Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How good am I?

(At scaring off students, that is?)

SO good, apparently, that only two hours after my Brit Lit survey ended, two students--both of them English majors--had already gone into the online registration system to drop my class.

I eagerly await the number who will have dropped by Thursday morning.

UPDATE: two more dropped before our second meeting. . . but then we had to go and have FUN in class today, which I suspect will keep the number stuck at 36 for a while.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Final hours of freedom

I spent all day today at the office--photocopying, running errands, working on my lesson plans, photocopying, chatting with people, photocopying, typing up assignment sheets, putting together a database of medieval and early modern images, and photocopying some more.

Tomorrow I start teaching, and I'll be on campus even longer: from 9 a.m. until 9.15 p.m. (thanks to my night class).

What makes all this bearable, you ask?

Why, quite a few things:

1. First and most importantly, New clothes! While in Northwest City I scored several great items and one fantabulous one: a winter coat from BCBG at one third of the retail price (it's leftover stock from the 2005 season). It's a 3/4-length black wool & cashmere blend, with wonderful, wide wings of lapels. The cut is very early 1960s, very ladylike--but it's got some heavy-duty zippers on it, à la a motorcycle jacket (on the underside of the sleeves, up the back vent, and on a slanting breast pocket) to punk it out a little.

It'll be a while before I can wear it, but until then I have these three items from Ann Taylor (courtesy of ma mère) to keep me happy:

It's hard to see, but the skirt is a nubbly blue tweed made up of several different shades that more or less add up to navy from a distance.

I actually got two of these tops, one in this light blue shade and one in black. I prefer to wear them so that my shoulders are covered and so that the neckline drapes down into a cowl--rather than in the odd, shoulder-tube-like way that this model erroneously thinks she's rocking.

And finally, a pair of navy pants with a woven pinstripe in the same color.

Damn. I love clothes.

2. My office. For some reason, I already have a reputation for having an unusually nice office--people keep stopping by and saying, "hey, I heard about your office. . . oh wow." Now, this is an ENTIRELY excessive reaction, given that I have the same industrial metal desk and bookcases as everyone else and I don't even have a proper window; all I've done is bring in one nice chair and a floor lamp, and hang up a couple of framed posters and my diplomas. Nevertheless, I did do a lot of moving and shifting around of furniture and objets until the space felt right, and I'm pretty happy with it. I think it will make a nice workspace.

3. Eight (well, now seven) bottles of wine, which Bert had shipped to me from Sonoma when he was out there a few weeks ago. Yes, he was probably intoxicated at the time. But it's damn good wine, so I'm not complaining.

4. Research productivity. No joke: I have almost 25 pages of my new chapter drafted. They're absolutely abysmal pages, at this point, but hey: they're a start.

So I say, albeit with some trepidation. . . let the semester begin!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fully orientated

Oy. So many orientation activities! Such a long week!

But I shouldn't complain, because the long and the short of it is that I'm completely in love with my department. Let's start with the fact that there are five of us--yes, FIVE--who are new in a department of approximately 20 ladder faculty. I don't know yet whether any of my fellow newbies will develop into personal friends, but I can already tell that they'll be awesome work friends; any people I'm already comfortable giving a hard time to, bitching with, and cussing in front of are winners in my book.

And as for the rest of the department--need I say more than that there is exactly one person over the age of 50, and probably only three or four people over the age of 40? (And believe it or not, we're on track to hire more people next year.) Youth isn't inherently a good thing, of course, but at a regional school like mine it means that there aren't generational divisions when it comes to expectations for scholarship or teaching: we've all been trained in pretty much the same way, and we have the same kinds of ambitions and the same understanding of the profession. But it's more than that: I've been setting up my office all week, and people I'd barely met on my interview are stopping by and striking up 20-minute conversations. The next thing you know, I'm doing some schtick and she's doing some schtick, and we're talking about taking our comedy routine on the road.

And, okay: I know that this is the honeymoon period, and that I'll probably find that there are some folks I can't even stand the sight of. . . but for now, all I can say is that I feel more comfortable with these people--more like they're my people--than I ever have with any group of academics.

