Another look back

Jon Jarrett just posted his report on K’zoo 2017, as part of an on-going effort to catch up on posts about research-related events in his life, and so I thought to look back at my experiences at the same conference. Any research-oriented notes on papers are in the conference program (yes, the paper version, you’re surely not surprised that I’m old-school), which is of course packed away somewhere, so the following extracts are from my personal journal, in which I was thinking about scheduling and how I was feeling, physically (generally, tired: I don’t sleep well in strange places).

I got to K’zoo about 7:00, collected my registration packet without seeing anyone I knew, and checked into the hotel. This morning I e-mailed presenters in the sessions I’m chairing to ask if they have any recent accomplishments they’d like me to mention. I’ve picked out sessions for today; there’s a —– Society Board meeting; I’ll have some time in which to come back to the hotel, eat, shower, change into fancier clothing for the Wheeler reception.

Thursday night’s reception was, as usual, loud. Val Garver received the Wheeler Award, and Lorraine Stock was giving money to the fund in honor of Alice Colby-Hall, who was there to be honored.

[Another morning] I chaired a session that went very well, though AV problems meant we started a few minutes late. The afternoon session also went well; my grad student got no questions on her paper, but I told her I’m the same way: we put together tightly constructed, well-argued and thoroughly documented papers, and no one can see what they might add, so they focus on the papers with more loose ends. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I also had the —–Society general meeting and reception, followed closely by a Frenches of Fordham reception, and later in the evening, the Early Book Society meeting.

I think I would enjoy receptions more if I could drink like other academics. It’s odd being stone-cold sober when everyone else is getting tipsy and loud. It’s not that I feel I need to drink to have a good time; rather, alcohol takes the edge off discomfort at being in loud, crowded spaces, and makes it easier to deal with other people at the end of a long day. But it makes me feel too ill.

Last night I slept for 3–4 hours, tossed around for awhile, finally got up at 5:30 and ate something, then went back to bed for another couple of hours. I skipped today’s morning session; there were several things I could have gone to, nothing that I felt was a can’t-miss, I was awake for 2–3 hours in the middle of the night, and I wanted to visit the book exhibit. But a book I was considering got away. Oh well. I guess I didn’t want it enough.

As Jon said, “I was there and I learnt things,” though I think he had more fun than I did. I did have some meals with friends, and it was nice to catch up with people, but 2017 wasn’t one of my really energizing Zoo trips.

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled

Five decades ago:

I lived in my parents’ house. I had the little room that was once a sleeping porch. I slept with the big Teddy bear I got for my fifth (fourth? sixth?) birthday. At the end of July 1970, I was just over a month out from meeting a girl I shall call A, who was my best friend for the rest of grade school. I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I liked climbing trees.

Four decades ago:

I lived in my parents’ house. I had a larger room at the back of the house. I slept with my cat, a grumpy orange tabby. Lady Maud was among my best friends, though I probably spent more time talking to another girl in our group, B. I was getting into cycling because my boyfriend was an avid cyclist. I was about a month out from starting college. I wanted to be an archeologist, and was planning a special major that I thought would prepare me for that career.

Three decades ago:
I lived in a studio apartment in Grad School Town, probably the nicest place I’d lived in my life up to that point: it was in the basement of a split-level house, so somewhat dark, but everything was in good repair, and there were nice built-in bookcases and desk that the landlord had built. I had great landlords. I slept with my tabby cat, who had been my boyfriend’s cat until I fed her for long enough, and sometimes with my boyfriend. I liked living alone, and had been doing it for a year, after the boyfriend and I decided not to live together any longer. In a month or so, I would meet two women, C and D, who would become close friends; for the moment, however, my best friends were still Lady Maud, Queen Joan, and Sir David (no point in disguising that name: 80% of the men of my generation are named David, Michael, or Eric/k). I wanted to be an English professor when I finished my graduate work. I hadn’t seen my parents for three years. I swam two or three miles a week in a campus pool, besides walking up and down hills a lot.

