How we become

For some reason, I’m brimming with ideas for posts lately. Stay tuned for more on writing, class planning, Basement Cat, personality types, scheduling, and motivation. But for the last week I’ve been thinking about this post of Fencing Bear’s, about the way our youthful selves make decisions for our older selves, and I think it’s time to try to voice some of those thoughts.

When did things fall into place for me? When did I make the decisions that led to becoming the person I wanted to be at 25 or so? I wanted to be a professor before I wanted to be medievalist: I may have been afraid of leaving the university, but I did like the idea of spending my life thinking, researching, teaching. And yet when I changed my major, I did not choose the option recommended for people planning to go to graduate school; I was sure, at that point, that I would not do that. Then a graduate course I took in my senior year changed my mind.

But even in graduate school, my focus shifted around a bit. Which languages would I study, what department would I prepare to teach in? I think I was 26 before all that got settled. I do interdisciplinary work partly because my younger self wasn’t very focused.

And then I dashed through my dissertation and, like FB, started my first and only job at 29. The job certainly defines me in some people’s minds: if you teach at a Large Regional University, you are not Somebody in the standard academic hierarchies. At the same time, having a job at LRU means that in some ways I have more freedom than I would have had at an Ivy or Wannabe Ivy. I didn’t have to write a book for tenure. I could continue to be unfocused, to put it less kindly: an article on this, an essay on that, a conference paper on the other thing—and if the idea falls flat, well, no need to develop that paper further. I could let it go.

So I have continued to make decisions about who I am, and who I want to be, as a scholar. I’m not where I’d like to be. In particular, I wish I had a longer CV. I wish I had already written a book. I wish I had already achieved some version of the medievalist’s Trifecta. But just as it took me awhile to settle on an undergraduate major, it has taken me awhile to figure out what sort of scholar I am.

And that sounds as if those tasks are different: as if you choose a major from a menu, while you get to know yourself as a scholar. In some ways yes, in some ways, no. I did choose a major from a menu, and it didn’t suit me. I probably could have forced my way through it. I needed only four more courses in it to graduate. But I couldn’t stand it any longer. I changed to the one subject I had lower-division pre-requisites in, which is even more a forced choice, but it did suit me better. I was finding out who I was.

Similarly, I could have simply said, “I’m going to be this kind of a scholar,” and forced my way through the sort of work required. In a way, I did just that, in graduate school and early in my career. But just as with my undergraduate work, it became harder, and I started to feel that my heart wasn’t in it, that I wasn’t doing it very well, and that I needed something else. (And both my undergrad work and my scholarly career were interrupted, just before a significant change in focus, by illness. This should probably be another post.)

About five years ago, I was part of an NEH Institute that made me say, “Oh. Yes! This!” And ever since I’ve been working on re-inventing myself as a manuscript scholar. This is uphill work. I was trained as a literary critic, though with a fairly heavy dose of paleography and linguistics. In grad school, our advisors thought that although editing a text was in many ways ideal training, we would not (at that time) get jobs if we did editions as our dissertations. So now, absent classes and a close relationship with senior advisors, I’m working on topics I wish I’d studied (or studied more carefully) twenty years ago, when I wasn’t teaching 125 students a year and sitting on committees, when someone else would give me assignments, check my work, answer questions, and tell me when I’d done enough.

For the essay I’m currently working on, I still need to finish the analysis of corrections, write the paragraphs, put the pieces together, and add the secondary references; but when I finish it, when it gets published, then I will feel that I have marked my transition into this territory. In the meantime, I do live the life of a textual scholar: I go to the libraries with manuscripts, I pore over the appropriate reference works, I present at suitable conferences, some of the people I want to talk to now recognize me. And this makes me happy. In a general sense, I have become the person I wanted to be when I was 25; but in the details, I have become the person I wanted to be when I was 40. Or close to her: it will probably take three to five years more to finish the process.

