Dame Eleanor Hull

Edwardian layers

I may have intimated (a time or two) that I grew up in a climate in which a cotton dress and ankle socks were appropriate attire for a little girl pretty much year-round.  For really cold weather, I had tights, and all my sweaters were acrylic, since my mother’s and grandmother’s childhoods were a horror-show of scratchy wool.

Thus, I was bemused by stories like those of E. Nesbit, in which children wore woollen combinations, long black woollen stockings, wool dresses, and pinafores.  Later, of course, I learned about central heating, or its lack, and why home decor used to feature layers of rugs, velvet curtains pooled on the floor, and other draft-cutting devices.

And here I am, wearing wool tights and a merino pullover under a thermal-knit dress.  All I need is the white pinafore.  If I had a Psammead, every day I’d wish we could both go spend the day in a nice desert.

R.I.P. Philip Levine

With some writers—well, probably this is generalizable to “some people”—I can’t tell whether the work is any good because I have lived with it for so long that it seems like part of me. Margaret Soltan analyzes another Levine poem, showing where it may be lazy or unspecific, and I suspect that similar criticisms could be levelled at this excerpt; but this has been mine since I was 14.  It evokes a specific house filled with the sea’s sounds and reflected light, it raises those eastern ranges in my mind’s eye, and it was a comfort to me in many times when I wanted to cry forever with no one to hear.  I can’t find it online, so I hope I copied it accurately as a teenager!


That is the sea, that is the movement that fills
my house with the wailing of all we’ve lost
until there is nothing left but dust falling
into dust, either in darkness or in the first
long rays of yellow light that are waiting
behind the eastern ranges. Hear the moaning
of those great tiring arms. That is the sea
of all your unshed tears, that is all anyone
can finally hear, so you can cry, Cherry,
you can cry forever and no one will hear.

Why I love Sir John

He came home from a conference-thingy yesterday and said, “I’ve decided I have to be the guy in the audience who stands up and asks the guy on the panel to stop interrupting the women on the panel.  It’s better if men police each other.”

He may be available for rent, if anyone wants to take him to a conference. :-)

“Things which are not”

In a recent fit of procrastination compounded by nostalgia (why, yes, the first paper of the semester came in about the same time), I did a web search for the name of a man whose class I took in the final semester of my undergraduate career: let us call him Ambrose Booker, for that was not his name.  He was a VAP, visiting from the Ivy League.  This seemed very prestigious to west coast undergraduates at the time, though of course I have a radically different view of the status of VAPs now.  To be sure, during the same semester a number of us also took the class of a very distinguished visiting senior professor, likewise from an Ivy League school, who subsequently returned to that position, so we had some reason to be confused about how this “visiting” thing worked and what it meant.  I don’t know whether the senior visitor was considering moving to the west coast, or if she had research to do at our library and worked out a teaching gig to supplement her sabbatical pay, or what the deal was.

But to return to Ambrose Booker, my web search showed that he died more than five years ago, at a shockingly early age.  That is, at Sir John’s present age.  Sir John, I hasten to add, enjoys robust health.  All the same, it is a shock to a wife’s feelings to consider that men of her husband’s age can die of natural causes.  I was further surprised to find that Ambrose was still an academic, because in some previous fit of nostalgia—presumably more than five years ago—I had sought him online and in the MLA bibliography and found not a crumb.  But my conclusions were wrong.  He had taken a job at what we might as well call East Jesus Tech, in the sort of department that has one full professor of, it might be, Spanish, a couple of associates whose terminal degrees are in philosophy or rhetoric, a trio of assistant profs (at least one tenured assistant professor) in French, Japanese, and another humanities discipline of your choice, and a legion of instructors who may or may not hold terminal degrees.

In other words, the ass-end of nowhere.  The sort of job where the Chron fora divide between urging “Bloom where you are planted!” and “Leave academia; you can find other uses for your skills.”

He was chair there for most of his tenure.  He was beloved by students and colleagues, so the obituary assured me, and I believe it, because his students at my undergraduate institution adored him, even the ones who struggled with the esoteric topic of his course.  He was so enthusiastic, about the topic and about us.  It was in his class that I realized that I had a real talent for analyzing poetry, that I understood grammar better and more easily than most of my classmates; and yet this discovery, welcome though it was to both me and Ambrose, did not distance me from the other students, because he treated them with the same encouraging enthusiasm.  At the end of the semester, after grades were in, he took a group of us out to brunch, at the coffee shop where he did his grading, near the hotel where he lived that year.

