responsibility of privilege

No one warned me about the guilt. It was all happy, happy, joy and fun. The time, they would emphasize, to do this and that and so much else. To contemplate, to reflect, to breathe, to become rejuvenated. To be free from here, they would earnestly repeat where “here” referred to a panoply of campus-related ills – pettiness, politics, and policies chief among them. But at no point was there ever any mention that being saturated in the time to do this and that and being free from that and this would result in an almost shame-like posture when someone would ask What do you do? What are you working on now? It was easy enough to sidestep the whole truth until someone in the know would proudly announce “She’s on sabbatical!” I have never wished for the earth to swallow me whole more than when such a moment occurred soon after talking with a friend from grad school who I ran into at a local grocery store. She was with her two toddlers, a packed schedule, and wondered aloud why I was in Philadelphia on a Wednesday. The guilt, perhaps, stems from the realization that everyone could benefit from the gift of this time – to have time, to take time, to find a new relationship with time.

And there is certainly time. Blissful time, seemingly boundless and nearly uninterrupted time. And with that time comes, also, the possibility-turned-obligation to notice things that were merely blurs in years past. In the house, in the news, in one’s own life and the lives of others. This is not idle time. No, to be sure this is hyperaware time during which a strange hyper-vigilance about everything and anything is emerging.

But this was not always the case. The first few months were, as has been documented here, what I assumed the sabbatical might be. Joyous. Magnificent expanses of possibilities of how to use one’s time. New forms and spaces of seeing. And what I feared – the paralysis that has been shown to follow in some post-tenure cases – has so far been avoided (rapidly knocking my knuckles to my head, on the faux-wood table in front of me), replaced instead with a flow of ideas inspired in no small part by the reading that this sabbatical-time affords.

So what has changed. People, for one. That is – and I know how bad this is going to sound – during the month of December ample time was spent with family, both immediate and extended, and also fictive – those individuals and family units whom I have known for decades – for whom a sabbatical is not only not common parlance but the concept of a break in the quotidian rhythms of life has no basis in reality. Adult obligations still persist in most people’s lives even if work-related ones are greatly diminished. I mused about as much with a friend recently while saying out loud how unimaginable it seems to me now that there are some people who can mentally manage the spate of home repairs and general home maintenance (of all kinds, structural, personal, familial) while also managing to fulfill their professional desires.

At this point, the word “choices” was silently screaming from a dark corner of my brain. For a person who lives relatively regret-free, this was a strange moment. Some with whom I engaged in conversation during these past few weeks seemed to view my very existence as confusing. I could understand this, because when I have to say out loud how I spend my days and the commitments to which I have chosen to give my time, the words are quite outside of the norm for most people. What are you going to do? How are you spending your time? You’re going where? For how long? By yourself? Their questions were asked not in malice or with disdain, but perhaps with the nascent curiosity of an ethnographer who is truly struggling to make sense of  something (or someone) thought to be so familiar that now seems to be something (or someone) strange. Yes, I will think of these as short-lived, ethnographic inquiries that were premised on the notion that there are norms and that in part they were being flagrantly flouted by this strangely situated, micro-social phenomenon called a sabbatical.

And deadlines. Whereas I wasn’t naïve enough to think that a sabbatical would actually function as a time-stopping, invisibility cloak, I was blanketed in a relatively luxurious amount of time free from immediate demands of the writerly kind. (And no, Nanowrimo was not the same at all.)  And now I am eye-deep in three writing deadlines that fall in the next two weeks. Apparently sabbatical has done little to abate my proclivities to procrastinate, despite how early these Todos begin. It probably doesn’t help that I also keep adding items to my plate, that seems magically (read: incorrectly) larger than before July 1st.

I am left then with one simple, familiar thought: With great privilege – like this relatively unfettered time – comes great responsibility.

That seems a nice idea as any to bring 2011 to a close. And while you out there in your respective corners of the world will be preparing to embrace the new year, I will be feverishly writing to meet one of those aforementioned deadlines (12/31 – did I mention that?), and pondering how to live and use this time responsibly. Thankfully I didn’t completely lose a day like the people of Samoa.

Happy New Year!!

Bonus: the smooth sounds of Nancy Wilson. enjoy!

