Sunday, July 31, 2011

Same and Different

I'm home from my annual writing group retreat up at Lake Dillon in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Our retreat has always followed the same beloved script with the same beloved rituals, but this year for the first time, some things were different as well as the many things that were comfortingly the same.

This year, for the first time ever, one of our members, ill with pneumonia, was unable to join us. That was a very sad difference. Every time we held hands around the table, we left a gap to imagine her there with us.

This year, for the first time ever, we added a new member to the group. That was a wonderful difference. We loved every minute of having Mary with us.

This year, for the first time ever, we had a three-night retreat instead of our usual two nights. Bliss! In addition to our standard session discussing this year's Newbery Award winning book, and reading aloud the Newbery acceptance speech published in Horn Book, and our standard Saturday morning critique session, and Saturday night sharing of inspirational readings for the writing life, we also had tons of free time. Of course I spent time writing, reading, and walking. But I also sightread piano duets with Mary, and marveled at Leslie's mesmerizingly graceful hooping exercise routine, and listened to Mary play her hauntingly beautiful Native American flutes.

In the past, I've always come to the retreat ready to share my new writing project for the coming year. This year, frantically busy with my transition to Indiana, I didn't have a project ready to share. But with all this extra writing time, by Saturday morning I had at least an idea to share. And the rest of the group liked it. So now I'm all set for my writing future.

So it was the same, and different, but mainly extremely wonderful.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happy Ending

My paper that was pronounced "not scholarly enough" has now been pronounced sufficiently scholarly for publication. Whew!

Alas, the editor also asked me if I could convert all of the in-text citations (MLA style) into end-notes, and there were NINETY-TWO OF THEM! That's what I get for rustling up so many other philosophers to contribute their thoughts on Nietzsche. It took me almost as long to convert all those endnotes - so tedious! and so fraught with possibilities for careless error! - as it did to write the paper. But I didn't mind. I am SO relieved that it is going to be published, after all.
Yet another iffy paper salvaged at the eleventh hour!

Oh, I feel happy to have this one crossed off my list.

Now for my reward, and a wonderful reward it is: tomorrow I leave for my annual writing group retreat up at Lake Dillon. This year we're going for three nights, not just two, so we will have time to write as well as time to critique our manuscripts and discuss this year's Newbery winner, Moon over Manifest. I still have to go shopping for the ingredients for the lasagna and salad I'm to bring, and then I have to make the lasagne and organize the salad. But that is nothing compared to converting 92 in-text citations to endnotes. And then I'll be up in the mountains with nothing to do for three days but to reconnect with my beloved writing group friends.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do We Love for Reasons?

My pleasant task this morning is to write up my comments on the paper for which I am the assigned commentator for the fourth annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress (RoME), the amazingly wonderful ethics conference hosted by my own Philosophy Department, to be held the first weekend in August. Each paper delivered at the conference will be about half an hour long, followed by a fifteen-minute reply by the commentator, and then by about half an hour of discussion from the audience.

I love the paper on which I'm commenting this year. Indeed, I was one of the people who reviewed papers submitted to the conference, and I loved this one when I read it, and volunteered to be its commentator just because I loved it. The paper defends "the No-Reasons View of Love": the claim that love is "neither based on reasons, nor responsive to reasons, nor can it be assessed for normative reasons." We love what we love, whether or not we SHOULD love it. When it comes to love, reasons simply don't matter.

I don't know if I think this view is correct or not, but I do think the topic itself is fascinating. In my comments I say that I think the no-reasons view is more plausible for certain kinds of love than for others: more plausible for romantic/erotic love, and for parental love, than for love between friends. I also think that it's more plausible for coming to love than for ceasing to love: it does seem that while we don't come to love someone for reasons, we may stop loving someone for reasons, for example, if we discover that he is abusive, unfaithful, or otherwise unworthy. While love is often resistant to reasons, it is sometimes responsive to reasons.

Or at least that's what I'm going to say in my comments. I don't know any of this for sure. But it is most pleasant to spend a morning thinking about it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From Half-Baked to Baked

I have this terrible tendency to do a half-baked job on scholarly papers. Only once in my entire academic career have I had a paper (in either philosophy or children's literature) accepted by a journal outright. I always get a "revise and resubmit," with a LONG list of what the revision needs to include for my paper to be deemed publishable. Sometimes I can tell that the editor is almost embarrassed to be sending me such scathing comments from the outside reviewers. But I respond cheerfully: "Don't worry! Reviewers ALWAYS say scathing things about my papers! And I always fix them up lickety split! And they always end up getting accepted. So it will all be okay!"

