Friday, March 10, 2017

My Week

Reading "My Day," Eleanor Roosevelt's syndicated newspaper column, one can't help but be struck by how she weaves the details of public and private. A description of a family evening seems ordinary until one realizes who the guests were who came to dinner. An account of a trip to the New York City World's Fair with friends leads one to pause and wonder about the security surrounding an event that Mrs. Roosevelt mentions so casually.

I was once asked to write a guest blog about a typical day in the life of my police detective, Hannah McCabe. I have occasionally been asked how I divide my time between my career as an academic and my other life as a mystery writer. Yesterday, as I was thinking about how to fit some designated writing time into my schedule for the rest of the semester, I paused to look not only at my day, but at my week.

My life is lived on a calendar that is never quite in step with people who look at a year and see twelve months. Academic-types look at a calendar and see semesters or quarters or intersessions. We see the times when classes are in session. We are sometimes unaware of holidays when other people have days off because our classes are meeting. We have spring break, and for a week -- as in summer and for almost a month in late December and much of January -- we may be working at home. We have "flexible" schedules in that we have work to get done, but are generally free to come and go unless we have a class or office hours or a committee meeting. Having such an undefined "work day," we often carry around papers to be graded or books to be read and end up in errand-to-do places with computers open. Think waiting room at the car dealership while oil being changed and tires rotated.

Next week is spring break for the students at UAlbany. This week was mid-term week -- a marvelous way to send them off with a sigh of relief that the first half of the semester is over and nagging anxiety about how well they did on the exam. I had two classes this week. Crime and Cities, a grad course, on Monday afternoon, 1:15-4:05. Violence in American literature, a 400-level, writing-intensive, course from 5:45-8:35 on Tuesday evening. Late evening classes are a recent addition in my school, and we take turns teaching them. The idea is that it allows students who are unable to take a class during the day to register for an evening class. What I've discovered is that I spend much of my day knowing that I'll need to teach in the evening and not getting too involved in anything else.

On Monday, I went into Crime and Cities feeling confident that my grad students would remember the discussions we'd had about the evolution of American cities from colonies to early 20th century cities. They had read, watched videos, discussed in class and their online journals the role of commerce in the establishment of the colony of New Amsterdam (where Peter Stuyvesant, the director general banned knife fights and fined failure to attend church) and Chicago (where location was everything, Mrs. O'Leary's cow was wrongly accused, and Henry Ford took note of the dis-assembly line used to butcher hogs). After the last student had finished her exam, I dashed back to my office to leave the exams on my desk and then hurried to the uptown campus (10 minutes away) to attend a meeting. I had already said I would be late (the problem when meetings have to be scheduled based on availability of the majority of attendees on two campuses). I got there in time to settle into my seat before the presenter was too far along. A bottle of water was waiting on the conference table, always welcome after a hike from one of the parking lots. I headed home after the meeting and spent the evening working on my Tuesday exam (while watching "The Voice").

Tuesday stands out as a high point in my week because a library director cc'd me on an email she sent out to the librarians in her system. The email was about me. She was letting them know that the three-volumes that co-editor, Steve Chermak, and I had edited on Crimes of the Century had made Library Journal's list of "Best of 2016" reference book. I zipped off a quick thank you for the news and sent an email to my co-editor. We did the email equivalent of a "high-five," both pleased that a project that had been so labor-intensive had turned out more than okay in the end. He suggested I email the editor we work with as co-series editors for crime and media and let her know. I also sent an email to my agent, who had nothing to do with the project, but I like to let him know when something good happens.

Tuesday evening I gave another exam. My undergrad students tackled multiple choice questions, true or false, matching, and the two essays questions of their choice. They felt more confident about the essay questions because they had made them up the week before. I caught up on the news on my podium computer while they wrote about Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," Dunbar's "The Lynching of Jube Benson," and Glaspell's "Trifles" and "A Jury of Her Peers". We wished each other good spring breaks as they deposited their exams on the table and headed out one by one. 

On Wednesday, I looked at the two stacks of exams on my desk and considered when I would start grading. I wanted to finish before spring break begins so that I would have an entire, uninterrupted week to work on my dress, appearance, and crime book. I also needed to do a draft of a proposal for a conference in Spring 2018 and send it off to my collaborator in a community project. I needed to read a manuscript that I had been asked to review by an academic publisher. I needed to finish reading  Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor's memoir, My Beloved World, because I'm distributing copies of the book to my graduate class when they return after spring break. Justice Sotomayor is coming to campus on April 4 to give a public lecture.

During the day, the supervisor of our three-volume project sent congratulations on Library Journal. I glanced around at the stacks of articles that I'd read and printed out for my dress and appearance book. I debated whether -- since my one office window was going to be covered with green netting until July while renovations were going on -- I might actually pack up some of the boxes and spend more time working at home. I decided working in a gloomy office where no sunshine penetrated was probably easier than concentrating when a 16 pound cat decides he wants to set on your lap as you're writing. Besides I had tried that during the summer and the books I needed was always at school.

On Thursday, I confirmed that I would be on a panel during spring break if the organizer really needed me. I made a note to myself to rent the documentary that I would need to watch. Earlier, I'd remembered that I hadn't made my hotel reservation for Malice Domestic. I called the hotel and had a few tense moments on hold that turned out to be about the computer not a full hotel. I'd called my doctor's office to make an appointment to get my ear checked -- clogged since I'd had a cold -- and needed to scramble for my appointment book when the receptionist surprised us both by saying she could fit me in on Friday. I spent the evening, thinking about what I want to accomplish next week -- and realizing I need to get as much done up front as possible. A week goes by in the blink of an academic eye.

This morning -- or late last night -- I decided to write about how I'd spent my week. I'm thinking of keeping a daily journal to help me find more time to write every day. I'm going to see if setting aside a couple of hours a day to work on the 1939 book will get me through the first draft.

Just realized this post is really long -- but no time to edit. A meeting at 1. 

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