11348 – meta post

somewhere in the adirondacks
on a train, somewhere in the adirondacks

December 1st. If I follow from the declaration made in the first post on this blog, today is the first day of the sixth month of my sabbatical. Wow. The recent completion of NaNoWriMo seems a good a time as any to arbitrarily declare this as the chosen point in time for an in-process, sabbatical reflection. And perhaps doing so will make me feel a bit better about not quite “winning” NaNoWriMo — or, in everyday parlance, failing to reach the 50,000 word count one needs in order to wear that moniker proudly. How much did I write? Well, I’ll get to that. Soon.

This is my 101st post (I kind of like that #100 was all about natalie wood). While having dinner with a couple of nights ago, t described this manic posting practice I seem to have developed as prolific — certainly a nicer word than manic, to be sure. Where, I wonder, was this sprinting ability while I was writing my dissertation? When I’m struggling to write that conclusion for a chapter? Or even when pulling together a comment for my other blog? The culprit or catalyst, depending on perspective, may be audience with a side of time(liness).

Audience: How liberating it is to write without audience, or at least not on that is pre-defined and looms large over your every word? Very. This is the —

[begin digression] as i write, there is a couple sitting on the green olive stripe colored sofa across from me. the young woman, im guessing in her early 20s, wears a turquoise knit hat on her head that hangs oh-so-casually off of her parietal lobe. her paramour, a young man with shoulder length, dirty blonde hair wearing not one but two hoodies, sits next to her with alternating looks of brooding and fabricated wonderment. a few moments earlier, they were locked in an embrace, his head buried in her shoulder, for nothing short of 5 minutes — i kept looking up, they kept embracing. they are preparing to leave now, after double hoodie has been served a large mocha with whip cream and chocolate drizzle as his companion watches him lick the whip cream with the awe a dog owner might have for her pet — wonderment at every, slightest thing. [end digression]

I think I was saying something about writing … Oh right, writing free from the ghosts of audience past, present, and future.  I didn’t write into “my novel” everyday in November — and yes, I’m not going to be able to drop the quotes because it seems inconceivable to me to assign something penned by these tired fingers a name that might imply a kinship in some way to the words penned by many others that have evoked adoration and illumination. Despite slacking occasionally and not achieving the 2,000 words/day that would have ensured “winning,” I found myself thinking about the stories in the story constantly. I am, once again, moved to reminisce about my friend A who is the example I often refer to when urging my students that they must “know” their data. She would carry with her binders in which she had collected and organized transcripts, fieldnotes, her own journals and ongoing analysis and, always one to make the most of a moment, if ever writers block struck her she would read into her binder — I think there were ultimately more than one. Two? Three? No matter, she would read and rereread and reread again. She read the words of her research participants as one would a compelling novel, with great interest and with the sense that new interpretations were possible with each new reading. She reminded me of my grandmother’s practice of reading a few texts multiple times, specifically texts that had both religious and cultural foundations. In one year she may have read them each half a dozen times, with the reading, she would insist, different each time. [Insert Rosenblatt-ian reference to reader response and aesthetic reading here.] And lucky for her grandkids, she would share choice excerpts from time to time as we gathered to hear her version of how this person vanquished another or how magical fantasticalism could seem perfectly quotidian.

Thus, the audience in part for these masters of rereading may have been first and foremost themselves. Were they inclined to read and learn more? Did they find the characters, storylines, and events compelling? Was the story something they would want to read? What was missing? So perhaps a humbling finding, if you will, of this month-long autoethnography of mine is that (for me) to write consistently, let alone well, the source material has to be cultivated, nurtured, sat with, dreamed about, talked through (either alone or with disinterested others — informed audiences are for another time), sketched out, repositioned, viewed from multiple and unexpected horizons, questioned, considered, studied, and brought to life with touches of grace and fallibility.