What about other adult decisions? The real estate decisions, so far, were made in my 30s (one on my own, one with Sir John). Unlike many people, though, I don’t put real estate in the category of Major Life Decisions. Now, moving, that’s a Major Life Hassle; but property, well, it’s like other kinds of shopping, with the difference that land or a house holds its value much better than a car or clothes. I can’t say I like house shopping much more than I like shopping in general, but in my family, first properties may be acquired in one’s teens. I came late to real estate, because I went to graduate school instead of entering the property market.

Where shall we categorize Sir John? I married, for the first time, at 40; but our courtship was of Biblical length. For the sake of argument, let’s put marriage as a decision of my 40s. One advantage to marrying late is that you have plenty of time to get over the youthful fantasy that marriage changes people. Sir John and I knew quite well what we were getting into. A friend about my age, who married young, recently said to me, “I want to choose my marriage every day.” That sounds exhausting to me. I chose to be married several years ago, when we stood in front of a commissioner, and that’s a decision made that I don’t want to revisit, ever. But unlike my friend, I had two decades of worrying about men (will he call, what does he think of me, when will I see him . . .) behind me, and I was very ready to clear out that portion of my brain and use it for something more interesting.

In short, I feel that I have made a fair number of Adult Decisions relatively late in life. Maybe too late: can I achieve my new scholarly goals before my eyes or my brain give out? Will I get much beyond a silver wedding anniversary? But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that my younger self got me into things I wish she hadn’t. Mainly, she was way too adult. I wish she’d taken a few years off to do wild and crazy things. I wish she’d moved a couple of places for a year each, just to see what they were like. I wish she’d had the courage to dump a useless boyfriend. I wish she’d studied in Europe during graduate school, instead of thriftily staying on campus and getting a Ph.D. in a fairly brisk six years. I’ve been sensible all my days, and where has it got me? To a practical and responsible middle age, in which I wish I’d had a bit more of my world in my time.

It never fails

I do some work on syllabi, assignments, and so on, early in the summer, and then go on to other things.

When I realize it’s time to get serious about class plans, I’m shocked (shocked!) by how little I have written down. I was sure I had at least half the semester fully developed.

More fun with recommendation letters

I mentioned awhile ago that a couple of students e-mailed me to ask about letters and failed to respond to my questions about their intentions. Well, one got a promotion at work (congratulations!) and was very busy for awhile, but finally did give me a lot of useful information . . . which led to another round of questions from me. In some ways, it would be easier to have these conversations in my office, in real time, but the former student is working some distance away, it’s summer now, and last spring I was on leave, so e-mail keeps us both from having to make a long trek to campus. But it certainly leads to delays in gathering the information I’ll need to write the eventual letter.

Still, this ex-student (well, not ex, just pining for the fiords) at least started the process well in advance, so everything should work out fine.

Then there’s the e-mail I got from our graduate school yesterday, saying that Ashley Brooke Carruthers has put my name down as a recommender for ABC on an application for graduate school, and would I upload or mail my letter.

Mmm, no. The name Ashley Brooke Carruthers rings no bells at all, under any permutation or likely nickname. Perhaps the e-mail was sent in error. The graduate school meant to write to Eliazar Hill, not Eleanor Hull; or ABC chose me from a pull-down menu and made the same mistake.

Perhaps I have forgotten teaching this student: at ~125 students per year, in the past five years (seems unlikely someone from further back would be asking for a letter) I’ve taught 625 people, give or take a few. I expect there are people who are good at names and faces who can remember every individual out of 600, but I’m not one of them.

I’m sure this online submission business makes things easier for many people. Paperless office and all that. And if a professor has agreed to write a letter and delays doing so, it’s easier for the grad school to automate e-mail requests that the prof get on the stick than for the poor neglected student to have to keep checking with the grad school and then contacting the professor, worrying all the while that this will irritate the prof and the letter will reflect this. (NB: I’m pretty prompt about letters, partly because I often get asked at the last minute; and if the professor really has stalled then you are within your rights to ask that the letter get done so your application will be in on time; and if the professor thinks well enough of you to agree to write the letter, not only will the letter not reflect irritation, guilt may make it even more positive.)

