It Ain’t Bootleggin’. It’s Research.

In between helping to rewrite a relative’s resumé and setting out our frostbitten plants to get actual sunshine for the first time in nearly a month, I spent today:

  • teaching myself how to produce usable mobile digital content
  • tracking down and, ahem, collecting said content (i.e., some of the major poems I need to know inside and out) under legitimate fair use terms
  • making lists of information I need to collect for a fellowship application
  • downloading a sample chapter of Jess Walter’s Financial Lives of the Poets, which cracks me up because it’s really all about my insane life (and which I haven’t had the cash to buy for over a month, but am about to)
  • running across and complaining about some bookseller who thinks my unsigned, six-month-old book of poetry is worth $60 on eBay (of which $60 I would see exactly $0)
  • finding the right software for the job
  • editing and attempting to compile my preliminary notes as an e-book

It’s now almost 3 a.m. I’m still trying to get the project files to compile, but I’m working out the bugs and I just installed, edited, and tried to compile the output within the past hour or less.

The process itself isn’t rocket science. I just have to figure out the last little bit. Then I can have all the fun in the world applying my webmonkey/newsgathering skills to the in-depth analysis and study of canonical poetry in English. As a nice bonus, I’ll have acquired a genuinely marketable skill. Not bad for a day’s work.

I also knocked off a Brainbench certificate in web design by taking the exam. Another 17 minutes wasted. In a day or two, though, I should be able to create a customized, portable, accessible, digital study guide for my doctoral exams. That, in the long run, will maximize my study time in ways that dragging around a 3″ thick vinyl binder can’t.

The whole purpose of the game is not to spend all one’s time doing techie stuff, but to do the techie stuff only to the extent that it frees one to study the poetry. For me, electronic flashcards and text-chunking are godsends for memorization and review. I’ve always used flashcards, but I find the digital versions with the Leitner boxes far more effective for some reason–maybe because I can go as fast or as slow as my brain lets me at any given moment, or because I can get finer gradations of Leitner-ing, or because the eye candy tastes better. What’s more, I can put entire poems, my own notes, various permutations and combinations of background scholarship, etc. into the same easy-to-read format.

I’m panicking a lot less because I can get control of both the paperwork and the conceptual organization in a much more streamlined fashion. Databases, for me, are the intellectual equivalent of stacking boxes full of crap that I know I need but that I can’t see into, access, or sort in any meaningful, useful way. Rather than stand amidst the piles of data in my own head, wringing my psychic hands, I’m setting up a system that will free me to be creative and to make sense of the past twenty-something years of reading and writing.

If anything, the key to graduate school (and especially a doctoral program) is mastering the art of time management. In my case, it’s mission-critical. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to adapt (the clinical term is “high-functioning”), yet I’m astounded at how many grad students out there don’t know that they have to set their own schedules or break down the latest overwhelm into small, doable chunks.

Now I need to soak my eyeballs in a glass of cold water–and bid you goodnight.


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