Friday, January 09, 2009

Minor Miracles: Summing up the Holidays

Entry for 6/9 January 2009:

These few days after our return to Toledo from California, sandwiched in between the holidays and return to Scotland and work allowed us a gentle taste of Midwestern winter. Most of the days were clear and cold but not too frigid. It’s a peaceful time of year, the holidays done, a bit a space to breathe in, and by some miracle I was able to catch up on my unread email, reducing the pile from over 800 when we left Scotland to about 60.

The larger miracle is that this has allowed me to finally get some writing done on the adjudicated HSCED (Hermeneutic Single Case Efficacy Design) manuscript, whose revision I’ve been sitting on for more than five years. The original version was ridiculously long; I’d had the delusion of being able to publish it as a series of 3 related papers, but the editor (my friend Bill Stiles) wasn’t having it and had asked me to condense it into one paper of no more than 60 pages. Speaking as a former journal editor, I think this was a good call, but presented me with a lot of work at a time when my job had become very stressful and I was doing a lot of extra work, such as teaching 8 weeks a year in Belgium. Then we moved to Scotland, and thing got more complicated. Now, however, my students in Scotland are starting to produce their own HSCED studies and John McLeod and I are in the middle of a run of conferences on systematic case study design, so the pressure is on to get this key paper done.

I’d been progressing it slowly, using my 15 min/day regime, but this was taking a long time. Finally, this past Monday, I emerged into the clearing left by having gotten my email under control for the first time in a year. I started working on the aHSCED paper for 3 – 4 hrs/day. A paper like this is filled with complex details that are tricky to handle and describe, and I was faced with 10 pages of editorial feedback to deal with, always a daunting prospect. There is a real art to writing a scientific paper with maximum clarity, balancing one’s interests, the reviewer’s suggestions, and what the data are saying. To do it well is really a labor of love, and I believe that it shows in the final product. It needed big blocks of time to finish these revisions, but I made steady progress, and finally, yesterday (Thursday) I sent it off to my seven co-authors for their suggestions and approval. Whew! We all went out to Kotobuki, our favorite Toledo-area Japanese restaurant, to celebrate belated November and December birthdays. Mission accomplished! There will probably be two more revisions after this, but they are unlikely to be as extensive or as time-consuming.

Now we’re taking Kenneth back to school in Cleveland, facing a major winter storm that is advancing through the area and which may interfere with our flight back to Scotland tomorrow afternoon. Our peaceful winterlude is ending, but it’s been a time of clearing things out (not just email; most of us has a short, sharp stomach bug over Christmas). Also for getting caught up on sleep, for kicking back a bit, for reading graphic novels (volume 5 of Fables and volume 3 of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and science fiction (Stross’ Saturn’s Children), for getting back into running (3-4 times a week, including a 7.5 mile run around the Pleasanton ring road on New Years Day with Kenneth), and for finally healing from the exhaustion and lingering effects of last Fall.

Kenneth’s pleased to see his friends, and as we sit around Aladdin’s in Cleveland Heights, eating our smoothies and wraps, they all chatter about what they did over winter break and about Pokemon, which they all seem to have been playing lately, out of some kind of nostalgia. We leave them to do their grocery shopping, and head back into the early January just-before-the-snow-storm-Friday-night-rush-hour-traffic. We hide it, but we’re a bit teary when we think about how many months it’ll be before we see him again, but such is our life, and his. We are on our way home now, back to Toledo through the ice and snow, and thence back to Scotland and our life there, thankful for miracles, great and small.

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