He graded in a coffee shop!  He lived in a hotel!  Like Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre!  He was leading a Parisian life in a west coast city!  I can’t tell you what an exciting discovery that was.  He let us into his life, at least briefly; he showed us such amazing possibilities.  He was kind.  I was suffering from heartbreak, and he suggested that, as the world is full of circular journeys, my boyfriend might, in time, return.  He was intelligent: he had mastered his esoteric topic, he spoke several languages fluently, he had studied with Very Important People at his Ivy League school.  And he made us feel that we might do all these things as well, or at least, if we could not, we could warm our hands at his fire.

But what about that invisibility in the MLA bibliography?  I searched again.  I searched J-STOR.  I worked through any number of online bibliographies to which LRU’s library subscribes, and finally found his dissertation and a couple of book reviews.  I wondered if he had published in Europe, and somehow missed being picked up by Anglo-American bibliographies; but if that were the case, J-STOR still ought to pick up his name in footnotes, when other scholars reference his obscure writings.  So I think not.

As for that dissertation, my first thought was “WTF were your advisors thinking?”  It was a study of a trope in two authors of radically different periods, through a lens that might, perhaps, bring them together adequately; but I had to wonder if Ambrose had been playing the flâneur in graduate school until someone told him, “Take some of your seminar papers, write an introduction and conclusion that will tie them together, and we’ll give you a degree.  But you have to finish.”  There was no way it would make a workable book, and it didn’t even look to me as if the chapters would have worked well as stand-alone articles.  If that was where he was starting from, I’m not really surprised he didn’t publish.  Better just to start over.  I suppose what his advisors were thinking (this was, after all, more than 30 years ago), was “We are Big Names in the Big Leagues and of course our students will get jobs no matter what because of our Big Names.”

Maybe he really didn’t care about publishing.  Maybe all he wanted to do was teach and administer a humanities program.  I feel reasonably certain that he was happy, because he met the world with such enthusiasm.  He appeared to love it all.  At any rate, I hope that wasn’t just delight at being with us on the west coast, away from the eastern winter.  I hope he enjoyed his students and colleagues at East Jesus Tech, and opened up new worlds for his students there, and made his instructors feel like colleagues.  Maybe I’m a snob to wish that he’d managed to turn his lectures on his esoteric topic into at least an article, if not a book, so that there would be something written in which I could hear his voice again.  Maybe there are some other students of his who, like me, have become publishing academics; perhaps we are his legacy.  Or, who knows, he could have written a dozen well-received novels under a pseudonym.

I do know what he would say to me now, if he could still speak, because he said it to me during that long-ago spring, about another death: “Portez le deuil, mais ne le portez pas trop.”

Adieu, Ambrose.

Medieval People of Color: a thank-you note

I don’t do as well as I’d like at keeping up with some of the “serious” medieval blogs, like TenthMedieval, and with the gorgeous pictures at Medieval People of Color.  But today I spent a couple of happy hours getting caught up.

And so, when I came across this from a month ago, I was inspired to make this present post.  “I know there are a few ‘real academics’ who think that Medievalpoc, for want of a less direct term, is a bit trashy. ;) This trashiness seems quite related to my use of common terms, the conversational tone of posts, and being more obviously emotionally invested in what I have to say than is ~proper~ for ~objectivity~.”

Because I am trying not to multiply online identities/accounts, and because Medievalpoc, understandably, wants commenters to be registered Tumblr users, and since, besides, the relevant post is a month old, I’m coming back to my own space to say that Medievalpoc is an External Link on my Blackboard site, where its conversational tone is accessible to students who find “academic writing” off-putting or at least Not Fun, and that I am very grateful for the work its author does to make the Real Middle Ages visible to us all.

To be honest, I used to believe a lot of the myths that Medievalpoc has exploded.  I didn’t know any better.  They were what I was told by Authority.  I don’t think I have any particular investment in those myths.  I’m glad to move beyond them, and to have such an easy way to point out to my students that the Middle Ages are for all of them. The evidence is there, thanks to Medievalpoc, if one will just open the eyes and look (and it is such beautiful evidence, too).   So, a public Thank You from (as I like to think of myself) a “real academic.”  Not trashy.  Very valuable.

Another royal progress

My good and gracious lady Queen Joan did once again request that Lady Maud and I accompany her on a royal progress.  So summoned, I departed the Land of Winter for the Land of Bougainvillea, that region also known as the Dukedom of Surf and the Principate of Venice, where we three did disport ourselves most excellently well.  We donned our summer robes, we promenaded upon the sand, we rode in the Wheel of Ferris and played at the SkeeBall.  Our repasts began with exotic frozen delicacies, because the motto of Queen Joan, which doth appear upon her personal seal, is “Vita brevis, imprimis edite bellarium.”

