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!