Friday, December 21, 2007

Solstice flora

Aha! I've figured out a way to put a picture up at the top of this page, and lo: the gentiana verna. Probably not all that appropriate for this season, since it doesn't do cold very well, but it's been my favorite flower for years--they grow wild all over the Burren, in Ireland, where I lived and worked for a while. When I headed back to the USA for graduate school, I tucked several of them in books and in my passport to bring the color home, but none of them survived the journey. Now I'm hellbent on growing one this next spring in this distinctly nonIrish, nonlush climate, because that color is worth all sorts of crimes against nature.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Here is the bit. Watch me chomp.

I spent part of today photocopying syllabi for my courses next term. Is it totally too geeky to say how excited I am for these classes to start? One particularly sumptuous chunk of my time will be spent with a senior capstone seminar devoted to....devotion. Or rather, devotional poetry. From 700 BCE to today. I'm making things up as I go, and I have no idea where our conversation will lead us, but I figure that I'm spending 16 weeks reading dizzyingly fabulous literature that will yield its own urgencies. Sappho. Psalms. The high water mark, of course: Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, Taylor, Vaughn, Traherne, Milton. Then Dickinson. Hopkins. Eliot. And finishing up with Gluck, Jarman, Cairns, Samarras, Hopler.... I'm getting all jumpy just thinking about it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Things I don't care about, really.

1) The stupid book I'm trying to write.

2) Lining up travel/ funding for my spring conferences.

3) My spring conferences.

4) How my classes go next term.

5) What my students think of me.

6) Frankly, what you think of me.

7) Any material goods.

8) Blogging.

9) Whether we hire anyone good, or anyone period.

10) Thing 2's severe pneumonia. Why? Because it isn't, as an army of doctors feared until this morning, non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Things I do care about:

1) My kids.

Monday, December 10, 2007


After nearly two weeks of ignoring my book proposal, I have my nose back to the grindstone today. The proposal itself is ready to go--at this point, I have only to revise into a "sample" book chapter an article which used to be a chapter of my dissertation. Seems like it would have been easier if I'd cut out the middleman somewhere, but true to form I took a while to get my mind around my point, and apparently needed the middleman's company to do so.

According to the good advice I've received, I'm trying to front-load my sample chapter with the fireworks of the chapter's argument, and to connect it really excitingly to the rest of the book. But, as you know, I haven't written the rest of the book (though I have two other lovely but similarly unintegrated articles based on chapters from my now-discarded diss). It's the ligaments of the thing that are killing me. I'm having to commit much fakery in order to frame this sample chapter in the context of my larger argument.

Listen: I'm a poet, for crying out loud. When I send a poetry manuscript to the publisher, it's done, with every damned comma obsessively accounted for. I'm not accustomed to selling myself on so much speculation.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Good, hard questions

Neo has asked a few of 'em. Seven, to be precise, on a creative meme spin. Neo wants answers? Neo gets answers.

1) How do I feel about the past...? I don't think it's the past for its own sake, so much, that drew me to Renaissance lit. I am, through and through, a lyric poetry girl. And the place to be, if you like lyric verse, is between 1550 and 1670. It's not just that lyric poetry during this period is so freaky (though it is) or so moving (though it's that too); to me, it's that writers during this period have huge antennae up for the nuances of language. They know their Greek and Latin and Hebrew and a ton of other languages, and they hear a long, long echo in a word like "ruin." That turns me on. I started my academic life as a scientist, and I guess there's still a part of me that likes to open stuff up and see how it works.

2) My work hasn't required me to be an archivist to this point, but a project I've just started has meant that I've been handling some books from 1589, 1628, etc. How I feel, mostly, is this hunger to own the books. They're so beautiful, and fragile, and seeing marginalia from 1650 kills me. It makes the text so much more a product of a real world, a pasttime for a real mind.

3) As I've mentioned before, my other gig is as a creative writer. It's obvious to me that both my public readings and my teaching are just substitutes for my long-abandoned career as a rockstar.

4) My first intellectual crush was the man who seduced me from the sciences to this less lucrative career path. I continue to know him. Simultaneously, I'd die for his approbation, and I wish he'd drop dead so that the pressure to be impressive to him would go away.