But since I’ve heard from colleagues about similar e-mails from the grad school regarding students they do remember–but who have not talked to them about plans for graduate school–I’m wondering if these online submissions send the wrong message to students. Do they suggest that you can avoid the anxiety-ridden visit to a professor by simply appointing someone to write letters for you?

A letter of recommendation doesn’t just report on your grades, which of course I can find if I know what course you took with me, in what semester of what year. The forms also ask for my assessment of such characteristics as “intellectual maturity,” “emotional maturity,” “facility with oral expression,” “potential as a teacher,” and other elements that are difficult to gauge from written work. See, if you’re going to graduate school in English, you’re very likely to be planning on teaching; this means dealing with other people, not just with books and papers. And I sympathize with shy people who love books and papers, I really do. But graduate admissions committees want to know if you are able to speak up and address a group of people; they want to know if you can play well with others; also they’re interested in how motivated you are, whether you do all the recommended reading as well as the assigned reading. Can you handle the grad school work load?

So it helps if you come and talk to me . . . preferably while you’re still in my class. It gives me a better sense of who you are. If it’s too late for that, come talk to me now. Remind me of who you were when you took the class, tell me if there were circumstances that kept you from doing your best or participating fully, demonstrate that you are mature, curious, and motivated. The group work you hated? Maybe now you realize that it taught you about getting things done with a group of people only some of whom were fully on board with a project. The oral reports you feared? Yes, well, if you’re teaching you’ll have to do one every day (unless you assign group work, or show a movie). What has made it possible for you to talk to a group of people, now?

When I write a letter of recommendation, I’m not just recommending a transcript or giving details of what you learned in my class. I’m recommending a person. People change a lot during and immediately after their undergraduate years. If you weren’t the best student, if you had some sort of problem that kept you from doing your best work, if you’ve only recently figured out what you really want to do, that doesn’t mean I won’t write you a letter. Sometimes the problems and the process of self-discovery make people better candidates.

So I need to know who you are.

Recovering perfectionist

I suspect that perfectionism is like alcoholism: you’re always recovering, never recovered. It’s a process you keep having to commit to. For today, I will show up at the page (Julia Cameron). For today, I’ll write part of a shitty first draft (Anne Lamott). For today, I will not beat myself up for not writing more/better/sooner.

The following advice is mine only in the sense that it was given to me. I’m passing on, and elaborating on, what RY said to me a few weeks ago (under #4, here).

First, identify the origin of the problem. In my case, though there were no doubt a native tendency and some earlier influences, the pre-eminent cause was a magisterial figure in my doctoral program. He built the program; he taught generations of students; he hired or influenced the hiring of most of the other faculty who taught in the program; he was greatly respected by other scholars. He insisted on meticulous scholarship, based on original sources—manuscript sources, because you can’t trust other people’s editions. He had a photographic memory both for manuscripts and for secondary references. He never said, “Somebody wrote about that, let’s see, about a decade ago, in either Journal X or Journal Y.” No matter the topic, he’d reel off author, title, journal, year, and page numbers, without looking anything up.

He published important articles; and his wife once told me that when something of his appeared in print, he’d wander the house with it in hand, reading bits aloud and chortling. She believed that one should celebrate publications and enjoy them, not use them as occasions to find fault with one’s own work, wishing one had done things differently.

But, as RY said, where is the row of books with his name on them? He was always working on a magnum opus, but it never came to completion. And come to that, where are the rows of books from his students? One of his most noted students publishes articles at a rapid clip: this scholar’s way around perfectionism is to do lots of very short pieces, sent out in very rough form, then polished and expanded with advice from editors and readers. Several of the magister’s students have produced multiple editions and essay collections. But it is notable that the most successful products of this program are those who are least associated with it: those who moved past their early training, often those who hated graduate school and wanted to get through so they could, figuratively, kick all their teachers in the teeth.

