This picture of a reasonable looking cup of coffee in no way represents the brew I drank on Wednesday morning of this week. Making coffee is a very important task in my house hold. Not because my husband and I are connoisseurs, but because we are working parents. When it comes to coffee, we are interested in quantity, not quality. Also because we're pinching pennies to keep baby in diapers and daycare, we've resolved that all the coffee we drink this year has to be brewed at home, not purchased out.
This Wednesday, thinking about the initial cups for breakfast, the cups that go with the dog walk, and those that travel with us to work, I heaped the coffee maker's little mesh basket to capacity, thinking this would save me from having to brew another pot. First cups, pretty good. For most of the morning, the scheme worked. But then, as I drank that crucial mid-morning cup from my coffee mug, disaster! Nothing but sludge and grounds. Home that afternoon, I saw that the poor coffee maker couldn't handle the dense pack and had sent the grounds burbling over into the water itself.
The desire to pack things overfull, I'm afraid, is not limited to my frankly crap coffee making. I've been working on an essay that will appear alongside the essays of people I find quite intimidating. They are super-smarties from fancy institutions, and I typically conceive of myself as a worker-bee sort of writer, one who toils steadily and consistently.
As I've been writing, I've noticed a bad tendency bubbling up in the essay--not unlike the activity of those nasty grounds. In my anxiety about "sounding smart," I've been overpacking the thing. It's an essay meant to say something about my field, literary studies, by extrapolating from some historical research I've been doing on the think W.E.B. Du Bois's representations of children in the magazine The Crisis. But I can feel myself worrying about a certain kind of not-enoughness. So I've started piling on... maybe I could say this little thing about teaching, maybe I could say just a snip about other historical contexts, maybe I could put in a thought about how I think a particular methodology has been unfairly criticized. Quick, what thoughts can I dump in!
Not surprisingly, writing by accretion has not been improving the essay. It's become overburdened, flighty, weird, even. Talking myself through the revision process, I have to keep reminding myself that I will go on to write other essays. I need to leave behind the scarcity mindset and remind myself that this is not the last thing I'll ever write, nor is it improved by the overstuffing. Instead, I can give these ideas life and room to expand some future day. And, as was the case with my dumb over-filled coffee maker, the ideas would likely be improved by having room to percolate.
(I hope you'll forgive the pun, but I've been working up to it, so I'm not that sorry!)
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote