This week, I’m doggedly finishing my presentation for the conference this weekend, dealing with last-minute alteration and mending, and packing my backpack for the trip. The story of my great academic manumission will have to wait, but I promised pictures, and as I’m on my home laptop, today I deliver.
A work day/week consists of two phases, which alternate more or less rapidly depending on the individual.*
There is the high-energy phase, in which one is Able To Do Many Things. Ironically, in this phase you are able to think up many more things than you can actually do before running out of energy, most of which are productive and helpful.
Then there is the phase you hit around three in the afternoon (and at various other times including, but not limited to, any time you have to read long articles written by someone who likes academic German syntax). In these off-peak times, not only can one not apply oneself to any of the obvious tasks at hand, one is seemingly incapable of thinking up any less difficult but still useful tasks.
This is where a pencil and paper come in handy. During peak times, I write down all of the handy ideas I’m having for later, so as (mostly) not to interrupt what I’m working on so successfully. Then during the off-peak times, I don’t have to think at all; just do the next thing on the list. Preferably one that doesn’t involve involved articles.
Panicking about giving a talk at a conference can be slotted in at any time, but is, in the interest of mental health, best done in brief intervals instead of sustained slogs.
So far, so good.
* If you have only one phase, with an Edison-style consistent and direct flow of energy, I’m not sure I will ever be able to understand you. Academics seem, by and large, to run on the Tesla model of alternating current.
Writing an important academic paper or article is a bit like being a doctor. you tell yourself that you’re a genius and that you know what you’re talking about because otherwise you would be unable to function. You would second-guess what you know to be true and ruin your confident statements with so many hedges they become meaningless. It’s not a matter of ego; it’s a matter of survival. Of course, you then have to remember to turn it off at the end or when asking for edits. That’s the part you really have to remember.
o O o
As of last night, I’ve been utterly tempted by one mad idea. I should bind my thesis myself. That would actually give me an entire extra day to work, as I wouldn’t have to plan an extra day in case of a rush at the printer’s. And there’s something very attractive about having my hand in the final physical product.
Nobody knows it (until now, I suppose), but I did bind the copies of my undergraduate honors thesis. It started out ring-bound, but the printer only had 1″ rings, and mine was a half-inch thesis. So I tore out the rings and used the holes to bind the copies by hand with strong upholstery thread, covering the stitches with a strip of thin brown pleather my roommate had left over after a project. It was very classy. People were jealous.
Would calfskin be too showy? What about tasteful gold leaf?
The days are getting shorter. I can tell because we’ve come back to the part of the year where the sun goes down and I’m still working at my desk. I only realized just now that it’s been quite some time since I sat at my desk in front of the window and looked out at the silhouettes of the black trees against the blue dark. Last month I was hopping out of bed for a drink at 11 o’clock and marveling at how light the sky was.
To be fair, sometimes I miss looking out the window at the dark because instead of being at my computer at my desk, I am at the computer in bed next to my husband. I hate to let him fall asleep in an empty bed while I work in an empty living room.
But speaking of work, there’s definitely something else I should be doing right now. Something that will be all finished come Thursday. Or else.
My thesis will be finished very, very soon. In the meantime, here’s a squirrel.
NTS charred some bread the other day, and instead of letting it sit, smoking, in the kitchen, thoughtfully used it to decorate the lawn instead. Apparently someone doesn’t mind a few (thoroughly) burnt edges.
Festival season is in full swing here in Edinburgh, but despite the unnatural crowds, the fireworks every night, and the music that never stops, I have yet to throttle so much as a single mime.
Hello again. I am not dead, just writing.
Despite the impression I give, these states are not, in fact, the same.
I even made bread this past weekend, using my very favorite (read: only) wheat-free bread recipe, the one I alluded to way back here. It’s full of nutty goodness. I like it best nuked for 10 seconds with butter, or with nutella, or butter and a bit of jam, but it’s also delicious in sandwiches. Very filling, very moist, and very delicious. The recipe can be found here, but I’ll give you my notes to go with it.
- The first few times I made this bread I used an oval-shaped glass pyrex dish. The bread was delicious, but it was difficult to remove the bread from the pan part way through baking, and because the pan needed to be greased, I couldn’t melt the coconut oil in it and had to get a measuring cup all greasy. The silicone bread pan was a tremendous improvement, well worth the 14 bucks I didn’t pay for it (after giving up on the search, I finally stumbled upon a sturdy silicone bread pan for 50p in a charity shop).
- Round components are more susceptible to falling out when you slice/eat the bread, so I use my mortar and pestle (yes, I own a second-hand marble mortar and pestle) to break hazelnuts into halves or smaller. If using hemp seed in place of flax seed, I use my tiny food processor to break them down, because small as they are, they still pop out all over the place when you eat.
- Instead of adhering coconut oil to my measuring cup, I mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix the water and honey/maple syrup/brown sugar in a mixing cup. I heat the water for about 30-40 seconds so it won’t solidify the coconut oil when I mix them together. Melt the oil in the silicone pan, whisk in the water/honey mixture, then add the solids and mix. Then tamp down thoroughly and set for 2 hours.
