Words and Penguins.

On a productivity scale of poor, fair, good, and excellent, the past two mornings would fit squarely into the good category. I have managed to write another 1.5 pages. The chapter’s argument has come into better focus. I know exactly which spot I need to expand, and I know what “chunk” I need to write next. Also, I rediscovered this piece on the Thesis Whisper about how to turn out a large number of words/day and “not go bat shit crazy.” She argues that most writers (of all stripes) only have two hours/day of good, creative writing time. The rest of the day is best devoted to tasks such as edit-cleaning, reading and organizing. Based on my own experience with Big Book Project (and some other article projects as well), I am inclined to agree with her. I have genuinely tried to get in four solid hours of productive writing time very day, and no matter what I always fall short of that goal. On my best days I get three hours, and on my worst one. This piece reminded me to go a little easier on myself. I learned during Dissertation Project that the more I nagged myself for failing to meet the quotas I set for myself turned out to be quite counter-productive. The more I chastised myself, the less productive I actually became. Oh Catch-22, Catch-22…

There are two things I would like to become better at though. I’d like to do a better job of hard focusing. Some mornings I sit down and plow through my ten minute writing segments, with only short breaks at each half-hour mark to do things like brush my teeth and pack my bag for my trip to the archive. Other days I fail miserably at this, and take breaks between ten-minute segments to do idiotic things like check Facebook and send emails. This is bad, because I have noticed that I really do lose concentration threads are essential for working out the knotty problems in writing. Must improve. The other problem is that ever since April, I have a hard time buckling down first thing in the morning to writing work. To be fair, I was coping with some sad professional news: I had been a finalist (one of three) for a slick job at Famous Ivy League University in Major American Metropolis, but unfortunately did not get the job. It was a thrilling to make it that far in such a competitive search, and I got very positive feedback from the search committee. But the let down was HARD. Very bad for writerly motivation. It took me an hour on most mornings to collect my thoughts and gather the courage to sit down at the computer and return to Big Book Project. I’d like to get back to my regular routine of rising, breakfasting, and sitting down to work.

While I’ve been working on that, city life has improved. It is no longer nearly as hot. YES! And these hilarious, yet strange pink penguins and their polar bear companions have appeared all over central Moscow. They are part of an ice cream fest. What’s not to love?



Another Day, Another Page.

Technically, I should have posted this yesterday, at the end of my writing day. But that did not happen. “Life got in the way,” in the sense that I ran into my colleague from New Zealand in the library again. I mentioned to her that I was planning to meet a colleague from NYC, who is in Moscow for some summer research at a new craft beer pub. We decided that when it comes to craft beer sampling, the more the merrier, and so she and I prepared to leave the library together. I got in a solid one hour and fifty minutes of focused writing time between home and the library. I also managed to photograph the necessary pages from a primary source text, which I will soon be using as evidence in the next section of my chapter. Productive, but I have still not yet managed to meet the four hours of focused writing time/day that I have set as my goal. Studies have shown that four hours of focused creative work (writing, art making, music composition, etc. etc.) is the average maximum that an individual can achieve before the returns start to diminish. Of course this time varies from person to person; some can do more, some less. But I am keeping it as my goal, if only because it functions as one more measure that helps me stay on track in this age of distraction.

So, the craft beer was delightful. The food excellent. But it meant a late night. Once home I went straight to bed. No time for blogging. And this is disability related. As I think I have mentioned before in this space, fatigue is a major component of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. So too are sleep issues. The combination can result in snowball effect. Sleep for me is a necessity. If I stay up late, then I have to sleep in if I can (Sometimes I have to be up early to teach or attend a meeting. And if I do, well, then that’s just that. I weather the unfortunate consequences and try to readjust my schedule to include more self-care and rest. I also keep a firm eye on my schedule and try to avoid mixing late nights with early mornings.) It is not just a matter of not functioning my best the next day; sleep deprivation can wipe me out for the next week or longer. So that is what happened today. In late, up late. But I managed half an hour of writing this morning. And I managed to crank out another page. Now I’m off to the archive. Will try to get another half hour in before bed. Not ideal, because I don’t usually write as well after dinner. But today perhaps, worth a try.

