Chess timer productivity trick

Now that I’ve gotten that last horse-choking philosophical blog post out of my system, I am turning my attention to other, offline writing projects. I’m sitting down to my desk this morning (actually writing at my desk, fully clothed and with my teeth brushed like a human being and not slumped in an unwashed pile on the sofa with the computer perched on one knee, waiting in vain for inspiration to strike) and contemplating how this writing thing is actually supposed to go. There’s something of a first-day-on-the-job feel to the beginning of a new writing project. It’s a job I’ve been doing for decades now, but somehow it doesn’t get any easier. The distractions don’t get any less numerous or less nagging, and my inertia doesn’t weigh me down any less. Perhaps you are in the same boat?

I won’t belabor the obvious: email is the death of writing. So is Facebook, Twitter, etc. You already know this, but start your serious writing before you ever fire up your email browser. Those hassles can wait just a bit longer.


The daily experience of opening up my email browser first thing in the morning, in GIF form.

(I stole this joke from someone on Twitter, but I can’t remember who. Sorry, whoever you are.)

There are productivity apps that act as a kind of toddler gate for the user’s wayward attention, locking out the internet for a preset period of time. But these are unhelpful for academics, who often have to check online databases and library catalogs while they write. That said, an advisee of mine told me about working at the Paul Sacher Stiftung, where she could not access the internet, and, over the course of several weeks, found herself developing the skill for writing down all those errant “I have to look this up on the internet right now” impulses and saving them for later. She found that many of the things she had felt a sudden, urgent need to look up ended up being trivial and irrelevant — she didn’t even bother with most of them when she was back in wifi range. So perhaps there’s something to be said for the brute-force, Odysseus-lashed-to-the-mast approach to resisting the siren song of the internet.

Still, it wounds my amour-propre to think that I am so powerless over my procrastinating impulses that I need to lock myself out from the internet. So rather than merely forcing myself to make good choices, I thought of a way to hold myself accountable for my bad choices.

Go to the online chess timer. You will see a timer display for two players:


Click start. The clock for Player 1 will start counting up and the “start” button will become a “switch” button. Then begin writing. “Player 1” is your writing self.

When you stop to do something else — going to the bathroom, getting a cup of tea, checking to see what’s shaking on Facebook, whatever — click the “switch” button. The clock for Player 2 will begin counting up. Player 2 is your non-writing self.

When you are done peeing or writing “LOL” in response to a photo of someone’s ugly baby, click on “switch” and Player 1 will start up again, at which point it’s time to get back to work.

At the end of a writing session (whenever you have to go to a meeting or start dealing with class prep or something), you can hit “pause” and the clock will stop. Take a screenshot of it. You now have a straightforward record of how you spent your time: a simple ratio of Player 1’s writing-time to Player 2’s faffing-about-time. If you want to be hardcore with yourself, post your screenshot on Facebook, so all your friends can write “LOL” at your pathetic attention span.

I haven’t tried this last refinement, but the fear of public mockery has to be motivating, right? Actually, though, I find that when I do the chess-clock trick I don’t even spend that much time goofing off.

No warranty expressed or implied: all I can say is, it works for me. Let me know if it works for you.


Posted in Exercises, Research, Writing | 2 Comments

The ontological turn

I. The Story So Far

This is the last installment of a series on “Weird Studies.” Well, it ended up being about “Weird Studies.” It started off somewhere else entirely, on Frank Sinatra’s performance of Harold Arlen’s “One for My Baby” and the Prohibition culture it romanticizes. I then pivoted off that to write a two-parter on the U.S. drug war and how the academic humanities has responded to its bottomless injustice with a shrug. The first part is an allegory, which was the best way I could think of to sidle up to the true vastness of the injustice. The second part ended up suggesting that academic indifference to that injustice is an artifact of a pervasive and unexamined assumption about what constitutes meaningful human difference: “We can value difference when it pertains to the Other-Bodied, but not to the Other-Minded,” I wrote. (This, in turn, relates to an earlier post I wrote on “mad studies” and the ways we think about depression.)

What is at stake in writing about psychedelic drugs, then, is not only freedom of thought — freedom to think what you like — but what is called “cognitive liberty,” which is freedom to think how you like. But then I needed to back up and reflect a little on the difference between what and how, which I did in a post titled “What Face-Punching and the Star Wars Holiday Special Can Teach Us About Consciousness.” After this, I imagined a new scholarly discipline premised on cognitive difference, “Weird Studies,” and then proceeded to consider what it would have to overcome to become a real academic subfield. The next post continued this line of thought, suggesting that the “naive construal” of modernity severely limits what ideas professional academics can entertain, and the post after that discussed how ideas falling outside that construal get Othered or smOthered.

