Hide the Eraser

Tech, Retrotech, Fiction, Not Fiction & Whatnot

Day 9 of #100DaysToOffload

We've been having a non-argumentative argument in my house about what to do with the kids over the summer; more specifically, what camps or activities we might send them to. One of those ordinary parenting logistics things which, with so may camps and summer activities planning to be online rather than face to face (yet still chargin lots of money), has some added wrinkles this summer. In my own household, this everyday planning is but the latest proxy war in the never-ending ideological struggle between my spouse and me on the matter of unstructured time.

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Day 8 of #100DaysToOffload

I have taken to seizing mornings for my own work. This is a bit of a change, given that for years I had trouble setting aside this time.

I had heard this age old writing advice... and work advice too I suppose: Pay yourself first.

I didn't take this advice when I started as a young academic. Or at least I thought I was taking that advice but I really wasn't. I was sidetracked far too often taking care of stuff for students, responding to emails, or tending to departmental business because of far too much “service” for a young faculty member. In academia, that's not your work. That's the other stuff. Even and especially when your “colleagues” lay it upon you. Family obligations, errands, the demands of young children, ate away further.

It has been the rare pleasure of having mornings carved out for research or writing. By this time it is too little, too late for my previous life.

This past year I have been more serious, more religious about this time in the morning. Nothing scheduled before a certain time, under any circumstances. That's a luxury, so I shrink away from it instinctively. It feels... selfish. That time for me (!?) to work on my stuff... that is too selfish. You mean I should sometimes just work on the things that are a benefit to me, in my career and in my endeavors and my projects? That's so selfish.

But of course it's not selfish. It's necessary.

I needed to have understood the second part of that wisdom.

Pay yourself first. Because no one else will.

#100DaysToOffload #writing

It's a rare morning when I don't have a million ideas bubbling up first thing (or at least as soon as the caffeine kicks in). This morning is chilly, and as I sit on my porch and settle in to work for a bit on the various writing, coding, and other projects that might occupy a morning, the cold is a bit too metaphorical. Warming up with the sun has become a pleasant ritual, or at least a reassuring one. It's a kind of sympathetic magic whereby as the sun renders my freeing fingers a bit less freezing, so too words loosen up. Again, more often than not the problem is that I can't type quite quickly enough to keep up and documents span documents, checklists self-propagate and material that has to be worked on later gets noted and set into the queue.

But cold mornings, well, that's a different beast. I'd like to think it's part of the process of rumination. That's a nice meaty word, ruminate — chew the cud, chew over. I like it because it sounds just a bit Anglo-Saxon, like all the earthy words that become meaty in the mouth; but it's Latinate, and a pretty metaphoric Latin at that. At those moments of cold I can sense that there are ideas percolating around, warming up, not ready to boil over yet. Thought ripens with time I suppose, and can't find its way until ready.

I'm stuck in my thinking on a business matter. An idea that is sound and good and appealing, but I can't quite wrap my head around. I suppose there's some fear, as it is a shape of something that is a bigger leap from what I regularly do. So my instincts are to research the crap out of it. But in some ways I've already done a bit of that. There's fear that I'm not really up to the challenge of trying this. There's fear that others — by which I mean the others from my other areas of life — will find it stupid or presumptuous. There's the old academic fear that I won't be qualified or expert enough. (I am constantly reminded that the academic scale of expertise is damaging to all other endeavors. Being expert in a field sometimes means, depending on how strictly you slice the subfield, being among the top x most knowledgeable people in the world. It can often be content based as much as achievement based. Or, rather, there are damaging preconceptions and conditioning around both modes of judging oneself.)

But the sun's out and it's warming up a bit. Hope springs eternal.

#academia #itchytweed

There are two kinds of mind poison that linger after extracting oneself from the academic priesthood. The first is yourself thinking like an academic. That's about thinking of projects as never-ending, worrying that your expertise is not expert enough, drowning in imposter syndrome, giving away your labor for free and so forth. But there's a second kind of academic mind poison too, not completely divorce-able from the first, which fosters the condition of constantly looking over one's shoulder, an intrusive thought which asks “What would an academic think?” about whatever it is that you are doing.

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#100DaysToOffload

I was reading Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person, a self-help guide of sorts to those who find that the world offers just a bit too much sensory input. It is, in so many ways, like reading the manual to myself that I never knew existed.

There's a part in the end when she talks about spirituality and how many HSPs find tend to the spiritual but often outside of organized religion. (check and.... check.) I think about this every weekend, when we tune into the livestream from my kids' religious school (in a religious tradition from my wife). I am an outsider of sorts. I appreciate the music, the sentiment, and all the positive expressions of faith. But I'm detached from it. At first these were fairly pleasant affairs, but in recent months they've devolved into endless tech troubleshooting and arguing with my kids over getting dressed and putting down their other devices while listening to/watching the live stream. It cuts out constantly (fu facebook) and doesn't work at all on some devices. So spiritual breaks have become the opposite of what I tend to need – quiet time and reflection.

It is a constant worry, comfort, tragedy, and comedy to recognize that I probably could have been a decent monk.

Aron's description of HSPs crystallized for me why I can go back to religious services and enjoy the music and the spectacle without wanting to remain part of the flock.