In other happy news: I have a SECOND DATE tonight with that girl I never really knew at INRU who's just starting a TT gig at the local R1. We had lunch last week and I liked her and I guess she liked me. . . so now we're doing a movie and drinks. It's odd to be courting a potential friend in this totally date-y way (before she and I met for lunch, I wailed to GWB, "But I'm so nervous--I want her to like me! What if she doesn't like me?"), but when you're new in town, I guess that's the way it works. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Miz Doctor Professor Lady

So: Doctor versus Professor; what's the break-down? What do you get called, what did you call your own professors, and why? And can we make any generalizations about the uses of these two titles?

I attended college and graduate school at an institution where no one outside of the medical school was ever addressed as doctor. Indeed, until about age 26, the only PhDs I'd ever known who went by that title were the couple of teachers at my high school who'd held doctorates--and that made sense: they deserved a title other than mister, surely, even if one of them was famous for teaching a film studies class that involved doing nothing other than screening films and assigning the occasional 1-page response paper.

So for a long time, when I didn't know any, I thought that PhDs who went by doctor were vain and insecure little people whose sole accomplishment had probably been getting that degree, and who had most likely done so at some crappy little school somewhere.

At some point, however, I became aware that quite a lot of PhDs went by that title, and I noticed that some of the explanation seemed to be regional: when I'd go to conferences in the South, for instance, everyone was doctor-ing up a storm. It also seemed to be a more common title at smaller schools, which suggested that maybe it was the institutions that were status-conscious or a bit insecure--they wanted it to be clear that their faculty were professionals.

So, the south, and smaller schools. That was my working theory until I got to Big Urban--a research university in a Northeastern city where, you guessed it: every last person with a doctorate went by doctor (except, initially, me: no one sent me that particular memo, and so I introduced myself to my students as Professor Fescue--only to receive emails from students that began, "Dear Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones, Dr. Brown, and Professor Fescue"). Admittedly, Big Urban isn't a premier research university, and my new institution--where I've been introduced as Doctor Fescue approximately a bazillion times in the past week--isn't a research institution at all.

But even so, I'm not sure that my old theories are holding up, so I thought I'd take this highly unscientific poll: if you're an academic in the United States or Canada, where are you, what do you get called, and is this your own preference or your institution's? How do you understand those preferences? Do you perceive there to be regional differences? And if so, what are they (north/south, east/west, urban/rural, blue state/red state, etc.)? Does institutional size or reputation make the difference? Or is it all totally random?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Successful defeat of the powers of procrastination

Yes, you read it here first: I've finally started drafting that damn chapter--the one that I've been so masterfully avoiding for nearly three weeks now. 1,000 words, kids.

And yes: orientation does start tomorrow, and classes do start a week later. . . but that doesn't matter, because I'm unstoppable! I'll totally have 20 pages by next week! And--and I'll finish reading that book and write the review! Set up my office! Prep all my classes!

Yeah, totally.

To hell with you, NYT

I just attempted to get home delivery of the New York Times. I haven't been a subscriber since I lived in Grad School City, where I tended to sign up at the introductory rate, remain a subscriber for several months on into the regular rate, and then cancel when I couldn't justify the expense any longer. After I moved to Major Eastern City I definitely couldn't justify the expense, but I did periodically buy copies at the newsstand or (more often) scavenge copies left behind on the train.

However, I've always loved newspapers, and I'm fond of the Times, and now that I have a real job I was looking forward to being a regular subscriber.

Until I learned that there's no weekday home-delivery in my area.

People! I live in a good-sized city, one with a population larger than that of Providence or Hartford. I'm in the Eastern time zone. The Times is widely read and widely available around these parts--I can buy the damn thing not only at the supermarket but also at the tiny convenience store a few blocks away (if I wanted to make the trek every day and pay the newsstand price, that is).

I'm trying to give you money, New York Times. I'm trying to show my support for a publication that I enjoy and the journalistic work that you do.

And people wonder why newspaper readership is declining in this country.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Painting, Part II

Regard the beauty of my home office:

Once again, it's hard to capture this color well on film. It's a very bright, grassy green that's neither as chartreuse-y as the first photo nor as sage-y as the second one; it looks as though it belongs in a sun-flooded room in someone's country home on a breezy summer day.

