Dame Eleanor Hull

It’s not an epiphany

(And if it is, ur doin it rong.)

This article really pissed me off. “[M]enopause delivers a mind-blowing mid-life recalibration – one with a valuable message of growth and expansion.” Uh, what? My mind is still here, unblown. Life trundles along the way it has for years. Maybe it’s being a professor: growth and expansion come with the territory. New students, new ideas, new courses (or new ways of doing the old ones), new research.

“[F]emale bodies are powerful intuitive barometers and mine was trying to tell me something.” Probably every body is a powerful intuitive barometer, whatever its sex. I count on mine to tell me when I’m hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and so on.

“I routinely put others first which meant racing through my life over-achieving and under-prioritising me. Exhausted and running on empty, letting go of my expectations of me would be the first positive move.” Okay, now you’re finally getting to your problems. Don’t suggest that those are everyone’s problems. (And by the way: dangling modifier. That irritates me, too.) You could have set a higher priority on yourself at any point, however; there’s nothing magical about menopause. Maybe that’s what got your attention, but in someone else’s life, it might have been a parent’s death or a child’s starting school, a change of jobs or a milestone birthday. I think Franklin’s realizations are not uncommon in midlife, actually, but the menopause thing is coincidental. I know women who went through menopause very early due to medical treatments or just because it happens early in their families, and they pretty much carried on as usual until their fifties, when the reality that life is short became more than just a phrase to follow with “so eat dessert first” or “don’t drink bad wine.” Men do this too. What do you think the sports cars are about?

“In menopause our body roars. All these years it has put up and shut up and now will not tolerate abuse or disrespect any longer. This commotion is simply a demand by your newly awake self for quality not quantity, for re-evaluation and re-balancing. Perhaps (when your time comes) you plan to put your hands over your ears? Think again, there is nothing so primal and immediate as your body’s hormonal call to action.” Our body? Speak for yourself. You have yours, I have mine. I wouldn’t say that mine put up and shut up. It has made its needs clear for decades. I treat it kindly. My self is as awake (or maybe not-awake) as it has been for years. I can’t say that I’m experiencing a hormonal call to action. Hot flashes, yes, but they don’t move me to much action beyond reaching for an ice pack. I always thought I’d enjoy getting up to room temperature, that it would make a pleasant change from being freezing most of the time. The problem isn’t the hot, it’s the flash, the sensation of being suddenly dumped into a sauna. I do not experience them as power surges, just as a passing nuisance. They definitely do not roar.

“Post-menopause needs renaming and reclaiming for what it truly is, a magnificent time of curiosity, creativity and rank. It’s not surprising that some societies have been threatened by this natural female evolution to leader and mentor. In Pagan times of Goddess Worship, female tribal elders were respected and celebrated but with the introduction of Christianity came the brutal persecution of middle-aged women as witches and heretics. As feminist history explains, older women were simply channeling their menopausal force to intervene in an oppressive culture that undermined female wisdom and equality.” Gag me. Where to start? Is there seriously any historical evidence for a pagan feminist paradise before the coming of Christianity? I used to have this argument with my mother, who blamed Christianity for everything that afflicted women (in her later years; when I was little, she was as conventional as they come: we both wore white gloves to church). In the medieval and early modern periods, an appalling number of women died before they made it to menopause. I can hardly bear to tour medieval churches any longer, despite the lovely architecture, because of all the plaques and gravestones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, memorializing women who died in their thirties after bearing nine, or eleven, children, more than half of whom preceded them to the grave. Such a waste. At least Catholicism offered the option of the nunnery, where a woman could have some sort of intellectual life, and not have to go through childbirth.

Probably I’m simply the wrong audience for this sort of essay. I never went for the Powerful Female Experience rhetoric, whether it was attached to menstruation, childbirth, menopause, or any other natural process. There are lots of bodily processes that we could bond over. Some are universal human experiences, shared with men, and even with other animals. How come we never talk about the profound experience of digestion, and how at one with the universe we feel when we are replete after a good meal, or about the pleasures of relieving a full bladder, or making one’s mark on the world by taking a dump? Oh, wait, those aren’t mystical; they have nothing to do with the process of bringing another life into the world, which is the real power of women. Of course. And that must mean that I, as a childless-by-choice woman, am not a real woman. Never mind my double-x chromosomes, my years of living in a female body with (almost) all that that implies, my experiences with sexism overt and covert. I’m not sure that I’m even allowed a powerful menopause, in this model: if I haven’t sacrificed myself to others, if I haven’t given birth and suffered sleep deprivation while looking after a newborn and exhausted myself raising children while having a career, then probably what I’m going through isn’t really the hormonal wake-up call that Ms Franklin is on about.

