March 2, 2011 § 6 Comments
Welcome to another installment of “Let’s Talk Semantics”! Before we begin, a vignette!
Ah! I think to myself. Spring has come early. Too bad for me I’ll spend it in the library. Oh well.
“Excuse me!” a shrill voice interrupts my reverie as I dig through my bag for my sunglasses.
“Hm?” I look up and find a young woman, frazzled and frantic.
“D’you know where the deli is on campus?” Her question comes fast and impatient.
“Uhm…,” I say intelligently. “Ah, the best I know is that we have one on campus. And…I think it’s near some dormitories. Maybe…that direction?” I gesture randomly to the right.
“Okay,” she says, suddenly confident in my unclear directions. “So, it’s over there?”
“Oh, well, I don’t really know. I just think it’s in that direction…but I’m really not sure. Maybe you should ask someone else.” I reply, realizing that I’m about to send her out into the wild blue yonder.
“But it’s that way? If I go that way, I’ll find it?”
“Uh…I really don’t know,” I say, trying to laugh to lighten her intensity. “All I know is that it’s near some dormitories.” (For the record: this is not like my little undergrad–there are dormitories everywhere here!)
“Okay, I’ll go that way, then.”
Laughing again, I stop her and say, “No, no! I don’t want you to go the wrong way. You really need to ask someone else. I’ve only been to the deli once and that was six years ago! I’m not confident in my memory.”
She scoffs scornfully at me and turns around to speak to a rather dashing young man. Soon, they’re laughing. At me? I don’t care. I’m going to the library.
Oh…that’s where the deli is….
So, let’s talk semantics, folks. When did “I think” translate to “I know” for her? at what point do we as general listeners take someone’s thought and transform it into knowledge? Was it because I looked older than a freshman (god help me) that she just wanted to intrinsically trust me even though I was telling her that I wasn’t a trustworthy source on this point? I wasn’t wearing teacher clothes, so I looked like every other student schlepping across campus. What in my language/demeanor/dress indicated to her that I was the font of information and that I was just being modest when I said that I wasn’t sure but I thought this was true?
As a student of English studies for nearly over a decade (oh the horror!), I have learned the fine art of supporting my most outlandish claims with research and cold-hard facts. I have learned how to ethically, pathetically, and logically present a compelling argument for the purpose of persuading my reader to my side. I have learned to deliberately select specific words over others to serve a clear function. But, and let me be perfectly clear about this, if I do not know something to be true but I have a pretty good idea, then I will choose the phrase “I think,” instead. And I do so hoping that my reader or audience will discern the difference.
“I think” indicates that I have not conducted the research, have not gathered the facts, and indeed am not confident in my own conclusion to stand resolutely beside it should it be found wanting.
“I know” means the absolute opposite of the above. And I choose to use that phrase in specific instances.
This is a phenomenon I’ve noticed in increasing frequency–when I say “I think,” this sometimes translates into “I know” in the minds of my listeners. Hell, even when I say, “I don’t know” and am clear on that, sometimes my listeners hear the complete opposite. (I do know this because of recent conversations with students who have misquoted me during lecture to a surprising degree.) It is in moments like this one when I have that horribly wearying thought that my deliberate word choice is all for naught–have we turned into a society that just speaks for the sake of hearing the sound of its collective voice?
As it turned out, I ended up passing the little deli on my journey to the library. I had pointed that young woman in the exact wrong direction. Oops. Her life lesson: always get a second opinion, especially when your first source rambles on about how she doesn’t know for certain that what she’s saying is even true.
