The Active Life

Oh, I'm a bad girl: I'm blogging when I should be doing my homework (read, preparing for class). But I'm so tired of preparing for class. Here it is, sixth week of term, and for the past month I've barely had time to think straight, much less prepare for class in the way that I would prefer. I know, I know, I'm fairly sure that I overprepare, but it rarely feels that way. No matter how many times I've read a text, there is always something new to learn about it. Tomorrow, for example, we are talking about the Carolingian response to the Iconoclast controversy, which required (because otherwise I would not be "keeping up with the research") spending this morning "reading" Thomas F.X. Noble's big new book Images, Iconoclasm and the Carolingians, just out this past spring--and, no, I haven't had time to read it properly (thus the scare quotes). Remember, over the summer, I was supposed to be doing, ahem, my "own" work (which does not at the moment involve the Carolingians), which would have worked somewhat more successfully if I hadn't had to spend September reading for the graduate course that I'm teaching this term on "Religious Thought in the Later Middle Ages" (again, no Carolingians).

How did I put it in one of my Facebook status updates? "F.B. isn't actually behind but she can't seem to catch up either." To which Badger responded: "Emulate puppy--chase your tail. That way, you are always taking the initiative, even if you are, um, behind." I realize, looking back over the past month's posts to see if I've used this quotation already, that mid-week complaints about feeling overwhelmed have become something of a trend. So I should probably just stop now and get back to work. But I don't want to! I want to be writing to you here about all of the things that I've been thinking about this past week. About dogs and how mistaken we've been in how to train them (a.k.a. "get dominance over them"); about my frustrations last night at fencing practice losing to the (in their own words) "pubescent guys" (okay, only one of them actually said that, but his mother is a psychologist); about the joys of having my very own sample of the quartz composite that we have chosen for our kitchen countertop; about whether I should have a go one year at NaNoWriMo and what I would write. Anything, but complaining about how busy I am!

I have an image in my mind from I think one of Sartre's works about how to make everyone think that you are really busy (or busier than you are). Maybe it was Sartre, maybe not, I can't really remember. What I do remember is the image: if you want to give everyone the impression that you are working all the time, go around with a sheaf of papers stuck under your arm (maybe a laptop nowadays?) and spend all of your time talking about how hard you are working. This, of course, being a lie because you aren't working at all, you're just complaining about how much you are working, and yet, weirdly, if you do this, everyone will believe that you are actually working a lot. Whereas, if you just do the work and then, when you are in public, don't talk about it or carry any props about with you, everyone will assume that you never work at all. Come to think of it, I'm not sure it was Sartre; maybe it was my dad. The point is I hate when people spend all of their time talking about how busy they are because, clearly, if they actually were as busy as they claim to be, they wouldn't have time to talk about it! Besides, it's uncool. Fonzie never complained about being too busy (or did he? He certainly never appeared busy, except kissing). Much better to be like a duck: calm and serene on the surface, but paddling like heck underneath.

I'm talking to myself here, you realize. It's just so frustrating having one's head so full of things that (horrible to think!) won't actually matter after tomorrow because, well, I'll have taught this material and then it's on to the next class. Yes, yes, over the long run it's important (I hope) that I know something about the Carolingian response to the Iconoclast controversy or (for the other class) Birgitta of Sweden's revelations, but, practically speaking, once I've taught the class, I don't need to anymore, at least, not until the next time I have to teach the same material. Which might be never if I don't actually repeat this or that particular course. In the long run, this means I know lots and lots of stuff well enough to talk about it off the top of my head for an hour or so, but almost nothing well enough actually to write anything (gasp!) publishable about it. That kind of writing takes not days, but weeks and months and years of study, which, of course, I don't have right now because I'm spending all of my time filling my head with stuff I'll only have to relearn the next time around because it's sure to be overwritten within the next day or two with yet more stuff that I need to know for class.

Ah, the active life! I was missing it, you know, back in September when I was starting to prepare for term to start up again. Spending all year here in my tower talking to nobody but my research assistant had its downside, too. You start to go a little batty, arguing with yourself all the time. I really don't know how professional writers--that is, writers who actually get paid to write--do it. Maybe that's why they go on book tours: to have some sense of there being an audience out there, willing to listen. Teaching is great, truly, it is. It's just so exhausting. But you wouldn't know that I was exhausted if I weren't spending so much time wandering about with this sheaf of papers under my arm, so I'm going to shut up now and try to act like a duck. Quack, quack!

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