Three things

I am on sabbatical again. That means, for the third time in my career I have an extended period of time in which I am in completely in charge of my own time, which also means that for the third time in my career a vast abyss in space and time has open up in front of me, completely terrifying me.  (The first two times being my dissertation fellowship period and the first time I was on sabbatical). But that’s not the three things of my title. I will get to that. (Side note: The Third Abyss would make a great band title. Punk? Metal? Norwegian Death Metal? Anywho…)

Everyone keeps asking me how sabbatical is going (after less than a month!) and I’m all like: (Darn, that gif showed up itself in the editor. Oh well. Click on the URL — it’s worth it, I swear!)

Last time I was on sabbatical, I had a kind of concrete list of stuff to do, because I spent it tracking down every instance I could of a particular variety of Middle English verse that I was interested in. Originally I had wanted that research to tell me what exactly it was going to turn into during that first sabbatical, but mostly all of my time was taken up with the “data gathering.” And since gathering that “data” meant going to manuscript libraries all over the place, that’s mostly what my sabbatical consisted of: making lists of possible “verses of interest” (groan…I read too much detective fiction and like puns too much), making plans to go see them, traveling to see them,  then transcribing a ton of manuscript pages, and then organizing what I found.

It took a long time for that bunch of information to start to turn into something interesting, so here I am seven years later looking at forming that raw material into my second book. Eek! Do I even remember how to write a book? My last one came out ten years ago! And its genesis was *twenty* years ago — gulp! (Duuude, I am old.) A book that’s just an idea is such an amorphous thing, a big, gaping hole that I need to fill. *Shudder*

I’ve got another project I have to finish this summer, too, and it’s a little more concrete — the edition of the York Corpus Christi Play that I’ve contracted to do and really should have finished last year, but got an extension on because it’s taking me much longer than anticipated. As concrete as it is, it’s somewhat tedious work, and thus causes me to procrastinate and get distracted. So while I should be able to edit a page in an hour, sometimes all I accomplish in a day is editing two pages and ordering shit on Zappos and SocksAddict (because the perfect shoes and socks *will* make your life better, right?).

Clearly, I need some kind of system to a) give a graspable shape to the abyss and b) to focus the work of the edition to get through it more quickly and efficiently. Those are two different problems to solve, so it wasn’t clear that one system was going to solve it, but I finally chanced upon one that I think will help. At least it helped me make a plan.

The system is the “three things” system — Notorious Ph.D. actually talked about it awhile back — hence my post title. I’ve also seen it called “The Rule of 3,” which I like because of its nod to all sorts of aesthetic and mnemonic and cultural rules of threes and thirds. And hey, 3 is a Magic Number, right? Anyway, according to the productivity gurus who invented or use this system, you’re supposed to start with the day and make a to-do list of three things to accomplish that day, and *then* move to bigger units of weeks and months and years. While I understand the concept of “one day at a time” for some things, that ain’t gonna work for a book project and a sabbatical. So, instead, like Notorious, I started with the time left on my sabbatical (which technically started in mid-May, but I took some time to ease into things), which is from now until mid-August, 2018.

So here are my “three things” for sabbatical:

  1. Finish the edition of the York Corpus Christi Play.
  2. Revise a big 45-minute presentation that I gave — and also workshopped elsewhere — into an article and the first chapter of my new book project.
  3. Do further research for and draft Chapters 2-5 of the new book project. (OK, I suppose that’s 4 things, but collectively it’s “research and draft the rest of the book project.”)

Then, with that list in mind, I got out academic calendars for the rest of this year (this summer) and next year (fall, spring, and summer), and apportioned weeks to the bigger specific tasks that needed to be done for each of these things. So for Thing 1, I’ve got weeks for editing the remaining play texts themselves, writing introductions, editing contextual material, and so on. I also counted how many pages of editing I have left, and figured out how many pages a day I need to finish to reach these goals. For Thing 2, I still have some details to work out, but there’s a much-neglected action list from earlier this year that I can turn to for that. The work on it is going to be simultaneous with finishing the York edition. For Thing 3, I had 45 weeks of my calendar left, so I gave each of the chapters 9 weeks and saved the final 9 weeks for further research, revising, and writing.

