Monthly Archives: June 2013

Percolation, Fermentation, Rumination – or the Importance of Time and Patience in Research

The greatest gift bestowed on me by receiving a Fulbright Research Fellowship has been the gift of time. I have had time – time to read, time to talk with people, time to think – without the pressure of immediately having to turn every thought into publication. From the time we are graduate students, we are often conducting research on the run. Get the dissertation proposed, approved, collect the data, write, defend. Meanwhile, publish all you can. Once you get a job, start cranking out the publications so you can get tenure. Keep the ideas coming – and as soon as they emerge turn them into publications. This experience is not unique to me, and, even though the pace is sometimes relentless, the scholarship is often strong. I am continually impressed by what the graduate students I work with can produce within the time constraints of their dissertations.

Still, there are times when it has felt as if I was building a bicycle while trying to ride it downhill. Then, last fall, when I knew I had the Fulbright coming up, I said “no” to a couple of invitations to contribute articles. I was lucky to be in a position to be able to do that (even luckier to have a Fulbright, I know). But clearing away any deadlines for the spring, was the smartest thing I have done in a long time. Rather than spend the spring writing furiously to meet the next deadline, and reading for plunder in order to glean enough of what I need to support my ideas, I have had time to read broadly, enter research sites without the pressure of deadlines, and think.

One of the great benefits of time is emergence of patience. When I didn’t have a publication deadline looming over me, I could go to the research sites where I was working without feeling as if I had the gather-good-data-today clock  constantly ticking in the background. Instead, I could be patient and let insights and observations emerge at their own pace. The result was that I had more time for surprise, more time for a deeper set of insights, and a greater willingness to strike off in new directions of reading and thinking without worrying about an immediate payoff. Patience, exploration, and time have been the true gifts of this Fulbright and I am deeply grateful for all of them. I wish all of my friends and students could experience this kind of time to explore and I hope I can find more ways to facilitate this for my colleagues and students.

More to come soon on some of the projects that have come out of this (though, as I am about getting ready to try to pack up and move back, “soon” is a fuzzy term……)


Keep Calm and Carry On

When I first saw the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, with the dignified print on the red background with the image of the crown above, they struck me as quaint indicators of English nostalgia. The posters seemed to represent a memory of the narrative of the war and the need – and ability – to persevere with resolve and dignity. Reproduced in contemporary culture the poster seemed a funny and ironic commentary on the stresses of modern life – of overworked multitasking. It is in this context that I saw reproductions of the poster showing up (including the one on the coffee mug I gave to my wife). Soon after came the memes, everything from “Keep Calm and Shut Up” to “Keep Calm and Drink British Wine.” It was one of those participatory texts that, quite frankly, wore thin rather quickly and I stopped paying much attention to it.

Last week, I saw several reproductions of the poster. This time they were on the walls and mugs of the offices and shops of people living in Beirut. There were no memes. The words were the original: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” During the same days I was in Beirut, there was fighting – and dying – up the road in Tripoli, there were rockets fired into a Hezbollah neighborhood in the south of the city, and the war raging in Syria seemed ominously close. Yet, at the same time, people were sitting in cafes, visiting art galleries, walking along the Corniche beside the Mediterranean, laughing with their families. Yet, at the same time, they would occasionally look over their shoulders, or pause in their conversations, and wonder what might happen next, or remember the small seed of anxiety in their stomachs. Yet, at the same time, they would walk by buildings still riddled with bullets from the last war that stood next to shining new apartment buildings built in the last year. Yet, at the same time, soldiers stood on street corners holding AK-47s. Yet, at the same time, people – including me – went to work, went to dinner, went to bed.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

I usually like to write about issues of literacy and such on this blog. And, I suppose if there is a connection to literacy here it might have something to do with contexts and audience and emotion. Maybe all of that is there and maybe I will write about it at some point – I certainly have more to write about the trip to Beirut. But today I’m just thinking of that poster, those words, and a place I am so fond of, a place of dear friends, where I hope things will keep calm. And carry on.