Summertime, and the Living Is Busy

Seth, Its a Good Life, If You Don't WeakenThe week’s chronicle of precisely how an academic (specifically, me) spends each summer day is now complete. Those who followed this admittedly dull exercise might have some questions. Those who couldn’t bear following it can save themselves both time and tedium by skimming through the Q+A below.

Q: How many hours did you work this week?

A: 56 hours, 15 minutes.

Q: Oh, come on.  Surely, you exaggerated your work hours.

A: Oddly enough, I did the opposite. About halfway through the week, I noticed that I was underreporting my time.  I did not go back and adjust my daily totals upward, but I was — in the latter half of the week — more willing to count as work both (a) work that was fun, and (b) work that I hadn’t fully realized was work.  To explain, the great benefit of this job is that it’s genuinely interesting.  I ended up not counting seeing The Avengers, but part of my job actually is keeping up with popular culture connected to comics and to children’s literature. So, I could have counted that. The parts of my job that are tedious are easy to notice as work, but the parts that aren’t tedious sometimes slip by unnoticed.  For example, I do write during a jog or in the shower — this happens in my head, and I write it down later.  While doing something mundane, I will often also be thinking of something connected to my work.

I also underreported a bit because that’s just what I tend to do. If I lose track of how many sit-ups I’ve done, then I just add another ten. That is, if I think I’ve done 50, but I’m not sure, then I’ll count myself as only being at 40, and keep going. It’s dispositional.

Q: Were you surprised by how much time you spent working?

A: Yes.  I spent more time working than I thought I would.  I believed that, during the summer months, I would actually spend less time working than I do during the school year — say 40-hour or maybe 50-hour weeks, instead of 60-hour weeks.  I did spend less time working than during the school year, but only by a little bit.  This surprised me.

More surprising is how difficult it is to track academic labor. There’s no off-switch. Lots of small tasks overlap with larger ones. One item temporarily interrupts another, which then leads you to a third before you resume working on the first. And thinking never stops.

Q: How’s life in the panopticon? 

A: One of the greatest things about having concluded this experiment is that I’m out of that %$#! panopticon. As I noted the last time I did this experiment, I do not enjoy living in a glass cage. I don’t like making my daily life quite so public. However, once I commit to something, I follow it through to the end. So,… I felt I had to continue until the week concluded. I hope this exercise achieved its (admittedly modest) goal of making summertime academic labor visible, but I don’t plan to do it again.

Q: But doesn’t living under the panopticon make you more productive?

A: Maybe. It makes you more conscious of how you use each minute. But it also makes it harder to relax, harder to take the time to think deeply. In some ways, the experience simply amplifies my neuroses.

Q: Oh, come on. Do you really think your week-long summer diary is going to change anyone’s mind?

A: Realistically, I think it unlikely. But academics have to try to explain what our job entails. The general public thinks we have summers off, and (since the vast majority of us teach at what are euphemistically called “state” institutions) are thus living it up on the taxpayer’s dime. In truth, we do work during the summers, and most of us do not get paid for that work. As noted in my first post, the university does not pay me during the summers. If I elected to teach summer classes, it would. However, as many “state” universities do, Kansas State University dos not classify time spent doing research or service as labor for which one should be compensated.  I intend that as a criticism of the system in general, and not of Kansas State University in particular. Indeed, I keep placing “state” in inverted commas because only 23%-24% of the university’s budget comes from the state. The state’s decision to divest from public higher education has left erstwhile public universities with little money for salaries or even for general maintenance. But, we live in a representative democracy, and the majority of Kansans voted for a governor hell-bent on cutting taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, but raising the cost of living for everyone else — all while creating massive budget deficits. This is neither sound fiscal policy nor sound social policy. However, these are the policies under which higher education (and all publicly supported social endeavors) must exist — or not.

Q: Still, though, being a professor is a good gig, right?

A: Yes, it really is. I’m fortunate to have work which I find meaningful. Any career is going to be more demanding than an ordinary job. Doctor, musician, teacher, lawyer, artist, paleontologist, writer — if it’s a career, it’s part of your identity. And we’re more willing to invest in work if it’s part of who we are.

Q: You certainly listen to a lot of different music.

A: I do! I enjoy all (or nearly all) varieties of music. And I’m glad to have a bit more time to listen to music during the summers. So, let’s conclude with another song.  Here’s a song I discovered via Seth’s It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken. That book’s title references a WWI-era phrase which became the title of the song “It’s a Great Life (If You Don’t Weaken)” (lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Richard Whiting and Newell Chase).  Performing the song, here’s Lou Gold and His Orchestra, with a vocal by Irving Kafuman.

To experience the full tedium of this week’s chronicle, you might explore the links below, where you’ll also find another, equally tedious, week-long public diary.

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Friday

The very last day of my summertime academic chronicle.  The work will go on, but I’m only recording a week’s worth of it on the blog.  If you’re just tuning in, for the past week (starting on Saturday), I’ve kept track of my daily activities in order to answer the age-old question: What do professors do all summer?  Tomorrow, I’ll offer a few reflections on the whole experience.  But, for now, here’s what I did on …

Friday, 18 May 2012

12:00 – 12:05 am.  Was so absorbed in the comics-and-picture-books essay that I didn’t notice the hour had passed midnight.  Am going to send to Charles Hatfield for his input.  I think it’s developed nicely, and (fortunately) remains below the 5000 words we’ve been allocated for this issue.  But, you know, one could always benefit from a second set of eyes!

12:05 – 12:30 am. Finished yesterday’s post.  Shared it with Facebook & Twitter.  Emailed Charles H. a copy of that essay.

12:30 – 12:45 am. Washed some dishes in sink, started dishwasher for others. Put away some of the books I was working with today.

12:45 – 1:30 am. Evening ablutions, bed, read G. Neri and Randy DuBurke’s Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty (2010), which I’m considering for the fall’s graphic novel class (thanks to Gretchen Papazian for the suggestion!).

8:05 – 8:40 am.  Got up, checked email.  Enjoyed a brief video of niece Emily (thanks to sister Linda!). Logged into Facebook & answered an email there.  Read Francisco X. Stork’s essay on depression (hat tip to Jules Walker Danielson). Very good piece, whether or not you’ve ever struggled with depression.  Read it.  Also read Stork’s books.  I’ve only read two, but both — The Last Summer of the Death Warriors and Marcello in the Real World — are really good. I also checked out the schedule of Hillary Chute’s comics extravaganza. Spiegelman keynote tonight!  Going to watch on-line.

8:40 – 9:00 am.  Jumping jacks, stretched, etc.  Getting off to a later start this morning.

9:00 – 9:50 am.  Ran 4 miles, and did the exercises at the playground en route — one set of chin-ups, one of upside-down-push-ups.  I’m sure the latter has a real name, but I don’t know what to call it.  If anyone is confused and wishes not to be, I described the exercise on Saturday’s post.  Today’s was a more contemplative, slower sort of run.  Noticed a yellow and black… finch?  Small bird.  Saw four bunnies (technically, hares) during the course of my run, which is more than I’d’ve expected, given my late start. (Bunnies, a.k.a. hares, are nocturnal.) During the run, in my head, I also started to write the Sendak book proposal and table of contents.  This is one reason why it’s hard to keep track of work time.  I’m always thinking, and often such intellectual labor is connected to my professional work. Jeff Smith, Bone vol. 1: Out from Boneville

9:50 – 10:30 am.  Checked email, discovered that the scans of Jeff Smith’s art have arrived (in my campus mail box) from Cartoon Books.  Thanks, Kathleen!  This means that I can get the Moby-Dick-and-Bone article (co-written with Jennifer Hughes) submitted today.  Or, I hope it means that.  The only question I have is: will the journal’s website be able to cope with such a large image size?  Decided I should write down some of the book proposal before it leaves my head — though I don’t honestly think it will.  I think it’s incubating, and will continue to develop, whether or not I write anything down.  Spent some time writing down a few notes.  Realized I was hungry.

10:30 – 10:45 am.  There will be no post-running exercises today.  Breakfast & writing.  This is one way in which the scholarly process is similar to the creative process: you write because you have an idea.  You do not write because you know it’s a good idea or because someone will want to publish your idea.  You write because the idea is there and must be expressed.  As I noted in this blog’s inaugural post, I’ve had many ideas for books.  Nearly half of all my proposed books have not found a publisher.  I don’t yet know what will become of this one.

10:45 – 10:50 am.  Cleaned up some of the html in yesterday’s post.  I noticed that there wasn’t a space between each entry, and, in the html, discovered that “div” tags seem to be the culprit.  Where did they come from?  I don’t know.  I’ve removed them, and now the page looks fine.

10:50 – 11:00 am.  Responded to email (professional).

11:00 – 11:25 am.  Checked into Facebook.  Read this and this, both of which are related to my job.  From the first piece (a smart essay by Stephen J. Mexal) we learn that “When conservatives declare that English classes don’t teach literature anymore, what they’re really trying to do is deprofessionalize the profession of college-level English.”  We also learn that Andrew Breitbart continues to be an idiot.  From the second (a report on an academic Harry Potter conference), we learn that some scholars of older popular literature (Shakespeare, say) wish to delegitimize the study of newer popular literature and of books for children. The article also provides strong evidence that John Mullan may be a fool.  The article quotes Mullan as saying: “I’m not against Harry Potter, my children loved it, [but] Harry Potter is for children, not for grownups. … It’s all the fault of cultural studies: anything that is consumed with any appearance of appetite by people becomes an object of academic study.”  He also says that academics “should be reading Milton and Tristram Shandy: that’s what they’re paid to do.”  Hmm, “fool” is not quite the right epithet.  The word “ignorant” better describes Professor Mullan, as would the words “completely unqualified to offer such pronouncements.”

11:25 – 11:35 am.  Up next, after my shower: Routledge editorial work.  Figured out what I need to look at.  Have two items which require responses — these only date from earlier in the month, and both are revisions.  After I respond to these, I will be caught up with Routledge work.

