Friday, May 25, 2012

Research and headaches and thinking too much, oh, my!

So, this is me, complaining.

I'm on the third day of a headache - migraine, sinus, or a combination of the two. Makes it really difficult to get anything accomplished.

Oh, I've gotten a few things done. Wrote some on the novel I've been working on, the one I started for NaNoWriMo last November, that hit a block when I started working on my non-fiction project. It will be interesting to go back and read what I've written the past couple of days and see if it makes any sense when I don't have a headache.

So, that project is going now, but the non-fiction work is still in the water, so to speak, because I've hit a block there. That mostly has to do with ongoing research (I tend to research as I'm writing, a section at a time, rather than doing all the research and all the writing, separately) issues. The local public library system here doesn't seem to have the sciences as a priority, and it is difficult to find up-to-date sources. In something like history, having access to up-to-the-minute work in the field is good but not necessarily imperative. Of course, you want to make sure that there haven't been any recent discoveries of primary documents or anything, but history, by its very nature, doesn't change that much in the retelling, unless you're working in relatively recent times. The bigger problem in history is watching out for sources that claim to be authoritative but are actually revisionist.

In the sciences though, and especially in paleoanthropology, which is what I'm researching currently, new discoveries are made frequently - at least, there have been several discoveries, or, at least, announcements of discoveries, that have the potential to rewrite what we know about human evolution in the past year or two - and if the writer is not aware of them, he or she can look like an idiot when the book comes out. There are periodicals, of course, the science journals where the official announcements and descriptions of new fossils are made, and my library system has a pretty good online source for some of those journals that I can use; otherwise, the online presences of most of the top journals make it prohibitively expensive to do research. You can either subscribe to the online journal for hundreds of dollars per year or you can purchase access to individual articles - sometimes at $20 to $30 or more per article. There is no way I can afford that.

But, books that are up-to-date in the field are rare in the local library system. And, for some reason, they are also rare in the library at the local state university. Added to that is the fact that if I use their resources, I have to use them there. Oh, they have a "community borrower" card for non-students, but that costs, last time I checked, $100 per year, and then you can only check out two or three books at a time. While I understand that students should have first access to the books there, two or three is a ridiculously low maximum. At the private university I attended for my upper division work on my BA, the community borrower card costs something like $25 per year, and the non-students is allowed to check out something like 25 books at a time, despite the fact that it is a much, much smaller library. Unfortunately, their collection of books on paleoanthropology is very small. Now, if I were researching something in history, or in theology or biblical studies, I'd have access to more than enough research materials there.

But a lack of research materials is not the only problem I'm running into presently regarding my non-fiction writing project.

There is, in addition, my blessing/curse of an oversize dose of curiosity and my belief in the principle, stated by John Muir among others, that everything in the universe is attached to everything else. It goes something like this with me, on this project:

I'm writing about archaeology and physical anthropology (hence the current focus on human evolution), and so I'm thinking about beginnings a lot. Part of what archaeology looks at is physical evidence for the beginnings of civilization, and before that, the beginnings of agriculture, and even before that the beginnings of art and other symbolic thought that mark the beginnings of behavioral modernity. But thinking about the beginnings of behavioral modernity in turn leads, at least for me, into thinking about the beginnings of humans. Which leads to thinking about the beginnings of mammals, which leads to thinking about the beginnings of animals, which leads to thinking about the beginnings of life, which leads to thinking about the beginnings of the earth...the solar that, pretty soon, I'm wanting to go find things to read about the beginnings of the universe. The questions that topic raises can be all kinds of frustrating, not least because I don't have the mathematics and physics to really understand most of the work on the subject.

What is more immediately frustrating to me is that I've been being very good about staying focused on the topics directly related to the book I'm writing. A long as I've got work to do on it, sources that I can use for research, I've been very good at staying on task, researching a section and then writing it, then starting the cycle over again for the next section. But now that I've got a temporary break due to inadequate sources, my mind is wanting me to go seriously off the reservation and start looking into some of the questions that I have about other kinds of beginnings than just the ones that archaeology and physical anthropology are so key in studying.

I'll be fine when I can get back on track with research sources. I know I will. It's this down time that is driving me crazy.

That, and this damn headache, which is better today - else I wouldn't have had the concentration to write this blog post - but still needs to go completely away.

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