February 23, 2011 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, I happened to run into (almost literally because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going) one of my younger peers who is a freshly-minted ABD (that’s “all but dissertation” for the uninitiated). (She actually reads the blog–hey, L! :)) L is at that tremendously exciting and terrifying place in her academic career where she has completed her course requirements…forever (unless she chooses to get another degree, I suppose), and she has passed all of her written and oral examinations (comprehensive exams, or comps, we call ’em). She is now perched upon the tippy-tip of the graduate school tree limb and is gearing up to take her flying leap into Dissertation Land. L is currently drafting her prospectus, which is a smallish-to-largeish document that essentially outlines her future dissertation project. She will be asked to explain what her argument is while also foreseeing (to some degree) the direction each chapter will take as she develops her argument. She will be expected to compile a working bibliography that confidently says to her committee members, “See? I’ve done some research, and I’m really on to something here!” This gate-keeping document can set even the most stalwart academic a-trembling. And, sure, L will have her stumbling days, her days when she’s not certain her theoretical wings are strong enough to hold the weight of her ideas. But, as I’ve learned, the prospectus will change. It just will. So, L, and to all brand-new ABDs, I say this to you: just write it. Seriously, just bang it out. Let it be a little rough, not your most perfect work, but just get the ideas out there. Your committee members are absolutely going to have changes no matter how perfect you believe your document to be. So, don’t torture yourself to craft the end-all-be-all draft on the first or even second go. Your dissertation will also very probably diverge from the prospectus in some ways. Don’t waste your time agonizing over whether or not you know for sure that the points you want to discuss in Chapter Three belong there or if they’d be better suited in Chapter Four. All of that can be figured out later. What is important is pages. And forward progress.
When L and I were talking yesterday, she so sweetly (and I know she meant it genuinely) complimented me on my latest progress. “I can’t imagine writing two pages a day! That’s incredible,” she said…or something like that. I had to laugh. “Yeah,” I said. “But I’m at the stage now where I better be writing two pages a day or else I don’t graduate in August.” (Hell…I still may not graduate in August, but I’m sure as hell going to try!) As she remained surprised and complimentary at my
self-inflicted torture progress, I continued to laugh ruefully and say, “Just don’t follow my example, just don’t follow my example.” Seriously. Don’t follow my example.
I am no role model.
Let me explain in very clear terms why I am not to be made a template of: I lolly-gagged for two years and am now forced to work at breakneck speed to finish or else I could lose funding (hell, that might already be gone) and I could definitely not graduate in August.
What happened to me? Well, I passed my exams and entered into the stage L’s in now at the very beginning of March 2009. Two months before my wedding. That’s almost exactly two years ago. Then, I struggled to write a prospectus. I finally composed a draft of…something…by August 2009. It went through several drafts (I think in the neighborhood of five…either the fifth or the sixth one was the one that received final approval), and my prospectus was approved March 2010 (a full year after I became ABD). And here we are, another year later, and I’m finally producing chapters. I don’t have another year in me. This is it. I’m done.
So why not follow my lead? Because I gave up. I admit it–I absolutely gave up. I felt miserable, incapable, and exhausted. I had the idea that now that I had finished my courses and my exams and my prospectus, I was entitled to a rest. (This is one of the signs to me that this is not the career for me. More on that later.) It was like I had a case of senioritis. I just wanted to be finished for a while so that I could take a break. What I have come around to realize, though, is that this break only hurt me rather than helped me. Sure, I was conducting research in that time. I was reading and writing notes and outlines and thinking, thinking, thinking. Always thinking. But pages were nonexistent. I finally composed over 25 pages of Chapter Two between August and September 2010 so that I could present a shortened version of it at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC for short) in October 2010. (Little factoid: this conference is HUGE for people in this field. There were so many meetings and presentations, and if I had not come down with the plague, I may have actually gone to some of them.) After I returned from my trip to Montreal to present a shortened version of my chapter, I took another break. Sure, I wrote a little bit here and there, but they were notes and nothing really worth getting excited about. But because I gave up, because I took a break, I forced myself into this specific situation.
It was in November, when I realized how unhappy I was, that I started to realize that I needed to make a decision. As my wonderful and amazing friend Dr. Amanda Morris asked me during her visit in October, I had to answer the question: am I having trouble hanging on or letting go? If I’m having trouble hanging on, then I need to rework my strategy so that I can get a better grip on my responsibilities and work requirements. If I’m having trouble letting go, then I need to come to terms with what it means to release this path and pursue another. At first, I concluded that I was having trouble hanging on. I wanted that to be the right answer so badly. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, no, I was having trouble letting go.
