On the consequences of tolerating bullying

(Possible trigger warning for discussion of bullying. Also, this post contains considerably more of my guts than I usually spill on this blog. Just so you know.)

I've been reading the flurry of reportage about bullying and queer youth suicides partly with a sinking heart (has it gotten suddenly worse lately? if these are just the cases we're hearing about, how many others are going unreported? was it this bad when I was growing up?) and partly with a grim sense of well, this is nothing new and also Christ on a cracker, does nothing ever change?

I had it easy, compared to so many others. I was taunted nonstop during half of third grade, most if not all of fourth and fifth grade, and to a lesser extent sixth and seventh grade. In eighth grade I was considered extremely weird but left alone. By the time high school rolled around, I had a few friends and a little social niche, and the bullying stopped, though that may have been because I'd gotten better at not drawing attention to myself. By around age 16 or 17 I'd started to suspect that maybe I liked girls a lot more than I liked boys, but I basically postponed that line of thought until I went off to college, where the atmosphere was a lot more accepting.

I was only beaten up once, during the height of my bully-magnet years. Nobody yelled homophobic slurs at me or spat at me or told me I should die. The phrase "that's so gay" hadn't even entered the vocabularies of the elementary school set in 1985; I don't think many of us even knew what it meant. My mother stuck up for me, and so did some of my classmates on occasion. I read voraciously, and because of that, I knew that the world was a much larger and more interesting place than my school. The children's librarian at our local branch library was an early ally who showed me great and unvarying kindness. Much as the bullies messed up my head, I knew there were some people who didn't think I was a freak who deserved all the bullying she got. I never tried to kill myself. I was one of the lucky ones.

But again and again, in the stories I've heard people tell, it comes back to this: adults standing by and doing nothing, or saying "What can you do?", or blaming the bullied child for bringing it all on him- or herself.* Which all sounds hauntingly and enragingly familiar.

My 5th grade teacher told my mother that the bullies had to be reacting to something that I was doing; that it was my fault that they tormented me every single day. I remember how the same teacher turned a blind eye to everything they did, and the one time I tried to fight back, she scolded me. (Mrs. Tate, should you ever happen to read this: I've never forgiven you for that.)

And you know what we all learned from that? The bullied, the bullies, and all the bystanders? That people in general weren't trustworthy. That there was no such thing as justice. That adults were on the same side as the bullies. That if you were different in any way, there was something wrong with you, and your best bet was to hide, keep your head down, and withdraw from people as much as possible. That last lesson took me years and years to unlearn.

When schools do nothing to stop bullying, when people shrug this behavior off as no big deal, everyone suffers. We make the world a vicious place where people think empathy and kindness are not a necessary part of everyone's moral compass, but weaknesses to be mocked and dismissed. We turn ourselves, in short, into a nation of assholes. And then we wonder why our culture is so messed up, in so many ways.

This cannot go on. If you truly believe it's all right to teach that lesson in schools, then you might as well just start poisoning the cafeteria food and have done with it.

I don't feel like I can tell every young queer person that it always gets better, even though there are plenty of ways it most likely will (chief among them: not being required by law to spend five days a week surrounded by tormentors). I still think the It Gets Better Project is a really good idea, though. Because the more of these stories are out there, the more likely it is that kids going through the hell of high school will realize they're not alone, and the harder it'll be for everyone else to pretend this problem doesn't exist.

And if anyone reading this is wondering whether it does indeed get better: mean people don't disappear when you graduate from high school, but what does change is your ability to control your own life. In the meantime, you're not alone. Check out the Make it Better Project or the Trevor Project. And know that there are lots of us out here who are trying to change things for the better. Your life is valuable, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.

* If you don't think teachers can intervene in any meaningful way, I suggest that you read this post. If you don't think kids take cues from the bigotry they hear from adults, then please listen to the first story on this show from This American Life. And then I refer you to several posts about what happens when nobody does intervene: this one from Center of Gravitas, this one from Kate Harding, this one from Seanan McGuire (hat tip to various Facebook friends for the last two).

Remembering the memory theater

Some days, it feels like my career trajectory from literature-scholar-in-training to academic librarian has taken me a long way from my old set of intellectual interests. The things that interest me now, that make me sit up and say "hmm!", aren't the kinds of things I even knew to look for when I started grad school. But on other days, it feels like everything, sooner or later, comes back around, and I'm just tracing the edges of a long and intricate pattern that eventually repeats, or at least rhymes, if one follows it long enough.

