Saturday, November 26, 2005

Word Problems

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a man seated at his typewriter, cheerfully greeting the Grim Reaper. "Thank goodness, you're here!" the man exclaims. "I can't accomplish anything without a deadline."

I have a deadline: December 1. That's the day I'm bound to submit an article for a forthcoming book.

I have a surplus: The article happens to be on a subject that I began researching over a decade ago.

I have a problem: I started working on the article only two days ago.

Call it a word problem. Let's start with the easy math:

1) Cello has four days in which to produce 20-25 pages of polished text. If Cello's parents begin driving toward Alleged Utopiaville on Monday morning for a three-day visit, how many hours of actual work time does that leave for the article?

2) Cello is a notoriously slow writer, having required two months to research and write a 10-page conference paper... which she did not complete until literally 30 minutes before her time to present. (Very, very, very bad for the nerves. Worse, the paper was splendid, and Cello's bad behavior rewarded.) Presuming Cello can ignore all other deadline-driven obligations this week (i.e., "assume zero inertia"), but acknowledging that she is now incapable of pulling all-nighters, what are the odds that she can write an entire article by Thursday?

3) Cello is in her early thirties, which means she has wanted to be a writer for more than half of her life. Half of that half-life she spent in graduate school, where she became exponentially more worldly, cynical, sensitive, and wry. Why then did graduate school drag her writing speed and self-confidence into negative values? (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.”) Knowing too well what she does not know—and seeing too clearly the talents she does not possess—Cello has become multitudes. She is also a provincial, apprehensive tortoise of an author.

At least, we optimistically note, she is plodding forward. That is the gift of her family pedigree, with would-be writers thickly in-bred.

They married and raised children. They whittled large debts with small paychecks. And when they got cancer or Alzheimer’s, they panicked and burned their manuscripts. They never did get published, but they said, “You could do it, Cello. You could.”

December 1.

Cello hopes
to prove them right.

4 Comments:

At 10:59 AM, Blogger What Now? said...

One of my all-time favorite Whitman quotations!

Best of luck to you in the writing. In my experience, it's amazing what one can do with a deadline looming. Super-human feats abound.

 
At 9:45 PM, Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

You can do it. We always do what we have to do.

Plus, academics are notorious for turning things in late. Really, anything within a week of December 1 will probably be fine!

(You should probably ignore that last comment...)

Good luck!

 
At 7:48 AM, Blogger Pink Cupcake said...

Hope it all went well. Let us know...

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger Wanna Be PhD said...

Wow. Finishing 30 minutes before presenting? I mean, yeah, Superman catches exploding bombs and the like, but this goes far beyond!

 

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