Oh, London . . .

I suppose it’s mainly that in any large city, you’re going to have a certain number of disgruntled nutjobs who think violence is a good way to solve problems. Nonetheless, I’m sorry about the latest incident. One damned thing after another.

The right to concentrate

In a thread at Jonathan’s about procrastination (or whatever not-working is), Profacero said “one needs to feel one has the right to concentrate, and to the time that goes into struggle with material.”

If one doesn’t naturally feel that, one needs reminders, internal or external.

I don’t think I had trouble concentrating, or feeling that I had a right to concentrate, when I was in elementary school, high school, or college. My parents emphasized that school was my job, and let me do my homework in peace. So at least for me, this is not an early trauma (I don’t think), but one that developed during a particular un-peaceful time in my life, which was also a difficult time for my mother.

Between college and graduate school, after several months living in another country, I returned to my parents’ house. My mother was needy and possessive. She had missed me. She was going to miss me more. Although I didn’t know this at that time, my parents’ marriage was particularly rocky at this point. I was very anxious, waiting for acceptances from graduate schools, working several part-time jobs, studying Latin in my few spare hours, because I knew it would be important for my graduate work and I had exaggerated my competence on my applications.

My mother interrupted me frequently when I was trying to study. She did not respect my time. She no longer thought, apparently, that school (or preparation for it) was my job. My job, in her eyes, was looking after her. I was 22 and I thought I was all grown up. I wanted to be compassionate. I was somewhat flattered that she wanted me to be my friend, although I also wanted to live my own life and have her live hers. I tried to answer her patiently and compassionately. I always wound up furious and then self-reproachful for losing my temper.

I wasn’t even trying to write, just to study. I still find studying languages soothing and I think I am less likely to self-interrupt when reading in another language or working on vocabulary than I am when researching and writing. But when I read Z’s comment, that was the time in my life that I immediately zeroed in on as a source of my intermittent sense that I do not have the right to concentrate, that I am to be at other people’s disposal. I’m not sure how to get back that earlier sense that studying is my job, but I wish I could feel that way again, as a regular thing.

This may be a silly idea, but perhaps it could come via clothing . . . long ago, maybe at one of Dr Crazy’s blogs, there was a discussion of writing costumes (special writing outfits, whether super-comfy or dressed up). Maybe if I dressed as my teenage self or even my childhood self, I could sink into that happy, absorbed “now I am doing my homework!” feeling. How much do external cues help? I would hope that the more I access that self, the more accessible it would become, without costume.

(I am so tired of dealing with my mommy issues. It seems to be the case that when my life changes in significant ways, the issues that seemed to have been resolved come back for another round, and the “new me” has to work through them again.)

A week on

Somehow I didn’t do one of these posts last weekend, because . . . Life Stuff . . . or just general feebleness. And now the quotation I want to quote about writing seems silly and trivial, but let us imagine it being offered in a stiff-upper-lip, there-will-always-be-an-England sort of spirit, so I can register world events yet carry on with my trivial semi-academic posts.

This is from Robert Liddell’s book Elizabeth and Ivy, about his friendships with the novelists Elizabeth Taylor and Ivy Compton-Burnett; he is quoting a letter written by art historian Roger Hinks “about a meeting with Ivy at Madge Ashton’s when there was some talk about Angus Wilson.”

“Madge said: ‘I hear he wrote it [Anglo-Saxon Attitudes] in four months, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon.’ ‘Really?’ observed Ivy; ‘one cannot imagine anyone doing anything in the afternoon between 2 and 4, except hoping that tea would be at 4 rather than at 5.’ There was talk about how many words people wrote an hour. ‘How many do you write, Miss Compton-Burnett?’ said someone. ‘Ten,’ said Ivy, in the tone of an editor saying that this correspondence was now closed.”

Robert Liddell, Elizabeth and Ivy (London: Peter Owen, 1986), 54-55.

This does rather illustrate my life lately, except that I feel more despairing than editorial.

Clothes in books!

I recently discovered this awesome blog, from which I am getting many ideas for fun reading: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/

It also inspired me to post the following passage from a 1930s novel that I read recently when I was supposed to be working. (I was minding my own business, looking for books about something else entirely, when this one leapt from the library shelves into my arms . . . what could I do?) It recounts a day in the life of an MP, his family and his servants, and a nearby poor family, one of whose members applies for a job in the MP’s household. It has a lot of fascinating quotidian details, including clothing for the lady of the house:

“Mary went to the cupboard and fetched the two-piece grey stockinet dress with the white net frills sewn in round the V-neck, and put out the grey stockings and the black patent shoes with steel buckles, and got out a clean handkerchief and put it ready on the dressing table. When Mary had gone Blanche got out of bed and put on her slippers and went to the washstand behind the screen. . . . [She] took off her nightdress and put on a pair of thin pink woolen combinations, and then a white batiste chemise edged with Valenciennes, and stays and stockings, and white batiste drawers, and over them a pair of black satin knickers which buttoned at the knees. She never wore crepe de Chine underclothes because you couldn’t boil them when they were washed, and linen or batiste was really much daintier, and she wore a clean set every day. She put on a grey silk petticoat over the knickers and then slipped on a muslin dressing jacket and sat down at the dressing table and began to brush her hair.”

Sylvia Thompson, Breakfast in Bed (Boston: Little, Brown, 1934), pp. 128-9.

Getting a late start

When your day starts late, for whatever reason, do you

A) just skip whatever you would normally have done in the lost hours (like missing school: if you stayed home sick in the morning, you missed history and math, but could get to science and English in the afternoon);

B) do what you would normally have done, but compress the schedule (reduce time on tasks from 30 minutes to 15, or similar);

C) focus on the top priorities, with normal (or near-normal) time spent on these tasks, and ignore the others;

D) have some other sort of late-start or short-day routine that you can put into practice without thinking too much?