Case in point: Thanks to the magic of iTunes U, I've been downloading and listening to Paul Duguid and Geoffrey Nunberg's "History of Information" course at Berkeley. It's fascinating stuff, exactly the kind of thing that makes my librarian heart beat faster. When I got to the classes on manuscript culture and the impact of print, I was pleasantly surprised to find Duguid and Nunberg introducing the idea of the printing revolution by playing a clip from James Burke's BBC series "The Day the Universe Changed," which I still remember watching, at age eleven, when it first aired on PBS. And then, to my great delight, I realized that the clip they were using in the course was the episode that stayed with me the longest: "Printing Transforms Knowledge," in which Burke spends a couple of minutes near the beginning talking about medieval memory theater.

It was fascinating to hear it again, because that couple of minutes inspired my dissertation. The whole "memory theater" concept fascinated me, and I never forgot it. (Especially since Burke visually recreates an example involving punning mnemonics for the seven liberal arts. The one I remember best is a snake — an adder: get it? — standing for arithmetic.)* More than a decade later, I thought of memory theater while working on a graduate seminar paper, and that paper topic in turn spawned my dissertation. At my defense, when my chair asked me to talk about where my dissertation started, I began that origin story with "The Day the Universe Changed."

And now, in quite another context, here it was again. Perhaps I've always been interested in information retrieval and its long, occasionally bizarre history, even before I started thinking about it in that light. And I've now got "The Day the Universe Changed" in my Netflix queue, for old times' sake; I suddenly want to watch the whole thing over again.

* I tried in vain to find that scene on YouTube so I could link to it, but no luck. There's a "Day the Universe Changed" channel, but I can't find the memory theater bit. I suspect the series was edited somewhere along the line.

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

This is going to be a fragmentary post because my thinking on it is still disconnected. Sometimes I get thoughts and words stuck in my head and blog to get them out; if I’m lucky, the fragments amount to more than self-indulgent navel-gazing, and make sense to someone else reading them. (In other words: Probable navel-gazing ahead. You’ve been warned.)

I’ve been thinking about loneliness a lot lately. Not long ago I realized that my joy in all things aesthetic depends on my being able to experience them with other people who also care about them. For better or worse, I’ve always bonded most closely with people when we can talk about books or art or music or theater or film, and lately I’ve really been missing that. The great thing about my trip this summer was the superabundance of both beauty — landscape, art museums, architecture, Mozart masses, amazing city streets — and good friends, and the elusive sense of being completely at ease in said friends’ company. But it also reminded me of what’s been absent from my everyday life.

I think of that 2006 study that suggested that Americans have fewer confidants than they used to. The findings have been disputed somewhat. But it rang true when I first read about it, and it rings even truer now.

(Several people have told me recently that New Englanders aren’t all that friendly. Neighbors don’t know each other, they say; it’s hard to form deep friendships. I hope that’s not true; but, though I’ve made a few friends since I moved here, there’s nothing like the network I had in grad school, or even my smaller circle of friends in Philadelphia. My closest friends all live at least a hundred miles away.)

It’s hard to separate all this from the general malaise of right now: the worry about whether we’re ever going to pull out of this recession, the grim collective mood, the outbursts of panic-fueled bigotry, the lines from Yeats’s “The Second Coming” popping unbidden into my head at odd intervals. Laura at Apt. 11D posted a particularly vivid account of this state of mind: anger combined with the increasing awareness of social networks fraying, and then fraying some more.

I want to do something to improve the lot of all us lonely people (cue “Eleanor Rigby“), even though I know, realistically, one person can’t do very much. But that’s part of the problem. I’m feeling rather acutely like just one person at the moment. How many other people out there are feeling like just one person in a world of acquaintances and strangers, I wonder?

And what is one to do?

At any rate, if you’ve read this far, Reader, thank you for listening.

Personal anthology: Robertson Davies

The passage I'm about to quote is from Robertson Davies' novel Tempest-Tost, about a community theater company in a small Ontario town doing an outdoor production of The Tempest. The director, Valentine Rich, a local who's gone on to a theater career in New York, has returned to her home town and taken on this production as something of a favor. She's talking to her assistant director, Solomon Bridgetower, about why everyone in the cast is fretting so much at the final dress rehearsal:

"I wanted to get away," said she; "everybody wants to plague and worry me about nothing. They'll be all right tomorrow. What's worrying them?"

