02 March 2015

Spring Breaking and Spring Mending

The academic calendar tells me this is spring break. The all-day snow yesterday suggests that the "spring" modifier is perhaps a little ahead of itself, but the break from my everyday schedule is as advertised.

As is the case with most academics, there's not much "break" in my break, in the sense of vacation, but it is something different for a few days, and on the heels of a frigid February, that'll do. My plans for the week involve writing two conference papers and putting together my AWP presentation. Planning and writing new scholarly papers is a task both daunting and refreshing, and when I can put the intimidated feeling on the back-burner, I am reminded of this oft-quoted sentiment from Brenda Ueland:
“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. ”
~from If You Want to Write
I feel that way much more with scholarly writing than with my novel. That's likely because my scholarly writing must start with some defined line of inquiry; the conference abstract has already been submitted, so I'd better go on writing the paper around the idea I submitted. Perhaps it's my particular area of research—Anglo-Saxon studies, which is well-loved and well-studied, particularly with regard to the texts I love most—but I don't feel like I'm "discovering" anything. If anything, the bead metaphor is more apt still: I'm sitting beside the same box of beads as everyone else, threading them together in a hopefully pleasing pattern. Hopefully no one else is stringing together the exact same colors in the exact same sequence, but at the end of the day, the beads will be recognizable as beads, even if I've managed to find some bits of bone and shell to add, too.

This is not to categorize all scholarly writing in this way—just my own. I know I've read scholarship that felt like Byron on the mountaintop, and I'm grateful to it. My own process simply seems quieter than that. Maybe it's because of the contrast I feel when I shift between genres, from scholarship to novel and back. With the novel, even one with a historical timeline and a significant number of pre-set events, it doesn't feel like beads most of the time. Sometimes it does, mornings of quiet productivity where the manuscript is somehow two thousand words longer than it was the day before, and the scene has transitioned, and everything proceeds apace.

More often, though, it feels like making the beads—drilling through bone and shell and glass with nothing but a pen-tip—or chasing each glittering seed as it bounces across the floor (right for the dark space under the stove or refrigerator—or stringing them with eyes closed because I'm not sure how it's all going to look together. I like that feeling, too.


I was smart enough not to plan a slew of grading for the week, but I had to provide another wrinkle: home inspections for a casa we would like to buy. On Thursday afternoon, think good thoughts for me while I'm hanging outside with the home inspector and trying to pretend I'm not freezing to death.


Here are some cool things:

52 Habits: My grad school friend and digital rhetor/Writing Center Director/poet Julie Platt is embarking on a completely ambitious, wholly inspiring, year-long project of cultivating new, positive habits, and her friend Dalyn is also participating. I've been leeching motivation and great ideas from this jawn since January. Check it out.

Every Game A Story: A new series from The Classical. I've joined the editorial staff at The Classical, and here on the brink of baseball season, we're looking for some baseball-centric work. Check out the  new general guidelines, too. Send us some stuff.

15 January 2015

magic hat

This past weekend, we decided to go to a Hershey Bears hockey game (and you can read more about that at The Classical sometime next week). During the preceding days, I was on campus, working to get everything necessary for the semester settled. The process for preparing to teach four classes and direct four creative writing portfolio projects entailed three course redesigns and one curriculum revision, which was a lot, but all of it will be helpful in the long-term.

The week was also, in some ways, a trial of the everyday: timing and morning routine, lunch options, going out into some seriously frigid temperatures and not whining about it too much, getting my office in order. I spent more time than I want to admit to testing out various winter hats, too, because I didn't want my ears to freeze and fall off, and nor did I want my hair to be doing the thing it does when I've worn a hat, even for as short a time as it takes me to get from home to office. The thing that it does is what comedian Elvira Kurt does in the linked clip. (Short version: it's not good.)

The week ended, and Saturday came, and with Saturday, a meeting of the knitting group. Just before walking out the door with a just-started sweater project in my bag, I decided I was going to knit a hat. I was going to knit a hat I had my eye on for more than a year, and I was going to knit it in time to wear to the hockey game. I scrounged around for yarn that would suit the pattern, coming up with a partial skein of bulky, cream-colored wool and a ball of leftover blue laceweight. The blue, I was certain, was more than enough. For the other—the part that would actually become the hat—I could only guess. In my hand, it seemed like it would work.

I knit like a fiend at the meeting, and I knit through one and a half televised hockey games. Around the second period of the Bruins vs. Flyers, I started to get nervous about the amount of yarn I had left. While Pekka Rinne stonewalled nineteen of the first twenty—and eventually thirty-seven of thirty-eight—Minnesota shots, I got really nervous.

Fifteen minutes before we had to leave, I wove in my ends with this much yarn to spare.
Doesn't have to be a lot. Just has to be enough.
The hat itself has proven to be exactly what I wanted it to be, so much so that I am considering making one in another color. 

I don't usually make things that can be done in a day. I gravitate toward fussy things on small needles (socks, lace) or large things on whatever size (blankets, sweaters). For all that they're the first things most people think of, I've knit perilous few scarves and hats, and Saturday's project felt strangely like magic. In the morning, I wanted a hat. In the evening, I had one, and it was one I'd wanted for ages. 

I need to keep remembering how uncomplicated that process can be. All I needed to do was decide. All I needed to do was start.

08 January 2015

resolve: verb

1 : obsolete :  dissolve, melt
the frozen feeling that stays me, the resistance that is not resistance but is fear and not a reference to a Disney movie and not a reference to the weather although it could be and I want that too.
2a : break up, separate ; also :  to change by disintegration
that which I do not want, which is calcification: I will be vinegar when I must, and scour.
2b :  to reduce by analysis
I observe. I assess. I proceed.
2c :  to distinguish between or make independently visible adjacent parts of
myself: I do not need to be all things to all people. I do contain multitudes, but let me know which and when and splay us out like cards from which I choose my own hand or slide us all together, neat edges all decked and whole.
2d :  to separate (a racemic compound or mixture) into the two components
alchemy in reverse: is separation an act of creation?
3 :  to cause resolution of (a pathological state)
This I don't fully understand. I am a novelist. I can lie. I understand. This is resolved.
4a :  to deal with successfully :  clear up
I teach communication in varying ways. I should learn from me, who is more often definition 3 than 4a, which is, at best, B+ work.
4b :  to find an answer to
I tell my students to ask and ask and ask. I am good at the finding, which is far, far easier than the asking.
4c :  to make clear or understandable
myself, to myself
4d :  to find a mathematical solution of
hours and pages and how many more because I want to do more and 1 was the first thing on the list so check it off and solve for x because you knew once how to do that, how to calculate your own algebra and doubt was not a factor then.
4e :  to split up (as a vector) into two or more components especially in assigned directions
can be achieved through trigonometry. draw boxes. know what goes in each. hold only one at a time, except when it is better to hold two or three or stack them into a ziggurat because the edges are square where you've drawn them to be. the angles are true. they don't have to remain two-dimensional or separate because this is only a metaphor and you only need this reminder sometimes.
5 :  to reach a firm decision about
caffeine / running / why I keep trying to like broccoli / what happens at the end 
6 :  to declare or decide by a formal resolution and vote
that I'll make metaphors that will hold water, even inverted, that are as solid as the seams of a freshly careened ship, and it's gotten away on me again
7 :  to make progress from dissonance to consonance
in all aspects
8 :  to work out the resolution of (as a play)
for play is the thing.