Not dead yet!

So, despite all the rushing about in my last week at home, I did get to the airport with everything I needed, and fortunately I have Sir John at home to take care of the errands and so on that I couldn’t get to, like picking up my dry cleaning and paying bills. Love the lovely husband, without whom trips like this would be far more complicated.

The UK’s cloudy and cool weather is a pleasant contrast to the heat wave at home. Normally I enjoy hot weather, and I soaked up as much of it as I could before leaving, but I even I would not be very happy with the current mid-continent weather. But I wish I could have brought a cat or two with me. Cool and cloudy would become really cozy if I could have Basement Cat curled up with me. And I’m sure he and Glendower would love watching the birds from the really birds’-eye-level place I’m staying.

The first week here was a blur of teaching, necessary settling-in errands, and determination to get some research done around all the rest, but I hope now I will be able to give you some interesting reports on life here.

Surprising encouragement

On recent travels, one of my hosts was a person who went through my grad program a decade before I was in it, who got a job at a SLAC and has worked there throughout a respectable career.  One’s working conditions, over time, mold one’s assumptions, and it was very interesting (I think for both of us) to bring our assumptions into juxtaposition.

(On pronoun usage: since I’m female, let’s say my host is male, just to provide a clear contrast between us, although, obviously, gendered experience might also affect our careers and student responses to us.)

Class size/course load: I’m at an R1, with a 3/2 load, usually with a limited number of preps.  I usually have a grad course, so fewer students there, and different assignments, including more reading, but there can be considerable overlap between prep for that course and a similar topic for undergrads.  This is supposed to be a great thing.  Host has taught 4/4, now down to 3/3 (reassigned time), and still been a very productive scholar.  Comparing myself to him used to make me feel awful.  Why, with “better” course load, can I not be more productive?

Well, Host was shocked at the number of students I teach.  (Visibly, physically shocked: dilated pupils, not just polite verbal expressions.)  His idea of a “big course” is 20 students.  Twenty students!  My normal undergrad section has up to 35 (over that is prohibited by the fire marshal).  What I could do with a mere 20 students!  Even the intro-to-the-major course, which I’ve not taught in years because my services are needed elsewhere, is capped at 25.  This spring I taught 3 independent studies, which was a terrible lot of work because I needed to meet with each student separately (I had initially imagined a sort of mini-class of 3) since their schedules were completely disjoint.  But I could SEE the learning happening in a way I rarely glimpse in a class of even 30, let alone 35.

If I had max 20 students per class, I could teach a 4/4 and have fewer students than I do now.  And while initial prep would be harder for multiple preps, after a few years one would have a lot of classes prepped, and so it would be easier to teach a 3/3 or 4/4 with 2-3 different preps.  I think I might like that, actually, since with multiple sections of the same course, I tend to get confused about what I’ve said to which section, and find it a strain to keep two sections running more or less in synch with each other.  But there are programmatic reasons why I usually teach the same prep.

So now I feel much better about my career.  Someone very productive thinks I’m working under very difficult conditions!  It makes me want to rise to the challenge, rather than beating myself up: a much happier frame of mind.


One of my readers sent me a link to a very cute story about a wedding:

The Tiny Cat is still hanging in.  Valium works wonders on her appetite.

We have increased Glendower’s dose of Prozac, and also completed the shift of his diet from kibble to wet food.  It turns out that, like Basement Cat, he is a kibble addict.  This is a good thing (for cat training, anyway).  I hope the boys will bond around their shared addiction.

I have way too many things to do before I leave, in a week’s time, for five weeks away.  Thrashing is an ever-present danger.  I am trying to focus on doing things that will stay done (at least for awhile), like re-potting houseplants, pruning bushes, and typing things I wrote by hand while laptop-less.  Sadly, this means I’m shirking writing.  But at least I can cross a few things off the Big Huge List that I’ve been carrying around for months.

How can there be so much laundry?  Sir John has done laundry.  I have done laundry.  And yet there is still laundry.  Lots of laundry.  Are the Laundry Elves smuggling in piles of stuff from other people’s hampers?  Are you missing any clothes or towels that seem to be neither in your closets nor your laundry heaps?

Sleep has turned problematic.  I blame too much recent travel.  At the moment, I’m about half-way from CA to HI, I think.  It’s partly Sir John’s fault: he presented me with three of the late Poldark novels, and last night when I should have been winding down, the male Poldarks were all converging on the battle of Waterloo.  How could I possibly go to bed without finding out what would happen?

I am always amazed at how a good writer (of either history or historical fiction) can create not just interest but suspense about an event whose outcome is well-known.

I really need to do FeMOMHist’s archive meme, even though I work more in libraries than in archives as such.

Electronic packrat

I’m working on an essay (well, a couple of essays) about a manuscript.  Mumble years ago, I photographed it.  The first day’s pictures were blurry and dark, as I was just getting acquainted with a new camera.  I started over, and the new pictures came out better.  But I didn’t trash the first lot.

