demonstrate the way the strategies and constraints discussed in section 1 are expressed in a particular type of academic work. And there are other sources to pull in, too, from other studies like ours and from the literature on student engagement and anything else that might be relevant.
Part of the block is my standard internal whining about having enough time to work. Why is writing so hard, why does it take so long, why can’t I sleep less and write more, etc. etc. etc. I’m still looking back at January with regrets, which is silly, really, because despite losing the first week of the month to illness I was still able to finish the shitty first draft of chapter 5 on MLK Day. But then work got very busy and I took a week break from the book and I’m having trouble revving my brain up again. I’m back to taking RT on two mornings each week and it should be enough, has been enough: 3 hours if I can get my act together enough to start just before 8 (I have to leave at 11 to get into work by 11:30). Three hours is nothing to sneeze at, and yet I’m moping around like a teenager bemoaning how there’s just not enough time, oh woe is me. (Ironic, isn’t it, since time is the framework for chapter 6?)
More than anything I think I’m psyching myself out about chapter 6 doing all the things and being perfect and amazing and OMG the best thing ever written about anything ever!!! Which is silly. It doesn’t need to be any of that. It’s not a heavy lift; it’s the same as the rest of the book. It just needs to tell our students’ stories and suggest strategies we think could help them succeed despite the constraints they face. That’s it. The students we interviewed shared so much with us, I just need to make sure their voices are heard.
Writing is slow work, even the easier bits. Back to the best writing advice ever, from Anne Lamott: keep my butt in the chair for three hours. And sometimes it’s okay to write 500 blog words before settling down to write book words.
maura @ 10:27 am
It’s hard for me to fathom that the fall semester ended yesterday. Ended? Hadn’t it just started? (Tho I’m of course pleased that the world didn’t end, no thanks to you, ancient Mayans). This semester has been strange and odd and speedy in so many ways; even before the hurricane it seemed like everyone I ran into was just a tad crazed, a little more stressed than usual. For us it was settling into the new middle school schedule in September, the usual collision of lots of work stuff in October (getting into the busiest time for instruction, plus Open Access Week), then the hurricane, which knocked me for a loop in more ways than I expected. The week off for Gus and almost-week for City Tech made the rest of the semester run slightly off the rails: it seemed like homework was just piled on for Gus, and plans at work slightly skew and thus more difficult. There was travel — to an old pal’s wedding in October, to a conference upstate in November, to Delaware for Thanksgiving — and there were visitors — another old pal for the weekend and my brother the following weekend, both in December. The terrible tragedy in Newtown, about which I still don’t know what to say (and there’s plenty already being said so I’ll leave it at that). The holidays approach(ed) ever more rapidly with their associated planning and preparations.
All of this has left me feeling a bit more… not even sure of the right word here…blurgh? than usual for this time of year. Perhaps tired (well, certainly tired), but also quiet and reflective. I didn’t blog much this semester, either here or on the other spaces where I write. Part of the reason for that is the book, which continues to chug along at a semi-respectable pace. AcWriMo ended in a similar place to its midpoint: while I did achieve my overall time goal, I feel like I could have written more. But not to beat myself up too much: Chapters 1 and 3 (of 10, we think) are completely finished, Chapter 2 is a complete shitty first draft, and by the time I go to sleep on xmas eve Chapter 4 will be too (she typed confidently). Which is nothing to sneeze at, for sure.
Still, I feel the ghosts of unwritten blog posts hovering over me a bit. I started something on the train up to Saratoga Springs for the conference in November that I haven’t had a chance to finish. I have a photo of a game that I’ve intended to blog about, and brief notes on a handful of other more academic-y posts. Giving all of my writing energy to the book means that our project website has been dormant. I wrote and rewrote a post in my head about music several times this fall, starting with a love letter to Heavenly, one of my favorite bands, and Tender Trap, whose record I bought right away after reading my friend Steve’s review in the Guardian and which made me listen to Heavenly (and Tender Trap, though sometimes their kids singing at the end of “Love is Hard Enough” makes me tear up a bit) nearly nonstop this semester (when I wasn’t writing to Orbital), and ending earlier this month with a complete Talulah Gosh immersion because of the Guardian article that refers to them as overachievers. I must’ve listened to Rock Legends: Volume 69 about a hundred times this month, and every time it still surprises me that “My Best Friend” isn’t followed by Felt’s “The Day the Rain Came Down” (which it was on an old mixtape I made in the early ’90s).
Now I’ve got ten (10!) days off in a row, which seems slightly unreal, how is that even possible? And not that there’s nothing to do in those 10 days, there sure is (especially the next 3). But I’m giving myself a whole week off from the book, so I hope that things get a little more active in these non-book writing spaces, too.
maura @ 4:36 pm
It’s just past the midpoint of this month, so I thought this would be a good time to publicly report on my AcWriMo progress. To switch up my usual style, let’s report on the bad news first, then the good.
The bad: I’ve definitely hit the meat of my goal, that is, if you add up all of the hours I’ve spent working on the book so far this month they will average out to more than 2 hrs/day. But I feel like I’m trading on a technicality when I say that, because what I really wanted was to do with my AcWriMo was at least 2 hrs of work on the book EVERY SINGLE day, and more on the days when I could. But this month has been nonstop in so many ways: it’s the busiest time of the semester even in years when there’s not a hurricane. Last week I worked til 8:30pm on two nights and I still feel tired. I’ve found myself doing a bunch of less-than-2-hr days and making them up on days with morning RT or using the conference travel (4 hr train trip each way!) last weekend.
The good: On the other hand, I have done an average of at least 2 hrs of work on the book each day, which is nothing to sneeze at. And I’m pleased to report that today I took the final, completed book proposal, all 133 pages (!) of it, which was lovingly printed yesterday by my amazing coauthor, and delivered it to the post office. It’s now en route to the University of Minnesota Press, woo hoo!
It’s a great feeling to have the proposal finally in the mail. Now it’s time to get back to work — Chapter 2 and Chapters 4-6 are calling my name. Having spent the past 2 weeks revising and formatting, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to writing. Shitty first drafts, here I come!
maura @ 9:58 pm
During NaBloPoMo years past it took 20 days to get to this point, but this year only 6, sigh. I’ve been chugging along with my AcWriMo goal of 2 hrs of work per day on the book and doing pretty well, if I do say so myself. Chapters 1 and 3 are in great shape, and the book proposal is almost finished, too.
But today I hit the wall. There were extenuating circumstances, of course: I had 2 classes today (one started at 8:30) and 4 meetings and stupidly did not leverage my early morning wakeup-style insomnia to vote early so waited an hour to vote after work (which was totally worth it, and not just because of the bake sale cookie!). But still, I’m a bit bummed.
Tomorrow will be better: I only owe myself 75 minutes, and I can totally add that to tomorrow’s 2 hr chunk, no problem.
maura @ 10:15 am
It’s almost November,* which means that it’s almost NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month, a bloggy spin on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). A quick check of my archives reveals that I’ve NaBloPoMoed every year since 2006, wowza! Through my graduate library degree, Gus’s elementary school years, my job search, and my first few years at City Tech. 148 posts in all, because while I overachieved in 2006 with 31 posts, for some reason I only managed 27 posts in 2010.
* Why is it November? I’m sure I’ve whined about this in the past, but as Jonathan pointed out yesterday, October would be so much better as it doesn’t involve the speedup to the end of the year with holiday prep and possibly travel during the month, and prep for holidays and possibly travel in the following month, too. Which is why he concluded that Halloween is the best holiday ever.
I still think joining in with others to publicly declare you’re going to get some writing done and then doing it is a good goal. But this year I really, really, really need to focus with laser-like intensity on the book, because that sucker’s not going to write itself. Lucky for me the nerds got it covered: after mulling over it for a bit, I’m going to join up with AcWriMo this November. As you can probably guess from the name, this variant is a way to get specifically academic writing and work done by committing to a goal every day.
I’m not going to set a word count goal because there’s lots of stuff we need to get done that doesn’t involve writing: pulling quotes and images, wrangling citations (oh, Chicago Author-Notes Style, how I detest you!), and probably some reading (depending on the chapter). I’m still trying to fit in daily writing but sometimes all there’s time for is a couple of pages in my journal or a blog post here or elsewhere.
Here’s my goal: (at least) 2 hours of work on the book every day, including weekends. I’ve been striving to hit that goal all semester, and while it’s easy to do on some days (e.g., the 2 days/week I’m taking 2.5 hrs of RT in the morning), I haven’t been able to consistently make it, so I feel like it’s still enough of a stretch. Not sure how I’ll publicly record it — I’ll probably start by tweeting daily and see how that goes.
And if I can do it? I hope that sets me up to keep going at that pace after November ends (possibly with a holiday prep escape clause).
maura @ 11:14 am
So this past week was curriculum night at Gus’s new (middle) school. We filed into the auditorium first and while we were waiting for the principal to get started I tried to catch up on Twitter. Then things got started and I couldn’t help myself from livetweeting. So here you go:
6th grade curriculum night is “fast-paced.” The principal will ring a bell to send us to the next class. Wish I had a glass of wine.