5) A text in my field with which I have some kind of difficulty: _Romeo and Juliet_ sucks. And those long poems by Shakespeare ? "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece"? WTF?

6) What I'd change about my field: its domination by fairly snooty, condescending old white men.

7) My marginalia are mostly little half-arrows to indicate ideas I want to return to. Underlining is for passages I want to quote. And I try to keep track of my objections marginally as I read, so as to find them quickly when writing my own essays. In library books: pencil (usually. Not always. Sorry). In my own, bold blue pen.

Monday, December 3, 2007

What I've been doing instead of writing.

How is it possible that I should be busier, more overwhelmed, and more oversheduled during a term when I'm on leave than during a teaching term? Is it my own expectations for myself that change? or people's perceptions of how much free time I must have? or nature abhorring a vacuum?

And can I just say how illuminating it is to be on the hiring committee? So, so many bad applications. As a public service, some tips--perhaps for the next time around (though I'm sure that no one I know, in real life or electronically, needs to hear them). (Yes, they may seem TO YOU to be intuitivie, but apparently....)

1) Think user-friendly: if you submit a bunch of teaching-related materials (syllabi, evals, etc), try to organize it for easiest possible consumption. I'm talking sub-headings, even colored dividers, paragraph synopses before each set of documents, etc.

2) Don't send pictures of yourself enjoying the company of famous scholars.

3) If there's a typo in your cover letter, spend the extra 10 cents in time and materials to reprint, rather than line-editing in pen.

4) Don't say, in your cover letter, how "dazzlingly qualified" you are for the job. That's what your recommenders are for.

5) Long, long CVs with every scouting merit badge you've ever won on them make you look insecure.

6) Don't ask someone who doesn't really know you to write you a letter just because they have a big name.

These guidelines eliminate probably half the applications I've been reading. They seem a bit common-sensical to me, and "common sense" has not been, traditionally, my academic field.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cheating on EEBO

Dear EEBO--

You're a really, really nice service. You're there whenever and wherever I need you, and you're usually pretty good about giving me what I want. But sometimes you're a little slow to respond. And sometimes you're half-assed, or disorderly, or disheveled, or even missing vital parts. (A girl tries not to mention such indelicacies, but I couldn't help noticing.) I try to be patient, and I try to understand that you do your best within your limitations. But I don't think I can be happy with you anymore. You see, I've just returned from a week at the Huntington Library where I spent blissful days under the sun-kissed California skies with original books. You remember books--old-fashioned, not too flashy, sometimes downright stinky, but with a charm and character that comes from not being sleek and popular. And books are unexpectedly alluring--so very, very touchable. I just don't think I can look at you the same way again.

We'll still be friends, I hope...?

With all best wishes,

Renaissance Girl

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I have no idea what day it is, or what date. I'm on leave this fall, and my days seem endlessly to repeat themselves: write, read aloud to self from screen, mutter to self while pacing the house trying to find the right word or sentence construction, back to writing...and then of course revising, which is its own kind of hellish endless loop. In some ways I'll be glad for next term to begin--its structure, the linearity of a syllabus, and how teaching will necessitate my talking to other human beings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love me! Love me! (The flipside)

So I'm in the process of revising an article according to the comments and instructions sent by a journal editor who is also a big shot in my field. And I come to one of my footnotes, and there, in the margins of the proofs, is a note instructing me to add to this footnote a reference to a book I hadn't included--a book by the editor whose comments I'm responding to. The problem is, I know the editor's book pretty well. And I didn't include it in my footnote because it's not relevant to the point at hand. It's not like I'm some hermit who doesn't know my field well enough to reference the appropriate work. The editor's book didn't occur to me for the footnote because it's not directly related to what I'm saying. But s/he's the editor, and I don't want to fall out with the editor just because I didn't want to make a very small addition that probably no one will ever notice. So I massage and get uncharacteristically vague for one sentence and make the editor happy. But I'm feeling...used and condescended to and angry on one hand, and on the other hand sorry for the poor editor who, after so many books and keynote speaking gigs and named professorships, still needs to be told that s/he matters.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not practicing what I preach.