"They are sacrificing to our Canadian God," said Solly. "We all believe that if we fret and abuse ourselves sufficiently, Providence will take pity and smile upon anything we attempt. A light heart, or a consciousness of desert, attracts ill luck. You have been away from your native land too long. You have forgotten our folkways. Listen to that gang over there; they are scanning the heavens and hoping aloud that it won't rain tomorrow. This is to placate the Mean Old Man in the Sky, and persuade him to be kind to us."

— Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost, chapter 7

My father, born and bred in the kind of small Ontario town Davies wrote so well about, was the one who introduced me to this novel. "Sacrificing to the Canadian God" became our comic shorthand for the kind of fretting (born of a belief that optimism really will bring on bad luck, in a Murphy's Law kind of way) that both he and I were prone to. I've been making my share of burnt offerings to the Canadian God lately, so this passage has been on my mind. And every time I think of it, I have to smile.

Random bullets of knitting

Welcome, all of you who surfed over from my guest post on ProfHacker! I think this means I should probably update this blog more often. I didn't quite intend to take a month-long blogging break, but the summer vacation mindset was hard to shake off. Anyway, I still feel like writing about knitting, so herewith, some Random Bullets (TM):

  • Cool thing I just learned to do: knitting two socks at a time on a big circular needle, from the toe up. The Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks Tutorial has been invaluable. If you knit, and you've never done the two-socks-at-once thing, give it a shot. I now know why people swear by the magic loop method: there's no way to succumb to the dreaded second sock syndrome ("But I just finished a sock! I have to do the exact same thing over again? Bored now."); you're less likely to wind up with inconsistent tension; and you can make sure that your two knitted things are exactly the same length. Next up: two Farinelli gloves at a time, and after that, if all goes well, two Bobbie gloves at a time. Because no way am I patient enough to make something that elaborate twice in a row with the same yarn.
  • Other cool thing I just learned to do that looks complicated but really isn't: beaded knitting. One of my knitting groups is making a slew of ornaments with beads and metallic yarn; they're so nifty that I might make a few of my own to give to relatives this Christmas. The fiddly part is stringing the right number of beads onto your yarn before you start, and after that, you just have to remember when to slide one in between a couple of stitches.
  • Fannish knitting is one of my favorite things ever. I've been rewatching the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and thinking I should reread the books.* On a whim, I started searching for Tolkienesque patterns on Ravelry, and found these in a matter of seconds:
  • Of course there's also a LOTR group, which I've just joined, on Ravelry, with a great list of relevant patterns. Some of them are only vaguely related to the books, but no less lovely for that. I was immediately enamored of this tree-themed sweater, because I'm a sucker for any kind of complex cable pattern that looks like a big tree. (Which is why the vastly ambitious Yggdrasil afghan is in my Ravelry queue.)

* The movie marathon was prompted by my coming across this guide to Howard Shore's score to the three Lord of the Rings movies, which I highly recommend, even if you're not a music theory person. I'd never even noticed the "Into the West" foreshadowing until this time around.

My UK trip, in pictures

So here is the blog post about what I did on my summer vacation, complete with pictures. (In another life I was somebody's aunt who brought out the slide projector at every family dinner.) The full(ish) set is up on Flickr if you're curious.

First stop: Edinburgh, for Material Cultures 2010, which was one of the best academic conferences I've been to in recent memory: a nice mix of historians, literature scholars, librarians (I wasn't the only one!), independent scholars, and the occasional bookseller; a lovely atmosphere of friendliness; excellent keynotes and really interesting papers; and, not least of all, food, drink, and dancing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First there was sightseeing on a rainy Scottish summer day:

Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh Sea of umbrellas, Edinburgh Castle
Greyfriars Kirkyard and the Castle.

Then there was conferencing:

Old College, University of Edinburgh Playfair Library, University of Edinburgh
Old College and Playfair Library, University of Edinburgh.

There was also a dinner with Scottish country dancing, which was great fun; and a whisky tasting, which was followed by haggis at Greyfriars Bobby's Bar. (Verdict: not bad, though I could've done with a bit less mashed potato.)

