Joining the 21st century

I just discovered that my online class register links to photographs of my students.

This feature has probably been available for some time, but I’m a little slow about these things, particularly when I have to click rather than getting stuff automatically displayed.

I have trouble matching names and faces, and it is not helped when students have similar names (think Jane, Janet, and Janna . . . who often all wear their hair in similar styles and don’t stand out in other ways). At the beginning of the semester, I get them to use name tags, but within a couple of weeks, they lose the name tags and I should really know them by that time. But the current Jane/Janet/Janna combo has continued to confuse me. Now I can study on my own time!

Except, actually, these students look more alike in their photos than they do IRL. Must not get distracted by hair and make-up. Bone structure. Face measurements. I can do this.

One of the ways Sir John and I are complementary (or, rather, that he complements me) is that he is, if not quite a super-recognizer, much above average in ability to recognize people, whereas I’m on the low end of the spectrum (though not truly face-blind). He can recognize actors in full Ferengi makeup, for example, whereas I can’t tell one young actress from another. Most of my students are too young to have developed distinctive faces. Nonetheless, the photos will be a help, even if I wind up blurting out “You don’t look like your ID picture!” in class, which I fear eventually I will.

Blogging the lost

A sheaf of guidebooks to English castles, from three summers ago, which should be on the shelves of my school office with all my other similar guides, and which I do not remember seeing anywhere in my home office during a recent re-shuffling of books; if they were hidden in my school office then I ought to have found them during last year’s clean-up efforts; I know I brought them back from England (that was a very heavy suitcase), and they are not the sort of thing that I de-accession.


Update: I found them in a box in the guest room, cleared out of my study at some point, housed in an opaque plastic box/folder, such that it was not clear from the outside what was in it. NB, try to use clear box/folder thingies in future.

Anyway, yay! Now I can turn a class loose on “castle study hall,” where each student gets a guidebook to some castle, and after reading by themselves for a bit, they get together to talk about features that castles have in common, and how their builders accommodated landscape features on particular sites, and what historians and archaeologists still puzzle over. A field trip would be better, and if I taught in the UK might be easily organized. From here, however, it’s not going to happen.

I never did get to that Ozark Castle, and it’s too far from me for a class field trip.

Mustn’t grumble, but I do anyway

Probably just because it’s a gloomy damp day, and grumbling suits it.

Things are actually going well enough, just not to plan. I’ve done some teaching things . . . not the most urgent ones. I’ve done some research . . . on the long-term project, not this month’s main event. (That actually was the plan, for today; the trick will be going back to the main current thing tomorrow, instead of getting caught up in the old thing that now seems like the New Shiny, thanks to the break while I worked on other things.) I’ve been to the gym, though I left two hours later than I planned to. What I never account for, in planning a day at home, is the process that goes like this:

If it snows tomorrow, I can’t wear those boots. Unless I waterproofed them. That would be a great idea, actually. What did I do with the waterproofing stuff? Oh, look, it’s exactly where I thought it was, how very organized of me! Why doesn’t it have a nozzle? Oh, right, now I remember: the old cleaner was having a clumsy day, maybe a year ago (more?) and knocked the nozzle off a new can of bathroom cleaner, and I was a clever-boots and found that the nozzle from the waterproofing stuff fit the can of cleaning foam, and I told myself to remember to notice when we ran low on the foam and move the nozzle back to the waterproofing stuff. Predictably, I was not nearly clever enough to remember to do that. Now, what do I have that will fit the waterproofing can? Not that . . . look under a different sink . . . not that . . . try that one . . . well, that made a mess, and I don’t think it did anything for the boots . . . is there anywhere else to look? (Repeat process a couple of times.) Okay, that worked. Put back the nozzle that didn’t fit (why do household items have at least two different sizes of nozzle, anyway?). Put back the one that did fit. Leave the boots to dry. Get back to Plan A.

Sir John suggested that I toss out the nozzleless can and buy a new one. “Call it your contribution to economic stimulus.” I admit that he has a point, but if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been able to do the boots today, or not unless I’d added another errand to the list of things to do today. It might have been quicker anyway, but then again, maybe not.

