What is all that green stuff?

Fortunately, there is sunlight and something approaching warmth.

Unfortunately, that means the creeping bellflower is coming back.

Fortunately (at least for my back), the returning bellflower is in the graveled bit around the garage where I feel justified in using weedkiller rather than painstakingly digging it out.

Unfortunately, I haven’t even got around to that small task.

Fortunately, I do have this afternoon free, because Sir John is going out (which I had forgotten all about).

Unfortunately, I have lots of worky-work that needs to get done rather soon, and I may be doing that rather than gardening.

Fortunately, I’m still feeling very calm about work.

Unfortunately, I think I might need to feel rather more urgency about it, so that I get on with it instead of blogging and making extra cups of tea and all those other not-working activities.

Fortunately, I probably have good blog-fodder in a series of e-mails between my brothers.

Unfortunately (for any remaining readers) I can’t face going through them to pull out the good bits.

Fortunately for my brothers.

Unfortunately, I think I have run out of excuses.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I have only two more teaching days. Not much prep left, and not even a huge amount of grading, but various other deadlines and ancillary projects (like “buy new laptop”) are now looming large.

 

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Calm

A couple of people have called me “calm” in the last few months. This is not a word I would ever have applied to myself, so it surprises me to have it come up in both a familial and a professional setting.

My more reasonable brother said I was a calm person, based on (I suppose) his observations of my interactions with our father and other brother. The chair of my department said I seemed very calm about the process of applying for Full.

Well. Have I, perhaps, learned what is and is not important? Is it that I have dealt with far more stressful situations in the past, and so the current ones don’t seem particularly challenging? Or do I take my cues from people around me and I am currently fortunate in that they are fairly calm, so I can be, too? Maybe some of all of these.

Family is easier than it used to be. My mother’s final years were very stressful, because she constantly solicited help and then pushed it away, always with hysterical lamentations of How Awful Everything Is and how None Of Her Children Understood (she showed many signs of Borderline Personality Disorder, though she was never formally diagnosed with it). My brothers couldn’t really cope with her at all, so a lot fell to me. In comparison, my dad is a piece of cake. At his angriest and most demented, he is more straightforward and easier to deal with than my mother was. I have developed a number of mantras to help me deal with my less reasonable brother, including “Geoffrey’s gonna Geoffrey*” and “With those armpits.”

Anything work-related pretty much falls into the category of “not that important.” I do my job to the best of my ability, of course, but it’s not a life-and-death job like medicine. I’ve seen a lot of promotion applications because of sitting on a significant personnel committee, so I have a good idea of what they should look like and what the acceptable range of variation is. My colleagues support me, or they wouldn’t have invited me to apply. I have a good reputation in the college my department belongs to. It’ll all be fine.

Really, the most stressful thing in my life last week was having a journal tell me that the images I had provided were not suitable. This meant I had to scramble to learn a few things about GIMP so I could manipulate what I had (since going to England to take new photographs is not going to happen this week!). It all worked out. I’m a little behind on grading, but I’m sure that will work out too.

Lots of people have real problems, but I’m not one of them, not now anyway. So I guess I am calm.

*Not his real name, but his modus operandi is so predictable that it should certainly be a verb.

Did you just say that out loud?

I was at the vet picking up medication. A woman speaking to one of the desk staff said of her dog, “She’s the best,” and I smiled, thinking how we all think our animal companions are the best. Then she added, “She’s my child who will never leave me, not that I’m bitter about the two who who’ve grown up and gone their way.”

I stopped smiling.

Seriously?

With an attitude like that, no wonder your kids went their own way the moment they could. Did you expect them to stay small forever?

The point of having children is that you are creating future adults, people, individuals who will in their turn form partnerships, have children of their own, live lives independent of yours. Parenting is a stage of life, one that may lead to grand-parenting, but it’s not a career. If you really want to be around children all your life, become a teacher, or maybe a pediatrician or parks director, something that will put you in contact with multiple generations of kids. This would absolutely not be my choice, but I can understand people like my father who want to surround themselves with children’s energy and interest in the world, the way I want to surround myself with books. Not that I think the woman at the vet wanted to nurture generations of children. I think she wanted control and adoration, which is what she can have from her dog. I hope she had a dog all the while her kids were growing up, so that she had some focus other than the kids.

I felt like I’d heard from my mother’s ghost.

 

Faderman =? McPhee

Also from the Scholars Talk Writing series, Lillian Faderman‘s system sounds very like John McPhee‘s:

“I developed a system when I was writing my dissertation 50 years ago, and I still use it. Before I start writing a book I need to have at least the illusion that I know how it’s going to end and everything else in between.

So first I need to complete most of my research. Then I review all my research notes — which generally takes several weeks — and I decide what will be useful and where in the book I’ll use it. I’ve concocted an elaborate coding system of numbers and letters, which I give to each idea or fact I anticipate using. Then I put it all into a huge outline with key phrases followed by the numbers and letters that will let me locate the material in my notes. When I was working on The Gay Revolution, an 800-page book, I had a 75-page outline. For my Harvey Milk biography, which is about 250 pages, my outline was 20 pages.

But when I finally start writing I veer away from the outline almost as often as I follow it — which is fine. The outline’s biggest purposes are to be a sort of Dewey Decimal System, to tell me where in my voluminous notes I’ll find things; to remind me of the ideas I want to develop; and to suggest their possible order.”

I wish someone would describe the coding system, any coding system, in more detail. I suppose it’s one of those things that is more useful when worked out for oneself, but some insight into a working system would be helpful in creating/adapting one’s own.

Note that she thinks in terms of Dewey Decimal! Once I discovered the Library of Congress system, I never looked back. It all depends on what you’re used to, I suppose.

Writing links

The Chronicle has a series called “Scholars Talk Writing.” Quite a lot of the scholars (and creative writers) talk about writing for a general audience, which tends to make me cross, because I write for a very specialized audience and I’m not apologizing for that. But I liked some of the pieces quite a lot. Anthony Grafton on patience:  a writer needs “to learn to be patient enough to wait until you have an idea of where you want a piece to go.”  Ruth Behar on revision: “I’ll go through this revision process several times. What I usually discover is that I’m not done when I think I’m done. There’s always more revision to do.”

I loved Helen Sword on the various ways we have of approaching writing (not a single “right” way): “Not only did very few of the academics I talked with follow the recommended practices; many of them actually reported engaging in behaviors that the writing guides explicitly warn against, such as ‘binge writing’ or writing only when they feel like it. . . . Successful academics don’t necessarily write every day, but they’re constantly strategizing about how and when they’ll get their writing done. They don’t necessarily consider themselves to be ‘stylish writers'” but they care deeply about wordcraft. They don’t necessarily enjoy every aspect of the writing process, but they relish the challenge of communicating complex ideas to others. These core attitudes and attributes remained fairly constant across nearly all the writers I interviewed.”

With those armpits

Marcus Aurelius explains it all to you:

“Don’t be irritated at people’s smell or bad breath. What’s the point? With that mouth, with those armpits, they’re going to produce that odor.

–But they have a brain! Can’t they figure it out? Can’t the recognize the problem?

So you have a brain as well. Good for you. Then use your logic to awaken his. Show him. Make him realize it. If he’ll listen, then you’ll have solved the problem. Without anger.”

The Meditations, trans. Gregory Hays (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 5:28 (p. 62).

