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Thursday, March 09, 2006
Mechanically Tied to Numbers
Last night I was reading an article related to the case study I'm still plugging away at, the case study which promises now to be the largest in the dissertation (it keeps growing, and growing, and growing). In the article, the process I'm writing about in the dissertation was described as being "mechanically tied to numbers." That phrase has stuck with me overnight and into this morning, and I realize with some dismay that my life these days is kind of the same way: mechanically tied to numbers. I'm constantly calculating in my head, figuring out how to make things work out, determining how much time I have left. I cannot avoid it.
For example, I have a calendar posted on the bulletin board above my desk that shows the number of days I have left before I should have a completed draft of this dissertation to my advisors. There are deadlines to be met, goals for each day. Each night I ritualistically count down how many days I have left until the next deadline, looking with both dread and excitement at the last notation on the calendar that reads "Draft of entire dissertation to advisors." Tick, tick, tick.
I have another calendar on my computer that shows various deadlines for my new job at Smallish Midwestern University. I have to have my book orders in by late this month, syllabi drafted and sent off by late next month. Fortunately, I've already decided on my textbooks, after ordering a stack of now-rejects I can use for lecture preps. The syllabi are in various stages of completion, and it's now really a matter of adding supplemental readings from journals and other books. I'd like to start planning out the lectures sometime, too, so I don't feel so overwhelmed this summer, but (tick, tick) the dissertation still holds top priority.
Numbers are also at play as T searches for his next job. So far, we've found one suitable job opening for him in New Town. One. The job just came open this week and he sent off his cover letter and resume this morning. This process is frustrating because New Town is about an hour and a half from two major cities in Midwestern State, and T has found dozens of jobs to apply for in those cities. We're resisting looking at those jobs, however, because T wants to work in roughly the same community he lives in (and we know precisely where we want to live in New Town) -- it's something he doesn't have here, and it has always bothered him. T is a very outgoing, likeable, and charming person; he wants to establish contacts in his own neighborhood, rather than in a city 75 miles away.
Salary, of course, is also an issue. My salary is decent -- almost exactly what I was expecting to make in my first year as an assistant professor -- but it sure would be nice to know our full financial picture for this summer. My last fellowship payment is June 1, and my first paycheck at SMU doesn't arrive until October 1. Although we are savers (to a fault, sometimes) and could easily cover a few months if neither of us were bringing in a paycheck for a few months, it's not something we want to do. We're hoping that T can stop working here in late July and start in New Town in August or September.
The financial picture is also important as we think about where we're going to live. We'd love to buy a house we can stay in for a long time -- a house we'll raise our children in, the house that they'll associate with "home." If T has a job, we'll easily be able to do that. If he doesn't, we'll probably have to settle for something less for now and go through the whole moving, selling, and buying ordeal again next year. We're hoping that doesn't happen.
And then, of course, there are the numbers associated with this house, the house we love and hate to leave. Putting a price on it is a terrible notion to me. Even T said that he'd be willing to sell it at a bargain price to someone he knew was going to take excellent care of it and love it as much as we do. T has been printing out information on houses that have sold in our neighborhood in the past year so we can get an idea of how much we could reasonably ask for our house; the picture is encouraging, but it still eats me up inside to think of handing over the keys to someone else.
Finally, there is the page count thing -- the number of pages I hope to write at the end of each day. Today, that number is 5-7, which will take me just outside of my "dead zone." As I've explained elsewhere, my writing tends to go in 10-page fits and starts -- it always has. Pages 1-10 are miserable, a battle for each paragraph. Pages 11-19 are noticeably easier, probably because my argument from the beginning is clearer in my head and I'm often telling an interesting story. Pages 20-30 are difficult again, but this time because I'm getting bored and am feeling ready to end the chapter. If I go beyond 30 pages (which I only sometimes do in a chapter -- 30 pages feels "right" to me, somehow), the writing usually isn't that difficult since I have something I need to get out and I'm probably excited about it again. I've mentioned before that my attention span seems to have become shorter as the years have progressed, and I think that has really affected how much I'm willing and able to write: I used to be kind of long-winded, and now I'm much more succinct and clear in my academic writing (in stark contrast to this babbling post). A big shot professor in my department is famous for saying, "If you can't say what you need to say in 15 pages, adding another 20 pages isn't going to help you." I used to scoff at this a bit; now, I believe him.