31 August 2010

One inch

That's how tall the draft of my dissertation measures. Funny how so much work and so many opportunities can be tied to one inch.

I've been watching a lot of films to balance out the hardcore attention to detail I've had to maintain. Now, I will tell you which ones were good, which ones were terrible, and which ones were simply tolerable.

I'll start with the bad ones:

1. 500 Days of Summer: I've already gotten flak about this one. I really hated it. Actively. I found myself actively disliking this film from the first, self-referential scene. What didn't I like about it? Everything. More specifically: Zooey Deschanel, the uber-indie feel, the hypersaturation of hipster culture, the temporal bounds. I like Joseph Gordon Levitt, but this film lost me at: "The Smiths? I love The Smiths." Like Juno and any film with Michael Cera, this film was obsolete by the time it hit DVD. And someone needs to teach Zooey to emote.

2. Amelia: Good story. Terrible acting. Hillary Swank is a talent, for sure, but this film pushes her to vamp up her prairie accent, make much ado about everything, and cut a figure as the scrappy-but-still-elegant pioneer. Richard Gere is a terrible actor, all the time, but Swank doesn't have to be. This film could have been so much more without the melodrama. I wonder what it is about period pieces that cues actors to tap into their stage voices?

3. Gentleman Broncos: Another film from Jared Hess, the guy responsible for Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite. I had high hopes for this movie, as I enjoyed Hess's past work. However, the awkwardness that makes NL and ND endearing makes Gentlemen Broncos simply uncomfortable. It seems as if American filmmakers have hit on this genre of teen films that relies on the site gag and crude jokes. Teen films have always hit these notes harder than other genres, but it does seem that, recently, they've been responsible for setting the bar for crude language and behavior. I'm no prude, but films like GB go a long way to dashing my hopes for American cinematic culture.

And move to The Good Ones
1. Creation: Focusing on the tense relationship between Darwin and his faithful and religious wife, this film, despite its Rotten Tomatoes rating, presented a complex look at a marriage forced to consider its foundation. Haunted by the death of his child--for which he blames himself--Charles works out his theory of evolution as he also deals with the provenance and resting place of his child's soul. A deeply felt, if not pathos-heavy, film with some insight into the background of a foundational scientific text.

2. Mother: A Korean film, Mother relies heavily on attention to detail and surprise endings. Do-joon is 27, oddly childlike, and lives with his mother. Their relationship relies on both physical intimacy and deep emotional entanglement to develop the backdrop for Do-joon's undoing. We follow as he is accused of the murder of a young woman and as his mother, who is viciously devoted to her son, works behind the scenes to protect her child, who she assumes couldn't commit such a violent act. At times grisly and uncomfortable, Mother holds up for question the bounds of maternal commitment. Never think that you know who killed that girl, because the ending will surprise you.

Before finishing with the Better-Than-Good One
Let the Right One In: I had postponed seeing this Swedish vampire film because it came out amid the Twilight hype. I was OVER vampires. However, in its subtlety and grace, this film crafts a story where the vampircism is backgrounded in favor of the human (and otherwise) relationships as they develop. With rich yet stark cinematography, Let the Right One In returns the genre to its roots: it subverts gore and sexuality to highlight visceral need and fulfillment (including psychological need in the face of loneliness, and who hasn't experienced that?). The trope of the unaged child is well rendered, and what blood there is, is presented with style.

Sadly, I've watched only one Better-Than-Good film recently. I have high hopes for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (It's sitting on my kitchen table.)

23 August 2010

The Life of the Body

I spend so much time worrying about the life of my mind: reading, writing, making godforsaken (but really helpful) charts, making sure I know who said what about whom and when. "Chain-linked" citations are impressive but can be unethical, writes Bud Goodall, yet my field still swoons when someone pulls a 12-name list of authors out of their back pocket. TaDA!

This post isn't really about the constraints of the discipline or how I see the concept of expertise at work in my life. It's about my back. And my legs. And sometimes even my head (but only the muscles and connectives that attach it to my neck).

Academics--especially those in training--boast impressive injury and illness rap sheets. I have friends with sciatica, migraines, ulcers, carpal tunnel syndrome, and less-serious-but-still-painful soreness and stiffness. I know people who are forever battling colds and the flu, hacking their way to a PhD, hobbling their way up and down Hodges library stacks, bent double like little old women carrying too many baskets of home-baked cookies. (The cookies were too much, right? I over-modify.) Until two years ago, I was an academic invalid too: stomach illnesses (which you can read about on this blog somewhere); a weak core from sitting too long at the computer (that one left me with lockjaw and legally blind for about two weeks. Yes, blind.); numbness in my hands from my keyboard position (wiggling the fingers every five minutes = strange looks from other lab users); and a host of sinus infections, eye infections, lung infections, and common colds. I was sick all the time, and my steady diet of processed food (Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches were a staple), bargain-basement energy drinks, little to no exercise, and too much clicky clicky typing set me up to fail. Though I was committed 100 percent to working on my life of the mind, I wasn't giving myself a hospitable environment in which to do it.

The revolution was less of a bang, more of a whimper. I gradually switched to a diet comprised almost entirely of clean foods, started exercising with purpose, blocked out a least eight hours of sleep a night, and scheduled weekends off. That's right. I don't work on Saturdays at all, and I work on Sundays only when it's dire. Over the course of the last four years, I've steadily improved that plan, and this year, I've had only one serious illness--a terribly timed stomach flu--and a tangle with some antibiotics for a lingering stomach infection. In comparison, in 2006, I battled pneumonia for 6 weeks at at time 3 different times. (That's more than 4 months of being sick with pneumonia.) I sleep more soundly, I've dropped about 50 pounds, and I'm generally happier. In part, this change is attributed to the higher quality of food I'm consuming and because I block out time to exercise at least once a day, usually twice. However, I've also grown to realize that my time away from my work is just as important. I try to NOT work at home, so that all I have to do when I get home is relax. Work is for work. Home is for home things like watching films, snuggling, napping, and reading for pleasure. (I mention this point because many academics I know work from home, and I'm not saying that compartmentalizing tasks this way works for everyone, but it works for me.)

I guess it's safe to say that, while I value the life of my mind, I'm more interested in maintaining a healthy, sustainable life for my body so we can co-exist in peace. Without migraines.

20 August 2010

A Subtle Shift

It's the end of the first week of my last year as a graduate student.

For me, happy = busy. Good news for my satisfaction, but bad news for my blog. I haven't posted in two weeks (or more?), and I've felt a distinct lack (Freud laffs) of self-reflection and joy in writing.

Not that I haven't been writing. Oh I have: a syllabus (from scratch; I refused to copy/paste this time around), paper assignments, rubrics, scads of emails, and the rough beginning to one class assignment for a course I am taking. Hello, fall. And while I miss the unstructured days of summer, I welcome the organization forced by taking a class and teaching a class. I welcome side projects and brain breaks from the revision of the dissertation. By the way, I haven't started revising the dissertation yet.