Unclear on the concept

Back in March, the Economist’s columnist Bagehot opined, on the rise of authoritarianism, “Such extremism is self-reinforcing. Angry people feed on each other’s anger, sensible people retreat into private life, and institutions are weakened in the tussle.”*

A letter in the March 31 issue expressed gratitude for this “miserable truth,” and said, “Believing myself to be one of those sensible people I am at a loss for what to do. I would like to rally against the forces of all that is unreasonable . . . . But . . . I can’t for the life of me think of how to proceed. How do you rally the reasonable?”**

You don’t. You retreat into private life, like a sensible person. Cultivez votre jardin. You experience, and model, calm and rational responses to those things you can control, and let go of those you cannot control. You refuse the adrenaline rush of knowing all the latest outrages, refuse to feed anger, refuse your attention to the tantrum-throwing public figures, refuse to expend your energy on people and ideas who don’t deserve it.

Strategic retreat is not the worst idea.

*The Economist, March 10-16, 2018, p. 60.

**The Economist, March 31-April 6, 2018, p. 20.

When Reading Is Doing

It’s Saturday morning, sunny though cold, and I have loads of things I could pick out to do: stretch, go to the gym, pack/de-clutter, grade (the current batch of papers look quite good; this will not be a purgatorial task), work on my application for Full, work on The Last Overdue Revisions, color while the light is good, play with my kitties, futz about on the Internet (oh wait . . .), and what do I do? Put together a bibliography for an article I want to write, on a text I’m teaching, a text that hasn’t received enough attention IMHO. I’ve ILL’d one essay, and I can get several others in hard copy at my library, and there’s one book I’m dying to get my hands on that may require a field trip because there are about 7 copies in the world and they don’t circulate.

(Another obsessive un-answerable question: why are there not copies in UK depository libraries, when it was published in the 20th century in London and copies are supposed to go the BL, the Bod, and CUL? Did someone not send them? Did someone not catalog them? Are they somehow catalogued by something other than author and title? I have poked around in the online catalogues, and I do know how to use them, and this book does not turn up. My lawful-good-J side is deeply disturbed: something went wrong in the book world. I tell you, were I not an English professor I would need to be a Literature Detective.)

Someday when I’m futzing about online I really should create a blogroll. I spend quite a bit of time reading blogs by delightful-sounding women who enjoy food, crafts, gardening, restoring old houses, and similar pursuits that I prefer reading about to doing. Despite all the well-meant advice on the Chron fora and similar places about Getting A Life and Pursuing Hobbies Outside of Work, what I really want to do, what I get excited about and spend sunny Saturday mornings on, is reading, researching, and writing. I’ve tried the gardening, restoring, crafts, and so on. They sound like fun. The results look good. But I just don’t get fired up about things I can do with my hands. Except write, which is manual labor, as Colette said.

I have other projects I need to finish right now, so this putative article will go on The List (I have learned the hard way not to get distracted by the New Shiny). Someday I will get to it, and my future self will be happy to have the core bibliography assembled and some basic thoughts outlined. Maybe next spring, when I hope to teach this text again.

Burying the lede in a post-break post

How did it get to be Thursday already? Not only that, but the second Thursday post-spring break? I think someone greased the downhill slide toward the end of the term (wheeeee!). I have grading to do (but of course), and yet another editorial query about the MMP to answer (please can this be the last one? Please?), miles to go on the translation (though I am past the halfway point), and visions of my other sidelined projects dancing in my head. I also have thoughts about posts on dealing with trauma around intellectual issues, and on dealing with de-cluttering and de-accessioning Significant Objects, but not enough time to develop these thoughts in writing.

Because the reward for a job well done is another job, I have about seven weeks to complete another large writing and organizing project. My department thinks I’m ready to apply for promotion to Full Professor, and I’m not going to wait around another year just because I have deadlines looming and would like to knock out the last set of overdue revisions and am trying to pack up everything Not Wanted On Voyage so we can move, not to mention keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to make another sudden trip to FamilyLand. I have been writing hard for the last few years, trying to get un-stuck from my long sojourn as Associate Professor, and if the department is willing to support my bid for Full, I am by all the gods going up now, not later.

So either posting will be thin(ner) on the ground for a bit, or there will be lots of it as a self-soothing and/or procrastinatory measure. You just never know.