Now, let me clarify one point: I am going to get my Ph.D. I am not stopping now, although there is no shame in walking away from a program ABD. I know several people who have walked away from the program before writing their dissertation. I know several people who have walked away from the program before taking exams. There is a culture of shame around these decisions, but I have learned that these are not shameful choices to make. (Why continue the torture if it’s not working for you? Life’s too short!) The reason I am going to finish, though, is because I am months away (nearly five, to be exact), and I am too stubborn to be five months away from a degree and then leave it on the table. So, I’m going to finish, one way or another.
Back to why I’m no role model.
Writing a dissertation is hard work. It just is. It is not as simple as writing five or six seminar papers and cramming them together. (Who here has written that many seminar papers on the exact same topic? Not me! I’m not sure I even have two related seminar papers.) A dissertation requires a sustainable argument that can last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-ish pages. I want this point to be clear. Many of us won’t admit it until we’re safe from being graded (like I am), but it is not common practice to begin writing a 25-page paper at the beginning of the semester, or even a month before deadline. So many of us write our seminar papers within, oh, I’d say at least two weeks before deadline. (And let’s not kid ourselves–our professors know.) If this is your habit, let me be perfectly frank with you: you cannot write a dissertation the way you write your seminar papers.
They are not the same animal, and they do not share the same requirements. Begin early, stay on track, write every single day (okay, you can have weekends off, if you begin working early enough). One of my friends V was told by a professor (neither of us can remember who now) who gave her a clever response to the question, “How do you write a 300-page book?” The answer: “One page a day.” Literally. If you write one page every day for a year, you have 365 pages. And that’s far too many for a dissertation.
In the world of dissertation writing, pages are everything.
Yes, make time to do your research, make your notes, do your outlines. But also compose pages. A dissertation, while a milestone to be proud of, is not the marker that you have finished something but instead it is an indicator that you have one more task to complete.
L, and all you other ABDs out there, please don’t follow my model. Don’t torture yourselves. Keep a steady pace and stay focused. Regardless if you want to stay in academia or not, make a decision whether or not you want to get the degree. If you don’t care about the degree, then stop now. If you do want it, then let that be your golden fleece. You won’t get the degree without a dissertation, plain and simple.
And if any of you ever needs someone to vent to or to kick your ass into gear as A.Mo. did mine, I will be happy to fill that role for you.
January 29, 2011 § 3 Comments
“Mrs. H!” a student hollered over the general din as students packed up after dismissal. “What about our Pushkin reading for Tuesday?”
“What about it?” I responded, my voice not quite as loud as hers because it carried greater authority and made students quiet down.
“Well,” she said, embarrassed by the sudden quiet, “I can’t find the book. Do you think you’ll upload it to Blackboard for us?”
I sighed, annoyed. Yes, I allowed my students to see that I was annoyed, but it was clear that I was not annoyed at her…just the simple situation. I ultimately decided that, yes, I would upload the Tuesday Pushkin poems.
After I did the job, my fourth uploaded reading assignment at this point, by the way, I made a decision. Strange as it might be, considering they are still struggling to obtain the required book and will need it for Thursday as well, I decided that the upload for Tuesday’s reading will be the last one I do. I sent my students an e-mail letting them know it was available…and that it was the last one they can expect from me. I reminded them that it is their responsibility to obtain all of their textbooks on their own. If the bookstore does not have it in stock, then they must themselves make arrangements–borrow the text from a classmate, order it through the bookstore, order it online, check the library’s holdings. It dawned on me that what was originally a gesture of good will had so quickly devolved into coddling.
I’m not a coddler when it comes to my students. I want them to take responsibility for themselves; I want them to struggle to find sources, and then feel triumphant when they finally do. I want them to fret over delivery deadlines versus homework deadlines. These are part of growing up. My book list has been available to view from the university bookstore website since November. The snow did not incapacitate the southeast (and, incidentally, our main delivery hub) until January. My students had plenty of time to acquire the books on their own without my assistance.