- UPDATE: I’ve been storing my bread this week wrapped in a clean dish towel, originally because I didn’t want to put it in a plastic container while still warm, and now because it seems to be working well. The towel is probably permanently stained now, but it makes a better wrap than towel anyway.
I had another squirrelly visit this week. This time the window was open a few inches when I went into the kitchen. I’m still wondering whether he would have invited himself inside if I hadn’t appeared. Between the last squirrel photo session and the cute and less-cute invasion of the bees, my kitchen has the distinct vibe of a wildlife special. Which is impressive, as I live in the middle of Edinburgh.
Well, adventure is out there!
“Give me a verb, I need a verb!”
… Translation is nothing more than a sick, sick game of Go Fish.
From the dictionary:
Undfan transitive verb
1) to receive, welcome
2) to take on
3) to recognize (a child)
4) to undergo (an ordeal)
5) to light on fire
…Wait, what? One of these things is not like the others. No wonder the Old Frisians died out, if that’s their approach to hospitality/child rearing.
An Irish nun, a Saxon monk, and a Roman bishop walk into a mystery novel, and all of a sudden I can’t remember how to pronounce a <c>. #OldWorldProblems
(Incidentally, I’m reading Ellis Peters’ Shroud for the Archbishop, a murder mystery set in 7th-century Rome and peppered with Latin, Irish and Old English. Talk about your busman’s holiday.)
Last week I came to the realization that I couldn’t effectively collect data from my 13th-century text without translating it more or less completely first. This proved to be a bear of a task. I don’t think a text edition of this manuscript existed when the dictionary and grammar books were put together. It’s also possible that the source texts are idiosyncratic in grammar and/or spelling; we all know a few writers like that. End result: sentence constructions and spellings that aren’t in the dictionary. The dictionary of the language I first saw in February. Yeah, that one.
So last week was a little challenging on the academic front. On other fronts, life went on.
Saturday week I went to a friend’s housewarming in Burntisland, which people call Burnt Island (I didn’t figure this out until the husband translated the train loudspeaker into person-speak for me). There are a number of local tales telling how the place (formerly an island, before a Back Bay type project filled in the bog with land) got the moniker “Burnt”. Oddly, the local land owner–name of “Burntis”–doesn’t feature heavily in these takes. Go figure. Good party, though, full of SCA (medieval re-enactment) friends.
Monday I went to practice traditional Scottish songs for a Burns night this week. Let me tell you, the Scots have very strange names for their musical notation. Quaver? Semi-quaver? The statement that it’s like “Scottish snaps” did little to clear up the confusion.
And it’s nothing shy of hilarious (says the linguist) to hear speakers of Scottish and British English (not to mention Americans and non-native English speakers) singing their merry way through the Burns’s transcriptions of Scots. Let’s just say that our pronunciation bears little resemblance to Burns’s, and leave it at that, hm?
Thursday we attended a much-vaunted Gatsby party. The movie had quite the impact on our band of grad students and the party has been the talk of the crowd for weeks. (Confession: I ignored the movie on the grounds that I didn’t like the book in the first place. As a testimonial of the moral nullity underlying the gaiety of the roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald’s book is exemplary and a testament of his times. Oddly, however, vacuity of meaning with lots of sparkles on top is not favorite narrative formula.) Thursday’s party, however, combined the sparkle of the original with a pleasant dearth of adultery, murder and manslaughter, complete with snazzy costumes, classy cocktails and a yellow convertible in the living room.
Friday–we did have a busy week, didn’t we?–we foregathered at a friend’s house to throw a surprise birthday party that actually was a surprise! We were all very impressed with ourselves.
Saturday was thoroughly uneventful. On Sunday I capped off the weekend with odd, traditional housekeeping tasks: darning a hole in a sweater, altering the painfully high neck of a shirt, re-shaping a basket and setting it in the sun to dry, shaping the granola bars I’d started the day before.
And today, back to work.
1. When frustrated about the progress of your (by which I mean my) research, write out the difficulties you’re having. Writing out the problem
- helps/forces you to think critically about what’s really hindering your progress. The problem may turn out to be small and solvable once you’ve worried it down to its component parts.
- allows you to review the problem with a little more distance and offer the sort of critical advice you might offer a colleague.
- may result in a paragraph that looks like it could have been taken from any major research journal, indicating that your ‘problem’ is not indicative of any major flaw in your research, but is a natural part of the research process. (Welcome to the community. We have t-shirts, but will only wear them with black/tweed blazers so as not to undermine our professional appearance.)
- should probably appear in the final paper anyway, so you’re saving yourself memory space by recording it now.
2. Read writers’ blogs, especially ones about writing. Writing blogs are very realistic about the need to break up your work into small chunks, then carry through on them: if you don’t do it, you won’t write and publish. That no-nonsense attitude really resonates with me. If I expect to outline and plot my way through a 300-page novel that comes entirely out of my own head, I can darn well break this ten-to-fifteen-thousand-word paper down into manageable chunks and deal with them. Especially since the end result isn’t even required to be emotionally compelling, just useful.
Of course, you have to take my advice with a grain of salt, as I’m a grad student, not a master of research (although I will soon be a Master of Science, which sounds pretty bad-ass). Said advice did get me through the morning, though, so I’m going to keep it around in case I need reminding. Possibly on a daily basis.