And then I opened up my planner — yes, I use a paper one, in a lovely red leather zippered case, because handwriting helps me remember — and wrote down my daily “three things” for tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday on their respective days in the planner. Tomorrow’s three things are 1) Edit three pages of “The First Trial Before Pilate,” 2) Revisit “action plan” for article project and update it, and 3) Begin reading the secondary material listed on that action plan. And I will continue to make a “three things” daily list from now on, at the beginning of each week (or maybe each Sunday night — a friend and I were at one point using the “Sunday Meeting” method, which I might still use here), and update/revise it as needed as the week progresses.

And yes, there are more than three things I usually have to or want to do in a day — but the “Rule of 3” method is about prioritizing those three things. Everything else goes on the regular “to do” list and gets done after that.

OK, that was all a bit boring, but really, this is just an accountability post. It will be interesting to me to go back to it later at various points in the sabbatical.

How do you manage your time when you have vast, unstructured amounts of it (and I count summer as vast)?

What a semester!

I haven’t been blogging as much as I intended to this semester, largely because this has been an insanely busy semester — busier than most. (I do have a few posts brewing, including one on whether tenure robs you of the incentive to work hard.)  Some things you know about — buying a new house, getting married — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  So, in a nutshell — or in bullet-point lists, actually  — here is what my semester, which is actually still not over, has looked like:


  • Having changed my English medieval lit class so that it alternates, on a three-year basis, between early medieval (Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic — ASNaC for short), late medieval (after the Norman conquest), and a topic across the period, I taught the ASNaC version for the first time.  This included teaching many texts — all of the Celtic and Norse stuff — for the very first time as well as *reading* much of them for the first time.  Here’s some advice based on my experience:  do not assign a 250-page Old Norse saga you’ve read only in excerpt, or at least don’t schedule it for the two weeks before Thanksgiving.
  • I also changed the assignment sequence in my Old English class — a class I still feel I do not know how to teach! argh! — so that I was doing a lot of fresh work in that course, too. It didn’t take much time for me to do said work, but it caused morale/attitude problems with the students.  That’s something else I want to blog about in more detail later.
  • To review: I had two mostly new preps this semester (my own damn fault). I am an idiot. On the bright side, the complicated assignment sequence I did in the medieval lit class seemed to have worked well.  More on that later, too.
  • In service-related news, I served on the personnel committee of another department because they’re too small to field a full committee from their own faculty.  Said DPC had to vote on a fifth year renewal, a promotion to full, and two tenure cases, one of which was hugely contentious (and ugly — really, really ugly) and involved meeting after meeting after meeting.  I counted up the hours of meetings:  twenty freakin’ four!
  • Oh, and I also got into an ugly fight with a colleague in my department — so ugly that it made me cry in a professional situation, something I haven’t done in about 20 years.
  • In more positive news, I’ve got two contracted professional publications in progress (one a companion-to article, the other an anthology of texts which I’m co-editing). Alas, though, I feel constantly behind on them, despite working diligently on them.  And I’m waaaaayyyyy behind on the review essay that I’m supposed to have written by the end of this month — I haven’t even finished the books. Ack!
  • Oh, I also had to deal with two minor academic dishonesty issues this semester. See Flavia’s post on the topic for a reflection of how I feel and think about these things. (Also, read the comments for SEK’s hilarious story.  I so want to be able to quote that ad infinitum.)
  • And this was all in my first semester back from sabbatical.  Hey, welcome back, Virago!


  • At the very beginning of this semester, I had minor, out-patient surgery. Everything’s fine and my prognosis is excellent.  But still, it took up a lot of time, including a couple hours of pre-surgery testing and medical history recording a few days before and then all day for the surgery and a weekend to recover. It was also the first time I had real surgery or general anesthesia.  (And boy, anesthesia is *weird*!)
  • I crazily flew off to Amsterdam for 4 days over our long-weekend Fall Break for a girl’s weekend with an old friend.  Here’s proof:

    This should totally be a postcard that says "Welcome to Amsterdam."

  • Got married. As you know.
  • Bought a house. We closed on it yesterday and get possession on Monday. For some reason, in this state (or it may just be this county), a seller can stay in the house after closing, free of charge. The standard time is 30 freakin’ days, but we negotiated down to five. We really wanted  immediate possession, but we compromised. Anyway, now we own two houses — crazy! (Well, Bullock does. Technically I’m a renter in the current one.) The plan is to remain in this one while we do some remodeling in the new one, and to use the new one to declutter this one in order to make it look good when we list it.  We’ll likely move in February.