11:35 – 11:45 am.  Responded to tweets regarding that asinine quotation from Professor Mullan, which prompted Natalia Cecire to share her Cecire’s First Law of Journalism About Academia. Natalia Cecire on media and academe

Too true.

11:45 – 12:10 pm.  Shower, shave, dress.

12:10 – 12:40 pm. Misc. email.  Thanks to Jules Walker Danielson, read Richard Michelson’s remembrance of Maurice Sendak.  Hadn’t seen this one!  Added link to bottom of this page.  Also wrote to see if I could purchase a copy of Hunger Mountain‘s special June issue on Maurice Sendak.  Wrote back to Jules, too.

12:40 – 12:45 pm.  Added another sentence to the comics-and-picture-books essay.  Thought I was “done” with this draft.  Apparently not. Ho Che Anderson, King

12:45 – 2:00 pm.  Lunch.  Started reading Ho Che Anderson’s King: A Comics Biography (Special Edition, 2010; orig. published 1993-2002), and in fact spent most of this segment of time reading it.  I’m considering this book for my graphic novels class.  It’s excellent.  The sole problem is that the hardcover costs $35.  I didn’t see a paperback.  I prefer not to assign hardcover books.  I made an exception once to assign Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything, but that was much less costly.  And I still want to see Kuijer’s novel come out in paperback.

2:00 – 2:30 pm. Finally getting down to the Routledge work!  But… not doing well at it.  Falling asleep sitting up. Too tired to focus properly.

2:30 – 3:00 pm. Nap.

3:00 – 3:45 pm.  Energized by nap, was able to offer much more clear response.  One report done!  Also wrote another professional email on a different subject.

3:45 – 4:45 pm.  Responded to another Routledge piece.  Also, a little after 4, tuned into WFMU (on-line, via iTunes radio), caught Laura Cantrell hosting & playing records by Ana Egge (“Bad Blood,” “Hole in Your Halo”), The Mastersons (“Tell Me It’s Alright”), Lianne Smith (“Bicycle”), Chris Erickson (“All I Need”).  Really great alt-country.  Richard Flynn would enjoy this.  Also enjoyed Sara Watkins’ “You and Me.”

4:45 – 4:55 pm. Internet issues.  Rebooted the cable box & the wireless router.  Everything’s working except for my MacMail (and thus I cannot send my second Routledge report).  Can’t figure out why, but suspect that Kansas State University’s email is down again.  Tried rebooting.

4:55 – 5:05 pm.  Fundraising call from Obama for America.  The president has been more a politician than the statesman I hoped he would be.  However, I support the human rights of gays and lesbians (which include the right to marry, and to serve openly in the military), I appreciate his understanding that trickle-down economics is a myth (even if he failed to pursue repeal of what I now think of as the Bush-Obama Tax Cut), I support his efforts to reform health care (even if they did not go far enough and may well be struck down by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court), am glad he has gotten us out of Iraq (and wish he would also withdraw troops from Afghanistan, too).  In sum, if his record is mixed, he has had significant accomplishments, and is certainly better than Governor Mitt “I’ll say anything” Romney.  So, I made a modest contribution to his re-election effort — which, by my estimation, has about a 50-50 chance of succeeding.

5:05 – 5:25 pm.  Rebooting seems to have worked.  I can send email again.  Wrote up some of the preceding.

5:25 – 5:40 pm.  Guitar.  Played a bit more of “Dancing in the Dark” (Springsteen) before hand forced me to abandon the effort.  It’s definitely improving, but just not as fast as I’d like.  Played “Run On for a Long Time” (traditional, Moby’s “Run On” samples the version by Bill Landford & The Landfordaires, but the Blind Boys of Alabama have a great version as does Johnny Cash [under the title “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”]), “She’s Got a New Spell” (Billy Bragg), and “Bizarre Love Triangle” (New Order).

5:40 – 6:00 pm.  Professional email sent. Also started on submitting the images for the Moby-Dick-&-Bone article.

6:00 – 6:30 pm.  Tuned in to HillaryCon, in anticipation of Art Spiegelman’s talk. Finished uploading Moby-Dick-&-Bone article.

6:30 – 8:00 pm.  Turned full attention to HillaryCon, so I could watch as well as hear her intro & then Art Spiegelman’s talk.  Really fantastic conversation between WJT Mitchell and Art Spiegelman.  My hope is that — in addition to being broadcast — it has also been recorded.  I also took notes.

“I discovered the parody before I knew the original”

— Art Spiegelman on MAD

“It’s important to have work that isn’t easy to assimilate”

— Art Spiegelman on comics & the classroom (one of his concerns was that, in gaining legitimacy, and finding their way into the classroom, some comics [a.k.a. graphic novels] are written to be taught rather than to be art)

“If children like something, adults get very concerned and try to control it.”

— Art Spiegelman (this quote, for me, also explains any attempt to ban or otherwise regulate a popular children’s book)

“I learned to read trying to figure out whether Batman was a good guy or a bad guy”

— Art Spiegelman, in the context of comics now being seen as an aid to literacy (and also alluding to Toon Books).

“In 1908, you could easily earn $20 to $200 as a cartoonist. What’s amazing is that it’s still true!”

— Art Spiegelman, in a remark inspired by an 1908 advertisement he had projected up on the screen.

“The avant-garde of comics is moving very much into the visual side of comics.”

— Art Spiegelman, on where comics is headed in the future.

“I have to get past my schoolboy snarl and admit that it’s not only bad stuff that happens in classrooms.”

— Art Spiegelman, responding to a question about an earlier comment he’d made on having comics taught in classrooms

I know what it’s like to have the technology not work as planned, but Art Spiegelman’s frustration with the latest version of PowerPoint particularly resonated with me.  He had everything all ready to go on an earlier version of PowerPoint, but the new version (on the computer up on stage) removed the control he’d been expecting.  This is exactly why Microsoft products are so frustrating.  Each new iteration screws something up from a previous iteration.  It’s always one step forward and two steps back.  Or, to be more accurate, it’s one step forward, and the menu you need to take the two steps back is now hidden under a new category which you can find if you place your mouse over that word, or, as a short cut, over an entirely different word, or, etc. etc.

Let me also say that Chris Ware’s poster for the conference is a thing of beauty.  (Click for a larger image.  No, seriously.  You have to click on it.  It’s amazing.)

Chris Ware, Comics: Philosophy and Practice

8:00 – 8:20 pm.  Wrote up the preceding.

8:20 – 8:45 pm.  Responded to couple of Facebook items, but most of this time was devoted to professional correspondence (which, yes, is also personal because, as I frequently have mentioned in this chronicle, most of my colleagues are also my friends!).

8:45 – 9:00 pm.  Started drafting reflections on this week’s experiment.  Am counting this as work, but you can deduct it, if you like.

detail from Chris Ware's cover of my biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (2012)9:00 – 9:20 pm.  Made Chris Ware’s cover of my forthcoming biography my “cover photo” on Facebook. He does such beautiful work. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I’ve never had such a beautiful cover for one of my books, and nor am I likely to ever again. Also looked at photos of my niece Emily, via my sister’s Facebook page.  And chose a couple of videos to end this day’s post.

9:20 – 9:30 pm.  Continued drafting some reflections on this week’s experiment.

9:30 – 10:00 pm.  Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.  Kept drafting those reflections.  Also checked into Facebook again because I wanted to find an article I saw earlier.

10:00 – 10:25 pm.  More professional correspondence (some of which, yeah, is personal, for noted before, etc.).

10:25 – 10:45 pm. Couldn’t resist tinkering further with the comics-&-picture-books essay. And so,… I did. Evidently, I am not done with it.  Also more correspondence.  Received from Eric the list of Barnaby strips we have.  I now need to go through and figure out which ones we’re missing.

10:45 – 11:25 pm. Read more of Ho Che Anderson’s King: A Comics Biography, which is really well done.

11:25 – 11:45 pm. Correspondence.  My friendly email debate with Michael Patrick Hearn continues.  I don’t think either of us is convincing the other one, but it’s a conversation worth having (or I hope so, anyway).

11:45 – 12:00 pm.  Started dishwasher.  Looked at this photo of the comics “brain trust” at HillaryCon. Wish I were there!  Also: Preparing for bed!

Coming tomorrow: Reflections on this week’s experiment.

Total hours worked: 10 hours, 30 minutes.

I’d embed the Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love”  here, but YouTube has disabled embedding “by request” (by request from whom? Polydor posted the video).  My next thought was Serge Gainsbourg’s video for “Comic Strip” (featuring Brigitte Bardot), but embedding has also been disabled for that one.  So, instead here’s one of Gainsbourg and Mireille Darc lip-synching “Comic Strip” on French TV.

Or, if you prefer a song with a specific “Friday” reference, you might like last season’s Sing-Off contestants performing a mash-up of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night.”  Sadly, NBC has cancelled The Sing-Off.

What’s that you say?  You haven’t had your fill of banality?  Well, then, you might explore the links below.  If symptoms persist, please consult your physician.  Thank you.

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Thursday

Welcome to te penultimate day of this week-long excursion into the summer work schedule of academics — or, really, one academic.  Me.  If you’ve come this far, I’ll presume you’ve read the earlier entries (links at end of this piece).  If you haven’t, the whole thing starts back on Saturday.  You might begin there.  Or find something more interesting to do with your time.  I wouldn’t be offended if you did.  Heck, (unless you tell me) I wouldn’t even know.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dan Clowes, Wilson (2010)12:00 – 12:55 a.m.  Prepared for bed, checked Facebook & posted yesterday’s post.  Also posted it to Twitter.  Read all of Daniel Clowes’ Wilson. (I’ve fallen behind on my Clowes reading!  This came out in 2010!) Each time I teach my graphic novel class, I seem to assign a different Clowes: Ice Haven one year, Ghost World another.  Will it be Wilson this year?  Not sure.  I like it for some of the same reasons I like (and taught) Ice Haven.  It filters serious narrative themes through the format of a gag-driven comic strip.  The tension between form and content works really well.  I find Wilson’s misanthropy to be funny, though I suspect most of my students will be less amused — the humor depends, to some degree, upon life experience.  However, this is true of many of the works they read in that class  So.  Wilson?  Ice Haven?  Ghost World?  Something else? Will decide soon.

