Friday, August 29, 2008

anxiety and the book

A while back, I started on another blog, one designed to help me get back into the swing of writing my book...or, if you prefer, converting my dissertation into a book manuscript. I read a lot of theory, figuring I needed to reflex my brain muscles, become as intellectually nimble as when I was a grad student and being nimble was my only real job. The blog became home to my thinking, my rants, my tangents discovered while diving into theory. I put up somewhere around 25-30 pages of material, and much of it still will find a way into my scholarship somehow.

Then I had a semester of classes for which to prepare. (damn, it might be proper grammar, but that sentence looks funky) Then I had much welcome and enjoyed house guests. I've made a few stabs at getting back into research mode after they left, but there are a few things that have made me rethink my approach.

First, a colleague here at UT who is a creative writer started revising his MFA book..."redlining," he calls it. Then one of my old roommates just published his book (which is both highly entertaining and gorgeously designed), and I'm insanely jealous. These things brought me to some kind of epiphany.

I think what I've realized is that, by submitting myself to a theory overload, I've been trying to put myself through a "DIY" version of doctoral school...and I don't really think I actually need that at this point of my career. I need to remember that the book itself, as the early draft stands now, has more than enough theory in it and behind it. And while I will be revamping the theory section (moving it around, refocusing, all that), it is not going to be a "gearhead" tome.

There's not a lot on the eighties as a decade, and out of what is out there, none of it is really current. My book will not be one of many. It will be an invitation back into the subject, a good reminder of why this decade should be studied, and as such, it has to be approachable. I have to keep it if not informal in tone, then at least accessible. There will be plenty of time to write the heavy theory follow-up article version of the theory real need to do it now.

When I was working on the dissertation itself, I had one particular moment of clarity (there were others, but this is the one that's relevant). I was sitting in the library, having just worked my way through a stack of material on Reaganomics and SDI, and I looked at the pile of sociology books on my table. Suddenly, I realized that what I was trying to do was not write my project but become an expert on everything in the world.

This was unnecessary. It was not really helpful. It contributed to and exacerbated a lack of focus (whether real or perceived). On top of all this, I wasn't sure if the need to know everything in the world was either a desire to be the ultimate authority (and thus a signifier of a heavy work ethic) or of a desire to avoid actually finishing the damn project (and thus a signifier of either laziness or fear of the post-grad world).

In my attempt at total theory immersion, I realize I was doing the exact same thing over again.

So I've made a conscious decision. I've decided that, on a general scale, I'm smart enough to do this as-is. I will still do research and reading, but I'm not going to teach myself anything from scratch.

Second, I've decided that I have to have faith in the bones of the project as it currently exists. I might've been trying to start from scratch, to do the dissertation as I'd do it if I were just now becoming ABD. I need to have faith that all I really need to do is refocus and revise what I've done. While much of the language may change, what I have right now is, I need to remember, a worthwhile project that deserves to see the light of day, and sooner is better than later.

I'm moving on to writing. Screw this misplaced desire for total mastery of all knowledge. I'm not that kind of guy, I'm not that kind of academic, I'm not a theoretical gearhead. Time to start acting and writing like the kind of academic I am.

(note to my readers: If you are a theoretical gearhead, please don't be offended by anything I say here. I understand your scholarship. I need to see a lot of your kind of stuff. Deep in my heart, I wish I was you. But I am not. If I have a potential niche as an academic/scholar, it's essentially my ability to apply neat, unusual, skewed perspectives on subjects that manages to provide some kind of neat insight. This is just about playing to my strengths.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

death of nerdy?

Someone I know is playing D&D tonight. And now I'm starting to feel sadness that I'm not playing with them. Suddenly, I am not in with nerd/geek culture anymore. This is the weirdest mood I've been in for ages.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

the evaporation of summer

The end of freedom is definitely in the air, and that's something you particularly notice while living in a college town. The traffic on the roads has visibly picked up, you can hear the gentle strains of the mating call of the wild frat boy whenever you step outside, and there's a general sense of anticipation mixed with healthy amounts of fear and drudgery.

Yes, fall semester starts on Monday.

It's always a time of contrasts for me. There are ample opportunities to meet new people, and even though I'm no longer really a part of my doctoral program, I've already started to get to know some of their fascinating new members. Even amongst the established BG veterans, there are increasing levels of contacts and camaraderie...perhaps we're all finally starting to get over losing new friends to jobs and other programs, and we just crave connection. Socially, I feel really good, which is frankly amazing, considering the scores of friends who have left this town, moving onto "elsewhere" and a new chapter in their lives. Most falls, I feel their absence, but the possibility of new connections is, right now, my strongest social sensation.

