Thursday, October 03, 2013

the article that wouldn't die recap/decap

So I have (once again) finished the Paper That Wouldn't Die. This time, I'm pretty sure it will be the last time I return to academic writing...although it occurs to me I probably thought that last time around as well.  I can't say I enjoyed it, but I did learn (or was at least reminded of) a lot about both myself and the process in general...and the news, my friends, is mostly just weird.
  •  Location matters.  I tend to take Tuesday nights off from all other obligations, go to my favorite bar, grab a table in the back, and just write.  Usually, I do pretty good.  This Thursday, though, I was writing that damn article there, and I was struggling mightily. I kept getting bound up in distractions...more so than normal.  It didn't help that three people with the loudest voices in history sat at the back of the bar and chatted (i.e, yelled at each other) the whole night.
  • Writing scholarship is slow...and when I say slow, it is glacial.  During three hours of writing at the bar, I finished three paragraphs and had vague plans for the rest of the afterward.  Keep in mind that I had a rough outline and all the research done already, and you see what I mean by slow.  The weird thing is, when I told my good friend/the pinhead who got me into this in the first place how much I accomplished, he said (quite genuinely, I might add) "but that's good...that's really fast."
  • When one starts writing, one begins to take a real interest in everything except the actual article being written.  Today, for instance, I found myself making an increasingly elaborate lunch.  Why?  Because it was more interesting than going back to the computer.
  • When I write, I am pathologically looking for distraction.  When I was two sentences away from finally putting the article to bed, I found myself on Twitter...then on Facebook...then on Digg Reader.  And when I say two sentences, I mean I already knew what I was gonna write.  I was just more interested in doing things other than writing them.
  • Academic writing is essentially a land where feedback is deferred...that is, if it exists in the first place.  I wrote an article on the TV show House, M.D. which was published in 2010, and to this point, it's only been cited three times (and two of those are in some other language, so I have no idea what they thought of my piece).  Other articles I've written have received no feedback at all. I've gotten too used to getting some kind of reaction from my creative endeavors to go back to a writing genre where one might have to wait years to get reader opinions.
I was surprised to find out just how good I was at the game, though.  The bones of the article were, I can say with several years of distance, pretty damn good.  And I found myself able to slip back into writing mode fairly quickly, with all of my old skills only barely diminished.

However. I am also certain that, without said work ever yielding tangible benefits, I will never do this again.  I get a certain amount of thrill in seeing my ideas to be both valid and somewhat innovative.  I get a certain amount of thrill from being able to write them down with pretty good results.  However, none of this is really worth continuing in light of it being irrelevant to my job/career/identity.  Do I want to do more research, or do I want to write a song? Do I want to write another article, or do I want to play with my daughter?

Barring someone just straight out giving me an endowed chair of something professorship, the decision just really ain't that hard.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

bringing back a ghost

Remember the paper that wouldn't die?  Well, after its birth, I thought I killed it several times...then nobody wanted the remains...then I pretty much abandoned it in the woods to rot.

Well?  It's back...and I blame friendship.

I want to be perfectly honest here.  I spent the last three years trying to come to terms with the fact that I would never really be a scholar.  It took much introspection, much love from my family, much support of my friends...and a prescription of antidepressants.  But finally, I quit looking at myself as an academic, and the desire to sit and do scholarship slowly drained away from me.

And that, quite simply, is where I am.  I'm happy to no longer have to think about scholarship.  Oh, I refer to my writing when I teach comp, but I don't tell them the truth:  that I'm one of those teachers who is now talking in esoteric, unconnected terms, as I don't do the same kind of writing which I'm teaching.  And thinking about writing, about the writing process, all that is really just like an old stand-up routine to me.  I can pull it out at a moment's notice, run it through its paces, make it come alive for an audience...but it's no longer anything with which I have any connection.

But then there's this friend.  My friend lives in Europe.  He desperately wants to come back to the United States to teach, but the job market has kicked him several times.  I desperately want him to come back.  He's my best friend, and it's really weird to only be able to talk via video chat, with an eight hour delay between us.  And to do get him back here, we have to make him an exceptional candidate...which, as he's already the smartest person I've ever met, means padding the resume.

He ran an academic conference this year...and, thanks to video chat technology, made it an international conference (which, he was told, was the first time that had ever happened in his country).  He desperately wanted me to participate, but I had to turn him down.  I was getting swamped with work and fatherhood, and so I didn't have time to retrain my mind to think like an academic.  Furthermore, I had absolutely nothing underway.

The conference was, despite my non-involvement, a rousing much so, that my friend is now putting together an anthology of the conference.  And even though I did not present at said conference, he really wants to publish...the paper that wouldn't die. And so, even though I would rather eat a raw rutabaga than do scholarship, I have agreed to give him the paper.  The only problem is that the paper is now really out of date.  If I was doing this honestly, I would probably revise the whole thing, but I refuse to get that much into scholarship.  So, my compromise solution is to do minor revision and add an afterward.

Today is my big writing day.  So, I went looking for my copy of the article which I reviewed and carefully marked a few weeks ago.  Nowhere to be found, of now I'm back to starting from scratch.  I've got a bottle of Mexican Coke and a farmer's market apple.  I'm as ready as I will ever be.

You and me, paper? Let's do this.