I am exhausted!  And next semester isn’t likely to be any less crazy.  We’ll be moving, the Pastry Pirate is coming to visit (if her car, which has been in storage while she’s been “on the ice” in Antarctica, manages to start), and I’ll be going back to a three-course load.  (I know, many of you do four, and that is definitely more work. I am privileged to have a 2/3 load.  But three is still an adjustment for me, since it’s been five years since I’ve done that.)  I’ve scheduled my classes for four days a week, which I’ve never done before, because I thought that might be less exhausting than three in one day.  We’ll see.  And, of course, I’m changing things in all three classes (although mostly just assignments, not readings).  Oh, and just two days ago, I agreed to do an advanced Old English independent study with one of the students who apparently actually *likes* Old English.  I was so happy that some good has come out of that class that I agreed. I did warn him, though, the emphasis may be on *independent*. At least I know he’s a student who can handle that — he’s smart and super-competent. Plus, he’s a really nice guy; I love working with nice people.  In professional news, I’m going to MLA, where I’m participating in a pre-conference digital humanities workshop (so excited about that!).  And also, in late March, I’ll be giving an invited talk (my first!) and a seminar at a flagship university in another state, and I’m crazy nervous about it. The work I’m presenting/workshopping in each case is so in-progress that I’m not even sure what titles to give it and I need to do that soon.

So, just to give you a heads up, if this blog goes totally silent in April, it may be because I’m dead from exhaustion.

Three weeks in…

…and already I feel so very, very tired.  But happy.  I’m glad to be back in the thick of things.

Today’s supposed to be a writing day, but I had an early morning meeting, followed by an hour and a half spent at a health care facility getting poked and prodded and giving the world’s longest personal health history (long story — may blog about it later), and then I called my sister to tell her some news, and now I’m too tired to do the hard writing.  So I shall write this blog post and then do some grading and service-related work and that will do very nicely today, since I actually already met my week’s writing goal anyway. So there!  (Woah, I just turned into Dr. Crazy there — I *never* use the verb “shall.”)

Anywho, I’m now three weeks into my first semester back from sabbatical and I have to say: I’m actually happier than I was during sabbatical.  Tired, but happy.  Seriously, I do not do well mentally in the slough of despond that is the isolation of sabbatical (or dissertation fellowship or whatever), at least not when it’s a whole year long and I don’t have a major project to *finish*. Don’t get me wrong — I got a lot accomplished over sabbatical.  I did the major chunk of the initial research for the still-inchoate second book (or whatever — it might not turn out to be a book, exactly, but it’s big) I’ve started; I edited most of my half of a co-edited anthology of primary texts and co-wrote its introduction; I drafted 15 pages of an article (ideally one I should’ve finished this past year, but which I’ve put off until this year and next summer to finish); and I read three books in the field of historical English linguistics to help make me a better teacher of Old and Middle English linguistics courses, and maybe more prepared to teach History of the English Language if we never get a line to replace our retired historical linguist after the VAP line we currently have runs out. Oh, and I also did a lot of preparatory reading for the brand new early medieval lit class I designed because I had never previously read all of The Tain or Grettir’s Saga, etc.  I did not get as far in my plan to re-read my undergraduate classical-to-renaissance great books syllabus (in prep for *another* new class next year), but I did at least re-read The Iliad, the Homeric hymns, and all of Sappho’s poetry.

So, I got stuff done.  But.  Even so, I felt like sabbatical kind of sucked. I think I might have done all of those things more efficiently with just a semester off.  Or maybe not — it did take me almost all of the first semester to remember how to organize my own time, and planning and preparing for the six-week research trip to England took a lot of time.  But still, I’m a lot happier with a lot of different tasks on my plate.  And I’m even making more headway on a couple of other writing tasks than I was making on them over sabbatical. (Good thing, too, since they’re due in November and December — though I can get, and will probably need, an extension on the November deadline.)  Check out the meters I added over in the sidebar of my homepage.  The first one is the one I’m working on now, so expect it to grow this semester more than the other one does.  The second one is the one I made headway on over sabbatical, but then stalled out on; however, as it’s related to a talk I’m giving in the spring, it might start to grow a little, too.  I also joined ADM’s and Notorious’s awesome bloggy writing group to help spur me to keep up the progress on number 1.

