I’m in a slump — a writing slump, mostly, but (and relatedly) also an emotional slump. I will come out of it, I’m sure, but so far I haven’t figured out exactly how. Some of it is my usual summertime blues, which have been exacerbated this year by how grey and rainy it has been here. Some of it is discouragement about the writing I did over my sabbatical, which right now seems to have led only to dead ends. Some of it is frustration because the teaching tasks I turned to, to cheer myself up by at least getting something concrete done, haven’t gone that well. For instance, twice while I was entering my long list of reserve readings for my fall graduate seminar the library’s form timed out on me after I’d put in all the information — which is a painstaking process, believe me! (Third time’s the charm, thank goodness.)
That’s small potatoes, though, compared to discovering that the work I’d put in on my Blackboard site for my fall intro class has been completely wiped out (my section was mistakenly reset instead of someone else’s). I can do it all again — I’ll have to, obviously. But what is torturing me at the moment is that back in June, when I last worked on the site, I had hit on what I thought was a really good way not just of reorganizing the course materials but of explaining and introducing them: after several tries, I’d found a tone and wording that I thought hit just the note I wanted. And now, of course, I can’t remember exactly what I’d said and done. No doubt it was not perfect in some ideal way, but in my mind now there will always be an imagined but inaccessible Better Version. Working on Blackboard is so fun, too: who wouldn’t want to spend more time on it! That will teach me to start early.
Then there’s the Amazing Disappearing Notebook. For every seminar class I teach, I use a spiral-bound notebook for preparing my own class notes and for taking notes during discussion. I have a shelf full of these notebooks! It is very helpful to leaf through previous versions of them when prepping for a new iteration of a course, so naturally I went looking for my notebook from the last time I taught my grad seminar on George Eliot — and it is nowhere to be found. I have emptied filing cabinets and shelves and done all the insane things you do when you are sure something is in the room but you can’t see it anywhere. It’s not as if I absolutely need it: I wasn’t going to actually use it for teaching the class this time. But I really would have liked to have it as a prompt and a reminder! So, one more small source of frustration that adds to my cumulative feeling of failure.
On all these fronts and more, the fix is simple, in theory at least: I need to take a deep breath and just get back to work. I need to commit to a new writing project and stop second-guessing its interest or value; I need to get the darned Blackboard site back into shape, even if it isn’t the perfect shape; I need to finish drafting my syllabi and handouts and organizing reserve materials and rereading key materials so I’m ready for the first day. I need — and this one is harder — to return to my sabbatical writing and figure out (again) how to shape and direct it. I will do all of these things. In my entire life, I have actually never not done the things required of me — so there’s that to remember, when I exacerbate my slump by criticizing my own lack of resilience and lapses in productivity.
I did get my application for promotion completed, so that’s one (pretty big) thing crossed off my list. I suppose that means this is not a good time to mope in public! Someone in a position to (and with a mandate to) judge might be watching. As I’ve said before, though, I think it’s misleading to pretend everything’s going swimmingly all of the time. Who knows: my discouragement might actually end up being perversely encouraging for someone else who is also feeling stymied. It happens! You’re not alone. We’ll get past it.
Update: I went for a walk, then got some small but necessary things done (finished a draft syllabus, did final edits on a submission for Open Letters, played around with my book order for a winter-term course). I feel a bit better. Maybe tomorrow I might even be ready to tackle some of the big things!