No E-mail Until Noon; Or, Another Distracting Effort at Reducing Distractions

Over the last few years, I’ve developed an increasingly complex and time-consuming morning routine.  After I wake up, I do a little Wii yoga, then read some of the work of Fr. Giussani, then walk the dog.  After that, I make breakfast, take a shower, and make my coffee.  I read my e-mail, then I check Google News, followed by other favorite web sites, like Lifehacker, ESPNSoccernet, a Portland Timers forum, and some other stuff.  Then I start Google Reader and read some blogs.  Finally, I start some work… but not before checking my e-mail again.

Not today.  I’ve started my morning without web sites, blogs, and, most frighteningly, e-mail.  Turns out most of this stuff doesn’t really inspire me or help me be more productive, which I always used as my excuse (“Maybe I’ll find something interesting to incorporate into my disssertation…”).  So I’m jumping straight from the shower into writing, after toweling off first, of course.  We’ll see how that goes; it may turn out to be yet another attempt to reduce distractions that becomes, in itself, a distraction.  Kind of like cleaning the house, which I tell myself I need to do in order to think clearly, but really do just to get out of writing.  Man, we academics are pathetic!  Get a real job and stop whining…

Life Gets in the Way: Do Advisors Get That? Do I?

I’ve made diddly-squat progress on my dissertation over the last couple of months.  A lot of that is my own fault — mostly by choosing instant gratification through teaching, housework, blogging, etc. instead of writing — but I blame some of it on extra-curricular events, a.k.a. Life.  The holidays, of course, take up some time, and the Thanksgiving-to-NYE period always leads to a slow-down in graduate productivity.  But then there’s big stuff: my spouse getting laid off, and, just last week, the death of my best friend’s dad.  The latter has taken up all of my time, and rightly so: offering what pathetic help I can to my friend, traveling to the funeral to speak and be a pallbearer, and reflecting on it all.  It’s hard to get my brain and energy into my dissertation, and I wonder to what extent my advisor gets that.  My advisor is an uncommonly decent and very understanding person, and I know that my advisor would sympathize with and even share in my sorrow.  But my advisor also (a) wants me to get done and get a job and (b) works in the rarefied and weird air of Research-I academia, where the point of life is to produce scholarship.  I can’t help but wonder if, deep down somewhere, there’s a part in my advisor that wants to say, “Suck it up, slacker.  Get the work done.”

This speaks not to my advisor — who, again, is empathetic and kind and would never say such a thing — but to my own insecurities.  I constantly wrestle with my fears that I’m not good enough for this project, that I’m not good enough for my discipline, and that I’m not good enough for my advisor.  I’m not alone among graduate students in this insecurity (I refer you to kungfuramone’s life saga), and that helps to know.  It may, in fact, be necessary to feel this way in order to get through graduate school — to push and push and push so as to silence, even for a second, that voice of doubt inside the head.  But this can also produce distortions in perspective that aren’t just weird (e.g. absent minded professors who bump into trees while walking with their noses in books) but also, perhaps, immoral and inhuman.  If, in the face of death, I worry about the progress on my dissertation, then surely something has gone a bit haywire in my spiritual coding.

I suppose this could all be neatly summarized as: don’t lose your perspective when in graduate school or academia.  But I’m feeling something more on the edges — that, perhaps, through the weirdness of graduate school, dissertation writing, advisor relationships, etc., we have the opportunity to reflect on how our life fits with our work and vice-versa.  I know that’s an inelegant way to end this post, but there it is.

TSoA: “Across the Dark Water,” the Black Legend Cometh

In chapter four (“Across the Dark Water”) of The Story of America, early twentieth century young readers learned the following about the Spanish (or is it “Spaniards”?  I’ve never bothered to figure out which…):

  • Las Casas, the great defender of the Indians, brought “negro slavery” to America by suggesting that residents of Hispanolia bring African slaves, rather than enslave Indians.
  • Ponce de Leon was a “gay and courteous cavalier”–but mostly just crazy.  Same thing goes for Balboa, De Soto, and the rest.
  • “The white man gave the Indian lessons in treachery, which he was not slow to profit by.  A party of gentle St. Dominican Brothers, who had come to America to make a ‘conquest of peace’ among the savages, were captured, upon their landing, and brutally murdered.  It was too late for kindness to be understood–too late for the word of the white man to be believed.”

And so we see the endurance of the “Black Legend,” the story that pins on the Spanish much of the blame for Very Bad Things in Early American History.  Even the good guy, Las Casas, is at fault, and for one of the greatest evils of American history!  It is true, it turns out, that Las Casas suggested the importation of Africans for slavery (and later regretted it).  But Peattie’s implying that the Spanish are to blame for the development of slavery throughout the Americas, including what would become the United States; same thing goes with white-on-Indian violence and the foolishness of gold-inspired tours of exploration, discovery, and conquest.  The basic idea advanced: the Spanish did it first and did it worst.  Those who came after–especially the English–were better people and better Christians, and if they made mistakes, they (a) weren’t as bad as the Spanish and (b) can’t be fully blamed, because, after all, the Spanish started it.  In short, the Black Legend lets the English (and, by virtue of heritage, the American colonies, the United States, and you and me) off the hook for what happened to non-whites.* At least, that’s what Peattie’s readers might have been picking up on by chapter four.  We’ll see what happens in future chapters.

*For more on the Black Legend, see Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America.

Not Cool, Job Committees: Am I In or Out?

I’ll start the new year of blogging off with a complaint: job committees need to get off their asses and let applicants know where they stand in the process.  The AHA is this weekend, and I have yet to hear from any of the jobs for which I applied.  I assume, of course, that I didn’t get interviews, but I’ve heard from experienced applicants that job committees will sometimes wait until the last minute to let you know that they want to talk to you.  Not Cool, Job Committees.  Such short notice doesn’t give us time to prepare: we have suits to take to the cleaners, mock interviews to schedule, anxiety to build up.  Oh, and then there’s that whole 3,163 mile trip between where I live and the frigid ice-hole where the conference and interviews is taking place.  I have my ticket in hand, but there ain’t no way I’m making that intercontinental journey unless I have an interview scheduled.  And I would change that flight to warmer climes right now, except that I’m waiting for a definitive “NO!”  I appreciate your sensitivity, Job Committees, but I can take it.  Just tell me to piss off, and I’ll head down ol’ Mexico way.