Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nibbled to Death by Ducks

My Ethics and Children's Literature conference concluded on Sunday, leaving all of the presenters, attendees, and me with a warm, contented glow. The presenters and attendees said lovely things that I can cherish in my heart, like my student who wrote in her response paper to the conference: “In a mere two and a half hour time, speakers at the Ethics and Children’s Literature Symposium mentioned topics spanning from Latin America, sex, abortion, child abuse, rage, moral perfection, all in the context of children’s literature. And this was all before lunch. The Ethics and Children’s Literature Symposium’s sessions I attended presented topics that helped my understanding of the influence and importance of children’s literature and the complexity that is embedded in every story.” Or the student who wrote: “After going to a couple of sessions, all I wanted to do was spend hours at the Prindle Institute talking to the authors.” Yes!

So the huge work of planning and executing the conference is over! The conference was a success! Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?

Alas, the first thing that I have to do is all the things I left undone for the past two or three weeks in preparation for the conference (and for the all-day writing workshop in Skokie, and for the middle-school writing workshops here in Greencastle, as well as finishing up - after first facing and starting - a philosophy paper that was due September 1). I have dozens of tiny things to do, those things I call Loathsome Tasks, or LTs, small pesky jobs that I find so hard to face. On this, my first "free" day in weeks, I am being nibbled to death by ducks! So this is prompting some reflections on my part about how to deal with duck-nibbling LTs. 

I do know that if we're not careful, LTs can nibble away our entire lives. It's so easy to fill a day doing nothing but sending and answering emails. Sometimes that may be necessary, but it's seldom satisfying, and I  don't want my tombstone to read, "Many were the emails she answered."

My most important strategy for avoiding this fate is to make sure I have enough big, major, meaningful tasks to do that I have no choice but to prioritize them, giving them the first and best hours of my day. That is what I have done for all of September so far. But one can't neglect LTs forever. Sooner or later they have to be done - someway, somehow. Perhaps it would be ideal to leave them till the end of the day, or use them to fill up little bits of time in between other things. But I hate them so much I can't make myself do them on a day when I've already accomplished anything else. But if I give the first, best hours of my day to them, I'll live my whole life never accomplishing anything else.

So what I tend to do is declare one day simply as LT Day. I get up early in the morning on LT Day and make a very long master list of LTs and then I start to do them, and keep doing them until I get a sufficient quantity crossed off. Today is an LT Day. I have 35 items on my list, ranging from  "call Superior Self-Storage to try to arrange auto-pay on my account" to "update recommendation letters for grad students x, y, and z" to "invite another speaker for the Undergraduate Ethics Symposium" to "call that nice man from tech support services to see if he will come help me with the visiting speaker for my class who is going to use Power Point in her presentation on Friday." 

I have now, at 1:30 in the afternoon, crossed off 22 things on the list. Writing this blog (not an LT, but a T) will be number 23. A bunch of items remain, but, hey, 23 is pretty good. Perhaps good enough to go and eat some blueberry crumb cake left over from my conference snacks. And then on Thursday, I'll launch another major project - revising Annika Riz, Math Whiz - now that the ducks are somewhat pacified.


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