Could Be Worse

Could be dead, or stabbed. Or it could be midweek! But it’s Friday and I’m whole and hearty. Bonus!

Made it to the weekend and neither the meeting with the dean nor my burgeoning workload managed to bring me down. I am already feeling spread out thinly, like butter scraped across hot toast. Saw my schedule get just a little bit more crowded and hectic. We’re already tackling the question of what courses each of us will offer next year: the earliest we’ve ever thought about this in my department. But if we don’t, we won’t know where to make the cuts mandated as part of the university’s overall austerity program. Balancing personnel realities versus budget numbers is a frustrating exercise.

Still, I’m not chairperson and I’m so glad to say that. Once I’ve dealt with various service responsibilities as well as my class meetings, I’m doing my best to get out of Dodge. Even though home is alive with distractions, I find it surprisingly easy to ignore the siren call of the television for the luxury of real mind-work.

This term, I’m committed to Another Damned Notorious Writing Group, an online support group running twelve weeks. Week one is done and gone: I did some of what I’d hoped to do. The sad reality of seeing my writing hopes and ambitions running up against the unyielding requirements of my job’s other requirements? That’s the hardest part of term to deal with on an emotional level. I have such hopes of universal, regular progress, and I feel them dashed time and again by my wacky schedule.

As Dr. Crazy notes, writing every day isn’t an approach that works for everyone. I do my best when I write regularly but Tuesdays, for instance, when I’m booked all but one hour from 8-8? Writing doesn’t happen and I don’t try to make it happen. I might be able to squeeze in a little research or writing time during office hours or my lunch hour but I’d rather use these contingent timeslots for tasks that don’t suffer when I suddenly drop the ball. (Reviewing slidesets for classes so I can tweak the questions and images, for instance, or adding more material to the online course management system.)

I pray there aren’t any meetings on Friday afternoons because then I enjoy a wonderful “sweet spot” of four uninterrupted hours to drill down deep in my current project. Despite leaving breadcrumb trails in the form of ALL CAPS NOTES to myself, I need about half an hour to reorient myself as to what I’m writing as well as how I’m using the sources.

Sadly, this Friday wasn’t a joyous excursion into writing. My afternoon meeting was important and we accomplished our goals, but it chopped up my afternoon into precisely the wrong chunks. Even so, I’ve completed the key writing task I’d wanted to have finished in the last week. I’m fortunate that my family’s tolerant enough of my wacky work schedule to take it calmly when I say that this weekend is all about writing and editing because that’s what I’ll be doing.

It’s not ideal. It’s not even how I’m supposed to be working as I teach a 3/2 load on paper. You can be that I can’t wait for next term when my teaching commitments drop from five courses to three! But I think this stop-and-go schedule with a clear road map is something that’s working for me.

What’s working for you with writing, editing, research or study this term?

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12 Comments

Filed under academe, writing/editing

12 responses to “Could Be Worse

  1. Sometimes you get dealt crappy cards. It sounds like you are playing them really well. Astoundingly well. I’ll stand here on the sidelines and cheer.

    • jliedl

      Thanks! At least I can say that I’m loving all five of my classes and only two will have staggering amounts of marking. But I don’t know how I’m going to even think about working on funding application plans this term with all of these balls in the air. I suspect that’s something that will just have to wait for January when I know I’ll be able to commit the time and start chatting with the staff in our research office.

      I might well be booking a consultation with you in the new year to see if I can make the best use of my time on that front!

  2. Five classes in a single term?!? Holy god, woman!

    • But in response to your actual post: one of the things we can do is set goals that are less ambitious than we might think we “ought to” be able to accomplish. Lots of people have committed to doing things like writing an article (or two!), but I know that I can only bang out one conference paper from new material while keeping up my end on teaching and service. I’ve learned not to feel guilty about not being as productive as someone teaching less.

      • jliedl

        A good point: I have the highest enrolments in my department and I’ve begun to learn that their vision of writing time will never all mesh with mine. One of the reasons I’ve embraced the marriage of pop culture and history is that I can write one or two of these chapters in a busy term whereas I couldn’t do that with a longer and more scholarly article.

    • jliedl

      Like Topsy, it just grew. Three’s the normal load. I added another to teach the grad seminar (although one of my undergrad courses is the official overload) and then I have a fifth class of directed readings for my grad student. I feel that I have to count that because the directed readings topic is a real stretch for me. I’m putting in as much time to prepare and run that course as I would with a completely new grad prep.

  3. Susan

    Well, I’m one who needs time to get into writing, so I’ve been trying to protect Fridays. But it’s also often the only day I’m home to deal with phone calls, business stuff, etc. OBE.

    • jliedl

      Next term I’ll have Mondays with no classes. I’m hoping to keep those free of both meetings and personal obligations enough to start work on the next stage of the stepmother project that I shared a bit of at the Berks. When it comes to working on a history as elusive as that, I expect I’m going to need more time to get reoriented. Fortunately, this term I’m writing some general syntheses so they’re easier to set aside and resume.

      I will wish you peaceful and productive Fridays!

  4. Oh, that five course load sounds all too familiar. My chair picked up the dept’s history, by fac member, and chided me for regularly having more than 4 for years in a row. This from Star, who averages 6 (3+ independent studies/directed readings ‘favors for students’). I’ve joined an on-campus research writing faculty group. We’ll meet 3-4 times over the term, and I’m hoping that with my lighter load (only my contractual 4) I can get my March conference paper started. Faint hope.

    • jliedl

      Our dean’s instituted a question for our annual report, asking how our teaching supports our research. That confounds me since, if I was to teach only in my research area, I’d ditch a bunch of popular surveys and have so few options that I’d be alternating courses every other year. That’d bore me to tears and frustrate students.

      Good luck with your writing group. I find that having someone else who knows what you’re doing keeps you on track and upbeat. Hopefully this will do the same for you!

  5. You sound so swamped already. Yesh! Good luck with your writing group and it does actually sound like a good idea to be honest.