OK, then, fine, never mind. Nonetheless, I think it’s sad if you haven’t managed to put yourself first before your mid-fifties. I thought that was an affliction of my mother’s generation, not of my own. I have a variety of friends (women and men) who have children. A few inhabit the martyr role. Most of them think about their own needs as well as those of their children. The second set are happier. How’s that for a powerful human experience?

“Happiness exists, and it’s important; why refuse it? You don’t make other people’s unhappiness any worse by accepting it; it even helps you to fight for them.”

 

 

Yes, done

I have submitted the last chunk of the MMP (whatever number it is) that remained homeless.

One piece is in print. The companion-piece is in print. Another piece is that terribly tardy R&R to which I shall now turn my attention.

I started work on this project seven years ago, which seems like an unconscionable amount of time. However, the project, which began by seeming simple, turned into the above-listed four essays. What’s more, during those seven years I have also written three other unrelated articles. One is in print, one is forthcoming (proofs have been corrected), and there’s another R&R, which will be the second thing up, after the super-tardy one. Somehow it feels like I haven’t done anything but the MMP-1 (3?) for years, but that’s not true. If I can get this one accepted, and get my two R&Rs done and in print, I will have averaged a respectable one article per year for the past seven years. It’s just that they clump up oddly instead of appearing tidily spaced on my CV.

One lesson from all this is to do your R&R as soon as it comes. At the time I got the one on the MMP-3 (or 1?), I couldn’t stand to put down whatever I was working on (I think it was the just-submitted chunk of the MMP, but maybe it was a different piece altogether), because I was sure it was almost done and I was afraid of losing momentum. But “almost done” can drag on, and on.

And on.

I feel like doing something to celebrate, though I have a stack of papers to grade and a lawn to mow. If this essay gets accepted, there will be champagne all around, IRL for sure, and a virtual party with both a chocolate fountain and a champagne fountain for my blog-friends and readers (neither calories nor hangover for the virtual stuff!). I don’t really like being drunk (ask a glass of water . . . ) but finishing off seven years of servitude to this project (fingers crossed; maybe I haven’t done it yet) seems to demand getting drunk as a lord. Or something epoch-making. Suggestions?

Seven hours!

I slept straight through the night last night. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

It may be down to the change in weather. But if it was the result of a four-mile walk, followed by pizza, wine, Oreos, and staying up late to finish a jigsaw puzzle . . . well, I think I could get used to that lifestyle.

(Most of those things are fairly routine in my life, so it’s probably the weather.)

Done? ? ???

Earlier this week, I gave a draft of the MMP-1 to a colleague to read. Since then, I have continued to flesh out footnotes and tweak bits and pieces. Now I need to print it out and look for the sorts of things one never sees on-screen. I expect I’ll find a few more things to tweak, and my colleague may have suggestions. I certainly hope he’ll catch any places where I have repeated myself, or, worse, left out a key point I was sure I’d made because I made it in some earlier draft, and in my head it’s still there. As I always say to students, “I’m sure it makes sense in your head, but I have to look at what made it onto paper.”

At any rate, I think I may actually submit this piece again, soon. I’d love to be done with it. I’ve lived with it for a long time, and enjoyed working on it, but the researching and writing (and re-writing) of it has been like another dissertation. I could have written a book in the time. Sadly, I don’t think this piece is a book. It’s one of those dissertations that gets boiled down into a single solid article.

I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or a serious case of over-documenting something nobody else will care about. It is, at any rate, documented to a fare-thee-well. There is no hand-waving.

Have I learned anything from this process? Like, how to get a sense of the scope of a project, or how to outline it so as not to have to re-write multiple times, or anything useful like that? I’m going to be contemplating this question for awhile. I suspect that I’m going to go on being myself: struggling to see the big picture; unable to imagine starting out with a topic like “perceptions of time in the Middle Ages” or “queenship,” but needing to look at a single text, or manuscript, to see what I think is interesting about it, and then needing to compare it to other similar texts or manuscripts; pulling on a thread that turns out to be both very long and attached to the tail of something with claws and teeth; researching in all directions instead of limiting myself to what I already know. I guess I know more, now, which might be handy for the next project, unless it goes in all different directions again (which it assuredly will; the next thing already addresses topics I haven’t read about before).