Part of why my papers are so half-baked is that I have at some level an aversion to the whole enterprise of "scholarship," which often seems to involve simply finding somebody else to quote who is saying the same thing that I am already saying. I laugh aloud when I see my undergraduate students quoting Wikipedia in their papers as the authority behind their claim that, e.g., John Stuart Mill believed in the principle of utility. Why not just quote Mill himself? Mill's own words? Why quote somebody else saying that this is what Mill said?

But this does seem to be what scholars are expected to do. In this most recent paper, my Nietzschean analysis of the picture book The Rainbow Fish, initially I had lots of quotes from Nietzsche. But now, after my massive revision, I have as well lots of quotes from other people about Nietzsche, mainly repeating what Nietzsche said. I went to the library and checked out a dozen books on Nietzsche, skim-read the relevant section of each one to find the quotes I needed, and stuck them in. Instant scholarship!

I have to admit that the paper feels much less skimpy now, much more weighty and impressive. It reads better, too. And I did manage to use my scholarly authorities to offer more nuance and complexity in my reading of Nietzsche. I like my paper ten thousand times better now. I hope the editor of this volume will like it ten thousand times better, too.

Even if I mainly quote Cameron, Danto, Kaufmann, Hatab, Holub, Leiter, May, and Wallace to say what I already said.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Three Weeks from Today

The countdown continues: three weeks from today (gasp!) I start driving to my new life in Indiana.

The main thing on my before-I-go list right now is revisions on a scholarly paper I sent off to an edited collection last month. I have the editor's comments back, and I have to say that I have a LOT of work to do on this one to make it more "scholarly" and more rigorously argued. It's a bit overwhelming, but I dutifully trotted off to the CU library yesterday and came home with two bulging totebags of books so that I can stick in footnotes all over the place! This is the paper that I already knew was skimpy and pitiful. So now I will make it substantial and insightful. I simply ran out of time before the due date, so I'm paying for that now.

I saw a book once with the great title: If You Haven't Got the Time to Do It Right, When Will You Find the Time to Do It Over? So it might seem that I've been dealt the procrastinator's punishment: because I ran out of time to do this paper right, now I have to spend twice as much time to do it over.

But that really isn't how I look at it. I don't think I really knew HOW to do it right the first time around. I really did need the editor's comments to point me in the right direction. And now I have those comments. I could have sat paralyzed forever trying to figure out how to do it right. Instead at least I wrote SOMETHING, and sent it off, and suffered the embarrassment of reading those editorial comments. I can tell the editor thinks it's really touch-and-go at this point whether my paper will end up making the cut.

But you know what? I bet it does. I always end up having to "do it over." There was one time, a year ago, when I just couldn't do it over, couldn't make the paper good enough, and had to give up on it. But all of the other times, dozens of times, I've come through.

Off to see if I can come through once more.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peanuts and Crackerjack

Last night my two boys and their friend Asher and I went to watch the Rockies beat the Braves 12-3.

I never would have dreamed that I would become somebody who absolutely adores going to Rockies games. I am not a sports person. I follow no professional sports (except for baseball now, a little tiny bit) and often don't even know who is playing in the Superbowl (though at least I can identify the sport for which the Superbowl is the culminating event, and I also know what "March Madness" is).

We went to our first Rockies game, somewhat reluctantly, fifteen or so years ago, when my sister Cheryl and her husband were visiting us. Carey loves sports, and loves to go to different ballparks when they travel, so we assumed the mantle of good hosts and tagged along with them to a Rockies game. And it was enormous fun!

Everything about a Rockies game is fun: sitting at Coors Field as the sun is setting behind the Continental Divide, eating the hotdogs and drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade, cheering as the fountains spurt up for a Rockies home run, and best of all, singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. It's even fun walking back to the car afterwards, with the throngs of happy fans (somehow the Rockies always seem to win when we're there). The boys and I try to go two or three times each summer.

This makes me wonder what other pleasures in life I'm missing out on for lacking of trying them even once. I've never attended a CU football game - somehow I can't believe I'd like it, but maybe I'm wrong about this, too. I've never run or walked in the Boulder Bolder 10K race on Memorial Day. I've never gone to karaoke on Wednesday nights with Philosophy Department graduate students.