12:55 – 4:30 a.m.  Asleep!  I got to bed a little earlier.  Excellent.  Here’s a good end-of-day song — Fats Waller’s “The Jitterbug Waltz.”

4:30 – 4:50 am.  Awake.  Got up, added some items to tomorrow’s to-do list.  Tried to clear my mind.  Perhaps I should have posted this song (“Tired of Sleeping”).

4:50 – 7:30 am.  Asleep.

7:30 – 7:50 am.  Up, ate breakfast, read email, responded to comments on Facebook wall.

7:50 – 8:50 am.  Business correspondence.  Also, briefly checked in to Twitter, discovered a surprising number (3!) of retweets of yesterday’s chronicle.  Krauss and Johnson’s The Carrot Seed is on Anita Silvey’s Almanac today.  Hooray!  Also read Margalit Fox’s NYT obit for Jean Craighead George.  So, subtract 10 minutes from the “work” component of this slice of time, if you like.  (A lot of Twitter is, for me, work-related.  But it isn’t all work-related.  I mean, I’m not writing about “Weird Al” Yankovic.  Well, except when I am.)

8:50 – 9:20 am.  Car swap with Karin (since we share a car, and since my left hand’s still not quite up to working the brake on the bike).  Also retrieved books from office that I need for the comics-and-picture-books piece.

9:20 – 9:45 am.  Prepared to mail a couple of packages (quite easy, since USPS on-line enables you to print out the labels at home).  Put them in mailbox for pick-up.

9:45 – 11:05 am.  To Manhattan Running Co. for lightweight windbreaker.  Then, to gym (which is right next door), where I exercised for 45 mins.

11:05 – 11:20 am.  Drove home, drank water, checked email (latter two not during the drive, obviously).

11:20 – 11: 50 am.  Shower + shave + dress = me, (more or less) presentable to public.

11:50 am – 12:40 pm.  Created codicil for will, modifying first article (Beneficiaries).  Gist of the change is that, should Karin predecease me, then instead of bequeathing all to my father, mother, and sister, I bequeath all to my niece Emily Calame.  (Obviously, if Karin outlives me, then nothing changes.)  Need to have Karin review this & then sign it before witnesses.  Also did some business-related correspondence.

Followed up again with Eric.  Until I receive required info. from Fantagraphics, I’m unable to pursue Complete Barnaby tasks for which I volunteered.  I realize, of course, that the publisher is working on many books and not just this one.  Still, though: bring out Complete Barnaby Vol. 1 (Fantagraphics, fall 2012?) and Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple, Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012) at the same time, and you have cross-promotional opportunities.  Both publishers stand to sell more books.  An investment of time in this project now would pay dividends in the future, I’m sure of it.  I may fail in this endeavor, but I need at least to keep trying.
12:40 – 1:10 pm.  Read that Donna Summer has died.  The first songs of hers I remember hearing were “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls.”  Toot-toot, ahhh, beep-beep!  Broke for lunch.  During lunch, began rereading Bill Moebius’s classic “Introduction to Picturebook Codes” (in connection with my comics-picture-books essay).

op de Beeck, Suspended Animation1:10 – 3:50 pm.  Finished rereading Moebius, and wove him into the essay.  Also did other editing, re-read some of op de Beeck’s Suspended Animation (which I highly recommend), and developed a new paragraph around her “mode of production” definition (for the picture book).  Re-read Charles Hatfield’s “Defining Comics in the Classroom; or, The Pros and Cons of Unfixability” (in Tabachnick’s Teaching the Graphic Novel), and Perry Nodelman’s brilliant close-reading of John Burningham’s Mr. Gumpy’s Outing in “Decoding the images: How picture books work” (Understanding Children’s Literature, edited by Peter Hunt).

3:50 – 4:05 pm.  Email, including response to Eric, who still awaits Barnaby info.,… thus preventing me from helping move this project forward.  Though I will continue to try to make a fall release possible, I suspect that the planned synergy between the Johnson-Krauss bio. and Barnaby Vol. 1 will not occur.  And that’s a HUGE lost opportunity.

4:05 – 4:15 pm.  Email, and conferred with Karin re: picking her up and heading to bank (which is actually a credit union).

4:15 – 4:25 pm.  Guitar break.  Abandoned “Dancing in the Dark” (Springsteen, not Astaire) after a few bars because of the B-major barre chord (bothers left hand, which is slow in its recovery).  Played “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” (written by Nick Lowe, first performed by Brinsley Schwarz, made famous by Elvis Costello) and “Love Train” (the O’Jays).

4:25 – 4:50 pm.  Picked up Karin, went to bank (credit union), returned home.  Most of that time was spent waiting at the credit union.

4:50 – 5:10 pm.  Brought in mail, read email, wrote email to Jeff Smith’s assistant.  Had expected to receive images by now; had hoped to be able to submit them (and thus the entire Moby Dick / Bone article, co-written with my friend Jennifer Hughes) this week.  It’s all done,… save for those.  And the journal’s website wants me to submit everything at the same time.

5:10 – 5:30 pm.  Started adding literary works cited to works cited of comics-and-picture-books essay.  Have I listed the title?  In case not, the current title is “Same Genus, Different Species?: Comics and Picture Books.”

5:30 – 6:30 pm. Miscellaneous stuff, including printing out codicil & bringing it over (along with a CD I’m loaning Jerry) to Deborah Murray & Jerry Dees, so that they can witness my signing it and affix their signatures, too.  Wrote family to inform them of this legal change — which, as noted above, only takes effect if Karin predeceases me or if, say, a plane we are both on goes down over the Atlantic.  (Yes, I think about these things. Oh, I’m a barrel of laughs in an airplane, let me tell ya.)

6:30 – 7:50 pm.  Read Going Bovine to Karin during dinner prep.  During dinner, we watched the Stephen Colbert portion of a recent Jimmy Fallon program, and then talked about work, and looked at who is playing at Nashville’s Ryman auditorium (’cause Karin’s on their mailing list).

7:50 – 8:00 pm.  Professional correspondence — which, as I’ve noted on earlier days, is always partly personal (because most of my professional correspondents are also friends!).

8:00 – 9:45 pm.  Finished that bibliography for the comics-and-picture-books essay.  Tedious!  Answered an email or two.

9:45 – 10:25 pm.  Checked into Facebook, & read interesting things.  I should have made plans to attend Hillary Chute’s comics extravaganza in Chicago this weekend.  The roster of participants is truly stunning: Barry, Bechdel, Brunetti, Burns, Clowes, Crumb, Gloeckner, Kachor, Sacco, Seth, Spiegelman, Ware. And that’s not even a full list. Incredible.  The whole thing will be streaming on the conference website, starting tomorrow.  Gonna tune in, catch some of it, at least.  Also, enjoyed Robert Krulwich’s post on Richard Feynman, which includes this embedded video.

Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures10:25 – 11:05 pm. Added section headers to the comics-and-picture-books essay.  Revised, edited.  Re-read portions of Perry Nodelman’s Words About Pictures — Chapter 7, especially.

11:05 – 11:20 pm.  Discussed travel plans with Karin.

11:20 – 12:00 pm.  Worked more on comics-and-picture-books essay.  Maybe it’s done now?  It’s certainly better than it was last night at this time.

Total work time: 8 hours, 45 minutes.

For the song of the day, how about Pizzicato 5’s “Sweet Thursday”?  This appears to be a fan-made video, below.

What does the term “glutton for punishment” mean? I’m glad you ask. In your case, it would mean reading more blog posts on this same theme.

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Wednesday

Starting on Saturday, I began blogging a summer-work-week in the life of an academic — specifically, me.  We are now up to day 5.  The goal is simply to show — in as much detail as I can — precisely what I do in the summer. Indeed, if all academics who have a blogs did this, perhaps we could put to rest once and for all the myth that professors “have the summers off.”  Well, it’s a nice thought, anyway.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

12:00 – 12:44 am.  Posted yesterday’s chronicle, and then realized that I’d failed to include a song.  Added the song.  Shared the post via Facebook & Twitter.  Composed the above.  Watched the first five minutes of Isao Hashimoto’s Time Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion since 1945.

Educational, elegant, and alarming.

12:45 – 1:45 am.  Prepared for bed, read another chapter of Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?  Why can’t I seem to get to bed before midnight?

1:45 – 8:00 am.  Ah, sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day’s life.  And so on.

8:00 – 8:25 am.  Got up, did jumping jacks, stretched, checked email and Facebook.  Answered one professional email.

8:25 – 9:10 am.  Ran 4 miles & at playground en route did chin-ups (still only one set, due to hand) and upside-down push-ups.  (See Saturday for explanation of upside-down push-ups).

9:10 – 9:30 am.  Read email, checked into and responded to Facebook.  Read “Revenge of the Liberal Arts Major” — good news for English and other Humanities grads.  Hat tip to Libby Gruner.  And thanks to Gwen Tarbox, read publisher Weldon Owen‘s amusing (but also mostly accurate) chart, “How a Book Is Born.”

Weldon Owen, How an Idea Becomes a Book

(Click for slightly larger image.)

9:30 – 9:45 am. Email: professional correspondence.

9:45 – 10:15 am.  Post-running exercises.  Abdominals and modified push-ups (due to wonky left hand, done on fists instead of on palms or on weights).  Also answered one professional email.

10:15 – 10:45 am.  Breakfast!  Also business phone calls.

10:45 – 10:50 am.  Aggle Flaggle Klabble!  Watched brief video clips of my 13-month-old niece, Emily.  My sister just sent ’em!  ♥!  Which reminds me: dear readers, watch for a new installment of Emily’s Library in the next week or so.