Here's where I think my background in creative writing will pay off. I'm okay letting projects chill out. I'm fine with giving two weeks away to other projects while I gain both perspective on the diss and acquire new reading knowledge. But while this break is nice and necessary, my schedule has me revising come Monday. I'm excited to read what I've written. I've already forgotten.

Is is surprising that I can write something substantive and forget it? Maybe it's a feeling akin to how creative writers describe "inspiration." God breathes, right? But here, I find that another part of my brain operates while I write. Sharon Olds once described the feeling to me like this: "I was sitting at my desk, holding my pen, when a poem flew in through the window and landed on it. I'm excited to share that poem with you today!" While only part of the diss came in through the window--I fought hard for entire passages and one entire chapter--I am thankful for the parts that came to me like moving water. (I usually abhor metaphor in self-reflection, but sometimes I can see it working well.) I will never be one to deride the epistemological function of writing. I live that mess.

Here's what's different this year: After my summer spent writing, after feeling professionalized in out-of-department courses, and after much interaction with major professors in my discipline, I realized this week, the first week of my last year as a grad student, that I don't feel like a grad student anymore. I feel like a scholar and colleague, which is maybe premature, but as I taught my first upper-division course yesterday, I realized that I am where I need to be. The students seemed comfortable. I felt comfortable. I am able to use my reading knowledge and experience as a writer. And while I, like many advocacy-minded scholars, often question the relevancy of what I do to the broad struggles and suffering of the world as it is lived, on the ground, I celebrated this moment of coming into my own. It was a small non-event, in a rudimentary classroom in the education complex, and it was subtle, only I knew it had happened, but it was there. And I danced all the way back to McClung Tower.

28 July 2010

Stuck: So here are some movies

I'm stuck on my intro. It's all a'jumble.

Priming the pump (but my pump primes backward. Come on, SK fans. Give that some love.) with some blogginess.

We signed up for Blockbuster's unlimited $30/month movie rental. It's pretty rad. You can get two movies out at a time, but only from the same store. That's a drag, but we've watched scores of movies in the last three weeks. I usually have no attention span for films, but they're growing on me.

So here's a slice of what we've been watching. First, the thumbs-down films.

Very Bad Films

Hot-Tub Time Machine: This film came recommended by people who I consider to be very discriminating. First, context: I hated Knocked Up, 40-Year Old Virgin, and The Hangover. When a film is described as "[one lame film] Meets [another lame film]!" I always worry. In this case, The Hangover Meets Back to the Future provided predictable 12-year-old-boy humor. Despite my love for John Cusack--and I even love the new bloated John--I hated HTTM. I like comedy, for sure, but I like my comedy less obvious. The back of the case said, "Wildly inappropriate!" To me, events don't have to be about pooping, sex, or uncomfortable social situations to be funny. I found it boring in its mass appeal. (First clothes go 80s, now film?) This opinion may make me sound horribly stodgy or prudish, but that's the way I roll.

Worth a Look

BBC's Life Series: I love documentaries. I love nature. But this series (narrated on DVD by Oprah Winfrey) tends to drag. It's fine for a go-through while on the treadmill or grading or doing something else, but the narrative isn't enough to keep it super interesting. I had high standards for Life, since Blue Planet was riveting, but Life often recycles footage, making for a pretty lackluster experience. For example, the same 15-minute vignette about the Ibex's stunning agility in the Mammals section shows up in the Predators section and later in the Biosphere/Life section. I get that providing this much quality footage costs a lot of time and energy--and the footage is stunning--but I also grew bored. I never get bored with documentaries. For what it's worth, the section on fish was really amazing. Watch Life once for the rich visuals, and then call it a day.

The Damned United: I like sports movies, as long as they aren't solely sports movies and as long as they don't play on reduced and/or trite ideologies. (I really hated Varsity Blues and Remember the Titans for their simplified plots.) The Damned United tells the true story of Brian Clough, who coached Leeds United (soccer) for 44 days in 1974. If you were into the World Cup, or any part of soccer history, you'll like the intricacies of this film. It does require a fair amount of knowledge about soccer to fully appreciate, but the acting alone makes up for the price of admission. Clough presents a coach who's easily to dislike but who also brings a sense of ethics to a club short on it. The narrative is complicated by the political imperative for these small English villages to present public images of themselves and, as such, becomes a story much larger than one man's desire to coach a particular team.

Knowing: I was on the fence about watching this film. Sci-fi can go horribly, horribly wrong so quickly, and Nick Cage tends to make films go horribly, horribly wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Knowing offered a plot line less predictable than most sci-fi out there, with characters more developed than most. (I'm looking at you, Moon.) On the surface, it offered a pretty enjoyable story about numerology, foretelling, and the destruction of the human race. Underneath, Knowing, at the title suggests, threw into question exactly what we can know and the effects of action on this knowing. Cage's lack of animation actually supported his role as an astrophysicist, so kudos for that choice. (Much like Keanu's lack of inflection in The Matrix, this inability to act didn't detract from the character as it might in other roles.) Though I didn't like the trite, everyone-embrace-the-end-of-the-world-so-we-can-go-to-Heaven ending, I do like that no deus ex machina showed up to save the day. (I'm looking at you, 2012.)

Quite Good, Actually

Whip It:
Any film described as "brimming with girl power" usually gets put back on the shelf; however, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is really, really good. It doesn't pander, and it doesn't cast women as 1) helpless waifs; 2) man-hating bitches; or 3) waifs-turned-man-hating-bitches. While Roller Derby, as a sport, interests me somewhat (a colleague used to be a Roller Derby Girl and assures me that I should definitely do it), its overwhelming popularity and embrace by the hipster community has pretty much turned me against most major iterations. As much as I disliked Ellen Page in Juno--and I think I am one of four people who hated that film--I found her to be captivating in Whip It. With a cast that includes Daniel Stern, Juliette Lewis, and Jimmy Fallon, the relationships between the Roller Girls (the "Hurl Scouts"), Bliss (Page), Pash (the best friend), and Bliss's parents becomes a tableau for examining self-knowledge in a very visceral way. Rent it NOW. You'll laugh, and, if it's possible, feel a little nostalgic for high school.

Who Killed the Electric Car?: I've been waiting two years to see this film, and I'm glad our Blockbuster carries it. It documents the story of the EV1, an electric car produced by GM in the 1990s in response to California's strict no-emissions laws. The EV1 was fully electric, could be fitted with a battery to get 300 miles before it needed charged, and could outperform many gasoline cars in terms of speed and handling. So where is it? GM recalled the EV1--which you could only lease--and crushed them all. The only ones out there live in automobile museums, and those have been deconstructed so they don't run. The film cites a number of major players in the revocation of the electric car (which, had the technology continued to advance, would have likely given us wide-consumer access to fully electric vehicles by now). Culprits include the government (a $100,000 tax credit for SUVS, or a $4,000 tax credit for electric cars), big oil (GM's general manager in cahoots with Saudi Arabia? Okay!), state governmental bodies (California dropped the ball and the rest of the country pays), and consumers (who feel "uncomfortable" with an electric car but safe in a Hummer). An interesting historical tid-bit: With the move away from the electric car in the 1990s, we saw the rise of these idiotic giant vehicles like the Hummer and International's version of a consumer "SUV" that can haul 6 tons. That's right: 6 tons. If you're interested in alternative energy, and why we haven't yet gotten there, you should pick up Who Killed the Electric Car.