Time(liness): A’s practice of rereading and knowing the stories also leads into the second catalystic culprit that hit me over the head in a Duh-like move this month — time pressure can not only be a good thing, but such a feature might be best used well in advance of actual deadlines. Now sure, I’ve tried to give myself “false” deadlines before. It’s really due November 1st, when the “real” (read: set by someone else) is November 15th. Friends and colleagues are way ahead of me on this matter, some of whom submit things in advance of deadlines. Such a practice continues to amaze and astound me, but at least now I am beginning to gain a glimpse of how such a practice might be possible. (Don’t let it be said that you were not warned about the sheer multitude of Duh-like moments to be read in this post. Thus, the reader would do well to pace her eye-rolling. There are more to come, I’m sure!)

It helped to feel a part of the larger NaNoWriMo community, and in this last fortnight to have encountered the NaNoWordSprints tweets. It’s the ethos we strive to accomplish with writing groups and other collective composing endeavors, but the reality is that the time we know it takes to accomplish the aforementioned “knowing” of the stories often butts up against the time-suck activities with which university life is replete. A third hand or factor in this equation of time is the steady stream of deadlines and demands on time, and thus too quickly writing becomes just one more thing to do — and in the tenure dance, the very important thing to do [shoulder slump] — instead of what it has been for the last month: a space in which to get lost, in which ideas danced and so, too, did the characters.

For those of assume many other roles in addition to that of writers (i.e., colleagues, committee members, dissertation advisers, counselors, sounding boards, cheerleaders, critical friends — sometimes in the same day) — if we even allow ourselves such a title to begin with — such a process of knowing, breathing, and living with the stories that may lead to writing may not always be realistic. Perhaps it would if we weren’t implicitly — and in more than a few cases explicitly — told that quantity of publications (nevermind any adherence to what else may result from writing) is paramount. And when one is facing graduation with the goal of just getting the thing done, you may want to channel the inimitable A’s ability to draft whole chapters in a single weekend. (If I remember correctly, a selection of sugary treats were integral to this maneuver. It also helped that she, as noted above, knew the hell out of the stories she was crafting.)

To write fewer but better, to write with abandon, to give one another break and not hold take one another to task for every utterance (even as in some instances every utterance matters), to make words count, to be quiet more often than we talk.

But as long we’re talking word counts…

My final NaNoWriMo word count: 30404.
Just for kicks, I also tallied up the word count for my November blog posts: 11348.


The Final* Word Count for November, 2011: 41752.


*Not including emails, reference letters, handwritten notes and letters, scribbles and musings made in my trusty notebook — my vade mecum** — flickr albums created, photographs that have resulted from a rekindled relationship with my digital slr, out of state jaunts, museums visited, books read, and films viewed…
**sometime last year or the year before, my friend D spotted a notebook*** in my hand and remarked that it would be unusual to see me without one, that it was my vade mecum: an object someone carries with them always. what a lovely latin turn of phrase, not only for its aural simplicity but also for its implicit endorsement of the practices in which a ruminating flaneur/se is most at home: meandering and making sense.
***the art of yoshitomo nara, which was the focus of an exhibit at the Asia Society last year, adorned the covers of my notebooks during the past two years, the penultimate tenure year (henceforth PTY), was signified by the pyromaniac. the next year, the year when yours truly was under a microscope, but at least the process was out my hands, i took solace in the princess of snooze who floats below.
Yoshitomo Nara -- The Princess of Snooze (image courtesy of

fantastic 72 hours

goals are good. so are moments of reflection, readjustment, repose. the last 72 hours contained particularly choice moments including:

– a dialogue bordering on debate in french class about the pros and cons of different educational systems — specifically between French and American systems — wherein the former sets one on a path to a profession early in life and in the latter there is a greater sense of possibility or (near-constant) reinvention. sure, these are gross generalizations, and certainly notions of structure and agency and access and resources come into play, as does perspective and point of view, but this is not the point. what is, you ask? We had a debate in French class! not just reviewing the homework for the day or discussing our weekends, all of which I fully and absolutely enjoy. but we were talking about topics within my wheelhouse and i didn’t feel like a bumbling idiot in the process. (and true confession: yes, the dialogue may have been sparked in part by questions of “why” and “how come” posed by yours truly as we pondered the various meanings of conges — paid vacation — and musing aloud about possible correlations between governmental time allotted to maternity and other forms of leave and quality of childhood and family life.) mervilleuse!