10:50 – 11:00 am.  Made doctor’s appt for a physical on Monday, at which time I will also inquire further about left hand (I did get it checked out after the accident, but it’s recovering more slowly than I’d like).  The 10-minutes’ time here, incidentally, reflects the need to coordinate my schedule with Karin’s (since we share a car).  I would bike to the appt., but the left hand still isn’t up for biking.

11:00 – 11:50 am.  Shower, shave, dress.  Also answered one business email, and wrote two more (both re: Complete Barnaby).  So, let’s say 25 minutes to ablutions and the other 25 to work.

11:50 am – 12:35 pm. Back to the comics/picture books essay!  Edited & revised what I did last night, added some new examples.  Oh, and a little more business email.

12:35 – 1:25 pm.  “Lunch break!  Lunch break!” (as Lucy says in A Charlie Brown Christmas, when Snoopy arrives with his supper dish).  Also finished Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?  It is, as her mother says near the end, “a metabook.”  It’s as much about Fun Home as it is about her mother.  It’s more interior than Fun Home, which (for me) in part accounts for the many references to Virginia Woolf.  While Fun Home will continue to be taught in undergraduate and graduate classes, Are You My Mother? will more likely appear in the graduate seminar, as a companion piece to Fun Home.

1:25 – 1:40 pm.  Some business correspondence.  Also, Jules Walker Danielson sent me a link to this Rolling Stone snippet, which includes the following video.  At 1:42, you will hear rapper El-P say, “Rest in peace, MCA.  Rest in peace, Maurice Sendak.”

How many children’s authors get name-checked in popular songs?  There are several examples in which Dr. Seuss makes an appearance (R.E.M.’s “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight,” O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples,” to name two).  A moment like this suggests the degree to which Maurice Sendak is embedded in our cultural consciousness.  His passing is a major event, acknowledge not just by fans and friends, but people from many walks of life.  I think, too, that, taken together, these many tributes tell us what Sendak signifies in the popular imagination.  (See my page of artists’ tributes, the New York Times‘ collection of artists’ tributes, The Comics Journal‘s page, and then the links at the bottom of this page.)  I should write about this.  We children’s literature people need to organize a panel on Sendak for the 2014 MLA (the 2013 MLA is already set).  Someone needs to edit a collection of essays on him.  Me.  Or if someone else is already doing this, then I need to contribute to it.

1:40 – 2:24 pm.  My mind is on Maurice. Kristy (from The Comics Journal) has just sent me the marked-up version of my Comics Journal essay (I adapted and abridged it for my TCJ obituary.)  I’d asked to revise the piece in light of his passing.  Since I am thinking about him, I decide to do this now.  Such a genius, such a loss. In his honor, I’m listening to Mozart’s Wind Serenades (K.375 & K.388) as I revise.  During this process, was interrupted by two different telemarketers.  Are their charitable organizations that respect donors’ rights to privacy?  If so, I’d be interested in learning who they are.

2:20 – 2:24 pm. Updated Sunday’s blog post with small parenthetical & responded to my sister’s comment on same.

2:24 – 3:24 pm.  Revised TCJ Sendak piece.  Listened to Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet K.581 (“Stadler”), Quartet K.378, and Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Viola K.498 (“Kegelstatt”).  Sent it back to Kristy at TCJ.  I think we can now call it done, at last!

3:24 – 4:30 pm.  Back to the comics/picture books piece, starting with a brief analysis of the Krauss-Sendak collaboration I’ll Be You and You Be Me, and then on to Will Eisner! Chris Ware! Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich! Crockett Johnson!

4:30 – 4:35 pm.  Watched the (brief) video of Emily aggle-flaggle-klabble-ing several times. Karin thinks Emily’s glottal sounds reflect a German influence. This seems possible, though I haven’t listened to enough non-German babies babbling to either verify or refute that hypothesis.

Lane Smith, It's a Book4:35 – 5:00 pm.  More work on the comics/picture books piece. Ian Falconer! Lane Smith! Wanda Gág! Leo Lionni! I’m quite pleased with how this piece is turning out, if I do say so myself.  Also: this is the kind of intellectual labor that I find particularly rewarding. I can (and always will) do administrative tasks, but the thinking part is most interesting.

5:00 – 5:15 pm.  Responded to a few comments on the blog.  As all of these conversations were academic in nature, I’m counting this towards the day’s total “work time.”  I note also that I’ve had a tendency to underreport work time because I often forget that the fun parts of my day (such as conversation with a colleague) include work & work-related matters, too.

5:15 – 5:35 pm. Guitar break!  Left hand is improving — able to do those E-string major barre chords a bit better today.  Played: Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love” (and, yes, I know it’s only Wednesday), the Brecht-Weill composition “Mack the Knife” (lyrics translated by Marc Blitzstein, made popular by Bobby Darin), the Ventures’ “Walk — Don’t Run,” the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care,” and the biggest hit of the 1890s — “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Made for Two).”  Incidentally, if you’ve never heard Blur’s cover of that song, check it out.  My own version oscillates between traditional and a slightly more football-hooligan-esque (i.e., Blur-like) rendition of the chorus.

5:35 – 6:35 pm. Iced my left hand (something I also did yesterday after the guitar-playing, just for good measure), and paced around the house, thinking: if one were to edit a collection of essays on Maurice Sendak, who should be in it?  Came up with a tentative list of names, plus several ideas for a co-editor.  Also would include extracts from my interviews, perhaps at the back.  Had idea for second book on Sendak, which would go into UP Mississippi’s Conversations with… series, and thought about which interviews should be included in such a series.  Also, it’s always worth remembering that I have far more ideas than I’ll ever be able to act upon.  So, I need to be judicious in choosing my projects.  Currently, I only have one book (well, series) under contract — The Complete Barnaby.  In sum, I would like to do this, and I will make enquiries.  However, the most important thing is that someone should do this.  It doesn’t have to be me.  But it should be done.

6:35 – 7:15 pm.  Checked into Facebook. Among other things, read Michael Patrick Hearn on Maurice Sendak at Monica Edinger’s blog (Educating Alice) & added the link (to bottom of this page). Wrote Jules back (re: the name-check of Maurice Sendak by El-P, above).

7:15 – 8:25 pm.  Read Going Bovine to Karin, watched the only Daily Show we’d yet to see from last week, watched a bit of Rachel Maddow.

8:25 – 10:15 pm.  More on the comics-and-picture-books essay.  Am I nearly done with this revision?  I might be.

The Carrot Seed10:15 – 11:00 pm.  Wrote back to Jules Danielson (again, check her excellent Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the best blog about picture books).  Oh, speaking of good children’s lit blogs, I was delighted to see The Carrot Seed make Betsy Bird’s poll of the top 100 children’s picture books.  Sure, it should be higher than 100.  But at least it’s there!  She calls it “picture book haiku.  Not a word out of place.”  Also started to compile list of essential Sendak-books-that-I-don’t-already-own-copies-of.  And, yeah, ordered a few — all out of print — via AbeBooks.com.  At present, I own around 35 to 40 of the over 100 books he illustrated.  I don’t need them all, but it seems to me that a children’s literature scholar can never have too much Sendak!

11:00 – 11:40 pm. Back to comics-picture-books essay, briefly.  Then wrote back to Michael Patrick Hearn, whose tribute to Maurice Sendak you really must read.  Then back again to the essay.  I think it might now be done.  I’m not sure.  I want to re-read parts of Nathalie op de Beeck’s book, which I’ve left in my campus office.  I also need to compile a list of all the literary works to which I refer.  And re-read Moebius’s classic essay, which informs what I’ve written but is not specifically cited anywhere — same is true of Nodelman’s Words About Pictures.  It’s an influence, but might be acknowledged.

11:40 pm – 12:00 am.  Set up tomorrow’s post. Put some books away (books I’d been writing about). Washed dishes.  Started dishwasher.

Total work time: 9 hours, 30 minutes.

Right!  Time to conclude with a little music. From Disney’s Enchanted, here’s Amy Adams introducing (and then performing) “Happy Working Song.”  Dancing rats and cockroaches!  What’s not to like?

What, you say?  Even after reading this, there’s still not enough tedium in your day?  Well. I can help you there:

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Tuesday

It’s hard to imagine that this is even slightly interesting to read, but it does (at least) make visible the work that academics do in the summer.  Or this academic, at least.  If you’re just tuning in today, I should say that this week — and this week only — I’m keeping track of what I do during the summer.  And, if I may be frank (instead of Phil?), I’m glad it’s only for a week.  Although I think it a useful experiment to undertake, I dislike living in the panopticon.  I will not be doing this again.  Anyway.  Here’s what I did today.

12:00 – 12:30 am.  Posted yesterday’s chronicle of mundanity, responded to a few comments on Sunday’s post, wrote the above and began constructing this post.

12:30 – 1:30 am.  Did dishes, prepared for bed, read another chapter of Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?

7:45 – 8:05 am.  Breakfast.  Read email, checked into Facebook.

Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac: blog logo8:05 – 8:15 am.  Checked Twitter.  Read this and this.  Regarding the latter: Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac does a great public service, educating readers about children’s literature.  Regarding the former: efforts to censor & ban literature for children interests me.  In the case of Tintin in the Congo (the earlier link), the movement to censure derives from (what I read as) a progressive impulse.   The book does traffic in racial stereotypes.  It’s not a book I would give to a child.  Yet, nor would I be willing to ban it.  (I wrote a blog post on this subject a couple of years ago.)

8:15 – 9:20 am.  Finished a Routledge report that I started last night, and sent it in to Routledge.  And started on another Routledge report.

9:20 – 9:50 am.  Hat tip to Lori Sabian (via Facebook), which led me to this orchestra flash mob, playing Peer Gynt on the Copenhagen metro.

Things like this make me glad to be alive, glad that there are such people in the world.

In addition to checking into Facebook, also wrote one professional email, and listened to a very long automated speech to try to fix my Working Assets credit card: the new card’s three-digit security code doesn’t work on the USPS website, and so I’ve been unable to use the card.  (I haven’t tried it on other sites.)  Also burned a few CD mixes for friends.