So, says RY, notice where perfectionism got this famous scholar. Notice that there is no point in trying to please him now.

Second, find someone productive upon whom to model yourself. (Throw off the cold dead hand of the magister.) Look at what this person publishes, how often, and under what conditions. Here I’m going to extrapolate a bit: if you know this scholar personally, ask about writing practices. What do his/her drafts look like when they go out? What does s/he expect editors and readers to contribute? (I am, however, reminded of a dinner-table conversation at Kalamazoo in which senior British scholars were bemused by the fascination of younger Americans with writing process: when [first thing in the morning or late at night?], where [home, office, coffee shop?], how [multiple screens open at once, papers spread across desk, long-hand, direct to computer, notes on photocopies or separate documents?]. To them, writing was just something you did, not something you talked about. Choose your audience.) Perhaps a student or friend of this scholar might have advice, if you don’t know her/him.

Third, strive for clarity. Don’t over-complicate your argument or your prose because you think they’re too simple. Write your main point on an index card and post it over your desk. Stay on track. If other ideas bounce up, write them down for later pursuit, and return to your main argument.

Fourth, you need people with whom to share your work: to bounce ideas off of, to make suggestions for improvement, to edit, to tell you when something is ready to go. And not just that, but to suggest where you might send a piece. The social aspect of writing is hard for many of us, I think. Sometimes writing groups get set up at one’s home institution, under official auspices; sometimes junior faculty band together. Sometimes regional groups bound by topic, period, or some other similarity (like women scholars) get together and read each other’s work. Sometimes former students from a cohesive graduate program form a writing circle, exchanging work electronically. But if you’ve become isolated, then you’ll have to find a way to reach out to someone. You may just have to ask. A couple of times recently, I’ve offered to read someone else’s work, intending this to become an exchange; but they’ve demurred. Next time, I think I’ll just say I have something I need a reader for, would appreciate feedback, and will of course reciprocate.

Fifth, finally, and according to RY, very importantly: do not expect too much of yourself. Do not plan to do more than you can do in a given length of time. You have to set manageable goals and then meet them, so that you can say, “Look, I am accomplishing things,” instead of “Oh, no, I’m failing.” Success begets success. Accomplishment leads to more accomplishment. Feeling good about meeting goals means you can feel good about writing, and wander around your house with journal in one hand, Scotch in the other, delighting in seeing your name in print.

How easy to give advice, and how hard to follow it! But I’m saying these things in an effort to make myself accountable for practicing what I preach.

Before writing

“From the late medieval period, [individual readers’] responses have been left to us in literally thousands of manuscripts, and they can be recovered by the kind of paleographical, linguistic, textual and iconographic analysis which, however, has not been popular work, mainly because it is detailed and hard.”
Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, “Introduction,” The Medieval Professional Reader at Work, 7-13, at 7.

I’m analyzing the types of corrections made to a fifteenth-century manuscript of a fourteenth-century text by a later fifteenth- (or perhaps sixteenth-) century reader. It started with a list; the list is now becoming a frequency table; later it will become a graph. At the moment, it’s not so much hard as tedious. Just making the list (and checking it against first the edition, then the manuscript) has already taken hours of work. By the time I finish the analysis, it will be days. All this for one or two paragraphs (and, I hope, a footnote or appendix with some details) in the final product, a publishable essay.

This work has to be done. I’m arguing that the corrections are not mechanical but show attention to and interaction with an earlier text, making it more comprehensible for later readers; to that end I need to be able to prove that the corrector intervenes in particular ways related to linguistic changes. As I work on this essay, I’ve done various other tasks involving counting, sorting, and graphing of raw data: corrections by one reader, comments from another. This work shows me what these readers cared about, and that they cared about similar parts of the text.

