Thursday, September 30, 2010


Never ever have I wanted more to go see a play that I will be unable to go see.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One chapter left

I have been a bit sick these past two weeks--nothing serious, just a cough that won't go away and occasionally keeps me up at night. But given that the cough had turned into a bacterial infection in the chest, my doctor urged me to take both the antibiotics and steroids that he had prescribed. I hate feeling like I'm coughing up a lung, so I'm now on day five of this course, with some, but not much improvement.

What this has to do with writing: perhaps you've been on prednisone. Perhaps you know that it can make you a bit...manic. Not usually the kind of manic that's good for writing, and whether this was that, I do not know. But over there on the right, you'll see sixteen new pages. In a day.

Willow will read them over the next few days, and point out the places in the argument where (very likely) I have skipped over two of three important pieces of information moving from pithy line to pithy line, but hey! it's drafted, and it's a conclusion, so it doesn't need to have quite the same level of analysis that the other chapters require.

So that leaves one chapter left, and not one that is particularly daunting. It does deal more substantially with race than other material I've written does, and I've never been particularly insightful on that topic. I have a senior colleague, however, who is very good on that subject, and so if I can have a draft completed by October 15, I can submit it for our faculty writing group.

In the meantime, I have a batch of response papers to grade, as well as a batch of quizzes, a dissertation chapter to read, and six recommendation letters to write for very bright and committed students who deserve really good thorough ones.

But tonight, perhaps I'll let my 16 pages stand as a good day's work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smell that burning?

It's the fire that just got lit under my ass.

I had been working on the notion that the end of the summer was a loosely set, self-imposed deadline that the press really didn't care one way or the other about. I mean, they've probably got a backlog of good work: why would a month or so matter to them at all?

Except for in my email last evening was a not from the acquisitions editor checking in on the status of the manuscript. I said end of October.

So there. Now it's been said. Now, I just have to write it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pat on the back

Look! right over there! on the right!-->

See that the writing progress meter has logged some more pages. Right now, I'm at 221 revised pages (although not all totally polished: I'm fudging the little clean-up things I have to do here and there).

I finished another chapter draft today. The last chapter was a delight to write: the argument was in my head, I wrote quickly and forcefully, and the ideas, while running against conventional wisdom, still add up.

This chapter, not so much. Twenty of its 42 pages were close-readings lifted from the dissertation, and in fact, they may be among the few pages that survive from the diss unscathed, for many of the other 50 pages of "drafted" material that I started with have actually been completely re-written. The problems were these:
  • These were close readings that didn't actually have a stand-alone argument that was separate from the previous chapter. They had a theme, a common thread, but no argument. They now have one, but not after fits and starts.
  • This would have to be the first piece of this writing push that has happened successfully while classes were in session.
So while my pace has slowed down from the summer a bit, it's still gone well. Because I work better with moderately large chunks of writing time, I've been going at about 5 pages a day, with really only one or two writing days a week. It's not ideal, but it's working. So while I'm not thrilled with the pace, I'm patting myself on the back that I have any pace at all.

The next chapter is not unlike the previous one, but the close readings in draft form are even more fragmentary, which means I'll be doing a lot of writing from the ground up. I need to give myself permission to let this chapter be a bit shorter than the others (I've estimated about 25 pages), so I can push through to the end of this draft.

I had initially aimed for the end of the summer, which I first interpreted as the beginning of the semester. That came and went, and now the end of the seasonal summer is nigh. I don't have a natural deadline for the remaining chapter and conclusion, but I'm now aiming for the end of October. Halloween and the twins' 7th birthday would go nicely with a completed book manuscript, don't you think? Keep your fingers crossed, 'cause the going gets tough here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Not to worry, I'm not leaving anywhere. The goodbyes I've been thinking about lately are from the vantage point of those of us left behind.

Our department here at BRU has experienced, for no single reason, a bit of a mini-exodus, with three junior faculty leaving, and the announcement of a couple of other retirements and career-enhancing departures on the horizon in the next year. we're a pretty big department, but still, (at least) five full-time faculty from a state flagship English department is a lot, I think.

It's all the more a shock because things had been quite stable for several years, which suggests that the exodus was not rats-from-a-sinking-ship, but rather simply bad timing.

But the goodbyes themselves have been in some ways kind of devastating. Some of our very closest friends have suddenly up-and-gone, and others are going. The transience here is hard to swallow, because for me, my sense of place largely depends not on where I am, but with whom I am. Of course Willow is here, and the kids, and we already (like most academics) left behind our dearest friends when we left from grad school city. And if, someday, we decide to go elsewhere, we'll be leaving behind empty spots, spots in other people's daily lives.

When I was in undergrad, I worked summers at a restaurant. the friendships among the college age waitstaff there were fast and intense, and all dissolved at the end of the summer. The bartender there, Doug, was probably ten years older than we were, and was totally disinterested in these ephemeral connections. He regarded us all with a sort of grumpy disdain. And he wasn't shy about why: "why should I invest my time and energy in making friends with people who are only going to be here for three months?" He'd seen so many people come and go, that the real prospects of connecting with his co-workers was completely undermined.

Of course, it's not the same, at least in terms of degrees, but I am still heart-broken about some of these departures, and the prospect of others. Community in an academic context depends largely on the ability of a department or group or whatever to come to trust one another, and as little as I blame any single person for decisions that made perfect sense, I still mourn the little hits that our sense of community takes: both for their losses and for the small scars they leave behind.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor day, labor, and poverty

A former student and an amazing post at Daily Kos.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Lest you think that this blog permanently become a kind of "here's what I've been doing lately" space (which it has temporarily), fear not. A few things are going on with some bigger issues that have would otherwise provide so much material for writing, but alas, this blog is not nearly anonymous enough for me to discuss issues of such a sensitive nature while they are actually happening.

So instead: here's what I've been doing lately.

With the computer disaster, the beginning of the semester, a string of delightful guests, and the annual faculty report I had to compile, my writing hit a three-week snag. I finished up chapter 4, thus closing the gap and leaving me with five full chapters drafted. Willow is working on editing that chapter, and I hope in the next week to move those 30 drafted pages into the 30 revised pages column. In the meantime, onto chapter 6. In its earlier incarnation, that chapter was two close readings of plays that had been attached to chapter 5, but together with another play I did not write about, they represent a very specific phenomenon that in rethinking and reorganizing the project became worth breaking out into their own chapter. Today, I wrote an introductory framing section for that chapter, which is (I am happy to report) less risky than the last chapter, but still a new argument to make. I hope that on Friday, I can revise one of the two close reading sections so that I'll be on track to finish the chapter draft within the following week. This one, I hope, shouldn't be too, too hard.

In the meantime, classes have begun, and teaching this semester will have the potential to get dull if I don't work to keep myself engaged, and some tenure materials will need to be assembled, so while writing still remains a priority, I've got a lot to think about (in addition to all those things I cannot write about at the moment).