so a-worke that a quarter of a yere I kepte my bedde

By making a strict schedule for the past four days, and keeping to it as well as I could, I have managed to achieve the following: responded to someone else’s writing sample, graded 4 revision papers, written detailed instructions for a graduate assignment, written detailed reading questions for the undergrads on a very dense text (after reading it myself), renewed books, written about 1600 free-writing words towards my conference paper, added 500 new words to a more organized paper draft, and sent that half-a-paper to a friendly reader. And read over a hundred pages of Malory, who gives me my title.

I also managed to do yoga and go to the gym every day. And order a pair of shoes, which I need for an upcoming trip.

But I don’t want to think about the things I have not finished, which comprise an extensive list. The schedule will have to be at least as strict, and adherence improved, for the next ten days.

And it’s not as if I’ll be able to keep my bed after that. There’s more than one Exploding Head Month in the year.

Documents meme

Following Dance and Notorious, here are a couple of mine.

First, the easy:

And here’s a harder one:

Last week, I gave a presentation about my manuscript research for my colleagues. About ten people came (the departmental good sports, the junior faculty establishing face time, my writing buddy). My main focus was on the effort to determine how many hands commented in a particular manuscript. Afterwards, a twentieth-century specialist (it was nice of him to come) asked how I knew that the most frequent commenting hand was sixteenth century. I explained. “You mean, you can date something just by the style of handwriting?” he asked. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. Yes, this is what I do. I’m not Ian Cunningham or even T.E., but I do have skills that most people don’t.

Spring tasks

What I feel like doing is a massive spring cleaning. I’d like to de-clutter this house as if we were going to move, and do a bit more painting and updating, and then not move but just enjoy the cleared-out space.

I feel like doing this because I need to do a batch of grading before the next batch comes in, put together a research presentation for my colleagues on Tuesday, work on a conference paper that I’ll be giving all too soon (no, not Kalamazoo, sooner than that, but then there will be the Kalamazoo paper to write), read and comment on a friend’s draft work, read and comment on something for my writing group, do some organizational stuff for Kalamazoo, arrange some long-distance travel, refresh my memory on what I’m teaching tomorrow . . . and I have a feeling there were some other things, too, but those are the ones at the front of my mind. Oh, and do the taxes.

By the time I get all that done . . . who am I kidding, most of the house stuff won’t happen until after the term is over, anyway. But by the time the term is over, I know the household work is going to seem much less urgent. I wish I could delegate it to someone. Do you think Basement Cat would be good at bossing contractors around? The Shakespearean Heroine could bawl them out (if she could be bothered to wake up) if necessary. Listen, you cats, you need to start earning your keep.

Hmph. Basement Cat’s response to this is to get on my lap and settle in. I think it’s a signal that I should stay put and do some of the reading, grading, and so on. Well, it is useful to have a lap weight, so I guess B.C. gets dinner tonight. Now, the rest of you . . . .

Fantasy careers

Academic Hopeful recently asked, “Do most academics, generally, have this whole fantasy career going on in parallel even when they have a job on the go?”

I’m not sure I’m representative, but my own answer is yes, oh yes.

Long ago, I planned to be an archeologist. I got a bit distracted in college, and didn’t pursue that. I still have regrets about not staying focused on my early dream. I have a fantasy life in which I did college very, very differently, and graduate school very differently, and am even now working on Project Troia.

When I was in graduate school, my preferred Fantasy Plan B was to be a baker. I liked the idea of doing something I loved and was good at, something both creative and hands-on, with real, tangible results.

In my early years on the tenure-track, continuing grad-school-plan-C, I developed in loving detail my alternate life as a translator. If I didn’t get tenure, I thought, I would go and live for a year in France, and a year in Spain, and maybe for awhile in Germany or Switzerland, and then go to translator school, preferably in Monterrey. I imagined where I would live, and the markets I would shop in, the street outside my city apartment, the weekends recharging in the countryside, exploring village life. It was harder to imagine the school and the job at the end of it all, but I liked the fantasy of creating a much cooler, far more glamorous version of myself, who would not mind leaving academia behind, who could feel out-of-place for better reasons than those of exchanging one small town for another.

In the more recent past, I’ve had to develop another fantasy, since I’m well past the optimal age for polishing languages. My thoughts have centered on libraries; I’ve read T.E.’s accounts of the various phases of her career with great interest, not least because of certain similarities in our temperaments and overlap in the places we’ve lived (I loved Hill Town, but I think going there as a graduate student was totally different from going there as a professor: graduate students plan to leave within a few years, whereas professors are pretty well stuck). Her reasons for leaving a reference library position are comprehensible to me; I want to do my own work, not other people’s. Though I’ve thought about doing a library degree and trying to get a position as a Rare Books librarian, I don’t want a job like that of LRU’s Rare Books person, who has to cover millenia of written words and work with faculty and students in a lot of different fields. I want to disappear into a library and never come out, and I want to stay fairly specialized. So I think maybe manuscript conservation would be the best bet: back to working with objects, as in archeology and baking, doing something technical (as I planned in my college divagations). Of course, even to start that I’d have to take a couple of years of chemistry; it’s not something I could just walk into.