I'm already 100% more inclined to spend time in this room.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: A Meme!

Ph.D. Me tagged me for this one ages ago--which isn't to say that my answers are any more interesting now than they would have been then--but until I finish the two novels I'm currently reading and have some new fun books to write about, this is all I've got for you.

The Book Meme

1. One book that changed your life?
I'm not sure that any single book actually has changed my life--or maybe it's that a lot of books have changed my life, but only in tiny and incremental ways. But if I had to pick one author who had a serious impact on my life as a reader, it would be T. S. Eliot. Now, I actually kind of hate Eliot (for his politics, his prejudices, and for what that little punk-ass had to say about Milton), but he was my first exposure to "difficult" literature. Although we read virtually no poetry in my high school, we did read "Prufrock," and I totally loved it; I remember being particularly proud of myself for getting the references to Hamlet and John the Baptist.

Right after reading "Prufrock" in class, I went out and bought a copy of Eliot's complete poems and tried to read The Waste Land. Oh, I tried. I even checked out a copy of the Twayne's guide to the poem. I didn't succeed in really understanding very much of it, but I worked at it, and I got some inkling of what it was that literary professionals DO, and of the rewards that close analysis can bring.

2. One book you have read more than once?
Aside from the ones that I re-read for professional reasons? My favorite may be Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which I've read at least six times.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
There are a lot of books that I'd be perfectly happy to read over and over again, but I'd want something relatively lengthy, something that I enjoyed reading and reciting aloud--hell, let's just say Paradise Lost.

4. One book that made you laugh?
Just about every book I like makes me laugh, even those that are decidely unfunny (you may take this as evidence of my callousness or my fine sense of the absurd, as you wish). But I'm almost incapacitated with laughter every time I read Evelyn Waugh, especially Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, and Handful of Dust. I reread each of those regularly.

5. One book that made you cry?
As above. Many books make me cry, even those that aren't particularly sad. I remember absolutely bawling at the epilogue to Middlemarch.

6. One book you wish had been written?
Uh, maybe my own? (Anyone want to finish it for me?)

7. One book you wish had never been written?
I've already been beaten to the punch with the Da Vinci Code, Mein Kampf, and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--can I get all metaphorical here and say that I wish no one had ever written the book of George W. Bush? Or at least that it had been hastily erased?

8. One book you are currently reading?
I'm re-reading Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, after seeing the John Huston film adaptation. (Expect a RfP post in the near future.)

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
The book I'm most embarrassed not to have read--and that I really want to read!--is Moby Dick. I've started it three times, but I have this enormous copy, see, that's difficult to lug around. . .

10. Now tag 5 people.
I'm bad at keeping track of who's done memes and who hasn't (and this one is aging rapidly), so if you want to do this one, consider yourself tagged!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pie-in-the-sky fantasies

The progress of an idea:

I see a call for papers for an essay collection that makes me howl out loud.

I call George Washington Boyfriend to read it to him, realize as I'm reading it that the proposed book doesn't actually totally suck, but continue to think that it's a pretty pointless topic.

Some weeks go by. I read an article on a very minor writer that includes a fabulous quotation from said writer. I mark the quotation. It reminds me of something in Milton, and of something in Donne--and then of some stuff I vaguely remember from some civil war tracts I read a long time ago.

Hey! I think. This could totally work for that stupid CFP I saw.

But, it would be a lot of work. And it's not really anything I'm interested in.

Hm. Actually, no--it kinda
does tie into some issues that I'm very interested in.

I rifle through a bunch of old notes, skim a few works I haven't read in years, and start to wonder whether it's worth putting a proposal together.

I go out to Northwest City and read a 300-page civil war-era work via Early English Books Online, which I'm sure will provide me with what I need.

It doesn't.

Frustrated by the fact that it ALMOST has what I want it to have, I start thinking about ways that I could refashion and broaden the subject while still keeping it within the proposed volume's parameters.

I do some more reading.

And then one morning, brushing my teeth, I think: you know, there's a LOT of that other, kinda related stuff going on in lots of seventeenth-century works. But it's all so weird and complicated--I don't even know what to make of it. That's more than an article; that's one serious, bad-ass book right there.