There is also a new semester of challenges on the horizon. Monday, I walk into my classrooms for the first time. For many of my students, I am the first university teacher they will have, the "welcome to college" sign in their lives, and this is indeed a heady feeling. There is so much to teach them, so many preconceptions to eliminate, so many new intellectual discoveries to facilitate. While I know by experience that not all will make it, I am looking forward to seeing how much most of them will grow.

And I did get a lot accomplished this summer. I've had an unprecedented level of scholarly production...2 reviews, 2 articles, and a start on the book. I've got to travel...the brief sojourn to New York truly being a highlight experience. I've got to see departed friends return for visits. I hosted two wonderfully fun parties, and each yielded unique memories.

There are downsides, though. My health has ground to a bit of a halt. I started off the break by swearing to get out, be active, and I committed to a morning walk and an afternoon bike. Then my knee started to give out. The knee brace helped with that, but then, of course, a heel spur in the other foot that hadn't bothered me in years decided to flare up and just will not heal (perhaps exacerbated by my need to shift my weight to that leg). Now I've been forced back to immobility, and when I do go out, I get to repeatedly answer the admittedly good question of how someone who never runs can possibly get runner's knee while simultaneously trying to decide which method of limping will be the most effective.

And although I did more writing in a summer than ever before, I still didn't come close to finishing my research agenda. My book, although I wanted to have it to the press by the end of summer, has miles of work remaining. Instead of polishing a rewritten manuscript, I have a plan, a bunch of notes, and some stream of consciousness rants that still await incorporation. Now I am facing a heavy writing load and deadline on top of teaching 16 credit hours.

It's a time marked with possibilities and impossibilities, the mixture of the rush of hope with the fear of failure, positives and negatives. After all these years in the academic life, you think I would've gotten used to this feeling by now.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympic hero

Dara Torres is my new hero. She swims the 50m freestyle for America. Why is she my hero? First, she's 41. Yes, a forty-one year old Olympian. Also, she's the number one seeded for the finals in her 41.

This is impressive, but it's not all. During her semi, she noticed that the swimmer next to her had a rip in her suit and could not change in time. While the other swimmers were going to their blocks or performing weird pre-race rituals, Dara ran over to ask the judge to hold up the race for the late swimmer. She then told all the other swimmers what was going on, that the race would be a little late. She then raced and kicked ass, posting the fastest semi time.

Normally, I don't get sucked into the "rah rah" bits, but Dara is cool beyond belief.

Friday, August 15, 2008

back to real life

Last week, I had some Bowling Green exiles return for a quick visit, and they stayed with the spousal unit and I. Now they are gone, and there are some big adjustments to be made:

  • I have to actually do work again
  • I feel compelled to restart my daily schedule
  • I have returned to eating stuff other than cheese, cheese curds, and tubes of meat
  • my spousal unit is my only audience for jokes, and she's long since learned to ignore me
  • my house is considerably less cool than it was for my friends' visit
  • I no longer have to make sure I'm wearing pants or have shut the bathroom door

This is what it must be like for soldiers returning from distant lands.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

watching the Olympics

I have learned:

  • the Croatian female ping pong players wear very mini-skirts and have awesome legs
  • water polo is next to impossible to follow
  • amateur wrestling is pretty dull and boring...I understand by professional wrestling was souped-up
  • there's an Israeli swimmer who's named Nimrod..when I mentioned that Nimrod lost, my spousal unit thought I was being mean
  • one Chinese swimmer prepares for his events by shaking his left man-boob
  • I'm both scared to death of and severely turned on by the female fencers

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

killing more time on the interwub

I have now joined Twitter. I have no real idea why, except for maybe wanting to find more ways to kill time when I should be working. Anyone here also on Twitter? Who should I follow?

car talk

Throughout my driving career, I've had a number of pieces of automotive machinery. They've all ended with a certain amount of doom.

