Category Archives: extracurricular

Blogging and/or Scholarly Writing

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The question posed in this Vitae post is one that I think about a lot, especially now that so much of my time is (happily) given over to writing.  My immediate response is YES, in my experience my blogging has helped my writing, but on second thought: it may be that blogging helps my demeanor which helps my writing.

I suppose for some folks, blogging is a way to test drive ideas that eventually form the core of real scholarship.  And for other folks, blogging is scholarship.  For me it is a kind of serious recreation: a way to record ideas that don’t have a place in my scholarship (or teaching, or personal diary, for that matter).  It’s a place to do intentional, focused, topical daydreaming.  (Fuzzy, freewheeling, unfocused legitimate daydreaming stays in my head.)

Most importantly, blogging has been a way to keep writing when I am sick and tired of writing what I’m supposed to be writing.  Doing something thinky during scholarly dry spells, or getting unstuck on bad scholarship days, has done me a world of good since I started doing this kind of thing several years ago.

The serious-writing part of my brain is like some kind of machine that you can’t let sit or it gets gunked up.  I take it out for a spin, and sometimes actually get some place.  But if I just drive around in circles, that’s OK, too.

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Mind the Gap


Since my last post, a month ago, I still haven’t quite gotten back to the relentless single focus that characterized the preceding six months.  The continued pull of opportunities from the big professional group to which I belong (and recently, its annual conference), continued conversation about an opportunity at my home institution (requiring a few meetings here and there, a new vein of literature to attack briefly and furiously, and plenty of personal reflection), a family spring break excursion, and suddenly required computer maintenance have all taken their toll on my work on The Great Work.

This all makes me antsy, and worry that in the future, especially after the new academic year opens and my time is no longer my own, I will regret not having lengthy spans of time to devote to research and writing.  But hopefully I will remember that the majority of this time has been spent in worthy pursuits, and that, likewise, I would regret, in future, having not taken advantage of some of the surprises that came my way in these last few months.  Sabbatical is a wonderful opportunity to retire from the normal routine and demands of academic life, but not a place of absolute sequestration.  I am glad I have been justified in saying no to a certain number of requests for my time–typically when my participation could have been replaced by some other person or when my absence would not really make a big difference in the grand scheme of things–but at the same time, have needed to say yes so as to not be too far out of the stride of my discipline and my university once August rolls around.

At the same time, the Great Work continues to loom large.  In part thanks to the recent conference, I have a renewed energy to tuck in again and, what’s more, today should have the meeting that finally puts one of the extra-curricular issues to rest.  Several months remain. Inhale, exhale.  Inhale, exhale …

Picture: Original drawing for the London Underground roundel symbol designed by Edward Johnston.  I would have liked to have made one that read “Distraction Street,” but didn’t need the additional . . . well, you know.

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endI am writing this just a few hours before liftoff (hopefully), the very last day of my two months in Washington. I haven’t yet counted up the numbers of pages of notes and scanned documents that I have gathered in the five libraries and archives that have been the sites of my research, but I’m sure they number in the thousands.  And then there are a lot of photos too, and general memories, of the great extracurricular events that I’ve enjoyed here.  Given a hasty scan of my pictures and files, I know I amassed and ingested a load of information on mid-nineteenth century architectural practice, especially as it relates to the construction of the Capitol dome, as well as wringing Washington dry of my favored recreational activities.  With some certainty I am willing to name the two greatest revelations of these two months as: the Benjamin Brown French papers (Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress) and the crème brûlée donut (Astro Doughnuts, 13th & G).  Thanks, Washington: although it’s been, almost daily, wicked cold with a chance of bureaucratic cloudiness, it’s also been illuminating, and delicious.

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