Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Am I a writer? Part I

As writing on my dissertation has finally become part of my daily routine, and as I have occasionally surprised myself by enjoying it, I have found myself contemplating whether I am, indeed, a writer. If someone asked, “Are you a writer?”, how would I answer?

I started thinking about the statement, “I am a __________-er”. (Fill in the blank with any activity.) What are the qualifications for being an ___________-er? Here are some ideas:

I make money performing the activity.
I don’t make money at the activity now, but plan to later.
I excel at the activity.
I do the activity frequently.
I have been doing the activity for a long time.
I like the activity.
I own the proper gear for the activity.
I engage in competition doing the activity.
I continually try to improve my skills at the activity.

Here are a few of my activities: teaching math, swimming, running, riding my horse, and writing the dissertation (not necessarily in order of importance).

I have said “I am a math teacher” many times, and no one aware of the facts has ever disputed it. I think people who earn a living speaking to math classes are called “math teachers” regardless of whether they like teaching math, excel at it, or whether they’ve been doing it for 30 years or just a week. They are called “math teachers” whether they teach math as their full-time occupation, or just teach one class as a side job.

What about running? If someone asked me “are you a runner?” I would probably say yes, possibly adding a lame joke about how slow I am. I do not make money running, and never expect to. I do not in any way excel at running, at least when compared to other runners (keeping in mind that “runner” is still not well-defined). I do enter running competitions, but never with any thought of winning a prize. Hmmm...I don't seem to meet many of my own criteria. Maybe I'm not a runner after all. But hey, I do own the proper gear!

I have no idea if I’m a swimmer or not. I’ve only recently learned to swim, and I am still terrible at it, but am determined to keep practicing until I can swim laps smoothly and easily. I purchase swimming videos, read about swimming, and try to improve my skills every time I get in the pool. I may enter a triathlon as a graduation present if I ever finish my dissertation. Every once in a while, I entertain a secret thought that it would be fun to teach swimming someday. But does a wish to swim well make me a swimmer? I think not.

Am I a rider? Well, I certainly don’t make money riding or maintaining my horse. If you ever find yourself with a bunch of extra money you don’t know what to do with, buying a horse is an excellent way to get rid of it. A golfer can park his golf clubs in the garage during tight times (or during grad school!), but a horse owner must keep feeding her hobby, regardless of whether she has time to ride. I know for certain I used to be a rider. Am I still a rider, even though I haven’t been on the horse much lately? My efforts to become a writer have swallowed all hours I could have spent being a rider!

Now to the difficult question: Am I a writer? My writing professor told our class that we were all indeed professional writers, because, as graduate students, writing is our job. At first I had doubts about this, at least in my case. Perhaps it would be true for research assistants paid by the university. But for me? Through my tuition, I pay money for the privilege of being asked to write. If I am a professional writer, shouldn’t someone be paying me at least a little something to write? On the other hand, since I attend a public university, are the taxpayers paying for me to write? For some reason, I am not completely convinced by this argument. If I am to call myself a writer, I need a better reason than this.

Can someone call himself a runner if he ran to catch a bus once? What if he always oversleeps and runs to catch the bus at least once every week? Does that make him a runner? If I drive my car into the bayou and escape by swimming, does that make me a swimmer? If I write frequently in an effort to finish my dissertation, does that make me a writer? Or is that equivalent to calling myself a runner because I chased something? Presumably, once I catch it, I stop running.

Which of the qualifications on my list are necessary to become a “___________-er”? Or is there something else, a true qualification I have so far overlooked?

Well, I hoped that by putting these thoughts down on paper, I could decide whether I am a writer. But I still have no clue, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. Writer or not, I must write, at least for now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My New Day’s Resolutions

I have never been in the habit of making “New Year’s resolutions” This is probably due to my fear of broken commitments and failure, which would be the inevitable results of any attempt to reform my life for an entire year. However, the dawn of a new year does seem a good time for some inventory-taking and reflection.

I know I am weak on both planning and follow-through in nearly every area of my life. When I set goals and make to-do lists, I tend to list all the things I would like to do or be, without regard to whether the dreamt-of accomplishments are likely to be accomplished by someone with my existing track record. I then make some small wrong decision that makes it impossible to complete the entire list. Since the tasks or goals on the list can no longer all be accomplished, I scrap the whole list as hopeless and spend my discretionary time on whatever activity seems pleasant at the time.

Since this is not a recipe for finishing my dissertation or accomplishing anything else worthwhile, I have decided to focus on creating realistic, attainable goals that I have a decent probability of reaching. If I do this for a while, perhaps I can gradually raise the bar and create some more ambitious goals that will actually get me somewhere.

So, last night I made some New Day’s Resolutions for today, January 2, 2012. (I skipped having New Day’s Resolutions for January 1…it was a holiday, after all!)

Here they are (not in priority or chronological order, just the order I thought of them):

  1. Run
  2. Visit Sassy (that’s the horse that isn’t trained very well due to my habit of having big dreams but no planning or follow-through)
  3. Go to Tractor Supply and buy alfalfa pellets for above horse
  4. Write on dissertation research for 1 hour, with no TV to distract me
  5. Work on BSF homework (have had it for 3 weeks but just started it yesterday)
  6. Go to Kohl’s to use Kohl’s cash (accumulated while goofing off instead of working on dissertation…I got paid to shop!)
  7. Call doctor’s office to ask about why the surgeon’s and pharmacy’s math doesn’t match up, and ask if it’s bad that the fungicide makes my nose burn
  8. Go to bed by 1:00 a.m.
I know this is not an especially ambitious list of resolutions, but I wanted to start the new year with some chance of success. I am glad to say that I have reached all of my New Day’s resolutions (well, except #8, but there’s still hope I can do it). By way of complete disclosure, I should mention that hubby Scott actually did #3 for me, not because I asked him, but because he’s a nice guy and just did it…it got done, though, so it counts! And I tried to do #7, but the doctor’s office was closed, so this will also have to be a New Day’s Resolution for tomorrow, assuming my introspective mood lasts until then.

I think I like attainable goals!! Now I’d better quit writing and post this quick, so that I can accomplish #8. If I don’t, then my attempt at planning will be a complete failure and I might as well give up on the dissertation, the running, the horse training, and everything else. 

Good night!! And good luck with those New Year's Resolutions! Have you accomplished them yet?