I have to be the one to do it. Perhaps a research assistant could do some of it—the part based on the edition—but in doing the work, I notice other things about the text, which I would not see if someone else did the counting and listing. I also have to make decisions about how to count. If there are two words added to a single line, is that one line’s worth of correction, or two separate additions? Well, is it a two-word phrase, or words added at different points in the line? Do I need to know whether additions are made on erasures, squeezed into spaces in the line, interlinear, or marginal? (Yes, to all.)

And I certainly have to be the one to check my work against the manuscript. That’s crucial for accuracy, for work I will put my name to. What’s more, no research assistant from LRU has the training to be able to distinguish between the original scribe’s own corrections and the later corrector’s additions, nor would such an RA be able to read many of the corrections. I like to think that the scribal hand is easier, but that depends on one’s experience with paleography. My own is fairly extensive (for a literary scholar; I’m not an actual paleographer), but I barely have the opportunity to introduce facsimiles into literature classes at LRU: I have never taught paleography there. And there’s no one else likely to do it. So there’s no student who could be my RA, however smart, willing, and enthusiastic.

This sort of thing is why medievalists (at least, my sub-species) take so long to produce publications. I’d like to see my Americanist colleagues who publish about as fast as Joyce Carol Oates transcribe marginal comments in sixteenth-century secretary hands, or even fourteenth-century book hands. Besides the expertise in languages and paleography, I also have multiple manuscripts to deal with: not just the two that some of my readers have heard me talk about in the last few months, but other versions of this story, in different formats, some in different languages (though here again, I have to make distinctions: which ones are my early modern readers likely to have heard of or come across?).

And then there are the cultural referents. A literary medievalist needs to be about half a classicist, just to keep track of the allusions scattered through even the frivolous vernacular material I deal with, and about half a Biblical scholar, ditto. A third half should be a historian, to catch topical allusions and fit the whole thing into a social context. A social context: of course we will miss things, of course we cannot ever really read as my sixteenth-century commenter read; but we have to try. I have to try. It’s my duty to the past, to resurrect these readers, to tell you what they thought about their frivolous vernacular reading, to give a voice to the nameless people who created an audience for works that are the ancestors of the novel and all its sub-genres.

It takes time. It’s hard, sometimes (deciphering the secretary comments), and tedious, sometimes (turning lists into frequency tables), and at times deeply satisfying (making out a comment that an earlier editor gave up on). It’s frustrating, knowing that I still have at least a full day’s work ahead of me before I can even draft the paragraph or two that belong in the full-dress essay. And that’s before any work involving the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval England, if it seems there is enough material to make it worth attempting dialectal analysis. (My fourth half is a linguist.)

This is what I do, and this is why it takes so long. How I wish I could just sit at my desk and write. For this essay, at least, every paragraph written is the tip of an iceberg which, below the waterline, is made up of transcribing, counting, sorting, graphing, mapping, and other kinds of analyzing. The work is detailed and hard, and I’m grateful to Kerby-Fulton for saying so.

Basement Maupassant

Sometimes I’m a little slow about finishing the unpacking after a trip.

I left my travel jewelry case, actually a small Chinese silk purse, on the nightstand, with a few pairs of earrings and a necklace still in it.

During one of Basement Cat’s periods of supervised play, he dashed upstairs and came down with the little purse in his mouth. Here I thought he was getting better. It’s been quite awhile since he tried to steal my checkbook (cell phone, drugs . . . ) or engaged in other criminal activities.

Poor cat, he didn’t realize that my diamonds are only paste.

Lessons for girls: writing the script

Thanks to Dr. Crazy for picking up on my comment over at Academic Cog about scripts. She had some good advice about ways of approaching potential mentors, particularly about not just saying “I’m fine” but coming out with an item from your wish list. Nonetheless, I feel I should expand on my own remarks.

Such things may seem obvious to many people. But what passed for negotiation in my family often involved shouting, insults, and sometimes physical threat. Given the situations being negotiated (like rescuing animals from abusive owners), these may have been appropriate techniques, but they’re really not suitable to the corridors of academe. And an intelligent person may recognize inappropriate responses without managing to figure out appropriate ones; awareness of this gap can contribute to social awkwardness.

