Dame Eleanor Hull

Old to-do lists

Sometimes I find old lists and am thrilled to find that by now I have done all the things (or else the things don’t matter anymore).

This morning I cleared the top of my desk and found one that is dismaying.  I did cross off some items.  And I’ve done two and a half more items since I made that list.  But all the really important (yet not urgent-enough) items still need to be done.

And they’re not going to happen today, either.

Notions of fun, and other stray thoughts

One of my methods of either making life more pleasant or at least wriggling through, depending on point of view at the moment, is translating (badly) classical Latin poetry, an endeavor I also classify as getting in touch with my inner nineteenth-century schoolboy.  I take part in a Latin reading group at LRU, and it is the highlight of my week: a meeting devoted to intellectual pursuits instead of to the budgetary or administrative train-wreck of the month.  And so, for the last several months, instead of beginning the day with writing (which has gone back to being fitted in where and as I can), I begin by thumping through 5-10 lines of Latin.

It’s very satisfying.  I make steady progress.  Some new vocabulary has even penetrated my ageing brain (oh for those halcyon days of youth when I could read through a vocabulary list once or twice and nail it; why oh why did I not make better use of those years?), and I am quicker to recognize assorted grammatical constructions.  The ablative absolute holds no terrors, though I still balk a bit at indirect questions.

I also observe that I am even more literal-minded in Latin than in English.  Metaphors confuse me.  I am happy when a poet signals a simile with a heavy-handed qualis or sicut, because then I can recognize it’s a comparison, rather than puzzling over where this damned ship came from (look up word, it is a ship, yes?) in the middle of an account of, let us say, deer-hunting.

I wonder if this is how my students feel about English poetry.

While thinking about this use of my time during my long drive yesterday, I thought that this is something that my first boyfriend would get, and grad-school boyfriend would not; and, tracking this thought further, and much to my surprise, I concluded that first boyfriend and I actually were fairly well suited and might have been happy together in the long-term, whereas (and this I did already know), grad-school guy and I were really ill-assorted and, had we married, would surely be divorced now.

This is only strange because I spent so many years cursing first boyfriend; it’s odd to suddenly get this completely different perspective on that relationship.  Our problems were significant, but, I now think, circumstantial: not necessarily that we were too young, but rather that we had terrible models in both sets of parents, and spent far too much time reenacting those relationships and damaging each other in the process.  Had we come from happier families, or met later in life, or even been able consciously to say we wanted to be a refuge for each other and not like our parents, things could have been very different.

I wanted to study in France after college; he wanted not to be a doctor (his mother’s preference) and was obsessed with cycling.  Well, hey: he could have worked as a mechanic for some équipe while I focused on language and literature; he could have done something similar while I went to grad school, or started the coursework that led to the practical master’s degree he has now, which allows him to work in a very portable career.  Although he’s more athletic than I, we both like outdoor activity, and we both enjoy and value hard intellectual challenges.  His version was more along the lines of math or chemistry problems, but he would grasp why I work on dead languages for the fun of it.

Grad-school boyfriend was essentially lazy.  Very bright, and when he had a strong enough reason to do something hard, he could buckle down and do it, but basically his idea of fun was always the easy leisure activity, like watching sports rather than participating.

It’s been twenty years since I last saw first boyfriend, and close to that since I gave up cursing him and tried to think more charitably of us both.  But it is pleasant to be able to imagine a happier outcome, to think of my (admittedly rather dreadful) much younger self as having had some decent instincts about people after all.

This omphaloskepsis brought to you by unbloggable work crap.

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.


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