The red basket

Stuff. Things. Memories. Do you keep them, why do you keep them, do you really want them or do you have a sense of obligation (= guilt) about them? Would you rather just move on and be who you are now, and forget about the path that brought you here? Do you hang onto things, or to people, for the sake of children or other people down the generational line? Or is that another reason to get rid of things and cut ties?

My mother died ten years ago. My father is in assisted living. My brothers have been clearing out my parents’ last house (not somewhere any of us ever lived). Since my parents themselves cleared out the house we grew up in (and what a job that was), and then there were two more houses, one of which burned down after they moved out but while there was still stuff in storage there, much of the Stuff in my dad’s house is things he dragged home in the last 15 years or so. It doesn’t have feelings attached. And we have all taken a lot of things we wanted already.

Nonetheless, Stuff kept turning up when we all went to the house together. Things we thought had already gone to someone: here is that set of dishes (or at least part of the set). Anyone want them? These wine glasses are worth actual money; should we try to sell them on e-Bay or just let garage-salers feel they’ve made a massive score? Here’s That Thing! Reminisce about the Thing. Do a few minutes of reminiscence suffice, or does someone want the Thing?

Since I live far away and am here only briefly, I’m shipping some Things to myself. I may yet de-accession them once I return to my Actual Real Life. But while I’m here, I can’t really tell whether I really want the Things, or just want to have seen them again.

It’s strange how many different stories there are about things. One brother assured me that a crocheted object was something our mother made for me as a baby. I told him I made it for her, a Christmas present that I worked on when I lived in Paris. I wonder how many other legends like that run through families, where people forget the origins of the pickle dish.

One of the things I think I want is a basket. A large oblong basket painted red. So many times I have looked for it when I needed something in which to take a cake or a casserole to a party, and then realized that it was never in my house, it was my mother’s basket. I don’t know why I never bought myself my own basket. Now I’m going to have the original one that I keep looking for. I hope that will be satisfying. I do wonder if I should just pitch the red basket, here, and get myself a new one at home. But this is what I mean: it’s hard to know, here, what matters, and why it matters.

Advertisements

Another book someone needs to write

I was reading Helen Cooper’s review of Richard Firth Green’s Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church, in the July 2018 Speculum (852-4), when I tripped over a line containing a quotation from Green himself: “Elfland, Green claims . . . was ‘a contested site in the struggle between the official and unofficial cultures of the Middle Ages'” (852, citing Green 2).

Now, I’m looking forward to reading Green’s book for scholarly purposes; but I really want to read an urban fantasy in which Faerie is a contested site in any struggle between human cultures. Faerie is almost always difficult to get into and hostile toward humans, so the idea that it could become a human battlefield intrigues me. I’d be fine with a medieval setting, as in the quote itself, but I’d love to see what Emma Bull (for example) could do with this. I suppose Emma Newman‘s Split Worlds series comes close, but there’s room for more of this sort of thing, IMO.

The only reason I haven’t already read Elf Queens and Holy Friars is that I’m going to have to get it ILL (thanks to budget cuts to LRU’s library and the Excellence Without Money initiative), and since I’ve been working on finishing assorted projects, I’ve held off on ILL’ing books I don’t actually need for such purposes. If it had been on our shelves I’m sure I would have snatched it. I don’t know why I didn’t buy it at K’zoo this year; that seems like uncharacteristic restraint. Maybe I was just too overwhelmed in the book exhibit, or ran into a friend at a key moment and got distracted from my buying spree.

You have ONE JOB!

Several big things are now off my plate: the application for promotion got finished in May (I need to make a minor update, but that will take about 15 minutes to fix, save, and send to the appropriate people); the house went on the market in June; the translation went to the editors in July. All of these things are now Other People’s Problems. Committees will review the application; people will or will not want the house, but I can’t make them buy it; the editors will no doubt have queries and corrections, but the bulk of the work is over.

The thing I most want to get done this summer is the last set of MMP revisions. This week, therefore, that will be my One Job. Will one week be enough to finish? Maybe, maybe not. The point is to focus on that one task, and not worry about All The Other Things.

Fun reading: Noctis Magicae

There’s a newish fantasy series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter, a Canadian writer: The Midnight Queen, Lady of Magick, and Season of Spells. I have read the first two and expect to pick up the third at my local bookstore this afternoon.

The genre is fantasy mixed with Regency romance and alternative history (the mad king is Henry XII), seasoned with a dash of Gothic. The setting is England and Scotland, mainly Oxford, London, and Edinburgh (Din Edin). The universities instruct young people (men in Oxford, but both sexes in Din Edin) in magic. Most people still worship the Roman gods, or local gods; Jews and Christians exist but are minor sects. The main characters are young, in their teens and early twenties, with lots of interesting, active women, including gay and lesbian characters. The plotting is lively. Hunter handles romance tropes with humor and some unexpected twists. Nothing too awful happens to anyone; your emotions will not be harrowed by the loss of major characters. Major characters have human flaws but are on the whole admirable (that is, nobody is a wanker like Quentin Coldwater). (I like reading books about people who behave well, or at least try to do the right thing. If I wanted to read about people behaving badly, I could pick up a newspaper or many works of literary fiction.)