And then I realize: It's my book. My second book.


[This is not, of course, to say that I've yet drafted the new chapter that I'm supposedly writing for the manuscript that already exists, or that that entire thing is even close to being submittable--but you know my beliefs by now.]

Friday, August 11, 2006

Teaching the longer, larger class: strategies?

In part because George has put out the call for us to resume our blogging about pedagogical issues, but mainly because I'm going to be back in those particular salt mines awfully soon, I've been giving some fitful thought to my teaching strategies for this coming semester. All three of the classes I'll be teaching are versions of classes that I've taught before (hurrah!), but all are going to have some kinks to them that are giving me pause.

The major kinks are these: all three of my classes are going to take place in class periods longer than those I've taught before, and at least one of them is also going to have significantly more students.

Two of my classes will meet twice a week, for an hour and a half each. In the past, my two-day-a-week classes have met for either an hour and fifteen, or an hour and twenty minutes. To my mind, that extra 10-15 minutes is a big deal when we're talking attention span and sleep prevention, and it means that I need to think seriously about mixing things up every single class period. This should be easy to do in my comp class, since a) it's a small seminar, and b) the nature of the class makes it natural to do a lot of different things in a single period--discuss the readings, outline their arguments, freewrite, workshop, whatever.

However, I'm a little concerned about my 2-day-a-week lit class, which will have 40 students in it. I've always done group activities in my literature classes, sure, but not every class period--and I've never before had a class larger than 30. A class of 40 students works out to 8 or 10 groups, which makes it awfully unweildy to do the kind of group work that I normally assign, wherein I have each group look at a particular passage or poem or character or whatever, do essentially the same thing to it (paraphrase a sonnet and identify as many poetic devices as possible, say, or answer a set series of questions about a character or event), and then present their findings to the class so that we can draw some larger conclusions, collectively, from their work.

Even more problematic is my third class. It's also a lit class, but since it's required for the English major, Regional U always offers it once a year in a 3-hour, one-day-a-week evening version. Guess who's teaching that particular version this year?

People, I have NO idea how to teach a 3-hour, survey-level undergraduate class--other than to make sure that I have a 15-minute break in the middle and that I do a whole bunch of different shit every period in order to keep us all awake: reading quiz, group work, board work, video clips, and mini-performances are things that spring to mind. But what does that mean, practically? How does one do all those things in a way that feels organic, and not as if one's just ordering them off the menu at random? (First course--a quiz! Second course--10 minute mini-lecture! Third course--call students up to the front of the room to read! Fourth course--split them up into groups! And for dessert--a 20-minute video!) And is there any way that I can make it more likely that my students will have actually done all or most of the reading by classtime?

What I'm looking for, I guess, is advice on a couple of different fronts:
First: successful ways of incorporating group activities into a larger class, especially on a regular, possibly daily basis.

Second: any non-group-based ways that you've found work well for breaking up the usual discussion/lecture format. (In the past, the major one I've used is collective board work of a brainstorming variety, where my students call out words or ideas and I list them in such a way that significant patterns emerge.)

Third: I'd really, really love to hear from anyone who has taught a 2.5- or 3-hour, lower-level class before (I'm expecting to have 25 or 30 students).
Anyone want to hook a sister up?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Long-term and short-term goals

So it's August and I'm in Northwest City and I'm trying to come up with a professional game plan for the year (while at the same time refusing really to acknowledge that the summer is almost over and that I don't still have TONS of TIME in which to get accomplished everything that was supposed to be accomplished by August 28th). I'm also thinking a bit about my long-term plans in the profession and in my personal life, which is something that I haven't done or really been able to do for a long time. For years, my future has looked like this: "finish grad school, hopefully get a tenure-track gig somewhere or other, and then. . .uh. . . I guess we'll see."

Being a part of the academic blogging community has been helpful in allowing me to think beyond the next semester or the next academic year, as has being in a relationship with someone who's now four years ahead of me on the tenure track (and who's up for tenure and going back out on the job market this year). Possibly for this reason, or possibly because of the culture of my grad institution, I do tend to assume that the job that I'm beginning this fall is a first job. As I've written in response to posts at Dr. Crazy's and elsewhere, I just take it for granted that that's how the academic world works, same as the "real" world.