And I sneaked away from the last conference session or so to climb Arthur's Seat:

Looking up at Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh View from the top of Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh 

Then it was on to the Lake District, which gave me a whole new appreciation for the earlier generation of Romantic poets. I mean, wouldn't this make you want to write poetry too?
Windermere Grasmere from White Crag
And now it's all in my head, for moments when I'm in vacant or in pensive mood. (That was the lovely thing about this trip. So much fuel for the imagination, which I hadn't even realized was getting pinched and starved from neglect.)

Heading down
I didn't quite make it all the way up Helm Crag. But I promised myself I'd go back someday and try again.

My favorite walk was near Keswick: first the Castlerigg Stone Circle, then a stroll through the fields and woods back into town:
Castlerigg Stone Circle, outside Keswick High Rigg from the Castlerigg Stone Circle First glimpse of Derwent Water from the east
(I think I loved the view in the second of these three pictures best of all. It's hard to say why—and it might have just been the sun finally coming out, and the feeling of discovering something I hadn't been primed for by a guidebook—but that valley is going to stay with me for a very long time. More images for the inward eye. It's really hard to talk about these landscapes without coming over all Wordsworthian.)

And then I went to London, where, on top of all the other marvelous things about three days in London, I got to see a couple of friends from whom I'm usually separated by several time zones in different directions. There were visits to the Lambeth Palace Library, the Tate Britain, and the British Library's excellent map exhibition.

The Keats House, Hampstead Hampstead Heath
There was an excursion to the Keats House near Hampstead Heath.

There was a Sunday morning at St. Paul's Cathedral…
Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral at dusk where we heard Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor. Which, even with the soloists facing away from where we were sitting, was as magnificent as you might imagine.

There was a splendid blogger meetup with Lady P and Krista, during which we went for a stroll along Fleet Street, then stumbled across Samuel Pepys' birthplace (at which all of us shrieked a little bit), then went for a ride on a London bus…
Samuel Pepys' historical marker, London Old-style London double-decker bus

…and then went in search of William Blake's house in South Molton Lane, only to discover that it's now a waxing salon.
William Blake's house in South Molton Lane, London
We consoled ourselves with insanely extravagant cocktails in the bar of Claridge's Hotel, which, as Lady P put it, is the kind of place where Bertie Wooster might pop in at any moment for lunch with one of his aunts.
Ridiculously posh cocktails, Claridge's Hotel bar, London

I kept trying to superimpose, onto the London in front of me, pretty much every canonical work of British literature I'd ever read with a London setting or by an author who lived in London: trying to imagine John Donne haunting the Inns of Court, for instance, or Mrs. Dalloway making her way up Bond Street. Or all the 17th- and 18th-century booksellers in St. Paul's Churchyard. It didn't always work; as with Helm Crag, I'll just have to try it again someday not too far off.

And then I went home, only to wake at 5 a.m. the morning after, wondering what continent I was on. I'm already plotting how soon I can go back, and which of the places I didn't get to see on this trip I can manage the next time.

Re-entry link post

Hello again, blogosphere! I'm back from my almost-two-weeks-in-the-UK mostly-vacation, having richly enjoyed nearly every minute of it.* There will be more of a travel narrative before long, with pictures; right now, I'm still catching up after a couple of mostly internet-less weeks. Which means it's time for a quick link-roundup post of things seen here, there, and yon.

[L]et's say that the author wants to use the theoretical system
developed by one thinker to read through the oeuvre of this one
particular band. Let's pretend it's Marxism (it's not) and Bow Wow Wow
(it's not). So we sit down to get a Marxist reading of Bow Wow Wow (oh
boy!), and the essay falls into two-and-one-half parts. The first, tiny
part—one short paragraph, actually—sets up the argument, and ends with a
sentence that says, in effect: "We'll return to Bow Wow Wow, but first,
we've got to look at Marx." The essay then spends fully half of its
pages in a fairly perfunctory and, as it turns out, entirely unnecessary
explication of Marx; then we get to Bow Wow Wow.

But here's the thing: what the writer has to say about "Bow Wow Wow"
doesn't require Marx. Not. In. The. Least. At least, no more than the
Marx that anyone with a high-school education already knows. The "Marx"
(who, again, ain't really Marx) is really there as the writer’s big
brother, as in, "You'd better shut up, or my big brother will beat the
snot out of you."

