Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage

Laura writes:
Have you re-read Crusie's essay about Taking Out the Garbage? That might give you some ideas for the longer term.

In the short term, I wonder if you could make sure you have a set length of time each day, towards the middle or end of the day, which you set aside for writing, and into which nothing else is allowed to encroach. Then, if you start the day with admin/more routine things, you'll be able to mull over the topic in the back of your mind for a lot of the day before your writing block of time arrives, so hopefully when it does arrive, your brain will be bursting with ideas and ready to get down to writing straight away.
Those are both good ideas, Laura. The Crusie essay, in particular, spoke to me when I re-read it--especially since I re-read it last night after spending twenty minutes or so writing a comment on Israeli / Palestinian politics over at my rabbi's blog. (And did so again--leave a comment, I mean--this morning.)

"I’m still honing the skill of figuring out what’s important to me and ignoring all the noise that doesn’t matter," Crusie writes, if you don't know the essay. "It’s a skill we all need to learn and relearn because until we understand what’s important, we’re not going to be able to protect our work or our lives." She goes on to explain that this "noise" is particularly problematic when you want to be a writer, which also applies to being an academic writer:
The problem with being a writer (one of many) is that it’s all in our heads. It’s not like ditch digging where you can fume all day and still have a perfectly good ditch when you break for dinner. The time-spent list for writers isn’t what we’re doing, it’s what we’re thinking. If we’re stirring spaghetti, for instance, we’re not cooking (unless we’re obsessing over al dente or worrying about salt); we’re doing whatever occupies our minds. If we’re thinking about why the heroine didn’t tell the hero about that secret baby, we’re thinking about writing. If we’re obsessing over RWA business or that lousy review or how unfair it is that a crummy writer just got a better contract than we did, we’re thinking about an organization or somebody else’s opinion, or somebody else’s career. If those things are high on our priority lists, then we can fume virtuously, knowing we’re putting our energies where we want them. If not, we need to do some reordering in our lives because we can’t do good work if we can’t give ourselves to the work, and we can’t give ourselves to the work if our heads are filled with this kind of noise.
This summer I ignored a lot of noise quite successfully: political noise, mostly, from home and abroad. I wonder whether I need to continue to do so, given how much of my time and mental energy can get sucked into that vortex. Supporting views I agree with has seemed important--actually, supporting a person whose views I agree with, since there are folks in the congregation who have been very unhappy with his very public positions, and I want him to know that he's got a few of us in his corner. But how to balance that with other priorities--well, that's a good, practical question, and I'm going to think about it.

"The time-spent list for writers isn’t what we’re doing, it’s what we’re thinking." That's the kicker, isn't it?

In terms of setting a time aside for writing, I'm going to try that--although given my troubled sleep schedule, I think I'll make that a morning ritual rather than an afternoon or evening one. Reading and writing are hard for me in the afternoon and evening: reading, because I tend to fall asleep; writing, because there's nothing like that first cup of coffee to get me humming with sentences. But the core idea--make this an appointment, part of the job, not an extra to be added when you can--seems very useful to me. Not sure if I can make any time sacrosanct here at home, but I can try.

More about motivation, Laura's other comment, in another post, probably tomorrow. Today's song, running through my head when I woke up, is an old one from Brazil--enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2010

There was a time...

There was a time when I took a lot of pride in being more professional, organized, and productive than other graduate students. Once I was out of graduate school...no, once I was hired by DePaul, with a baby, then two children, that self-image fell by the wayside. Hoping to get it back.

First steps, for the brand new year? Well, I've put Jonathan Mayhew's Stupid Motivational Tricks as my home page, or one of my home pages. I'm going to try to stay off social media (Twitter, Facebook) between 9 and 5, just as though I were at a "real" job where that wasn't allowed. Got some action lists written, and I'm trying to work from them, rather than responding all day to the incoming email stream.

We'll see how it goes.

Today's song goes out to my Rabbi, Brant Rosen, in thanks for his blessedly skeptical blog posts about the current revival of the Mid-east "peace process." It's an oldie but goodie from Peter Tosh:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Writing; Mashrou' Leila

Writing's getting hard for me these days.

Not the word-smithery aspect: that comes as easily (and as painfully, sometimes) as ever.