Two decades ago:
I lived in my third-floor walk-up condo, with windows on east, south and west giving floods of light, though it got very hot in summer. I slept with the same tabby cat, and sometimes with Sir John. In the summer we more often slept at his place, which had central air conditioning (and a different tabby cat). I spent a lot of time on the phone with C and D, junior professors at schools where they were not very happy. Both of them were ultimately to leave “the profession,” one pre- and one post-tenure. I liked living alone, but hoped to move in with Sir John full-time before too much longer. I was a recently-tenured English professor. Some health problems were interfering with research. I probably visited my parents (both of them) that summer, though I don’t recall exactly when. I swam a couple of miles a week at the YMCA, and also worked out on machines there.

A decade ago:

Sir John and I, now married, lived in our townhouse with five cats (the Shakespearean Heroine, the Scot, the Grammarian, the Tiny Cat [all now deceased], and a very young Basement Cat). I slept with Sir John and whatever cats wanted to join us; sometimes I woke up pinned between the Scot and the Shakespearean Heroine. D had just become an American citizen; the ceremony was one of the last times I would see her, and may be the last time I saw her on her (new) home ground. I had met E a couple of years previously, but we hadn’t yet embarked on the Huge Honking Translation project. I was still an associate professor, at the same school. I was getting back to research, feeling a bit anxious about my position in the field and my ability to work, but I had recently returned from a productive research trip to the UK. I’d also traveled to see my father that summer, my mother having died in the intervening decade. I swam and worked out at a fairly swanky gym.


I live in a split-level house in the suburbs, with three cats (it does remind me, pleasantly, of the house where my grad school apartment was). I sleep with Sir John and Basement Cat, who comes to bed with us so that Glendower can pick at his food overnight. A and I are intermittently back in touch; she teaches third grade in the town where we grew up. Occasionally I hear from C, who is working on yet another master’s degree. I long ago lost touch with B, while D and I deliberately parted company when we ceased to have many shared interests. I am a full professor. Some days, research still seems like a struggle, but I am considerably more confident in my ability to get back to it, and I have published a respectable amount in the past decade. At present a lot of my work time goes into preparing to teach online in the fall. I walk 2-3 miles every morning, and work out with light dumbbells at home; the local pools are closed because of COVID-19.

Looking back in these big swoops of time, it’s curious what shows up and what drops out. I can suppress the six years we spent in the house that was too big, too old, too much work. My entire undergraduate career drops out of the picture, as does my first rented apartment in TT-ville, perhaps appropriately as I tend to forget that I lived there. But all the cats of my life pop up. Day to day, and even year to year, I feel like my life doesn’t change much. I’ve had the same job for going on 30 years. I’ve been with Sir John for more than two decades. I’m something of an exercise addict.

In ten years’ time, though, things do change. At no point did I foresee a pandemic (so I think now: but C says I used to claim we were overdue for one), but twenty years ago I wouldn’t have predicted my 2010 life, either. I haven’t mentioned the people I work(ed) with; colleagues and office staff have changed, though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the year for most of them, without the diaries that are still in storage. But they do make a difference. Twenty years ago, my department was much heavier on older men than it is now, and I looked young enough that I had to put a lot of energy into establishing and maintaining my authority in the classroom. Now I can let my grey hair do a lot of the work for me.

Maybe I’ll do another look-back-the-decades in two or three or five years, and see whether looking at different points (college; a sabbatical year; living in the Too Old House) changes my perspective.

What was your life like, ten and twenty years ago? (Or more: I make no assumptions about my readers’ ages.)

Six on Saturday: mostly orange

Since my last garden was heavy on purples and pinks, I’m enjoying the bright oranges and yellows here, which contrast beautifully with the lavender-blues of all the hostas’ blooms. So this week, I’m giving you nearly all orange flowers. First, day lilies. I love day lilies. There were just a few at the old house, but lots more here. Last week I visited a garden center that had a wonderful selection. Did you know there’s a dark red day lily called “Bela Lugosi”? I restrained myself. In theory, I’m taking a year to get to know this garden’s contents and light in different seasons (but see below). But I’d love to plant loads more day lilies.

