Six on Saturday: frosty morning

Hello, blog and blog-world! I’m not dead, though buried in grading and admin tasks. This morning I put on wellies to go fetch the paper and take a few pictures while I was outside. The air temperature was 33F, so there was light frost on the grass, too light to get a good picture of it. Here are my six:

The sedum has lost its color, the marigolds are a little bedraggled but still bright, and the lantana is bravely hanging on though frost-bitten (I read about someone over-wintering it inside, and considered trying, but first looked up whether it is poisonous to cats: it is, so I’m not going to chance it).

Honorine Jobert is still looking beautiful, as is this pink flower (no idea what it is, please let me know if you do), and the little bulbs that I un- and re-covered back in August (#6 in this post).

Two asters continue the purple/pink theme. Ferns are dying back.

When I went round the back, I found a thin skim of ice on the birdbath.

In the vegetable garden, the marigolds are still blooming wildly. The tall stalk in their middle is a red-leaf lettuce bolted and gone to seed.

And somehow, a last outdoor tomato ripened, though it’s been nibbled by squirrels. I picked most of the others a few weeks ago (thanks to readers who advised that!), and they’ve mostly been ripening inside. I may try to make green tomato chutney of the ones that just won’t change color.

Six on Saturday is hosted by the Propagator. I haven’t even made it over there lately. Too much time in front of screens for work. You know I’m old-school. In my off time, I read actual paper books, or do the mending, or cook. Except that now we’re getting coverage of the Vuelta à España (fortunately for my insane list of tasks, our cable package did not include any channel covering the Giro d’Italia), so I will be watching some TV for the next few weeks.


I’m still living in the past and vicariously enjoying Cambridge via Maria Nikolejeva, who writes:

“We all write in different ways. I remember a writer friend was furious when I mentioned that I had finished a novel in three weeks. Obviously the reason for his rage was that no decent writing could go that fast. However, the three weeks of actual writing had been preceded by months of thinking and researching. The process of transferring words from my mind onto the computer screen was a matter of my typing skills. However, I know, or know of, writers who proudly say that they are happy if they can write a hundred words a day. Or twenty. Or ten.

“Similarly, I can write a 6,000-word scholarly article in a day, but it means that I have been thinking about it for a long time and just need to write it down. I think best when I weed the garden or, as I have started doing recently, walking at fast pace in the park. After that, I rush to my desk to record all the clever things that came to my mind during the walk. I could never sit down to write a hundred words from scratch. I just don’t function this way. But some people do. Some fellow scholars set goals for themselves: a thousand words per week? That adds up to six weeks for a 6,000-word essay. Sounds reasonable, but it includes thinking and researching. If you intend to publish two articles a year, what are you doing the rest of the time?”

This sounds wonderful if you can do it. I don’t write in my head, or anywhere but on paper or on-screen. I know many people who “write in their heads,” and once had a professor, in grad school, who advised me to go for a walk and think through a writing problem I had come to see him about. Then as now, I could/can set out on a walk with the firm intention of thinking through a problem, and within a few paces become absorbed in looking at flowers, birds, the veining on leaves, clouds in the sky, unusual numbers of cars in a neighbor’s driveway, in waving at the kid playing in his yard, listening to birds or the wind, smelling burning leaves or dinners cooking, and otherwise being engaged in my immediate physical surroundings. Anything so abstract as writing or problem-solving takes not just a back seat but another bus entirely.

This is (part of) what I mean when I say I am one of Nature’s contemplatives. I contemplate what is near me, not anything abstract. If you put me in a blank-walled room, I could go into my imagination and amuse myself for quite some time. I might even be able to “write in my head,” in such conditions. I’m not sure that I’d be able to recall that “writing” when I was back with paper or screen, however.

What am I doing the rest of the time? Reading and thinking; transcribing wills and IPMs written in Latin, in secretary hand; struggling to turn “hey, that’s cool!” moments into actual coherent arguments (I suspect this is something that head-writers are doing in their heads, but again, I lose the thread pretty fast if I’m not making physical notes).

And, of course, prepping classes and grading. I am very behind on grading just now. Hence the procrastiblogging.

The dreaded annual report

It’s a relief to know that even famous professors at Cambridge hate putting together their annual reports (or did, ten years ago):

“I am spending – wasting, as it were – a beautiful autumn Sunday writing an annual report. Of course it’s my own fault, I shouldn’t have put it off until the very last days, but, frankly, writing annual reports is absolutely the worst part of being an academic, worse even than Quality Assurance and Grade Adjudication put together. . . .

It is not even an annual report. It is a biennial report, summing up my achievements since I came here two years ago. I thought that when I reached the height where I am now, all this would be over and done with. I cannot climb higher (because I don’t want to be Head of Faculty, or Head or School, or Second Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor twice removed). I cannot be fired. Let me be. But no, I must write this report, with everything I’ve done since I came here – I wish I’ve kept track – with a list of publications, five most important highlighted, two academic referees from Cambridge-acknowledged institutions who must know me well, but not too well, and the worst of all, a personal statement. I am sure there are services on internet that write personal statements for anyone, although I wouldn’t quite trust them. But if I could pay somebody, from the pay increment I might get through this painful exercise, to do this for me! I find it tedious and humiliating. I understand it is necessary – or is it? So many hours, days, perhaps weeks spent every year in academia to write these reports that will be scrutinised by numerous committees, and how many hours and days do I spend writing references for other people going through the same process. Perhaps I would not make a sensational scientific discovery today, Sunday, instead of writing my report. On the other hand, who knows? I am not sure whether it was on a Sunday that Newton was hit on his head by that famous apple, but surely he was sitting and meditating in one of Cambridge’s many pretty gardens rather than writing an annual report.”

Maria Nikolojeva, Confessions of a Displaced Hedgehog: Self-Assessment, 17 October 2010