Dame Eleanor Hull

The Kafkaesque life

“Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”

The house is not noisy.

Other elements . . . well, I am inspired to wriggle through, although I am not known for being subtle.  Needs must when the devil drives.

An on-campus day

Up a little before six.
Go out and walk about a mile, just to say I had some sort of exercise.
6:30, return to house, make tea.
6:45, translate 7 lines of [dead language] for my weekly [dead language] reading group.
7:15, feed and medicate cats, boil eggs and make toast to take in the car.
7:50, get dressed, gather up books, laptop, breakfast, lunch, and snack.
8:05, leave house.  Drive to nearby college library to check out book I need for discussion with independent study student.
8:25, start the drive to campus.  Think about what we’ll do in class.  Plan conversational gambits in one of my secondary languages for a meeting later with a native speaker of that language.
9:30, decide I’m enough ahead of schedule and tired enough that I’m going to stop for coffee.
9:45, arrive at my office.  Skim essay in book checked out at 8:15.
10:00, teach a class.  Talk briefly with 3-4 students afterward about their research papers.
11:00ish, meet with independent study student.
12:00, talk with colleague about shared graduate students.
12:20, eat lunch while reading and commenting on student work.
1:00, meeting of Very Important Sub-Committee of Important Committee.
2:45, we get out 15 minutes early!  Woooot!  The time goes in watering my plants and using the restroom.
3:00, meet with grad student from another department who needs another committee member.  Strange to say, I am more or less qualified to do this.  Discuss technical matters with Other Department’s grad advisor on the phone.
3:40, breathe deeply, zone out, make tea, eat snack.
4:00, start tackling e-mail to students, library staff, colleagues; ILL assorted books needed mainly for teaching; look up call numbers for books I’m going to need to consult in our library.
5:00, get head above water (or fires put out, depending on your preferred metaphor) and pull up awful scan-from-microfilm of Current Manuscript Obsession.  Finish looking it over.  Return to MMP-3 and start revising its introduction.
6:00, decide to start the packing-up process.  Several last-minute e-mails keep me in the office till about 6:20, at which point I leave and run into a student from a study-abroad program two years ago.
6:40, leave campus.  Stop at a grocery store to pick up items Sir John couldn’t find at our local.  Stop for gas.  Get a sandwich to eat in the car and call dinner.
8:25, arrive at home.  Do a little tidying up, checking personal e-mail, and so on; then take a bath—in which I read an article I assigned to my grad students.
10:30, go to bed.

Day 9

Went for a run outside, not on a treadmill. (It really is spring.)

Ate pancakes.

Wrote and posted detailed instructions for an assignment.

Completed another short batch of grading.

Read for tomorrow.

Created the One List To Rule Them All.

Cooked another dinner that created leftovers.

Drank wine and watched the end of Paris-Nice.

Day 8

Definitely a “spring break” day—a lot of it went to hanging out with Sir John, or to exercise.  We watched two more Paris-Nice races (day 5 mysteriously went missing, unfortunately), so now we’re up to date.  I did a few more house things, much faster than the day before.  I cooked an extra-large dinner so there will be leftovers for lunches this week.

Day 7

Well, the best I can say for yesterday is that it’s over.  That was some fog I was in.  I kept looking at the clock, doing something (like feeding a cat), thinking about two minutes had passed, and discovering that 20-30 minutes had gone by and I had no clue what I had been doing.

The teaching list?  I forgot all about it.  I also forgot that it was Friday (though I knew in the morning that it was Friday the 13th), and therefore I had a yoga class to go to.  It took all afternoon to do a handful of house-things: adjust the screws on the door-closers so the front door closes more slowly and the back door, faster; find and put up the bedroom curtains; move a couple of pieces of furniture; swap out plastic shelf-pins in two kitchen cupboards for metal ones; exchange the contents of these cupboards*; and pay the bills.  I then went for a 4.5 mile walk when I should have been at yoga, and bought a book at the local independent bookstore**.  Once Sir John got home, we watched two days of Paris-Nice, and I answered a friend’s e-mail, and ordered one book and two dresses online (inspired by Cloud, I’m trying out eshakti. This is the dress I really want, but it’s not what I’m getting).