9:50 – 10:00 am.  Prepared for a jog out to the car.  (It’s on campus, and Karin and I share a car.  Ordinarily, I would bike to the gym, but left hand still a bit wonky.  Bleah.)

10:00 – 11:10 am. Jogged to car, drove to gym, worked out at gym, drove back.  Really prefer cycling to gym.  It seems silly to drive somewhere for exercise.  Makes much more sense to bicycle there for exercise.

11:15 – 11:30 am.  Drank water.  Read some email.  Professional correspondence re: Oslo conference.  Nothing yet from Eric re: Barnaby.  Expecting a list of still-missing strips today.

11:30 am – 12:00 pm.  Shower, shave, dress.  Burned more mixes.

12:00 – 12:10 pm.  Read piece on Sendak from New York Magazine.  George (agent) sent it to me.  Wrote back to him.

12:10 – 12:30 pm.  Walked down to the Credit Union (money), and then on to Bluestem to meet friend & colleague Dan Hoyt for lunch.

Bluestem Bistro12:30 – 2:10 pm.  Lunch with Dan Hoyt.  Now, this is something that never (or almost never) happens during the school year.  Lunch out with a friend!  Highly unusual.  I work with a lot of great people, but we’re all usually too busy to spend much time with each other.  So, to all who wish to criticize academics for “goofing off” during the summer, feel free to use this long lunch as evidence.

2:10 – 2:30 pm.  Walked back home, read a few emails en route, and then wrote the preceding.

2:30 – 3:45 pm.  Reviewing for Routledge.  Also answered professional emails, including one re: recent scholarship on children’s lit and politics.

3:45 – 4:00 pm.  Guitar break.  Still have difficulty with E-string major barre chords, but left hand is recovering.  Played “Pretty in Pink,” “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” “You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams.”  In case you don’t know that last one, here is Fats Waller’s rendition: You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams.  It’s one of my favorite songs, hence its inclusion on this jaunty mix from a month or so back.

4:00 – 5:35 pm.  Routledge, continued. Finished review of prospectus & chapters.  Also sent email to Eric re: Barnaby, and received reply with promise of that required info. would be forthcoming.

5:35 – 6:55 pm.  To Claflin Books to pick up some books I’d ordered.  (Whenever possible, I’m trying to buy from local bookshops, rather than Amazon.)  Other errands.  Also picked up Karin from campus.

6:55 – 7:05 pm.  Facebook.

7:05 – 8:20 pm.  During dinner prep, read more of Going Bovine to Karin.  Then, dinner with a Daily Show (from last week, & one that we hadn’t seen).  Washed dishes.

8:20 – 8:30 pm. Read email, wrote one (professional), and added New York Magazine piece on Sendak to links (at bottom of my tribute page).

8:30 – 8:50 pm. Printed some labels for & burned a few mixes. Will send these out tomorrow.

8:50 – 11:20 pm.  There’s more Routledge stuff to do, but I’m turning to something that I really want to complete this week.  Revising, expanding, restructuring an essay that theorizes the difference between comics and picture books.  It’s me at my most formalist, and it’s a question I’m very much invested in.  I’m doing a lot of restructuring, both within paragraphs (the version I gave at MLA had a more deductive structure, and the argument is clearer if I give it an inductive structure) and in the larger body of the piece (changing the order of paragraphs).  I’m also bringing in examples. For the conference-paper version, I simply showed the images up on the screen.  For this printed version, I will not be able to rely upon images. (If I can summon the energy to do so, I may seek rights for a few, but… certainly nowhere near as many as I used in the talk.)

11:20 pm – 12:00 am.  Checked into Facebook, and read Jon Scalzi’s excellent “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.”  It uses video games as a metaphor to explain privilege, and it does so brilliantly.  Hat tips to Jonathan Beecher Field and Laine Nooney.  At this point, I think we should also add that Paul Karasik’s Master Class in Comics Narrative looks fantastic.  Thanks to Bridgid Shannon, watched this recent piece, in which Maurice Sendak talks about Melville, Blake, comics, “the strangeness of childhood,” and why his favorite books (of his own) are all considered “inappropriate.”

Total work time: 7 hours, 25 minutes.

And… concluding with a song.  Was hoping for the Pogues’ “Tuesday Morning,” but couldn’t find a YouTube video I liked.  So, we’ll go with the classic Dropkick Murphys number, “Workers’ Song.”

If you found a day’s work in (my) academic life to be of little interest, then it’s hard to believe that you’d want to read any of these posts:

 

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Monday

The week’s ongoing experiment in trying my readers’ (or “reader’s,” singular?) patience continues.  In a (possibly misguided) attempt to make academic labor visible, I’m documenting how I spend my days during this first week of summer, when academics are allegedly “on vacation.”  Here is day 3.

Monday, 14 May 2012.

12:00 – 1:55 am.  Caught and fixed a few typos in yesterday’s post.  Responded to some Facebook stuff.  Also responded to kind note from comics scholar extraordinaire, Prof. Charles Hatfield.  Whenever I have questions about comics, I always turn to Charles.  Washed some dishes, put others in dishwasher.  Prepared for bed, read another chapter of Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?

1:55 – 8:00 am.  Sleep.

8:00 – 8:31 am.  Rose, 50 jumping jacks, stretched.  Posted link to yesterday’s post on Twitter.  Checked into Facebook as well.

8:31 – 9:15 am.  Ran 4 miles.  In playground en route, included both upside-down push-ups (see Saturday for explanation) and chin-ups, without further injuring left hand.

9:15- 9:20 am.  Turned on sprinkler to encourage new grass.  Also removed some brush/weeds that I’d been meaning to remove.

9:20 – 9:50 am.  Inside.  Drank water.  Checked Twitter.  Gary Groth has posted an excerpt from his forthcoming (in The Comics Journal) interview with Maurice Sendak.  Must read this after finishing exercises.  His description of Maurice as “gregariously grumpy” is exactly right.  Wrote two professional emails, and one personal one (to my sister).

9:50 – 10:20 am.  Post-running exercises. Did abdominals, as per usual.  For the first time since injuring my left hand, experimented with push-ups.  The only way I can do them is to make a fist, and use my fists to hold me up — but the fists aren’t quite as resilient a structure as flat hands or hands holding onto weights. I could not do the usual number: muscles capable, but left hand starts to spasm (& so I stop).  Disappointing, but at least I’m doing these again.

10:20 – 10:50 am.  Breakfast!  Also responded to some people on Twitter.  Took a second look at the NYT‘s collection of artists’ tributes to Maurice Sendak.  Art Spiegelman, Tomi Ungerer, Marc Rosenthal, Bob Staake, others.  Here’s Spiegelman’s.  (Click for a larger image.)

Art Spiegelman's tribute to Maurice Sendak (May 2012)

And check out the others artists’ work on the Times‘ page, too.  Have added this and Michael Rosen’s tribute (hat tip to Susan Marie Swanson on Twitter) to collection of links at bottom of my tribute.

10:50 – 11:30 am.  More business correspondence, including following up with Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics.  Having received updated meeting notes from Lori Cohoon, I also updated the Children’s Literature Association MLA liaison’s report & sent the new version into Kathy at ChLA.

11:30 – 11:35 am. Wrote back to my cousin, Caro.

11:35 – 11:50 am. More  business correspondence, including note to Jeff Smith’s assistant at Cartoon Books.  So great we’ll be able to use (in our article on Moby-Dick and Bone) pristine images from the artist himself.  Thanks, Kathleen!

11:50 am – 12:20 pm.  Shower (& shave & dress) at last!  (The problem of checking email before finishing exercises means that I also end up answering it before showering.)  Listening to Fake Natives’ Fake Natives.  Local band influenced by late 1970s / early 1980s new wave.  Good stuff.  Check out title track and “West Is Best” for starters.  After seeing them last Friday, I promised the lead singer that I’d send him a mix of Robyn Hitchcock — I think he’d like Hitchcock.  Need to do that.

12:20 – 12:40 pm. Business correspondence: good response from Eric at Fantagraphics. I’m finding out ways I can pitch in to help move The Complete Barnaby Vol. 1 more swiftly to press.

Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book (1962)12:40 – 1:20 pm. Lunch!  Also read another chapter of Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?… which extended my lunch for another 10 minutes or so.  I think the chapter “Mind” is where this book is really coming together for me — and not just because it makes extended use of the plexiglass dome in Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book (!).  One of my tasks for this summer (I would like to say “for this week,” but let’s be realistic, shall we?) is posting a sampling of my Seuss students’ “Sighting Seuss” projects.  Really interesting work.

1:20 – 2:00 pm.  Barnaby-related correspondence.  Also, revised that ChLA-MLA liaison report yet again.  Oy.

2:00 – 2:30 pm.  Personal-professional correspondence.  Well, in truth, this one is more personal.  But Jules Walker Danielson (who runs the BEST picture book blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) is one of my children’s lit buddies.  And music buddies!  Speaking of, during this time period, also burned that Robyn Hitchcock mix for Dan (lead singer of Fake Natives).  Gotta burn Jules a mix, too.

2:30 – 2:35 pm.  Prepared to leave for campus to attend meeting.

2:35 – 2:50 pm.  Walked to campus.  Wish my left hand had recovered enough to work the bicycle’s brakes.

2:50 – 4:30 pm.  Arrived 10 minutes early so that I could get a seat.  Meeting: “Special Session of the Faculty Senate: Faculty and Unclassified Salaries. How Do We Align Salaries with 2025?”  Room was packed.  Excellent turn-out from faculty and staff.  At Kansas State University, we receive no cost-of-living raises, and only get merit raises when there’s money (last one was 5 years ago).  In January, we did get an across-the-board 2.5% raise — which President Schulz described as a de facto “cost-of-living raise.”  But that’s a one-time event.  In sum, the meeting was to address the long-term salary compression problems faced by those who work for the university — a side effect of the nationwide movement to privatize erstwhile public higher education.  (Kansas State University receives 23%-24% of its budget from the state.  The legislature and governor prefer an indirect tax on the students — in the form of tuition increases — to keep the university going.  Kansas favors tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy, and increasing the costs that everyone else has to pay.)  The meeting was worth attending, and our President is an effective administrator and communicator.  However, whether anything will come of this discussion remains to be seen.