A corollary to that gender-based training in being a good, quiet girl is that one may have to be mad as hell, or worked up to a high pitch of nerves, to break out of that mold. But mad or excited can sound shrill or hysterical. Watch people who are effective, and try to sound like them. At the very least, take a deep breath, relax your throat, and (mentally if not aloud) count down “Three, two, one” before you speak. This will lower your voice.

Here are some real-life situations I’ve encountered, which may provide both things to try and mistakes to avoid:

1. While the young Dame Eleanor was in graduate school, a well-published former student, DH, returned to give a talk.
DE: I liked your book.
DH: Which one?
DE: The purple one!
DH: Oh, yes, they did a nice job with the cover.
I blanked on the title at a key moment; but DH was gracious, and perhaps also visually oriented. Lesson: try to be specific. Think about what you’ll say to visiting speakers, in advance. Memorize titles; “I liked your article on A in Journal J” is better than “I admire your work.”

2. While I was either in grad school or early on the tenure track, one year at Kalamazoo I was drinking beer in a hallway outside the Toronto party with AC, then a rather scruffy grad student but now a scholar to be reckoned with. DS, a Chaucerian whom AC admired, walked by; AC confessed his admiration for her work—to me. Between not being a Chaucerian (nothing personally at stake) and being outside a beer or two, I was feeling courageous. I hailed DS and said, “This is AC, who would like to tell you how much he admires your work.” She was pleased. I think some sort of collaboration resulted.
Lesson: if you can’t do it yourself, get a friend to toot your horn. Form a mutual support society, go to conferences together, and introduce each other to the scholars you want to meet.

3. I learned a great lesson about preparation from a student who asked me for a letter of recommendation for law school, a few years back. It had been about five years since I taught her. She provided me with a binder containing the following materials: a cover letter explaining her plans and what she had been doing since I had last seen her; a résumé; an undergraduate transcript; graded copies of all the work she’d done in my class; Information for Recommenders from all the schools she was applying to; a cheat sheet tailored to characteristics and skills she hoped I would mention (each person from whom she requested a letter got a different version of this); a list of the other recommenders; a copy of her Statement of Purpose. I might have left out a couple of things, but you get the idea. There was a table of contents, and tabs separating the sections.
My letter basically said “For heaven’s sake admit this woman so that you’ll be able to claim her as a famous alumna.” I had caught on to the idea of providing talking points for recommendation letters some time before, but this was far beyond anything I had ever seen.
On the other side of the coin, in the past few months two students have e-mailed me to ask for letters of recommendation for graduate school. When I replied asking for more information about their plans, neither responded. You don’t have to have a binder, but a list of programs and a statement of purpose would be a good start.

4. Even the shy and awkward eventually come across unusually outgoing, socially adept people. Cultivate them. Accept their invitations. Talk to the people to whom they introduce you. It doesn’t matter if they’re senior, junior, or your own age.
MS introduced me to various intimidating scholars whom she knows well from years of networking at conferences, NEH seminars, and so on. I’m not actually to the stage of asking them for letters, much less to advise on work in progress, but they do now recognize me at conferences, which is a great boost to my confidence. I got to know her when she moved to this area (which I knew from talking to another outgoing person on her faculty), and I sent her an e-mail asking her out for coffee.
JC and I know each other from conferences. I can’t remember if we were first on the same panel, or attended each other’s papers in different sessions. But she put me on her list of outside scholars for her tenure review, and her department contacted me. I get credit in my own department for being asked to review a tenure file.
RY recently gave me excellent advice on avoiding perfectionism and breaking the bad habits instilled by imperfect mentors. I met RY as the friend of one of my professors, long years ago; our relationship has been entirely conference-social, until during a recent catching-up session I was inspired to ask for advice on knowing when you’re finished with a project (or finished enough, anyway). Without the years of casual conversation, I probably would not have asked.
Sadly, the world does contain people who are rude, thoughtless, and unpleasant, who will jump on signs of vulnerability. But the kind, generous, socially adept people will respond very well to sincere, even if awkwardly expressed, gratitude for their interest, advice, introductions, and so on. Piggy-back on their abilities, and copy their methods as best you can.