I used to have a lot more days like that.  I’m glad that they are now rare.  Having one makes me very appreciative of my improved state.

At sunrise this morning I put the cats out of the bedroom and, thanks to the curtains, went back to sleep.  I’m getting a late start on the day, and there are pre-planned events that will break it up in ways that may inhibit productivity, but at least I’m rested and thinking clearly.  I think.

*Astute readers may suspect that a different cupboard has already had this operation performed, and for cause (i.e., plastic fatigue).  Astute readers would be correct.  Mirabile dictu, very few dishes were broken in that event, which happened months ago.  I’m not very good at getting to these house tasks.

**Support your local independent bookstore!  I could have put that on my spring break to-do list.  Why not?  Never mind that I had intended to walk to the public library, but in my fog couldn’t get out of the house until too late to get there in opening hours.  The ultimate effect is good for the bookstore, so I’ll claim it as a Useful Thing To Have Done.

Recalculating . . .

It is now clear that I’m badly under-slept again; and since I had a second cup of tea before I realized just how bad the situation was, I don’t think napping is going to be an option.

The number-one problem I have with motivation and ability to get things done is sleep.  I have a sleep disorder.  I do all the things you’re supposed to do, and usually they work pretty well.  Then sometimes the cats go crazy, like two nights ago, or other stuff happens.  Last night, I’m pretty sure that the base problem is that someone at the restaurant where we had lunch screwed up my order and fed me something I don’t tolerate well, so I was awake in the middle of the night for awhile and then slept fitfully for the rest of the night.  But since I’m used to being not-quite-rested, it can be hard, first thing in the morning, to gauge just how bad the “fitful” was.

Bad, apparently.  When I’m well-rested, it’s amazing how well I cope with stuff and how much I can get through; and when I’m not, d-u-u-u-de, I am s-u-u-u-c-h a slacker.

The thing is, it’s still spring break.  I don’t want to waste it.  I want to either get something done, or have fun.  The problem with being this tired, yet caffeinated, is that nothing really seems fun, but I can’t find my motivation, either.  I’ve been posting as a record of what I have done, rather than focusing on what I plan to do; but today is going to go right down the tubes if I don’t make some effort in some direction.

The one thing I’ve managed to do today is to finish, almost, the massive list-of-all-the-things.  The not-yet-finished chunk involves looking over my syllabi and figuring out what is yet to come before the end of the term.  So I’m going to do that; and I also plan to walk 4-5 miles again today.  I need to pay some bills, and I’m going to do three other House Things, two small and one larger.

I think this is manageable.  If cats, digestion, and other out-of-control circumstances allow decent sleep tonight, then I can work this weekend.  I’d hoped not to, but this is the reality of life with my health problems: I work when I can, rather than on a normal schedule.  Being cross about it doesn’t help (though I am).  Doing things I can manage does help.

And at least I front-loaded the fun part of spring break with all the fun books last weekend, so I don’t feel too cheated!

Day 6

As I expected, the things I got done yesterday were mostly small and/or brainless.  But at least they’re done!  Sir John and I had lunch with friends, thus giving me another item on the “social life” part of the list.  I finished going over one big chunk of the bad-microfilm-scan-MS, also good (the rest should be quicker and less important to the project.  I hope).  I hit the gym, and ordered some things online, and decided against others, thus allowing me to close various browser tabs.  Along similar lines, renewed books, wrote a check to the Ambrose Booker scholarship fund, sent some e-mail.  I got my car washed.  Oops, that means it will snow again soon, I suppose; sorry!

Three more days in which to do Things.

Day 5

I spent hours staring at a bad manuscript scan-from-microfilm.  Ugh.  I’m glad to have it, but modern digitization is so much better.  This is necessary to move writing forward, and better done in long stints than short ones, but I’ve also been dreading it because the scan is hard to work with.  I’m now about halfway through with that.