– this leads to a second point involving a certain actor whose interview on “the actors studio” i recently watched who shared wise words about language learning and expression and place in the world thereby not only providing thoughts for continued rumination but also reaffirms my belief that i have excellent taste in celebrity crushes:

Anyone who has tried to speak another language will find… if you’re limited in that language, (you) will find that you end up saying what you can rather than what you really want to say. And you start to circumnavigate the real thing. So who then are you in relation to the world?
(my emphasis)

– this weekend, i wrote upwards of 7,000 words as part of my nanowrimo experience. that’s the good news. ridiculous given the weeks/months/years a few hundred words can sometimes drag on for. (we’ll not dwell on the fact that i’m only halfway finished with the 50K goal and, um, there are only 48 hours left. holy something…

– followed an aroma that led me into the welcoming doors of a little corner of [insert edenic/paradise-like reference here] called cookie confidential. in addition to cupcake “push pops” they also sell cupcakes in a jar — singles and doubles — and participate in an excellent recycling program: bring back your jar (so they may reuse it) and you get a free cookie!

– remembered this painting that my lovely friend O — always at the ready with a painting or image that is apropos of current and imagined dialogue — originally shared with me and some other colleagues last spring during a conversation about art and life and teaching and being. stumbled onto it in an unrelated email search and found myself really seeing it as if for the first time despite several other previous viewings. i think before i only saw the colors, the lips, the fiery yellow feather-like image in the center. this time, i see other people, the pinks come through more clearly, relaxation, and more.  et voila:

The Laugh -- by Umberto Buccioni

nanowrimo – day 13

still in the cafe from earlier, someone still crooning above me — i can hear it now because i’ve taken the earbuds out that i put in to create an enclosed writing zone. i just got wind of the NaNoWordSprints twitter feed and did some serious word sprinting — over 1600 in the past two hours.

and so far, in between travel, subletting dramadies, becoming familiar with the comments about all of the home repair types in my area via angie’s list, i’ve managed to squeeze out what is shaping up to be an interesting story. and sometimes, the problem is not that i don’t know what to write — which is often true when i start an article or chapter: ever the struggle of where to begin! — but parts of the story are incredibly sad and just creep up on me, even though im the one writing this thing! so here i sit, working my way through my second pot of bombay spice tea, typing away when i start to get a little choked up. time for a break, i say.

so im taking this opportunity to give a little update about this kooky tale that is taking me on some interesting adventures and giving me pause about the very nature of the writing process. that is, every moment of this writing is pure joy. i can’t say the same for some other writing i’ve done. why is that? and i don’t feel the least bit guilty spending hours at a time weaving the intricate and multigenerational backstories of characters that have taken shape in my head. is it precisely because there is no guarantee that these thousands of words are ever going to see the light of day that they feel free to come flowing out of my fingers, in a series of keystrokes, onto the screen? maybe i should write with abandon more often…!

the word count at the moment is coming in at a little over 12,000. i have a bit more sprinting to do if i want to reach the coveted 50k word goal — and not to mention that whole other mess of writing im also supposed to be doing that is also due at the end of this month.

a few writing tips i’ve learned from my nanowrimo experience so far (that many of you probably already know and i am just coming to learn/remember/accept):

  • timelines are good — i mean here a timeline for what happens in the story as opposed to a writing schedule. i’ve written out what amounts to an entire family tree for these characters, including siblings, dates and places of residence, key events; much like ethnographic work invites us to do, but that can feel tedious when prepared for the purposes of writing an article versus telling stories.
  • if something comes pounding through your subconscious into your conscious mind, write it down for pete’s sake! even if you have no idea what to do with it.
  • write every damn day. even if it’s a few lines emailed to yourself on your very old smartphone.
  • word counts are strangely motivating.
  • give yourself a treat, or a few, for good word sprinting.
  • enjoy the story.

11 little goals for 11.11.11

1) Pumpkin pancakes – make and consume
2) Cross 11,000 word threshold for nanowrimo novel
3) Declutter corner shelf
4) Watch “Bonjour Tristesse” — in french (this may be too surreal)
5) Spend 11 minutes on 11 different machines at the gym – though there may not be that many different machines. Weights count!
6) Take 11 photos of a single corner in Philly for a round of “Guess where?”
7) Call mom – talk for exactly 11 minutes.
8) Write down the first line on the 11th page of all the books I’m currently reading. (Yes, I’ll share)
9) Do a round of 11 degrees of Kevin Bacon – no more, no less.
10) Talk to 11 different people (this will be hard; Hellos count!)
11) Get through 11 songs on Pandora without skipping (a test of will and patience.)

