Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Staying Upright While Surfing a Tsunami

Very...difficult... Must concentrate....Back to piles of reading lest I fall over from lack of concentration. Got to...stay...upright.

Surfing a semester tsunami can be a mite challenging, after all.

Okay, back to it. The sooner I can plow through this week's readings, the sooner I can get to getting ahead on my writing and research for my final papers for the semester, two of which are in my dissertation domain and the other which is helping me do background research for a novel I have in mind.

Ah, the joys of feeling the intrinsic desire to stay upright through the last few weeks of this semester, understanding why I really want to do this well rather than slough off... I'm quite blessed to have figured out how to multi-purpose my academic projects, and pick ones not only that really genuinely interest me, but also flow into other academic and creative goals I have. Which in turn gives me super-strong motivation to do them, and do them well.

Woohoo! Surfing can indeed be fun at times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Knocking Down Them There Walls

I'm pleased that the mojo came back (i.e., that I was able to pull through my spring break and balance the academic tasks I needed to get done with having time also to spend adequate time with people, get a bit caught up on my sleep, and get caught up on some of that impinging life stuff).

As to why it feels like the mojo's back to stay for awhile, I think part of that has to do with some success in the purpose of this blog--being able to knock down the walls in my mind between academic writing and creative writing in my head and heart. This blog has helped me not to privilege one over the other (as I had been doing) and to interrogate the reasons I might be doing so.

By knocking down that wall, I'm looking forward to clearing head space for both of these facets of my writerly self to continue to develop, as well as leaving room for more life events to take place around them. As a result, I'm ready to plunge back into the last six weeks of the semester, viewing them and their likely-accompanying tsunami wave-ishness as a necessary part of the writing life right now.

Not necessarily that they are the writing-life-as-usual, or that the craziness is the way life ought to be all the time, but it feels like if I can surf this wave, I'll be delivered safely to the next stage of my writing life, which will start in the summer with balancing my preparation for the Big Nasty Exams I hope to take in the fall with other writing tasks, and is likely to be a bit more like paddling in a canoe than riding a tsunami.

Since tsunami waves can come when you think it's just a puddle, though, it feels good to know how to do both phases of the writing life when the situation arises.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mission Accomplished

It's been lovely, having a quieter week on the academic front.

Of course, a quieter week still included a couple of stacks of grading along with some reading, planning discussion questions based on that reading, doing my taxes, and writing 10 pages of that conference paper that's due at the same time (early May) as my other final papers for my courses.

But still, I managed to take some time off--even had Thursday and Friday completely off, and today I managed to create ten pages of rough draft for the conference paper in less than 5 hours, which is a lovely thing.

I like this, as it feels like I'm getting good habits that might be somewhat reliable and maintainable in later times. I've pushed through a time of difficult something-or-other with my writing life (both academic and otherwise), and it's lovely here on the other side, where I can predict fairly well what is accomplishable in a week (even if some of it might take a trifle bit longer, some things will take less than I feared) and go on to do it in a relatively efficient time period, but without sacrificing on quality.

This bodes well for the summer, in which I will have to balance my writing, research, and studying tasks in my "spare" time, and even later on, when I will be working on my dissertation in my "spare" time. This reminds me that I've been looking forward to the end of my coursework for a reason--once I find something I want to write about, whether it's academic or creative, I greatly enjoy doing it, and when the mojo is there, I can keep the flow going even while I pause to enjoy the tasks I'm doing and fully appreciate the times in-between when I can balance those writing tasks with other life things, including just enjoying the world and the people in it.

This is a good thing. I'm quite thankful that it's been granted to me, just now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"We Regret" Blah Blah Blah

Well, I'm glad I didn't stay up until 1:30 to get my email. Furthermore, I'm glad I wasn't holding my breath about advancing--that would have hurt.

I won't say that I wouldn't have liked to move on, but that would just have been a gift. This way, nothing is "stolen" from me, I just get to go on working on the manuscript when I get a chance (I've had some delightful ideas about it lately, about adding another point of view) and send it elsewhere when I get the chance.

I'm getting better at this whole submission thing, I think. I think my PhD work has toughened me up to this a bit. When one gets used to giving papers and presentations and such for other people's evaluations on a regular basis, one doesn't take the fact that one of those submissions didn't advance in a competition as seriously. Especially when it was submitted on a whim at the last minute and one didn't have a chance to edit it, just flung it into the wind to see if it would come back.

Welcome back, little manuscriptlet. We'll try again when you seem ready to fly again.

10:32 a.m. update

Hm, I looked at my letter again, and compared it with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award procedures. It looks like my little entry, while it didn't make it to the quarterfinals, survived the second round winnowing from 10,000 entries down to 2,000, as the email says there will be two reviews of my first three chapters waiting for me, which wouldn't have happened had it not made it through the first cut.

So, while it didn't make it into the top 500, it was judged to be in the top 20% of entries for the contest. Good job, little manuscriptlet!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Impatience Rears Its Ugly Head...

Okay, so I was doing quite well about waiting for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest until about 9:30 tonight, when I got home from a lovely dinner with friends. Since the quarterfinalists were supposed to be announced sometime today, I've been doing well--before that I actually only checked my email 3 or 4 times today, which is actually significantly lower than my usual email-checking volume.

Since 9:30 or so, though, my "refresh"ing of my email and the ABNA homepage has been rather insistent. I, like the other entrants hanging out over at the discussion boards, am feeling impatient for the results to be announced, already.

