Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lifehacks

The quarter didn't work out quite as planned.  Something about the morning schedule (I've rarely taught morning classes), the course for teachers that was outside my area of expertise (grammar? rhetoric? not my fields), the independent study that expanded into 1.5-3 hours a week of meeting and conversing:  all of those ate into my blogging life, and into my professional life more generally.  I felt overwhelmed all winter, and got much less done--aside from those required teaching jobs--than I'd hoped or planned.

Now that spring has sprung, I'm trying out a few "hacks," as they say, in my everyday schedule, not so much in order to free up time to work as to carve out room to think, and read, and play.

You see, for whatever reason, I found myself spending more and more time this winter caught up in digital media:  reading a handful of political blogs, reading (though not really posting on) Twitter, window shopping at guitar sites, etc.  That was where my downtime went, such as it was--and it's a self-reinforcing habit, such that other modes of relaxation grew less and less natural and immediate.

My goal now is to trim back that digital life, and to fill my time (and my head) with more enjoyable material.  I've deleted the personal Twitter account, @EricSelinger, although I still have the professional one, @JPRStudies.  And I've been editing my Facebook feed to take out the posts that tend to preoccupy me without really adding value or pleasure to my day.  I've also swapped my iPod alarm clock, which woke me to music, for an old fashioned travel alarm--not because I disliked the music (it was quite lovely), but because looking at the screen right before bed to turn on or reset the alarm made it all-too tempting to check email, or Twitter, or Facebook, or YouTube, or any of the other sites right before turning in.

I'm not worrying about bit professional or personal goals at this point--rather, step by tiny step, I want to bring my everyday life a bit closer to the happiest periods I had a few years ago, when I read more books and played more music and didn't worry quite as much about things I was reading on line.  I was also blogging more then, rather than posting on the other social networking sites.  Not sure whether we're talking about a causal relationship, or just a correlation, but it can't hurt to try doing a bit more of that as well.

I've also started doing handstands, but that's a topic for another post.  :)


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Very [Adj.] Start to Year

Like most of my plans for the new year--hopes, more than plans; wishes, more than resolutions--my plan to start posting here again have been on hold.  An assortment of exigencies, from work to bad weather, have gotten in the way.  We're not even two weeks into 2014, though, and I refuse to be discouraged, or at least more discouraged, which is what not writing will do to me.  So here I am, by George, however briefly, taking a minute out of the day to think about what needs to be done.

I got a fair amount done during my research leave.  I wrote three conference papers, each different from the last, along with an 11000-word essay on Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Natural Born Charmer and the first few pages of a new essay on some Jewish American poets.  I did a lot of managerial and administrative work on IASPR and the the Romance area of PCA; I worked a lot on JPRS (next issue coming soon!); with help from colleagues, I landed two book contracts, and brought one of those books, a co-edited collection, nearly to completion.  I played a lot of guitar, and a little mandola.

The most important thing I did, though, was figure out what was going wrong, a few months into the leave.  Week after week went by, in the beginning, without any progress on anything substantive; the days blurred into one another, awash in email; I was sleeping badly; I was down, as I hadn't been in a while.  Blogging then seemed to exacerbate the situation, which is why I stopped.

What helped then, and needs to help now, was some good time management decisions.  I moved everything connected to email to my afternoons, and set the morning aside for research and writing.  After lunch I practiced an instrument, if only for 10 or 15 minutes; after dinner, I did no writing or correspondence; at bedtime, I avoided reading on screens.  Simple moves, each of them, but they changed everything.

My teaching schedule this term won't let me keep that schedule, alas.  I have to be up by 6 at the latest, and on the road early; my first class is at 9:40, and my second follows pretty closely on its heels.  That's two mornings a week accounted for--and I have plenty of prep that I need to do for each class, which also takes up time.  I'm getting more and more email, now from students, as well as colleagues, so there's a backlog I'll need to get sorted; I've fallen days or weeks behind on my writing and editing projects; I haven't picked up an instrument in days.  For the past couple of nights I've found myself picking up the iPod right at bedtime to check in on Facebook or scroll plaintively through my inbox, which doesn't help the sleep to follow.

