Friday, November 21, 2008

Happy Friday!

This promises to be a somewhat scattered post, as I've got a lot of disparate things rattling around in my brain , and I lack the energy to organize my thoughts into multiple posts. I suppose the overarching theme is that I've been feeling this week like I'm back to my normal self (as much as we can characterize my "self" as "normal") after the past six weeks or so of feeling basically like I was at my wit's end. Nothing much has changed, really, other than that I seem to have regained focus, regained the feeling that there are things I'd actually like to do, regained perspective and hopefulness and all of those things. It's weird: it's like I was in a fog through the middle of the semester, and now that it's closer to the end of the semester it's like the fog has lifted and I'm seeing clearly again.

Now, one thing that sucks about this is that I've realized that during the Time of Fog a whole bunch of things fell through the cracks and I've been all over the place in a couple of my classes. So part of what I need to do over the next week is to get myself caught up with grading and to get myself back in gear and up to speed to finish out the semester in both on a positive note. But if that's the only thing that's a bit stinky, that's really not that big of a thing.

So what other things do I now see clearly in front of me?

I have energy for research again. I'd been feeling utterly down-trodden regarding that really since the start of the new year. Somehow I pushed myself to write that article last spring/summer, but even with that, I felt spent after MLA, the spring was dominated by figuring out book permissions stuff, which was draining, the summer was dominated with final book revisions and travel and teaching, and by the time I hit fall I felt like I'd had no down-time in which to recharge. So I started the semester feeling out of sorts and like I had no ideas - none that I really cared about pursuing anyway - and that is not a register in which I operate particularly well. I've been thinking a lot about the role that research plays in whether I feel good, bad, or somewhere in between, and I've come to realize that while research really isn't my number one most important thing, as I know that it is for some people, it is something that works as an indicator of how good (or not) I'm feeling and how centered (or not) I am. When I hit snags where I feel like I don't have my own ideas, or that I don't care terribly about the ideas that I do have, that bleeds over into all other areas in ways that are negative. Whereas, when I feel like I have ideas that are interesting, that bleeds over into all other areas in ways that are positive. So it's not like I'm the World's Most Productive or Interesting Scholar, but scholarship, well, it keeps me plugging along at the other stuff and keeps me happy. This is good to know, because if ever I left this profession, or moved into administration, I'd need to find a way to fill that hole - whether by being an independent scholar or with something else that filled that void.

So anyway, I've got three-ish projects at the stage of inception. I say three-ish because two of the projects are variations on a theme, another is related but more teaching-oriented, and another is completely different. So yes, if I were counting all things separately and weighting them equally, I'd have five things going. But in my head, it's really three-ish. So first, let's talk about the related projects. I'm returning to an author that I haven' focused on with any sort of intensity for years. I gave a cool (I think) conference paper a couple of years ago (which has been collecting dust ever since but which may well make it into a "next book" should I choose to write one), but other than that, nothing new since the dissertation. This author was my First Love Author that brought me to literary studies. And what I'm working on will allow me to work on novels by FLA that I've barely touched upon. And it's also taking me into new (for me) theoretical territory, in which I'll be thinking about the intersection of discourses on shame as they intersect with discourses on pleasure. I'm really excited. As for the related teaching-oriented thing, I have it in my head to invite students to be on a teaching-related panel that I'll put together for a conference. The non-related project is on the interplay and conflict between nostalgia and irony in a Very Popular and Critically Acclaimed Television Series. I only agreed to do this project because a) it would mean seeing BFF and FBA (Friend by Association), and b) it would mean seeing them in New Orleans. But now I'm actually excited about the research! 'Twill be fun! And interesting! And awesome!

But see, what brought me back to the Place of Research Energy wasn't actually me really. Credit for that really goes to my students this semester. It occurred to me yesterday when I was chatting with a student (a shy and BRILLIANT student, with whom I'd never before had an extended conversation until yesterday, when the student stopped by my office hours without an appointment - which NEVER happens! - to shyly ask a couple of non-questions and then hung around talking for over an hour - which NEVER happens!) that the thing that I want most from my students, as I said to the student, is that they "have an idea." An idea of their own, an idea that excites them, an idea that isn't just something that will work for an assignment or that will give them something to say in class discussion, but to really "have an idea" that they want to explore and that inspires them. Everything I do as a teacher is about getting students to "have an idea." And what I think I've learned this semester is that if I can inspire students to "have an idea," well, it becomes awfully hard for me not to have ideas of my own. When everybody around you is having ideas, well, you start having them yourself just to be sociable. I've always intuited that this is true for students in a class - that if you've got a few who have ideas that the others will follow - but what I realized this semester is that it's true for me, too. I've found myself talking about my muddy research plans with my students, commiserating with them about not being sure which direction that I plan to take, talking a lot about the process of developing ideas and turning them into fully formed things. It's been awesome.

And I'm going to be honest: this is not an experience I've ever had before in a teaching context, whether as a student or as a professor. And I'm going to note here that I'm talking about having these conversations with undergrads - not grad students who are fully invested in their own research. While it's true that we now have a grad program, what I've come to value about my institution is that it's undergrad-centered, and I really don't think that I would be more fulfilled if I had a cadre of grad students to manage. Differently fulfilled, perhaps, but not more fulfilled. Also a good thing to know. It'll be interesting to see how things develop as I start teaching in the grad program. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll always love my undergrads best. Why? Because they're totally the best :)

In other exciting (though slightly stressful) news, I'll be seeing FB on Tuesday! Which was just confirmed like right now! (He is such a travel commitmentphobe.) And my mom for Thanksgiving! This is only slightly stressful because it means the need to make the House of Crazy hospitable for visitors, and I would like to be lazy and not to accomplish those necessary tasks. Oh, and because I've got a boatload of grading I need to do, and a revise and resubmit that I need to review for Fancy Journal, which I'd like to do over the weekend just to have it off my desk.

Well, given the last paragraph, I need to stop blogging and to use the afternoon wisely. Sigh. But I am happy! And filled with energy! And the end of the semester is in sight! And then it will be break and I'm not going to MLA! So I get a real break! Life is good!


Nik said...

You have inspired me to get to work. Now, which project should I work on....

Susan said...

I love your idea of wanting students to "have an idea". I tell my students I want them to be curious. Lack of curiosity is, I think the thing that annoys me the most.

Sisyphus said...

When everybody around you is having ideas, well, you start having them yourself just to be sociable.

I looove this sentence --- maybe because it gets at this great Wodehouse or E B White tone.

timna said...

I was thinking a Winnie the Pooh tone, myself, but maybe that's just because we read it not long ago in my children's lit class.

looking forward to having an idea, too.