Maybe it's not a bad idea to try everything - well, almost everything - at least once, just to find out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Time for Rereading Epictetus

Although my blog is basically a cheery little record of all my happy activities and accomplishments as a children's book writer, philosophy professor, and occasional salvager of ruined houses, rest assured that my personal life has many hideous and horrid challenges in it. Sometimes I wish that just one week would go by without some staggering blow.

So this is why I continue to love my most beloved of all philosophers, Epictetus. Epictetus erects his philosophy on the simplest possible scaffolding: he draws just one fundamental distinction, between things that are in our power (things that are up to us) and things that are not in our power (things that are not up to us). From this all the rest follows with absolute obviousness. For once you grasp the distinction, which category of things should you worry about? Things that are in your power, or things that are not? Um, things that ARE in your power? Yes! So what should you NOT be focusing on? Um, everything else? Yes! And this includes: the weather, your reputation, your worldly fortunes, and most important for our purposes here: other people's actions.


99 percent of my staggering blows concern other people's actions. That is to say, things that I can do nothing about. NOTHING AT ALL. So why should I be staggering? And lamenting? And groaning? Why not calmly accept that other people will act as they are going to act, and accept that all things happen as they do?

On some days this is harder than on other days. It's also easier, I've found, with medication. But the only alternative is to beat your head bloody against what cannot be changed.

So instead I'll finish this blog post, fix myself a nice little lunch, put on my bathing suit, and go sit awhile by the pool.

That IS in my power. That IS up to me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do Look Back

I'm still proceeding on the gargantuan project of cleaning out this house for sale. This is the project I was working on last month with my team of crackerjack graduate students. With their help, I got the house to the point where it could be shown to a realtor, and then shown to potential buyers, and now I'm thrilled to report that it is under contract for a mid-August closing. But now I have to finish cleaning out the rest of it.

Some furniture will be sold, some given to Gregory to set up his first-ever apartment, some moved into storage. I think the house had five couches, six desks, four dining room tables, and more coffee tables and end tables and interesting little curio cases than you could shake a stick at. I've done so much. Oh, but so much remains.

This is where the advice "Don't look back" needs to be turned on its head. In a job like this it's crucially important to focus on how far one has already come, rather than on the hurdles that lie ahead. So in bed at night before I fall asleep, I itemize in my head the progress just from last week: 1) secured the storage facility; 2) hired the packers and movers and reserved the packing and moving dates; 3) took an entire huge truckload of furniture to a local consignment store; 4) took one truckload and four stationwagon loads of stuff to Goodwill; 5) arranged for the piano tuner before the piano goes into storage; 6) took all the "hazardous materials" (cans of paint, thinner, weed spray) to the special hazardous materials recycling center.

More remains, yes, and I have my little list, believe you me. But before I go to sleep at night, it's better to look back at accomplishments with calm satisfaction than dwell on tasks still undone. Take one step, then another, first one foot, then the other - and occasionally glance back over your shoulder at all the stunning progress made.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mentorship Joys

For the past seven months I have been serving as a mentor to two wonderful writers through a mentorship program sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Individuals apply to be mentored by completing an entire book-length manuscript for young readers and submitting the first chapter, a synopsis, and a letter explaining how they believe they would benefit from a mentor relationship. Prospective mentors - well-established published authors - review the applications and make their selections.

Last year I chose five mentees and adored working with all of them; this year, because of my own writing deadlines, I forced myself to choose only two, although it broke my heart to turn promising writers away. The mentorship is a big time commitment: mentors and mentees pledge to meet together once a month for six months. The mentor has a lot of advising to do. The mentee has a lot of revising to do. I wanted to make sure I could give each of my mentees my very best.

This week I had my final meeting with both of them. Each of them has completed an amazingly extensive revision of an already strong manuscript. One of them worked primarily on situating the reader completely in each riveting scene, not rushing but developing tension between the characters slowly and believably. The other worked primarily on point of view, which had been all over the place in the original manuscript. Now the point of view alternates chapter-by-chapter between the two protagonists, and the reader gets to watch the trajectories of each story inexorably converge. Both writers tried to get away with fairly quick concluding chapters, but now each one is giving the reader a totally satisfying ending with tears and laughs and the sense that the story ended up exactly where the reader most wanted it to go.