I think that I’m just a lot happier with multiple tasks going on at once, and with the adrenaline that juggling gives me. As tired as it makes me, it works for me better than the quiet contemplation of a year of reading and research.  However, *perhaps* if I’d had a discrete (but large) project to *finish*, I would’ve felt better about sabbatical  My second dissertation fellowship year was a *hell* of a lot more productive and satisfying than the first, but that’s because I had the dissertation all mapped out and just need to write the damn thing down.  I had a writing group of sorts, then, too, with the screenwriter across the courtyard from me. (Have I never told you that I spent my grad years in Melrose Place?  I kind of did — different address and no pool, but movie industry “aspiring types” and plenty of drama.  Beside the screenwriter across the courtyard and the costumer downstairs, one of my neighbors was this actress.) Anyway, the screenwriter guy decided that one page of my dissertation was about ten pages of his screenplays, and so we’d each try to write at least that much every day.  Some days I’d come out with ten pages (really!) and he’d be all like, “No way! I’d have to write a whole script to keep up!”  Hells yeah!

So, in short, I like structure, and sabbatical didn’t give me any.  I tried to *make* some for myself, but it never felt right.

Sabbatical was really good for me in some ways, though: in addition to the work I did get done, and which I couldn’t do during the school year (e.g., do manuscript research in the UK), the break from teaching alone did wonders for my morale and the teaching part of my job.  And it gave me a clear break from being grad director, since I wasn’t around for students to say, “I know this isn’t your job any more, but could you just…”  And man, was I burnt out from being grad director!  Teaching, too, though I think that may have been colored a lot by being grad director.  I like my professional distance and compartmentalization, and as grad director (which also means instructor of the intro to research course for the first year grad students), I saw some students way more than I might have liked — in class, in my office, in their exams.  Too much!  And that’s true of the easy students as well as the needy ones.  As the person teaching Old and Middle English, which a buttload of grad students take (both courses) to satisfy various language-related requirements, I still see a lot of the grad students, but outside of the bounds of the course, they are not my problem any more.  And since this is the first I’m meeting them, I also don’t have any history with them.  Clean slates are *awesome*.

But if I had to do it all over again — or in ideal circumstances, anyway — I might have waited to take sabbatical when I had a clearer long project to finish, some more concrete, anyway, and I might have taken only a semester.  Oh well, something to keep in mind in another seven years, if they haven’t done away with sabbaticals altogether.

>Making myself write

>I’m trying to research and write an article. No big news there, since that’s part of what I’m paid to do, and which I should be doing pretty much continuously. And, of course, I’ve done it before. But for some reason this one has me really stuck.

Part of the problem is that I keep veering off in all sorts of directions. Let’s say the article is about, I dunno, an allegorical debate poem (it’s not — let’s just pretend) with a 16th century manuscript date (again, I’m fudging the truth throughout this description) but assumed late medieval origins largely based on genre, content, and a few philological bits that people have been cribbing from its first editor way back when. And so everyone talks about it as a medieval text. But then it’s in a early modern manuscript and there are all sorts of weird things about that manuscript. First of all, the other texts it has been bound with are pretty much ideologically antithetical to what everyone assumes is the orientation of this text. So let’s say it seems, on the surface, to have orthodox religious politics for the late Middle Ages, but it’s in a manuscript full of non-conformist Protestant tracts. OK, that’s weird. And then there’s a recent article that points out all sorts of codicological and paleographical evidence that the scribe was imitating print books in making this manuscript. Also weird. And so all of that makes me want to talk about my ideas about this text in terms of reception and reader response and appropriation and 16th century medievalism and the impossibility of a “right” reading and so forth. And if I do so, I really need to do more research on the related 16th century contexts — book culture and anti-Catholicism as it affected book culture and 16th century medievalism and so on and so forth.