That last sentence is my favorite. And it reminded me why I'm very glad I no longer have to go around brandishing my big brothers every time I want to make an argument.

* With the exception of three hours of milling about at the Carlisle train station after my train from Edinburgh to Oxenholme was stopped and they had to hire buses at the last minute. But at least nothing like that happened with any of my flights.

** Speaking of pained recognition, I cannot resist quoting a paragraph from the title essay, "The Professor":

Thus the Crazed Good Student in me revved up to warp speed: she whose deepest, maddest wish was to astound her teachers with her unprecedented brilliance (and thus win their love) and stun fellow students into a state of admiring, if not joyful, subordination. Why I thought trouncing my classmates in every academic task set before us would prompt affection in them for me is beyond me. (True or False? The delusion that doing well in school will win me love has disfigured my life. Discuss in 5-7 pages.) (Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings, 209-210)

That, right there? Was me at age 22. I wasn't quite that competitive, but "The delusion that doing well in school will win me love has disfigured my life" could have been my motto all through grad school and for some time after. Which is why I was immensely grateful when I read that sentence: someone else had managed to put into words just how damaging certain assumptions (probably shared by every bright young thing heading off to an academic career) can be.

On walkability, part 2: Giving people something to look at

(This is part 2 in an irregular series of posts about walkability. For those of you just tuning in, part 1 is here.)

You don’t always hear about aesthetics being a factor in walkability; usually the discussion is focused on distances between places that people need to get to, and obstacles in the way of their walking to and fro. But I’ve thought for a long time now that the look of a walking route is important. A street with nothing but blank walls, or parking lots as far as the eye can see, makes for a dull, boring, dispiriting slog; a street with interesting buildings or bits of greenery or lots of shop windows or good views makes the same distance seem much less, because there’s always something interesting to look at. All the places I’ve lived in have illustrated this to greater or lesser degrees. Charlottesville has glimpses of the Blue Ridge Mountains everywhere you go; Ann Arbor has beautiful old houses*; Baltimore has fabulous bits of kitsch and wackiness (including things like Elvis shrines and painted window screens).

In Philly, there were some streets that I always found dull and highway-esque (especially certain stretches of Market Street in University City), but there were others that harbored weird and delightful surprises for anyone strolling by: a street of tiny houses, a building covered in mosaic tiles and mirrors…

Isaiah Zagar mosaics, South Street, Philadelphia

…a Stikman or a mystery tile embedded in the street:

Toynbee tile, Broad St. and Chestnut

…an old bay window with a fancy vintage sign:

Old hairdressing sign

New London has its points of visual interest, too: there are the views of the Long Island Sound that you get when you head south from the Connecticut College campus…

A spring day and the Long Island Sound in the distance

…the riverfront, with docks and ferries and the Groton Monument across the river:

City Pier

…the pretty old buildings along State Street (Bank Street, too):

State Street, New London

But there are also plenty of places where the historic buildings give way to endless I-95 on- and off-ramps. It’s hard to get very excited about my walk home from work when the view of the Sound gives way to the view of, well, this:

Light at the end of day changes everything

Even with the sunset light on it, that’s a vista that I got tired of really fast. A big stretch of my homeward walk goes through gas-station-and-interstate territory, and I walk it with my headphones plugged in, tuning out the visuals as much as I can, because they’re just depressing. (Which is not to say that I walk along ignoring traffic. I’m not suicidal.) And there’s really no other way between campus and New London proper. Interestingly, there’s a group of people currently tackling this very issue. I missed their first open forum, but I’m hoping to go to the next one.

No one group of people is responsible for creating the kinds of visual details that make walking pleasant rather than boring; architects and designers and planners and business owners and arborists and home owners and street artists and a host of others all contribute. There’s no one way to go about making a place visually interesting, and band-aid solutions (a grassy median here, a mural there) aren’t going to make an ugly place all that much less ugly. But we can at least think about building environments that aren’t meant to be driven through at top speed and never looked at.

* That house in the photo was my favorite building in all of Ann Arbor, and I used to walk past it whenever I could because I loved it so much.

Personal anthology: Emily Dickinson

I'm in a traveling mood this month, and this poem of Emily Dickinson's was running through my head:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses – past the headlands –
Into deep Eternity –

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

So I pulled my selected ED off the shelf to look the poem up so I could post it, and found the book full of Post-It flags I hadn't removed since my grad school days. Vague memories surfaced of having written about poem 675, "Essential Oils – are wrung," as an aside somewhere in my dissertation, one of my periodic forays into later periods than the one I was officially writing about. But what was with all the other markers? Had I meant to write more about Dickinson and never gotten around to it?