And now I am glad, because the first “bad” batch do a better job of showing the inner margins of the pages, and that’s what I need right now.

Also I thought I had got to the point of needing books that are at home to continue with the writing; but someone sent me a PDF of one chapter of one of those books, a few months ago, and I saved it, so now I may be able to continue even before I get home.

Or not, because there are other tasks I may have to focus on instead.  But it’s so nice to find that my packrat tendencies serve me well, instead of bogging me down.

Not Hill Town

Now that the visit to grad school town is over, I’m on the opposite coast.  It’s beautiful here.  As I said to Sir John when we were talking about the last trip, people are always going to irritate me, so the physical environment really matters to me.  Here we have bougainvillea, oleander, eucalyptus, and jacaranda, so I am very happy.  We also have foofy drinks and good food.

You know how some people wake up at cock-crow, and some at sparrow-fart?  I’m conditioned to get up at Glendower-chirp.  (Yes, he’s a cat, but he chirps.  Maybe it’s a prrrp, but I call it chirping.)  So even without Glendower, I was awake at dawn this morning, and since Queen Joan and Lady Maud are not so extreme in their habits, I applied myself to writing and staring at photographs of a manuscript for three hours.  This is supposed to be my vacation, but what I really want is just not to work on service or teaching.  Writing is grand.

I’m still processing the visit to Hill Town, though.  It was good to see people, but I was very glad to leave, and that surprised me, because I loved being there for graduate school.  But graduate school has a time limit built in; you know you won’t be there forever, and you can feel nostalgic for the place before you even leave, just knowing that it is temporary.

I like hills, but I like being able to see long distances, too.  California hills tend to provide a big view: a bay, the ocean, the Central Valley.  Climbing the hills of Hill Town just reveals . . . more ranges of hills.  Better the flat midwest, where I can feel the space opening around me.

Also, I love cities.  There are lots of people living there who seem to feel that when you are tired of Hill Town, you are tired of life.  Those people are hard for me to take.  When I say “city,” I mean a minimum of 750,000.  I am so glad I got a job that lets me live on the fringes of a really big city, even at the price of my commute.

And these are just the fairly superficial things that trip pointed out to me.  I’ll do another post soon about job-related thoughts.

I’ve turned into . . .

You can’t play this game unless you are of a certain age.  Past 40, probably.  But if you’re there, let me ask you this: who have you turned into?

I’m not either of my parents, though I have certainly heard both of them speaking out of my mouth.  Of the two of them, I’m more like my father.  But apparently someone else was an even stronger influence:

I have become my dissertation director.

There are some obvious differences.  We’re from different parts of the country, and I’m about a foot taller, and we don’t work in the same area any more.

But in personality and attitude, we are the proverbial peas in a pod.  Bored by small talk.  Happy to discuss, for hours, nitpicking details of fundamental research topics like phonetics and manuscripts.  Highly detail-oriented in general.  Surprisingly goofy sense of humor under the serious exterior.   Generally frugal but willing to spend money where it counts; i.e., quality lasts longer, and travel is important.  Perceived by students as either terrifying or irrelevant, depending on temperament and interests; gradually appreciated by students who genuinely care about learning.  Not interested in being popular, with students or anyone else.  Tough as old boots (her, not me, alas).

I’m a bit surprised to discover that I’ve turned into her (probably lots of other people realized it long ago), but relieved that I’m my dissertation director and not my mother.

Exile and return

I’m back where I went to grad school for the weekend, visiting old friends, in some cases literally old.  The contemporaries I’ve kept up with have scattered to the four corners of the earth, or at least of the U.S., so it’s mostly my professors that I’m seeing.  Places you’ve left traditionally seem smaller when you return, but this one is also bigger in some places, and just the same in others, so the overall effect is weirdly distorted.  The house I lived in for four years is for sale.  I drove past another place I lived and was surprised that it looks like such a dump; I was, briefly, very happy in that apartment, and that glow strongly affects my imagination of the place.

When I left home for graduate school, I fully expected never to return.  But I still had trouble adapting to the new place, especially the extremes of temperature.  And humidity.  And how green it was in summer, how drab in winter.  But at least there were hills, and water.  By the time I finished, I felt very attached to the place, and in the first few years of my job, I returned every year, sometimes more than once.  Now, though, it’s been eight years since I was last here, and the very familiarity of the place feels strange.  It may be familiar, but I’m not the same person I was when I lived here, and the Present Self resists the familiarity, looks for changes, discovers with surprise how well she has adapted to (or at least, how thoroughly she has accepted) various Midwestern traits of landscape, architecture, city planning, and personality.

What is home?  I pine for certain landscapes, the shapes of trees and hills, certain flora.  I don’t want to live again in the town where I grew up.  I don’t want to live here.  I don’t exactly think of where I live now as home, but it is the most familiar place to me now.  But the familiarity has continual elements of strangeness to it, as well.  Once you have been truly exiled, can there be a return?