I’ve turned into one

I’ve noted before the way personal loss has led to the loss of mental acuity. After a few weeks, I improved markedly, and research in the Undisclosed Location helped. All the same, I’m still dealing with it.

Exhibit A: I spent awhile this morning looking for a copy of an article that my master list says I own. I turned up a whole stash of related articles (and why were they where I found them and not where they belong?), but not the one I wanted. Am not sure where to look next.

Exhibit B: I also spent awhile flipping through Chaucer and the Subject of History baffled as to why its contents were not those of Negotiating the Past. Obviously I eventually figured out that I had the wrong book, but for about 15 minutes I was very confused.

Soon I will be e-mailing myself with questions whose answers are on the syllabus.

Writing is . . .

Over at Bittersweet Girl’s, Profacero said about her now-famous post, “The post was an incantation against the depression of the idea that ‘this is so hard’ . . . ” She said something similar in the original, as well: “I wanted to say these things as an antidote to all the grim repetitions I have seen that you must publish to survive, but that to write is to suffer.”

I don’t know that I ever got the direct messages she seems to have, but I sure am good at channeling “negative self-talk” (a phrase I dislike, but the distancing effect of which I appreciate). “This is hard, I don’t have enough time, I’ll never finish, I’m stupid, someone else will do it better, someone else probably already has done it better and I just don’t know about it because I’m stupid, the organization isn’t working and I don’t know how to fix it, I don’t dare show a draft to anyone because then they’ll know I’m stupid . . . ” I expect most of you know that playlist.

Maybe this is my own re-playing of ideas I picked up elsewhere; possibly I could think about that.

What I loved, though, was the incantatory aspect: here’s what you play to drown out or better yet, replace, the nasty voices. Affirm the process and your own worth. It’s a good way to start the writing day, as I need to go and do now. So I’m going to do a little singing to myself:

Writing is easy and publishing is fun.

The journal meme

OK, it looks like I’m being a slug today. But here’s Bittersweet Girl’s journal meme.

1. When did you begin keeping a journal/diary?

Age 9. I burned the early ones before I was 13 (pretentious much?), but I have the whole thing since 13.

2. Do you journal regularly or sporadically?

Sporadically, though frequency has varied from every day (or even multiple times a day) to roughly monthly.

3. Which, if any, of the following things do you use your journal for?: recording dreams, creative writing, arguing with particular individuals (your boss, your parents, your lover, etc.), listing books/movies, tracking your weight/diet/exercise, composing unsent/unsendable letters.

Sometimes dreams. Rarely any of the others.

4. What other purpose(s) do you use your journal for?

Therapy. Keeping track of what has happened.

5. What kind of material text do you use for a journal? (For example: leather bound hard-cover, cheap spiral notebook, etc.)

When I was a pretentious teenager (is there some other kind?), I used French school notebooks picked up in a PrisUnic, with bright colors and elaborately lined pages; at first I made an effort to use the horizontal & vertical lines to improve my handwriting, but eventually I gave up on that. Later I moved to looseleaf notebook paper, kept in large binders. For some time I’ve kept my personal journal entirely electronically (i.e., without printing out pages), which is odd because my research journal is handwritten. I like signalling to myself that I’m done with work by moving from the computer to handwritten notes, but for personal writing, I want to be able to go as fast as I’m thinking.

6. Where do you keep your old journals?

In a box in the basement. Or on a memory stick.

7. How often, if ever, have you read through your old journals?

Every few years, I think, I want to look something up. But “old” covers a lot of ground now. I’m more likely to look at the grad school or pre-tenure years than the teenage and college years, which are both painful and embarrassing to look at now. Well, so is a lot of the rest, actually. I said “therapy” above, right?

8. Have you ever allowed anyone else to read your journals?

NO. GOD, NO. And I always wonder why I keep them, and what I’ll do with them when I get old.

9. How has your journal keeping changed since you began blogging?

I don’t think it has. Blogging is extra.

10. Upload a picture of your journals (or as many as you can).

100th post

I’ve managed to spend the last few weekends in the city that the Rebelletriste misses so much. It’s been fabulous. I’ve been to the ballet, to the theater, to brunch in some lovely venues, to museums. I love that place with a love that is, as Dr. Crazy would say, pure and true, precisely because I don’t have to make it love me back or try to live there on an academic’s salary. I have a very satisfactory relationship with the big midwestern city where I live now, as well as nurturing relationships with other cities, such as the big one in the area I’m from, and the places where they keep manuscripts I care about, and then of course we’ll always have Paris. So I can treat the Rebelletriste’s Tar Baby as a weekend fling, greet it enthusiastically, adore its little quirks, spend my money on it, and kiss it goodbye without looking back.

