I've been sitting on a sad, limp draft accounting for my February for about a week, and I was starting to think I'd just have to give up the idea of having anything to say for myself, when up popped Laura's post "The Lost Month" over on her blog. Relief and joy: it wasn't me! It was February! At the very least, the truth: February didn't just happen to me. Knowing that brings me that much closer to really believing the line I've been giving myself about how my missteps revealed weak spots in my method, occasion for a tune-up, not for despair.
I actually started February with a great deal of optimism. I had done well with my January projects, and I was excited about my focus for the month: a focus on reading has just the kind of non-frightening, cozy hidey-hole sort of feeling that one wants in a cold transitional month. And even though I didn't technically even meet my goal for the first week of February, I did all right for a bit. I finished the first book I was reading just a couple of days late.
Here is the thing about reading. While I was doing my coursework in Madison, reading was my constant state of being. There would be the careful reading for teaching, with at least three colors of pens and highlighters nearby, then the slightly anxious reading for courses in foreign language departments, with a computer nearby for the dictionary, and finally the always-last-minute seminar reading, usually in the afternoon, sometimes unavoidably interrupted by naps.
But reading, as I do now, always in in-betweens, feels stolen: in the mornings, after I wake up, but before the house is quite warm; and then maybe again between making coffee and my drive to work; then again in quick catches, during lunch, or after cleaning up from dinner; occasionally in a library half-way home for a half hour. And in the meantime, I'm reading so many books at once, I'm making effectively no progress on any of them.
Reading half a dozen books at once is like teaching something you don't understand well: you get somewhere, but through what detours and misapprehensions you don't even guess.
So, for the first week and change of February, I made a big push on one volume of literary theory that I'd started on months and months ago. I'd long since realized would be helpful to my work, but I hadn't gotten past the first (long) chapter. So I channeled the focus of my coursework days, and read this book as if I were up against a deadline. And though I missed my invented deadline - designed to put me on track for finishing four books in the month - I didn't lose steam on the reading. I was interrupted by an application that needed writing, but I finished the book only a couple of days late.
But then another application, preparation for a trip, the trip itself, and apart from finishing one audio book (also on my list, but less pressing), I didn't check anything else off of the reading list for the rest of the month. Focus is tiring! If I'm honest with myself, this might be as significant a reason for my scattered style of reading as my desire to make space for serendipitous connections in my mind.
So, on leap day, a day I took entirely for myself and for my transition, I devised a new idea for a structure to bolster me in the face of that demon, focus:
I made three reading lists: life, critical concepts, and poetry. Though the "life" list came first, it includes everything the other two categories don't. Critical Concepts, which sounds like a heading from a middle school textbook, means anything that I'm reading for my dissertation that isn't a literary text. Poetry is just that, regardless of relevance or non-relevance to the dissertation (I don't think I read enough of it). Life is sometimes those books on academic writing that many of us read in moments of panic and flailing self-doubt, but it is also Marie Kondo and the biography of Tove Jansson I've been waking up to.
I have new goals for March, but reading is constant. But now I'm going to focus on one book at a time from each of my three categories (because only one book over the long term would be constitutionally impossible for me), and we'll see how that goes for the rest of the year, or as long as I stick to it.
PS: that trip, to LA, was lovely, and though it didn't do much for my reading goals (I mostly slept on those long plane rides), seeing my beautiful friend and getting that time-traveling feeling of tasting sweet strawberries and smelling flowers was good for me in so many ways.