If I were an Angela Thirkell character

“Mrs Barton was well known as the author of several learned historical novels about the more obscure bastards of Popes and Cardinals, with a wealth of documentation that overawed reviewers. Owing to living so much in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, she sometimes found it difficult to remember where she was. She was an excellent housekeeper, who never failed to care for her family and give them good food, and all servants adored her, but though she never obtruded her work, or spoke of it as if it mattered, she only had to go into her sitting-room and take up a paper or a book, to be at once engulfed in the ocean of the past, re-living with intensity the lives of people about whom little was known and whose very existence was dubious. When the tide ebbed, leaving her stranded on the shores of everyday life, she would emerge in a dazed condition to preside at her own table, or take a fitful interest in her neighbours.”

Pomfret Towers, p. 4.


Travel agents. Remember travel agents? There still are a few in the world, I know that, and I’m beginning to wonder whether I would feel it was worth paying someone else a fee to book hotels and trains and so on for me. I just spent three hours arranging train travel and hotels in the UK for a trip later this summer. In theory, I could do this at some point of the day that is not prime writing time. In practice, I have found that when I do that, I wind up booking myself on a train that departs a week after I leave the country.

Seriously. I did that once.

I got lucky that time. The conductor did come round to check tickets, but just before he got to me, he encountered another woman with a wonky ticket: she was booked on a train that left at a different time, and that apparently was a huge problem. By the time he’d finished sorting her out, we were near the next station, so he only glanced at the time, not the date, on my ticket, punched it and moved on.

Probably I could leave the stewing over hotel reviews to non-prime-time, though, and just bookmark the ones that seem to have the best intersection of low-ish price, quiet rooms, and cleanliness, then make the decision later. It can be hard to tell the difference between shabby and unclean, based on some reviews. I don’t so much mind stained carpet, if it doesn’t smell and has been well vacuumed. I do mind the odor of stale cigarette smoke. I prefer the white-noise roar I get from a window that overlooks the hotel’s ventilation system to the intermittent uproar of overlooking a street in a popular area of town. Any hotel where people complain (complain! they don’t know they’re born) about the presence of a cat immediately moves to the top of my list.

Of course, if I felt like spending money on a travel agent, I could probably also afford fancier hotels, and taxis rather than public transport. It still might be worth it for the trains, just to make sure I’m really traveling on the correct date (and if not, it would be Someone Else’s Problem). Do travel agents provide cats?

Second Ph.D.?

Recently on the fora at the Chronicle of Higher Education, someone with tenure, I think in a STEM field, and on the math-ier end of it at a guess, was wondering whether it would be worthwhile to get a second Ph.D. in a related field. Commenters urged him (her? unclear, but I had the impression it was a guy) to just read and do research in that field, although it sounded like he really wanted to have the immersed experience of Ph.D. level courses. I’m not so sure how he felt about a second dissertation, though since math/comp sci dissertations can be short, and/or can assemble a batch of articles you’ve published already, that doesn’t seem so hard.

Anyway, I was somewhat surprised at the way commenters piled on, wondering why anyone would ever go through a second Ph.D. experience. It’s obvious to me: if I won the lottery, I would absolutely get a second Ph.D., in Classics this time. I’d have to start by learning ancient Greek, so I might need to start with a second B.A., but the necessity of learning Greek is, to me, a feature, not a bug. And for the purposes of language-learning, classroom immersion is about 95% necessary. There are some gifted, disciplined people who don’t really need it, and a lot of us have picked up one or more medieval languages by hammering away with a grammar and some texts, but for a really strong grasp, you need a lot of time, a lot of exercises, and a good teacher.

It’s true that I am not contemplating doing this while holding my tenured position, nor as a means to improve my current position or research ability (though it would certainly expand the areas I could research, and give a different perspective on what I work on now). I probably won’t even do it in retirement (well, maybe the second B.A.), because I have so many medieval research projects in mind already, and I’d like to make sure I get them done. The “winning the lottery” point is that I could pay my way wherever I wanted to go.

One of my colleagues actually did get a second Ph.D., while continuing to teach in our department, in a related field. Basically, it took up his research time for a few years, and I’m pretty sure one sabbatical leave went to the required coursework. His second dissertation was a well-regarded book. So it can be done, and there can be good reasons to do it.

What about you? If there were world enough and time (and money), would you go back? In a related field, or something really different? Why, or why not?