5. So far, I’ve focused on networking. But what about other kinds of situations, like those that make you mad as hell?
First, try to be aware of what you’re projecting. My colleagues think they know what happens when I’m angry. They have no idea what my temper can actually amount to. And yet, at one meeting with the dean when I was only impatient, they thought I was furious. That voice-lowering trick, body language, and persistence (or the lack of it) convey a lot of meaning.
So square your shoulders, breathe deeply, count down, and translate your inner dialogue of “Are you insane? That will undo everything we’ve worked for over the past three years!” into “I am very concerned about the effects on department morale if we were to adopt that proposal.” Lean forward and explain your position. Lean back and let other people talk themselves out. Lean forward and say, “I completely see your points. However, I remain concerned about morale and the effects on [pick a suitable group: students, the administration, the faculty]. How can we address that?” If someone comes up with your original idea, tell them it’s a brilliant solution.
Of course, if what you’re angry about is that people are always taking credit for your ideas, then you say, “I’m glad you like my idea. As I said in my memo to [the chair, the dean, your co-teacher, the president of the graduate student association], the details are . . . “

6. How do you get someone out of your office?
“I have to go to a meeting; I’ll walk you out.”
“Let’s talk to the undergraduate director about that. Come down to the department office with me.”
“I have to call someone back before [approaching time]; I’ll catch up with you later.”
“We have to stop now.”
“Thank you for coming to see me.”
“The person you need to see is X. Let’s just see if s/he’s in.”
“You always brighten my day, but I have to finish this before class.”

There are books about negotiating, about dealing with difficult people, about making friends and influencing people. Some of these offer scripts. Adapt them to your own circumstances. Practice by talking to the cat, if you need to. If you didn’t learn early, you may never feel real social ease, but you can certainly learn to look as if you feel it.

Home again, home again

Here are some pictures from my travels.

They’re not from the same place.

If I weren’t so jetlagged, I’d get the camera, download the last set, and give you one more. But I’m too tired . . . .

Usually, I have more trouble with jet lag when travelling east to west than west to east. This trip was the other way round: easy adapting to England, and a struggle coming home. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I like mornings, but that I’m about ready for bed now (not yet 5:00 p.m. in my time zone).

I did have a good idea this morning, about shaping the essay I’m developing from my two most recent conference papers. Then much of the rest of the day went to laundry, groceries, errands, bill-paying, cat care, all those oh-right-there’s-a-life-here things that have to get done. I had hopes of getting to a library this afternoon to start looking into it, but now I’m thinking tomorrow for that.

One of the things I love about going to the U.K. is never having to drive. Coming home, I’m back into the driving culture with a vengeance. Ugh. I’m having fantasies of moving to some seaside university town, say Swansea, where I could live car-free and get sand in my toes every day. I’m sure there are reasons people might fantasize about living where I live. After I take a little nap, maybe I’ll think of some.

Conference quiz

What is missing from the following sequence, and at what point should it be inserted?

“Just a few more pages . . . I’m almost done . . . this is the last paragraph . . . I’m really finishing . . . and finally . . . I’m sorry to have talked for so long.”

[Update:] Quizzes are graded. Moria and Medieval Woman both get A’s, with extra points to Moria for suggesting the guillotine.

Now, what do you think is worse than one person in a session doing this?

How about all three of them going 10 or more minutes over? Yes, the session before mine yesterday ran 20 minutes past its allotted time for papers alone. Forget questions. Forget time to set up the equipment for my session.

I should add that the line-up was not as scheduled on the programme posted online. Two people from this session withdrew and were replaced rather late in the game. Surely, though, not too late to time their papers?