Which brings us to this post, Episode VII. It turns out that what’s at stake in this whole series of posts is the question of what can be thought. If we imagine for a moment that Weird Studies actually existed, it would be a sustained experiment in testing the boundaries of the thinkable. A practice of cognitive liberty, if you like. Magic lies at the heart of any such experiment, because it is the one thing that most resists our naive construal of reality. But in order to take magic seriously, scholars need to find an alternative to their usual historicizing ways. To do that, some scholars have suggested a new approach, which they call “the ontological turn.”

Good lord, that’s some boring exposition.



I like to think that the Death Star stands for modernity. Continue reading

Posted in Magic, Philosophy, The Modern, Weird Studies | 6 Comments

Deadline reminder: JMR special issue on music & the occult

occult section

A reminder: we are quickly approaching the deadline for submissions to the Journal of Musicological Research’s special issue on music and the occult. The deadline is September 15, or two weeks from tomorrow. The word count limit for papers is c. 8000-9000 words. For those that missed my earlier post, here is the CFP again:

Call for Papers
“Music and the Occult”
Due Date: September 15, 2016

The Journal of Musicological Research, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal published by Routledge, is seeking article submissions for a special issue on “Music and the Occult,” to appear in 2017 or 2018. The editors welcome submissions that occupy and/or concern the intersection of music and the categories of esotericism, Hermeticism, magic, mysticism, or the occult. Scholarly approaches may be historical, theoretical, ethnomusicological, or idiosyncratic to the subject matter.

Topics are not limited to any particular area of scholarly study, but possible subjects might include the following:

Music and paganism
Music and occult/pagan ritual
Esoteric and Hermetic philosophies of music
Neo-Platonic and Pythagorean music theory
Music in esoteric Christianity
Popular music and occultism
Music and theosophy (e.g. Alexander Scriabin, Henry Cowell)
Occult revivals (e.g. late 1800s and early 1900s, 1960s)
Music and the New Age
Nonwestern musics and magical traditions
Musicology and the occult

Posted in Magic, Musicology

We welcome your hatred!

My phone just told me that Dial M stats are booming. Huh. Thanks to vacation, beginning-of-year hubbub, and bronchitis, I haven’t written anything in ages. Well let’s see, where are all these pageviews coming from ….

Oh, it’s Norman Lebrecht hating on musicology.

My only response to the likes of Lebrecht is FDR’s: we welcome your hatred.
dan vs eagles

Posted in Whatever

Othering and smOthering

In the comments of my last post, Elizabeth Upton warns me against Othering the Medieval mind. It’s a point well-taken. If we accept the idea that certain ways of thinking about the past constitute a sort of epistemic violence — or at least an epistemic boorishness, drowning out the voices of other peoples with our own self-satisfied monologue — then Othering is what happens when we ignore those things we might have in common with another subjectivity. In saying “they’re not like us,” we deny other subjectivities their full share in the humanity we presume for ourselves. This is obviously what’s at work in the mentality of colonialism, and it’s also the standard criticism of musical exotica. To “exoticize the Other” is to make a spectacle of cultural difference, so that those we designate as Others are separated from us as if by Plexiglass walls and made exhibits in a human zoo.

Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Weird Studies | 4 Comments

Better Off Not Knowing?

It seems relevant, on a day when an important Republican operative defended the recitation of a plagiarized speech by the wife of the Republican candidate for President of the United States by saying it came from My Little Pony, to ruminate a bit on sources and where they come from.  Rather than talk about a corrupt, vain, narcissistic publicity hound who stops at nothing to get attention, I’ll instead offer a little cautionary tale about Mick Jagger. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs, Ethics, Rock | 1 Comment

The weird and the naïve

In a post I wrote entirely too long ago (sorry), I imagined a new scholarly subfield called “Weird Studies,” which would presumably do for weirdos what Queer Studies has done for queer sexuality: formalize and fortify a marginal social identity by giving it academic sanction. A guy lurking around the local occult bookstore is just some weirdo; a guy publishing a 10000-word peer-reviewed essay titled “Tentacles, Pentacles, and Testicles: Weird Masculinities in Contemporary Occult Publishing” is professionally, capital-W Weird.

But of course there is something off-putting about the notion of institutionalized Weird: H. P. Lovecraft didn’t have tenure. So, having begun my last post by announcing the birth of Weird Studies, I ended it by announcing its death — a death that lacks only the formality of having happened.

All the same, I’m going to take this thought-experiment just a little further. Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Philosophy, The Modern, Weird Studies | 4 Comments