23 July 2010

On Inaction

I'm happiest when I make quantifiable progress: So many pages written, so many miles covered (by foot or by bike), so many cats herded. That's why I think this reading phase bogs me down. I feel. so. inactive.

For my diss writing process, I started in the middle and spiraled out, writing the six core case study chapters before much of the intro or implications sections. I did this in part because I find the case study chapters to be more fun and in part because I knew I could knock them out and gain momentum. And I did. I'm something like 170 pages in. Good for me. That was hard work.

Because I've had a few classes in qualitative methods and read a slew of case studies, I felt comfortable writing those case study chapters with my four major domains in place (pedagogies, articulations of class, being of use, and connection to the land; they've since been absorbed into two major categories, but that's not important here). I have around 20ish pages of an intro and rough lit review and a couple, literally two, pages of implications (which are pretty sketch and are throwaway, I think).

So now that I feel the core of my diss is written, I'm compelled to review my literature (that I've been reading pretty steadily since January, by the way) and start note-taking to knock out that full intro and lit review, before moving on to the "implications" section where I talk about similarities between cases, meaningful differences, the application to the field, and blah blah blah. What that review of the lit review is forcing me to do is slowly read, slowly note, slowly absorb a LOT of different ideas. I'm wired for movement. This week has felt frustrating and wasted, though I know it can't be. I have 88 pages of notes. I didn't just sit around. I did something. But I have a hard time convincing myself that I've done anything that counts, since none of this prep work gets me quantifiably closer to my goal.

I know, it's faulty thinking and thinking that might rush me through a very important part of my project, which is why I'm writing about it. I hear about scholars who could dwell forever in the research phase, only to put off the writing phase. I'm the opposite. Give me 50 pages to write over 50 pages to read any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I enjoy reading, but I get impatient. I am proud to say that I am working on skills and patience necessary for the future, so this sitting still and just reading is good practice.

19 July 2010

Gnoshing in K-town: Good and Very Bad

Or more truthfully, where not to gnosh.

I didn't intend to become one of those people who hates to eat out. It just happened after the husband and I had one miserable experience after the next. The waiting. The subpar food. The ridiculous prices. Eating out stops being a treat when it's stressful from beginning to end: even deciding where to go had started to wear me out. And I do have this quirk about waiting for more than 10 minutes to be seated. In short, I won't do it. It's never, ever worth it.

Here, I'll detail some of the best and worst places to eat in Knoxville, in my very humble opinion. Keep in mind, also, that I hold impossibly high standards for both food quality and service, so some of the places may be fine if you can overlook poor service or a terrible atmosphere or average food. When I eat out, I want it to be a supreme experience, which is maybe unfair in our current climate of if-it-looks-like-food-I'll-eat-it cuisine.

I'll start with the goodies and end with the baddies.

Good: defined here as places in Knoxville I will bother to patronize. I don't mean to say that these eateries are "good" on any national foodie critic scale. I'm just a picky eater with a low tolerance for BS.

Calhoun's: Oh, I know. You're shaking your head. How cliche. But as steak houses go, Calhoun's offers the taste of Ye Olde Steakhouse without the weird hours, pain-in-the-ass parking, or the assumed-from-the-outside pretension (which isn't accurate, by the way). We were at Calhoun's on the River just over a week ago, and though they put butter on my potato when I distinctly asked for it without (a point I'll always ding a restaurant for, since they don't know if I'm just picky or have an allergy), my BBQ steak was good--a superb medium well--and my basic salad and potato fit the bill without tasting bland. One thing I like about Calhoun's is that their "loaded" baked potato isn't super heavy. There's a sprinkling of cheese and maybe a tablespoon of bacon. I also recommend the Ale Steak. The bar area is always seat yourself, and we have yet to wait for a table. Pricing is typical, around $12 for a steak entree with a $3 salad substitution. (I don't like how they push carb-y sides but make you pay for something veggie oriented, though I supposed I could have gotten steamed broccoli.)

Pete's: This downtown cafe reminds us of Petie's, a family-owned cafe in Euclid, Ohio, one of the few bright points of our time in Cleveland. Pete's is very much a cafe, with cramped seating, a long bar section, and a visible cook area. The hashbrowns are real potatoes parboiled and crisped on a griddle with--wait for it--NO OIL. Though, be forewarned, if you order oatmeal, you will get Quaker Instant. To the server's credit, though, she did let me know this point beforehand. Diner food without a super-heavy greasy feel, unless you order anything biscuit oriented. Unfortunately, the coffee always tastes burned, so I avoid that part of the experience. The wait staff is quick and friendly, and though they're always packed when we stop in on Saturday mornings, we like sitting at the bar, so we always get a seat. Pete's offers a nice experience before heading over to the Market Square Farmer's Market. Low, low diner-like prices make Pete's a nice weekend treat. (We usually get out of there for under $12 for the two of us.)

Taste of Thai: I love Thai food. Thai food, though, has a better-than-average chance of being bad. Taste of Thai's entrees are fairly good, but their yellow curry is excellent. The taste is close to Indian Korma (i.e., rich), so a small portion is satisfying. If you go for lunch, the service is quick, and you're more likely to get a seat. Taste of Thai closes between 2 and 5, and dinner hours are usually far busier. Last weekend, we placed a to-go order to enjoy while in the middle of our Miyazaki marathon. I do have two complaints here: we were told our to-go order would be ready in 15 to 20 minutes, and we waited a full 40 minutes. Lesson learned. We'll call it in next time, rather than placing the order and expecting to wander around Dick's Sporting Goods for 20 minutes. Also, the spring rolls are usually unacceptably greasy tasting. Still, Taste of Thai is one of the only places I'll venture into far-west Knoxville for.

The baddies: defined as the places were we've experienced consistently bad service and/or food. Like the goodies, these critiques aren't informed by anything other than my own standards.

Deadend BBQ: I don't understand how this nasty place keeps getting on "Places to Eat" lists. The couple of times we've eaten there, the food has been not only overpriced but also NOT BBQ. My "BBQ" chicken was actually rotisserie chicken someone had shredded and covered in sauce (and cheap, sour-tasting sauce at that). My jalapeno cornbread had nary a trace of jalapeno and, to boot, was bricklike. And my mac and cheese, that southern staple, either came out of a can or had been sitting for a few days. The husband's brisket was pot roast (not the same, and you'd think someone at a BBQ place would know the difference), and his waffle fries were obviously frozen bagged fries that had been deep fried. Add to this mess a $30+ tab and waiting for 25 minutes just to have our drink orders taken, and you have one bad experience. Deadend's BBQ was, indeed, deadend in a number of different ways.