This isn't to say that I might not stay put; in fact, knowing what I know about my new institution, I think that I could probably be reasonably happy and productive there for the rest of my career. If I love it and/or if George Washington Boyfriend gets a dreamy position in the area and/or if my scholarship turns out to be such that either I couldn't move or that I didn't see any benefit to moving to a different kind of institution--well, then, I might be there quite happily for the long haul. However, I'm pretty sure that I have at least two or three books in me, and although I have no desire to teach doctoral students right now, I think that I would like to be able to do so in five or ten years, when I have more confidence (and more credibility) as a scholar.

But moving up or simply moving within the profession requires, you know, work along the way. There is no five-year plan without a one-year plan! So I've decided that my major goal for my first year on the tenure track is to do all the things that I really ought to have done before going on the job market in the first place. It's a common problem, I know--but I work on a very small corner of a small part of this field known as "Renaissance literature." There are a lot of works that I've never read. There are a lot of issues about which I still know woefully little.

So although I have at least two articles and a new chapter to write this year, I'm going to consider my main goal to be gaining competency in areas I'm weaker in. Fer instance: I feel very confident about my knowledge of Shakespeare, but as long as I'm going to be teaching Fast Willie once or twice a year for the foreseeable future, I really ought to have more familiarity with--and perhaps some involvement in--current scholarly trends there. So I've gone and joined the Shakespeare Association of America and I'll be attending the conference in the spring and hopefully for the next few years. I'm designing a new class on the Renaissance lyric (SO far outside my expertise that it isn't even funny), and I'll probably be teaching an upper-level class on Stuart drama next year. I've also drawn up a manageable list of Important Scholarly Works--both Early Modern and theory--that I figure I really should have read in order to be a self-respecting member of the profession.

And you know what? It's exciting in the same way that starting grad school was exciting. Despite the pressure that I feel to get the goddamn book ship-shape, I'm really excited by the freedom that comes with no longer being a slave to the dissertation and the job market. I've been sitting around reading books that I bought years ago, and never read, just for fun. I've been thinking up courses that I'd love to teach.

It's all so damn much FUN. And if it helps me professionally, so much the better.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Scandalous, Malignant Priests

[This one's primarily for my Renaissance peeps, although I regret that I can't provide you with any wacky woodcuts, like the fellas at Blogging the Renaissance.]

In the midst of my efforts to avoid my most pressing projects, the other day I spent several hours reading through a bunch of old research notes in the hopes that they might provide me with something juicy for an abstract that I'm trying to work up. Instead, I came across my notes on this pamphlet--one that was not then and is not now of any immediate use to me, but that I have to share, 'cause this shit's just too good to keep to myself.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: John White's First Century of Scandalous, Malignant Priests (London, 1643; Wing W1778).

Published in the midst of the Civil War, shortly after the Church of England was disestablished, the bishops excluded from the House of Lords, and a large number of clergymen turned out of their parishes, White's pamphlet defends Parliament's actions by identifying 100 ministers (the "century" of the work's title) who fully deserved to lose their positions.

Ho hum, you say? Anti-episcopal tracts are a dime a dozen in the 1640s? Not like this, they're not.

Here's the first paragraph of the work proper:
The Benefice of John Wilson, Vicar of Arlington in the County of Sussex, is sequested, for that he in most beastly manner, diverse times attempted to commit buggery with Nathaniel Browne[,] Samuel Andrewes and Robert Williams his Parishoners, and by perswasions and violence, laboured to draw them to that abominable sinne, that (as he shamed not to professe) they might make up his number eighteene; and hath professed, that he made choice to commit that act with man-kind rather than with women, to avoid the shame and danger that oft ensueth in begetting Bastards; and hath also attempted to commit Buggery with a Mare [. . .] and hath in his Sermons, much commended Images in Churches, as good for edification, and that men should pray with Beades, and hath openly said, that the Parliament were Rebells, and endeavoured to starve the King, and that whatsoever the King commands, wee are all bound to obey, whether it be good or evill; and hath openly affirmed, that Buggery is no sinne, and is a usuall frequenter of Ale-houses and a great drinker.
No wonder I took such detailed notes on this! I love the way that White starts out with the most attention-grabbing charge--sodomy--and then throws everything else in after: bestiality, fondness for religious images and the rosary, saying mean things about Parliament, sodomy again (just in case you let your attention wander!), and enjoying his tipple a bit too much.

Although many of the sequestered ministers that White disscusses aren't nearly as colorful--an awful lot seem to be accused of nothing more than Royalist sympathies, bad preaching, and hanging out at the ale-house more than is good for them--there are enough sexual trespasses and enough vicious gossip sprinkled throughout to make the pamphlet a fun read.

My favorite minister is the last one, the crazy misogynist of no. 100. Here are a couple of excerpts:
The Benefice of Ambrose Westrop, Vicar of the Parish Church of Much-Totham in the Countie of Essex, is sequestered, for that he doth commonly prophane the ordinance of preaching, by venting in the Pulpit, matters concerning the secrets of Women, to stir up his auditory to laughter; And hath taught in his Sermons, That a man that useth carnall copulation with his wife the night before the administration of the Sacrament of the Lords Supper, unlesse his wife require him so to doe, ought not to come to the Sacrament of the Lords Supper; and that a woman that hath Monethly sicknesse, ought not to come to the Sacrament; That a Woman is worse then a Sow, in two respects: First, Because a Sowes skinne is good to make a Cart-saddle, and her Bristles good for a Sowter. Secondly, Because a Sow will runne away if a man cry but Hoy, but a woman will not turne head, though beaten downe with a Leaver [. . .] and diverse modest women absenting from Church, because of such uncivil passages, he affirmed, That all that were then absent from Church were whores[.]
It soon becomes clear that at least part of the Rev. Westrop's public bitterness toward women is because--surprise!--no woman will have him:
[H]aving been a sutor to a Widdow whom he called Black Besse, who rejected him and married another, he observed in his Sermon out of one of the Psalmes; That David prayed to God, not to Saint or Angell, nor yet to black Besse, who was then in the Church before him.

[. . . .]

And being a sutor to one Mistris Ellen Pratt a Widdow, he did write upon a peece of paper these words, Bonny Nell, I love thee well, and did pin it on his cloake, and ware it up and downe a Market-Towne, which woman refusing him, he did for five or six weekes after, utter little or nothing else in the Pulpit, but invectives against Women; and being sutor to another woman, who failed to come to dinner upon invitation to his house, he immediately roade to her house, and desiring to speake with her, she coming to the doore, without speaking to her, he pulled off her head-geere and rode away with it.
I really think that that last part is my favorite: the petty and petulant way he goes to that woman's house, refuses to speak with her, tears off her headgear, and runs away.

What I like best about this pamphlet isn't so much what it says about popular discontent with the Church of England, although that's useful--these particular charges aren't necessarily true, but there's surely truth in the pamphlet's disgust with both individual ministers and the general fact that congregants had virtually no power to censure or remove clergymen who misbehaved or who were out of touch with the values of their community. Many people, certainly, felt this way, and I like the example that the work gives of individuals trying to protest in some way: the women who stopped going to church in response to the Rev. Westrop's misogynistic rants. ("What," I can hear my students saying, incredulously, "didn't their husbands make them go? Weren't women, like, totally oppressed back then?")

Rather, what I really love is the gossipy nature of the work, and the fact that what readers apparently found (or were expected to find) titillating then is still pretty much what we'd find titillating today. Can't you see these items appearing in a local newspaper or being gossiped about around town, if they were rumored about a minister or high school teacher today? ("I heard he had sex with EIGHTEEN teenaged boys! and he gave a sermon where he said that we have to do whatever the Supreme Court says, even if it's just an opinion, and not what's in the Constitution! And he's drunk all the time, too!")

Also, okay: it's also just pretty damn funny.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Greater productivity through procrastination

I feel as though I've found the key to the secrets of the universe. Listen up.

