Thankful for a 30-year conversation

Thirty-something years ago, I started graduate school. In the first week of classes, maybe even the first day, I met a fantastically glamorous, vivacious, self-assured woman sporting bright red lipstick and an enormous amethyst ring. I wanted to be her friend, if she’d have me.

Apparently I was the intellectually intimidating powerhouse who spoke seldom but to devastating effect [= terrified, determined not to put my foot in my mouth, rushed off to the library to look up anything I didn’t know, then tried to speak intelligently about it next time, thus perpetually feeling behind the conversation, = terrified], whom she wanted for a friend, if I’d have her.

It’s funny now to think that we met so long ago, because then we were actively working on leaving our pasts behind, and creating our new, Ivy-educated grown-up selves. But we were still our old selves! We were both engaged to old boyfriends (for a little bit longer) and had not yet got involved with, or in her case even met, the Grad School Boyfriend/First Husband. We found we had the same position in our family-of-origin constellation. Our difficult mothers were both still alive. “Home” was where it had always been, the same parental house. Our adult selves were emerging, but many formative experiences were still ahead of us. Through the grad school years, we shared a lot of them in real time.

Over the months, then decades, we’ve talked repeatedly about families, jobs, men, clothes, self-presentation, therapy, etiquette, children (whether, when, how, with whom, raising and teaching thereof), parents, changing self-perception, getting older, friends, plans, roots and connections (making, keeping, breaking), writing, teaching, puzzles and games literal and psychological, cats, academia, changing careers (whether, to what, how), illness, death, divorce, new relationships, inspiration, in-laws, travel, religion, exercise, cooking, shopping, transformations. Everything important, really. We used to meet over breakfast, or for coffee and a muffin. Now we mostly communicate by e-mail, and occasionally catch up on the phone, when we restore our sense of the other’s physical voice, breathing life into the written “voice” of our messages. I don’t know where the years have gone. But the person who was once new, who knew nothing of my past and could accept me as the person I wanted to be, now knows everything important about me. She is my witness.

Thrashing

I’ve written before about thrashing, or at least referred to it. Today I am having trouble getting started on anything because there are so many things that need attention, and even writing them down (so I don’t have to keep them in active memory) isn’t helping. Even thinking about starting something (anything) prompts my brain to say “No! This other thing!” I’ve done a couple of relatively limited things with truly immediate deadlines, but now I’m starting on circuit of “must grade/write/work out/pay bills,” with a side of “Work out or swim? Grade old essays or new ones?”

And now that I’ve got this far, I remember the set of proofs that are due tomorrow, so I guess there’s another limited thing with immediate deadline that I can tackle. Unfortunately, that just sets off alarms about “long term goals, health and exercise, write first, graaaaading.”

Today also comes with the added annoyance of technical trouble with my personal e-mail. It’s past time to switch to a new provider, but I’ve been trying to put this off till after the end of the semester. Further, I know my brothers are not going to be able to remember the new one; sometime in all the uproar about my dad last year, it became clear that one of them had been trying to update me via an address that had been defunct for at least five years.

I wish my inner nag would just shut up.

Heidegger is a boozy beggar

On a good day, when I am adequately rested and caffeinated and the brain is properly in gear, I can just about cope with some of the French philosophizers and theorists: Bourdieu, Saussure, even Derrida.

I don’t so much get on with the Germans.

Someone among my colleagues, presumably whoever has taught the theory class in recent years, seems to be playing for the German team in that famous soccer football match (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5fGSBsfq8). So my graduate students keep coming up with references to Habermas, Hegel, and Heidegger, and I give them blank looks and ask them to go back to the primary (medieval) texts, and to look, literally just look at a manuscript page and tell me what they see there besides words: describe the layout and the paratextual elements such as headers. They look at me. I look brightly and expectantly back.

It’s nice to be old enough that I really don’t care about the things I don’t know. That is, not that I’m done learning things, but I don’t get the panicked feeling that I really ought to know about Hegel and if I don’t I’m a big fraud and will never get tenure. I know what I know. If the grads are deliberately trying to impress me, well, that’s not the way to go; and if they’re trying to show that they know something I don’t, I’m sure there are loads of things they know that I don’t but my job is to teach them my stuff (and leave someone else to teach them to tell the Germans from the Greeks). If they’re trying to hand-wave their way out of being able to explain an idea, I’m absolutely the wrong audience. Explain it to me in words of one or two syllables, without reference to jargon, and we’ll see how well you understand it.

Where the day went

0540 alarm goes off. I hit snooze and pull some clothing into bed with me so it will warm up.

0545 alarm goes off again, and I get up and dress, feed cats, make tea, boil eggs, toast waffles.

0645 wake up Sir John to say goodbye.

The drive to campus took one hour and twenty minutes, during which I ate breakfast and listened to foreign language radio. I arrived in time to make a second cup of tea before

0830 Latin group.

0930 half an hour of “writing” (actually reviewing an outline and comments on a previous draft, and writing 75 words of notes about what to do.

1000 assorted teaching-prep activities, including answering e-mail from a student who needs a lot of hand-holding. I do some research to figure out what s/he should read, and make general suggestions designed to lead Stu to find these works.

1100 teach in the classroom.

1200 eat lunch and read some of TenthMedieval and the medieval frontiers blog. Translate a sentence of Greek. Wander the building to warm up; encounter a colleague and chat for a bit.

1245 meet with another student to discuss paper draft.

1300 bibliography search: trying to find a suitable critical essay to assign to undergrads; adjust syllabus accordingly; place announcement on the CMS.