It’s this sort of thing that always derails me. That, and feeling that it is time for a cup of tea. If it were just the tea, it would be fine, but I always do something while the kettle boils and then, twenty minutes later, resume Plan A. It would be quicker just to stare out the window while the kettle boils.

At any rate, I was supposed to spend the afternoon decluttering, but I still have Urgent Teaching Things to do before tomorrow, and I think I can see how this is going to go. Once the UTT are done, it will be time to cook dinner, and afterward I will get ready for tomorrow’s departure at sunrise, and then I will do something to wind down before bed, and the clutter will be exactly where I left it.

But I will be able to wear my favorite boots even if there are snow showers. Win?

Refusing fear, finding joy

I’ve already lost enough years of my life to fearing nuclear war.

In my teens, I was undoubtedly disturbed in various ways, tormented by hormones, situational depression, anxiety, blah blah, but that was one of my big fears. It was probably much less likely in the 70s than it was for my brothers, half a generation earlier, but I was greatly influenced by their accounts of what they worried about, at my age. (Please note: those “kids these days think they have it so tough” lectures can backfire terribly, since “kids” practically by definition do not have brains as mature as those lecturing and may misapply the intended lesson.) I wanted to live to grow up. I was terribly jealous of, and furious at, adults who had already lived a good chunk of life, most especially those who were engaging in the political posturing that I found so frightening. They had already done the things I was hoping to get a chance to do (go to college, travel, get married); it was my entire life they were threatening. In my view. I mean, looking back, I can see things differently, but that was my lived experience, the fear and rage. I think I even got a letter to the editor published in some local paper, when I was particularly angry about something a columnist said. That just came back to me, as I write this. I don’t remember the exact topic, but I do remember that it felt better to write about my fears, that I was amazed when the letter was published, and that the columnist was still rather patronizing in his response. But at least someone heard me.

Now, that fear keeps cropping up, strangely familiar. I do think that it’s more likely than not that we’ll somehow muddle through, avoiding the ultimate disaster, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be various smaller yet still serious disasters along the way. And I am enraged by the fear. Enough to take action, in various small ways—sending e-mails, making phone calls—but also enough to be determined to refuse it. I will not live in fear again. I have, now, had the life I wanted to have. Not enough of it; I definitely hope to live as long as my father has, in equally good health and enjoyment of life. But I have reached my 50s, achieved college and graduate school and a highly rewarding job, traveled quite a lot, married a wonderful man. It’s been good.

So my goal is to be one of Carolyn See’s “hedonists . . . too enchanted by [my own life] to get excited by Death descending,” to go on “making love, or napping, or fixing dinner,” to do the things I find meaningful and enjoyable. Teach my students, write my articles, brush my cats, tend my garden, eat raspberries and re-read my favorite books. If we muddle through, I don’t want to have lost these years (as I lost a chunk of my youth that could have been a lot more fun than it was). If we don’t, I want to enjoy the end of my life. I want to fill it with music, dance, art, beauty, pleasure, joy. I want to refuse the fear and instead appreciate every mundane moment, every bite of chocolate, every sun-shot afternoon, every meal I cook. This is my rebellion. This is the flag I will fly: love of life.

Golden Days

“On the whole, they say, people got what they expected. The generals and the military were very hard hit. A certain kind of women and children were devastated. . . . But, as in any catastrophe, there were the crackpots who hadn’t paid much attention; the ones who, in a sense, went on playing poker through the quake. They were the dumb ones, the sissies, the . . . hedonists who were too enchanted by their own lives to get excited by Death descending.

“The ones I know who lived were the ones who had been making love, or napping, or fixing dinner, when the End came, or the ones at the beach—who still talked about the great crystallization of the sand, the ones far out windsurfing who dove beneath the waves and felt the whole Pacific turn lukewarm, the ones whose boats were out on the far side of Catalina when it happened and hove to, sailing back out of pure curiosity. And, of course, all of the scrabbling canyon weirdos, who saw the whole global collapse as just another brush fire.”

Carolyn See (1934-2016), Golden Days (McGraw Hill, 1987), 192-193.