57 out of 410 Days: Long Hand

I resorted to long hand. I left the house in the pouring rain and headed for a place of Milk and Honey. [It’s actually called that, but I drank coffee instead.] I brought a print out of chapter six to date and gave it a careful editing and started writing. Six new pages later I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Still am really.

I left because a man left a backpack and ran out of the coffee shop. A clean cut white man with all the trappings of privilege. He asked if me and another anonymous coffee shop surfer would we be there for a while, dropped an expensive looking computer bag, and hustled out. He didn’t even wait for a response. He didn’t buy anything or even look towards the register. When he crossed the street and started walking down the opposite block, he slowed and began tucking in his shirt as he moved out of view. Yes, I watched him go. Maybe he hasn’t been in Brooklyn long. You just don’t do that. Who am I to him? And frankly, in this day and age I’m no more likely to carry a package on plane for a stranger than I am to watch a bag. Paranoid? Maybe. Is that a true representation of myself and my actions? Nope. I’ve watched a lot of bags for a lot of strangers over the years in a variety of locations and always ALWAYS turned down invitations to be a mule. [That’s another story.] Something must have hit me differently this time.

Most of my emigrant neighbors and friends of color are treated with suspicion on public transportation and in many other public and private spaces. It sucks. The pervasive culture of fear erodes trust in our shared institutions.

I was faced with a choice: Do I let myself think the worst of the kind of person whom no-one usually suspects? Something about his manner just made me nervy and on edge. Or, do I tell myself to get over it, tamp down my anxiety, and keep on drinking coffee and scribbling away?

I gave the backpack one last look and glanced around the place and decided that maybe I really could do with an afternoon run. I feel a little silly, but I don’t regret it. I guess the better thing to do would have been to say “No, you really shouldn’t leave your bag here unattended.” But after the fact (and his fast exit), I decided not to infect my overblown imagination regarding what the backpack could contain on my fellow coffee drinkers in our little gentrified haven. Frankly, I doubted anyone would share my sense that something was off. I’d “camped” enough for the day any how.

The run was lovely. Then I got to fight with the bank about a wire transfer to Turkey for a very long time. Again. That killed what forward momentum I had, besides entering edits during the discordant hold music. I had clear forgotten my little bout of paranoia earlier, until I came to this ritual confession of the contents of my day.

I keep wondering why I might have thought something was off. What was the trigger?

The owner of the previous establishment to occupy that space was the victim of a mob-style execution. The body was dumped in nearly unidentifiable condition a few states away. Actually, it was found quite close to where SDA’s parents live. Maybe that.

Maybe something else entirely.

Maybe I was just angry at his thoughtless (and largely correct) assumption that his privilege would let him drop a bag and walk away from it with no consequences.

I’m really glad the “trick” of writing by hand worked to get the words flowing in a continuous manner. My learning disability also means my fine motor skills are crap. I doubt anyone but me could decipher the scrawl.

51 out of 410 Days: The Most Important Truth

I had writer’s block yesterday, also known as getting stuck in the scholarly literature.  I panicked [a mind set not helped by some fiendish back pain]  that I’d never understand what was going on with the absolute and relative dating of a coin series and how could I ever explain it.  Everything I read was so contradictory.  And, then it dawned on me.  That itself was the truth, perhaps the most important truth.  I don’t know and I don’t believe anyone knows with enough certainty that firm historical argumentation can be build on that chronology.   Knowing when you don’t know and saying those words aloud often and frequently creates a powerful truth.  When I was nervous the evening before the first time I taught, my Masters Supervisor poured me a small drop and told me to just be honest with the students and never be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’.  It’s made me a better teacher over the years, and at least right now its making me a better writer.

Back to my scribbling.  It’s Eid this evening and there will thus be much shenanigans to distract me later.   

27, 28, and 29 out of 410 Days: Keeping Count

Maybe I should been counting down instead of counting up my days.  I could then focus on how much time was left instead of how much has passed.  Not that I suppose it matters.  Since I started this blog it turns out I was using a faulty pedometer that was under representing the distances I ran and thus telling me my average speed was very slow indeed.  I discovered this after my run on day 27 on a course of a known distance.  It shouldn’t matter.  I’ve been running what I’ve been running, regardless of what number(s) it is a assigned.  And yet, I still feel as if the inaccuracy makes it for naught.   This can work the other way in my faulty logic as well: if I don’t weigh myself there is no number so there is nothing to worry about.  

I finished a full draft of the book review.  Its 1,200 words too long.  Or 150% more than they wanted in the first place.  I think I know some cranky bits I’ll cut out, but I’m going to sleep on it.  I waited until today to write up my notes because I wanted a weekend of distance to see the forest for the trees.  I see a forest now, but I have a hunch a couple of my points are out of step with how others in the discipline see things.  A conversation or two will help.  I’m noticing is as a pattern in my writing process.  It should stop surprising me.

The review will still be too long after my cuts.  I’ll send it in regardless.  

