Self Syllabus

Whenever I announce a new plan for improving some aspect of my life, my shrink smiles and points out my love of systems. I can’t just do a thing: I have to have a plan. Often my plans are so ambitious, I never get further than the planning stage. But here’s the thing: I suck at time, and without a plan, I just end up drinking coffee in my PJs and playing Facebook. So I need a plan.

I urgently need a plan because this is the first week of a semester in which I’ve been granted a course release. My chair was kind enough to schedule me for back-to-back Tuesday-Thursday classes in the afternoon so that all my mornings are free–free in as much as in addition to prepping and grading the classes I’m teaching, I have the ambitious goal of making serious progress toward a book manuscript–and I have no teaching on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. Those are whole long stretches of opportunity I’m terrified of squandering.

Looking back at what’s worked for me in the past, I think the most success I ever had with making a plan and working on it independently was when I made reading schedules for myself as I studied for my PhD exams. As I recall, I ended up pushing my exams back by a couple of months, but it still got done, and I passed, hallelujah, amen. Even when I thought I didn’t always live up to the schedule 100%, I still did more in those months than I ever had before and possibly since. So having that schedule worked. The schedule was a table made up of three columns, one for each of my exam areas, and sections of rows marking off each week and my reading goals for each day. In other words, it looked an awful lot like a mashed up syllabus for three courses. A syllabus that had me aiming to read two books a day, but a syllabus nonetheless.

And that’s what I want for myself now: a syllabus working toward some kind of goal, counting down toward that goal over the next 16 weeks.

I think my instinct to document my planning process here is also a call back to using a private blog to take notes on my readings as I went. I was terrified a house fire would burn my books and notes, and computer, so above all, I wanted some way to safeguard my work outside of my house. This was before I knew about Dropbox. My system was simple. I’d read, noting important passages as I went, and then review my notes deciding which passages were particularly salient and quotable, and finally type up those passages with parenthetical citations–all ready to be used in my exams themselves.

So I’m going to make this block private again. Or something like it. Not searchable via Google. And I’m going be accountable to myself here on my activity.

Let’s begin again.

I have two main things I want to work on in the syllabus: reading poetry productively and writing. By “writing,” I mean writing new poems, revising old poems, and thinking about some kind of way to pull it all together in a manuscript, which is problematic because I’ve felt myself drawn in a few different directions in my writing, and I’m not sure if I can tie all these directions together. So before I can get too deep into my plan, I need to figure out where I am and what I’m heading towards. So for now my assignment is to review what I have–the poems from my diss that I want to carry on with and the poems I’ve written in the last five years.

So my next post will be an embarrassing inventory or reflection on what I have written and what ideas this review gives me for moving forward.

Until then.