But it's a bit of a working vacation, so I have another stack of grading to plow through tomorrow so later in the week, between other social engagements, I can work on my taxes and write that conference paper I'm presenting in May. I should stop being so impatient and just go to sleep now. Okay, off to do that.

Amazing what semester-lag (like jet-lag, but different) will do for providing sanity to the weary. :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Survival (i.e., Hercules pt. 3), and Good Books

Well, it seems I made it through the week and was given the grace to do some things I wasn't sure I could do: writing a 7-page midterm in-class open-book exam question in just over 2 hours, for instance (good practice for prelims). Or making it through an 11-hours-at-school day (yesterday) on 3 hours of sleep.

I'm not sure it makes me Hercules or anything, but I'm pleased that I managed to get it all done, including writing my article for catapult's new issue, which, being called "Good Books" was too tempting for me to pass up. Check it out, and enjoy!

Woohoo! Now after some packing and such, I get to enjoy a Spring Break in which I'll be...well, still doing a lot of schoolwork, quite frankly. My stacks of grading shrunk a bit, but they didn't get entirely done, and in fact have grown. And I have homework for the week after Spring Break to do. And I have that conference paper to churn out that's due right when all my other course papers are due, so I better start at least pushing out a rough draft.

Oh, and I'm going to stop and do some archival work at a big archival library in Chicago on the way to and from break, which I'm going to enjoy tremendously (my inner nerd is quite happy).

Ah well, at least I'll be in another state and able to hang out with family and friends between my laptop seclusion periods. And I'll be able to sleep more and take more time for meal-type things. I'm pretty excited about it, really, despite the pile of books and papers and study materials I'll have to haul with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hercules Takes on the Writing Life (2)

Update on my Herculean week: Wednesday and I'm not dead yet. This might be a good sign. But who knows. Some things are done, but more to come.

Okay, back to studying for this afternoon's mid-term.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hercules Takes on the Writing Life

Here's how it works. I get to sleep properly and go to a neighboring state for Spring Break in another week, after I have successfully completed the Herculean academic/writing tasks in front of me in all my classes. These include (on top of my week-as-usual of stacks of reading and assistantship work, etc.):
  • doing a field observation and attending a meeting for my anthropology field project
  • writing a 4-5 page paper for my "Culture and Society" class drawing on things we've been reading about how to study globalization
  • preparing a 20-minute presentation on the last section of Kenneth Burke's The Rhetoric of Motives (big text about the study of rhetoric and persuasion) for another class
  • taking a mid-term about narrative theory, etc.
  • plowing through piles and piles of grading
Oh yeah, and I'm also writing an article for catapult for this Monday because the issue's topic is so good.

It's no finals week list, I grant you, but still...sheesh. I've often thought that we writers and academics should have our own superheroes whose examples we could follow.

Our Hercules figures would be a little crazy but not so unreasonable that we couldn't hope to be like them. Writing Man and Writing Woman would be able to, for instance, plow out a 30 page papers in a single sitting, grade 20 papers with lots of feedback in a single hour, write a really polished novel in a day or two, and so on. (Oh, and I'm taking suggestions on better names for said superheroes.)

I sometimes wonder if things like grad school, the 3-day novel contest, and NaNoWriMo are attempts to set us Herculean tasks to get us to rise to the challenge of following in the footsteps of these imaginary superheroes.

Will I manage this particular Herculean week? Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Microfilm Is Mocking Me

Okay, so only five months after my archival trip last fall, my university library was able to check out to me a microfilm of the manuscript I'd delightedly schlepped out to California to look at last fall (see posts here, here, and here for a history).

Tantalizingly, the little ball of celluloid-ish stuff also promises me one of the author's other manuscripts for comparison's sake that I wasn't able to look at last fall. My inner nerd was salivating prolifically as I took the small box in my hands--I nearly trembled as I carried it out of the library and brought it home.

Sadly, although I can't wait to dig into a good sound analysis of its contents, other duties press this week. The little box is sitting on my table just mocking me with its nearness yet inaccessibility without the machine necessary for its viewing.

I can't tell if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I don't have a microfilm reader handy at home (I can't say I know anyone that does, actually). Oh well, I really shouldn't be working on it in the next few days when I have other things to do anyway.

Soon, though, my little microfilm, once I've finished a few more tasks, I will bring you to the library's machines and we will have a good chat, you and I...

Monday, March 2, 2009

On the Advantages of Having Other Things...

Okay, so if someone asked a crowd of people, "who would like some time to write full-time for at least awhile?" I may well have one of the first hands up. I look forward forward forward to my dissertation year--I mean, sure, I'll likely be teaching a class or two along with the dissertation, but I will be pretty close to writing full-time at that point, which I know from my MA thesis year will be exactly my cup of tea.

So don't think that I'm not looking forward to that, at all. Or super-excited about how crazy my life has been lately.

BUT when one has several pieces submitted to various venues (including the Amazon Novel Breakthrough Contest) and one's waiting to hear back, it doesn't hurt to have a few other things on your mind to keep you from neuroticizing about it. Perspective is a beautiful thing, and having a lot to do does keep those submissions in focus.

Now if I can only remember this feeling if and when I'm able to be writing full-time... Of course, if the dissertation year is anything like the MA thesis year, the forced look ahead at what's next in life will serve that counterpoint quite nicely. I actually found the writing of the thesis the delightful part of the year. Deciding what to do next with my life was the hard part. I hope, however, that if I'm ever a full-time writer for a longer stretch that I'm given the grace to keep things in perspective.

That's all for now. Back to that mile-high stack of things to do...