But wait, there’s more. Even if we go along with the assumption that this text had origins in the Middle Ages and therefore think of it as a medieval text (although I’m not sure we should go along with them…but at any rate…), it’s a weird text by itself. It’s not like any other text in its genre; in fact, it’s a unique sub-genre. And it’s aesthetically bizarre, even in context of all that’s already bizarre about late medieval aesthetics. And it’s offensive to present day sensibilities (or at least, it should be), and the aspects that make it so offensive are the most written about aspects of the text. And so all of this makes me think I need to take this part of the ongoing scholarly conversation into account, even while doing what I said I want to do in the above paragraph.

And there’s more, but I’m running out of ways to talk about it in made-up terms. But you get the idea. Every idea I think I have leads to a dozen more directions of research and thought. This article is like a Hydra on steroids — cut off one head of ideas and a bajillion more pop up in its place. Argh. I’ve been toying around with this thing since the year 2-thousand-and-frakin’-3. And I’ve presented it at conferences in a few variations and gotten good responses to them all. Clearly, I need to stop the “I just need to read one more book” nonsense and start writing something. But I keep unhelpfully convincing myself that I’m not there yet, not ready to write.

So here’s my solution: I’m going to pretend that this is a seminar paper and it’s due on December 17, just like my students papers are. After all, I turned out decent drafts towards things in ten-week quarters when I was a graduate student, and here I’ve got a head start and 14 weeks. I think I might even give myself earlier deadlines for an abstract, preliminary bibliography, and annotated bibliography, just like I do with my students.

What do you think?


PS — I started this blog 4 years ago yesterday. Happy blogiversary to me!

>Aaaaaaand cut! That’s a wrap!

>Remember that insane to-do list I had for the month of August? The one I posted about here? Well it’s all DONE!

Yup, that’s right — since August 1 I have done the following:

  • Revised an article, doubling its length from 21 pages to 42.
  • Written a short book review (after having read the book on trains and planes during my UK trip)
  • Read a dissertation (defense not yet scheduled, but I’m meeting with the student this week)
  • Corrected proofs of an article
  • Prepared for and participated in grad student orientation activities
  • And met with my colleague in the theater department re: the medieval plays we’ll be producing and teaching in 2010

In addition to that, I have also:

  • Put together my annual merit report
  • Written two letters of recommendation
  • Had minor (very minor) surgery
  • Turned in all the texts I’m putting on reserve for the fall.

The only thing I haven’t done on that original list is read the MA thesis, but only because I haven’t been given a copy of it yet.

Now all I have to do if finish up my syllabuses, which are mostly done, and decide what I’m going to do on the first day of my classes which start next week, and I’ll be completely ready for the semester!

>Verbiage and verbosity

>I’ve spent the last week and a half editing an article I need to send off tomorrow to the editors of a collection. It’s almost done — I just need to add one discursive footnote as soon as I get a necessary text from interlibrary loan tomorrow. (Now I have to turn to a review that’s technically due tomorrow. It’s going to be a little late, but since it’s short and I already have it outlined, I should be able to get it done by the weekend.)

I sent a draft of this article to the editors in March and they sent it back with copious comments and corrections in June. There were, in fact, so many comments (using the Word comments function) that it was sometimes hard to follow them and I’m not sure if I really responded to every last one. This experience has taught me two things I can use in teaching:

  1. When it comes to comments, you can be too “helpful.” Cut down on the verbiage and the message will probably be clearer. Concentrate on recurring and global issues and use a few examples; ask the student to find the rest themselves. Too many comments definitely overwhelm, and when they become too local, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
  2. If you assign a “draft” before the final product, keep that in mind while commenting. Chances are the writer took “draft” seriously and didn’t always give the greatest care to the details. Remind the writer that they’ll need to do so in the final version, and tell them what to look out for (lack of citation, sentences that ramble on, or whatever) but you needn’t go over these issues yourself with a fine-toothed comb, or else you’ll be making much more work for yourself, doing what the writer should be doing (and taking longer to get a response back to them). Or else, instead of asking for a “draft” and a final paper (because, as I’ve seen, different people interpret “draft” differently), assign a paper and a revision, which changes the expectations for the first version.

That’s not to say that the editor’s comments weren’t helpful — though, again, a little overwhelming — but that at times I felt a little sorry for them and a little guilty. They put in a lot of work I’d intended to do myself. You should have seen the printout of the “final plus markup” version — the margins were filled with comments and changes.

