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I really shouldn’t be writing about a writing plan. I should be grading blue books.

But the blue books never end (more appeared today! Ack!!) and sometimes a prof just needs a little break, you know?

I had an interesting, if rushed, conversation about writing goals with Awesome Colleague earlier this week. She was at a conference over the weekend and met a wonderful mentor who generously offered some great advice for trying to balance the workload at a university like ours. I’m still thinking over the bulk of that very helpful second-hand advice and will likely reflect on it later, but for now, I’m thinking about writing plans and the discussions I’ve had with Awesome Colleague and others about just. getting. it. done.

Part of getting it done is setting goals and deadlines. I’m very good at setting goals and deadlines. Unfortunately I seem to be equally skilled at letting those goals and deadlines whoosh right past me while I sit at my computer and do other things. I have tried several techniques to move past this goal-avoidance problem in the past but so far none of them have actually worked.

My greatest goal-missing hits: Continue Reading »

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I Need a Break

Not the little pretend fall break so many universities throw at you where you basically get a long weekend.

I need a real, proper, week long break, and I need it soon. Now would be ideal, actually.

Yes, yes, I understand that they are budgeting in the time for Thanksgiving and that it all evens out in the end. Unfortunately I got spoiled by my grad institution and my body and brain still crave the real, week-long deal.

Would I spend this break relaxing and hanging out with my loved ones or friends? Phhbbbbt. Of course not. I need a week off from my job to catch up with my job. One of these days I’ll try to take one of those vacation-y breaks I hear so much about, but for now, a break means catching up on work, personal stuff that has been allowed to slide, and maybe some sleep.

Sadly wishing and begging on the blogosphere won’t make my magical catch-up week appear, so it’s back to the grindstone. What have I accomplished since that long list on Sunday? Not enough, but some: Continue Reading »

Apparently I’m not doing so well at the regular blogging thing. I made a deal with myself before launching this blog that I would not allow it to get in the way of my productivity. Indeed, the whole purpose of the blog is to be an aide in becoming more productive. So for any of you who read this blog (and let’s face it, I’m new enough that I’m not sure there are any of you out there), sorry for the radio silence.

I’ve had a very busy past week+. Some of that has been positive, with a lot of good work done (even if it wasn’t my own writing). Some of that has been negative and extremely frustrating. I had to actually stop myself from writing mid-week and again a few days later because all out ranting is probably not the most productive use of my time nor anything that anyone else would want to read. However, now that I’ve calmed down a bit I think it would be good to look back, reflect, and think about how to handle the next couple of weeks. Here, then, are the highlights of my past 10 or so days.

The good:

  • I’ve successfully recruited 2 new majors to transfer to our department- yes!! Both are awesome and are clearly meant to be with us, and even better, both are considering keeping their complementary previous majors as a double-major so I don’t have to feel bad about poaching from our down-the-hall colleagues. I’m very happy that they are happy with their new majors AND that I’ll get to work with them more over the next couple of years.
  • Turned in book orders for the spring semester. I’m still not sure why we have to turn them in so early, especially in light of the fact that our bookstore didn’t tell me that they couldn’t get two (2!!) of the books I requested for my fall classes until about 1.5 weeks before classes began despite having had the order since late February, but hey, sometimes it’s better not to think so hard about these things. I’ll be teaching two new preps in the spring so that meant lots of thinking/planning/head banging about my orders, but I think that I’m happy with the lists and hope the students will like them, too.
  • Multiple service meetings/after hours obligations over the past week. This week’s were focused on student voter turn out, which is an excellent cause and one I’m happy to work on. We’ve been running registration drives since mid-summer and other activities are really ramping up now that the election is getting near. I’m beginning to wear a little thin but thankfully the end is in sight and, more importantly, we’ve got some fantastic and energetic students working with us. It is good to work with excited students outside of the classroom and to make ties with faculty outside of my department/college.
  • Almost done with final revisions on a big grant proposal. Well, big in relation to the other grants I’ve worked on and big for SPU, but not big in any real sense of the term. If successful, this grant won’t benefit me directly in terms of dollars, which undoubtedly leads you to wonder why I’ve spent hours working on it. Suffice it to say that it would be a huge help in restarting a program which could do excellent things for my department, my students, and the university’s image around the state. It could also potentially help someone near and dear to me (ahem, poor beleagured Spouse) get that much closer to potential full time employment in a field he enjoys and is trained in. Bonus: my co-authors are generous with their time, advice, and sharing of the grant-writing credit for my tenure file. It can never hurt to have your name pass across the upper admin’s desks attached to beneficial grant proposals, right?
  • Had an absolutely fantastic day in my ancient history class this week. I gave them a little break from their normal readings after their midterm earlier in the week by focusing on art and poetry. Not only did my students enjoy the images and talk about them from an artistic point of view, but they totally rocked out in making connections to historical developments and changes in social values which were reflected in the different styles and abilities of the various periods we examined. We never even got to the poetry, they had so much to say about the art. While I’m sad that we didn’t get to talk Sappho and Catullus (the tamer stuff, but it’s all relative), I’m very proud of the work that they did and hope that this bodes well for the midterms I have yet to grade.