I'd forgotten, for instance, all about #885, but I'm glad I didn't take out the flag marking its page:

The Poets light but Lamps –
Themselves – go out –
The Wicks they stimulate –
If vital Light

Inhere as do the Suns –
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their
Circumference –

And I'd also all but forgotten all about #1261, which takes a rather darker view of the same phenomenon:

A Word dropped careless on a Page
May stimulate an Eye
When folded in perpetual seam
The Wrinkled Maker lie

Infection in the sentence breeds
We may inhale Despair
At distances of Centuries
From the Malaria –

(Literary immortality as a plague. It's almost a horror-movie conceit.) I remember now what I was about: Dickinson seems in some of these poems to be riffing on Shakespeare's sonnets, particularly the ones that are obsessed with preserving either the young man's image or the poet's own reputation. But I was also startled to find that whenever it was I went through the book flagging poems, one of the others I marked was #360:

Death sets a Thing significant
The Eye had hurried by
Except a perished Creature
Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little Workmanships
In Crayon, or in Wool,
With "This was last Her fingers did" –
Industrious until –

The Thimble weighed too heavy –
The stitches stopped – themselves –
And then 'twas put among the Dust
Upon the Closet shelves –

A Book I have – a friend gave –
Whose Pencil – here and there –
Had notched the place that pleased Him –
At Rest – His fingers are –

Now – when I read – I read not –
For interrupting Tears –
Obliterate the Etchings
Too Costly for Repairs.

Oddly enough, I've been wanting to write about that poem (in the context of memory traces and the marks of previous readers) as part of the ongoing commonplace-book project, because I'd encountered it in an article about 19th-century sentimental literature and thought "Aha!". But I'd forgotten that I'd wanted to write about it then, too. Uncanny. Or maybe not, really.

I wonder if I was really a closet Victorianist all through the grad school years when I was in training to be an early modernist?

In praise of 750 Words

Thanks to a post about it on the excellent blog ProfHacker, I've become a big fan of the freewriting site 750words.com. It's a godsend for people like me who want to write more but have a hard time getting started or getting motivated. You log in and it gives you a blank screen and a daily goal of 750 words or more (about three typed pages), stores your words, and rewards you for reaching goals. If you hit the 750-word mark, a congratulatory message flashes up on the screen. If you hit it for three or five or ten or more days in a row, or write really fast, you get cute cartoon badges.

It's meant to be low-pressure, a brain-dump site rather than a place for polished writing. The total lack of any word-processing features means that I can't succumb to the temptation to mess with formatting, or go into Scholar Mode and add footnotes, or anything like that. It's just plain text, which somehow makes it less of a big deal, which makes it easier to get started and keep going. Today I used it to write my way out of an attack of
paper-and-travel-planning panic by listing both the things I still have
to do (which, written out like that, suddenly look doable) and
scrutinizing my irrational fears about presenting the paper (which
didn't hold up to the scrutiny). Other days I've used it to outline a
story that's waiting to take shape in my head, brainstorm ideas for blog
posts, and, if I'm in a bad mood, whine and vent in ways that I
wouldn't do here or elsewhere on the open web. I'm already feeling like I'm getting out of my blogging slump.

I was skeptical at first, because I'd tried various other attempts at daily writing, ranging from pen and ink to Journler (which is nice, but doesn't push me to write in the same way), and none of them really worked. But I've been using 750 Words to get ideas for my conference paper out of my head and into sentences I can reuse elsewhere, and so far I've written 31,583 words in 33 days. When I get back from my travels, I might even sign up for the monthly challenge for August. I might finally write that short story. Or the next great campus novel. I might start turning the research into something booklike. I might even do NaNoWriMo this year.

When I was working on my dissertation and had all the time in the world, I used to write first thing in the morning, after I'd had coffee but before I'd had a shower, so it didn't quite feel like I was officially starting the day yet. And that turned out to be far and away the best way to take the internal pressure off so I could get words onto the screen every day. Now I can't spend my mornings lazing around in my pajamas, but the blank screen, the small daily quotas, and the enforced informality of 750 Words are the next best thing.