Meanwhile, regarding my *own* verbiage…The draft I sent them was 20 pages. The final version they’re getting is close to 40. That’s right, I *doubled* the essay’s length in a week and a half of writing. That’s because a lot of the manuscript research for a lot of the detailed points I needed to make had yet to be done, and in the midst of doing it this summer, I found *more* stuff to talk about — pertinent stuff directly related to the subject at hand. In other words, the draft that I sent them really was a draft, a work in progress. I hope this doesn’t freak them out.

Anyway, all of this writing, every day, all day, is why I haven’t been doing things like participating in the ITM group (re)reading of Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval, or commenting on your blogs much.

>Publications and visibility

>ETA: Read the comments if you haven’t already done so. Thanks to my readers and commenters, there’s really good stuff there! ETA (2): Ooh! And now Dr. Crazy and Horace have taken it up, and broadened the discussion beyond us medievalists. (I love Crazy’s Star Trek / Lost in Space / Heroes analogy!)

In the comments to a post at In the Middle (unfortunately, I can’t remember where or how it came up), JJC posited that the trifecta of article publications for a medievalist in literature was Exemplaria, JMEMS (ETA: that’s Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies for the uninitiated), and Speculum. For me that’s one down, two to go, and in fact, I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to develop two projects that I’ve only been toying with until now, and to develop them with eye towards each of the journals I haven’t published in yet.

Other than the one journal I have published in — my first article, actually; and now reprinted in a large collection of essays meant to represent the “state of the field” in that particular area (how cool is that?) — my articles, both published and forthcoming, are all in essay collections.

That’s not the way to be visible, is it? That’s both a rhetorical question and a real one, because while that’s my impression, I also want to know what you think. Do journal articles “matter” more than articles in collections in terms of visibility and weight on your CV? (And btw, I know there are different practices out there, but here I’m talking about essay collections that were peer reviewed, both at the individual article level and at the level of the whole collection. So in those terms, they have equal weight.)

And after tenure (assuming that the provost, president, and board sign off on mine — still haven’t heard from them), is publication visibility just about professional reputation and influence? And how much does that matter in promotion to full professor? I mean, presumably one wants one’s work read so that it has an influence on the field, but beyond that, what choices should a person be making in terms of where to place things, and why?


No dogs were mentioned — and certainly not harmed! — in the creation of this post.

>Give me a P! Give me an R! Give me an O!….

>…And a C-R-A-S-T-I-N-A-T-I-O-N!

Today I sat down and forced myself to write something that I’ve been dreading to do, and should have done last week, but have been putting off because of said dread. And yet the draft of it only took me half a day. D’oh!

What’s my problem? Seriously, I’m usually not a procrastinator, so why did I put this smallish task off?

Well, part of why I was dreading it was because it was a response to a critique of an article I’d written, and that’s never fun. It’s moments like these that I sympathize with my students when they get my comments on drafts and have to respond to them and take them into account. No wonder some of them just go with denial and don’t change anything except maybe the typos! And for that very reason — that sympathy with students — I think the whole process of peer-review, of revising-and-resubmitting, or responding to critics, etc., is valuable to us not only as scholars/researchers, but as teachers as well. It’s valuable to keep us humble, to remind us of what it’s like to get a marked-up piece of work back, but it’s also valuable so that we can say to students, “Hey, I have to go through this, too” and to convince them that they are indeed part of a writing community.

Anyway, back to my procrastination issues…This was also just a weird piece I had to write. It wasn’t revise-and-resubmit or a response to an editor to convince him/her that a peer reviewer’s criticisms were misplaced — those I’ve done. But in this case, my article is being considered for a edited collection and the editors assigned various people in the field to write introductions to groups of articles. And in my case, the introducer took my article to task for a few things he thought were wrong with it. And so I was supposed to write a response which will be published along with his intro and my article. I guess it’s suppose to be imitating the kinds of conversations/debates that can happen over longer periods of time in a series of journal articles, which in theory is cool, but it still made for a weird kind of writing performance for me since I’ve never taken on criticisms of my work in (potential) print before. So the strangeness — not to mention dealing with criticism — made it all something I did not look forward to in the least. Hence the procrastination.

On the bright side, however, while procrastinating, I got my syllabuses for fall done! Woo-hoo!