Chandler's: Like Deadend, I do not understand how this icky hole-in-the-wall continues to get good ratings online. We've eaten there three times, and every time, the food was old, bland, and expensive. I understand that Chandler's is supposed to specialize in soul food, and I'm not afraid to delve into some uber-southern cuisine. (My grandmother would make lots of game meat, I'm not a stranger to pig's feet, and we'd routinely eat weeds from the yard in big salads. We also drive to Memphis pretty regularly to get real soul food, but that's another post for another day.) My fried chicken--which is what everyone says to get at Chandler's--came out with the fat congealed on top of it. It wasn't even warm enough to melt the fat on it, is what I mean. The cornbread was dry and tasteless, and the gravy lacked about two hours from becoming a solid. My husband ordered some kind of pork, and he became nauseated immediately after eating. His side dishes had seen better days, probably around the Tuesday before. The bill was impossibly high for the quality of food, something over $20, and we waited for about 20 minutes for a side of baked beans. I really wanted to like this place, since everyone seems to, but the low-quality food, dirty eating area, and lackadaisical service (along with the ridiculous pricetag for such mistreatment) totally prevents me from supporting it, which is a shame, because I like to enjoy locally owned restaurants whenever possible.

Soho: Never has fusion been so uninteresting. Soho is hip and trendy and in near-west Knoxville, so you know the coolest-of-the-cool go there. What a case of superficiality. The interior is beautiful, and the menu offers a pretty nice selection of Chinese/Pan-Asian fare, but your tastebuds have two options: over-seasoned or bland. From the sesame chicken--candy-sweet--to the General Tso's--way over-spiced--the only good thing I can say about Soho is that the steamed broccoli was crispy. Add in a $15/entree bill and hit-or-miss service, and Soho becomes yet another Knoxville restaurant I'll never recommend, though the customers are always impossibly-beautiful-yet-sloppily coiffed and super-hip.

The disclaimer here is that I am not any kind of expert. I'm just a picky eater who's careful about where she spends her disposable income. I'm always wary of places "everyone" loves, and I'm particularly wary of any eatery that keeps ending up on Top 10 lists. While my requirements are fairly simple--no waiting, good prices, good food, decent service--they're also fairly stringent. Sadly, the state of the food business is going more the way of Man vs. Food, prizing quantity over quality, leaving people like me to cook at home, which is a venture that I'm usually satisfied with.

16 July 2010

Scrubbing Speed

Slowing down, in other words.

I just realized that the title of this post might sound vaguely drug oriented or, at best, very Cinderella-esque. Here's what I mean: when you descend quickly on a bike, you sometimes have scrub off some speed before you go into a tight turn, particularly when there's no berm to keep you moving forward. Scrubbing isn't exactly braking. It's a way of slowing down the bike without applying direct braking alone. I guess we can think about scrubbing as indirect braking: dragging a rear tire sideways, for example, while also lightly braking to thus slow down just enough to get into that turn in front of you. I think. At least, that's how I understand it.

Technical details aside, I've realized that I blog when I need to scrub off some speed: throw off some energy to get through to the next climb and descent. And although I'm no fan of blogging two days in a row, I looked forward all day to making a little post with no predetermined topic and essentially no point other than to bring me happiness. Blogs are inherently self-serving. They don't have to be, I guess, but mine is, for now at least.

I finished chapter 6 today. It was--by FAR--the toughest yet, not in scope or content, but in the sheer perceived effort it took me to sit down and write it. The first few fell like rain. This one? More like a dentist appointment. I should expect this drag and be grateful that it showed up this late in the game. I've also considered this week as scrubbing off some speed for the next turn: two intro/reflexivity chapters and two implications/wrap-up chapters. I have a feeling these four will be the toughest not only because my writing time will share space with fall-class-planning time but because I'm also tired. I'm obviously not tired of writing, since I keep up with this blog fairly well, but I am tired of the push push push to reach the page limit. Wait wait wait What?

Here's an unsolicited peek inside my writing process: I'm a wreck until I meet the page requirement. After that, some kind of loosening happens, and I relax. Dumb, huh? But it's true. By getting the bulk of the work in front of me, I'm better able to work consistently, finish strongly, and feel good about my work. So I'm about, I'd say, 30 pages short of that goal. Next week will get me closer, though I'll be reading as much as I'm writing. I anticipate having a full draft due by mid-to-late August. Then, revisions. And since I'm a crap first-drafter, the revisions will take awhile. I'm still shooting for a late September/early October finish draft date, though.

You can send care packages directly to my little house.

15 July 2010

Maybe Meta

This post is about training.

I like to train for events. I like making up my plan, defaulting on it here and there, and learning what to do better for next time. I had been training for an off-road 10K at a tough course here in Knoxville (Hastie Natural Area), but the last month has thrown me off my game, and it's a race put on by Kevin Mahan, so if I'm last, they'll call my name. Whee.

What's most interesting to me is not the event, though, because that's over in a single morning. I like the training, and I really like the learning-how-to-train-better parts. Recently, I've realized that as soon as training feels like work to me, I check out. Distance run? Meh. Intervals? I'd rather not. I've had to be more creative with my exercise while still maintaining the intensity. For the last month or so, I've committed at least one workout a week to sightseeing, by foot or by bike. I realized one day when taking a walk break that I've missed so much of what makes Hastie beautiful by running right past it. When I'm so caught up in my time or my form, I forget what I'm surrounded by. So two Mondays ago, we ran Hastie (in an almost PR time, which was strange), but we also explored the pond there, some of the course building that the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club has been doing, some of the flowers in bloom. We also saw a mother deer and her baby, who followed behind her bleating like a sheep.

Okay, pastoral blah blah, but here's the point: To train properly, the most important part is the consistency. To be consistent, it needs--for me--to not be miserable or boring or overly stressful. These excursions help with the training while also helping me focus on what's most important: does it matter if I cut my mile times down by 30 seconds? Only to me.

Segue: The dissertation process is exactly the same as race training. Make a plan, deviate here and there, be consistent, be intense sometimes. No one thinks the dissertation really illustrates your very best thoughts, only your very best thoughts up to that point and under duress. (A lot of duress, in some cases.) In the same fashion, training runs are never the same as race-day ones because there's something different when it's real, when it counts. So the dissertation is practice, though the result is more tangible than, say, a faster mile or better endurance. By writing the diss, I'm training for what life might be like as a junior faculty member while also producing an artifact that shows what I'm capable of creating (under duress, blah blah). Thinking about the diss in this way--as training for the event--has freed me up mentally to write it. I keep hearing that the "only good dissertation is a done dissertation." Now that I'm around 160 pages in, the book is starting to take shape *as* a book, and I can see how the daily attention (like cross training, keeping my food in check) accumulates in a product (like improvement on the trail, better times, comfort).

Just like race day. A measurable product.

12 July 2010

Second Wind and Other Goodness

The oppressive sense of doom I've had for the last 2-3 weeks has finally passed. I didn't realize the toll it was taking on my life to meet every day with a sense of dread. Even fun things--watching movies, making cheeseburgers on the grill, riding my bike--had started to feel like chores. You can imagine how the work parts of life felt.

But whatever chemical cocktail started this mess seems to have left my body. (Cue the big band music.) I think the Yogi Detox tea helped. (I don't know how to insert links, but you can Google it. It's tasty, if you like your tea a little chai, a little spicy, not very sweet.) I also think trying to be patient helped.