I am reminded, as I look over the editorial comments on my article and try to revise, that I am a terrible reviser. I know this. But--callow though it makes me--I cannot understand, for an embarrassingly long time, how to change what I've already written. First of all, it takes me forever to write a damned sentence. I'm not casual about they've got to be pretty good by the time they get printed and sent off, right? Such is, I am convinced, my genius.

But then again, this article has been through four torturous major revisions over as many years as I've struggled toward articulating my point clearly. Obviously, my genius sentences didn't nail it the first time. Or the second. Or the third. And now the fourth needs some clarification. So I do know that revision equals increased clarity, and more elegant integration of argumentative points, and general improvement, and all the stuff we try to impress upon our students. But I still fight it, and I'm always the more bruised for the fight.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Geek's Dilemma

I just found out that I have $300 in "research supply funds" from my University in an account somewhere, which has to be used by the end of 2007 or it expires. This news has thrown me into a frenzy of bookbuying, because I can't think of anything else under the category of "research supplies" that I could use. $300 may not be a giant heap of cash for books, especially since some of the scholarly books I'd buy top the $100 mark. Should I really waste more than half of my newfound wealth on my own copy of Lewalski's seminal but decades-old Protestant Poetics? I think not. Instead, I've decided to pick up some texts that, unlike Donne and Shakespeare, may not get published in a hundred editions every decade. Like a three-volume Complete Works of Francis Quarles. Or a UK-published collected Southwell. Stuff I get to use for! And I no longer have to deface library copies with my pencilled marginalia! And I'm making a wishlist, so that the next time mystery money shows up unannounced, I will not be caught unawares.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Book proposal update.

I think I'm done with this thing. After "finishing" a few days ago, I sent the proposal with its intimidating retinue of supporting documents to my frighteningly brilliant colleague, who, despite working in a different field, identified the project's conceptual shortcomings and directed me toward a more expansive set of conclusions. A harrowing process. I freely admit to being, shall we say, theory-impaired. I can identify all the major theorists by name and can provide a one-sentence summary of what they did, suitable for faking it on the GRE more than a decade ago. But I'm a text-based girl, dammit, and it's not easy for me to pan back and grasp the "implications for the critical method" contained within my humble readings of 17c verse, especially when I haven't actually written many of the chapters I'm summarizing in my proposal. I suspect that eventually I might get to one of those macro-level epiphanies, but I can't see them from the front end. Thank goodness for my frighteningly brilliant colleague, who can, and who responds to my queries with encyclopedic and frenetic thoroughness. The result of which is, I think, a completed proposal--some fakery involved, but it's educated fakery, based on stuff I know and imagining where that stuff might take me. I've sent it off to Luminary Friend In My Field for a look-see, and if he thinks it's ready to storm the barricades of academic publishing, then I will armor it up and shove it out there.

My visceral need to have this book get published and subsquently well-received is embarrassing and a little perplexing to me. How appropriate, and how roundly applicable, the title of Neophyte's recent post: "Love me, love me, love me!" Is everyone in academia so pathetically needy for affirmation? and is that need a product of academia? or do people who are pathetically needy for affirmation naturally gravitate toward a discipline which offers little of it, to keep the desire engine churning?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Throwing darts.

'Tis the season: the shortness of breath, the cold sweats, the general susceptibility to fatigue-related can only be application time. The anxiety is palpable out there in the blogosphere--so much so that it interferes with my wallowing in my own anxiety.

Not being on the market, or applying for grad school, myself (but having done both with all the requisite panic), I hereby offer a perspective, or rather a couple of perspectives, in the hope that someone, somewhere, might be able to watch a movie for ten minutes without thinking, "I should revise the opening sentence of my cover letter..."

This year, I'm serving on the Search Committee, and it really is true what they told me when I was on the market: you can never tell what weird shit is going on behind the scenes. It could be that the position you're applying for seems a perfect match to you, but you're a woman and for the last three years they've hired women and they're getting strong pressure to hire a man. Or some similar demographic base-covering. It could be that you're applying from Top Three Research University, and the little liberal arts college that you pant for doesn't believe you could actually be happy teaching there. So, it's flukey (or is it fluky? I'm not going to check).