This is why I was so hesitant in the beginning to upload the first reading. I worried that I would succumb to their pouty little faces and their needs…and be drawn to upload absolutely everything. But our delivery hub has thawed out, and the snow has melted. I am no longer interested in helping them figure this one out.
So, what do you all think? Am I being too hard on them? How would you handle (or have you handled) a similar situation?
January 22, 2011 § 10 Comments
Well, that’s a little arrogant. I don’t know if this blog post would be considered a “goodie,” but whatever. I’m tired and have two hours to go before my deadline, so I’m just going to let this be a quick, good post, and then call it a day.
Oh yes…there’s a list. This is some real classy blogging, folks.
1. I had a nightmare this morning that we had to cuddle out. My nightmare, which I awoke from around 7 a.m. today, included a sad little scenario in which Robert thought it was appropriate to tell all of our friends and family that I was dead…just because he didn’t want to be married to me any more. Apparently I was stressing out about talking to my parents today (number 3 on the list). In the dream, it was before Christmas, and for some reason or another I was at my parents’ home without Robert…who was at a friend’s wedding. Without me. Strange. After I talked to my parents, I called Robert at the wedding reception to tell him how it went. He stopped talking during our conversation…like, he was mid-sentence, and I suddenly realized that he didn’t want to talk to me. One of us hung up on the other, but I can’t remember who did what. I do remember feeling unbelievably sad and angry, though. Then, the dream continued, and next thing I know, I’m glimpsing the wedding reception…where Robert is offering a toast to the happy couple and saying something along the lines of, “And even though we are sad that Amanda is no longer alive, I know that she wanted to….” …something. I started to wake up at that point because I was so angry and sad–it suddenly dawned on me that my husband was lying to people about my demise because he didn’t want to be married any more. When I woke up, Robert was on his side facing away from me; I attempted to loop my arm through the one draped on his side, desperately needing some comfort. No such luck–he rolled away from me. My dream started to crash back to me. Did Robert really wish me dead? I poked him and whispered (not wanting to wake him but wanting him to wake up), “Can you cuddle me? I had a bad dream.” This is not uncommon in our house. Robert sighed, rolled over, and wrapped me up. My dream melted away while I melted into Robert’s arms. It was wonderful.
2. Today was my mom’s birthday! We celebrated with them (they came to visit us), and part of our birthday celebration was also our university’s national championship celebration. Although we spent a good portion of the day in different lines (and freezing our tails off in the coldest 41 degree weather we’d ever felt…gusting wind and shade really makes a difference), we still enjoyed each other’s company and were able to have wonderful conversations. Probably the best part of spending the day in all those lines was that they led us to and from the exciting celebration for the championship–because the game was played and won across the country, many of us could not travel (although…many of us did [myself and Robert not included, lol]). We cheered, we applauded, we War Eagle’d our little hearts out, and we sang fight songs endlessly. We might have gotten a little teary-eyed…maybe. Our president made a fantastic little comment that just made my born-Tiger heart sing. He said, “As university presidents, we’re expected to remain neutral and welcoming to all teams and schools to visit our campus. And, of course, I am. But I must say that this season, there were two exceptional teams on that field: the Auburn offense, and the Auburn defense.” I loved that. And you know what? I want to love that in the total blissful ignorance that outsiders get to enjoy.