And what are some of yours for what mashable calls “Nerd New Year“, hmmmm? 🙂

a little self-help

…on patience

Patience is also a form of action.
— Auguste Rodin

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
— Rilke

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

i especially like this one:

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.
— St. Francis de Sales

…and a helpful note on impatience

There art two cardinal sins from which all others spring: Impatience and Laziness.
— Franz Kafka

nanowrimo – day 1

11.1.11 — a deliciously prime number, a basket of binaries, and the start of nanowrimo.

today’s word count: 1832. not bad. not quite my goal of 2,000 words, but not bad.

and in other news: a few of those pesky todos were nicely wiped off my plate. deadlines and live humans waiting on the other end help to turn “todos” into “already dones” — most of the time. with this novel experiment [insert groan at pun] my motivation seems to be coming from a place of curiosity more than anything: can i do this? can i make myself write a chunk of text every day? every day for 30 days? in some ways, this brand of curiosity is also steeped in the sentiment that this, too — however tortuous, frustrating, or onerous — is temporary and self-inflicted; i am my own judge and jury. this is perhaps even more motivating than the peer pressure i alluded to earlier and perhaps even more effecting than the various machinations of external pressures brought on by a social apparatus like tenure. even still, the power of audience — both known and unknown — is profound and is perhaps what the proverbial “we” mean when we talk about “positive peer pressure.”


so now, at the end of day one, i am physically tired, mentally drained, but don’t feel that i’m at a loss for words. this is a good thing. and just for good measure, i’ll read a bit from “the elegance of the hedgehog” so that even in slumber my mind can aspire to coherent thought and fantastical lyricism.

preparing to write a novel*

today i begin my second attempt at nanowrimo, although i’d like to consider this the real first attempt thereby rendering last year’s effort — in which i didn’t even produce 10% of the 60,000 words nanowrimo’ers are meant to aim for by month’s end — the pilot go around. i’m not sure if it’s because i “do” academic research that i tend to talk in stages — pilot, year 1, etc. — or if i gravitated toward longterm, multi-phase studies because of this latent tendency to organize time into phases and stages. nevertheless, today begins year 1 of the great nanowrimo adventure!

here’s what i’m doing or have done to prepare:

– telling people im nanowrimo-ing — apparently peer pressure is still the most effective kind
– committing to a steady early morning writing block free from other inter/online forces — i’ll have to start this tomorrow and hope that i can channel some of that good, early morning writing energy to kick things off this afternoon
– saying no. to everything. else. this will feel especially good after i clear the following off of my plate: 2 article reviews, 1 tenure review letter, a cadre of job rec letters — i am to be free of these by week’s end, after which my answer to all the rest for the duration of this month at least will be no, niet, non, nein, nope, sorry.
– freeing myself from the self-critical, editing monster that only reduces productivity. she can wait until december…
– keeping paper and an extra word processing document open and on hand at all times in case this novel writing stimulates ideas for either of the books im really supposed to be working on.
– making jottings and timelines for the characters that loudly wormed their way into my time at the silent meditation retreat — incredibly fascinating how difficult it continues to be to take what seem like crystal clear ideas from the ether of the mind to pixels on the screen.
– incorporating new routes into my daily walks — im already stimulated by the world around me. i might as well put this otherwise distracting quality to good use!

that’s it for now. oh, and write 2,000 words a day. this is what the folks at nanowrimo recommend. i suspect that the entries on this blog will also be more heavily writing focused in the weeks to come, and as i find interesting sites and such, i’ll be sure to share for general enjoyment by all.  the first such resource was actually sent to me by my dear sister, who herself is having a bit of a renaissance and who i might have convinced to join me in the ‘wrimo journey:

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2011 — by Sara Toole Miller

*once again an asterisk is necessary because to declare that one (I) is writing a novel feels much too daunting to accept full responsibility for, thus i am grateful for the distance from accountability that the asterisk provides.