So today, I'm starting on chapter 6 of the diss. I like my schedule, but I've noticed that I have a LOT of down time that I could better utilize. This week, I hope to do just that so we can, fingers crossed, go camping this weekend. We've been trying for weeks to go, but between crowds and hot, hot heat, it's just not sounded like fun. This past weekend, we painted the kitchen and hit up some MTB trails. All good stuff.

In the spirit of my most favorite recent blog post, I give you my Unsolicited-and-Very-Much-Novice Movie Reviews of the Best and Worst Films I've Seen in Recent History. But first, a disclaimer: There are some meh movies on here that are neither best nor worst.

Goliath: I really really wanted to like this quirky indie film from the Zellner brothers. I tend to enjoy deadpan comedy, especially over the slapstick-too-obvious tripe out there now passing for "comedy" (like Knocked Up, a film whose merits I will NEVER appreciate). But Goliath dragged, even for a film of its genre, a genre known for long, uncomfortable camera shots and seemingly unrelated side stories. And the minuta became just too minute to be interesting. There's also a scene with a dead cat, a very realistic dead cat, that I didn't like at all. The interactions between the everyman lead character and his boss, his ex-wife, and pretty much anyone he encounters are all too awkward to be really funny. Instead, I just felt uncomfortable for him, and not in a cathartic way.

The Pacific: I had high hopes for this first installment of the HBO miniseries, since it's from the same team as Band of Brothers. I know it's passe to like Band of Brothers. Everyone likes Band of Brothers. But I do find it to be a miniseries with a rare set of attributes: pretty good acting (especially from Ron Livingston and Damian Lewis), rich history, and a lot of heart. But The Pacific, which covers the Pacific theater of war during WWII (to complement the European scope covered in BoB) lacks decent source material and a solid storyline. While Ambrose's book is anything but well written, at least his chronicles of Easy Company follow a cadre of men from training through the end of the war. Though I'm only 50 minutes in to The Pacific, it already feels overacted, forced, and a little haphazard. Still, I'm excited to see what's next.

Green Zone: I think this Matt Damon film marks the last Iraq/Afghanistan Hollywood blockbuster I'll bother to see. The film was typical Damon, very secret ops and running around with guns, even though the political message was foregrounded more clearly. It's set in 2003-4 and contends with the bad intelligence gathered to justify invading Iraq in the first place. (Considering the current political climate on the war, it's interesting that Damon, who's never made his politics a secret, chose now to move forward on it.) The ethical slant of the film considers the Iraqi people with far more respect and care than previous films, and issues like torture, false confessions, and war-mongering-during-election-time all rise to the surface. A good film, if not a bit heavy handed, but still a Matt-Damon-as-Hunky-Hero film, which I expected from another collaboration with Paul Greengrass (director of the Bourne films). I'm just not into a Hollywoodized version of a fictionalized but all-too-important topic made palatable to the American public. Maybe I'm a cynic, though.

Good (and Still Deciding)
The White Ribbon: I think I liked this German film set just prior to WWI. It has a very creepy Children of the Damned feel to it, highlighted by the black-and-white cinematography. (It was, I'll note, nominated or won an academy award for its cinematography, and I do think the way it was filmed added a great deal to the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that pervades the film, as well as making the starkness of the clothing and landscape stand out as characters in their own right.) It's not an optimistic film by any means, as the residents (here, I mean mostly women and children) of the German village deal with sexual abuse, physical abuse, and oppressive gender roles while working to scrape out a living as tenant farmers in service to the Baron. This poverty undergrids the tension of the film and, as I'll hint at without spoilers, leads to a number of baffling and cruel events. Short on positive male characters and long on suffering, The White Ribbon is a war film focusing on a different kind of struggle. A subtle film that felt about 20 minutes too long, yet still a good investment.

07 July 2010


I'm slowly getting back into my running and biking after about a week and a half off for those nasty antibiotics. What I didn't know is that Biaxin can mess with your heart and breathing. That interaction explains the awful, terrible, no-good, very-bad interval runs I had the first week I was on the meds. I am thankful that I escaped the two weeks without any damage, and now I'm slowly moving forward. I stepped back on the intensity, and this week I'm working on consistency and frequency (and comfort). Sunday, we hit a few trails at Eastern State and Georgia Marble, and Monday, we did a slow 5K at Hastie Park. (South Knox is a brilliant place to live if you like off-roading it, which I do.) Yesterday, I did a morning interval session at a one setting lower than I'm used to doing, and last night, we did a 15-mile bike tour of Knoxville. The road just doesn't call to me in the same way as the trail does, but there are some strange and wondrous artifacts in this Scruffy Little City. Safety City, for example, is a mini-replica of the entire city of Knoxville, complete with Sunsphere. It's used to train kids how to navigate the city in a "safe" manner. And the War Dog memorial in front of the Ag Campus is one of my favorite random memorials. I do believe that by-bike is one of the best ways to experience Knoxville, as long as you stay off the narrow, heavily trafficked roads.

With the drop in activity I felt a drop in my mood and interest in my dissertation. Another side effect of Biaxin, I found out, is depression and anxiety, so I'm not shocked that I'm feeling this way, but I am disheartened. I started writing June 1, and a short month in and I feel tired. Not tired of the material or the process, just tired. But I have to approach the writing with the same forgiveness as the fitness. While I recognize that I need to hold to my plan, I also recognize that the worst thing I can do is stop. While "taking a break" might work for some people--maybe most people--for me, taking a break usually leads to quitting or losing complete interest or getting sidetracked. I'm the queen of half-finished projects. Today, for the first time this summer, it was a true struggle to round up my materials and go in to the office. But I came in and I set a reasonable goal: 5 pages. Even if those 5 pages are rough--and they will be--and painful to write--and they might be--at least they'll be something I can come back to later when I'm in a better frame of mind. My goals for my writing echo my goals for my body: consistency and frequency. Those two aspects trump intensity any day.

01 July 2010

Well, Damn.

I'm behind.

I hate those two words so big.

But I know that with a project like a dissertation--especially a qualitative diss--I have to expect to have my plans upset now and then. I'm not talking about upset-like-having-the-first-project-implode upset, but off kilter. This week has been odd. I've not felt up to par, and I've not produced as much as I'd like. I still hold out hope for Friday being a banner writing day. *Fingers Crossed*

In the meantime, I wish to list for you the five worst films I've seen in recent history:

1. Shutter Island: 2 hours and 20 minutes of stilted dialog and terrible acting. I had high hopes for Scorsese, but he buried us in unnecessary details and side plots. Even Leo couldn't save this film, and I happen to find him to be pretty persuasive. Gangs of New York = Brilliant. The Scorsese/Leo one/two punch has worked before, but it didn't work this time.

2. Pretty Bird: Paul Giamatti ruins pretty much everything he's in. He was a passable John Adams (in the HBO miniseries), but all of his sex scenes--and he always has one--make me nervous. Pretty Bird featured a frustrating, awkward, way-too-long sex scene that was totally superfluous. It's like he wants to be typecast as inadequate. Overacted, pointless, unfunny. Save your dollar.