I love being a writing mentor almost more than I have loved anything. I am so proud of what these two writers have accomplished since January. I am so proud that I was able to play some small role in helping them to accomplish it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Time for Fun

I was worried enough that I wouldn't get all my work done in the month I have left before I leave for Indiana. But then I started to be consumed by the far more urgent worry that I wouldn't cram in all of my summer fun. So I got busy and made some plans.

Here is what I have coming up:

Tonight: book signing at Barnes and Noble in Boulder for my writing group friend Phyllis Perry, celebrating her latest book Speaking Ill of the Dead, a portrait of Colorado bad guys and bad gals throughout the centuries

Thursday night: Colorado Music Festival up at Chautauqua with my friend Diane, who is subscribing to their violin virtuoso series with me: Mendelssohn violin concerto

Friday night: Colorado Music Festival up at Chautauqua: Tchaikovsky violin concerto

Saturday night: Romeo and Juliet at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, with the boys

Sunday night: Colorado Music Festival: Beethoven violin concerto

Monday night: catch-up drink with my colleague Alison Jaggar, back from Oslo

Tuesday night: Colorado Rockies v. Atlanta Braves at Coors Field, with the boys

Still ahead: Comedy of Errors at CU, The Little Prince at CU, my writing group summer retreat, and a round of farewell luncheons, happy hours, dinners, and more.

I think right now my worries about getting in enough summer fun are under control!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Month from Today

A month from today I drive away to my new life in Indiana. I'll start driving on the morning of August 12 with the goal of arriving in Greencastle, Indiana, the next day in time for a Philosophy Department evening get-together.

One more month!

I'm overwhelmed by all that I need to do between now and then, homesick already for my sweet life here (homesick, and churchsick, and friendsick, and writinggroupsick, and more). And I'm also wild with excitement for the new life that I am envisioning for the coming year that I'll spend as the Frederick Visiting Professor of Ethics at the Prindle Institute of Ethics at DePauw University.

In my thoughts, Indiana has become the promised land, the land of milk and honey. In Indiana, I'll start writing again and I'll write my Newbery Award book AND a stunning adult memoir. In Indiana, I'll become reinvigorated as a philosopher and create a whole new ambitious research program for myself. In Indiana, I'll grow as a writer, teacher, and scholar. Oh, and I'll also eat better meals, and exercise more, and read a ton of books.

I love the weekly newsletter sent out by life-makeover guru Cheryl Richardson. I saved a recent one that was about the importance of changing our location if we want to make major changes in our life situation. She wrote, "When we change our environment, we interrupt the powerful force of unconscious patterns that keep us firmly rooted in failure." And she wrote, "Stop trying to create a breakthrough from within a structure that's set up to support failure."

A month from today, I'm off to a new environment that is going to transform all my unconscious patterns in wonderful ways. Indiana, here I come.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Critics Disagree

At the retreat this past weekend, one of the questions that came up in our class was a terrific one: What is an author supposed to do when several readers of her manuscript disagree in their reactions to it?

A first answer, of course, is that she should do whatever SHE wants to do. It is, after all, HER book; it needs to express her voice and her vision.

And yet, it is also true that in some sense every reader's judgment of a book is irrefutable. If a reader doesn't think my chapter is funny, there is no point in my trying to insist to him, "Yes, it is!" If he thinks it's confusing, there is no point in my insisting on its clarity. And isn't connecting with readers the POINT of what we're trying to do? And now my readers are disagreeing with each other: one hates the other's favorite scene; one dislikes the other's favorite character; one doesn't "get" the other's favorite funny bit. What to do?

Now, every author has to accept that we cannot please every single reader. Even War and Peace has its detractors. Whenever I check reader reviews of a book I've just read on, I'm bound to see five-star reviews offset by one-star reviews. So it may simply be impossible to please all readers, especially if some readers have a standing aversion to a certain genre, or type of story line, or kind of humor. Oh, well.

That said, I do think that an author can often do something to correct what reader B hated in a chapter even while keeping what reader A loved about it. When I was writing the first chapter of my forthcoming book about an honor student who is facing expulsion for mistakenly taking her mother's lunchbox instead of her own, a lunchbox that happened to contain a small knife for cutting her mother's apple, I wanted to establish Sierra as a girl who is somewhat smug and self-righteous, secure in her role as top scholar and student leader. Then in the course of the story, she is going to have to reexamine her self-image and the various assumptions that undergird it.