4:30 – 4:45 pm.  Walked home.

4:45 – 5:30 pm.  Wrote the preceding, undertook more business correspondence (including Barnaby/Fantagraphics and invited talk in Missouri next spring), & sent off FINAL version of that liaison report.

5:30 – 5:50 pm.  Personal correspondence.  Quick note back to Jules Danielson, & note to my mother.

5:50 – 6:50 pm.  Routledge editorial work.  I have been meaning to get to this all day.  I became editor of Routledge’s Children’s Literature and Culture series last June, which is proving to be more time-consuming than I’d anticipated.  I think I was last caught up on these in… March.

6:50 – 7:15 pm. Read Going Bovine to Karin during dinner preparation.

7:15 – 8:25 pm.  Watched last night’s Mad Men: “Dark Shadows.”  Also read this and this.  I love learning about the research that Matthew Weiner & co. build into the episodes.  The New York Times piece that upsets Pete was a real article.  Oh, and if you enjoy the “Inside Mad Men” pieces, here’s the one for that episode (with, yes, spoilers).

8:25 – 8:35 pm.  Professional correspondence — which, like all such correspondence, is partially personal.

8:35 – 9:00 pm.  More Routledge work. Also snuck in a tiny bit of professional correspondence.

9:00 – 9:10 pm.  Added this Mo Willems piece to my Sendak links (at the bottom of this page).  Hat tip to Jules Danielson.  Also added this reminiscence from Alec Baldwin.

9:05 – 11:05 pm.  Routledge work, which is: reading sample chapters, proposals, & writing responses to same.

'Marche des Snobs,' sheet music cover (1924). 13 3/4x10 1/2 inches, 35x26 3/4 cm. J. Buyst, Brussels11:05 – 11:45 pm.  Checked into Facebook, read Libby Gruner’s Sendak tribute, which I’ve added to my Sendak links (bottom of this page).  I think it will take all of us children’s literature people quite a while to work through the loss. It’s so huge, so vast.  Immeasurable, really.  Also looked at these beautiful sheet music covers by René Magritte from the 1920s (HT to Bill Genereux).  Magritte is one of my favorite artists.  Never seen these before.

11:45 pm – 12:00 am.  More business correspondence, all Barnaby-related.  Some connected to volume 1, and some connected to volume 3.  (It’s a 5-volume series, & the goal is to publish 1 per year.)

Total work time: 7 hours, 45 min.  Main problem today was all of that email.  I predict a decline in email volume tomorrow, during which I will get up to date on Routledge stuff, and get cracking on this piece theorizing comics and picture books — needs to be restructured, developed, etc.

Concluding with a song.  Predictably, it’s New Order’s “Blue Monday” (1983).

If you found this tour through the mundane to be alarmingly bland, then I suspect you’ll want to avoid:

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Sunday

Continuing what I started yesterday, I’m continuing this week’s chronicle of what a professor does in the summer. As noted, it’s an attempt to make visible the work that academics do when most people think we’re on holiday. So. If you found yesterday’s post dull and yet slogged through it anyway, then you’re in luck: today’s post will continue to be disappointingly mundane.

Sunday, 13 May 2012.

12:00 – 1:15 am. Tooled around a bit more on that mix, started dishwasher, washed dishes-that-don’t-go-in-dishwasher, checked in on Facebook, prepared for bed.  Read another chapter of Fun Home.

8:00 – 9:30 am.  Watched CBS Sunday Morning, in anticipation of seeing a tribute to Maurice Sendak.  The show did a brief piece on three people who died this week: Nicholas Katzenbach, Sendak, and Vidal Sassoon. Too brief, but they got Sendak right, noting that he didn’t uphold the romantic ideal of childhood.  I checked into Facebook & Twitter. I read Maria Nikolajeva’s family chronicle (part 1, part 2, part 3). I think these chronicles have a particular interest for me because my own family is diasporic: my immediate family lives in New England, Mexico, and Switzerland; extended family (cousins, aunts & uncles) in South Africa (mostly), England, California, and Australia (though, to be honest, I’ve long since fallen out of touch with the cousin in Australia). Richard Thompson, The Mighty AliceI read pieces on Maurice Sendak by Steven Heller and Shirley Hughes, and updated my links of Sendak tributes (at the bottom of my own reminiscence).  Read Anita Silvey’s piece on Kevin Henkes’ Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse. So glad she does this blog.  For Mother’s Day, posted (on my blog) a clip of Bruce Springsteen dancing with his 90-year-old mother (planned weeks ago, when I found the clip). Speaking of Mother’s Day, today’s Cul de Sac (a repeat from 2008) is great, as always. On list of books I need to get: The Mighty Alice, the latest Cul de Sac collection.

9:30 – 9:40 am. Read Sunday comics.

9:40 – 9:50 am.  Answered email (academic).  Found notes Lissa and I made (back in January) for our Oslo Keywords talk.

9:50 – 10:50 am. Actually wrote up and turned in my ChLA-MLA liaison report, thanks to Lori Cohoon’s meeting notes.  (Thanks, Lori!  And thanks to Jennifer Miskec, who sent them to me.)  Also, more email.  And spent a few minutes fiddling with that mix I mentioned last night.  And made plans to talk to Lissa re: Oslo Keywords talk this afternoon.  So, mostly but not entirely work during this period.

10:50 am – 12:00 pm.  Finished mix, burned it, made label. In the shower, I came up with a promotional idea for the bio of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  Have proposed this idea to press; we’ll see what they say.

12:00 – 12:30 pm. Wrote personal emails. Added another Sendak link to my reminiscence (at bottom of page).

12:30 – 1:35 pm. Lunch. Also caught up on the last 2 weeks’ worth of daily comics. The Kansas City Star runs 2 pages of comics, but I sometimes fall behind.  Usually, I catch up on the weekend, but last weekend was too busy, evidently.

1:35 – 2:05 pm. Nap.

Keywords for Children's Literature2:05 – 2:30 pm.  Spoke with Lissa Paul re: our Oslo Keywords talk, and friendly conversation, too.  My work conversations tend also to be conversations with friends — which makes it hard to separate work from non-work.

2:30 – 2:55 pm.  Wrote up description of our Oslo talk, and sent it to Lissa for review. Also responded to my sister re: visiting her (& Michel & my niece, Emily!) prior to that talk. I booked my ticket for a day later than she’d advised me to. (To arrive in Zurich on a Friday, one would need to lave Kansas on a Thursday. D’oh!) I seem highly accident-prone in booking international travel. I once arrived a day late to a conference in Japan because I forgot to factor in the fact that I would be crossing the International Date Line.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (Penguin edition)2:55 – 3:15 pm.  Spoke/typed via gmail chat with Jennifer Hughes. This was mostly friendly conversation, though we did talk a little bit about our article on Moby-Dick and Jeff Smith’s Bone. We finished revisions last weekend (it was accepted with revisions by The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics), and have been waiting on permission from Jeff Smith.  That was granted (thanks, Jeff!), and now his assistant is preparing to send us the images we’re going to use — this will ensure that only the best quality images of his work appear in print.

3:15 – 6:00 pm.  Professional correspondence — though, here, too, these colleagues are also friends.  So, though it’s correspondence with more of a “business” purpose, it’s also friendly.  Also, in my capacity as ChLA-MLA liaison, sent in to the Children’s Lit Association’s Kathy Kiessling the ChLA MLA Call for Papers 2013, edition.  Reviewed copy-edited book review for South Atlantic Quarterly — it’s of Eric Tribunella’s Melancholia and Maturation, which is really good.  My review (which says that & more) will appear in SAR … well, I don’t know when.  Fall, perhaps?  Received Lissa’s comments on our description, and sent it off to Nina Christensen (one of the conference organizers).  I’ve never been to Norway before, and am looking forward to going.

6:00 – 6:50 pm.  Phone call to Mom.  Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!

6:50 – 7:00 pm.  Checked Facebook.

7:00 – 8:00 pm. With dinner, watched last week’s Mad Men: “Lady Lazarus.”  Also folded laundry and watched the extra “Inside Mad Men” bit (it comes with the iTunes subscription).

8:00 – 9:30 pm. Watched this week’s Sherlock: “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

9:30 – 10:45 pm.  Folded & put away laundry.  Finished weekly email to family that I started at around noon.  Called United to see if I could make my August flight a day earlier, in order fix my mistake.  I can.  Annoyed at myself for being an idiot (costs me a couple hundred bucks to make the change), but this is the better option — the trains I would have had to take instead would be comparably expensive.  Perhaps someday, I will learn how to use these travel websites.  (True, on that day, I could save myself further money by just hitching a ride on the nearest flying pig.)  Also read Tim Goodman’s analysis of the Mad Men “Lady Lazarus” episode.  And worked on this blog post.

10:45 – 11:25 pm.  Thinking about my graphic novel class in the fall, read Michael A. Chaney’s “Is There an African-American Graphic Novel?” in Stephen Tabachnick’s Teaching the Graphic Novel (2009). The only book I’ve read that might “qualify” is Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro (2008). Chaney mentions four books I need to read before ordering my books for the fall: Ho Che Anderson’s King; Aaron McGruder, Reginald Hudlin, and Kyle Baker’s Birth of a Nation; Lance Tooks’ Narcissa; and Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington’s Static Shock.  The books by McGruder and Tooks are out of print.  King is in print, but only in hardcover.  The descriptions, on-line, look excellent.  This article also led me to Christian Davenport’s discussion of black superheroes.

Looked at some other essays in Tabachnick’s book.  Also emailed Charles Hatfield (who, incidentally. wrote the opening essay in Teaching the Graphic Novel) re: the essay-length version of my contribution to his “Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books” panel.  It’s on the docket for this week.