Second, the marigolds from my vegetable garden. I haven’t yet shown you any pictures of the vegetable patch. It’s a bit of a jungle, because I just plunked some things in right after we moved and have been hoping for the best.  Marigolds are supposed to ward off pests, and so far they’re doing their job.

Third, more marigolds, dwarfs this time, along with lantana, from the beds in front:

Fourth, still in front, a close-up on one of the varieties of coreopsis that I’ve shown before (yellow and red make orange):

Fifth, Black-Eyed Susans, more yellow than orange, but bright:

Sixth and finally, more dwarf marigolds along with one of my purchases, a globe amaranth called “Truffula”:

Truffula is still in her pot, and will probably go in a different corner of this bed.

I also bought two pots of columbines for the shade garden, because they were on sale and I love columbines, but they’re not blooming so they don’t look like much. And from the clearance shelves I liberated two junipers, two dwarf Alberta Spruce, and a dwarf lemon false cypress, because we’re going to need some evergreens against the back chain-link fence so we don’t have a totally clear view of the neighbors’ yard in winter. I’m still moving those pots around, trying to work out where exactly to put them. I want an artistic clump, rather than a regimented line, and also not to cast shade on the vegetable patch when they grow taller.

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator, who has a wonderful range of pinks spiked with green this week.

Dialogue des chats

I’m riffing on Colette’s Dialogues des bêtes, between Toby-Dog and the enchanting Kiki la Doucette; full-text available here. This scene was enacted last night, chez nous:


Basement Cat: Don’t dart around like prey; you make me nervous.

Reina: Pisssssss offffff.

BC: WHAT did you say to me?

Reina: You hearrrrrrrd me.

Dame Eleanor: Come on, cat people, can’t we all just get along? New house, new rules. Be decent to one another.

BC: She started it.

Reina: He started it.

DEH: I don’t care who started it. You both need to stop it. How about some treats?

BC: I like treats!

Reina: Treats would taste much better if he were locked up. Or dead.

BC (lies down, extends paw): Would you like to play?

Reina (assumes meatloaf pose): How about you PLAY DEAD?

BC (closes eyes): Look, I’m trying to show that I’m really okay.

Reina (still a meatloaf): You’ll be okay if you keep playing dead.



In which I regret my love of sticky notes

Many of my readers will wonder how I could possibly reach this pass. Even if I have a lifetime supply, office supplies are a joy forever.

This regret has to do with my note-taking habits. Well, that and my tea-drinking habits.

I have finally got round to working with a book I’ve had checked out for, um, let’s just say awhile, and discovered that I did at one time start reading it. The first 90 pages or so had multiple blue sticky-notes stuck into them, with actual notes written on them (yay! not only did I start reading, I took notes, so I don’t have to try to figure out why in the world I marked that page).

So far, so good. However, through a combination of carelessness and clumsiness, yesterday I overturned a cup of tea on my desk, and this book was in the way. Since it’s a library book, I rescued it first, before any books, notebooks, or clothes belonging to me.* Interleaving it with lots of toilet paper and weighting the book means that today the pages are dry and flat, no warping.

Unfortunately, a number of the pages are also stained blue at the edges, even though I hastily removed all my sticky notes (which are now adorning my desk). Why couldn’t this have happened to a book I own? (Sod’s Law, duh.) I could tell, yesterday, that the sticky notes were sucking up tea much faster than the book’s pages, and there was only so fast I could work, particularly as I didn’t want to tear softened, wet pages.

I think at this point I should leave well enough alone. A quarter-inch blue edging is probably not the worst thing that could happen to a book, while trying to remove the color could cause further damage. We will not even consider trying to apply blue dye to the entire leading edge of the volume.

But I regret the bright blue notes.

More happily, perhaps this gives me license to procure more sticky notes, in paler colors! Any excuse . . . .

The corollary, however, would no doubt be that I ought to divest myself of brightly-colored notes: not sure I can bring myself to it.

Or stop drinking tea while working.

Definitely unlikely to bring myself to that.

*All of these also came in for contact with tea, but since none of them had bright blue sticky notes attached, all have cleaned up nicely.

Six on Saturday

We’ve had hot days and quite a bit of rain, so the garden is flourishing. Mostly: the boxwood seems to have caught blight. I pulled out one completely dead bush and chopped back two others severely; will have to look into treatment options.