When my writing group read the first draft of the chapter, some of them said that they simply didn't like Sierra, as she had been presented, and weren't going to be able to root for her as the heroine of the story. But others said that my portrayal of her somewhat problematic character was the most brilliant part of the book. What to do?

Well, what I did was to keep Sierra pretty much as she was, but simply tone it down a bit. I took out two or three thoughts that she had that most set up some readers to dislike her, thoughts that were just a tad over-the-top. And that was enough. On a second reading, everyone liked her, even as they recognized her flaws.

So maybe we can at least try to please everybody. At least some of the time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Restored and Rejuvenated

I did come home restored and rejuvenated from the SCBWI retreat this past weekend in Colorado Springs, even after giving four talks, and twelve 20-minute-long one-on-one manuscript critiques, plus engaging in an evening Q&A session with Linda Ashman, the delightful author who led the picture-book track for the weekend. I felt that my talks went well, and that my critiques were insightful and encouraging, and that the Q&A had some sparkly moments.

I love doing things that I'm good at doing.

So much of my life as a philosophy professor involves doing things that I'm not particularly good at doing. Sometimes I teach material I don't know as well as I wish I did, and I can hear myself explaining it to my students in a way that even I know is confusing. Sometimes I attend a colloquium talk and truly don't understand a word of it. Once I had to serve on a university budget committee where one budget algorithm was explained to us by invoking the quadratic formula - that was a terrible day!

But if there's one thing I do know how to talk about, it's how this particular author goes about writing a children's book. And I think I do have a gift for reading an aspiring writer's manuscript and seeing instantly what works and what doesn't work, and being able to communicate that in a positive, inspirational way.

That's what I did for the past two days. I loved every minute of doing it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sturdy Structure and Peppy Pacing

Of course, when I actually sat down to prepare the FOUR talks I have to give as the facilitator/leader of the SCBWI writing retreat this weekend, it was much less daunting than it had seemed earlier. I found quite lovely outlines for previously given talks in my file helpfully labeled TALKS, and added some new material to draw on things I've learned through writing some of my more recent books, and made a handout, and now I'm packed and ready to go.

Some presenters at events like this draw on examples from other people's books to illustrate various points in their talks. That is certainly a very generous approach and allows them to focus on the very best examples of what we should be doing as writers. But I'm going to take the route of focusing on examples from my own books, not because I think they're so great - they're not - but because I know exactly how and why I made those creative choices, often after having made much less successful previous creative choices and now having to correct them. Perhaps self-servingly, I've decided that anybody can sit down and read wonderful books and marvel at how wonderful they are. What's most fun for me, as an attendee of talks, is hearing how the person presenting figured out what she was going to do in her book, and why. I could listen forever to authors discuss, not how to write generally, but their own creative process specifically, and then distill lessons from it to apply in my own case.

So I'll talk about One Square Inch, and how hard how I had to work to make Cooper active rather than reactive in the face of his mother's mental illness, how I had to eliminate entire characters to make his situation more urgent, shorten the time frame of the novel to increase dramatic tension, switch from third person to first person to add immediacy and directness, and change the ending in which I - an author of over 40 published books - actually made the most egregious error possible of having the central truth at the heart of the book not discovered by Cooper himself but delivered to him by an adult authority.

I may not be an expert on Writing with a capital W, but I AM an expert on "Mistakes Made Quite Recently by Claudia Mills and How You Can Avoid Making These Mistakes in Your Own Writing."

So that's the heart of what I'll have to share with the retreat attendees this weekend in Colorado Springs.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Advancing to Retreat

This weekend I'm heading down to Colorado Springs for the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) summer retreat, held at the Franciscan Retreat Center. There is nothing more delicious than the thought of a weekend spent in seclusion at a peaceful meditative place, a weekend designed to send the registrants away rested, restored, rejuvenated, and inspired with new insights about how to grow as writers.

Unfortunately, I'm the facilitator/leader of the retreat. I'm the one who has to find a way to restore and rejuvenate my fellow attendees. I'm the one who has to come up with the new insights about how we can all grow as writers.

When I agreed to take on this assignment, several months ago, I had visions of spending most of the summer preparing the FOUR talks I will be giving. I made up titles for the talks, titles like "Sturdy Structure and Peppy Pacing: A How-to Guide" and "Finding the Funny Bone: Humor in Middle-Grade and YA Fiction." I was all excited about actually figuring out how to create sturdy structure and peppy pacing in a book, and how exactly to develop a story's comic potential. Wouldn't it be satisfying finally to KNOW these things?