But I am now returned unto the Land of Winter, and lo, there are lamentations and dismay.  Wherefore must I wear boots and promenade through snow rather than taking my barefoot ease upon the strand?  Truly, this life is but a vale of (frozen) tears, to be endured with fortitude and patience.

And now I must attend upon my feline overlords, before hunger driveth them to war upon one another.


Since I came back to blogging, I have noticed that sometimes those blogroll lists that order people by how recently they’ve posted don’t always pick up my posts.  This happened with the one earlier today.  But sometimes when I post again, they get that one.  So I’m testing to see if this one will show up.

The writing year in review

A year ago, I had big plans.  And I didn’t think I could manage to live up to them.  How could I possibly complete four essays in a year, while teaching my regular load plus a summer class, commuting, and doing the necessary exercise routines that keep me from physical breakdown?  But I had the MMP-1, 2, and 3 to work on, plus an unforeseen opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, and a conference paper as well.

Readers, I did it.  In calendar 2014, I finished and submitted the MMP-1.  When it was rejected, I re-wrote it and submitted it elsewhere.  I turned in the unforeseen opportunity essay on time (still waiting for comments on it).  I wrote and submitted two encyclopedia entries of 1000 words each.  And as of about an hour ago, I finished and submitted the MMP-3.

So the MMP-2 is still a work in progress, and I have been neglecting the big translation project for months, and I have another conference paper to put together.  And at least one book to write!

I’m declaring victory for 2014, and in 2015 will be concentrating on the book and the translation, because those are the things that will make the most difference to my scholarly reputation.  I’m amazed at how much I did this year, and knowing that I finished so much makes me feel reasonably confident about my ability to finish the book.  Gods willing and the creek don’t rise, of course.  I’m superstitious, and I fear that Something Awful will crop up and keep me from doing the work I have planned.  But at least for this year, I did what I wanted to do, and that is a great feeling.  Even if my work gets rejected, I finished it, I sent it out, and I have those drafts to work with if they need further revision.  Onward and upward!

Happy new year, everybody.  I hope it’s a good one for all of us.

Gracious living

Over a decade ago, I lived alone (except for the beloved-and-departed tabby) in a third-floor walk-up with fantastic light and a treetop view on three sides.  It was warm in winter, thanks to powerful radiators.  It also had drawbacks, such as the French windows being so leaky that there was always ice on the insides on winter mornings, and being so hot in summer that I lived in the living room, sleeping on the couch, with the window-unit air conditioner blasting.  But I used my grandmother’s china, I had delicate liqueur glasses on display, and I often had fresh flowers on the table.  I thought I was practicing for the big, elegant house I would someday live in . . . graciously.

Now I realize that was the gracious living.

I know I’m a year behind, but I recently came across this series of posts: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/weekend-chores-flowers-floors-january-cure-assignment-2-198352

I liked the first one, about making a project list.  We need that, and it would be very helpful to have a list broken into projects focusing on specific rooms and areas.  But the second one (I didn’t get very far, did I?) just made me roll my eyes.  Fresh flowers.  We haven’t been able to have fresh flowers in the house since Basement Cat was a kitten.

“Think of the purchase as a gift to your home. It is an enjoyable, (affordable!) luxury but it goes far beyond just that. The flowers are a visual symbol of your commitment to caring for your home. In the Eight Step Home Cure, Maxwell wrote: As simple as it sounds, the act of buying flowers for your apartment holds great significance and will heal your home on many levels.

No, see, this is tantamount to saying, “Soak your furniture and rugs in water, tear the flowers apart and strew them over the floor, with special attention to the rugs, and then scatter rolls and puddles of cat vomit over the floor, again with special attention to the rugs and anywhere a human might walk with bare feet.”  It is not a gift to the house; it is paying for a whole lot of extra work and damage to the house’s furnishings.

OK, since the move I am using my grandmother’s china again, but I have no idea where the liqueur glasses are, and even if I did know, they can’t be displayed until and unless we acquire a china cabinet that will keep them out of reach of, you guessed it, felines.  Basement Cat is graceful and not a real danger to fine glassware or china, but Glendower is very clumsy, which does not prevent him from liking to explore shelves with objects on them.

And the china cabinet is not going to happen until we finish spending money on some of the project list entries.

I guess it’s nice to know that I experienced gracious living, once.  I wish I’d taken more pictures to remember it by.

Pedantic PSA

It’s that time in the semester: other people’s errors annoy me more than usual.  A reminder:

Flour does not fluoresce.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


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