Sunday, May 31, 2009

Getting my head in the game

Tomorrow is the first of June and, according to decree, the day I return to my book manuscript. In practice this probably won't happen until Wednesday--tomorrow I have a vastly overdue book review to write and Tuesday I start teaching my summer class. But the manuscript WILL NOT BE DENIED.

This is the first summer since I moved here that I'll mostly be staying put--weekend trips and time spent chez my gentleman friend excepted. And although I am teaching a summer course, it's just a five-week Shakespeare class, which should require virtually no prep other than grading. I'm hoping, in fact, that teaching two days a week will allow me to structure my time more efficiently than I've sometimes been able to manage when day after untold day of freedom stretches before me.

So I've got a rough schedule for the whole summer; a day-by-day schedule through early July (with the rest of the summer to be filled in as we see how the first part goes); one long-term scholarly relationship in play and already, amazingly, giving me great feedback (speaking of people with their heads in the game); and another friend or two with whom I intend to exchange more limited parcels of work later in the summer.

I'm ready! Except actually also I'm terrified.

In theory I know all the things I need to do--light revision on these chapters, massive revision on those, new work here and there--but although it only seems possible to attack one problem at a time, moving slowly and steadily through the whole, I worry that the logic of the overall project is shifting and I'm going to lose sight of how it fits together and what makes sense. I'm just not sure how to deal with a project this big and this diverse.

Thoughts? Strategies? Hand-holding and soft cooing reassurances? All are welcome.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Always already late to my own blogiversary

I managed to miss my blogiversary yet again: as of Tuesday, I've been blogging for four years, three of them in this space.

Most of my thoughts about blogging are ones I've had before and don't need to rehash (even if repetition is the soul of Ferule & Fescue). But as I move into my fifth bloggy year, I'm struck by how inextricable my blogging and my professional life now feel. My corner of the blogosphere may be modest, but I've come to know an awful lot of my readers--and I like the way that blogging sometimes creates, but almost always reinforces and deepens my real-world connections.

I guess the term for that is "social networking," but I remain more interested in the social than the networking, and blogging under a pseudonym six or eight times a month in a personal essayish vein isn't exactly the fast lane to fame and influence. Still, it's a pleasure to know people and to think that some of them like knowing and reading me--and if pseudonymity is occasionally an inconvenience, it can also be a pleasure. Yes, it's awkward to worry about retelling a story I've already told on my blog to new acquaintances at conferences--and it's even more awkward to have to announce to someone who has gradually become a friend that, actually? I kinda have this blog? And no, I'm not, like, famous. . . except maybe, a little, to several hundred people.

But pseudonymity means that blogging is officially something I do on the side: I don't get "credit" for the writing I do here; casual acquaintances, arch-enemies, and students can't find this site by Googling me; and I assume or hope that none of my friends feels any obligation to visit. And yet people come wandering by anyway.

At my conference in London last summer, I went to dinner with some fun younger scholars I'd dined or drunk with earlier in the week, but whom I hadn't known before the conference. I was chatting with one of them when he suddenly asked, nonsequiturially, "So what are you doing this summer?"
"Um," I said. "It's mostly over, right? I'm here now and I was in [State Capital that Is also Home to a Major University] for all of June."

"Were you there on a. . . fellowship?"

"Yeah," I said. "At [institution]. Why?"

He smiled. "Then I guess I read your blog."
He and I are friends now--as I'm delighted to be friends with so many of you. Thanks for sticking around, peeps.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Boring technical update

I've been told off and on that some readers have had trouble subscribing to my blog's feed. To the best of my knowledge, this problem only affects Mac users, and only those using certain feed aggregators or subscription services (Bloglines, I think, works fine for everyone).

One solution: This blog has an Atom rather than an RSS feed, and it's routed through Feedburner, which means its address isn't intuitive. But most people who have had problems subscribing should be able to plug into your subscriber or aggregator or feed folder or whatever and have the problem resolved.

If you're still having trouble after trying that, though, could you let me know? I'm mostly technically incompetent, but I'd like to know the extent of the problem. More importantly: if you yourself ARE technically competent, are there other fixes you'd suggest or changes I could make?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Seeking scholarly LTR. Hand-holding a must.

Over the past couple of years I've talked to at least a dozen friends about exchanging work. Sometimes this happens over margaritas, as one of us is moaning about a project that seems to be going nowhere and the other replies, "well hey: I'm always happy to read for you." Other times (though likely still over drinks) we've mutually if vaguely declared that we really ought to form a support group to keep ourselves on task and read through each other's stuff from time to time.

And sometimes it's even happened: a couple of friends have stepped in at key moments to read the draft of one or another of my articles, and I've read a draft or two in return. I've also read a series of short introductions for a colleague's critical edition.

But that's been it. I think we're all sincere in our professed desire to help each other out--I know I'd read a draft for any of my friends at any time, and I'm not overly shy about asking for help myself, especially when I'm on a deadline or have gotten really stuck. But I think I've outgrown the scholarly booty call. I'd like a committed, long-term (though not necessarily exclusive!) relationship.