Except this weekend, when I came back to my Undisclosed Location last night, and now I’m so tempted to go back in for one last afternoon/evening there. I’m exhausted after yesterday’s long tramp round a famous museum (why is walking slowly so vastly much more tiring than dashing about?), and I need to pack (going home tomorrow!) and finish taking notes out of a book that has to go back to the library here.

(The book is bristling with sticky notes marking passages, but most without any notes on them: the worst of all possible worlds. Had I not marked any passages, I’d return it without a second thought; had I taken notes on the computer, I’d be done now; had I even written out details on the sticky notes, I could just unstick them. But having gone to the effort of marking, I want to know what I marked.)

Well, maybe I’ll just play hard to get with that city. If I show up, I show up; and if not, it’ll just have to wait till I get back again. It does, after all, have a life of its own.

I would have sworn he said . . .

This evening I had a conversation with a mathematician who enjoys reading medieval literature. He asked—I thought he asked—if I were familiar with the work of the Old English Sex Society.

I said no, and was about to inquire after more details, just as he was expressing great surprise that I did not know that series of brown books.

Oh. Part mis-hearing and part mis-stating. He meant, of course, the Early English Text Society.

But for a moment, I was so looking forward to the sessions at Kalamazoo.

But which work?

When you work in archives, or with manuscripts of any kind (sometimes just with the manuscript catalogues!), you find things. Often they’re not the things you were looking for, but there they are. Now you know about them. And sometimes, nobody else does.

So what is your responsibility to these discoveries, and to the other work you have been doing, to other scholars, and to yourself? Do you put aside other work to do a proper job on the thing that you found, that no one else knows about? Do you put it on the “someday” list, and hope nobody else gets to it first? Do you publish a note drawing it to the attention of the people whose proper job it is, and let it go? Do you hand it off to someone you know, with your blessing? Do you give it to a graduate student? Do you find a way of approaching the topic so that it looks more like your other work, after all?

I came to my undisclosed location intending to deal briskly with a couple of short texts, then move on to another problem I’ve been working on for some time, which a few weeks in a major research library might be able to dent. But I got drawn into a manuscript, not in my usual period or topic (though it is a manuscript, and in a period I sometimes pinch-hit in); I spent a few weeks getting to know it well. Then I started to wonder what I was doing. I have several projects I need to finish. Having them sitting around in various stages of completion is driving me crazy. After I get them done, I have this list of ideas in my research journal. I don’t need another project. But this one fell into my lap. And it’s cool. I know something special!

I think it’s that (re)creation theme coming to get me. I have a history of (a) getting involved in too many things at once and not managing to finish any in a timely way; (b) working on projects that just turn up rather than sticking to a clear master plan. And so I thought this year I would re-create myself as someone who focuses on one thing at a time. I would have priorities, and a plan, and think about a larger research trajectory rather than working in little patchwork bits.

So my shiny thing looks like the temptation I should put behind me, so I can stick to my plan. On the other hand, about a decade ago, I found something else, and gave it away to someone who wrote a prize-winning essay about it. I regretted that, and decided in future I would keep the shiny objects for myself.

I need to focus, to concentrate on my work. But which . . . ?

O brave new world!

In just a few years, the amount of digitized information has increased vastly. It used to be that I had to go to specialized academic sites to do certain kinds of research; prior to about three years ago, I had to look things up in reference works that major research libraries have, but which are not always available at libraries such as that of LRU (which really is quite good and I’m not complaining, since ILL is excellent—but non-circulating reference works can sometimes throw up road blocks).

But now, a simple internet search for Johannes Doughe comes up with huge tracts of references. Some of it I have already discovered the old-fashioned way; some of it is incomplete compared to what I have already (etc); anything new I will of course check through traditional sources. But what a time-saver to have some idea where to look, and what a delight to have pictures.

My off-hand little project because I had to keep the NEH happy is, I think, something that could take up the rest of my scholarly life, if I let it. I have no intention of letting it, not least because it’s out of my period and I want to get back to being a proper medievalist, so I have to figure out how to lop it off in some fairly tidy fashion.

But hot damn, you early modernists can know a lot about your people. Now back in the mid-evil period, we have to . . . no, wait, I did my old-fart post a few days ago.

