Friday, June 25, 2010

A Literary Dream, Loosely Speaking

The other night I dreamt that I had come up with an idea for a brilliant, best-selling-novel. Here it is--aspiring writers, take note!

It was to be called Various Ways of Describing a Prince's Title.

(The title was an awkward nod to Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which was in fact the inspiration for the title within the dream.)

It would be a collection of monologues. I was really inspired. I started writing one right away (still in the dream), then had to stop at one point to make some notes about the second one.

In the dream (just to be clear), I wrote the better part of one monologue. It was supposed to come from a churlish perspective, possibly that of a laborer ("churlish" and "laborer" were the words used within the dream). And it was in Middle English.

So yes, I was composing in Middle English in my sleep (likely much better than I could when awake!).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

But on the other hand, so what?

I've been thinking on and off this summer about goals and ambition. I'm a pretty ambitious person, and I'm good at setting and reaching goals. So, for example, I have this big pompous pre-tenure goal--and now that achieving it is actually a real possibility, I'll share it here: I aim to have published an R1's tenure-worth of stuff before getting tenure. I've decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that this means a book and six peer-reviewed articles--of which I currently have four accepted (not all at equally fancy places, but some lack of fanciness is all right. After all, I teach 4/4; this is one concession I can make). So that gives me three years to get two more PR articles out. Doable. And it makes me feel all fabulous and important.

The downside to all of this ambition and achievement, though--well, there are several downsides. The most obvious one is that it's painfully ego-centric. Everything is about MY achievement, MY accomplishments, etc. Focusing so much on the self and the self's own importance is, first of all, selfish and not particularly conducive to a more compassionate, charitable, humble, or service-oriented state of mind. The second (and more selfish) problem with ego-centric ambition is that it's very fragile. What if my book gets a bad review? My ego, my sense of self, suffers. Identifying heavily with one's accomplishments only works when one's accomplishments are clicking along very well, and that can't happen for ever. It's ultimately a stressful and unsustainable way to live.

I've been thinking about these things because it's summer--and despite what various people are saying, it's STILL JUNE and summer IS NOT almost over--and I have a long list of Things To Do Before School Starts. These include:
  • writing a conference paper for September
  • planning my classes (two new preps each semester next year, plus comp needs its annual retooling)
  • drafting up a research plan for the Next Big Thing
  • reading a mess o' books
  • brushing up on my Latin in preparation for my July research trip
  • reading a pack of Chaucer, whom I know remarkably ill for someone in my field.
I'm making pretty good headway on all of these, and I've finished up my index and page proofs--the other big To Do item for early summer. But, at the start of the summer especially, this list was stressing me out. Contemplating it, I was haunted by the feeling that summer was over already, and I had had no time to actually rest.

So what I decided to do about a month ago was to recalibrate my goals. Of course I'll work on the above--for one thing, I have to, and for another, I'd be really bored if I didn't have some work to do; I do actually enjoy most of the above, as long as the pressure's off. But the actual goals for the summer--the priorities--changed. They are now the following:
  • meditate daily (except while traveling)
  • exercise regularly, because it makes me feel good in my body and makes me more attentive to the physical world
  • enjoy myself, and not fret when doing so means that I haven't completed a daily To Do list.
What's remarkable is that, once I made that switch, I started enjoying my summer a whole lot more. And I'm still getting my work done (even if it's not always at a lightning pace).

A few weeks ago I read an article in a Buddhist magazine that I used to subscribe to (the subscription ran out in May, but I have a stack of back issues that I'm reading through whenever I'm on the elliptical). In it, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talks about accessing the goodness in ourselves and in the world--and how our ego-centrism can get in the way of that. He describes a scenario in which someone has achieved something and wants praise. Of course, he says, such praise would be nice; you want recognition and congratulation, and it hurts not to have it. "But on the other hand," he goes on, "so what?"

That stopped me right there. What a beautiful way to put it--yes, of course, you want these things, but you don't have them, and so what? So what if I don't achieve my arbitrary and self-important publication goals? So what if I'm not The Very Best Professor Ever (or whatever my small-minded ego tries to convince me that I have to become)? So what if I don't finish my checklist? Maybe, in the time that I'm not completing all my personal little goals, I might do something nice for TM, or make the cats purr, or call my brother. The work goals are nice, but they don't matter.* So what?

So here's to a happy and equanimous summer!

*Of course, I have the questionable luxury of teaching at an institution where extensive publication is not required or expected (or really supported). Ultimately, I guess, the "so what?" would also apply to not getting tenure--so what?--but I admit that that would be a hard pill to swallow. I acknowledge here, therefore, that the choices I'm making are less about external requirements and more about my own pride and ego--along with love of the field etc., they're what drive a lot of my desire to accomplish--and are not identically applicable to everyone. But if we were all truly enlightened, then we would be able to greet every situation with the same equanimity: So what, after all?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I've spent the last three days checking each one of my index entries. Yes. Each one. Looking it up and making sure that it's correct. This was simple enough for the names and big obvious words, but things like "epistemology" are not exactly easy to spot on a quick look-over.

Talk about double-plus un-fun.

Was it necessary? Good question. On the one hand, I did find some errors, inconsistencies, and weird items, and some pagination changes from the first to the second proofs had to be dealt with. On the other, the vast majority of the listings were correct and it was not particularly likely that anyone would ever find the mistakes.

Whatever. It's done. I am not rereading the second proofs, though. I've checked to make sure that everything I marked in the first proofs was fixed (not all of it was), and I am calling it a motherfucking day.

So I'm...done with the book? Well, I do need to make some corrections in the index document, but that'll take like an hour.

...Oddly, the hell of indexing has made me almost not particularly care. Whither excitement? Oh, I know: I now have an Amazon listing and a gorgeous cover--which is, unfortunately, not yet viewable on Amazon. Oh well! I know that it's gorgeous (and it'll turn up soon enough). Whee!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things I Do Not Want to See Right Now

1. Emails from students with the one-word subject line, "Help."


That's about it.

In other news, I'm off to visit family for a week. I know--I promised some kind of substantive post a while back, and have yet to deliver. It's possible that I'll blog from the vacation, but not necessarily likely, so it may be that you hear from me again in a week or so.

Have fun! (And I just can't bring myself to open the email right now. I'm off contract, people!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

ZOMG (and I never say that).

I have just found my summer procrastination.

All seven seasons of Buffy are on Netflix Watch Instantly.

I have been waiting for this day.

It's a good thing, actually, that TM doesn't like the show.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


You've got to love that article-acceptance-from-fancy-journal feeling.

*this is me, basking*

Anyway. I have an actual substantive post brewing about more or less the exact opposite of this feeling--well, okay, maybe not the exact opposite. I guess that there are various opposites here. The brewing post is not on the opposite of the yay-acceptance feeling (which would be the sad-rejected feeling, obviously); rather, it's on the opposite of goal-oriented-hyper-productive-grandly-planned-doomed-to-be-disappointing summer agenda. And I can't really build that into a "Yay! Accepted!" post, which really is all about the accomplishments. So I'll just leave this one as it is and be back later with some musings, if that's all right with y'all.