I'm still reading Geoffrey Hill's Oraclau | Oracles, savoring. I'll report when I'm done. Actually, as usual I'm reading it in tandem with a stack of other things, among them Modern Painters Vol. 3, Robert Fagles's translation of the Iliad, and Allen Mandelbaum's version of the Divine Comedy. Just finished that last, in fact – and as usual, everything else under the sun seems to pale in the light of those last few blinding cantos.
The Milton class got their midterms back today, & for some reason it seemed as tho a sudden cloud had blotted out the sky as they filed out of the classroom, muttering grimly. Not my fault if they can't tell a quote from Lycidas from a quotation from Areopagitica.
I'm gearing up for some serious writing/revising over the next few days, & actually looking forward to it. My lodestar on matters of how to get academic writing done, for the past months, has been Jonathan Mayhew's wonderful blog Stupid Motivational Tricks. (Given the rampant tenure-bashing one's been hearing the past couple years, it's worthwhile scrolling down to read his beautifully concise & wholly accurate post from Sunday, "Why Do Research After Tenure?") Mayhew's a more than solid scholar – 4 books to his credit – & by all indications an all-round nice guy. If one finds his scholarly output pretty intimidating at first glance, he has a knack of breaking down the tasks of writing articles & books into doable chunks, so that even I feel I might get something cranked out in the mid-future.
Most of the "stupid motivational tricks" are just that – gimmicky but effective ways to channel wasted time & mental energy into productive labor, or handy ways of focusing your scattered energies in useful directions. But I suspect that even if I were to put all of those tricks to use, I wouldn't be able to match Mayhew, because the guy also seems to be operating with a fairly high level of OCD – a kind of wonderful over-organization that I couldn't begin to match, given the general slovenliness of my mental & physical life.
On the other hand, I reflect, I too have a certain level of perhaps useful OCD. I like organizing things, and making lists: I'm cataloguing all my books on LibraryThing, and the ones that I have shelf space for are for the most part pretty rigorously organized; I keep track of everything I've read, & actually pay attention to the "play counts" on my iPod, so that I can make sure I listen to every song thereon before I add another album or two. (I'm behind – there're about 400 unlistened-to songs – but that's out of maybe 13,000 total, so I'm doing okay.) I keep track of how many liters of seltzer I make out of every Soda Stream charger. And so forth.
So why don't I channel this low-level OCD into something useful – like losing weight? I've decided it's no fun being the fat man of the department, and my lower back and calves have begun to feel the strain, as I trundle down the long winding slope of middle age. I've looked at any number of diets & exercise regimens, & all of them come out to the same thing: eat less, move around more. I can do the moving around more bit. I own a bicycle, & I enoy riding it. I climb the stairs at work rather than take the elevator. I've been doing much of my reading & writing at a standup desk, which I'm told in itself burns more than a few calories.
But there's the "eat less" thing. It's true – I love food. Indeed, I'm a desperately oral creature. I like searing hot sauces, crunchy, savory snacks, oily things of all descriptions. I like to snack, and I tend to overeat. But there's a well-sculpted me, somewhere within these adipose waves, struggling to get out. Heaven knows, at least I can get myself looking as good as Morrissey – once the epitome of skinny hotness – does these days.
Perhaps, somehow, I can harness my own obsessiveness to an aesthetic of renunciation: of not eating that handful of cashews, just because they're there, or those malted milk balls P. brought home from her youth orchestra party. We're coming up on Halloween, I know, which may be the stiffest test of this recent experiment of mine. If I come thru without gaining a pound or two, I'll let you know. If my own OCD fails me when I need it most – well, you won't hear about it.