The predictable, if time consuming and occasionally frustrating: Continue Reading »

Medievalists are not often considered to be key university resources on current events. Let’s face it, if you have a question about current international relations or the congressional race in your local district your first stop is far more likely to be with a member of the political science department, or at least an Americanist. But that doesn’t mean that we premodern folk aren’t interested or involved in what is going on around us.

While medievalist engagement with the contemporary world is probably (hopefully?) unsurprising to other academics, it appears to be mind-boggling for students. Some of the most interesting teaching moments that happen in my classroom come about when we’ve been working with a text and (sometimes with some gentle nudging) students realize that their modern views on the topic are not all that different from those distressingly “medieval”* ones. This happens often with rape laws, for example, where a certain late eighth or ninth century code condemns “rape” rape but denies a victim the right to press charges if she was known to have multiple sexual partners, was by herself in a bar, or was out walking at night where she darn well should not have been walking, among other reasons. The more things change, huh? That code never fails to outrage students and leads to a very interesting class discussion about both medieval and contemporary society.

In my current seminar on the ancient world we recently covered the death of Socrates and I was pleased when my students immediately connected the charge of corrupting the youth with the teaching of critical thinking skills. When I mentioned the recent laws passed in Texas which outlawed the teaching of those same critical thinking skills at the secondary level (not to mention the impact that those laws could have on the rest of the country due to Texas’ immense textbook-buying power), there were audible cries of dismay followed by a flurry of questions and expressions of outrage and disbelief. The class immediately began to draw the connections between Athenian and American political participation in terms of class and socio-economic privilege, bemoaning the possible ramifications of the loss of critical thinking skills for a voting public. In the week and a half since that discussion several of my students have sought me out after class, during office hours, or over email to thank me for bringing up that connection to the modern world and to ask where they might find further information about the charges against Socrates AND the changes happening in Texas.

This turn of events is gratifying to me in multiple ways. Continue Reading »

1) That nagging feeling that you really should be doing something about the job market this time of year, even when you actually don’t need to do so anymore. I am very grateful for that release, and not only because I don’t think I could have enjoyed this MLA jobs tumblr half as much as I am if I were staring down the gauntlet of another year on the market. My best wishes go to those about to head into the fray yet again.

2) The thrill of discovering a delicious cheese or imported beer randomly on sale at the grocery store.* I expect that someday soon the novelty may wear off not because I have a living(ish) wage now and can afford to splurge (a little) slightly more often, but because I’ll finally realize that the thrill of the chase is gone now that I’m no longer competing with a large sea of fellow grad students for these rare prizes.

3) Imposter syndrome. Ah, my arch nemesis, we meet again. Actually, I’m not sure you ever left. Imposter syndrome, for those of you who are fortunate enough not to know, is the feeling that you somehow wound up in your present position not on account of any actual merit or good work, but rather through some fluke in the admissions or hiring process. Symptoms include a fear of being discovered for the fraud you are, anxiety about being laughed out of a conference, and dreams about being tarred and feathered with the shredded pages of your own dissertation before being chased across the quad as an example to the undergrad population. Wait, was that last one just me?

