New Year’s Intentions

Happy New Year for 2018!

I gave up making new year’s resolutions several years ago… but this year, I am borrowing the idea of “new year’s intentions” from tapestry artist Rebecca Mezoff. Here are a few things that I want to remind myself of throughout the year — rather than abandon by the end of January! 

  1. Take 24 hours before agreeing to take on any additional tasks.

24 hours gives me time to consider the new task in relation to the existing tasks that I have. Rather than immediately agreeing to a new task, it’s useful to consider the following questions:

  • Do I have sufficient time to commit to what is involved?
  • At this point in time, can I do a good job?
  • Does this task fit with my personal and professional goals?
  • What are the benefits of taking on this task?
  • Are there any drawbacks? What?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

Answering these questions will help me in decision making.

  1. Take time to learn something new.

This won’t be hard – there’s always something new to learn about doing qualitative research, whether to do with technology, teaching, or theoretical approaches to the conduct of research. And if I’m pressed for time, I can always add a new word to my vocabulary, and practice using it in a sentence!

  1. Continue to read fiction.

I belong to a book group that meets once a month. Being involved in a book group ensures that I keep reading fiction, and especially books that I otherwise would likely not select. The most interesting books provoke mixed reactions and energetic and lively discussions. Reading fiction reminds me of the power of words to engage one’s imagination, inspire and provoke thought. Academic writing, unfortunately, can sometimes become dry and un-inspired. Reading fiction encourages me to consider each sentence I write —word by word (Lamott, 1994).

  1. Work on writing daily.

Several years ago I made a consolidated effort to write daily, even if it was only for a few minutes. Although my writing practice is far from perfect (I still find it tough to keep this up at the end of semester when grades are due!), working on daily writing has proven effective for keeping me connected to writing, and perhaps even more importantly, keeping me thinking about writing and research. Perhaps all of that advice about writing can be consolidated into the idea that the only way to be a writer is to write, write, and write some more.

  1. Take time for self care.                                                                                                                                                                 

Laura Ellingson (2017), writing on embodiment in qualitative research, reminds researchers that they also need to take time for self care. For those of us whose main work involves a computer, it can be easy to forget to get out of our chairs and be active.  Rather than get stiffer, or suffer from a sore neck, I need to remind myself to get up, move around, and even run up and down the stairs a few times each day. And of course, when I’m walking around my neighborhood, this gives me time to think about ideas.   And there’s always the gym!

  1. Review kindly.

Scholarly work depends on a community of practice in which we read and attend to one another’s work and situate our own work in relation to that of others. I have greatly benefited from the attentive reviews of anonymous peers who I will never get to thank personally. Reading the articles and books recommended to me and attending to the thoughtful critiques that anonymous reviewers have provided me over many years has helped me think through and develop my own arguments. Perhaps the best way of thanking others whose reviews I have benefited from is to attend to others’ work with the same compassion and kindness that I have experienced when I read manuscripts submitted for reviews and write reviews.

  1. Don’t let negative reviews discourage writing. 

Of course not all reviews I have received have been thoughtful or kind. It’s always dispiriting to have a manuscript that has taken countless hours to produce rejected. An important question to ask is: Are the critiques of this manuscript merited? If the answer is “no”, why not? For example, in one review I received, it was suggested that I read another article I had published! If critiques are not merited, then perhaps the next thing to do is to resubmit the manuscript to another journal. If the critiques are merited, then it is likely useful to consider the comments and suggestions in revisions of the manuscript. But above all, negative reviews should not discourage one from writing. For encouragement, consider the numerous authors who went on to fame, even after having received brutal rejection letters.

  1. Read others’ work in a spirit of generosity.

The internet has brought with it the wonderful capacity to provide instant feedback to others. Not a day goes by without pronouncements of opinions about the merit (or not) of others’ work, ideas and writing. Yet, reading others’ work in a spirit of generosity involves taking the time to understand arguments that may not reveal themselves immediately and working to develop sufficient background knowledge to comprehend ideas expressed. Rather than reject others’ arguments because I don’t immediately perceive what they are expressing, I can work to consider both the strengths and weaknesses of a position. I’ve found a quote from an interview with feminist physicist Karen Barad useful here:

Critique is all too often not a deconstructive practice, that is, a practice of reading for the constitutive exclusions of those ideas that we can not do without, but a destructive practice meant to dismiss, to turn aside, to put someone or something down – another scholar, another feminist, a discipline, an approach et cetera. So I think this is a practice of negativity that I think is about subtraction, distancing and othering….

[Barad suggests] a method of diffractively reading insights through one another, building new insights, and attentively and carefully reading for differences that matter in their fine details, together with the recognition that intrinsic to this analysis is an ethics that is not predicated on externality but rather entanglement. Diffractive readings bring inventive provocations; they are good to think with. They are respectful, detailed, ethical engagements (Karen Barad, in Dolphijn & Tuin, 2012, pp. 49-50).

  1. Work on my UFOs

Anyone who enjoys making things likely has a few unfinished objects (UFOs) sitting around. For example, a full year ago, I knitted one sock, but have yet to start the other. Although I don’t necessarily view research projects as objects, I do have several unfinished projects. This year, I would like to work on some of my unfinished projects, each of which got off track as I dealt with life events.

  1. Look at the big picture when things get off track.

One never knows what is around the corner, right? And when I don’t manage to follow my intentions, then it’s useful to look at the big picture, and not worry too much.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2018.

Kathy Roulston 

References

Dolphijn, R., & Tuin, I. v. d. (2012). New materialism: Interviews and cartographies. University of Michigan: Open Humanities Press.

Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

 

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