3. Zak and Miri Make a Porno: I know. The title should have let me know it was for 12-year-old boys, but I gave it a shot. Now I own it. What a waste of potential.

4. Zombieland: I know this choice is unpopular. Lots of people LOVED Zombieland. I found it too self-referential and scatalogical to be even remotely entertaining. Woody's one of my favorites, so I felt particularly hurt that he made such a lame, lowest-common-denominator film.

5. The Road: Hate mail me all you want. The kid was obnoxious. The death scene lost all of its dignity and gravity. And a dog? I can't believe Cormac signed off on this melodramatic mess of a film.

6. From Paris With Love: This film was so bad, I broke my five-film rule. I heard it was like Pulp Fiction, but set in Paris. Lies. I made it 30 minutes in before folding laundry became a more attractive option. Terrible acting upstaged only by Travolta's total commitment to that terrible acting.

And now, just for balance, five decent films I've seen in the recent past. Note: I do not say "great." I fear that filmmakers have lost whatever it is that makes greatness. (Or maybe it just doesn't sell JuJu Beads very well.)

1. Defendor: Okay, remember that I love Woody Harrelson. This film was one part superhero drama, one part dark comedy, one part mental health tale. Surprisingly human. Surprisingly funny.

2. The Messenger: It's the year of Woody, I guess. Besides the somewhat-coopting timeliness of the fim--Harrelson is an "Angel of Death" officer charged with serving families the notice that their loved ones have been killed in war--it comes together as a pretty effective buddy film. And maybe it's coming of age, too, for the younger solider Harrelson mentors. Though I do have to say that it hit a little too close to The Hurt Locker for me. I didn't like The Hurt Locker. But at least The Messenger had times of genuine warmth and comedy, and, unlike The Hurt Locker, the characters in The Messenger were developed enough for you to care about them.

3. The Men Who Stare At Goats: I was prepared to hate this film, but I didn't. Clooney, predictably, steals it here, but Ewan McGregor is no slouch himself. Jeff Bridges as the hippie-dippie soldier behind the scenes made me smile. I do worry that two of my favorite films in recent history deal with the war in Iraq.

4. The Lord of the Rings (1978 Cartoon Version): Okay, not a NEW film, and I've seen it before. A long time ago. Before I read the books. I didn't realize 1) how accurate the cartoon was, in terms of following the source text or 2) how much Peter Jackson's films OWE this badly drawn cartoon. A number of the scenes in the new live-action version follow, point by point, blocking and everything, the cartoon version. It's really long, though. I had to watch it in installments.

5. Alice in Wonderland: I was skeptical. Burton/Depp usually fumble the ball. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was SO bad and tried SO HARD to be modern that it just looked cheap. And it was boring. (Replacing geese who lay golden eggs with squirrels? Really?) But sometimes they hit the mark, like with Edward Scissorhands. Alice is no Edward, but neither is it Charlie. (I am also amused at Burton's insistence on working with films with name titles: James and the Giant Peach, Sweeny Todd, Ed Wood.)

23 June 2010

Be A Duckie

No, not from Pretty in Pink. He's cooler than me, and more popular.

I'm halfway through a third chapter of the dissertation. I started in the middle with my case study analysis chapters, since I have a rough 20 pages of methods/methodologies/lit review and a rough page and a half (hey, it's a start) of implications. I'm right at 90 pages in. I've done that in about three weeks, and I feel pretty good about the pace. It's challenging without being overly ambitious or demanding. I still have plenty of me time for reading, puttering, exercising, and, these past two weeks, feeling like crap while on these antibiotics.

Which leads me to my second point: an equation for exhaustion

(1,000 mg of Biaxin and 2,000 mg of Amoxicillin a day for the H. Pylori + 100 degree heat index) trying to run high-intensity intervals 2 days/week + trying to run one distance run 1 day/week + trying to bike 2 days/week + strength training 2 days/week + stretching or yoga 2 days/week = a very run-down and generally poor feeling me.

I'm taking the rest of the week off from working out. I feel less than zero.

So then I started to panic yesterday when I felt like I wasn't getting enough done. I had to dialogue with myself about the true benefit of worry and panic (there isn't any) and about how if I panic at every little setback, it's going to be a long, slow, torturous process.

This week: I gotta be a duckie. Let it all roll off my back.

Quack, y'all.

20 June 2010

AciPhex, Five-Hour Energy, and a Cautionary Tale

Two years ago, I had a stomachache. It never went away. I cut out coffee and Diet Coke and stopped drinking those massive 24-ounce energy drinks (with war planes on the side, no less). I popped acid reducers and proton pump inhibitors, and it got better.

Last summer, I used too much Five-Hour Energy. I know it goes without saying that any pseudo-drug purchased from a basket beside a gas station cash register can't be good for you. I was tired, though, working too much, and needed the burst of "clean energy." Turns out Niacin--the cause of that nice flush it gives you--eats away at your insides. Doctors nationwide are up in arms about its use.

So the little stomachache turned out to be a big stomachache, and some nasty things went on inside me. I cut out the caffeine, tomatoes, onions, and chocolate, and again I invested in Famitodine and Omeprazole. The discomfort was notable but controlled. I've always had a higher than average tolerance for physical discomfort, though. That's why I let things go.

Fast forward to this summer. More aches in the stomach. Still not drinking coffee or soda. No Ibuprofen. No tomatoes or onions. Some chocolate. I mean, I'm human. But then I slipped and took a Motrin.

And it hit HARD.

I tested positive for H. Pylori, a bacteria that can withstand stomach acid. Essentially, I may have had an infection in my stomach for the last two years. I started on AciPhex, 20 mg twice a day.

Most people don't have side effects, but I did: insomnia, shortness of breath, dizziness, fuzzy-headedness, numbness through my hands and feet, confusion. Luckily, I ran out of AciPhex and started back on the Omeprazole yesterday. Within a day, the side effects have stopped. I feel better than I have felt in a week. I think I was allergic to the medicine.

This post is a cautionary tale: Five-Hour Energy will erode your stomach lining and cause the overproduction of acid, necessitating an acid reducer. AciPhex, an acid reducer, will make it so you can't breathe.

The point: Be good to your body. Treat it well. Nourish it with good food, water, good sleep, and laughter. Don't take gas station uppers to stay awake. Don't drink pots of coffee to feel better. Preachy, preachy, yes, I know. But the last two years of my stupid stomach issue may have been prevented, or lessened, if I hadn't used such harsh products. I'd rather do less work stuff and more family stuff and be a relaxed person and not be sick all the time or artificially wired. (I do want to say that I love the taste and smell of coffee, so not being able to drink a cup a day is really hard for me. I'm mourning that little ritual.)

