Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hello Medieval friends; and a happy reading week to you all.

As you can tell, I'm not currently reading. I should be, but letting you all in the reading situation chez Josef seemed just that much more appealing. As it stands, I have ten articles open on my computer, 3 books on my desk, and two former essays brimming with notes and corrections. And an abstract that's been rewritten four times already over-top of itself. As you may have guessed already, I'm writing a paper for a conference. Consider this post a motivation; for myself, and for anyone else out there who can't seem to get started, or, once started, can't seem to keep going.

I have used every trick I know to avoid facing this paper head on, but oddly enough even procrastination catches up with you over time, because eventually, it IS tomorrow - and the self-set deadline is still staring you in the face, leering gleefully. It is with no small amount of frustration at myself that I recall the long hours in which I lead my happy virtual men to bloody virtual victories, which sadly enough don't really have much to add to my research into inter-religious relations in Medieval Iberia.

Or do they? If I've discovered anything over my university career, it's that ideas come to you at surprising times and at unexpected place. Often, it feels to me like essays are just lying somewhere, waiting patiently to be written when, and only when, their time comes. I'm the impatient one, trying to drag it out from some hole deep in the recesses of my mind out into the open, kicking and screaming. Call me a wordsmith, beating and hammering reluctant ideas and pouting paragraphs into their proper format, clapping it shut with the locks of introduction and conclusion, adding the finishing touches... and then, if the customer doesn't like it, it's goes back into the fire to be hammered out again. Sometimes, writing a paper feels less like art and more like an equation, a structure, a scientific review. I worry that I might cage ideas in iron sentences too early in my haste to finish.

In those moments of doubt, or dread of the long, hard hours ahead, it's temptingly easy to turn away and put down the hammer, caught in indecision. Why be bold and swift and dedicated when one might make a mistake, or introduce a flaw, or forge some unholy union of ideas that looks good at four in the morning, but like Frankenstein stumbles off into the horrifying pages of academic legend? Or worse, in the damning pages of a professor's "funny student papers" collection! Most of all, why write a paper if most of it feels like drudgery or iron-work than art? Amidst this mess of anxiety, a virtual war, however bloody, seem vastly preferable.

But I found something, halfway through my third war of the day, leading the valiant forces of the Netherlands in their quest for politically incorrect Imperialism. I started thinking about what a war was, and what made a people a nation. I thought about religion, and how it both unified and divided communities; even those which espoused the same creed! And then... horror of horrors, I was back to thinking about my essay. That night I quickly penned out the structure to a paper, and it felt, well, natural. An idea had found its time, like Turgon of Gondolin, unexpected and unasked for, but welcome nonetheless.

So this is my academic resolution, in four parts:

that I shall fear not the long all-nighter, nor the ink of the red pen, nor the professor's wrath, and that I shall place all of these behind me in scorn;

that I shall write strong and clear words that ring true now, though they must change in the future, be that weeks or only two sentences away;

that I shall open myself to new ideas and make spaces for them to arrive in my life, no matter where or when they arise;

and finally, that I shall forgive myself for work undone and time misspent, and focus instead on the task ahead, though it be long and arduous.

Work nimbly, you smiths, and may you all see art and beauty in your sentences, and banish forever the thought of dull iron. Look for the ideas that seem to spring naturally - in them lies the spark of genius!

 A happy and productive reading week to you all!

- Josef

(...and seriously, stop procrastinating - tomorrow is now! ... so, another round of Facebook, then?)

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