On a happier note, here’s another look at the bed with coreopsis, lantana, and sedum. There are actually two each of the coreopsis and lantana, as well as dwarf marigolds:

Third up, I pruned the lilac bush to make room for some hostas I brought from the old house, and discovered this lost piece of the rock garden:

Fourth, coneflowers and gladioli; judging from real estate-site pictures, the gladioli will be red, which might produce a garish enough combination to satisfy me. But they aren’t in bloom yet, so we’ll see.

Fifth, more hostas:

Sixth and finally, milkweed just over the garden fence (plus day lilies). I’ve seen monarch butterflies hovering in this patch, but didn’t manage to photograph one. Pretend the day lily is a butterfly, as it’s the right orange.

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator.

What urban soul?

Apparently, all I need to trigger a sense of home is hills and hemlock trees. The new house is in a town that has hills (this is a big deal in my part of the midwest) and lots of evergreens among the deciduous trees, including hemlocks. From my front door, I see two hemlocks silhouetted against the sky, and they make me feel so peaceful and happy. Despite the vile heat and humidity, suddenly I have no desire ever to move back to my home state, or to the one where much of my family live now. I don’t ever want to go anywhere again.

Well, I would like to go to the UK and visit some manuscripts. But apart from that, I’m fine right here.

Earlier this week, we went back to our former town to do some errands. It seemed like years since I’d been there, and very strange to think that I had lived there for so long. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I want to leave? I love the new house and the new town.

The enormous yard makes this place like living in a park. It’s tremendously relaxing to look outside and see so much green, and so little that has to do with other humans. We have squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, birds, and probably other animals who are more nocturnal; I’m sure there are also deer, possums, raccoons, and either foxes or coyotes.

I’ve been looking up old posts on Clarissa’s blog because I recalled her making a similar transition when she bought a house surrounded by greenery. She went from liking concrete to preferring leaves. She felt like she’d become a completely different person. She could see herself in that house at 80. Well, maybe by 80 I’ll be ready to move somewhere with no stairs. But I’m amazed by how much at home I feel here. Clarissa is one of those bloggers I find interesting precisely because often we are so different, but on this topic it’s like we’re soul mates!

Maybe it’s because humans in general need to be exposed to nature a lot, and it’s good for us. I spent a lot of time outdoors at my old house, gardening, going for walks, shoveling snow (oh, you know what? if you don’t have sidewalks, you don’t have to shovel them), and there were plenty of trees and other green things to see from the windows. But this is a whole new level of nature, and it makes me feel like a whole new person.

To be sure, there’s a grocery store and other shops about a mile away, perfectly walkable, so it’s not the level of isolation that both my brothers have, which always makes me long to rush back to civilization. I’m not willing to drive ten miles to buy groceries, and I think my feelings on visiting family influenced my sense that I needed to be urban. But now I think the suburbs are a fabulous place to be (even though I don’t recognize myself). I feel like I get to spend the rest of my life on vacation.

Six on Saturday in the new garden

A couple of these might look familiar, but that’s because we’re in the same climate zone, just twenty miles or so away from where we were, so the things people plant don’t vary that much.

First, hydrangeas, with day lilies behind them.

Second, some pink groundcover; I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty.

Three, coreopsis and lantana, with some sedum:

I never plant lantana here, because where I come from, it turns into a tree, a hedge, or a ginormous bush, rather than being an annual, and I hate to see it succumb to frost in the fall. So this will be a one-summer-only plant, unless by some miracle it makes it through the winter.

Four, the new clematis (only one: I may have to do something about this):

Five, the hosta path:

Six, hostas with a grapevine behind them; the vine covers a pergola over the deck:

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator!

The long nightmare is over

I no longer own a big, beautiful, old house.