Yoga.  Gym.  Some outdoor-tidying.  A social gathering.  Progress made on a sewing project.  Way too long at the library looking fruitlessly for something fun to read at the gym.  What a lot of books there are that just don’t interest me . . . .

Cats kept waking me up last night, so I’m not sure how today will go.  Maybe it will be a good day for doing lots of small brainless tasks; or maybe I’ll manage to power through.

Day 4

Somewhat productive: graded one whole (small) set of papers.  Read 2.5 scholarly essays, the 0.5 of which sent me to a primary text I think I can work into the current almost-finished thing I’m working on.  Fell asleep after lunch again, which makes me feel like some old granny.  Walked three miles.  Got my hair cut.  Did some organizing of computer files.  Watched Day 1 of Paris-Nice.

Day 3

Well.  Day 3 was supposed to be a productive day.  But, as with Fie’s day, extra sleep was involved.  Sleeping til 7:00 shouldn’t be a big deal, but I tend to wake at sunrise, and starting the whole day an hour late throws everything off.

Main accomplishments: errands and cleaning.  And more fun reading.  Two hours at the gym, plus yoga.  One errand involved a long line; another, getting groceries, is not normally my job, but Sir John has a work crunch right now (planned, insofar as one can plan a crunch, around my break), so, since I like to eat, I’m picking up the slack.  Cleaning the kitchen isn’t normally my job either, but our cleaner needed a week off and the mess was making me crazy.  And then after the gym and a very late lunch I went back to reading, and then fell asleep in the recliner.  After that I was kind of woozy.  We should have watched Paris-Nice, but didn’t, so now we’re behind a day.  Don’t tell me what’s happening.

Since Notorious asked: what I’ve read so far.  Mennonite in a Little Black Dress; A Perfect Proposal (Katie Fforde); A Natural History of Dragons and Tropic of Serpents (thanks, n&m!).

What I thought: Mennonite was kind of fun, but (for me) more for the Mennonites than for the rest of it.  Being a couple of generations removed from farm life, but with a serious hangover from it about Women’s Work, I enjoyed the cooking and sewing being combined with a Ph.D. and academic life.  However, if this were a novel I wouldn’t have read it, because it falls into the category of People Messing Up a Perfectly Good Life With Bad Choices.  I mean, a bipolar husband could happen to anyone, but leaving and going back to him repeatedly . . . . Sorry.  I’ve dealt with enough crazy in my real life that I don’t want to read about it any more.  But the writer definitely has an engaging voice.

Fforde’s earlier romances were so much fun that I’ve got in the habit of reading all the new ones as they come out.  But I’m going off them.  Those that are about older (40-ish! mere slips of girls!) women starting over after getting dumped are a lot more interesting than the ones about youthful ingenues.  This ingenue was at least engaging, but I kept rooting for her to dump the horrible (but rich! and handsome) boyfriend who didn’t seem to have any nice friends or family (friends tell you a lot about a person) except his grandmother.  A guy who’s both overbearing and gullible?  (But rich!)  Dump him, now.  The heroine had a perfectly good plan for her life, and even a rich uncle of her own.  She didn’t need the jerk.  And with a huge disparity between her background and his, I foresee problems.  A step or so up the socio-economic ladder, sure, that’s a happy ending.  Someone who’s pinched pence all her life and a guy with a private jet, no.  Even the nice grandma turned out to be sort of manipulative and creepy.

The fantasy books were fantastic.  One online review said there was far too much about how the heroine got into science, which made me think right there that I would enjoy these.  The voice is dead-on for Amelia Peabody, or the real-life explorer Isabella Bird (whose letters and essays I recommend heartily to anyone who likes that kind of thing).  Dragons, however, are just part of this world, not magical.  The world is well-built and intriguing, too.  The main religion seems to be something very close to Judaism, not as thoroughly worked out as Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series works out its religion, but I think these books aim at a younger audience.  Definitely worth reading if you like fantasy of this stripe.

Today, seriously, I need to do at least A Few of All The Things.

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