Mozart in the Morning

Posted on April 17, 2015




This is a cross post from the Military Writers Guild

I recruited Ellen Haring to the Military Writers Guild, so I was eager to interview her about writing and research. She has been for me a bit of a canary in the coal mine. Ellen is a few cohorts ahead of me as a Ph.D. student at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She often advises me about the dangers ahead.

Ellen is a Senior Fellow at Women In International Security leading the Combat Integration Initiative (CII). She is a pathfinder there as well. Ellen leads the effort at CII to monitor the implementation of the Department of Defense policy to open direct ground combat positions to women in the U.S. Military.

It was no coincidence that I caught up with Ellen at a conference hosted by the Center for the Study of Gender and Conflict.


[John DeRosa] What does the first hour of your day look like? What time do you typically wake up?

[Ellen Haring] My day starts very randomly, whenever I wake up, which is very early. Typically I wake up between 4:00 and 6:00AM just naturally. I can’t say why. I think it is just people’s rhythms. Some people are morning people. Others are night people. I am definitely a morning person.

[JD] What are some of your daily routines?

[EH] My morning starts early. I immediately go and get a cup of coffee and sit down in front of the computer. Before I do email, I do some online reading. I usually check the Early Bird [DoD News summaries] where I scan for interesting articles and read a few articles. I also have the NYTimes app on my phone which I read through before I even get out of bed. I scan what articles are interesting, and I read.

I will then turn on the computer to check email and read the comments on my blog posts. Occasionally if an interesting article appears on one of the military blogs I am reading I will sometimes respond to those. I am wary of responding to comments on my blog posts.

I usually sit there like a crazy woman on the computer for the next couple of hours until I force myself to have some breakfast and exercise. At some point, mid-morning, I exercise. My husband says I am like Mozart with my hair sticking up. He will come in and say, “All right Mozart, time to go exercise. It is mid-morning, you need to get on with the rest of the day.”

[JD] You are writing your dissertation now. Have you scheduled that writing?

[EH] Usually my dissertation is the focus of my day. I tend to get easily distracted by interesting things that pop up and blogs that I write myself. My last post was on stolen valor [That Valor Isn’t Yours to Defend], but I have a few on my computer. I revisit topics that make me mad. It usually has to do with emotion. In terms of blogs, I write based on emotion. I explore things that bother me. I explore them by writing about them. Sometimes they become blogs, and sometimes they become more clutter on my computer.

[JD] Do some of these parts become part of your dissertation?

[EH] They do at some point — some things. Other things are just thinking about the other work that I am involved — Women in International Security and the Combat Integration Initiative.

[JD] Is this how you are drawing ideas for your writing?

[EH] Everything that I am doing is associated with my dissertation.

[JD] How does your routine change on the weekend to decompress?

[EH] My normal week is seven days. This is pretty much my routine, seven days a week.

[JD] At no time have you planned that you are sitting down to write your dissertation?

[EH] Yes. I am not very structured. So it happens seven days a week.

[JD] What does your note taking system look like? How do you gather information for your writing?

[EH] I don’t have a note taking system. I haven’t been much of a note taker. When I am writing, and I don’t know enough about a topic I will go and look into it. Then that goes right into the writing.

[JD] Do you print it out?

[EH] It is always on the computer.

[JD] Do you carry a notebook?

[EH] No, I end up writing on the backs of things! I should carry a notebook, but I don’t. I always have a pen in my purse, and I will pick up something like that [points to a conference schedule]. I will take it home and type it in my notes, or it will sit on my desk until I have transcribed it to my computer.

This morning my husband was looking through my desk and pulled out five notebooks that were covered in pen and ink. So I am writing in pen and ink. As soon as I write it in pen I typically put it in a document on the computer.

[JD] So what does that note system look like on the computer? Is it just random notes?

[EH] Usually I am taking notes for something I am working on. For instance, I am teaching a new course up at the Army War College. If I took notes on the lesson plan I will go back to the computer and update the lesson plan. The notes are usually updating documents. If the document doesn’t already exist, I will create a new document. The documents are in folders based on topics. I have a War College folder, a dissertation folder, a media folder, and blog post folder — different folders.

[JD] What about reading not for the purpose of your writing? How do you find what to read? What are you reading now?

[EH] I usually read a bedtime. I always ask for books for Christmas or birthdays. I look at the New York Times Best Sellers list. Right now, I am reading All the Light We Cannot See [Anthony Doerr] which is about World War II. I just finished Redeployment [Phil Klay]. It was hard to get through Redeployment. It was a struggle. It was painful to get through it, but I forced myself to get through it. All the stories are so sad and depressing.

Anyway, that is the sort of things I read before I go to bed — after I watch some crappy TV. I just finished watching Bloodline, which was good. I do like to watch TV series.

[JD] What is the book you’re most likely to give as a gift or one you’ve given as a gift the most?

[EH] No. There isn’t a book that I have often given to others. That I have repeatedly given? No.

[JD] What was the last book that you recommended?

[EH] Just yesterday I met with a woman doing research on non-state actors and how they manage their internal code of conduct. To me, what she was talking about was group processes and internal controls. I referenced many times a book, Group Processes by Rupert Brown, which I have used in my own research.

[JD] Is there a favorite book or author?

[EH] I have to confess I have read every single Malcolm Gladwell book. He writes in an accessible way on material that is thoughtful and interesting.

[JD] What’s the drink of choice?

[EH] Absolutely red wines. I am on cabernets, but it used to be merlots. My favorite is Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

[JD] Where was the most adventurous place you have traveled?

[EH] The most adventurous place was the Molokai leper colony. We flew out on a small plane. Spent the day with a leper. He showed us the colony and how it was established. It was terrible to what happen to them, but they choose to live there now. Have you been there?

[JD] I grew up in Hawaii, but I haven’t been to the colony. Father Damian is a tremendous figure in Hawaiian history and the curriculum in schools there.

[EH] Father Damian was an incredible, true humanitarian, and a hero in every respect.

More recently I went to Vietnam. We went through the tunnels of Củ Chi and all around the U.S. military sites. We cruised down the Mekong Delta in an old rice boat. That was powerful. It made me think what in the world were we doing in that country and in that entire conflict. When you crawl through the tunnels of Củ Chi, it was all I could think but, what made us think that we could defeat a people that would go to these lengths? It is scary in those tunnels. They had whole hospitals dug out. They did it with little buckets of dirt. It was just fascinating.

[JD] What bold steps would you like to see the MWG take?

[EH] Part of the reason I write is to be provocative. I try to disrupt common dialog. I think that we claim to be creative and critical thinkers in the military. I don’t think we are very creative or critical in our thinking. When I see a common dialog, I try to disrupt it. I often don’t like where they are headed. That is why I wrote about stolen valor.

Last night I was here for a lecture by Cynthia Enloe — an iconic feminist. She made some comments about the military that made me very uncomfortable. I thought she was dead on in many respects. Maybe it made me uncomfortable because I joined and became part of the military. I thought she was very insightful. I think we all need to have our thinking processes disrupted periodically so that we can think about why we do what we do.

So a bold step for the Guild would be disruptive; allow writing to challenge the common dialog and not filter out those who challenge us. We need to encourage their participation. It makes you wrestle with hard things.

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