11:25 – 11:40 pm.  Answered some queries re: the Children’s Literature Program.  People want to know whether we have a doctorate or an on-line version.  We do not have either.  Usually, I answer these queries within 24 hours, but — since all were asking for something we cannot provide — I’m a bit tardier than usual.  One query was from a few days ago, but another was from April 26.  What happens is emails to which I can offer a helpful reply get priority; other, less urgent ones, get buried in my in box.  This is not an excellent system, I admit.

11:45 – 12:00 pm.  Logged into Facebook, answered professional email via Facebook — friend putting me in touch with possible book-promotion event this fall.  Need to follow up again with Fantagraphics: Until I have a definite date on The Complete Barnaby Vol. 1, it’s too early to schedule anything.  Really hope that they manage to bring this book out by September (they’d originally said June, but delays in finding strips have slowed the project down).  If this book and the bio. can come out more or less at the same time, then there are potential cross-promotional opportunities.  If they don’t, then there aren’t.  Also checked Twitter.  Watched this lovely short (3-minute) animated film:

Believe it or not, it’s a student project.  Hat tip to Rebecca Coffindaffer on Facebook.

Total work time: 5 hrs, 40 min.  Not the most productive Sunday I’ve ever had, but I’m OK with that.  It’s been a busy term.

In conclusion, here’s today’s musical number: the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (1967, written by Carole King & Gerry Goffin):

If you found this exercise in educational exhibitionism to be unbearably tedious, then you’ll also want to miss:

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What Do Professors Do All Summer? Saturday Edition

For a week in February of 2011, I blogged exactly what I did each day — the goal being to show precisely how academics spend their time. Starting today, I’m beginning the summer edition of the same experiment. From today through Friday the 18th, I will publicly keep track of how I use my time as a Professor of English at Kansas State University… who is ostensibly on “summer vacation.”

My motive? Professors often hear, “How nice that you get summers off!” It is true that we do not teach in the summers — if we elect not to teach, and there are plenty who do teach.  One gets paid for teaching, and if you’ve received no raise in (for example) 5 years, then that’s a way to pick up “extra” money.  I elect not to teach, and instead continue the unpaid work of service and research.  I say “unpaid” because I do not receive a salary from the university in the summers. But I do other work.  And, since I gave my last final yesterday, today would be the first day of my summer.

Saturday, 12 May 2012.

Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother?12:00 – 12:45 am.  Preparing for bed.  In bed, started reading Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? (2012), which is great — and, incidentally, connected to my field (I teach and study children’s literature and comics/graphic novels).

12:45 – 8:00 am. Asleep. First time I’ve gotten over 7 hours of sleep since — well, since the previous weekend.  Night before, I only got 4 hours.  5, the night before that.

8:00 – 8:15 am.  Up, checking weather.  Light rain.  Run or not?  While dithering over that question, checked into Facebook.

8:15 – 8:30 am. 50 jumping jacks, pre-running stretches, dressed for running.

8:30 – 9:15 am.  Ran 4 miles (I’m not very fast), during which I also stopped at a playground for a set of what I call upside-down push-ups (keeping body in plank position, head facing up, do chin-ups on bar close to ground) and one set of chin-ups.  Especially pleased about the latter: it’s the first time I’ve been able to do them since injuring my left hand in a bicycling accident on the 1st of the month.  (I seemed to have pulled/bruised some muscles in the hand. It’s recovering, but slowly.)

9:15 – 9:30 am. Drank water, read email, wrote the preceding.

9:30 – 9:45 am.  Post-running exercises.  Restricted myself to abdominals. Since injuring left hand, have been avoiding the push-ups.  Think I might be able to manage them again, but am wary of exacerbating injury.  Decided to reintroduce them after Monday’s run.

9:45 – 10:00 am.  Breakfast!  Also read Gail Collins’ “The Anatomy of a Jokester” (found article via Facebook feed, HT to Toni Tadolini).  Though Mr. Romney changes his political positions with the shifting political winds, I think he may be telling the truth when he says he doesn’t remember bullying people in high school.  People on the receiving end of power remember acutely the injustices done to them; powerful people can more easily forget the injustices they inflict.  The bullied have longer memories than the bullies.

10:00 – 11:30 am.  Shower, shave, dress, recycling, lamp, talk.  To explain the last half of that, despite its population of over 50,000, Manhattan Kansas has neither municipal trash service nor recycling pick-up.  We (as do most residents) pay an independent company for trash pick-up, but take in the recycling ourselves.  “Lamp” = “took in lamp to be repaired,” and “talk” = “chatted with Karin, who had returned from graduation” (as Dept. Head, she is obliged to attend).

11:30 – 11:35 am.  Answered email (business).

11:35 am – 12:45 pm. I intended to finish grading my last finals yesterday (this final took place yesterday afternoon).  I did start grading them, but I instead got involved with other business (professional emails & my blog, mostly).  So, first task is to finish this last set of finals.

Libba Bray, Going Bovine12:45 – 1:40 pm. Brought in supplies (purchased by Karin), read to her from Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, which is just entering its “road trip” phase.  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this book, you should go and watch it.  With lunch, we caught up on the Colbert Report — Wednesday’s episode.

1:40 – 2:40 pm. Lissa Paul and I are invited speakers at a children’s literature conference in Oslo, late August.  I’ve been meaning to buy my plane tickets (for which the conference will reimburse me) since… February.  Assisted by Karin, I’ve got the tickets, which also includes a visit (prior to the talk) to my 1-year-old niece and her parents (in Basel, Switzerland).  Always a challenge plotting travel from Manhattan Kansas to, well, to anywhere.  Also contacted conference organizer with my travel, and tried to see if Lissa and I had made notes for a description of our talk (it’s on Keywords for Children’s Literature, which she and I co-edited).

2:40 – 3:00 pm.  Checked into Facebook, read about Gov. Brownback’s plans to bankrupt the state, allowing him to further cut funds to public schools and social services. Also read this great piece on a company that makes toys based on children’s drawings (hat tip to Brian Herrera).  Couldn’t find notes for talk, so dropped Lissa a line re the talk description.  Emailed my sister re above-mentioned travel plans.

3:00 – 5:20 pm.  Resumption of grading.  Music: Buddy Rich Quintet & Max Roach Quintet’s Rich vs. Roach (1959).  Those drums keep me awake and focused!  Also listened to a “Different Rhythms” mix-in-progress of drum-based music.  And finished grading.

5:20 – 5:40 pm.  Calculated final grades, entered final grades, checked them, and then submitted them for this.  (Turned in grades for other two classes on Thursday.)  Also helped Karin cart in the groceries.  So, excepting the odd complaint, that’s it for the term!  I’m hoping there are no complaints, but — since the gradebook is electronic — students have been this week kvetching about their grades, sending me emails.  Perhaps that’s gotten it out of their systems.  I don’t know.

5:40 – 6:10 pm.  Re-read some of Maurice Sendak‘s books: Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water (1965), Alligators All Around (1962), What can you do with a shoe? (words by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, 1955), How Little Lori Visited Times Square (words by Amos Vogel, 1963).  Recently, I decided that I should, over time, collect the Sendak books I didn’t have.  A couple of months back, I picked up a used copy of Marcel Aymé’s The Wonderful Farm (1951, though my copy is a 1994 reprint): that’s the first book he illustrated for Ursula Nordstrom, who would be his editor for so many of his greatest works.

During this period of time, I also responded to a professional email.

6:10 – 7:10 pm.  Read Karin Going Bovine during dinner prep.  Watched a Daily Show with dinner.

The Avengers (2012): Poster7:10 – 10:10 pm.  To the movie theatre for… The Avengers!  A clever adaptation.  Joss Whedon‘s script supplies ample wit, and his direction brings the action.  SPOILER ALERT: I want to read the death of the fan (Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg) as a comment on the fans who’ve threatened to boycott The Avengers over Marvel and Stan Lee’s poor treatment of those who actually created the work.  You know: Kill the fans!  But I suspect I’m locating themes that Whedon didn’t weave into it.  The film was a great example of its genre.  I wouldn’t say that it fully overcame the limitations of the contemporary superhero film, but it did a fine job working within those confines.  Whedon understands the characters, their relationships, and gave Black Widow a real role in the film; she was an equal with the other Avengers.  Oh, and since I teach and write about comics, I could officially count this as “work”!  Ha!  Often, I think that the lack of a boundary between my professional life and personal life can be a problem.  In this instance, I’m actually quite delighted.

10:10 – 10:30 pm.  Wrote the preceding and watched the CBS Sunday Morning profile on Whedon.

10:30 – 11:15 pm. As liaison between the Children’s Literature Association and the Modern Language Association, I was asked to send in a report (to the former) this past Monday — the beginning of exam week, likely the busiest week of the term.  The other cause for my delay is that I no longer have time to execute my duties as well as I would like: I manage to get all essential stuff in on time (i.e., MLA deadlines are met), but I’m otherwise just too overwhelmed.  When I started in 2007, I could keep up.  Now, I find that impossible.  Unfortunately, my term as liaison doesn’t end until 2013.  BUT my larger point is: I worked on the report.  Tried and failed to locate my notes from the meeting; have contacted Executive Committee of MLA Children’s Lit Division, since they will have meeting notes.  I’ve asked if I can step down before 2013 (when my term ends), but I’ve been told that I cannot.

11:20 – 12:00 pm.  Wrote up some of the preceding (I’ve been keeping track all day).  Noodled around on a mix.  I make mixes for fun.  This one is a gift for a friend.  (Ain’t sayin’ who!)

Total work time: 6 hrs, 40 min.  I didn’t include The Avengers, but I did include ten minutes each time we read Going Bovine, and the re-reading of Sendak.  Thinking about and reading children’s literature (& culture) is my job.