In my other, non-Renaissance, life I'm a creative writer. I tell my CW students that trying to publish creative work is like playing darts. You throw your dart out there in the form of a submission, and sometimes you hit the target, in which an editor's aesthetic matches up with yours, and then you're golden. Sometimes they just don't line up. And you can increase your chances by doing the writerly equivalent of fledging your dart really well (researching the editors and the aesthetic of the place you're submitting to, maybe), and by practicing, but you're still as likely as not to miss. And with creative publishing, that's just part of the process: you don't take it personally. You throw the dart again, immediately, elsewhere. If you're any good (and often even if you're not), the dart hits a target somewhere.

The stakes are higher (and the temptation to take it personally stronger) in applying for jobs, or for grad school (or, for that matter, in academic publishing), but the principle is the same. Fledge your dart the best you can and then let it the hell go. You can research yourself into a swoon, and figure out everything "right" to say to a hiring/ grad institution, but you can't intuit which of ten faculty is going to end up the primary reader on your file. You can't predict whether the guy who opens your envelope will have had the worst day of his life or just got some prize and he's feeling benevolently disposed toward everyone. But throw a bunch of well-considered darts and you're bound to have one hit somewhere.

This blog will now return to its regularly scheduled self-doubt.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Vegetable Love

What Thing 2--dressed in green pants and red shirt and refusing to wear any kind of formal costume--claimed to be for Halloween (and I quote): "Half a cucumber and half a tomato."

Much rejoicing.

Okay, the book proposal? Stalled. Mostly because I can't seem to write a damned cover letter. What. The. Hell! It's not like I haven't written a flotilla of cover letters, between grad schools and job applications and other publications. But now that I've squashed a book down to a 4-paragraph abstract, I can't figure out how to squash it further into one really peppy and enticing paragraph. It's like starting with a chicken bullion cube and trying to end up with something even smaller and more salty. Like a chicken-flavored Altoid.

But today, I don't even care. I scoff at my cover letter. Because my long-labored-over article got taken today, by Big Deal Journal. Contrary to its custom, the universe is being very good to me this week. I should play Lotto. I'll have to drive to the next state, but my odds are looking good.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I may not, in fact, be a fraud.

So I'm co-editing this collection of essays, and all the contributors are, let us say, luminaries in my field. I've had the strangest experience over the last weeks, and it keeps repeating. And repeating. As if the universe is trying to tell me something.

The pattern is as follows: Famous Scholar A sends me his essay (and I use the masculine pronoun because all the Famous Scholars in my field seem to be male). I read it. I don't follow what it's saying--sometimes a portion, sometimes the whole thing. I think "Dammit. I've got myself into a situation to which I am unequal." For a moment. But then I look at the essay, and realize that it ain't me. I see that it contains flaws. Not just typos, mind you, but gaping flaws in logic, in argumentation, in premise. It happens again with Famous Scholar B, and especially with Iconically Famous Scholar C. This, to me, is a strange and liberating realization. Because first of all, it appears that these big shots produce crappy drafts, just like I do. I'm used to seeing their work in its final, polished, revised, and edited form, but now I'm getting the raw feed, and it's, well, raw. It needs polishing, revising, and editing. Yes, yes, we all know this on some level, it makes intellectual sense....but seeing it play out so dramatically is a little inspiring (does that make me a terrible person? to be buoyed up by the imperfections of others?) (whatever.) . My own raw stuff, even revised, even published, retains for me some of the flavor of earlier shortcomings. But it appears that all of us (yes, even the Iconically Famous ones) engaged in this endeavor--this thing where we read something we love, and find something cool and surprising in it and want to share our realization with others, and then write it down--think it out slowly by writing it, and that thinking comes hard.