Sometimes I feel delighted to send an essay out into the world. This time, I’m hopeful but wary. If projects are children, the MMP-1 has had a hard time in adult life, and has sucked up a lot of my resources; some of the younger kids have suffered because of the attention this one needed. But it can’t live with me forever. It needs to go out and try again.

Where I put that stack . . .

A few weeks ago I cleared my desk (and other surfaces) by creating stacks of paper in the guest room, with the plan that I would sort them out when I was procrastinating on grading. Well, this weekend we have an unexpected but delightful house guest. I shoveled the stacks into the drawers of an empty file cabinet. This post is to remind me where they are, when in a few weeks or months I am cursing my inability to find this or that important bit of paper that has gone missing.

Footnotes proceed. I am up to number 70 on this my first pass through the document, though I will still need to go back for some that require more searching through files and shelves.

What I’m up to

Posting has been sporadic due to footnotes.

Like Heu Mihi, I’m dealing with an “indefatigably persistent article” (that sounds much less threatening than the Article That Will Not Die), which I have finally beaten into submission for the third time. That is, I’ve beaten its text, but it is not yet submitted, because footnotes.

References to secondary literature, things I have read and have notes for and just have to format them for this journal (can you say idiosyncratic? I knew you could). References to things I have read but who the hell said it? References to things I know someone wrote about, probably more than one someone; maybe I have the citations in a previously-written article or maybe there are notes somewhere on this computer, in some file, probably named something unhelpful, which will probably crash Windows Explorer when I search for it. Properly phrased and formatted references to legal documents (not my usual wheelhouse). References to books on my shelves, bristling with post-its saying “Add to MMP-3.” References to things hand-copied into my research journal when I was working somewhere I either couldn’t have my laptop or just didn’t bother to bring it.

Gah. I wish I were Keith Wrightson. But pride forbids. The MMP-3 will be properly documented if it kills me. It has 95 theses footnotes now, which is probably all of them; it’s just that most of them say things like “Citation here.” Yesterday I had dealt with 19 of these. Today I finished note number 37. So I’ve nearly doubled my count in just a few hours.

It will get done. My articles always seem like a hopeless mess until very suddenly they are finished. So I know how this works. But I want to be DONE already.

 

Self-esteem

I got a letter from the president of LRU about football tickets. It started, “As a valuable member of the university, I am inviting you . . . ”

Well, there are two opinions about whether the prez is a valuable member of LRU or not. But at least s/he doesn’t suffer from low-self-esteem brought on by being at a regional school instead of a flagship.

Insights that come with age

I am re-evaluating the late-middle-aged to elderly women in fiction, and sometimes in life, who waft multiple layers of scarves (probably silk chiffon) behind them, and send their companions/daughters/whoever back to pick them up or get another one. In fiction, the scarves seem to indicate a charming femininity that the younger narrator or POV character feels she lacks, and of a certain type of privilege (the sort that has a companion, daughter, or someone to go fetch another scarf).

An Alice Adams story I love, “Home is Where,” features one of these ladies (“lady” seems more the mot juste than “woman,” in this context). The narrator writes, “My mother is one of those women who, having been great beauties, forever retain that air . . . . All my life I had watched her performances with a defeated, angry envy, as I too deferred and waited on her. . . . Now she came in, scarves floating around that faded golden head”  (159). Granny in The Fair Adventure is another floaty-scarf lady (maybe it’s a Southern thing).

I always used to take the narrator’s word for it.

Now I think that lady is suffering from hot flashes. Instead of constantly taking off and putting on layers of clothing, she loosens or snugs up a scarf or so. If the scarves waft elegantly, so much the better; one doesn’t want to mention personal matters that are none of anyone’s business.

Adams, Alice. “Home is Where.” Beautiful Girl: Stories by Alice Adams. New York: Pocket Books, 1978. 155-177.

It’s August! Panic stations!

A few years ago, I wrote about oh-shit-it’s-August-syndrome, when the summer hits the fan, as it were, and it’s hard to decide what most urgently needs attention because it all does, but time is limited and yet it’s still so hot that it’s hard to believe that anything really is urgent.

I thought I’d revisit that post to see how much of it can be recycled without updates.

OK, so there’s what I really have to do, and there’s what I really want to do, and there are all those things that I thought I’d like to get done but need to let go of. And then there’s the question of whether some elements of the last group don’t actually belong there.

