Getting Out from Under

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Good and patient readers, thank you for checking back!  Grading final essays has kept me snowed under.  I just emerged on Tuesday from reading over 600 pages of student prose, my brain feeling like ground meat that's been kicked around on a dirty floor.

The baby got here safe and sound (after 20+ hours on Greyhound), and we've been enjoying his cheerful company.  It's turning out to be a quiet holiday for us:  we did manage to have one of my favorite people in Lincoln over to dinner (a feat; we are not natural-born entertainers), but other than that, our festivities have involved packing books into boxes and checking in at the new apartment, which was signed, sealed, and delivered last Friday (hurray!) and is now hung floor to ceiling with sheets of plastic while the workers do their magic. 

The draped plastic billows and blows in the fan's wind, and a thin fog of plaster dust veils the air.  The apartment's actually kind of cool and beautiful like that, especially at night with the parking garage's lights beaming eerily through the darkness.  I mean, not a look I'd want to keep.  But cool.

Mostly, we're just catching up and kicking back.  I'm so glad we didn't hustle up to a family Christmas in Chicago that my biological mother wanted us to attend.  It would have been frantic.  Quiet and slow = good.

In work news, I've gotten fascinating responses from a university press (about a book) and from a scholarly journal (about an article).  In both cases, one of the two outside blind readers--part of a process designed to ensure objectivity--loved the manuscript, while the other one loathed it. 

What's worse, the university-press editor told me that the positive reader's report about the book doesn't count; it was too "effusive."  What matters to the editorial board is the report that ripped the project up.  Sigh.  Even after all this time--and knowing academics up close--it's still kind of demoralizing.  One feels stupid.  One feels the pain of one's best efforts bashed.  But "revise and resubmit" is our bread and butter, and we all have to learn to take criticism impersonally.  C'est la vie

I'm supposed to draft, revise, and polish an intro for the book over the holidays--20 new pages in 2 weeks--and I'm not loving that prospect.  Familia and all.

Honestly, I'm trying to take stock right now, and the fact is, I'm feeling scattered, fragmented, stretched too thin:  modernist lit, Latin@ studies, creative nonfiction, writing a novel, editing a collection of other people's essays (and that doesn't begin to address the committee load here).  Most people with an academic position explore and master one field in a deep, focused way.  In English, folks generally tend to be scholars or creative writers, not both.  Plus, I'm genuinely interested in pedagogy (newsflash:  not all professors are--are you aghast?), so I read a lot about that, as well as occasionally publish little pieces about teaching strategies that work.

I'm doing too many different things, and none of them deeply enough to feel a calm, confident sense of real expertise.

For example, I recently received a really nice invitation  to be on a panel at the Modernist Studies Association conference.  Okay, fine, lovely to be asked.  But honestly, the MSA conference, which I've attended twice before, makes me feel wildly anxious.  Everyone is veddy, veddy scholarly, über-technical, and thoroughly saturated in Modernist studies and high theory.  Among them, I feel unwashed. 

Similarly, a journal editor invited me to write about polyphonic feminisms.  People:  I didn't know what polyphonic feminisms meant.  I had to look it up.

So why did I say yes to both?  I don't know.  I am thinking that through. 

It doesn't make sense.  When what I'm sure I long to do is sit quietly and dream up stories and write them, and I have a dayjob that lets me do that, why do I keep committing to things that stretch me beyond my expertise, make me anxious, and destroy my sense of calm?  (I'm not exaggerating.  Calm:  destroyed.  You can ask James.)  Am I that genuinely interested in the material?  Do I--despite my protestations--actually relish the intellectual challenge?  Or am I driven by the anxious fear that if I say no to anything, the invitations will all dry up?

Ah, yes:  what an academic contemplates on Christmas Eve.  Merry, merry.  Deck the halls.

Vastly more compelling is my immediate dilemma.  The presence of Grey, who is both something of a bon vivant and a militant vegan, makes planning festive holiday menus a challenge--but a challenge to which I'm attempting to rise.  My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to convert my insanely swoony New Orleans-style bread pudding into a vegan version.  (The whiskey sauce alone requires an egg and 8 tablespoons of butter.)

I'll report back to let you know how the EarthBalance and egg replacement powder work out. 

In the meantime, I wish you the happiest, warmest, friendliest of holidays.  (And if the holidays happen to be sucking for you right now, go here.)

Peace on Earth, sweet people.  Thank you for being with me for another beautiful year.


shari said:


It's a gift to read your insights and explorations. Thanks for sharing these on the academic life (so much for the luxurious holiday breaks, huh?). Enjoy your son and stay warm--


December 26, 2009 1:57 PM

fayepoet said:

Oh, Joy—
I so admire your candor and how you tell it like it is. Being that much older (and you know how much!), I can so readily relate to your stretched feeling and the tempting challenges which your intellect and personality attract! You have mucho options and choices; and if I'm reading your words correctly, there's a part of you crying out to do what you want! Why not have fun and enjoy the creative passions you most enjoy.It'll balance the grunge work of academia--- 600 pages of student prose, oh my!
New Orleans style bread pudding looks yummy to me! Hope the redo works for Grey and his loving family.Peace to you and happy new year.

December 28, 2009 1:39 PM

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