And here's the kicker: I actually SEE why their arguments aren't working, just like I can with my students. And I provide these really specific comments in response, pointing to moments where lapses in judgement of all sorts are occuring. And they respond with gratitude, and revise according to my comments. I feel somewhere between surreal and studiedly nonchalant about the whole thing. But one cannot argue with the universe.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A sigh (the good kind). And some ice cream.

Done, done, done: the abstract for my book proposal, its annotated table of contents, and all but a paragraph of the several pages in which I justify my enterprise, speculate about how long it will take me to unveil it in its perfection, and reveal the shocking shortcomings of competiting titles. (Alas for those competing titles! Why can they not be as brilliant as hers? one might be moved to say, upon finishing my proposal...)

As a reward, I think everyone in the world should eat some ice cream. I recommend: Caramelized Pear and Toasted Pecan (!) and Pomegranate with Dark Chocolate Chips (!!!).

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Abstract: An Exercise in Absurdity

Wrote half an abstract for the Book WIHMD, and I was struck by the ridiculousness of the enterprise. What I'm basically saying is that I've got this great idea and it's going to take 250-300 pages to explain...and I'm saying this in 500 words. Can the abstract be anything other than an advertisement for its own insufficiency?

Friday, October 19, 2007

One last hike.

With Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Now bring on the snow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Things I need:

<---These boots. Or possibly these. --->

And probably these shoes too:

And a tea chest. Yes, I need one of those for sure.

A haircut. Or rather, a hairstyle, of greater sass than my current bore.

The new Weakerthans album.

Waterproof thermal pants for cross-country skiing, because the snow is starting to fall, baby.

A good night's sleep. (Not looking good for tonight, now, is it?)

A combination compass/ altimeter/ inclinometer for my Forester. Wouldn't that be so cool? To know the angle of incline and not be left to guess....?

And holy smokes, get a load of these! Their name: if that ain't a sign for Renaissance Girl in the midst of her religio-historio-literary throes, I dunno what is.

Relative achievements.

Annotated Table of Contents: Done.

Now I just have to WRITE those three chapters I invented.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Here's to you, Professor Gradgrind

Over the past few days I have written five very good chapter abstracts. One to go (the one in which I bullshit most spectacularly--but I'm pushing myself to follow Gracious Mentor's model of considering the book proposal a "plausible fiction," which frees me from my compulsion to prove everything I'm saying with a jostle of footnotes). More importantly, especially in light of this eye-roll-inducing column in the Chronicle, I taught Thing 1 to ride a bike. Because training wheels are SO five years old. And because the job is, even on its very very best days, just a job. As it turns out--with apologies to all those serious researchers who supervised my graduate work--"family considerations were paramount after all."

Monday, October 8, 2007

The book whose incompletion haunts my dreams

Today's progress:

* Most of an annotated table of contents
* Further tightening of a publication prospectus
* Some degree of staring at the last complete paragraph of my Introduction, until I realized that there's no way around it: I have to go hang out with microfiche before I can go on.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Two Victories

1) Wrote a paragraph today. One sturdy introductory, sure-to-captivate-academic-editor-type paragraph. (Even though it's the weekend and I should be playing with kids, I have the flu.)

2) I have made peace with the unadorned look of this blog. Seriously--if part of my point here is expressing anxiety about time-management and other perils of the profession, I can't kick myself for not spending all day dolling it up.

After Long Silence

For years I have expressed puzzlement at the phenomenon of the blog. The strange devaluation of the private, the revelation of one's thoughts to potential millions of strangers--these notions ring strangely against even my generation X ears. I'm not, by, nature, a writer of personal journals--not given to ruminating on my life in prose--in part because my life is so defined by writing and I figure I'm saying it all in one form or another already, and in part because if I do have spare time (what is this thing called "spare time"?) I feel I should be using it either diligently working on the book whose incompletion consumes me and haunts my dreams, or playing with my kids. But I realized that some degree of support is missing from my current endeavors: while I'm surrounding by loving family and friends, I don't have that sense I had while I was writing my dissertation that a cohort of pals were in the same boat and could offer the occasional life raft of encouragement. So I figured I'd put it out there in the Blogosphere, and perhaps attract a few readers who could offer advice, cheering anecdotes, or just camaraderie.