In fact, I think I’m well suited to academia, or at least to the version of it I have found/created. I like and respect my students, very few of whom are entitled snowflakes; I love my research and having time in the summers to concentrate on it, and to travel to where the manuscripts are; though I have a long commute, it is possible for me to live in a major metropolitan area, which does matter to me (though I might feel differently if LRU had a major research library). But I imagine there are a lot of people who, after 20 years doing the same thing, like to think about other possibilities. Some of them realize they really want to do the other things. Some of us just like to try on alternate lives.

Portrait of a Saturday

I went away for spring break—pictures will be forthcoming. When we said goodbye, the friend with whom I went on vacation asked what I’d be doing this weekend, after I returned. “Figure out what I’m teaching next week,” I said, thinking vaguely about errands and the gym, realizing that I really had better spend some time reading and planning classes.

Where Saturday actually went:

Sleep until 10:00, after nearly a week of waking at first light no matter what time I went to bed (at home, the bedroom shade might as well be a blackout curtain). Feed and medicate cats. Make cup of tea and look at the paper. Do yoga. Play with cats, who did not get a lot of play time while I was away, as Sir John was working round the clock. Do more yoga. Tussle with Basement Cat, who loves my yoga mat. Take break for Kitty Spa Day for Basement Cat, whose claws have grown out. Eat a piece of toast. Finish yoga. Listen to Sir John groaning and yawning as he wakes up. Go up to get properly dressed and wonder how it got to be nearly 1:00 p.m.

Look for book I thought I owned, found (while I was away) that I urgently needed. Not on shelves. Check online library catalog. Two copies in the state, one charged. Check my own account. No, it’s not charged to me. Check old e-mail to find out if I ordered it last summer, when I thought I had bought it. No, I did not buy it. (This is an obscure book in a series only available in the UK; I acquired 3 books from it when I was in London, but for some reason didn’t think to get this one. Spend awhile wondering what was I thinking last summer and will someone be flogging these books at Leeds and who do I know in the UK who might bring me a copy to Kalamazoo if I asked nicely. Check ABEbooks and Amazon just in case; no luck. Check current e-mail and answer a question from a student who hasn’t thought through how to manage a piece of research. Put off answering other e-mails.

Go out to what should be breakfast but is now a late-ish lunch at DD with Sir John. Take a crossword puzzle (we used to do the NYT puzzles every Sunday, but at present are running about 6 weeks behind due to work pressures). Read newspapers from Friday. Leave DD without doing puzzle, because it is getting on for 3:00, and Sir John needs to work. So do I: I think maybe I will put in an hour or so reading before I go to the gym. Buy bubble wrap and cat food, pick up dry cleaning on the way home.

Arrive at home. Feed the grazers; defend their food against hogs who only get to eat twice a day. Atttack the screws holding together the coffee table known as the Cruel Table, a section of walnut burl polished and put together by my grandfather. It is beautiful, but has nasty sharp points, is irregularly shaped, and does not fit nicely into our living space, especially since the acquisition of the new piece of feline exercise equipment, pictured below. (Some people would say we should get rid of some books, but that isn’t going to happen, not around here. So the Cruel Table is going to be taken apart and stored in the basement.) The screw tops are very soft; the screw bodies are rusted. Lovely battery-powered screwdriver (Christmas present) does not work well in these conditions. Small flathead screwdriver of some help. Large flathead screwdriver would be much better. Go search for large flathead screwdriver. After looking among tools in basement, tools still upstairs from removing window treatments prior to replacing windows, the junk drawer, and under the sink, conclude that large flathead screwdriver walked away with some handyman who got it mixed in with his own tools. Curse handy people (including self) who cannot look after own tools. Finish removing half the legs from the table. Find second half is even worse. Spray Liquid Wrench on screws, and go away to do a bit of half-hearted unpacking. Wonder which bottle of white creamy substance leaked in quart bag of 3-oz. bottles. Return to table. Resolve to go to gym via hardware store for new large flathead screwdriver. Resolve to label new screwdriver (and other tools) with my name. “Eleanor” in pink nail polish might discourage handymen from lifting nice tools.

Pause to begin writing this post. Actually leave house at 4:30. Acquire large screwdriver; also new battery for car key fob and an eyeglasses repair kit. Gym: ride exercise bike to nowhere while reading E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady (essentially Bridget Jones, married and living in Cornwall in the 1920’s) instead of any work-related reading; weights; shower. Grocery run. Arrive home at 7:20. To appropriately operatic accompaniment from the Shakespearean Heroine, renew the assault on the Cruel Table. Success! Unpack groceries. Fix and eat dinner, accompanied by duet performed by the Shakespearian Heroine and the Scot. Feed cats. Watch two episodes of Bones and delete 15 others we’ve already seen, while Sir John works. Medicate cats. Finish blog post.