3. Which brings me to number three. I talked to my parents today about the things I have been fairly vague about in my blog…I wanted to tell them first. Folks, as a couple of you have already guessed, I am unhappy in my career choice (teaching). I did not know that this is what the career was about when I entered graduate school, and, truth be told, I was emotionally and mentally ill-equipped to make a decision about the next seven years of my life. But I made the decision to go on through to get a Master’s and then to keep going on through to get a PhD. I am exhausted. I am worn down. And I do NOT want to be a teacher any more. I’m in my sixth year of teaching undergraduate students…and already I want to retire. This is not the attitude to have before going on the job market where I would theoretically hope to land a job in which I would die behind my desk in my office at the ripe old age of 139. But I’m tired now. And I can’t stand it now. Essentially, I was lying to myself for these past several years, believing that I even wanted to do this in the first place. But I was blinded by the possibility that I would grow out of my unhappiness. I haven’t yet, and I think that’s a sign. I’ll write more on this now and in greater detail, now that I’ve shared with my parents, but I thought first I should remark instead on how astounded I was at their reactions. I was afraid this entire time that I would disappoint them. That somewhere along the way, “we want you to be happy, Amanda” really meant, “we want you to be a college professor, Amanda.” Obviously, I misconstrued their meaning. I attempted to create hidden meaning where there was none. Instead, their reaction was a little…underwhelming. They were supportive, curious about the next step (whether or not this means I’ll graduate with a PhD or walk away ABD [all but dissertation…meaning I’ve done everything but write the book–this is my real and true status currently]). I explained to them that I would still write, that I’m still graduating in August with my PhD. I will not have come this far just to walk away from it. I’m at least too proud and too stubborn for that. But I don’t want to teach. My mom was relieved to know that I’m planning on taking a year to do something in the 9-5 work world. Neither of my parents expected me to have the answers right now (which, of course, I panicked about last night before Robert and I went to bed). They were satisfied enough to know that I identified my unhappiness at the early stages of my career life–essentially, I realized I hated my job before it was too late. The knot in my stomach has completely unraveled. My shoulders are lightweight and burden-free. I feel better.
I feel better.
Happy birthday, Mom. Thanks for the amazing present.
January 20, 2011 § 5 Comments
Earlier this week, Alabama’s governor-elect Robert Bentley made a true political gaffe. During his inaugural speech, he entirely alienated his non-Christian constituents when he made this little statement:
“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,” Bentley said. ”But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”
Bentley added, ”Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”
Later, on Wednesday, governor-elect Bentley apologized for his faux pas:
“What I would like to do is apologize. Should anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised, I want to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ If you’re not a person who can say you are sorry, you’re not a very good leader,” Bentley said.
When I woke up and listened to the radio station today, the morning show host said that Bentley issued a statement saying that he didn’t mean what he said when he made his remarks on Monday afternoon. My ears perked up–why, not meaning what we say? That’s an issue I take great…issue…with! So, I went about my normal daily routine, turning this topic over and over, promising myself that I would blog about it as soon as I got home and could do so (and as soon as I added pages to my dissertation chapter I’m working on). It’s now 10:25 p.m., I’m finally sitting down to write my blog, and when I start digging around for quotes on “not meaning what he said,” I discover that my radio announcer made himself a little mistake. Turns out that the governor-elect actually did apologize for his words and did not offer just a lame little excuse for his miscommunication. Shame on you, radio, shame on you. Lamenting my blog post turned moot, I complained to Robert at 10:20 p.m. that I had a post left to write and no topic left to write on. Of course, I married a genius, because Robert said, “Well, no! You actually do have a topic. You can still write about how that phrase is used instead of an apology since the guy on the radio made that statement.”
So, the blog post is back on, folks!
Here’s my question: when apologizing for a wrongdoing, a miscommunication, poorly chosen words, have we gotten to the point where we apologize by mere back-peddling? And are we apologizees (those recipients of the apology, of course) okay with this method of apologizing?
And here’s my answer: yes and sometimes.
When someone misspeaks and ultimately hurts someone else’s feelings, the typical response is, “I didn’t mean it like that. You misunderstood me. Don’t take it like that.” It just reminds me of, “No offense, but….” What? No offense, but you’re about to insult me? You didn’t mean what you just said, so we’re all cool now?
Sorry, but this chicky would much prefer those who are extending an apology to actually extend the freaking apology.
“I didn’t mean it that way” suggests, to me, two things:
1. I am a dirty liar and words come out of my mouth in the form of lies. So, when I called you a bitch (for instance), I was lying because I don’t actually think you’re a bitch.
2. I am a dirty liar and a damn coward. So, when I called you a bitch (for instance), I was telling the truth but now I’m lying by telling you that I didn’t mean it in the first place. Truth is, I meant it, I just don’t like that it pissed you off and I don’t want to deal with the consequences of my behavior.