Talking about testing, progress reports, standards, scores. Mixed feelings. #6thgradecurriculumnight
Up with book sales! Down with candy sales! #6thgradecurriculumnight
We’re giving you 10 minutes to get to your homeroom. #6thgradecurriculumnight
Parents, you have 3 minutes to get to your next class. #6thgradecurriculumnight
“Let them get it wrong, let them see how they got it wrong.” Sage advice from the math teacher. #6thgradecurriculumnight
Bonjour! Kid has the most francais French teacher, complete wih mustard cardigan and fleur de lis scarf. Tres bien! #6thgradecurriculumnight
The band teacher is totally Tobias Funke, I kid you not. #6thgradecurriculumnight
Last period. Science. Respect for the miles my kid travels each day. #6thgradecurriculumnight
It was pretty eye-opening to see all the changes 6th graders have to deal with each day, so very different from elementary school. Things are smoother here now than they were last week — we are all more settled in, phew. Homework seems to be under control, more or less, for everyone, too: Gus is almost finished this weekend’s reading already, and I seem to have finished with the sample chapter we plan to send with the book proposal. Saturday morning FTW!
maura @ 3:35 pm
I don’t need to listen to music every time I’m writing, but if I’m writing anything long form I definitely need music. Lately the only writing music I can listen to is Orbital. The mostly instrumental, techno dance music thing keeps me moving when I slow down, and seems to give my brain just enough to chew on to keep distraction at bay (most of the time).
I first started listening to Orbital when I was writing my dissertation. They quickly took their place within the regular rotation alongside the Beastie Boys and other 90s dance staples like Muziq and the Chemical Brothers. While the Beasties were a huge help with motivation, I was surprised to find that the instrumental techno music also had a pretty enormous impact on my productivity. The samples are clever but not so overwhelming that my brain needs to think about where they came from, which happens with some music (Girl Talk, for example). The melodies are mostly upbeat, which is important when you’re facing a mountain of writing. I often found myself listening to the same Orbital record on repeat for hours as I trucked through loads of descriptive text about the numbers and kinds of animal bones we found on site and what they could mean.
Since then, Orbital’s In Sides and The Middle of Nowhere have been my go-to records for getting writing done. But when I started on the book I’m writing with my research partner at the beginning of the summer, it was clear that I’d need more, more, more! I bought a couple additional mp3 albums with an iTunes card my sister gave me for my birthday (thanks Kie!), though sadly they were the only 2 records available on iTunes that we don’t have yet. The problem with the ability to buy records instantly online is that you get used to it, and it’s easy to get all annoyed an ungrateful when the exact record you want isn’t available.
Still, 2 new albums and 2 that we already had but I forgot about should take me pretty far in writing this book. And if not, there are still 3 more to go.
maura @ 10:24 pm
One thing I’m pretty stoked about is that I’ve been keeping to my daily writing goal most of the time since the beginning of February, barring a weird low point in late March-early April. Some days it’s still hard to fit it in, like today, which was all get up (insomnia before the alarm went off yay!), get dressed, scoop the cat litter, grab my stuff, head to the gym,* work out, shower, get dressed, head to work, triage email while eating breakfast, cross some stuff off my list, go to a 2 1/2 hour meeting, get coffee, more email triage, weed the architecture books, finish some more list stuff, take the subway home, help pack up the evening’s food and head to the botanic gardens for the summer members’ picnic, eat dinner, drink pink fizzy wine, look at the amazing sky, chat w/folks we ran into that we haven’t seen in a while, catch fireflies, walk home, do the dishes, take out the trash, make Gus’s lunch,** tuck Gus in, take a shower, write a blog post.
* Now that it’s summer and there aren’t any swimming lessons on the weekends it’s been harder to fit in family gym time, so last week I started trying to go one morning each week. It’s only about a 10 minute walk from work so there’s really no excuse, though it kind of messes with my accustomed caffeine levels to have to wait til after the workout for coffee. Plus last week someone took my towel by accident when I was in the shower. But today my towel was unharmed, woo hoo!
** OMG the joie de middle school is that the child makes his own lunch! We’re practicing over the summer and he’s done it most nights this week, but tonight it was late and he needed a shower so I made it. He’s got some crazy sandwich specs and insists that the toaster be set to 7, which is awfully crunchy if you ask me.
So finding time to write amidst all of that can be hard, though all of a sudden you write out your day and bam, 300+ words, nice job! Still, I can’t write this every night.
I think I might be ready to take this to the next level and set a specific, consistent daily writing time. I want to consistently write every day, with only unusual days off for sickness and the like. And the thing about writing at different times each day, whenever I can scrape together the time, is that sometimes there’s a day like today and it’s 10pm and damn, haven’t written a thing yet. Of course the problem is when: mornings are my best writing time but won’t always work. Still, perhaps I’ll try for most mornings with flexibility if needed. There’s always something to write, for sure, so it’s not like I’ll be grasping about for things to do.
So I guess this is a heads up: expect more blagging here if the plan works.