Check, check, check. That paragraph works.

It’s August. Classes start in two weeks, with faculty meetings beforehand. Besides writing and class prep and having some last bits of summer fun, I have a couple of medical appointments I’m taking care of before classes start, and possibly one or more dentist appointments depending on whether a sensitive spot calms down or gets worse. (If it’s going to get worse, I wish it would just come on and do it already, instead of waiting for the first or second day of classes.) I’m pretty clear on the have-to (syllabi etc, and at least one House Thing) and the most definite want-to (a little more fun reading and a sewing project).

Classes don’t start for three whole weeks! I’m starting early on the panic. Only not so early, because I’ll be away during the faculty-meeting week. So actually I only have about ten days. Wheeeee! Down the panic slide we go! Never mind last bits of summer fun. I’d be thrilled to get the writing and class prep done in the time. The medical stuff happened in July (excellent, pat self on back) and I have only one more dentist appointment to go, which should be a quick and easy one. There are no house have-to’s, though there are a batch of house things for which I need to organize people to come and give estimates. Still, those could happen any time over the next eight weeks or so. Sooner is no doubt better than later, but I’m not going to put those on the must-do-now list. No sewing projects (well, unless visiting a tailor counts, and again, not urgent). There’s no fun reading I’ve been putting off.

But then there are writing-related but not-writing activities, which are desirable but not really essential, like tidying up my home office. . . . There is a heap of paper stuff that needs to get filed.

The home office is fine. I can even see wood on my desk. I tidied it a few weeks ago. It’s true that means there are heaps of paper in the guest room that I need to sort out, but out of sight is out of mind, and at the moment that is A-O.K. I can use sorting them as a procrastination activity when I start getting things to grade! Isn’t that great planning?

Since I got back (not counting writing done on the plane), I’ve produced . . . let’s see . . . Basement Cat, get off my research journal . . . about 2000 words. These are what I might call “focused pre-writing,” rather than true rough-draft writing, because the section presently under construction didn’t get as much pre-writing as the first chunk I wrote. But that’s fine. This stage of writing has to happen sometime, and I might as well do it now, while I’m on a roll.

Since I got back, I’ve produced roughly 3000 new words. Very roughly. It’s hard to be sure. There has also been a lot of editing in which words get tinkered with, cut, re-written, and so on. The current version of the MMP-1 is just shy of 10K words, but I think I’m done with it, except for sorting out its footnotes properly in the style required by the journal to which I plan to send it. I really want to send it and have it be Someone Else’s Problem for awhile. There are plenty of other things to work on.

Nobody sits on my research journal these days. Sometimes Reina sits behind my monitor, but I am in her bad graces at the moment because of unlawful confiscation of licensed weapons cutting her claws. It’s true, when the children grow up you miss the things that used to drive you crazy.

So [should I focus on] writing syllabi . . . and hacking back the horribly overgrown and weedy garden? Actually, I am terribly tempted to abandon the garden until frost kills off some stuff—this seasonal nonsense is good for something!—though I do rather fear What The Neighbors Will Think. . . . I could give up on the sewing and garden instead . . . if we ever get a cool enough day that I want to be outside.

Write syllabi, work on revisions, and hack back the garden. Not that I care what the neighbors think. The front looks all right and the back is nobody’s business. But I’m making progress with the bellflower and I’d like to keep on rather than letting it grow back. The weather is certainly a consideration. We had a pleasant weekend, so I did some more digging.

So, it looks like I’m doing rather well compared to four years ago. That’s a very pleasant discovery. Now to pull a conference paper out of . . . wherever this one comes from.

Books I may read

Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground. I definitely want to get this before I next visit London. Seeing what’s nearby is much more fun than spending huge amounts of time in transit from one thing to another.

The Ginger Tree. Sometimes I like this sort of thing. Usually I like it better as a memoir than as a novel.

How I Live Now. Maybe not. Clearly late to the party on this one, since it’s been made into a movie, but I first heard of it recently, when I was going through a British blogger’s archives. The Amazon UK link gave a lot less detail than the US Amazon link, and now that I’ve seen the US description, I think I probably won’t read it after all. My initial impression was that it was a WWII novel, rather than set in the future.

Doing this post lets me close some tabs, at least. Bookmarking, for me, is like filing. I might as well just toss the paper. I need to see things, or have them in a format that allows text searches. Using a blog as a list of links: how retro.