I was raised in the House of Saying What You Intend To Say The First Time.
“I hate you!” was a phrase I savored in my mouth; the way it rolled around on my tongue and burst out of my mouth to the utter shock of my sister (for instance) was startling to me and a little bit exhilarating. I had the power of words! I could say things that would have an immediate impact on someone else’s feelings. I wielded big linguistic weapons.
That high didn’t last for long.
“Amanda,” my mother or father would intone with as much warning of imminent danger dripping from their own words as they could manage. I shivered. My parents also had power. They also could affect an immediate reaction in me by simply stating my name. I hated my name. But, man, it was mighty strong in the mouths of my parents. “You apologize to your sister right now. Words have meaning, you know. If you say you hate someone, you are saying that you wish they were never born. Do you wish your sister would drop dead right this second?” The mere image brought tears to my eyes. “No…” I would sob pitifully. “Then apologize,” they demanded. There was no question about the word choice.
If I said, “I didn’t mean it. You took it the wrong way,” then I was sure to get another talking to. And, sure enough, just as though I were hard-wired for it (which I’m pretty sure I am), I said, “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“What other way could you have meant it,” my father asked.
Well, now, that’s a great question, Dad. I guess I meant it in the “please don’t punish me for screaming at my little sister because she was breathing my air” way.
Yeah, not good enough.
With my parents’ help and guidance, I eventually learned to choose my words carefully and to apologize with even greater care. “Words are like bullets,” my grandmother used to tell me, “once they’re out of your mouth, you can never take them back.” So true. Words, she was explaining in just the right kind of shocking simile, can never be un-said. You can’t just wave the air and wipe them away. “I didn’t mean it that way” doesn’t make a lick of sense to someone like me. If you didn’t mean it, then why on Earth would you say something like that?
Why does it not make for a good apology, then? Well, simple. It redirects the blame back onto the victim. Take my second example, where I blasted my sister with the horrible “I hate you” phrase…for which I have apologized many times (and, just for good measure: I’m really sorry I ever said that to you, Lauren. I love you and am so glad we’re close). When I said, “I didn’t mean it like that,” I am essentially telling her, “You are wrong about the way you interpreted and feel about my words. It’s your fault that you feel so shitty because you obviously didn’t get my meaning.” How many you’s are in that sentence? I count at least five you’s to two my’s. Sounds pretty one-sided to me.
Making a real apology, however, the kind that really hurts to make…those are the only ones that I take seriously and that I even accept. I have been known to actively not accept a fake apology of “I didn’t mean it.” If you didn’t mean it, you wouldn’t have said it. Or are you a dirty liar? Either way, I’m not accepting until you come back with something better.
I am appalled by the language of governor-elect Bentley–he should not have said it, but the fact of the matter is that he did say it. Rather than say what the radio misquoted (that he didn’t mean it…or also as bad, he shouldn’t have said it), Bentley actually said, “I apologize.” It hurts to say “I apologize.” I still struggle with it. We were raised not to say “I’m sorry” because it implies that one is in a sorry state…as in an impoverished state. So, my parents raised us to say “I apologize.” But I still have trouble with it…so I still say “I’m sorry,” especially when I really mean it because saying “I apologize” is too painful. I’ll grow up eventually, I’m sure…it’s something I’m working toward. But I respect Bentley for being man enough to say those two words and for not taking the easy way out of it.
“I didn’t mean it that way” or even “I shouldn’t have said that”…those are such lame non-apologies. I would recommend all apologizees (those receiving the apology, remember) to hold the apologizers in our lives accountable for their words. Force them to own up to what they say. If they hurt you, let them know it and make them take responsibility for the hurt. On the flip side, if you hurt someone, take responsibility. Be a grown-up and actually apologize for the hurt. Don’t say, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” No “if” necessary–if you actually hurt someone, you probably already know. “I’m sorry that I hurt you” is a good start, followed by, “I was wrong to speak out of anger. I hope you can forgive me.” Simple as that. No excuses necessary.
What say ye, Interwebs? Shall we make this a movement, or is ol’ A.Hab. chasing after a…well, you know?
