ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: productivity

Weeknote 2

School, snow, freezing rain, ice; all the fun stuff.

WORK

Between the intro sessions and the MLK holiday, I’ve only taught 50 percent of my class periods over the last two weeks. One is going very well, the other is only OK, perhaps because I haven’t taught it in three years and I’m still feeling my way to a rhythm. They’re both set up the same way, with theoretical and abstract readings to provide a foundation, but I walk out of them feeling quite differently. Oh well, it’s the beginning and it’s me, not the students. The OK one will improve.

I forgot to mention that I’m the Director of Undergraduate Studies this semester. A colleague and I have split the work for the last two years and this is the last of it. I describe being DUS as comparable to being nibbled to death by ducks: there are rarely big crises, but there’s always something. So. Much. Email.

Nothing else I can really write about, just the usual meetings. My two regular seminars start up again this week and next, so that will provide a rhythm along with class times. I have some letters of recommendation to write and a bunch of research papers to write up comments on.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

The Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl! I’m so happy for the team and the fans. They are a blast to watch, and it should be a great game. As a long-time 49ers fan as well I suppose I should be rooting for them, but it’s Chiefs all the way. Time to dig out our magnetic car logos and wear my logo wool varsity jacket.

One of my 2019 holds from the library came in, Javier Cercas’s latest “nonfiction novel” Lord of All the Dead. It’s a companion work to Soldiers of Salamis and so far it’s really good. I love his writing style, which is deceptively informal and feels unselfconscious, but the words and phrases are beautifully chosen. You notice how well it’s written almost after the fact.

I’m also continuing to work my way through The Steep Approach to Garbadale, which is starting to be work. Much as I love Banks, this is not his best novel by any stretch, and the audio format makes the digressions and quirks more apparent to me. I just hit a chapter where the breasts of not one but two women are described in detail and I was grateful to have a reason to stop listening for a while. I’ll keep going because it’s Banks, but I’m bummed he is yet another male author whose characters are obsessed with breasts over other body parts. I hadn’t noticed this is his other books, but then I’ve mostly been reading the M. novels up to now.

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Weeknote 1

I’m starting over numbering the 2020 Weeknotes. Let’s see how many I can manage; I had 21 in 2019, but I didn’t start until partway through the year.

WORK

The spring semester began yesterday. I’m teaching two undergraduate classes, both of which I’ve taught before and which I enjoy a great deal. They also require regular updating because things are constantly happening, but that also means that the students are interested. And I have enough assistants that I don’t have to do all the work myself. It feels like a light semester even though technically it’s not.

I got to throw a drinks party for a visiting professor and his family, whom we’re trying to recruit. The weather was awful but the party was fun. Fingers crossed.

I’m on one (and a half) committees this semester. The one is a college scholarship committee that is always enjoyable. There’s nothing like interviewing whip-smart high school students to make you feel as if maybe the world isn’t so bad after all. The half is the end of the Committee That Ate The Second Half of 2019 and Part of My Sabbatical. It shouldn’t be too much work, maybe a couple of meetings and a memo.

Which means I may actually have time for some writing! Which is good, since the pile of to-be-written is rivalling my pile of to-be-read.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Liverpool, all through the holiday fixtures. I’m almost starting to believe that at 16 points clear of the 2nd place team in the EPL, they can win the title for the first time in 30 years. Almost. I’m not counting ANY chickens.

I’m also watching the NFL playoffs and rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. We went to all their games for five years in the early 2000s when we had friends on the staff. They been shut out almost as long as Liverpool has, and I’d love to see them make it.

I read a fun, unjustly obscure book when we were away for the weekend right after New Year’s. It’s called The Ascent of Rum Doodle and it’s a satire of the mountain-climbing memoir genre of the 1930s and 1940s. We found it in a store in London and I bought it because the Mt. TBR Challenge has Rum Doodle as its first level. I’d never heard of it before but as I was reading, I was reminded of passages of various serious mountaineering books I’ve read, including the excellent Into the Silence. The satirical tone gets a bit heavy-handed at times (as satires do), but the book is short and sustains itself well.

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2020: News/Infotainment Detox

Like so many other people, I’m exhausted and stressed by reading the news every day but I don’t seem to be able to stop. I’ve written before about how frustrating I find the conflation of reported news, speculation, and opinion/analysis. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started to read a story only to find that it’s not actual news, just someone’s take on what might happen given particular scenarios.