No. The hard part for me now--and by "now," I guess I mean "in the last few years"--is the time-management aspect.

You see, when I write, I tend to get obsessed. I eat, sleep, breathe the piece, take hours on a sentence or a paragraph, getting the rhythm just so. I dodge email, drop other tasks, and focus. My shift this summer from blogging again (hurray!) to total silence? That was because I was writing--one conference paper, one thirty-page introduction to some essays. (Well, that and a LOT of editing.)

The trouble is, I can't sustain that sort of obsession. Especially when it's the school year, and I have to, you know, teach. Grade. Meet with colleagues and students. (Pesky things.)

Now, I have a lot of writing ahead of me this late summer and fall. A lot I want to do more generally. And if I'm going to get it done, I'm going to have to find a better rhythm for my days: one that incorporates the pesky stuff (students, teaching, colleagues), a lot of reading (poetry, fiction, scholarship), family duties (up at 6:30, makin' those breakfasts!), and somehow writing as well.

Haven't done that before, or at least, not in many years. Not well. And I'm not really sure how to start. Every time I think I should get started on an essay, there's something else that pops into my head: a grant application that's due soon; an essay to edit by someone else; another book I really ought to read.

What I need is some new rhythm to the day: a time for this, a time for that, in which writing takes its place w/o expanding to obsess me.

Any of you productive folks out there have any suggestions?


Today's song is "Raski Leila," by the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila. I think it's about eggplant. Enjoy, while I go do some reading, or editing, or...you know...that other thing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Last Call, Film Lovers!

The last call is out--absolutely, positively, this time--for the 2010 Film & History Conference: Representations of Love in Film and Television. The conference runs November 11-14, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, and the Final Deadline for proposals is September 15, 2010.

I'm running an "area" at the conference: Global Perspectives on the Alpha Male in Love. So far we have enough papers for one panel, max, so there's plenty of opportunity here for you to speak on your favorite man's man, ladies' man, man about town--whatever that town may be!

Here's the Call:

Masterful, confident, erotically charged, the “Alpha Male” has been a cinematic icon from Rudolph Valentino’s Sheikh Ahmed ben Hassan (The Sheik, 1921) to Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown (1999) and Hritik Roshan’s elusive criminal, “Mr. A” (Dhoom 2, 2006). As the hero in romantic films, this ideal of masculinity has proven enduringly popular with both male and female viewers, even as successive waves of feminism, in the West and around the globe, have challenged the sexual politics he implies.

How do representations of the Alpha Male in love differ across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries? How have they changed across the past century, responding to historically- and regionally-specific shifts in gender roles and ideals? What happens to the Alpha Male hero when he stars in a romantic comedy, as opposed to a drama or melodrama? How much can we use this iconic figure to track the power of the female gaze or women’s desires, as has been done with the Alpha Male hero of popular romance fiction, given the fact that men continue to predominate in the writing and direction of the films (as opposed to the overwhelmingly female authorship and audience for romance novels)?

This area, comprising multiple panels, welcomes papers and panel proposals that examine all forms and genres of films featuring “Alpha” protagonists in love, as well as films which challenge, revise, or subvert the conventions surrounding this character. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

Sheiks, Captains, Emperors, (The Sheik, Persuasion, Jodhaa Akbar)

Alpha Male meets Alpha Female (The Thomas Crown Affair [1999], Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

Austen’s Alpha: Darcy and his Descendents (Pride and Prejudice)

Sink Me! He’s an Alpha in Disguse! (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro)

Alpha / Beta Reversals and Alter-Egos (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na)

Suspicious Minds: the Alpha Criminal and Detective (Devil in a Blue Dress, The Big Sleep, Breathless)

Athlete Alphas (Love & Basketball, Bull Durham)

Alpha Lovers in Space (Han Solo, James T. Kirk)

You’ve Got Male: Alphas in “Chick Flicks”

Please send your 200-word proposal by e-mail to the area chair:

Eric Murphy Selinger
Associate Professor
Dept. of English
DePaul University
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
eselinge@depaul.edu (email submissions preferred)

Panel proposals for up to four presenters are also welcome, but each presenter must submit his or her own paper proposal.