For some reason I had this crazy idea that imposter syndrome would disappear once I landed a tenure-track job. That’s the brass ring, right? The proof that all those long years of endless nights in your library carrel and cramming just one more adjuncted course or conference presentation into your c.v. were worth it, because you won. You proved worthy. Your work was measured, your teaching skills vetted, your potential collegiality assessed, and you were declared good. Continue Reading »

Why and Wherefore

Hello there, world.

I know what you’re thinking. Why in the world is yet another academic starting yet another ridiculous blog to chronicle her thoughts on academia and life in general? Hasn’t the world suffered enough? You have a point: I am far from unique. I sincerely doubt that anything that I write in this space will be earth-shattering or world-changing for anyone else, and perhaps not even for me. However, given where I currently reside both in terms of physical geography and career/life stage, I think (hope?) that the creation of this site will serve me well. Either that or it will just serve as another excellent way to procrastinate, as I’m clearly lacking in procrastination opportunities at the moment.

I’m about a third of the way in to my second year on the tenure track as a humanities professor at a small public university in the Deep South. As a born-and-bred midwesterner who traveled around a fair bit during my college and grad school years I never anticipated living in this environment. I’ve had some surprises over the last year (Shovel-less winters? AWESOME! Flying cockroaches with no fear of human beings? Decidedly less awesome) and anticipate posts about the ways that the local physical and cultural climate impact my life will pop up from time to time.

The real reason that I finally bit the bullet and decided to create this blog, however, is because of the isolating factor of my current position. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very, very lucky to have the world’s most supportive spouse and two ridiculously needy and entertaining cats who came along for the adventure, so my isolation is not happening on the home front. I’m also painfully aware of how lucky I am to have found a tenure-track job in the current disastrous academic market so I’m not exactly complaining about the location in that sense. At least, not all of the time. My isolation problem is of an intellectual sort. I’m the only medievalist in my department and one of two on my campus. Don’t even ask how many others there are within a 1-hour+ drive; it’s just depressing. This has meant two things for my burgeoning academic career thus far:

1) I teach more broadly than I’d ever anticipated during graduate school. It is simultaneously terrifying and exciting, but most of all it is *exhausting*. Did I mention that I’m teaching a 4-4 load and that I’m the only pre-modernist available in the region? Yeah, that’s just the right amount of awe-inspiring terror you need to get a freshly-minted Ph.D. to run around doing her best impersonation of a headless chicken while spending so much time on prep and grading that sleep, exercise, and general humanity fly right out the window. I’m working on fixing that, if for no other reason than that I don’t want this job to actually kill me.

2) I miss the company of other scholars who work on similar material. I’m very fortunate that in my teeny-tiny department I have some wonderful and supportive colleagues, some of whom I’m even lucky enough to consider friends. However, not a one of them works on my period, much less my specialties within that period, which makes it very hard to find anyone to bounce ideas and drafts off of on a regular basis. I’m beginning to think bookish thoughts and am struggling to find a local (in the broadest sense of the term) mentor to offer any guidance on the process due to specialization and institutional issues. More details on the book issue will undoubtedly be forthcoming.  For now I’ll just say that I hope this blog will provide me with a) a way to connect with peers and possible kind-hearted mentors* in my own and related fields in other parts of the country so that I don’t feel quite so isolated in this newbie-prof-trying-to-figure-out-how-to-write-a-book-and-get-tenure thing (not to mention the general isolation thing), and b) to give me a place to rant and rail about the writing process. Academic writing is a struggle for me, especially without external motivation (i.e. deadlines and guilt-inducing shame provided by disappointed outsiders) to push me along. I’m hoping that by providing myself with a place to write about the writing process I might find a way to keep going through the rough patches rather than closing the file and walking away in shame when I get stuck. Heck, maybe I’ll even come to enjoy the process and find some internal motivation along the way. Either way, expect some senseless writing on a wide variety of topics for as long as I can convince myself that an academic blog is a helpful tool and not just another way to procrastinate.

  • *I’m not expecting that mentors will jump up and beg to take me on as a fun new neurotic project, of course. I’ve already learned a lot from anonymously blog-stalking other academic bloggers over the last couple of years and that is how I intend to continue to learn. It just seemed like it was time for me to join the conversation rather than forever hover in the background.