Last month, I proposed a news detox to TheHusband, who has been in the same stress boat. I suggested that we completely avoid reading the news online and return to the old ways of acquiring information: the television, radio, and printed newspapers and magazines. This would be a big change for us, because both of us read news sites more than any other on our phones and computers. But after the daily frenzy of impeachment “reporting” we had to do something. Impeachment was a textbook case of the problem: there was actual news, as in hearings, votes, etc., but that took up a minority of the virtual inches devoted to the subject. So much of the coverage was about what might happen, how it might affect the Democratic race for the nomination, and so on.

We started in mid-December and set some ground rules. We decided that we could continue to read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times because they have clearly delineated news vs. opinion sections, and they have very little gossip fluff of any kind. We also allowed ourselves to check in on local newspapers for similar reasons. We could read the front page of any paper as long as we didn’t click through on an article. And I kept reading sports and book sections. So we weren’t completely offline for news.

At first it was pretty disorienting. It turns out we spent a LOT of time on The Washington Post (both of us), the Guardian (me) and CNN and BBC’s mobile versions (mostly TheH). The WSJ and the FT take a lot less time to read online, too, so we were done pretty much when our morning tea was finished. Over the rest of the day we had to find other sources of timepass, which meant reading more on our ereaders, me knitting, and even playing card and board games.

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2020: Wardrobe adjustments

I’m trying a few new strategies this year and I’m planning to write posts on them so that I can go back and revisit how I’m doing in a few months. First up: changes I’ve made to my closet. I decluttered using the Marie Kondo method back in 2015, but now my closet and drawers are full again and I need to purge a bunch of stuff. I also discovered technical clothing last spring and summer, mostly because of one-bagging the Wales vacation and then going minimal on weekend trips. But I also like having clothes that I can wear for a while and that all go together. I wear a lot of neutral colors, but I’ve been buying a few individual pieces in brighter shades to mix things up.

I decided to try a version of a capsule wardrobe called Project 333. The idea is that you have 33 pieces that you wear for thee months and then you choose another 33 for the next three months, etc. It’s more season-friendly, which is handy for people like me who live in places with well-defined seasons. I thought about doing the uniform thing, wearing one outfit all the time, but I can’t see teaching in the same clothes over and over. I’m still scarred by a friend’s teaching evaluations where her clothes were critiqued for not being varied enough. I’ve received evaluations that made observations about my clothes and even my jewelry; they were friendly ones but it’s a bit weird to me that students would notice and comment.

I expanded the 33-item requirement a bit by not counting cold-weather accessories (gloves, hats, and outdoor-only scarves) and jewelry. For the latter I’ll stick to a small rotation which is what I usually do anyway. But I wear multiple bracelets at a time and those add up fast. The point, I think, is to reduce choice, which I practice without really thinking about it. I have a bunch of jewelry but I tend to cycle through rather than making new choices every day. And according to the rules I don’t have to count loungewear, exercise clothes, and underclothing in the 33.

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De-quantifying my life

Liz has a great post about quantified reading and the stress it can induce when we set goals for things that are supposed to be enjoyable. I commented there, but I kept thinking about the ways in which tracking and quantification of everyday habits has permeated the lives of so many of us. Part of it is human nature; making “best of” lists and remembering things in relation to other things is enjoyable. But these tendencies are exacerbated by incentives to make money off them. It isn’t new, of course: Cosmo was doing “10 best ways to put the spark back in your relationship” before I was old enough to have sparky relationships. But it’s so much more pervasive now because of the need for content that generates ad clicks and the technological advances that let us keep track of everything.

I started doing reading challenges a few years ago. The original idea was to help me track my reading and to expand my range of reading material. After several years of participating in Romancelandia and especially while reviewing for Dear Author I was reading romance almost exclusively, and newly released romance novels at that. I missed the other genres, but a steady diet of short, easy-to-digest genre fiction had reduced my ability to read longer and more complex work. Reading challenges like PopSugar gave me a way to branch out and feel like I was accomplishing something.

This approach was helpful in getting me back to reading a wider variety of fiction, and the Mt. TBR and Harlequin challenges highlighted the discrepancy between what I was reading and the books that were piling up unread because I couldn’t resist a new release or a sale. But they also stressed me out: would I make my TBR challenge goal, how many books would I read, how many underrepresented authors was I reading, etc. etc. Not meeting a number, however arbitrarily that number had been chosen, seemed like a failure. A small failure, but still a failure.

Reading isn’t the only area in which I’ve quantified some quotidian aspect of my life. Like most women I’ve counted calories, tracked everything I’ve eaten, and generally made food a focus of scrutiny. I lost the most weight (and kept it off) when I stopped doing that, and I haven’t dieted in any meaningful way in years. But I still get the urge to do so, especially when I put on a few pounds or see yet another “easy” way to track my food intake. The various hacks of apps like My Fitness Pal have helped me avoid getting back on that psychological treadmill, though.

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