LDRs in the old days

I enjoyed this post over at Flavia’s. I didn’t comment, because what I thought about contributing made me feel like such an old fart: my experience with the long-distance relationship in the days before IM, e-mail, texting, Skype, and all the technological gadgetry that makes the LDR a little more manageable than once upon a time. I mean, it’s really not relevant to a taxonomy of the current LDR types.

But in my own space, I can indulge in old-fartry. Children, back in the 1980s, I moved to France after graduation, and not long after meeting a young man I thought I might be interested in, and who seemed to think the same thing about me. There was no e-mail in those days, or maybe just among serious geeks; certainly it hadn’t spread even to campus communities, let alone the rest of the world. There were no cell phones. I think fax machines were just coming in to general use, if I have my dates right.

So for the months I lived abroad, I didn’t have a phone. If I needed to make a call, I had to go find a pay phone, and feed francs into it (this was, of course, before the Euro, as well). My contact with the U.S. was entirely epistolary. My mother and my young man (YM, hereafter) were my most constant correspondants, though many of my friends were kind enough to write.

I was touched by the YM’s assiduity, and wrote him as frequently as he wrote me. The years immediately post-college, of course, are a great time for introspection, especially if you’re off to graduate school or taking a year off from grad school, as he was. And there’s nothing like introspection with a fascinated audience.

I thought we got to know each other rather well through our letters, and happily took up with him when I returned home. We did fine while we were living in the same place, though I was very tense and difficult to deal with during the season of waiting for acceptances and rejections from graduate programs. In the end, YM decided to go back and finish an MA, while I started school about 600 miles away, and then . . . I can’t remember whether he was definitely going to move where I was, or whether we were just going to see how things went.

But I didn’t have a car, and one was definitely needed to get from one place to the other, and both of us had heavy and demanding course loads that made ride-sharing tricky. And his roommate hated me, so my going there wasn’t such a good idea, really, although it was hard on him to be the only one doing that drive. And long-distance calls were expensive. Furthermore, letters are very different from actually being with someone. The YM talked a lot, which I started to find wearing; sometimes I just want to sit and be quiet, though not necessarily alone. There were other problems. I don’t think being in the same place would have saved the relationship. In this case, the LDR just made the problems more obvious.

But I blame the letters. What we got to know was not so much each other as a written construct, a voice, an idealized version of what we hoped to project. The real people were very different from the written versions. And it was impossible to have a conversation via letters that took a week or more to arrive. Writing encouraged us both to pontificate rather than interact.

For me, that relationship solidified a distrust of the written word. The slippage between signifer and signified has a very personal meaning, sometimes.

Well, my dears, if any of you are still here and awake after indulging Grandma, run off and have some milk and cookies!

A really important post

Not mine. Tenured Radical‘s about students with problems. And the comments, too.

To the comment that the years 18-24 are when a lot of personal demons come out to play, I’d like to add that these are also years when, demographically speaking, it is quite likely that grandparents will die. I was not particularly close to my grandparents, so I have had to remind myself that many of my students come from very close families, and either are hit hard by the deaths of family members or need to be present for other people who are grieving. Moreover, everybody starts with four biological grandparents, and with re-marriage and step-families, it’s not hard to double that number: so I wouldn’t be surprised if some people report the loss of three or more grandmothers. Shoot, I had three myself, and that was a lot less common in my generation than it is now.

To show compassion is to take the high ground. Last year I had a student, for the second time, who in both classes seemed to be a bit of a flake. Hir grandmother died just before a major paper was due. I was not sympathetic, due partly to past history with this student, partly to pressures in my own life that meant I had a very tight timeline on the grading. Ze brought the obituary, listing surviving grandchildren. I apologized abjectly, and granted the extension. And wished I had just been more gracious in the first place.

Certainly it is a hard balance to strike, between compassion and needing to keep a class together. It’s harder to grade a paper fairly if you’re not doing the whole pile together, and if a student lags behind for a whole term, or, worse, lags further and further behind, at some point it may be better for that person to drop the class or withdraw from school. We professors have a responsibility to the whole class as well as to individuals. So I think professors who feel they may have taken too hard a line in the past can show themselves some compassion, too.

But I wouldn’t joke about dead grandparents. In the past few years, I’ve grieved for both a very dear colleague and for my mother, and while the first prepared me somewhat for the second, in both instances I was surprised by how stupid death made me. I really could not think, could not concentrate or make decisions. And in the aftermath, whole chunks of things I was working on (essays I’d read, for example) disappeared from my brain. I’m having to re-read a lot of things, and start over from scratch on some writing. And that’s as a high-functioning adult in a steady job and supportive relationship, without the extra stresses of college life.

Thanks, TR. We needed that.