Joanna: Tim hits us up with another entry on Cold War novelty songs for The Avid Listener. I'm sure all of our Smolkoly readers are wondering why on this green earth is there a vintage picture of Beef Stroganoff in this post? Does it look delectable? Does it perhaps make you want to get up and dance?
If it does, you might just be ready for "The Stroganoff Cha-Cha" and Tim's essay on this and other songs of Dickie Goodman. To stretch out a metaphor, the song's mashup of Cuban, American, and Russian elements perhaps resembles a modern-day fusion restaurant.
The combination of a slow and heavy Russian work song with a light and frisky Cuban dance must have sounded odd in early 1959, since there was little connection at the time between the cultures of the two countries.
If this is making you hungry, here's a recipe for Beef Stroganoff from one of my favorite food bloggers. Dinner, music, dance and an enlightening essay.
Joanna: Tim is at it again with the second in his series on The Avid Listener, Celebrating the Nuclear Apocalypse with Tom Lehrer. Following up on his spec-tic-tic-tac-ular post on Doris Day, Tim once again brings a ludicrous touch to his discussion of novelty songs about the Cold War, one that is absolutely appropriate for the brilliant satire in Lehrer's song "We'll All Go Together When We Go."
Here, Lehrer's wicked sense of humor serves an important cultural purpose:
Like Pez, Peeps, and Pop Rocks, a novelty song is a sugar rush for the ear. The great number of novelty songs about the Cold War attests to the fact that people needed to diffuse their fear of the Soviet Union, and the possibility of nuclear war, with humor and satire.
Go read more at The Avid Listener!
Joanna: Here are a few more resources that I've found helpful in organizing my writing time.
I love this simple to-do list as a practical and simple way to organize my day. I try to create a list the night before so that when I wake up, I'm already engaged with the structure of the day. The checklist helps me to go ahead and do the next thing, even if I don't feel like it. It helps me to be realistic with goals, and it easily adapts to my week where no two days are similar. Since each day is different, but each will generally follow a particular routine across weeks, I can fit my writing expectations around particular days. It also helps me to group activities together. For example, except for e-mail--which I check at least two times a day and answer immediately whenever I can so that it's off my plate--I have clumped most of my class prep and grading into one or two specified days during the week. This way, I can set aside my internal to-do list for the particular days that are not "class days" and focus my mind on research and writing.
Returning to the idea in my earlier post that much of our writing is done before we sit down in front of our screen to write, this is a great guide to prewriting techniques. This article outlines structured brainstorming (write it down so you remember!), journaling, free-writing, outlining and perhaps my favorite technique, clustering. I teach my students--many of them first generation college students--the art of clustering as a study technique. If you memorize fact-by-fact for a test, the information most likely will slip out of your mind. But if you bring the ideas together in clumps, your mind more easily retains the connected ideas. Those of us who make up ditties to remember grocery lists, or alphabetize to-do lists in our heads when we can't find a slip of paper to jot them down, know this works.
By clustering the ideas that you are working with in your research, you can see the relationships in fresh and illuminating ways. Physically do this. Grab some index cards and jot down your ideas, shuffle them and group them. Or if you're in a later point in the research, physically cut apart your paragraphs and rearrange them. Try giving each paragraph a few key words, and see what emerges when you compare the key words across the paragraphs. Perhaps the conclusion is actually a key part of the introduction, or what you thought was a subsidiary idea is actually the capstone that reorients your whole argument. Clustering can also help you to see what the central ideas are vs. the secondary ones, and encourage you to use your writing to organize and highlight those relationships.
The fabulously titled article "Like Pushing an Elephant into a Volkswagen" is a good capstone for this topic. It's a roundtable discussion between five authors who balance writing with their full-time jobs, in which they share their lives with candor and vulnerability. They stress the importance of networks, having people come alongside you as you put on different hats, not setting aside the important relationships in your life. Each one has their own way of finding time to write, and practical suggestions are scattered throughout. Some of what they discuss is incredibly encouraging--such as the ways that their family life, day jobs and writing intersect in positive, mutually beneficial ways. But there's real honesty about the emotional/mental/physical drain that happens as we are pulled in different directions. This needs to be acknowledged. Some of us have different seasons of life, and it is okay if there is a particular season where writing is not a major part of a particular season.
I'll write one more post in this series simply to sum up some of the best strategies I've found. Happy writing, all!
Some wars are good. Most are bad. Some are just plain weird. The Cold War was definitely weird, and one of the best ways to grasp its weirdness is to listen to Cold War novelty songs from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Joanna: Over these past weeks, Tim developed essays for the public musicology site extraordinaire, The Avid Listener. The essays on The Avid Listener hit a rare sweet spot: in-depth musical and historical analysis written without jargon or overly specialized language. They give any interested reader the chance to explore ways that music frames and shapes culture.
Tim's essay gives a sneak peek into the writings for our forthcoming book on popular music and the Cold War. I really appreciate the way that Tim can blend wacky humor with critical analysis, using the novelty song genre as a distinctive window in the the political climate of the Cold War.
Go over there and read his essay “You’ll Tic Tic All Day Long”: The Cold War, Geiger Counters, and Doris Day. Then spend some time perusing some of the other wonderful essays on the site--you won't be disappointed.
Joanna: As a follow-up to my first post on writing routines, here are some posts that I've found useful.
"Writing Rituals" Debra Reed illuminates the mental process of ritual/routine. In her three-part construct (based on the research of anthropologists!), a writing ritual helps you to separate from other activities, transition to a distinctive mental state, and finally, reassimilate into ordinary life, hopefully refreshed by your step into another space. As she discusses, the "coffee shop" writing ritual works well for many because of its satisfying open-middle-close sequence: step into another (literal and figurative) space, work within the new space, step away at the end.
My thoughts? Being in a coffee shop alone is generally a once-a-week luxury for me, but is also one of my most effective tools. My kids are in a co-op on Tuesday mornings, and that has become my carefully guarded writing time. I have come to the point where I leave my grading for another time so that I can feel completely free to use the time creatively. I also try to find other spaces to do some of my less intensive/complex tasks, revising, checking bibliography, etc.
"Writing Around a Day Job" Tom Pollock's post here is infinitely practical, especially for those of us who are slotting in our writing times around an already full schedule. The importance of preplanning for your writing blocks, and carefully protecting your writing times are two of the biggest take-aways here. But I also like his emphasis on a holistic life. People are important. Be kind. Make room for relationships.
"How to Write While Managing a Full-Time Job: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Time" Here, as in Gertrude Stein's writing habits I alluded to in my last post, Chuck Sambuchino invokes the 30-minute principle: half an hour, for him, is equivalent to 300 words (a little more than a page of double-spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman writing, for another equivalent). By organizing small, easily squanderable nuggets of time, you can reclaim time for writing. Those half-hours--and those pages--quickly add up.
One of the important reminders here is how much of our writing we do when we're not actually sitting down to write. Take a little notebook with you for those moments when you realize how to unpack a problem. Text yourself or a friend. Narrate a rambling message on your phone. Find some open spaces when you're not distracting your mind with other things. Turn off the screen and sit in the sunshine with a cup of tea. Talk to your friend about a new idea you've had. Then when you come back into your ritual space, bring those ideas with you.
I'll be back on another day with some more articles I've found helpful.
Joanna & Tim
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