The first task , then, is to figure out a sustainable schedule for the new quarter:  not the same one, but something similar.  Will think about that today.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Just What I Tweeted (Professionally, Natch)

As the summer began, I went off Twitter and Facebook, suspending my accounts.  I've gone back on both, although with Twitter, it's really for professional reasons:  a sense that we needed to have a stronger IASPR / JPRS presence there.

I'm currently posting there from a new Editorial account, with the handle @JPRStudies, and I've signed in to post from @IASPR from time to time as well.

All this on-again, off-again social networking is rather comical, I know.  In fact, I wrote a song about it, delivered by my Alte Rocker compatriot "Flash" (the photographer David Sutton) at last spring's PurimSpiel:




 David's having a little joke by reading the lyrics off of his phone; here they are, for your amusement, too:

Just What I Tweeted - Lyrics © 2013 by Eric Selinger

I make the promise every year--
It's wasting all my time.
I've got to quit the cybersphere,
And get some peace of mind.

But there's a farm to populate
And something new from George Takei
And have you seen this video
Of puppies making wine?

Every time we're on a date,
We're posting while we dine.
I know the food was awfully good,
You told me so, on-line.

You keep a browser in your hand,
Another one on your nightstand,
In case you feel like waking up 
To "like" me in my sleep...

This time I'm gonna defeat it!
You know, I'm feeling so free,
Since my account's been deleted,
But I've got nothing to read...

[solo]

People tell me logging on
Is wasting all their time, time.
I'm bragging I gave it up,
I feel so unconfined, yeah.

But won't you tell me what's the news?
And could you check +972?
I'm pining for my Muzzlewatch,
Or was it Mondoweiss?

This time I nearly suceeded!
I lasted almost a week.
But there's a fix and I need it!
I've got a friend list to weed...

I guess I've just been defeated!
I couldn't stand to secede.
In fact, I'm gonna go tweet it!
I've got a Tumblr to feed—yeah, yeah...

So feed me.

I've just been re-tweeted!
I've just been re-tweeted!
I've just been re-tweeted!
Yeah, yeah, yeah...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sherlock

Does every spouse / domestic partner become a bit of a detective?  I wake up in the morning, come upstairs, and figure out what's been up the night before:  a son up late, a daughter slipping on her headphones to watch something on one of her devices.

Last night, if I'm not deceived, at about 4 am, my wife got up with postnasal drip and a bad a sore throat, gargled salt water, fumbled around in the medicine cabinet for a Benadryl, then went back to bed, very unhappy with her lot.

That's the working hypothesis, anyway.  When she gets up, we'll see if I'm right.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Assorted Updates

Good moods holding, more or less.  Everything well within acceptable parameters--I feel like I'm back on an even keel, moving forward.  Not sure what to credit for this, but it's quite a relief.

***

One sign of things doing better:  I've done a little scholarly reading.  Started with a book on American Jewish culture (background for a poetry piece I mean to do in the fall), and a bit of Robert Archambeau's The Poet Resigns, a collection of essays about poetry and criticism in contemporary America.  Oh, and Jennifer Kloester's biography of Georgette Heyer, for a talk I give (checks his watch) today!

More on that anon.

***

On the instrument front, for a Father's Day present I decided to put a new tailpiece on the mandola and start playing it with the klezmer band.  The bandleader wants me to keep doing chordal accompaniment, rather than melody, but down the line perhaps I can do some duets with our mandolinist, if I get good enough.

I'd hoped to put in a pickup, to make playing with the band less cumbersome, but the repair shop told me that an internal one wouldn't work; something with the bracing, evidently.  I can buy an externally-mounted pickup down the line, if I decide that's needed, but for now I'm just going to play into a microphone and see how that goes.

In any case, the instrument really sings, now.  More sustain, richer tone, a real pleasure to hear.  And the whole process of getting the tailpiece turned out to be a pleasure:  the visit to the little storefront folk instrument shop, the email exchange I had with the luthier who made the mandola, Walt Kuhlman, the simple prettiness of the shiny new gold (plated) addition to the instrument.

Now I just need to start practicing chords.  Dm, Am, E7, on the upbeat, to start.

"Dm:  it's not a key, it's a lifestyle."  --Naftuli Brandwein (I think)

***

Another sign of the upturn in my mood:  I've started reading the Stupid Motivational Tricks blog again.  Fewer motivational tricks in the recent posts, but I'm working my way back through them, to find useful nuggets.

More on those anon as well.  Now, off to the conference!

Friday, June 07, 2013

On Leave! (First in a series, no doubt)

Technically, my research leave from DePaul doesn't start until fall term, but in practice, it started yesterday.  I won't be in the classroom again until January 6, 2014.  A quick check online tells me that this makes 214 days without teaching, and I hope to make the most of them--although what that "most" will mean remains to be seen.

Yesterday I mostly just cleaned house, and not in a figurative way.  My father-in-law had been visiting for a week, so there was laundry and shopping to be done, and plenty of trash and recycling to be taken out to the alley.  It's altogether too satisfying to do such work some days, since it takes the place of reading and writing and editing and grading, but I'd rather do it at a time when I enjoy it than put it off and grumble about it later, so that's what I did.

By 5 pm, when I'd done many a load of laundry, run a couple of shopping trips, and taken an assortment of children (my own and friends) to various places, I'd started to regret spending the whole day doing nothing but chores and errands, but in retrospect, that may have just been hunger creeping up on me.  An hour's exercise class and a good dinner set me right, and I slept unusually well.  A day well spent, I think.

***

I'm typing this at 8:30 or so in the morning, walking on the treadmill, staying away from email.  I took a gander at my "to do" list, and it was pretty overwhelming, but I'm going to keep the goals for the day somewhat narrowly focused, so that I leave time for some reading.  My biggest regret during the school year this year--and, indeed, for the last few years--has been that I haven't spent nearly enough time taking new information and ideas in, and I'd like to make that a priority for this time away from the classroom.

So:  10 papers to grade, and one of the overdue JPRS tasks, and then maybe I'll get to sit and read a while.  I don't know that I'll be able to do those all at once, and my dropbox keeps making that "popping" sound as new JPRS info is added--peer reviews are coming in!--but we'll see.  Small achievable goals, that's the plan.

***

(11:00):  finished the 10 papers.  Taking a break, then it's time for a JPRS task.

***

Well, the rest of the day didn't go as expected.  Hadn't quite finished the JPRS task when my wife wanted to take a break for lunch.  By the time that was done, it was time for me to hit the road to DePaul for the end-of-term party; by the time I got home, the work-day was done.  Shopped, cooked, watched an episode of The Hour with my family, and that was that.  Hm.  If I'm going to do any reading, I'd better do it now (after 10 pm).

***

Oh, no!  Complication in the instrument world.  I planned to put new strings on the mandola, then take it in for a trade-in or consignment sale.  As I put the first new one on, I saw that the little brass brad it hooks onto, down on the tailpiece, was bending up and ready to snap, just as another one had done a while ago, and a second brad was already alarmingly bent, even before I'd gone to work.  This instrument needs a new tailpiece to be playable, or even presentable.  The question is, do I need to pay to put one on before I can do anything with it?  Or can I sell / trade it in as is?

That's going to take an in-person visit to the music store, and I don't think I'll have the chance to do that until a week from now.  Maddening to wait, but so it goes.  In the meantime, I should note that I'm getting enormous pleasure from my main electric guitar these days, which I paid to set up with smooth-wound  strings before I started the jazz lessons.  A pleasure to both fingers and ears.  That was money well spent.



Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Devices and Desires (and Daffodils)

I wrote this on Monday:
More good days, mood-wise.  Per Laura's taxonomy, for most of the past week I've felt quite like a daffodil, with plenty of family celebrations and a visit from my father-in-law to keep me busy and happy, even jocund, now and then.  This means, of course, that I'm falling father and farther behind on reading, writing, editing, and so on, even as my brain begins to buzz with new ideas (a consequence of the upbeat mood), but all of this business should wind down in another couple of weeks, and I'll get caught up eventually.  If falling behind is the price of this good feeling, that's a price I'm happy to pay.
Tuesday, as luck would have it, was pretty weedy:  R slept only about 3 hours, and my own sleep was interrupted by horrific snoring (you know it's bad when you wake yourself up!) and by her getting up at some ungodly hour of the morning.  Stressful, unhappy morning, but by the late afternoon things were looking up, and the evening was actually quite pleasant.

To continue the horticultural metaphor, I'd say that my moods are quite dependent on environmental conditions:  sun, rain, good soil, etc.  The striking thing about yesterday, though, was the way that having a few good thoughts in mind--how well the past few days had gone; those funny flower terms--kept me from getting entirely caught up in my own sad mood.  I was watching it as much as feeling it, if you know what I mean.  So when the sun came out (so to speak), I was ready to feel it.

***

I've always loved the P. D. James title Devices and Desires--which is also the title of a history of contraceptives in the US, evidently.  It's been coming to mind for the past few months as I've thought about a series of purchases I have and haven't made.  First there was the month of agonizing over which tablet computer to buy.  I ended up picking up a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, rather than an iPad, because the iPad I wanted (a mini with a retina display) didn't exist yet, and although I've been reasonably happy with the Note, I realize in retrospect that I've enjoyed it just a smidge less than I might have enjoyed the Apple product, because I can't chat with my colleagues about apps and so on.  (They're all Apple users.)

Evidently there's a potential social pleasure that I didn't take into account as I thought about the purchase, which I need to think about next time.

In any case, there were weeks of fretting about and then regretting the purchase, during which time I was really preoccupied with All Things Tablet--after which that obsession seemed to fade, to the point where I can't imagine running out and buying the retina-display mini when it comes out, because I'm not sure I need it anymore.  My default mode with electronic devices seems to be a fairly low level of desire:  I don't really enjoy looking at them in stores or imagining having them, and I find the whole process of buying them quite stressful.

When it comes to instruments, of course, my default mode is much greedier!  My plan for the summer, at least for now, is to trade in four or five of the ones I'm no longer playing (one or two mandolins, the mandola, a guitar and an amp), and then, rather than try to get cash in return, to get one or two things that my son and I can enjoy together during his last year at home.

The things I have in mind are relatively inexpensive:  a small tube amp, which my son has asked for, and which will sound better and warmer than either of the ones I currently have (he can take it to college when he goes); and a Telecaster, which will replace my Godin solid-body electric, which I never play nowadays.  Nathan's said many times that he'd love to play one, and I think it would come in handy for the Alte Rockers as well.  (It was also the kind of guitar I had first, when I was a teen.)

The other instrument I'm thinking of now is a Yamaha "Silent Guitar," which would let me play a nylon-string / classical style instrument through an amp, and would be more resilient in the face of Chicago weather (and AC / heat indoors) than an actual classical guitar.  It would be useful both for the klezmer band and for the jazz lessons, especially when I start to learn bossa nova, and I think it looks fun, too.

That said, given all that I want to do this summer, the simplest thing is to hang on to the instruments I have and do nothing with them for a while.  As I've said before, when I turn my attention to playing a new piece, my itch to buy another instrument falls away quite rapidly, and I have a few new pieces (a Jobim number, some old standards, a klezmer song my daughter sings, etc.) that I'm practicing for my current round lessons.

I'll keep you posted!