  • Car one was a 1982 (?) Chevy Impala...well, not really mine but my parents's vehicle. The coolest thing about it was the air conditioner was labeled either A/C or (teehee) MAXCON...which always made me feel like I was working in some underground bunker for the government. This was also the car I killed the fastest, in the silliest way. While driving to a friend's house, I somehow didn't see a pickup truck...carrying a horse trailer. The redneck drivers (I don't stereotype...I met them, and they certainly fit the bill) only said to me "Boy, you almost bought yourself a thoroughbred." Then they hired the city's biggest sleazeball ambulance chaser lawyer and tried to sue me...which would be depressing if it wasn't so much can you really get from a broke teenager? The net result of this was that the car was 2 feet shorter in the front, and I was looking for new wheels.
  • Car two was my first beater, a 1973 Plymouth Valiant with a radio that ran off vacuum tubes. It was cool...big, powerful, and fast as all hell. Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to kill this one either. I was driving to another friend's house (a pattern I quickly noticed...which is why I no longer have friends), and I must've went to adjust the radio or something and missed a red light. A brand new Monte Carlo SS was my target this time, and it hit me directly behind the driver's door, pushing the metal between the front and back doors in two feet, causing the roof to dome. It also broke my rib, which sent me to the hospital. While there, I had a 97 year old woman next to me in the emergency room who specialized in whining ("I want to go home. Why won't anyone let me go home?"...for two whole hours) and a doctor who, upon hearing I thought I had a broke rib, pushed down on it with all his might ("Does this hurt?" "AAAAAAHHHHGGG!"), and gave me a prescription for ten whole painkillers...enough to last almost a week! Yeah, a rib will really heal in that amount of time. Compound this with me getting back to work after two weeks and getting fired a week after that, and my memories are not good.
  • Car three should've bypassed me and went straight to the compactor. It was a '73 Duster. The litany: the roof was rusted out under the vinyl roof; the driver's side door didn't open from the outside; the passenger door didn't open from the inside; the foam in the driver's seat had disintegrated, so I had to stuff an old raincoat down there to keep from giving myself a spring enema. I went on a vacation once, and my Dad went to start my car after a few day's rain. He found two inches of water in the car and had to drill holes in the floorboard to drain it. After that, the car had a permanent mold ecosystem that bleach would not kill. I actually outlasted this one, gave it to my brother after he had an accident, and it threw a rod on him after a week. A fitting end to a car that sucked so bad and was so nasty, it can single-handedly be blamed for three years where I could not get a date...any woman who would get into that piece was not someone I wanted to be with.
  • Car four was a red 87 Honda Prelude. Hondas will last forever if you take care of them. The previous owner didn't know this, so he beat it to hell and back. The transmission started slipping on me about two weeks after I bought it. It did last for a few years, and the whole time, I felt like I was driving a clown test this, I actually drove seven people to Gainesville for a concert. This car, although it didn't hold rainwater like the Duster, also had an unstoppable mold problem. Finally, the transmission died on me, and we were just able to drive it to the junkyard.
  • Car five is an 1987 Oldsmobile that I got from my parents...thus, it was the nicest car I'd ever had, as it was the first one that ever had been taken care of. It was also the first car I ever had where the a/c actually worked, too, which was a nice luxury in Florida. The engine died almost immediately (the timing chain broke), but my parents paid for a new one since it was one month from my purchase date. Eventually, though, the car started to wear down. I bumped the front on a pole while exiting a tight parking garage, and then I had a car pull out in front of me on an iced-over parking lot. Eventually, the a/c quit working. The transmission died, and I got it replaced with a junkyard unit. Then, when I was working at the zoo (see the first blog posts), the driver's window also quit working. The driver's back door quit opening about the same time. My last repair was to get the rusted-out brake lines totally replaced, after a fun drive to work where the pedal sunk to the floor.

I would like to say that the transition from car to car signaled some great motion in my life, but the only real conclusion I can have is that I've left an awful lot of damage in my driving wake. The only thing that makes me feel better about this is that since all the cars were drastically used by the time I got them, I haven't really made much of a carbon footprint.

Anyway, my parental units called me this week to tell me that they were getting a new car, and would I like their old one? As it's much nicer than the Olds's current state, I heartedly agreed. In a month or so, I will fly down to Florida to pick up a 1997 Buick Riviera. It's pretty parents usually buy the demonstrator models, so they have every accessory you can imagine (including five way sun visors and climate control, with separate passenger controls). I will also pass the Olds onto a carless friend, so there are winners all around.

I am thankful to get reliable wheels again...the Olds is valiant, but I'm getting old and wimpy enough to really want air conditioner. Plus, the car is in really good shape, so I hope to get at least eight years out of it before I kill it in some manner. And I'm hoping its the last car I ever own that's fueled by petroleum. The next one should run on either hydrogen, electricity, fryer oil, or live puppies.

Will my Oldsmobile look at me badly? Will it know that I'm giving up on it? Will it sulk? I'd ask it, but typically, it's in the shop...this should be its first clue that it's going bye-bye.

for those of you following the knee saga

After mysteriously starting to hurt and then mysteriously getting better, my knee mysteriously started to hurt again. Luckily, it did this in time for my last annual physical, and I was able to get doctor's advice...which included x-rays and a knee brace. The first night with the knee brace was not a success, but I'll give it a bit longer.

This is what this blog is reduced to: me bitching about my health. What am I, ninety?