26 out of 410 Days: Academic Nesting

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Yesterday felt dreadfully chaotic.  My mind was pulled in 1,000 directions.  I kept chasing ideas and evidence down rabbit holes.  Some wanted to go into the talk for next Tuesday, some into a few different chapters of the book.  That should have felt like progress, like productivity.  Instead, each competed with each other I couldn’t get my notes organized or the idea slotted in.  Some new kernel of a thought kept pulling me away and demanding my attention.  My body was tired.  My mind was tired, but curious and driven, just completely unfocused.  Even yesterday’s blog post felt half baked.  AND, I felt guilty because Day 24 had a coin, but not a coin for the BOOK.  I woke up at 4 am thinking about all of this.

I deduced two problems.

1) SDA asked me last weekend if what I had created in the back bedroom AKA my home office was an academic nest.  Stakes of books on stakes of books.  Random cups and mugs.  Sticky notes and iDevices and wires, wires everywhere.   Why, yes, that’s what precisely it is.  Just like my office at work.  SO, this morning before writing this I put my toys away like a good little girl.  Sometimes the chaos is inspiring, but the chaos also creates some of the noise in my head.

2) I didn’t define a specific goal off the mirror. Playing with Roman republican coins and reading scholarship felt like goofing off because I didn’t know what the specific goal was, even though I still made progress towards things on the board.  So, I decided today, no coins until I and Polybius have spent some quality time together.  My failure to pick a goal was because I had the unreasonable expectation the editor to whom I returned proofs the day before might get back to me  and I might need to respond.  I left myself in limbo.  [As I said some 20 days ago, being an academic often feels way too much like being on the dating scene.]  And, I left myself in a position that I didn’t feel productive, even when making progress.

24 out of 410 Days: Proofing Problems

The worst thing that can happen when reviewing proofs is to find a mistake made not by the publishing house — those you can demand they fix — but instead by you, especially if that error is substantial and thus might change page layout or numbers.  Then again, one can’t very well leave historical inaccuracies and logical inconsistencies right there on the page.  Maybe it is a good thing for the publishing process to take a while, as it lets one read one’s own work as if it was the work of a stranger.  So my challenge today was to cut the offending statement and replace them with something accurate while using the exact correct number of characters including spaces.   I chopped 1,203 characters and replaced them with 1,198 characters.  Five characters under seemed a reasonable margin.  Hopefully my editor thinks so! 

The point I’d failed to articulate was how the testimony of Livy and Strabo relates to the change in coin types at Heraclea Lucania.  The type of above borrows its obverse from Thurium and its reverse from Tarentum, the two cities that jointly founded Heraclea.  Livy and Strabo tell us that Alexander the Molossian who originally came across the Adriatic to aid the Tarantines turned on them and seized Heraclea and tried to move a large festival with a general assembly of the Greeks living Italy from Heraclea to Thurian territory.  The coins show first the Heracleans letting go the Tarentine design:

And then letting go the Thurian obverse as well:

The general subject matter (Athena/Heracles) stays the same but the direct iconographic parallels are removed.  Anyway, the literary testimony seems rather important to explain why Heraclea might have been distancing itself from each of its mother-cities in turn. I’m glad I caught my lapse.  I just wish I’d caught it earlier.

Oh the frustrations!

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I am so angry.  All the nitty gritty of edits are done on the chapter and I just need a clear head to address the “not-so-anonymous” peer-reviewer’s open ended comments on my conclusions where he wants more argumentation some in a direction I want to go, some I will not address.   So I go looking for some new bibliography on an online journal that tells you what articles are forthcoming, pre-release.  One is on exactly the same subject as the first major case-study of my  current chapter.  A case study I wrote up  and submitted for publication in January 2012.   Now, because I had to wait 15 months for feedback and there will be further delays down the road this other guys article will be out and about and easily accessible for the whole world to see long before mine.  If mine had come out in a timely fashion he’d be citing me instead of visa versa.   And my conspiracy theory mind is just sure he must have been at conference and stolen my ideas!  Because no two academic ever can come up with the same topic independently. [Insert sarcmark here.]  And yet I vaguely remember someone writing me asking for a copy of the piece.  I don’t share unpublished work so I may have just ignored the query.  It might have been him doing due diligence.  Anyway.  He’s a junior scholar.  I should be gracious and benevolent in my feelings towards his growing engagment in the field and publication success.  Instead I only feel shame at my own disengagement from the culture of publishing in academic journals with reasonable publication timetables.

Time to go find a coin or three to cheer me up.

5 out of 410 days: Digital Glass Ceiling

Yesterday it was obscure print publications with poor library deposition, today it is completely find-able entries in research databases behind the pay wall.  One well known publisher in our field has taken to publishing digitally new editions of old reference works that used to be printed in book form.  This is a huge advantage for searching and cross-referencing and updating.  It’s a huge disadvantage if your institution doesn’t subscribe and in good conscience I can’t ask my library to pay $9,540.00 for the database.  That’s more than the operating budget of my department his past year.  ILL can easily secure me a copy of just about any page in any book in any library in the country, but that pay wall creates a huge research gap between poorly funded state institutions and large privates.  It puts the individual researcher in the position of having to spend hours travelling and getting permission slips to access the resources at another institution OR begging for a little favor from a scholar with a better job to make a copy and send it along OR pay for a day pass from the publisher out of one’s own pocket. The edits continue.