Oh and in case you are in Moscow and looking for craft beer, here is the spot we tried. Very good, but it is also worth exploring other outlets. The economic crisis (Ruble plunge) has made imported beer too expensive for many Russian consumers. In response, domestic producers have created a delicious and burgeoning craft beer market. There is more variety every month. Enjoy!

Beer Happens. Moscow.


The Best of Intentions.

I really did have the best of all writing intentions when I woke up this morning. Intentions and a Plan. I write best in the morning, so the Plan was to get up, have breakfast, and get right to work on Big Book Project. Oh and also try to solve that nagging little problem about a broken rec. letter link in a fellowship application portal. This meant I had to check my email (bad). And right there was an email from said recommender with broken link reminding me to please contact the fellowship administrators, because he was ready to upload his recommendation. One does not want to disappoint letter writers. So I set about trying to solve the link problem, which required the installation of a newer web browser, two emails to the system administrator, and careful tinkering with the application itself. Which led me to read the fine print. Which led to questions about my eligibility for the fellowship. Turns out, since I have not yet had my Ph.D. for two years (two-year Ph.D. anniversary is in September), I am ineligible for the fellowship this year. So. All that tinkering and emailing for nothing. Disappointment aside (It was an amazing opportunity.), the morning I had set aside for writing had also evaporated. Or almost evaporated. I wrote for a whole ten minutes. Woot?

Not really, because this point I need to be cranking out two pages/day. And ten minutes won’t get me there. So instead of going to the archive this afternoon as planned, the new Plan was to go to the Lenin Library and sit at my desk in the reading room for longer than ten minutes. And then, boom! I ran into a colleague from New Zealand, who has come to Moscow for some summer research. Instead to heading up to the reading room, we went to the “bufet” for some delightful instant coffee. And she showed me the proofs of her new book about Cold War-Era Soviet political posters. Now, those visuals are amazing. Also, we enjoyed the coffee. In this particular case, I have no regrets about not getting right down to work.

When I eventually did sit down at my desk, I did get work done. 1.5 hours of serious focus allowed me to crank out another page. Not two, but then one is better than none. And everyday the rest of the chapter seems to come slightly more into focus. So I’m grateful for that, because this next bit is tricky. Because it is tricky it makes me nervous. I’ll get back to it tomorrow, when the New Plan is the Old Plan: get up, get to work, go to the archive.

We’ll see. For now, a view of the Kremlin from the Lenin Library reading room. At least they spoil us with the scenery:

From the Reading Room-Lenin Library


After a Long Absence…

After three years, several major life events, and lots and lots (and lots) of travel, I have decided to return to this blog. I will still write about issues related to disability from time to time. Disability is, after all, central to my embodied experience of the world. I cannot ignore it. However, my reasons for returning are mostly practical. I need to finish a substantial project, which I will call Big Book Project, over the course of the next ten months. And by finish I mean complete and edit all four chapters of the manuscript, write the introduction and conclusion, re-write the book proposal in preparation for submission to publishers, and then wait and hope. Big Book Project is an academic book. It is central to the little career pathway I am trying to (somewhat unconventionally, it seems) carve out for myself.

Since my last post three years ago I completed and defended my doctoral dissertation (aka Big Writing Project). My Ph.D. was officially conferred. I held a postdoctoral fellowship in Budapest. And after my ten months there, I opted to return to Moscow, to work as a “research fellow” (lots of reading and writing, with a little teaching on top) at Developing International Research University. So here I am again back in my beloved city, learning how to turn my dissertation (untold academic secret: A dissertation is NOT a book. It is a very very long bureaucratic document with lots of citations of original sources with the potential to become a book and/or several peer-reviewed articles.) into a book that actual people, and not just a handful of folks with narrow, Ivory Tower vision, might want to read. This blog will be a chronicle of that process. There will be (ideally) one post  for every writing day. As it stands, I have an outline of the entire manuscript, a hodgepodge annotated bibliography, two rough chapter drafts, heaps and heaps of notes from the archive and from sources in museums and the early Soviet press, a draft of an introduction, and a (shitty) first draft of a book proposal. The task at hand is to revise and round out chapter one. I’ve been working on that for the past month fairly intensely, mostly in the kitchen of my apartment in central Moscow. From here, the work goes on:

Sunset from the balcony