Friday, May 04, 2007

Thinking small

I was pretty freaked about my work. I have to write a conference paper for the end of the month, one that I have sort of set up as fairly major. But most of the thinking hasn't been done yet. Eek. On top of that, I had to conceive, in short order, of a paper for a conference in November, since I'm coordinating a panel proposal for said conference. These two papers represent two theoretical pillars of my larger (book) project. They began to seem impossibly huge. I started some reading in relation to the proposal for the fall. I was doing the Big Questions thing...leaping from the object of my study out to some enormous, diffuse field of which I have very little grasp. And I was panicking.

But today, I put away the sidetracking Big Questions books, and I returned, conceptually, to the small questions and intricate details I started with. Ahhh. It was like slipping into a warm bath. I have worked out a problem for the fall paper and pulled my abstract together, along with what I think is a strong panel abstract that ties our three papers together very nicely. Along the way, I browsed through the set of small questions - really, one question - that needs to occupy me for the paper at the end of this month. It will be more than okay, I saw. I can grasp this. It is doable.

I don't know why I continually forget this principle, this imperative to think small. Over and over again, I tie myself up in knots by turning much too soon to questions that are much too large. For me, the hardest thing to learn about being an academic is that the best work lies in intricate, subtle treatments of things. That is ultimately the work that takes my breath away. I hope someday soon that recognition will stick, and I will remember to apply it to my own work from the outset!


medieval woman said...

It's because you're a giraffe, dear! This is how my advisor splits things up - there are giraffes and moles. Giraffes usually tend to begin with the big picture and have to train themselves to look at the details and start small. I'm a mole, which means that I tend to grub about in the details, but have a hard time poking my head out of the ground and look around at the larger picture. I think that true scholarship zen will be achieved when I can become a giraffe-mole hybrid.

I'm glad you got all that work done!

Hilaire said...

What a great way of thinking about it! I love that analogy. (Also, ex-GF just told me I remind her of a giraffe - she was recently in South Africa, and saw some - because giraffes are tall, vegetarian, and pacifist!) So I definitely have an emblematic animal now.

I'm with you - a giraffe-mole hybrid is the way to go.

squadratomagico said...

I like this too. I'm a total giraffe.

medieval woman said...

The giraffe must be your "totem" animal :)