For the previous “What Do Professors Do All Week?” experiment, I used a children’s book for each day of the week; this, time, I’ll include a song.  Here’s the Godfathers’ “Birth, School, Work, Death” (1986)

If you found this post tedious, then you certainly won’t enjoy:

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Research, Writing, and Getting a Life

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber EyesOne of the many pleasures of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (2010) is its evocation of the thrill of research. As he traces the history of his family’s netsuke (small Japanese ivory and wood carvings), de Waal describes great-great-great grandfather Charles Ephrussi’s art-collecting in nineteenth-century Paris as “‘vagabonding’ … done with real intensity”:

Vagabonding was his word. It sounds recreational rather than diligent or professional…. But it does get the pleasure of the searching right, the way you lose your sense of time when you are researching, are pulled on by whims as much as by intent. It makes me think of the rummaging that I am doing through his life as I track the netsuke, the noting of other people’s annotations in the margins. I vagabond in libraries, trace where he went and why. I follow the leads of whom he knew, whom he wrote about, whose pictures he bought. In Paris I go and stand outside his old offices in the rue Favart in the summer rain like some sad art-historical gumshoe and wait to see who comes out. (72-73)

That’s exactly right. Writing a biography — or, truly, intense research of any kind — is detective work. It’s extremely absorbing, getting a lead, following it to a new source, finding connections between lives and ideas. You are on a quest, and you must keep going until you finish!

New York Times Magazine, 15 April 2012But dedication to the quest also takes its toll. As Charles McGrath reports in today’s New York Times Magazine profile of master biographer Robert Caro, researching and writing the third volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson had taken so long that Caro and his wife went broke. She sold their Long Island home, found them a cheaper apartment in the Bronx, and got a teaching job to help pay the bills. The biographer — obsessive, driven, seeking every last detail — often depends upon a patient, supportive spouse. It’s no coincidence that my forthcoming biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature, is dedicated to Karin. Who else but one’s partner would put up with such fanatical devotion to a book?

This process recalls a line in a recent Times Higher Education piece on academics: “the idealised academic has no ties or responsibilities to limit their capacity to work.” This is equally true of the biographer. For both the professor and the biographer, there is no boundary between life and work. Your life is your work and your work is your life. Or, in the case of the biographer, your work is someone else’s life.

I’m not arguing that one’s work should be all-consuming, though I would note that Caro’s work on LBJ and Edmund de Waal’s absorbing family history are both excellent because each writer is so very thorough, obsessive, and meticulous — in both the research and the writing. McGrath notes that Caro and his editor Robert Gottlieb “argue about length, but they also argue about prose, even about punctuation.”  As Gottlieb says,

You know that insane old expression, “The quality of his defect is the defect of his quality,” or something like that? That’s really true of Bob [Caro]. What makes him such a genius of research and reliability is that everything is of exactly the same importance to him. The smallest thing is as consequential as the biggest. A semicolon matters as much as, I don’t know, whether Johnson was gay.

Beyond providing a helpful context for my own battles with Walter (my editor for the bio), this explains my own process to me. It’s not just about perfectionism. It’s about getting it right. And everything matters: Structure, word choice, punctuation, which detail gets retained and which one gets cut.

Caro had to cut 350,000 words from The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. He tells McGrath sadly, “There were things cut out of ‘The Power Broker’ that should not have been cut out,” and then shows him “his personal copy of the book, dog-eared and broken-backed, filled with underlining and corrections written in between the lines. Caro is a little like Balzac, who kept fussing over his books even after they were published.” It would be an understatement to say I can relate to that. Though I had to cut far fewer words from my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, there were things cut that should not have been cut. And I’ve seriously thought of marking up a published copy (due this September) to fix those omissions, or infelicitous changes in phrasing introduced during the copyediting (the copyeditor was unusually fond of passive voice). In looking at the proofs, I thought: Why did I allow the excision of Johnson’s favorite book, George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody?  My main reason was (and is) the fact that I can include it — and its satirical style’s influence on Johnson — in one of the afterwords for the 5-volume The Complete Barnaby. It’s hard to let this go, and I’m fortunate to have the luxury to hang on a bit longer. As de Waal writes near the end of his book, he has the feeling that he should “Just go home and leave these stories be. But leaving be is hard” (346).

Most of all, when reading Caro or de Waal, I think: my God, I wish I could write like them! I’m not in their league. Indeed, my league couldn’t find their league on a map. Describing the motorcade in Dallas on 22 November 1963, Caro writes,

Lyndon Johnson was far enough behind the Presidential limousine that the cheering for the Kennedys and the Connallys — for John Connally, some of it, for his onetime assistant, who had become his rival in Texas — was dying down by the time his car passed, and most of the faces in the crowd were still turned to follow the Presidential car as it drove away from them. So that, as Lyndon Johnson’s car made its slow way down the canyon, what lay ahead of him in that motorcade could, in a way, have been seen by someone observing his life as a foretaste of what might lie ahead if he remained Vice-President: five years of trailing behind another man, humiliated, almost ignored, and powerless.  The Vice-Presidency, “filled with trips . . . chauffeurs, men saluting, people clapping . . . in the end it is nothing,” as he later put it. (“The Transition,” The New Yorker, 2 Apr. 2012, 35-36)

Masterful.  I favor tighter sentences myself, but his epic style works well with his subject. We readers know that, in a few moments, President Kennedy will be assassinated; later that day, LBJ will become president. And Caro knows we know. So, he allows our knowledge to inform the scene, and instead focuses on creating Johnson’s (likely) experience at that moment — enduring the relative powerlessness of the Vice-Presidency.

De Waal writes lyrically and with great insight into what it means to be human. Early in the book, he observes, “Melancholy, I think, is a sort of default vagueness, a get-out clause, a smothering lack of focus. And this netsuke is a small, tough explosion of exactitude. It deserves this kind of exactitude in return” (16).  Later, he considers his great grandparents, in Vienna, in the early 19-teens.  The “more assimilated Jews [the great grandparents] worry about these newcomers,” he writes: “their speech and dress and customs are not aligned to the Bildung of the Viennese. There is anxiety that they will impede assimilation.” At the end of this paragraph, de Waal concludes, “Maybe, I think, this is anxiety from the recently arrived towards the very newly arrived.  They are still in transit” (188). Describing his grandmother’s decision to burn letters from her mother (in part, he suggests, because they may mention the great-grandmother’s lovers), de Waal confesses, “There is something about burning all of those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? … Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on. Losing things can sometimes gain a space in which to live” (347).

This is the big conundrum of the researcher. To throw out or to keep? I tend towards the latter. (If I throw it out, I might need it later.) But de Waal is right: being encumbered by research (books, articles, photocopies from archives, etc.) grants one little space to live. Further, the time required to sustain research affords little time to winnow out and throw out. It’s hard to manage your archives and move forward with the next project — to say nothing of grading, teaching, editing, committee work, or, say, having a life.

So we keep things. However, as Robin Bernstein observes in her Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (2011), things are bearers of stories.  And, as de Waal notes, “It is not just that things carry stories with them. Stories are a kind of thing, too” (349).

They are. And they’ve been on my mind because — for any of my readers who may be in or near Manhattan Kansas next week — I’m giving a talk on this very subject, at 4pm, Tuesday, April 24, in the K-Sate Student Union’s Little Theatre.  The title is “Collaborating with the FBI, Reading Other People’s Mail and Taking Children’s Literature Seriously: Tales from Writing the Biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.” Free and open to the public. My talk will run about half an hour. There’ll be lots of stories.

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The Pleasures of Displacement

planeI don’t enjoy flying, but I do like traveling. There is pleasure in being somewhere else, in experiencing a different city or country. All that is taken for granted in daily life cannot be taken for granted — and this is especially true when in another country, when the food, language, and culture differs in varying degrees from one’s own. Prior to dinner, the Swiss have apero, a kind of extended meal of hors d’ouvres. In a Japanese restaurant, shoes get left at near the doorway, and hands adjust to eating with chopsticks instead of a knife and fork.  But even in one’s own country, cities are not identical. Normal, Illinois (where I am flying from, as I write this) has three independent record stores on the same block, and a superlative used bookstore — with lots of children’s books — on the same block. And I ran along a trail I’ve never run along before.

When traveling, daily work does not vanish. The draft of the panel proposal must be edited and rewritten, via a series of email exchanges with a colleague at another university. The invited talk itself must be timed, polished, cut, honed, rehearsed.  Emails from students, colleagues, editors, and others require answers.

But all of this work happens out of context, in a different space — on a plane, in an airport, at the hotel lobby, in the back of the taxi, in the hotel room. Because it is happening in different locations, it acquires a slightly different flavor, even a greater sense of clarity.  This sharpness of perception may derive from the simple fact of being somewhere else: because they are unfamiliar, surroundings demand more attention, perhaps heightening attentiveness more generally. It may also derive from urgency: being a conference attendee or invited speaker creates a daily schedule that reorganizes time in ways that cannot always be anticipated.

I like that, though. And, since I’m almost always traveling for business, I enjoy the interchange of ideas — in the Q+A session of the talk, or the conversations over dinner, after the panel session, and so on.  During the past few days, talking with Jan Susina, his wife Jodie Slothower, their son Jacob, my former graduate student Elizabeth Williams (and other University of Illinois grad students, faculty, and families), I’ve learned about lots of books and articles I need to read: Theories of affect, collections of comics, young adult novels. Beyond that, there are ideas that lodge in my subconscious, emerging later, sometimes long after I’ve forgotten the source.  At some point, I’ll ask Jan to elaborate on the connections he sees between Paul Klee and Crockett Johnson.

Though academics work long hours (as I’ve documented elsewhere) for less compensation than we’d like, I feel privileged to have a job in which I get to learn, share what I’ve learned with other people, and learn from other people.

Combining these intellectual exchanges with the displacement of travel brings the experience of learning into focus, sustains a degree of clarity absent from my workaday life, prods me to keep moving forward into new areas.

And it’s especially nice when someone else picks up the cost! (I pay for most conference travel myself, but I’m coming back now from two invited talks, both of which were covered by the host institution.)  So, thanks to the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of English (especially Marah Gubar), and to Illinois State’s Department of English (especially Jan Susina and Roberta Trites), and to everyone who hosted, chatted, came to the talks or otherwise participated.  It’s been a great few days!  Until next time!

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