A Blog About Non-Blog Writing

It’s not like I haven’t been writing this semester. On the contrary, I have been writing constantly: grant applications, letters of recommendation, vision statements, lectures for two grad seminars (and more lectures — note to self: don’t ever again assume you can re-use old lectures from graduate seminars), the Derrida obit, endless small items for the tenure file, reviews of journal and book manuscripts, comments on theses finished and in progress (both MA and PhD), this blog, countless emails, an ad for an RA, and countless other tiny bureaucratic documents. Carrie has too. We bought a whole box of printer paper at Bureau en Gros in August, and we’re down to our last ream.

But since the beginning of fall, I haven’t been writing in the academic sense of putting together prose for publication. Well, until the last couple weeks. You’re supposed to get a pass for about a year when you book comes out, which I didn’t take, and you are supposed to get a pass when you move. But I didn’t know I was moving until May, which meant that all sorts of promises were in place for fall under the assumption that i would still be in Pittsburgh. That led to me bailing on two conference commitments (highly unusual for me). And it’s slowed down my writing tremendously. Not realizing how foolish it was, I had promised three people an essay for an edited volume on the voice, to be published in French. They’d been kind enough to invite me to a conference that was otherwise almost all in French last spring, and I am new enough at this business to feel quite honored when someone wants my work to translate it and publish it in another language.

My paper is on recordings of Osama bin Laden’s voice — which, if you read the paper this morning, you know is a current issue. Now that I have a complete draft, I’m pleased to say that it’s decent. I have plans to revise it thoroughly (as usual, I didn’t even get to half the stuff I wanted to cover) and publish it in English as well. As you can see from the blog, I had hoped to finish it off last weekend but couldn’t.

GOOD LORD IT WAS TOUGH TO GET TO THIS POINT. First of all, there are endless distractions and obligationsrelated to being in a new place, being in this place, and not being in the old place, which meant it was hard to get long spans to write. This is not supposed to be a problem as I’ve adoped what I call the “academic Atkins diet”(1), which is a practice of writing where you do an hour or even half an hour a day instead of the binge-purge model of so many academics. One of my teachers once compared academic life (or at least the writing part of it) with peasant life: periods of intense productivity puncturated by long periods of leisure or torpor. Anyway, I have discovered that my plan works best for projects in progress or that have reached a certain critical mass. If I’m under a deadline (or, uncharacteristically for me, way past a deadline in this case), it’s not all that satisfying to see my work inch along. There’s also Endnote, which is wonderful when you cite something the second or third time, but a real pain the first time you cite something. And there were endless newspaper articles, clippings and printouts from websites that needed to be entered into the bibliographic database and then put in my paper. All this is to say that for the last two weeks I have been struggling to get this essay down and to move it forward — partly struggling to find the time to think and write well, and in the absence of that time, struggling to switch gears quickly to get into my writing space while I have the moment. This adds unpleasant pressure to the whole thing, and there were moments when I had serious doubts as to whether I could finish the piece before winter break. It really was a practical problem (I can’t remember the last proper “writer’s block” I had), but it’s hard not to experience it on an emotional roller coaster. Our writing is so tied to our senses of self as academics. Or maybe it’s just me. Like a reverse-metaphysics-of-presence or something. Now that it’s a touch-up away from the button, I of course feel much better. But it’s been stressful, to say the least. I can’t wait for the course release in the winter term so that I can get back to my own work a little bit more (yes, I originally typed “spring” and then fixed it).(2)

And now, looking at the next two weeks, I’ve got two other deadlines approaching. Luckily, it’s for much smaller stuff.

(1) I called it the “academic Atkins diet” because it comes from kind of trendy advice books and has all sorts of names. But the technique is good. I got a ton of writing done last winter doing it for an hour a day. The method probably deserves its own entry but in the meantime, let me say this (which was originally going to be a Bad Subjects essay) about the real Atkins diet. I hate the Atkins diet. I realize that people have lost weight on it. Good for them. But American food culture is so messed up that it has finally found a way to attach a negative moral valence to bread. Bread! Also, there’s the whole anti-vegetarian backlash associated with it, the shameless and deceptive branding by the big food companies, and all that, But that’s for another time. I’m pleased in Montreal to find less Atkins mania.

(2) Carrie took her course release in the fall, and has therefore managed to get more of her own work done. I’m jealous, but after years of me having the lighter teaching load, it’s been a long time coming for her.