1330 take care of some administrative doodah that is due today. Further e-mailing, including forwarding to chair and undergrad director a nice message from a former student who has achieved an advanced degree and a job.

1430 pack up to leave office. Combination of walk/drive/train until I reach home at 1715. On the train, I plan out the week in my Moleskine and start doing a bit of planning for year-end review/setting 2019 goals. I also read 20 pages or so of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, and take another look at the outline/comments from the morning research session.

1715 sort mail, make tea, investigate the whereabouts of cats, feed cats.

1745 eat dinner with Sir John, play a couple of Lexulous moves while he reads me bits out of the morning’s newspaper, which I have not seen at all.

1820 start thinking about how to spend the evening. Probably play with the cats, read some more, take a bath and go to bed early. When it’s dark at 1700, I have trouble staying awake for more than a few more hours.

 

(Self)Promotion

My application has passed another level of inspection, the one after which all the rest is rubber-stamping. So, although I’ll be getting another couple of letters of approval as the process takes its course, I am now certain that as of next spring, I will be a full professor.

It has taken me a long time, and I’m happy to achieve this goal. It might have happened sooner if the MMP had been less recalcitrant, but research takes the time it takes. Anyway: Yay!

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.

Odds and ends

I cherish the fond illusion that I file/recycle/toss paperwork every 3-6 months, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Very otherwise. However, today I have tackled stacks of paper. As usually happens when things pile up for long enough, I have been able to recycle large quantities, including early drafts of two essays for which I have now corrected proofs, print-outs of conference papers given three and four years ago, and receipts associated with those conferences.

Still on my desk:

*a program from a conference four years ago, in a place I particularly enjoyed;

*instructions for my phone. which I seem to have got on quite well without;

*a two-year pocket calendar for 2014-2015;

*a postcard from Hull;

*a paper written by a graduate student for a course I taught, which I think I kept because in theory I am on the student’s dissertation committee (in practice, I don’t think the student has submitted any work yet);

*receipts from this year’s stay in Kalamazoo;

*a stack of references to things I mean to read for scholarly purposes;

*a set of newspaper clippings referring to books I have thought of reading for pleasure, along the lines of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey and Her Brilliant Career;

*a handout from a paper at this year’s K’zoo with my notes connecting the paper to one I’m thinking of writing;

*a check re-order form;

*an important piece of paper I should have put in my safe deposit box four years ago but which at this point is probably irrelevant;

*a chapter draft with marginal comments from discussion with my writing group;

*the label with which to return printer ink cartridges for recycling;

*a certificate, in Spanish and English, testifying to my having given a paper at a conference in a Spanish-speaking country.

Snapshot of my desk/life.

 

Slightly brain-dead

Yesterday I turned in my application for promotion, along with a crate (literally) of supporting evidence. Sir John asked a few times why I kept referring to “the crate.” That is what my department calls it; each applicant gets a plastic storage crate in which to assemble paper copies of everything: publications, syllaboi, sample assignments, and so on. It will take at least four months to get through the next stages, possibly longer depending on how many cases the college level has to look at and whether any of them are controversial. The rubber-stamping stages will drag out the process for another six months or so.

But you know my motto: any excuse is a good excuse for champagne. Some members of my writing group accompanied me for a celebratory glass of wine yesterday (the only place open in mid-afternoon didn’t have anything sparkly on the menu). I’ll crack a bottle every time I hear anything. Last night, however, my main celebration involved a novel in the bathtub: Marina Endicott’s The Little Shadows, about three Canadian sisters in vaudeville in the 1910s. It’s divided up into short scenes of 2-3 pages that make it fatally easy to read just a little more . . . and just a little more . . . I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it’s an all-time favorite, but it was fun. I got the recommendation from ClothesInBooks, whose author seems to have similar tastes to mine, both in books and in interest in clothes.

In short, I stayed up far too late and got up at almost my usual time this morning, so I’m a little tired. I plan to do nothing much today (some housework, gym, gardening, more reading). Tomorrow will be time enough to get back to work.

A hole in the literature

I celebrated the start of summer by re-reading most of the Dinny Gordon books (my library is missing one), and then settled in to correct some proofs.

And I thought that I would love to read a book about grown-up Dinny as an archaeologist, correcting proofs for an article about her latest finds or reconstructions, or about her in college. So I searched for “Dinny Gordon” and “fanfic,” and came up blank.

Someone needs to do something about this.

It’s true that there are some archeology blogs, like Old Stuff in Hot Places, and Middle Savagery, which have entertained me for hours (as well as banished my lingering regret that I didn’t stick with my childhood desire to be an archeologist; I am clearly much, much better off in the library than breathing corpse dust). But I would love to find out how Dinny weathered the sixties and seventies, and hear about her experiences in academia, and perhaps even find out what she’s doing now: has she retired, is she thinking about it, or is she determined to stick at her job as long as she can because she loves it so much?

I have other things to write, but I can imagine doing a grown-up Dinny novel as a group project. Any takers? Anyone want to take up the challenge on their own?

Idle Google-stalking is not a good idea

Apart from the waste of time. I looked up a former student . . . who has published more books than I have.

Granted, that is not difficult, since I have not yet published any book. And we’re not talking academic presses, or even well-regarded commercial presses. The student was certainly both talented and a go-getter, or I wouldn’t even remember the name after all this time.

Hrrmph. I shall contemplate the glories of the completed MMP for a bit, and then get back to the Next Thing.

Maybe someone from my past will Google-stalk me and be impressed, and slink back into the woodwork.