The (ex-) sabbatical diary

Proving that I'm actually working …

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance …

Hi peeps, long time no blog.

I now have a first draft of my conclusion. Yes, I think I’ve managed to show that there is a context, a way of looking at things, in which online ordination actually makes sense.

No, it didn’t take the last two weeks. I’ve had a birthday, and all sorts of distractions. Just because you are on sabbatical does not mean that the university isn’t constantly trying to draw you back in. Tomorrow  am going in for a Performance Management meeting, and there are Honours exams to mark.There are recurriculation meetings I simply cannot miss – their results will be with me for the next ten years.

Next sabbatical, I will concoct a yearlong research project in the Gobi desert. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if Unisa told me to take a sat-phone along. Mars. They won’t be able to get hold of me on Mars.

But I’ve always had this thing where I stare vacantly into space for three days, then when I actually start writing, the argument just flows out of my fingertips. Just lucky that way, I guess. And all through the distractions, my conclusion has been bubbling away in my unconscious. When I finally sat down, the screen and keyboard formed their usual feedback loop with my eyes, bypassing the brain entirely. I looked up two hours later and there was a conclusion on the screen. Don’t ask me how it got there.  In Japanese archery they say “it shoots”, “it” being the totality of archer, bow, arrow and target. Well, “it writes”.

Now I’m going back. I go to the body of my article and start introducing little forward-looking clues, rhetorical flourishes that will prepare the reader for my bold and forthright conclusion. By the time you, dear reader, get there, you must already be in the frame of mind that will have you wildly nodding in agreement as I display my exegetical brilliance. Or at least not having a deep belly laugh at my expense. The last thing I will do is rewrite my Introduction and Abstract (I am famously bad at writing abstracts, but that is a story for another day).

Does this mean that I am prioritising style over substance? Truth is, I’ve never been able to separate those two successfully. How something is presented will always affect my perception of what it is. What something is will alway affect the way I will show it to you. Smarter people than I may be able to strip these away from each other. I don’t even try. I am a researcher, but also a writer. I have a voice.

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My trusty 2010-model iMac is starting to show symptoms of Cybernetic Alzheimer’s, though.  The screen flickers from time to time, occasionally it reboots for no reason whatsoever … time  for one of those lovely new wafer-thin models. Damn, there goes my performance bonus.

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Hitting the books

Well, not much to report. I have a few points to clear up, and instead of going straight into cyberspace, as I usually do these days, I went into the library and took out some old-fashioned books. You may remember them, they are made from paper.

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We are not quite at the point where an academic can do everything by grabbing pieces of text from online sources and rearranging them. A lot of older stuff has not been digitized yet. And in the humanities, showing that your work has continuity with older streams of thought remains important.

That’s an interesting point, actually. My wife is in Education, and it is fascinating to see how those guys insist that only the latest literature is of any worth. Don’t even bother to quote anything more than three years old. When I handed in my Ph.D. in Religious Studies back in 1999, one of my most central sources dated back to 1960, and not a single examiner ever raised the issue.

Getting there …

12573766_593358184146338_4486433864854759706_nOK, the first part of my article is done. It will be fiddled with more, but I now have a fairly consistent story about where online ordination came from, how big it is, and what kinds there are. I have created the first-ever typology of online ordination! <dislocates arm while patting self on shoulder>

Now comes the difficult bit. I need to make sense of this somehow, explain why there is a need for it. It must be problematized. We’ll see what we can do about that. In the meantime, here’s an offer you can’t refuse.

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Oddly enough …

This article is developing weirdly.

Normally, what I do is write a 2-3 page mini-article containing my argument in its most bare-bones form. When that is done, I go back and add the introduction, the caveats, the ultimately irrelevant but fascinating little sidetracks and so on. Not to mention pumping it full of extraneous citations for that learned look. Yes, all that fluff boosts a two-page argument to a 15-page article. This is how the game is played.

But this time I can’t do that. I am introducing  something completely new. There is absolutely nothing in the academic literature about the religious aspects of online ordination. Zilch. Nada. Nichts.Lots on the legal aspects, but that does not interest me. So I can’t just refer to Pompies, P (2007) and expect my reader to get the background material there. I have to lay it all out myself. And my understanding of the topic changes as I find new (non-academic) sources. “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, let me go back to the last page and change that before I forget.”

And so I am all over the place, working on 3 or 4 aspects simultaneously, and moving paragraphs around as I write them. Let me say a little prayer of thanks to the unknown programmer who invented the word processor. How did people work in the typewriter era when the only way to get your thoughts down was in a strictly linear way?

I wrote my first article by hand and had it typed out by a typist, so I had a foot in that era. No, not a foot, a toenail. My second article was written on a computer. Couldn’t imagine working without one now.

On our way …

Leroy is back at school, the temperature has returned to reasonable levels and I am up and running. Today I wrote about three pages of my Online Ordination article. Constant to-and-froing between Word, Mendeley and OneNote, checking if the websites I reference are still around. Ugh, my head is buzzing but the article is slowly taking shape. If I can keep this up, it should be in publishable form by the end of the month.

The problem I have is that this is something that has never been done before, so there is precious little from respectable academic sources to quote. It’s all coming from websites and magazines.

Haven’t heard from the Oxford Symposium yet. They are supposed to organise the publication of the symposium papers, but so far I don’t even know if this will be for a Proceedings or for a special edition of a journal. Or the reference method required, or the due date for all this. Oh well, I can always send it elsewhere.

And then … the first guy to write about something is usually wrong, wrong, wrong.I can look forward to ten years of PhD students telling me how wrong I was. But that boosts my citation rate too …

The big meltdown

Didn’t get very much done today. With the temperature in Pretoria touching 40° Celsius we are all in survival mode. Got some work done on my Mendeley database. Will try to do some actual writing tonight.

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Rrrrrating time

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Today I finalised and submitted my NRF rating application. For those outside the loop, the National Research Foundation is a creation of the South African Government that classifies researchers between A1 (International household name) to C3 (Nice try).

I detest the system. It attempts to quantify something that does not need quantifying. It was set up for the Natural Sciences, where they are always needing more money for their test tubes and their linear accelerators, and is a bad fit for the humanities, where  we need a well-stocked library and time to think.

I’ve avoided it as long as I could. But “as long as I could” has arrived. South African universities are one by one caving in to the NRF. I know at least two where you don’t get promoted beyond Senior Lecturer without a rating. Unisa has not joined their ranks yet, but the writing is on the wall. Increasingly the forms that are the bane of every professor’s life ask if you have been rated.

So, getting rated will get Unisa off my back. Even if my application is turned down, I will have three years before I can apply again, during which I can tell Unisa “Yes, I applied, didn’t I?” And if I do get rated (Yes, I’ll settle for a C3) that gives me a five-year break.

There’s a bit of money involved too, which does not hurt.