****Disclaimer: No one knows what causes H. Pylori. I may have ended up with the infection anyway, even without the caffeine, but two thirds of Americans have the bacteria in their stomachs with no symptoms. The heavy use of Niacin and too much caffeine--up to 24 ounces of coffee A DAY--definitely created an environment where bad things could happen.***

18 June 2010

My Letter to Race Day

**without a few errors I caught AFTER sending. I hate that**

Dear Martin:

I know Jay Nevans forwarded you my complaint regarding Kevin Mahan. I wanted to follow up to give that complaint a little context. My complaints about Kevin's work didn't begin last Sunday. The lack of notification about the Ijams date change is a logistical mistake that could have been made by anyone organizing such an event. That mistake in isolation is forgivable and forgettable. However, his involvement in the trail running events in our area is, I believe, one of the major reasons these races continue to be so poorly attended.

I first met Kevin at the Panther Creek Xterra Tri last August. He was late arriving with the timing chips. As athletes warmed up, organized their gear, and hit the restrooms, he asked everyone to get in numerical order so he could distribute the chips quickly. He was more than rude. It was obvious that this emergency was created by his lateness and those people paying to attend had to accommodate it. We waited in line, and many many people complained about the lack of organization and professionalism.

My second encounter with Kevin was by email. A race had been canceled, I can't recall which one, and I had emailed to ask about it. His response was something along the lines of, "Only 40 people signed up, and it's not worth our time to set up." This response gave me a very bad impression of the attitudes held by RaceDay Events.

My third encounter with Kevin was at the Concord 4.5 mile trail run this year. It was my first real "race," so I was excited. After I finished, I stood by the line to cheer on the other racers. As the last finisher came down the incline and toward the arch, he started announcing, through the PA system: "Here's our last runner and our oldest runner! Way to go, [whatever her name was]. After our last runner finishes, we'll get on to the prizes. Here comes our last runner, and she's also the oldest." I was mortified for that woman, as were a number of racers around me. We talked about how tasteless it was for Kevin to draw so much attention to a racer who was obviously struggling to finish, but who should be proud of it nonetheless. I hoped to never finish last at a Montrail Race so that Kevin wouldn't humiliate me.

At my fourth encounter with Kevin, I was that dead-last racer. It was the Montrail 10K at Panther Creek. I have severe asthma, so I struggle to finish some races. My husband, who finished 7 minutes ahead of me, jogged backwards on the trail to see me to the finish (with the rescue inhaler). As we rounded the last turn and came towards the arch, Kevin started in with the announcing over the PA: Here's our last racer! Just run towards the arch so we can get on with giving out prizes! As proud as I am of that finish--it was a PR for me--all I can remember is one other racer apologizing to me for Kevin's behavior. No one was particularly impressed with his attitude.

So you can see that this last problem with the lack of notification is really quite small compared to the other issues I've had with Kevin Mahan. Besides the consistently incorrect dates (between the KTC site and RaceDay, it seems like there's always a contradiction, and the KTC people I've spoken with always point to RaceDay as the cause), there are logistical problems like access to bathrooms. I'm also involved in a lot of event planning through my job, so I understand that it's tough to line up venues and restrooms (which he does NOT do a good job of doing). I'm also not so thin-skinned that a few embarrassing moments would ruin my entire season. However, I've raced in other places, with other organizations, and the attitudes of the race directors are totally different. They're professional, prompt, informative, and supportive. With a sport that could attract beginners as well as experts, Kevin might be best served sticking to the script and talking only when it's necessary. Laura at RiverSports does a fantastic job of working these races, so my inclination would be to give her all the speaking parts.

I do plan to race the Hastie Park race since the park is literally a mile from my house. I'm concerned that Kevin hasn't properly vetted this location, since there's parking for maybe 10 cars, if you squeeze, and it's plopped in the middle of a neighborhood. There isn't overflow parking. There are no facilities. There's a picnic table and a gravel lot. There is one poorly maintained porta-potty that the neighborhood kids take turns vandalizing. The road in and out is a single lane, rutted out in places. I was shocked that there's an organized event there, since when I go to train, even four or five cars fill up the parking lot. I sense that this race is doomed to fail on a number of levels.

Thanks for listening. I did want to touch base in case the forward from Jay seemed overly sensitive or outrageous. Maybe now you can see why I have such an issue with the way these Montrail races are conducted. Kevin's last two emails regarding the Ijams race, and the pro forma "apology" sent out earlier this week, is a clear case of too little, too late.

Feel free to contact me by phone at 865-207-XXXX or by email, casie@utk.edu.

Thanks very much,

Casie Fedukovich

Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of English
Division of Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics
310 McClung Tower

17 June 2010

Working the Dissertation

First, I owe the idea for that title from a recent CE article by Bruce Horner and Min-Zhan Lu, "Working Rhetoric and Composition."

It seems like I've always worked. When I was 12, 13 I started babysitting fairly regularly. (A shock, I know, to those of you who know my facility with younger humans.) On my 15th birthday, I went to the courthouse and applied for a work permit, a document that certifies to companies that they can hire you even though you're under the age of 16, the minimum age for corporatized employment. My first job was at Dairy Queen, and it was awful. I lasted two weeks, not because of the job but because of the manager, a nasty old woman (named Lorene, I'll never forget it) who would pinch the fat on the back of my arm and twist it HARD when I made a mistake.

I thought this was how all work was done. My dad would get up at 4 a.m. every morning to work on bulldozers. He'd come home after dark, greasy from climbing into the engine compartments of earthmovers, bathe, eat dinner, watch a little TV (if it wasn't too late), and get up the next morning to do it over again. I thought this was how all work was done. It took a lot of time, a lot of effort, and you had to be tired at the end of the day.

I stuck out my next job for close to four years. All of the urban myths about McDonalds are true. It's as dirty as you think. That job sustained me through high school, though looking back, the pace was brutal: I'd get to school by 7:30 a.m., leave around 3:30, work from 4 to close, around midnight, do the closing procedures (lots of cleaning, emptying of trash), and get home around 1:30 or 2:00. I did that most of the week and every weekend. I can see now why I was obese, exhausted, and sick most of the time. I ate the food at McDs most every night for dinner, and on weekends, it made up my daily meals. Saturdays meant biscuits and birthday parties. I'd open at 4:30 a.m., work until 11:00, and do McDonaldland parties until 4 or 5. When I got home, my legs were so tired that I couldn't sleep. Lots of twitching, but that may have been from too many games of Stack the Mac Boxes. Again, as much fun as it sounds. Sundays were buffet day. At that time, McDs offered a breakfast buffet, all you can eat for $3 or something like that. And my store was located off of I-77, so Sundays meant NasCAR traffic. You can guess how busy that was.

Other jobs came along, and I was able to quit the McDs grind. In college I tutored and worked in radio. Sketchy remotes felt almost like a vacation next to making fries all day and dealing with customers like one guy who, no kidding, pulled a gun on me because I gave him his ketchup packs in a disrespectful manner. I worked full time through college, piecing together 40 hours or so a week between 2 or 3 jobs at a time. It never occurred to me that people didn't take 20 hours of classes and work full time. It never occurred to me that it was odd to be so. damned. tired.

Some retail here. Some more radio there. And I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where I had my first real 9-to-5. I loved it. I could get to the office at a reasonable time. I could leave at a reasonable time. I SLEPT A FULL 8 HOURS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. It was amazing.