Please share! I’ve been having difficulty getting to sleep, and so I get up late, rested but feeling very behind and like the whole day is shot by 8:30 a.m., and then I thrash, trying to figure out where to put my energy. When I start my day early, everything is fine, and there’s enough time, but some days that just isn’t an option. I need to figure out a clear Plan B. Or C, or D.

 

Pennies from somewhere

As I pack, it amazes me how much stray money I find, most of it either very small denomination or not usable. Lots of American pennies. Also an Irish Euro-cent, a pfennig piece, assorted centavos, 100 lire, and a 50-franc note from Lichtenstein.

How does this happen? I’m not asking where all this comes from (Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Italy, and Lichtenstein, obviously, and I have been to all those places so I believe they’re mine), but rather, how do these coins and notes filter their way into boxes and on shelves, instead of being used up in the airport or donated when the flight attendants collect your last coins for charity? I’m particularly baffled by Lichtenstein, because I don’t think I’ve been there since 40 years ago this summer. How did that bit of paper survive, and in what box, all this time?

Gentle readers, do you have items like this appearing from who knows where? Coins, or some other type of object?

An aspirational shoe post

Two months ago (time flies), Elizabeth Anne Mitchell got me to look at Crockett and Jones shoes, which are beautiful and expensive. Now I’ve found the site of Daphne Board, a US shoe artist and pedorthist. Also, it appears from her Instagram feed, a cat servant. Anyway, if C&J aren’t beautiful and expensive enough for you, check out Daphne. Or maybe, if you need to justify a pair of C&J shoes, look at how much more you could spend. Wouldn’t it be better to save the extra $400 you might lay out for Daphne’s welted Oxfords? And back on the first hand, consider what you spend on not-quite-right shoes. Could you clear out the ones you’re not wearing in favor of shoes you’ll wear all the time . . . for twenty years?

I’m thinking. The Chacos are good for now. I got a pair of their sandals, as well. If those will keep me out of shoe stores for three years or so, then maybe I’ll splurge on the Oxfords of my dreams.

After the Zoo

The Kalamazoo* experience varies, from year to year. Sometimes I have to take piles of grading along and retreat to my hotel room to grade. Other years I’m all done. Once (I think only once) I took piles of books and completed my paper just before I had to give it. Sometimes I get all energized to do research but come home to piles of grading before I can get back to writing, and sometimes I ought to be energized but am so worn out from the conference that it takes a week to recover.

I never manage to write about the conference during it. Afterwards, it seems like the proper/expected version goes “I heard inspiring papers, made new connections for an innovative collaboration, and now I’m going to do fantastic things with my summer.” Or maybe, “I heard fantastic papers, made inspiring connections, and now I’m going to do innovative things with my summer.” Pick your adjectives.

This year my adjective was “tired.” I didn’t sleep well, I spent lots of time rushing around, I pretended to have a better time than I was having (because I didn’t want to be a downer, and really I have nothing to complain about, except being tired and having too many things going on). Bardiac introduced herself and we had a nice chat. I did hear good papers, though I wish I’d been in a better headspace to concentrate on them and think about their significance. I had dinner with what are now the usual suspects on Saturday, and that was delightful. Rather than meeting new people, I mostly re-connected with old friends. I do not need any new projects, innovative or not; I need to finish some of my old ones. I bought 11 books, a fairly modest number, and left the conference cross because a paper I thought ought to have cited my work, didn’t. (It’s a conference paper; one doesn’t include all the footnotes in oral presentations.)

Once I got home, I slept straight through the night (which for me is a minor miracle) and got up at dawn to file grades. Then I started taking notes on something I have to read for the book project that I have been neglecting, and produced 800 words. Being cross may be a better spur to work than more exalted forms of inspiration.

My plan for the next few weeks is to put in one hour of research time per day, and after that hour, focus on Life Stuff, most especially packing, repairing, and doing whatever we need to do to sell this house. So it is not a good sign that I am still at my desk at this late-morning hour. I’d rather be here, I’d rather focus on the work, but in the long run, the work will be better served by a living situation that doesn’t need so much attention. I suppose that’s innovative, in its way.

 

*International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.

Favorites do wear out

I have long recognized that when shopping, I really only notice what I already have at least one of. I have several copies of the same dress in multiple colors. I have half a dozen different grey sweaters (pullover, round neck; pullover, v-neck; dark merino cardigan; pale grey cashmere cardigan; asymmetrical zip merino cardigan; long open cardigan, Oxford grey). I likewise have cashmere cardigans in several colors; jeans in multiple colors (more likely to have decent pockets than “dress” trousers); and, of course, at least half a dozen black skirts in different fabrics, lengths, and degrees of formality.

Possibly my favorite and most-worn skirt ever is among those: washable black silk crepe, mid-calf length, flowing, pocketed. I bought it when I was in graduate school, from a small shop in Hill Town, on sale at a price that was still high for me, then, but price per wear must have amortized to something outrageously low over the years. If it has faded to charcoal, it’s no less a workhorse for being somewhat paler than it once was: see above for my love of grey sweaters. It dresses up, it dresses down, it has accompanied me on multiple trips to London town (and other cities). And after the last trip, it had somehow acquired stains that I have not succeeded in removing. I’m going to let a dry cleaner have at it, but I am not optimistic. I do not know where I will ever find a replacement for this one. Despite my tendency to buy multiples or different versions of the same garment, I’ve never found another skirt as versatile and wearable as this one.

I had hoped to wear it to a formal-ish occasion coming up, but I’m going to have to find something else, possibly out of a box that’s already packed.

I’d welcome recommendations for a replacement. Also stories of your favorite clothing pieces or types.