I wonder whether it's the difference between religion and spirituality. Is spirituality different, a connection to nature or the world from a place of quiet and stillness? So spirituality is nature, outside, trees, beaches, water, sky, animal noises, moving through space or sitting quietly and observing the world outside. That seems to be what I crave most, a space for that.

https://fivebooks.com/best-books/james-turner-on-philology/ gives a handy introduction to some key works about the 'pre-history' of modern humanities, with James Turner's answer here being the perfect explanation for why I never feel at home as a professor despite doing everything, outwardly, that would seem to say otherwise.

So do you think there should be philologists in universities now, studying this broad range of subjects? Or is that impossible?

I think it’s very difficult, not for any intellectually solid reason, but because of the institutions that have grown up around disciplines. For example, if you are an assistant professor of art history in an American university and you write a book about Dante, you’re going to get fired. You’re certainly not going to get tenure. It’s very difficult for people to ignore the present disciplinary boundaries and get away with it in the structure of the modern university. People who are not hampered by universities can do this kind of work and they should. People who are old and in no danger of losing their jobs can write a book like I wrote.

One correction there. It's impossible for anyone not already at the twilight of their career to do this kind of work. Not difficult. Impossible.

#itchytweed #highered #100DaysToOffload

Middle night and dampening din cricket cadence stereo tableslab slick with rain, decrescendo waxing, able pad, staffed and stylus, then sleep and bed

Mousing hour, clacking killed HB, for office use yellow, plain, letter-sized missive mirror, Facebook-free and de-googled, algorithmically unencumbered.

Tear and toss. Its work is done.

#100DaysToOffload

I've been writing a lot but under different guises and pseudonyms. I've found it very helpful to fragment everything. It's also been a bit of a pain the ass sometimes. Did I really mean to post that there? But it also means that different minor notes have had room to grow and develop. The impression of something like anonymity has been helfpul too. I don't mind at some point, later, claiming any of these identities. They are, after all, all true. But they have not all been equally expressed or expressible.

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Atlas, total slacker

#100DaysToOffload

There's a nice writing exercise to help exorcise your inner critic. I saw it in The Artist's Way but you may find it in a lot of different variants. It's a visualization exercise. Every writer hears the voice of criticism when they write. And after they write... And before they write... It can be crippling. You can rarely shut it out or shut it up but you can defang it. You start by imagining what that inner critic looks like. Who's making all that noise? Draw it, model it, make a representation of it in some way and then post that in a way that you can be reminded of how stupid and ridiculous and pathetic that inner critic is.

Simple enough. But I don't think it's enough. Just one inner critic? Unlikely.

I would add, to my mental cacophony, at a minimum, the inner martyr. This character is the voice claiming I haven't done enough or that I'm being selfish. It's like a mission specific cousin of the critic, able to cut right to the chase about why I am such a fucking selfish asshole for sitting here putting words in order when I could be doing something that someone else needs. Like programming some shit for them. Or maybe making them a website. Or grading something or putting comments on a paper that a student will never retrieve. Or one of a thousand things that my family needs from me.

If this were psychotherapy, then, yes, of course the inner martyr would be a close relative, like, say, my mother. But I suppose the more colorful visualization is a monk, hunched over and bearing the weight of the world, like the Farnese Atlas but upright (take that, Atlas you fucking lazy non-multi-tasking slacker), tapping on a keyboard answering all the emails that come to him, starting at the screen rigged in front of him as he stumbles ahead, bleary-eyed and exhausted, arising at 5 am and falling asleep mere hours prior.

After he passes, then behind him struts the inner hero, who's just a handsomer, thinner, fitter version of myself. He doesn't actually need to say anything. He just sits there and glows.

And finally, loudly, comes squawking the inner critic. Older British chap blathering on about some pedantic nonsense and how no amount of education and no amount of praise (“”surely they're lying to you about that” he intones) will paper over your clearly pedestrian heritage and utterly unremarkable intellect. I suppose he's an Oxford don or someone of that caricature, clueless and bloated with condescension.

(With no apologies to all the obnoxious academics I have known, from whom my inner critic draws its form, I do apologize for singling out British-ness. It is less that I have met people of this caricature than that it is the collective image that one gets from reading reams of archaic academic prose.)

So they shout, those varieties of the inner critic.

A single inner critic is not good enough. At a minimum, there's a martyr and a hero in there as well.

Every day is an act of exorcism. But they're crafty. And shifty. And able to change costume at will.

#itchytweed #highered #academia

Today’s humanities disciplines are not ancient, integral modes of knowledge. They are modern, artificial creations—where made-up lines pretend to divide the single sandbox in which we all play into each boy’s or girl’s own inviolable kingdom. It is a sham. . . . If the lines were real, disciplines would not need so relentlessly to police their borders within colleges and universities

James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, 385

Last week Shadi Bartsch published a pithy piece in the Washington Post about the latest iteration of debate/discussion/confrontation around race, the discipline of Classics, and the adoption of various bits of antiquity (Sparta, stoicism, hyper-masculinity, etc.) by the far right. I have no interest in wading into those issues and their various and ugly eruptions in that field, except to say, as a starting point for what piqued my interest, that I agree with Bartsch on all points.

As I have no skin in this game about Classics specifically, seeing all of this from afar has made me think a lot about a different sort of question, relevant to all parts of the academy nowadays. Namely, who gets to decide the future of a discipline? Who gets a say in a field of study?

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