Self-Doubting Philosopher Public Talk Schedule

This Saturday is the Pittsburgh Area Philosophy Colloquium, and I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of interesting papers.  The act of giving a paper in a public forum can be nerve-wracking even in collegial settings (you’ve only been working on this most of your adult life, of course, so it’s not like rejection would hurt or anything).  So it’s important for young and old philosophers alike to harness that feral panic of self-doubt and turn it into an engine of productivity for their work. That reminded me of something I wrote a few years back about getting ready for an impending Big Talk. The key is planning, people. Make yourself a schedule with all that nervous energy.

Before day of talk

3.5 years – Give last talk that actually meant jack squat

1 year, 1 month, 3 days – Get invitation to come give somewhat big deal talk

1 year, 1 month, 2 days – Forget you received invitation to give somewhat big deal talk

11 months, 2 weeks – Remember talk, realize you have no idea of a topic, put it off till winter break

10 months, 2 weeks – Realize winter break is over, still no topic, put it off till spring break

8 months – Spend all of spring break grading, still no topic, put it off till summer

6 months – summer break starts, begin work on other doomed article, put off figuring out a topic for a month

5 months – revamp doomed article plans for first time, referee papers for upcoming conference, convince self one more month of putting topic off won’t hurt; as part of strategy, convince self doomed article can be turned into topic, even though topic of doomed article makes no sense

4 months, 2 weeks – start writing yet another article with friend, which goes twice as fast because he’s writing the other half; stay up all night worrying that your half sucks

4 months – finish article with friend, feel pathetic that article with someone else’s input actually worked, redouble efforts on doomed article; make no attempt to come up with topic for talk

3 months, 2 weeks – continue convincing self that doomed article is just one good day of writing and thinking from being masterpiece that changes the field; further convince self that topic which cannot be described in doomed article will translate directly into topic for upcoming talk

3 months – get formal invitation to give talk, following up on informal one from months earlier; realize that not only did you not have a topic, you were completely misconceiving of nature and purpose of talk and doomed article would never have helped in the first place

2 months, 3 weeks – abandon doomed article until next summer, pretending that it will spontaneously congeal into something coherent because you don’t work on it (really, given how much good working on it did, it will slow the rate of decline)

2 months, 2 weeks, 6 days – begin cycle of self-doubt and self-destructive abuse; punch self first thing every morning, twice on Sundays; consider alcohol abuse as self-medicating technique

2 months, 2 weeks – stop punching self in neck when bruising gets above collar level; consider meth or crack habit as self-medicating technique

2 months, 1 week – do the math and realize that given the schedule of midterms and other conference commitments, paper must be written in the next five days, during which regular teaching and other nonsense must occur

2 months, 6 days, 23 hours – get shit together – not out of pride, just out of sheer terror at monumental level of shame

2 months, 5 days – 1800 words, going for 6000

2 months, 4 days – 3000 words

2 months, 3 days – 4000 words

2 months, 2 days – 4900 words

2 months, 1 day – you know what? 5623 words will work just fine

(disappear for 1 month and 3 weeks)

1 week – begin acute panic cycle; sit in friend’s kitchen involuntarily babbling about obscure point in paper while eating half a bag of low-fat Cheetos; put off prep because there’s still a week, right?

5 days – wait, 5 days? what happened to day 6? how the hell did I lose a whole day there?; put off prep because prep done while panicking is worthless

4 days – for real? 4 days? admit to self that self is screwed; vow to build time machine one day and go kick past self’s ass

3 days – remember that gay-friendly joke is still in draft of paper; wonder how that will go over in a roomful of Catholics; write long FB note to blow off steam

2 days – keep self alive with coffee (sedatives would improve mood, but lead to six-week nap); spend two hours plotting graphs to determine if anxiety will convert to plasma energy as T increases; spend three hours wondering if there’s a triple point with shame and regret, consider publishing results

1 day – start driving, kid

Day of talk

5:48 AM – wake up, shower, inject coffee into aorta

6:30 – realize your have never shaved your arms, wonder what it would look like, figure it will be a story to tell, if nothing else

6:31 – regret shaving arms

7:00 – breakfast of bagel, hummus, paper napkin

12:00 – arrive at talk site; pace nervously around building in circles of decreasing size for three hours; wonder if you are embodying a reversed version of the golden spiral; consider publishing results

3:00 – give talk

5:00-after – cycle through waves of elation and self doubt; celebrate being a part of the dialectic; blame self for crummy topic; revist and enjoy thought of adrebaline rush; blame audience for not getting it; blame the Democrats; blame Canada; blame is the cure cure anything throw the rudder down throw the rudder down; go to dinner; go home; go to sleep

Day after

8:00 AM – start hunting for another place to give a talk.

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