January 7, 2011 § 5 Comments
I am my mother’s daughter. And I say this while realizing that I will never be half the woman my mother is, but it’s at least something to aim for. One of my mom’s greatest traits is the way she plans some pretty phenomenal parties, two weddings included. (Of course, I know that my mom would probably say that planning fabulous parties isn’t always a fabulous process.) My mom is the Queen of Planning. She creates lists that have purposes, uses calendars the way calendars dream of being used, and mobilizes the troops to enact her plans swiftly and efficiently. She is the Queen of Planning.
I, as a daughter, am the Princess of Planning. I, too, make beautiful lists full of good intentions. I also know my way around a calendar. And eventually I mobilize my troops.
But here’s why she’s the Queen and I’m not:
1. Lists: anyone can write a list. I’m writing one right now. But a list without a true purpose is just wasted ink on a scrap piece of paper. When my mom writes a list, it’s not just some random thoughts that crossed her mind and were written down in an arbitrary order. Her lists serve a purpose–they keep her on track as well as her helpers. For most events, she can write a list in a specific priority. For bigger, more elaborate events with more pieces, she writes a list with completion times…miniature deadlines. It keeps everyone on task. At this stage, my lists seem to be random thoughts in an arbitrary order. They tend to be more lists of “things I really ought to do at some point.”
2. Calendars: just as anyone can write a list, anyone can fill out a calendar. Of course, seeing an activity written on a calendar with a date often encourages people to complete the task assigned for the day. When my mom uses a calendar, it’s sort of an event in itself. If she has a list of important dates, she’ll pool those lists together and streamline them nicely into her calendar. She checks her calendar consistently and doesn’t just let it sit there staring at her. Her calendar is an organizational tool–not an instrument of torture. I have many calendars. MANY. When grading, for instance, I write on my office calendar, “Grade 5, Grade 5, Grade 5,” etc. for five week days so that I don’t fall into the frustrating habit of having to “power grade” all on one weekend. Of course, I inevitably ignore my tool and use it as an instrument of torture and guilt, feeling like crap when it gets to Day Six, and I haven’t even graded one paper.
3. Troops: when recruiting your troops, you must be fully aware of everyone’s talents. This can take a lifetime to learn but is worth it in the end. My mom knows her helpers (i.e. all of us), and she knows in which ways she can use us so that the task is completed with great efficiency and little stress. When we two daughters introduced two more men into her recruits of troops, my mom had to evaluate (through observation) what these two additional men could bring to the helpfulness equation. But at this point, I am confident that we are well-seasoned and each know our appropriate tasks. For instance, when my mom and dad are hosting a party at our house that requires lots of food and rented tables, everyone knows which task they should perform. We have gotten so good at our roles that we rarely need to ask where our help is needed. (Plus: there are the lists that we can check at any time to make sure we are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished.) I haven’t fully accomplished the sophisticated level of recruitment that my mom has. I tend to mobilize my troops way too late…like the day of the event…and without much warning. So far, I’ve gotten better with Robert. But there is much more improvement to be made in this area before I can even hope to call myself a Queen of Planning.
Today, I am meeting a friend of mine (VL of the Girls’ Night Recipes) for coffee and to create a dissertation agenda. Here are my fears: I can write lots of arbitrary lists (I know what I need to accomplish), I am obsessed with filling out calendars but never look at them again (if it’s a self-imposed deadline it’s flexible, right?), and I’m not much good at asking for help (a dissertation is a one-person affair, yes?).
But I’m hoping to change all that today. Yes, I am still the Princess of Planning because I am nowhere near deserving of the title Queen that my mom currently has. I have to learn her methods and actually apply them before I can be considered the Queen of Planning. But that’s what today is for. Today, V and I will be creating deadlines that are anything but arbitrary. We will hold each other to those deadlines and expect each other to fulfill them. And I will learn to ask for help (help proofreading, help brainstorming, help with accountability).
Until I fully learn these things, I bow gratefully to my amazing mother.
December 29, 2010 Enter your password to view comments.