I hope it’s the house of the new owners’ dreams; that they appreciate its beauties more than they mind its shortcomings; that they love the oak floors, the inlay in the floors around the fireplace, the gas fireplace itself with its marble surround, built-in bookcases to either side of the fireplace and in the room that was Sir John’s study, the light from its many windows (most of which we had to replace), the closet space, the outdoor fireplace and the garden. On the ground floor, some doors have clamshell hinges that were only made for a brief period around 1913-16, which is the sort of thing that appeals greatly to some people. The second floor is an addition from around 1990, so it has large rooms and big closets, as well as two more bathrooms.

Besides those things, it had a narrow, cramped entrance at the front, a chilly, awkward set of stairs at the back, bad traffic patterns and airflow (running the fireplace sent heat straight up the stairs, so that it heated the upper hallway, where the upstairs thermostat was located, keeping the heat from coming on and thus making the bedrooms freezing), and it had settled considerably over the years, making the floors and trim crooked to various degrees in different rooms. It had structural problems due to a badly done cathedral ceiling in the master bedroom, which we corrected, but the additional weight of the tie beams made the house settle a little more. Having grown up in an earthquake zone, I wasn’t bothered by this from a safety point of view, but aesthetically the crookedness irritated me, and Sir John couldn’t stop worrying that the house would fall down (since he hasn’t had the benefit of experience with condemned houses that I’ve had). The basement was dank, with cracks in the concrete that let in water during heavy rains. It flooded twice before the city replaced the storm sewers; after that, no more floods, but it was still damp. Some things stored there were ruined in the floods. Others just got musty from being down there. The garden turned out pretty well after I spent years digging out the creeping bellflower, but since it infests many other neighborhood gardens, it’ll be back unless the new owners are also vigilant.

Within about six months of moving in, we wanted to sell it. But Reasons meant we couldn’t get it on the market as fast as we hoped to, so we missed the top of the market. When we did put it on the market, it took three years to sell. In 2018, we had some viewers but no offers. In 2019, no one even came to look at it. In 2020, the first people to see it, bought it. Go figure. We sold for less than we paid for it, never mind all the work we did to it, but now we get to Move On.

The relief is profound. Modern suburbs, here I come!

An Academic Lady house-hunts, 8

Finding our range:

Agent sends us new set of links. Sir John and I both like the look of the first one. We make appointment to view it, and three others in same town.

Option one: split-level (not one of the standard models we’ve seen before), medium size, good layout, well-maintained. Nice tiled foyer, with closet. Attached garage. Neighborhood feels very rural: enormous yard, no sidewalk in front of house, mailbox across street. My urban soul quails.

Option two: split-level, quiet street very close to major highway (can hear traffic noise), strange fireplace open to three rooms on lower level—would have to fence it off to keep cats out of chimney. Skylights in dining room and kitchen. Am suspicious of skylights: nice idea, but potential for major problems there. Attached garage. Feel very iffy about this one.

Option three: ranch, a few blocks down street from option one. Yard even more enormous. Detached garage; driveway in bad shape. Sir John thinks recently added front porch looks very rural (not a plus). Nicely rehabbed and staged inside. Beautiful kitchen. Three bedrooms above ground. Entrance to living room, but with coat closet and space to use bookshelf or other furniture to create entry way. Odd bit at back, clearly once a porch, now enclosed, but in such a way that is basically enormous mud room, not really usable living space for us (might work for small children to ride tricycles in). Full basement . . . with standing water. Outside, mold or algae or something green is growing below windows of enclosed former porch. We’ll pass.

Option four: split-level, attached garage, once again with entrance to living room but with closet and could use furniture to create entry way. Sir John does not like screened front porch but I do. Yard manageable size. Three bedrooms up, family room and office down. Interior shutters, which we like. This one is rapidly moving to top of our list when I look up and see crack in ceiling, clearly already patched at least once and now re-splitting. Crack runs directly under center line of roof. Due to our past sad experience, house plummets from top of list.


Time to fish or cut bait: do we make offer on something we have seen, or start trying to find rental from which to continue searching?

Gentle reader, I will not keep you longer in suspense: we offer for Option One of this post.

(It reminds Sir John of house lived in by hot girl he dated in high school. Query: can I live up to associations? Answer: probably; he married me, not hot girl.)

Negotiations over dowry price not unduly protracted.

My urban soul is going to have to adapt itself to the suburbs.