Some very minor quibbles: I could live without the K on “magick,” though I expect that is part of the Regency-era flavor (eighteenth-century spelling being quite unreliable). Also—a very general complaint, not this writer’s fault, and something I would be subject to if I wrote fantasy, because of where I have traveled and what I study—I am a little tired of “Matter of Britain” fantasy and would be thrilled to read something set in (let’s say) Istanbul and Athens, or Marrakesh and Valencia. However, Hunter is very good at describing libraries and other elements of setting, and I greatly admire the verisimilitude regarding place.

Also a piece of praise that might be construed as quibblesome: the Latin in these books is decently grammatical. OMG the number of fantasy or alternative-history works I have read with grossly inaccurate Latin. This probably doesn’t bother most people, but I am not most people. Thank you, Ms. Hunter, for your language skills.

I enjoyed the first two very much and am looking forward to the third (and more?). Excellent fun reading/ quality brain candy.

 

An era ends

We’re done with the translation. It’s going to go to the editors this week. No doubt they will have queries and corrections, and at some point there will be proofs to correct (I love correcting proofs because they STAY DONE), but that’s all just fiddly bits. We have in fact finished.

I haven’t blogged that much about this project, though it appears regularly in various writing group posts, because it has all been fairly straightforward work. Find the right words; decide what elements need footnotes; for the intro, describe our methods and the manuscript, and sum up what is known about author, patron, date, and so on. The translation has never made me struggle with figuring out an argument, stating it succinctly, and supporting it appropriately without wandering down some by-way of digression, all the elements that give me fits when writing articles and chapters. However, because we’re translating a very very long medieval text, and working as a team each with individual interruptions and other projects, it has taken years to complete. Longer than I anticipated; but not so long as one of our editors jokingly suggested back in the beginning.

Although there have been periods sometimes amounting to months when I have done no translation work, it has assuredly been part of my mental load throughout the whole process, and I have often felt guilty about not getting on with it. Now I can put down that nagging feeling, and enjoy the feeling of achievement (keeping in mind the inevitable queries and proofs; must not over-schedule self this year such that dealing with them will produce overload).

Possibly NOW I can really do what I always say I am going to do, and work on one thing at a time until that thing is done. And read. I have another very very long medieval text that I bought at K’zoo this year, with which I would like to get acquainted. I am not going to write about it. I have a list of projects to work on already! Just read.

I promise.

Fighting the Bishop

“Colonel Weatherhead was pulling up Bishop-weed in his garden. He had a fearful tussle with the Bishop every Autumn, for the Bishop was entrenched in a thorn hedge at the bottom of the garden near the river, and however much of him Colonel Weatherhead managed to eradicate there was always enough root left embedded in the thickest part of the hedge to start him off again next year. Colonel Weatherhead had a kind of sneaking admiration for the Bishop—here was an enemy, worthy of his steel—. The Colonel went for him tooth and nail, he dug and tore and burned the Bishop, and the sweat poured off him in rivulets.” (D. E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle’s Book [London: Herbert Jenkins, 1936], 78)

A bit later, the Colonel is trying to persuade his fiancée to marry him sooner rather than later, and they find themselves at cross-purposes:

“Why not? . . . it’s absolutely the hand of Providence pointing. The weather is as foul as your drains, and my Bishop is done for—”

“Who is your Bishop?” interrupted Dorothea somewhat irritably for such a good-natured woman. “Who on earth is your Bishop? You’ve been talking about him for ages, and I don’t see what he has got to do with our getting married—”

Colonel Weatherhead roared with laughter. “Good Heavens! I thought everyone in Silverstream had heard about my Bishop—I can’t be such a garrulous old bore after all—have I never told you about my struggles with the brute every autumn?”

“Never,” said Dorothea primly, “and I really do not think you should speak of a Bishop in that way, Robert dear. He may be very trying at times—I am sure he is—but after all we must remember that he is consecrated—consecrated with oil,” said Dorothea vaguely, “and therefore—”

“It’s a weed,” gasped the Colonel between his spasms of laughter. “Bishop—weed—it grows in my hedge—it has roots like an octopus—” (99-199).

 

You see! Not only is bishop’s-weed a dreadful opponent, but the octopus reference reminds me of my very own octopus, otherwise known as the MMP. No wonder I’m still in difficulty with the last vestiges of it.

Thanks, Clarissa

I started reading Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl yesterday, and it took me awhile to realize that it’s a retelling of Taming of the Shrew (although I did notice the coincidence of names). The love interest, Pyotr, doesn’t seem to want to tame Kate. He likes her fine the way she is. In chapter one, he beams approvingly as he says of Kate, “Just like the girls in my country. So rude-spoken.” When Kate suggests the term “women,” he says, “Yes, they also. The grandmothers and the aunties.” Later he says, “It is evident you could choose any husband you want. You are very independent girl. Woman. You are very independent woman and you have the hair that avoids beauty parlors and you resemble dancer.”

