Sobriquet 37.3

For someone who would probably have been diagnosed as ADHD had he attended grade school ten years after he did, struggling to maintain my focus on a given task has always been something of an academic albatross around my neck, but not something that has prevented me from succeeding in my scholarly pursuits. As an undergraduate, for instance, I simply compensated for my zig-zagging thoughts by spending more time in the library than did many of my peers. Still, despite the coping mechanisms I have developed, I find there are days when I struggle much more than others and today was one of those frustratingly unfocused days.

When I woke up this morning, I attempted to write a blog entry in which I was intending to set out my goals for the day, but felt I had not slept enough and, rather than risk drowsily slogging through the day, I decided to sleep a bit longer. Waking up a few hours later, pleasingly alert and energized, I found that my kitten and cockatiel were uncommonly hyperactive, chirruping and meowing to such an extent that any attempts I made to read were futile. Not to be discouraged, I decided to head over to a coffee shop and read there. And I did, but very slowly and with a painful amount of re-reading.

I detest the days when I find myself reading every line of text two or three times before moving on because in the time it would normally take me to read five or ten pages, I am a mere paragraph or two into the reading. Naturally, this frustrates the living shit out of me, especially since I must fight off the urge to silently lament my slow progress. The lure of checking email and Facebook, too, becomes unbearably strong and I begin wondering whether so-and-so emailed me while I am straining to read the same sentence I have been working on for five minutes.

One reason for the constant re-reading, I imagine, is the stress I put myself under to know "everything" about the text I plan to write about. I want to ensure that my eyes not only pass over the words in whatever book I am reading but that I fully process each and every word and image the author sets before me. This has been a concern for me every since I first realized, as an undergraduate, that I had somehow developed a nasty habit of hastily skimming text in lieu or actually reading it. With some genuine effort, I managed to read more slowly and with greater attention, until I was able to process the texts I worked with at the level I felt was appropriate for a college student attending a competitive school.

After college, however, some of the old habits returned. I assume that as I encountered increasing amounts of literary criticism (which, for me, is much less interesting than primary sources) and piles of student writing, I burned myself out processing material considerably less interesting and thought-provoking than the sort of texts I would have chosen to read outside of the institutionalized setting in which I placed myself.

In any case, my initial goal for today was to read fifty pages in J.M. Coetzee's Age of Iron, a book I first read earlier this autumn and which I hope to devote some space in the first chapter of my dissertation (a chapter, not surprisingly, devoted to Coetzee's work) as well as travel an hour to the university library to pick up some critical articles. Although I did not make an official declaration of the assignment in the blog, I did elect to approach the day as if I had made the assignment, though I opted to save the drive for Friday.

And, boy, did I struggle to push myself through the text. Granted, Age of Iron does not strike me as nearly as strong a book as Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello, or Slow Man, but it is a good read and should not strike me as so tough to get through, especially since I had so recently read it. But I pushed through and, ultimately, read what I set out to do. The way I see it, I will encounter days like this, but I have to work in spite of the difficulties if I am to make any progress on my project. Today, I hope, will serve as proof that it is possible to work on "bad days." It just took much longer than I would have liked. Much, much longer.

I suspect a good deal of my struggle originates in the fact that I want to begin writing this chapter soon. As I prepared to write, however, I found that I did not recall Age of Iron as clearly as I felt I should, so I put off the pre-writing for the chapter until I finish re-reading the book. I think I am annoyed at myself for stupidly assuming that reading four or five novels, a bunch of criticism, and some philosophy while teaching at two different colleges for over fifty hours a week would be a good idea. Thus, the baby steps I mentioned in the previous post.

In other words, after reading enough additional material to forget Age of Iron, I have come to the conclusion that I should read up one novel, write about it, then move on to another rather than try to work with such a large body of material all at once. This way, I imagine, I will maintain a stronger grasp on material as I work with it, resulting in a stronger end product. We'll see how that goes.

For tomorrow: Since I have a packed day tomorrow, and since I have to administer and begin grading final exams, I will not say that I should finish the novel. I will, however, say that I should read 25 pages by bedtime tomorrow, enabling me to finish the book on Friday and begin reading the criticism I will need to start writing the chapter. Wish me luck.


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