Friday, February 13, 2009

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

I sewed curtains and painted a picture of a goat instead of doing real work

Patricia Highsmith once said, "My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people."

Although I am inclined to agree, I have mixed feelings about self-sequestration.  It's not that I'm afraid of being a cliché (such as the antisocial jerk or the solipsist in the ivory tower).  I think the problem is that, left to my own devices, I tend to be imaginative, but unproductive.  At least not productive in tangible ways.  

For instance, I might sit for hours, just reading through old seminar papers (or even worse, my bachelor's thesis). I might read reviews of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's album, marveling at how famous my old Brooklyn friends are getting.  I might decide I need to watch all of the brotherhood2.0 videos, trying to understand the way fame happens gradually, memetically, and how it changes people.  I might walk around the shops of Poitiers, not buying anything, just listening in on French people's conversations.  I might follow Jefe around random galleries, helping him collect interesting flyers and free postcards.

I found this painting on a flyer in an architecture gallery
the woman looks uncannily like my mother

For me, productivity has always been unpredictable.  My dad once put it perfectly when he said, "for someone so ambitious, I find it interesting that when there's something you really don't want to do, you put all of your energy into finding ways not to do it."

I suppose this is a circuitous way of fessing up. 

I've found it difficult to be consistently productive since we moved to France.     Of course, I've really thrown myself into the teaching and the students, but in terms of "my work" (I gagged when I wrote that)...not so much.

It's been ages since I've even singly-authored one of these posts.  Sorry.

BUT, around the beginning of January, this sluggishness started weighing on me.  Maybe it's the timing (and I certainly wasn't the only one) but I suddenly had a burst of energy.  A big one. Basically, in the last two months, I've drafted two dissertation chapters, sketched out a journal article, outlined two conference proposals, created two new special topics courses, applied for two jobs, and written a fellowship application.  Oh, and started training for a 10k (March 22).

The question now is how to maintain my momentum.  Any suggestions?  What do you do to keep yourselves productive?  How do you keep from oscillating between frenzy and stupor?  Or is maintenance a myth?  I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this.


red said...

OMG! I know. You are painting pictures of goats. That makes you my hero.

rebecca said...

Thanks Red. Your name is Red, which officially makes you my hero (or heroine).

Trevor said...

I seem to haunted by the same unreliable inspiration and drive, whatever you want to call it. I believe much of it has to do with a combination of extraneous elements in our lives and cannot be predictably controlled any more than our daily mood swings or temporary culinary preferences. Like you I still seek to control whatever "creative energy" (dang kpfa) I may currently possess. Recently it seems taking small mental recesses (eating a grapefruit and watching clouds, inspecting unfamiliar plantlife, anything outside of "work") to gain perspective on the project as a whole have been helpful in maintaining both comprehensive organization and positive, focused ambition. Sometimes it's easy to get hung up on a particular nuance and before you know it your work has taken an unexpected and unintended detour to esoterica, often leaving you bewildered and frustrated... maybe this is just one of my own impediments? Treat your productivity tenderly, nurture it like a wounded kitten. If all else fails, riding bikes with Jefe always gets me excited.

rebecca said...

Thanks Trevor,
you are totally right to point out that taking a step away from work is sometimes the best strategy, and that stepping back is not always useless or procrastinative (did I just make that adjective up?). Knowing that someone creative and artistically-minded like you is prone to the same back-and-forth tendancies actually makes me feel better. I am going to try to keep your wounded kitten image in mind...