Wednesday rolled around. I'd just finished all the research that I needed in order to start drafting the new chapter of my manuscript (formerly, "my dissertation"). Sure, I still had things to pick up from ILL and some articles that I needed to get my hands on, but I'd done my due diligence and knew what was out there. But after finishing that last necessary book, I just couldn't bring myself to start writing. Was I ready? Did I have anything to say on the subject? Maybe I really should wait and read those ILL books, just to be sure.

I knew that I was procrastinating, but I couldn't get motivated. Instead I sat around and read blogs for a while and then I went across the street to see a Humphrey Bogart film. It was still hot, after all.

I awoke to much cooler weather and considered my options. If I didn't start in on the chapter, what else could I do? There was that conference abstract--but I could get that done on the plane next week. There was that essay proposal for a book collection--but I'd definitely need to do more research first. And then I remembered it: that tiny little essay I've been talking about writing for years, the one on Major American Novel, for which I'd already done all the research but that I'd had to set aside last spring in order to get the diss done.

My friends, no sooner had the idea occured to me than I unplugged the DSL cable, took my laptop and my folder full of notes into the living room, and started writing. By dinnertime, I had a draft. Today I revised it and put in the footnotes. I think I'm sending it out on Monday.

Yes, it's a small little thing. No, it won't do anything for my career. But it's the first completely NEW writing that I've done in 10 months, and it was a blast. I might even be ready now to tackle the big bad chapter.

So that's the secret, and it's my gift to you: find a project that's not the project you're currently trying to avoid, and you'll be amazed by how zealous and diligent you become.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Swell

As promised, I'm writing today about one of my favorite "Girl's Guide To" books. I have a real weakness for these guides, but they usually turn out to produce the same effects as eating an entire tub of gummi bears--they're so tasty that I can't stop, but by the end I wind up feeling both gorged and unsatisfied (and a little nauseated). I've bought several that I wound up getting rid of after a single reading, and there are others that I've just skimmed in the bookstore, but there are two that I absolutely love and still re-read regularly, and one of them is Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig's Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life.*

I bought this book when I was 23 and living in my first post-college apartment, holding down my first full-time job, and trying to live like a grown-up, and it spoke exactly to the kind of life I was trying to construct for myself from books and old movies and song lyrics (except, you know: on a budget). One thing that I hate about the typical girl's-guide is that it tends to be so. . . well. . . girly. What I love about Swell is that the single girls it imagines are sassy and zany and ballsy, never standing on ceremony and as likely to pull goofy pranks and buy a round of drinks for the boys as to fret over their footwear. The Swell girl is about packing light, throwing a party on the spur of the moment, and never worrying about whether she's the prettiest or most fashionable person in the room.

I see from the Amazon.com listing that some readers really don't care for the book, and there are things (like the occasionally strained efforts at Rat Pack phrasings) that irritate me, but what I like about Swell is the mood, the attitude, and the lifestyle it sums up. It's got good advice in it--it's where I learned to make a bunch of $5 flowers from the corner deli look fabulous, and how to get into an SUV in a skirt without flashing the neighborhood--but really, I don't read these books for detailed, practical advice (as some of the books that I've given away or never actually purchased purport to do--I'm looking at you, Three Black Skirts!). I read them to conjure up another, perhaps more ideal self, and try it on for size.


*There are some Swell sequels (focused on home decor, party-throwing, etc.), none of which I've read, and the authors now also have a line of home accessories at Target, none of which I've bought. So I can't speak to their worth or quality.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Random Bullets of Ugh

Ugh the first: I know that I'm the last person on earth to catch this heat wave--and that it's not as bad here as it is in many places--but it's pretty hideous all the same. We didn't quite hit 100 degrees today, as we were predicted to do, but still broke all kinds of local records and are looking at more of the same tomorrow. And for a double ugh: the coffee shop that I elected to camp out in today turned out to have only minimally functional A/C. I came home and sat in a cool bath for an hour, which was a 3000% improvement.

Ugh the second: Bloglines seems to have lost contact with my Atom sitefeed and hasn't registered my last few posts. I've signed up with Feedburner, but in the meanwhile I appear to be talking largely to myself. Not that that's anything new.

Ugh the third: How, exactly, am I supposed to live for seven more weeks without a paycheque--and for nine without medical coverage?? (Very carefully, I guess.)