100th Post: Visually Oriented

Yes. This is also 72 out of 410 days, but the 100th post seems to take numerical precedence. What is this obsession with base-10 numbers we have?!

At the beginning of this I set out some reasons why I was blogging. I’ve been asked what I get out of it by friends and colleagues: “what’s the pay off?” I’m a visual oriented person. This particular format of “picture first followed by text and more pictures and links to other tangential or directly related material” feels really natural. It’s an easy way for me to write. I find the image first and then let it flow from there.

It’s just like how I prep classes or write a conference paper or invited talk. Images are organized first with a few words on PPT slides and then i slowly craft a text while building a supplemental handout with chunks of primary sources and references to secondary literature. The three files grow simultaneously. This blog mimics for the book the conference presentation writing process prior to the chapter or article publication. Here is the playful connection of ideas. The fun and endless images, en masse and  in full color. The asides. The working out a way of saying something before it crystallizes on the page in front of me. The enthusiasm over the new-to-me discovery process rather than the certitude of a published thesis. I need a loose conception of audience and performance to motivate and inform my crafting of the words. Words that explain what I’m seeing in the images OR just words that capture the same resonance as the metaphoric image I’ve selected to reflect a loosely formed idea.

When I write conference papers I label the file ‘script’ not ‘draft’. I don’t want to confuse the oral form of the words with that which will be experienced on paper with footnotes and only a few select images.

Why do I write this way? The internet wants to categorize me as a visual spatial learner. This seems to be a Pop Ed buzz phrase. It seems to be happy fuzzy spin on how to teach autistic and dyslexic people and any one else who is a “problem” learner in some way.

Yes, this looks like me:

But, while my dyslexia and other learning disabilities are very very real, how I do “learn” doesn’t really seem to need a label. I also like sequences and statistics and spreadsheets with complex formulas. I’m a numismatist after all! And while I was a late reader (age 7 and not proficient until 9), I certainly have no aversion to reading texts, in either the literal or theoretical fashion.

So is the blog worth it? Absolutely.

postscript. It also, to a lesser extent, harnesses the power of social media distraction or internet procrastination. It means when I stop working the first place I turn to is in fact directly work related. I keeps me constantly on task. Or, demands, if I’n not on task, to explain myself. Thus, it is the outward manifestation of the superego and her big stick.


Full rough draft of chapter six exists as of this morning. Afternoon was spent keying in long hand, editing, checking citations, and rewriting.

64 out of 410 days: Reducing Stimuli

I saw this on a social media site which I frequent. I thought it was dreadfully pretentious. “Oh poor me! I am a creative. No one understands me. Life is soooo difficult.” *

And then I looked at my browser tabs. On average I have about 16+ web pages open, 7+ pdf documents, 4+ word documents, at least one spreadsheet, a few sticky notes, 3+ powerpoint files [I use powerpoint slides like the index cards of old for sorting notes, images, references etc.], the snipping tool, my dropbox file folder, skype, and then did I mention my problem with stacks of books:


That is the “surface” of my desk this morning. I’m not sure there really is a surface under there.

[The pillow in the window is normally for the cats (when Mary Beard isn’t using it, of course); this reduces their attempts to climb the book stacks or stand behind me poking me with their paws for attention.]

Is this because I’m a creative mind? Maybe. Maybe, I just have a hard time focusing on one thing. What if I need it later? What if I lose the reference? What if forget to come back to it? OH MY G-D! I’m a data HOARDER. Some people hoard bits of string. Or tins of food. Or boxes of garage sale finds. Even some people to whom I’m related… Nope, not me. All information, all the time. A veritable pack rat of details.

The last couple days I’ve been trying to restrict my pdfs and browser tabs to a single one of each. To open another, I must close the last. It seems to help.

Now that I think about it a few colleagues have periodically said “Wow, you have a lot of windows open.” when they stop my office at work. Maybe I should have picked up on that feedback a little sooner.

* – If you’re the friend who posted the e-card above. I’m really sorry for being so horribly judgmental. And, thank you for helping me come to a useful little self realization.

62, 63 out of 410 days: Cleaning Up

At the blackjack tables! No. Not really. Not even the house. Just Chapter 6. I ended doing a major restructuring which felt satisfying and then I decided it was about time that I created neat and tidy corresponding apparatus: 1) numbered block quotations and groups of block quotations for corresponding literary sources with proper references to such in the text, 2) an actual bibliography used if a proper format, rather than a jumbled list of things I’d like to include, 3) (a) a number list of figures with (b) a list of cross references to figures in other chapters so I have something to check later to make sure in the final drafts those other chapters actually contain what they’re supposed to.