Part of the problem is mutuality. I do have a couple of mentor-type people who have volunteered to look over my manuscript "anytime," but apart from how terrifying those offers are (and although I will pursue them--I may be terrified, but I'm not stupid), those relationships would be unidirectional; I don't have much to offer in return, at least at this stage in my career. And even among friends, it's hard to know whether one is imposing too much, or if the vision of the relationship that one of us has is the same held by the other: would we be in touch weekly? monthly? less frequently? Would one of us need more hand-holding than the other? And what if we just, you know: had different values?

I'm hopeful that a supportive scholarly relationship or two will coalesce in the future, as it's hard for me to imagine being either particularly happy or a particularly good thinker working in isolation. Plenty of solitary workers are--both happy and damn fine scholars--but the older I get the more inefficient it feels to work alone and venture my ideas into public only in conference papers or article submissions.

It's funny: I used to be anxious about letting anyone see anything I was working on before it was polished to a high gloss--even if I knew I'd still be doing tons of revision afterwards, I couldn't bear the idea of showing my imperfect or unfinished thoughts to the world. But somehow, in the past few years, that fear has dissipated. I have a job. I've published articles I'm pleased with. I'm pretty sure my friends will not think I'm an idiot if they encounter a weak argument or an awkward paragraph (or ten).

More importantly, there's a lot of shit I don't know--stuff I haven't read, ways I don't think, ideas I haven't encountered. Given an infinitude of time, might I learn all those things on my own? Maybe. But wouldn't it be more efficient and more pleasurable to learn them from others--and help them learn stuff in return?

So yeah. That's what I'm looking for. You can keep your candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. I want something intimately. . . textual.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just sayin'

It's a strange profession that involves my running out of the house on a Saturday morning, a couple of times a year, in a little black dress and with my arms full of poofy medieval robes--then driving self and robes across town, parading around in them for a few hours, and driving back home.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Words known only to students (an incomplete list)

All kinds of strange words and word usages show up on individual student papers, usually the result of haste, personal idiosyncrasy, or an imperfectly developed critical vocabulary. Sometimes these malaproprisms are funny and sometimes they're not. But there are other words or expressions (or nonstandard usages) that I see all the time--which suggests to me that they're part of a wider student vocabulary that hasn't yet filtered up to the rest of us.

Here are a few that come to mind:
Portrays to mean is or is depicted as.
Ex. "The character Othello portrays a jealous man."

Incite, which has a wide and flexible range of meanings that I don't yet grasp. It seems to include motivate and inspire and sometimes entice.
Ex. "The Scottish throne incites Macbeth."

Call out to mean shame. I know that this is a colloquialism--that one may call someone out for cowardice, or hypocrisy, or whatever--but it's used by my students without that explanatory prepositional phrase.
Ex. "In this speech Lady Macbeth calls out her husband."

Moreso, which appears to mean something like additionally. I love this word because, although I see it often, I don't really understand it.
Ex. "Macbeth is motivated by the witches' prophecy, but moreso he's ambitious."
What would you add to this lexicon?

Friday, May 08, 2009


I'm not sure whether envy is actually the besetting sin of our profession--pride is an obvious challenger, with gluttony, wrath, and lechery making strong showings come conference time--but it may be the one that most of us wrestle with the most often. I know I do.

Envy isn't always destructive, and I've gotten better at limiting my envy to specific, tangible things: I envy my friends at other institutions the amount of travel funding they receive, or the frequency of their research leaves. Granted, this may not be a productive way to spend my time (although I suppose, for people who are not me, it could lead to redoubled efforts to conserve or use more wisely one's own time and money), but it's an expression of frustration with my institution's more limited resources rather than resentment of my friends for what they have.

I hope I'm smart enough not to envy most people their jobs, much less their lives; all jobs have trade-offs, of course, and it's impossibile to assess the quality of anyone's life from the outside. Some of my friends at research schools have more grading than I do, because when they teach lecture classes they don't get TAs (or they get only one for a class of 80). Others may indeed teach only a few dozen students a semester, but are swamped with orals or dissertation committees. When it comes to teaching/research balance, and to the health, happiness, and sanity of one's department, I've got it extraordinarily good.

Nevertheless, I still experience occasional fits of anger, frustration, or bitchiness that only later reveal themselves to have been partly motivated by envy. I'll be ranting about someone doing something SO UNACCEPTABLE or being SO CONDESCENDING, and then stop myself, wondering why I care so much--and realize that my anger was rooted in some presumption about how great that person's personal or professional life must be (with the allied presumption that, if I were in the offending party's place, I'd be much nicer or more generous).

As I say, it's something that I wrestle with, and nowhere more peculiarly than on those occasions when I've felt myself on the receiving end of other people's envy. Each time it's dawned on or been suggested to me that envy might be the reason a professional friend is suddenly making snide remarks or gossiping about me behind my back, my first reaction is to exclaim, "but why would anyone envy me?"--and then produce a list of all the ways in which that person's professional life is even better than mine.

I should know that that's just the way envy works--that since it's all fantasy and projection, I'm as reasonable an object as anyone--but it's disconcerting to think that someone might waste as much energy on me as I do on others.