Now there's graduate school, which is a busy job, sure. But it's not hauling boxes of fries to the front of the store or ending up at some Woodchuck Festival in Nowhere, West Virginia, to do a radio remote. There are no grease burns. There are no abusive managers. It's just me and my time and my work. MY work. I think that's the difference.

I wanted this blog to start to parse out the iterations of labor I'm sensing throughout this process. The diss is about work. I'm working on the diss. My work now is different from other kinds of work I've done, but I still can't get away from that notion that 40 hours a week is what it takes to claim that I'm honest-to-God working. I guess what I'm getting at is that I am so, so, so grateful to have only this project to work on. My evenings I spend working out (a different kind of work, I guess) and straightening up and generally being a human being.

15 June 2010

Plan Your Work. Work Your Plan.

I'm a sometimes-planner. I like planning ahead when it takes a few minutes, requires minimal interaction, and few tools. However, when the planning drags on--like pricing hotel rooms or flights or researching things to do--I get impatient, frustrated, worn out. I'm over it before it even begins.

My theme for this diss is elegance. I'm working to streamline my plan so that I can focus on the writing, not the execution of writing. I've found that a few things work for me:

1. Planning something not-very-involved-yet-astonishingly-fun every single Saturday and/or Sunday. I work harder when I have a goal. This weekend, that goal is tent camping.
2. Having a day-to-day tasklist and holding to it. Some days, the tasks are lighter. Others, I work 5-8 hours in order to crank out 10 measly pages. It evens out.
3. Take breaks. I can't say enough about how important a 10-minute Kashi-bar-and-stretch-break has been to my plan.
4. Do other things that I can feel accomplished doing. Like helping plan a conference for June 30th and reconditioning our house. It helps me to have lots of things going on but still maintain big chunks of time.
5. Keep up with my working out, my eating plan, and my time OFF. Time relaxing is time invested.

Here's my weekly plan. I take liberties with it here and there:
Monday: Data coding. Move chunks of data into domains using either in-vivo codes or sociologically constructed codes (SCCs). My themes are articulations of class, connection to the land, being of use, and pedagogies. It's working so far. I'm a slow starter after the weekend, and this step lets me go slow and work without frenzy.
Tuesday: Begin writing by starting with an ethnopoem. This step gets me back into the spirit and overarching feel of the participant's transcript and narrative. Start writing the chapter into those four domains. Work towards 10 pages.
Wednesday: Write in the domains. Work towards 10 pages.
Thursday: Write in the domains. Work towards 10 pages.
Friday: Finish chapter (rough! It's very rough at this point) and flow the next case study transcripts--three of them--into one file, number the lines, prep for Monday's block-and-file coding.

It's a reasonable plan that puts me at finishing by the end of August.

What's your writing plan? Any suggestions?
That's it. I use Saturday and Sunday to reload, recharge, and work on other things.

11 June 2010

I have a sneaking suspicion

that none of what I'm writing makes sense.

One chapter done. 9 to go. It's a big diss.

10 June 2010

Without hobbies, I'd go crazy

My hobbies are driving me crazy.

What's been interesting for me to watch--and experience for myself--is how doctoral candidates in the diss phase tend to take up hobbies as a distraction from/alternative to spending time on the dissertation. I've had friends take up gourmet cooking, pastry chefing, yoga instructing, oil painting, knitting, gardening, belly dancing, and about a gazillion other productive time-investment sorts of activities.

I like having a few hobbies to help distract me in productive ways from the overly aggressive timeline I have to keep to finish the diss by August/September. While I grew up fat and sedentary (okay, obese and comatose is maybe a better way to describe it), I've found an adult-onset athlete inside in the last few years. I love to run in the woods--very, very slowly--but I get so much satisfaction from an hour out there. It's both a mental and physical break from the time I spend slumped over a keyboard worrying if I'm thinking smart or original or--God help me--marketable thoughts. I also like riding my bikes, off and on road (mostly off, since traffic scares me). I like shopping for new bike stuff. I like saving up for running gadgets and browsing clearance racks for tights or tanks or whatever. And I know that the time I spend in my hobby isn't time burned, but time invested, since this time gives me a healthy reprieve from writing. (I cannot unwind by watching a movie or TV. I just don't have the attention span for it. And games bore me.) The individual act of running or biking forces me to be in the present, forces me to compete only with myself, like Sharon Olds writes, for my own best time. Considering how much time we spend thinking about projects that could potentially spool into years, it's nice to have a task that can be completed in an hour, one that I can touch and experience fully without fear of evaluation.

Oh, but evaluation: I've started entering local races. And I've come in last. While that fact alone wouldn't bother me, it does because of the kinds of people who enter these races. The races are not, in the case of the Montrail Series I've been doing, particularly beginner friendly. At the last Montrail race I entered--a 10K at Panther Creek State Park--40 people ran. I would consider 20 of them elite, 15 very good, 3 or 4 intermediate, and then me and one other woman who entered on a whim and finished a minute ahead of me. So it's not even like I made everyone wait 20 minutes while I poked to the finish, but still, most the crowd was NOT friendly about it. The idiot race director, who I'll call K., started announcing, on my last quarter mile, "Oh look, it's our last racer. Just run through the arch, sweetheart, right HERE." (This is where he pointed to the 20-foot-tall inflatable arch maybe 200 yards in front of me. Yes, K., I see it. Thanks.) "Come on, last runner! Okay everyone, wait just a few more moments while our LAST runner crosses. Then we can get to the prizes! Don't forget to run through the arch so we can get your time!"

You get it. K's an idiot. I felt like an idiot.

So, I love the act, I hate most of the people involved. It's the same 20 people entering these races every time, and with the way [a now unnamed race director] mismanages the races, they're sure to stay small and very local and not-beginner-friendly. But this navigation of shame and fear and self-doubt is no doubt preparing me for my future, but in the present, it rankles me in the worst way.

What about you guys? Any diss-distraction hobbies? What successes or failures?

09 June 2010

Outta Sight

But not in a good way.

I haven't blogged since November. Two things have happened: 1) my initial idea failed, which was sad but good practice, and I'd like to revisit it later on a less aggressive timeline; and 2) I had to rewind, rebreathe, repropose.

Back. On. Track. But with a shorter timeline.

I thought keeping a reflective journal would help with my dissertation process, but there are all kinds of limitations on confidentiality, personal privacy, and analytic process. Because of all that, I'm changing the focus of this blog a little. I'll still write about my diss process, if only to absolve myself of guilt on those days where I'm less productive and also to (**fingers crossed**) keep myself on track. But I'll also sway into territories as yet untouched. You know, non-diss life. Some things that are going on now, for all of the two people in the world who read this thing:
1. I am in the intital stages of writing my dissertation. It's qualitative, so it takes a long time, since I not only had to generate the primary data, but then I had to (have to) code it and then work into interpretation. Now it's a series of biographical case studies. Goodbye, narrative. Maybe we'll meet again soon.
2. I'm running and biking a lot. I'm competing more, not to win, but because it scares me. I'm on a quest to ID fear and overcome it. Which leads me to
3. I'm on the job market in January. I'm excited. I should buy a black suit, I guess.