But of course, my summer didn't turn out that way. I had that house-salvaging project. I had my week teaching in Utah. I had those conferences in Roanoke and NYC. And I also had to write up detailed comments for the dozen manuscripts for which I'm giving one-on-one critiques at the retreat: the people who are receiving these critiques are paying significant money for them, so the critiques had better be wonderful.

So now there are two days left before the retreat, and I'm sitting here thinking: sturdy structure, peppy pacing, developing characterization, enhancing humor, "Manuscript Makeovers: 20 tips for revision." What ARE 20 good tips for revision?

It's really not as bad as it sounds, as I do have drafts of various former talks that can be dragged out and spiffed up a bit. And I've been known to have amazing revelations at the very last minute, indeed, on the spot. And I do have thirty years of experience that I'm drawing on. And . . . .

But I still wish I knew more about sturdy structure and peppy pacing, for example, exactly how to make it happen, and how to tell somebody else how to make it happen.

I now have two days to figure it out.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Kerlan Collection

I did manage to write that one thank you note yesterday, and to print out my student's paper (though not to read it), and actually also wrote three book reviews for Children's Literature. But I spent most of my surprisingly productive morning bundling up two sets of manuscripts, for How Oliver Olson Changed the World and One Square Inch, to donate to the Kerlan Collection.

It is one of the nicest things in my writer life that the fabulous Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, repository of so many manuscripts by so many brilliant and famous authors, two decades ago agreed to accept my donations as well. For years I wondered what I was supposed to do with my original manuscripts: those precious handwritten pages, those scribbled-over drafts, those long letters from my editors. How could I just throw them away? But, hater of clutter/hoarding that I am, how could I save them without crowding myself out of my own house? And now I have the satisfaction of both saving them and not saving them, by sending them away to be preserved - forever? - in the temperature-controlled vaults at the Kerlan.

I visited the Kerlan two summers ago to give a talk there and had the thrill of seeing my manuscripts - my manuscripts! - in a display case in the hallway outside the collection. And I saw the students to whom I was speaking handle the manuscripts - my manuscripts - while wearing white gloves! Of course, that was quite an amazing thing for me to behold.

But it was mainly just a tribute to the creative process itself - to the sacred task of putting marks down upon paper, blindly, hopelessly, draft after draft - and then, lo, here is a book. The journey did lead somewhere, after all.

So yesterday I assembled all those stages of the journey, from handwritten notes, to versions commented on by my critique group, to drafts revised from editorial suggestions, to the final edited and copyedited manuscript, to an inscribed first edition of the book itself. Now they are on their way to Minneapolis, the work of many months and years, to their sweet resting place.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I am home from my merry week of wandering, which climaxed in a most inspirational conference of the PLATO Institute (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), devoted to sharing philosophy with pre-college-age children and youth. The PLATO program, held at Columbia University Teachers College, ran for two days of lively and helpful talks and discussions. They even put up the out-of-town speakers at an elegant, quiet boutique hotel on West 77th Street, On the Avenue, which boasted the world's most comfortable beds. And I loved getting to spend two nights in a city I love so much.

But now I'm home. And I have to do all the pesky little tasks that mounted up while I was away, as well as face the fact that there is MUCH I have to do before I depart to my new life in Indiana in - gulp - six weeks! And I am paralyzed with inertia. I don't want to do any of these tasks. I forced myself to make a master to-do list, with 81 items on it, and the smallest items on the list still feel overwhelming to me. And of course the longer I go without doing any of the items on the list, the more overwhelmed I feel.

What to do? One option would be to give myself a couple of days off, say to myself, look at all you've accomplished already this summer! And you've just come back from a tiring, though wonderful, trip. What's wrong with relaxing for a weekend? But then I hate to think of how terrible the to-do list is going to appear to me when I return from a weekend of enforced sloth.

So I think I'm going to try a different strategy. If the smallest item on the list feels overwhelming, come up with items that are still smaller. If "write this one thank you note that I need to write" feels too overwhelming, then try: "go to the cupboard where you keep your stationery and pick out a card" and "address the envelope." I know once I do those two things, then "actually write something on the card" will seem more doable. If "grade this one paper from a summer independent study" feels too overwhelming, then try: "print out the paper" and "give it a preliminary skim-read." At that point, I'll probably decide just to write up a few comments, give it a grade, and move on.

Okay. I have a plan. I will locate one card and address one envelope. I can do this!