Friday, December 08, 2006

What Would Paul Fussell Do?


First: thanks to all of you who left comments on my last post. You are nice people, and I appreciate it. And as I look at your blogs, I must say I am very happy not to be grading as you are right now. The idea of having a task that has a real beginning -- more importantly, a real end -- is so seductive. But I guess I'll have to experience it vicariously for now as I re-tackle this project that, as several of you pointed out, will put a final stake in the heart of the Unfortunate Events.

So yesterday, with nothing left to clean and No Laundry Left Behind, the larder packed with groceries for a long winter, my hair cut, and the bills paid, I started in on the Final Revisions. I think there are going to be several weeks of good days and bad days before I get into a rhythm, but yesterday I did a few things to get the old engine running.

I discovered that having switched computers over the summer -- nay, switched systems, to a Mac, I need to translate a great many research files on the old computer into Word so that I can use them without re-typing everything. So I sucked it up and began translating three of the most important folders of archival notes and put them on my new computer. And no, I can't use the old computer, because it is so slow it drives me nuts. And every once in a while I think it is going to crash completely and require a surgical intervention.

I then lit into a stack of books that I have read since the last revision and transcribed those notes where they still seemed pertinent, larding them into the end of chapter files so that when I can once again bear to read my own writing they will be there to help me. This is, by the way, a modification of a trick I learned from a Paul Fussell essay many years ago -- if for some reason you can't write, for example because you have no time or no peace of mind, or you are getting divorced, you can probably still read. In my case, reading is actually therapeutic, so I am likely to do more of it under conditions which pretty much preclude writing.

But Fussell's real point about reading is not that it is therapy, rather, his point is: improve the day. Make use of time in whatever way you can, and for God's Sake keep moving forward. Fussell has written a great many books, and as I recall it from that essay, for much of his career he read during the school year and then went to the Cape in the summer, ignored his family for a chunk of each day (if he was like my father, probably all of it) and wrote for three months, gradually using all the notes taken during the year. This doesn't really explain how he wrote so very many books, but there you go.

In the meantime, the Evil Book Gods are trying to stop me, and in each case I have said to myself, What would Paul Fussell do? Since I resolved that I would re-launch this project which is 90% done, the following obstacles have appeared in my path, and I have attempted to resolve each, using an imaginary conversation with Paul Fussell as a way of finding a way to step nimbly around them:

1. Some details of a personnel case were directed to me because of my expertise in the field. I fended off this request for assistance successfully with an email that said "Can't ANYONE else who is NOT on sabbatical handle this?" Someone could, of course. And did. I am sure that is what Paul Fussell would have done under similar circumstances.

2. A much younger historian has called me in tears to try to schedule lunch, where there will probably be more tears because *this* career at *this* institution is about to end (this is one of those institutions where one's career always ends, so that one can go on to a Higher State of Being Elsewhere. My task? To persuade in a finite amount of time that it is time to Move On (sometimes it is wise to do as I say children, and not as I do.) I have accepted this challenge, even though I am not sure Paul Fussell would have done so, because I have to take time off and go to school next week anyway to see if the IT folks can translate the rest of my research files for me. BTW, you wouldn't find Paul Fussell sitting at home cutting and pasting between WordPerfect and Word screens. Two problems solved!

3. I received a peculiar document in the mail that calls itself the "Zenith University Strategic Objectives Matrix," in which there are four boxes labeled faculty, students, finance and administration -- as Paul Fussell would tell you, this is bad news already because only three of these boxes (or two maybe) represent people, and one represents money as if it was a person. This is also the kind of document calculated to launch a string of phone calls and emails designed to derail writing: an administration that really cared about scholarship would issue no documents or reports at all. Anyway, there are two objectives in the faculty box which boil down to "hire good faculty and pay them whatever" and "faculty should teach well;" and five in the administrators' box which support the already popular idea "hire more administrators and give them more control over everyone." None of the boxes address the fact that our faculty is close to the bottom of its comparison group for faculty salaries, and that a third of the faculty teach about two-thirds of the students. Or that the students are all on Ritalin this time of year whether they have ADD or not. But never mind! I know -- and Paul Fussell would know -- that this is just a ploy on the part of the Evil Book Gods to persuade me I should go to the faculty meeting next week instead of staying home to write. No way baby! I am so on to you guys. I threw it away. As Paul Fussell would have done.

4. It has snowed, so Sailor the dog comes into my study repeatedly pretending she has to pee, but when we go out what she really wants is to drag her snout along the sidewalk, whuffing up new snow and sneezing it out again, and to snag the odd frozen roll left out to help the various urban vermin get through the winter. Here I am stumped. I do not know what Paul Fussell would do, except perhaps set the dog to doing something more useful like checking footnotes or looking over the entire manuscript for the proper use of "who" and "whom."

Ok. So Paul Fussell would not be writing this blog. But I had to write something this morning, and I'll get a fresh start after lunch.

2 comments:

Tiruncula said...

This is wonderful! I especially like no. 4, which is happening at my house, too.

I need a WWPFD bracelet.

James said...

Would you happen to know if Paul Fussell has a fan club? I'm just dying to start one and I wouldn't want to step on any toes...that would be in bad taste. On second thought, a fan club would be in worse taste.

Okay, then...nevermind.