From Clarissa’s descriptions of Ukrainians, I recognize that Pyotr is probably absolutely accurate and truly attracted to Kate. Although I’m exceedingly happy in my marriage, he sounds pretty good to me, far more interesting and worthwhile than most of the Romantic Heroes of Romance. Romance writers please take note! We need more Ukrainian heroes. Kthxbai.

RBOC summer

  • All is well, or as well as it’s going to be, w/r/t my dad. One of my brothers is learning about the difficulties of figuring out what questions to ask, and of whom. I sympathize.
  • I will be heading to Family Land in August. I accepted that I need to do this and booked the whole trip all in one go this week, instead of hemming and hawing and spending hours comparing different flights and cars.
  • I wrote 500 words today. Or typed them. I wrote a version of them on Tuesday, but today’s typing of that paragraph led to a certain amount of editing. So I’m counting both days as writing 500 words.
  • Am I done reviewing chunks of translation? Can this even be possible? There must be something else that I’ve forgotten to do there. I will be translating that massive text for the rest of my life, I’m convinced. “Done” is a hallucination, or at least a highly temporary state.
  • I’ve been putting together a list of manuscript-related vocabulary for my fall grad class.
  • We’re a week into July . . . yipes . . . I really do need to think about fall classes. The heat wave of a few days ago has broken and the weather is perfect today. I’d love to do something outside. Preferably not weeding, although of course that is always an option.
  • Weeding would arguably be better than cleaning the garage. Bleaching the litter boxes would be better than cleaning the garage.
  • Things I have been reading lately: D. E. Stevenson’s novels. Early novels of E. M. Delafield, available in an omnibus Kindle edition for a buck. Reading six of them in a row mainly convinced me that Victorian child-rearing left terrible scars on a lot of people, especially Delafield. Since her later novels (Provincial Lady!) are more comic, did she get over it? Or just move on? A. S. Byatt’s The Biographer’s Tale, which I didn’t care for; it felt like a cut-rate version of Possession, which I prefer. Also, L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, a romance with a plain 29-year-old heroine who gets life-changing news and starts telling her horrible relatives what she really thinks of them. Plays with romance tropes in delightful and original ways. Rather gushy descriptions of Canadian forests (which completely omit the black flies), but I skimmed those bits.
  • Maybe I’ll do the litter boxes and half an hour of something else useful and then sit outside with sherry and potato chips.

Oh, dear

My dad is at risk of being kicked out of his assisted living facility. He has a week to turn his behavior around. What’s that saying about old dogs?

I complain about my brothers from time to time but I am so glad I’m not the only kid my father has. The brothers are going to have to deal with this.

My qualifications

In case any of Ganching’s readers wonder where I get the authority to pronounce on dirty words in Chaucer, I have taught 47 classes titled “Chaucer,” at undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. seminar levels, plus two independent studies on his works. I have read everything Chaucer ever wrote, usually more than once, usually more than four times (it’s true that once was enough for the Treatise on the Astrolabe). Although I consider myself a scholar of medieval romance, I have published on Chaucer pedagogy.

When I counted up the 47 sections, in the process of compiling my promotion application, I was so horrified that work stopped on the application for several days while I processed the realization. There was even one year when all I taught was Chaucer: five courses. I had repressed that. Possibly the powers that be were trying to minimize my preps at that point, because I was applying for tenure? Except I think that I had just applied . . . maybe it was supposed to be a reward after getting the application in? I don’t actually like teaching multiple sections of anything. I’d rather have all different classes, so I don’t have to keep sections in sync, or try to remember whether I’ve done the medieval demographics lecture in this class or not, or whether I’m repeating myself in one section and never saying something important to the other one. So that was a vile, vile year.

Despite the existence of books like Chaucer’s Bawdy and people like Carissa Harris who study rude drawings in Chaucer manuscripts, Chaucer is far more given to innuendo than to open obscenity. His rudest word is probably swyve, a word I’m fond of, but whose register seems to be roughly like that of screw in modern English. He does use shete (shit) on occasion, as well. When it comes to female genitalia, he prefers French belle chose, pretty thing, and queynte, with all its available puns (quenched, quaint). I recall (but am too lazy to look up) a discussion by some august critic (Larry Benson? John Fleming?) that considered translating the famous phrase from the Miller’s Tale as “he caught her by the elegant.” I believe this possibility was then dismissed, but I quite like it, and think it goes nicely with “belle chose,” the Wife of Bath’s choice for what it is men want of her.

Traybake’s assertions, however, make me wonder if there is a translation into modern English that uses ruder words than Chaucer did, or if it’s just that some students are so shocked to see any non-latinate reference to genitalia in Great Literature that they remember such references as cruder than they are. Students can be funny critters. They sometimes try to shock me by asking questions about words like queynte, and then they get the full philological lecture, with dictionary displays and etymology, which ought to bore them into quiescence. But usually it makes them decide I’m unexpectedly cool.