It is easier to revise a bad draft than agonize over a first draft.

That’s there as a reminder that I’m enjoying the revision process and that I shouldn’t worry about imperfections in first drafts. Something is more than nothing. I tell that to my students all the time.

I’m struggling a bit with the lack of footnotes. I think I could have them. Another book by the press in a different series but with a similar target audience used them. It was recommended by the editors as ‘inspiration’. One of my peer reviewers thought they might be better than parenthetical notation. All that said, they could get out of hand. They could start to clog the page and trigger OCD-like compulsions for completeness. Parenthetical notation feels like it will keep me in-line, writing for a-scholarly-but-still-introductory audience. For now.

I cheated yesterday. It was totally a work day and I didn’t give you a coin. Do I feel guilty? A little. Do you feel lied to and like our strong foundation of trust is broken? Are you disappointed in me? I promise I will make it up to you.

I woke up in the middle of the night linking about this coin. Perhaps that was my conscience eating at me. The jug and lituus and wreath reverse kept throbbing behind my eyelids. The IMPER pulsed. They want to make sure I don’t forget about them apparently. On the other hand, on waking I was treated to a little refrain of a Turkish conversation that featured in my audio lesson yesterday? “Amerikalı mısın? Evet, Amerikalıyım.” Over and over. I apparently I’ve got that bit down. Now, if I could just get better about saying and understanding the verb to KNOW, I’d feel like progress was being made.

Okay. On with it properly now.

61 out of 410 days: Still at It

I can tell that two months in to this sabbatical I’ve fully adopted research as my primary occupation. I wake up thinking about coins, sometimes in the middle of the night, usually quite happily in the morning. Whenever I relax, I just default to thinking about coins. A happy obsession. [Except when I wake up with the cold sweat panic that the book won’t ever be done, but as SDA says I just need something to worry about. If I’m anxious there must be a reason.]

I get frustrated with the slow progress. SDA says if there is progress (which there is!), don’t question the process. I wonder if I don’t need a bit of Zen, one foot in front of the other. I might be losing the individual trees for the forest. I see my job as the whole of the series and thus as I find anything relevant at all for the project I feel I need to capture it and file it away for later. This is exhausting. I constantly have to refind my place. I want a more one-foot-in-front-of-the-other – what will help me write the next sentence? – approach. Inspiration, and curiosity, and a continuous investment of time and energy all seem to be present but I could do with more focus.

Two things made me very happy with the process. 1) The engaging comments here on the blog. and 2) Finding I trust Drummond’s article on Sulla’s augurship enough that I can move on with my writing and just cite him. Both are nice reminders that we can’t do all the work ourselves. We need our colleagues to point things out and also to provide many of the answers.

The other thing that makes me happy is giving up the idea of weekends. Crazy, right? It means I don’t have to stop and restart and upset any momentum. And, there is always tomorrow to move the project forward. Some how its liberating. Good thing I like the work.

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.

42 out of 410 days: Thoroughness

I picked up a set of sermons on my way out of church yesterday.  Muncie has been preaching a series on authentic living this summer.  He does a very good job of bringing nuance to the two sides, positive and negative, of PRIDE, amongst a number of other useful insights.  [Reading sermons on the subway does not, by the way, attract nearly as much attention as Roman History.]

Many vices and virtues can be equally two-faced.  Thoroughness can be a paralyzing standard for an academic endeavor and yet most necessary for the validity of the results. Chasing obscure bibliography, the fear of finding one key piece of scholarship post production, endless combing of catalogues and databases can result in rock solid peer-review worthy work, but also grind the process to a snail’s pace.  Searching a database can be easier than actually articulating words what one thinks.   I indulged in so much collection of bibliographical references over this weekend that the Inter-Library Loan Librarians must be cursing me this morning.  A disgusting number of requests were filed. In due course they will need to be incorporated into the book, or not, as the case may be, but waiting on their arrival or spending more time on the bibliography will not actually move the book forward or make the final product stronger at this point.  I’m usually a ‘measure twice, cut one’ type of writer.  Why compose a sentence until one can write the footnote that guarantees the accuracy of the statement?   This makes writing slow, nervous work.  The author of another book in the series wrote to me that he was trying to draft chapters: “very very fast (aiming at 750 words per day), in order to get something down on paper which I could edit”.  Ah editing.  Being open to self critical revision.  That is certainly a virtue I could due to cultivate.   So we’re going  to try something like that this week: just writing from the notes on file and the ideas in my head.   If this blog has proved noting else, its that I don’t suffer from a lack of words.