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.

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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.”

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.

Spring break, day the last

It was all too short.

It did start later than intended, since I did not sleep well (despite sitting, exercise, and a feeling of accomplishment: what’s up with that?). I stretched, walked, and worked out. I did some cooking. I re-stained the front porch and polished the mailbox. I did further sorting and consolidating of boxes in the basement. I (re)read for classes. I finished another translation chunk and uploaded it. I prepped for my dawn departure, including going to bed early . . . and once again did not sleep well.

However, caffeine and the stimulation of being in the classroom got me through the morning. We’ll see whether I can stay on track in the afternoon. I do have some mindless tasks, like scanning a short text, and returning books, so I’ll be able to do those if my thinking ability shuts down. It’s too bad I’ve finished all the dumb online form-filling I’m required to do every semester, because those are perfect tasks for tired days.

Spring Break, day 8: bins

Still awesome: sat again, read more of the scholarly book I’ve been working on (am nearly halfway through now), reviewed a large chunk of translation, stretched, did 35 minutes of cardio at the gym. Then Sir John and I tackled the basement together. We filled the garbage bin and the recycling bin, and when I took a carload of things to Goodwill, the nice young man who helped me unload had to bring out a second wheeled bin after we filled the first one. Now I am tired and would like to be done for the day. Sir John is doing the grocery shopping, so when he gets back, I’ll need to help put stuff away, and then cook.

I wish the whole break had been like today and yesterday. That was what I was planning. Had all the days been like this, I think we’d be ready to have the house photographed. As it is, we may still need another week, and that’s if I can get all my professorial work done on campus and spend my home days doing house stuff.

Also, taxes.

At least I paid the bills last night.

Day 7: finally awesome!

Finally, a day on which I both felt well and did not have any social or other commitments.

I even woke up extra early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I started the day soon after six, always a bonus. I sat, the first time in ages; may it augur well for future mornings. I read a section of the scholarly book I’ve been working on, stretched, studied a little of a dead language, worked through a large hunk of translation and uploaded a chunk, and did a little tinkering with the copy-edits of the MMP. Alas, the document I received earlier in the week was not, in fact, proofs, but an earlier stage in the editing process, with a few requests for further citations and details. (Once I felt that I could not quit this project; now it will not quit me.) I visited a library to check one of these references. I got my hair cut, went to the bank, bought vitamins, and visited the gym. I have added the library reference and sent the document back to the editor . . . who is out of the country on a research trip. I am envious. But at least I’m back to the MMP being on someone else’s desk rather than mine.

I still need to pay bills, rather urgently now. Maybe this evening while we’re watching more Enterprise.

The MMP and some thoughts about lists

If you thought I was done with the MMP, you’d almost be right. I finished it. And then I did revisions, and put together the huge honking bibliography, and wrote an abstract. I was asked for more revisions, and I have just finished those and sent the thing off again. I hope not to see anything more about it until I get page proofs.

After a brief look at the last round of revisions, I thought they looked very manageable, and spent most of February not-doing them. That is, I was constantly aware that I should be working on them, and always found something else to do, partly because there really are plenty of things to do, and partly because I am so tired of hacking at that Octopus. A few days ago I untangled one of the most gnarly paragraphs, a Frankenstein’s monster of a paragraph that had pieces from two or three different iterations smashed together (and I’m not sure how it survived my last re-write, but these things happen). This morning I spent four hours not-working on the MMP: some productive procrastination, and some pure online sulking/avoidance. In the end, the actual work took the two hours I thought it should. I just . . . I don’t know. I think I was afraid of finding some enormous glaring mistake or omission if I looked at my essay again.

Anyway, done. And now I can do taxes, or grade, or some other useful thing. Ugh. I wonder if I procrastinated this morning so that I could do One Main Thing with my day, rather than cramming in many many useful pieces of work. The one-item list is so clear, so focused, so satisfying. I like getting big things done: sending off a submission, grading a whole set of papers. Many tasks have to be chipped away at, over time, and some of them feel like death by a thousand paper cuts. Even though I have plenty of evidence from my own work and life that chipping away over time produces results, it never feels as satisfying to say “I have done today’s stint” as it is to say “I am DONE.”

Some things really do have to be done all at once. Painting the basement stairs, for example, which I did a couple of days ago. Who’s going to paint one step a day?

I had a bunch of stuff on my February list that I realize is just not likely to happen until summer. It’s important, desirable, useful life stuff that I’m never going to get to while teaching, writing, translating, doing (or not-doing) tax prep, and getting my house ready to sell. Something has to give, and it is going to be those things.

Well, that’s new

Inspired by posts by XYkadimqz and Undine, I took the same Myers-Briggs test they did, because despite my skepticism about these things (they’re like horoscopes for intelligent people), they are fun (like horoscopes). Huh. This one pegs me as ISTP, the Virtuoso. I don’t think so. Or maybe my professional persona took the test, because I can see my classroom self as the Virtuoso (Psycho Vigilante, in my preferred version of the types). I hadn’t seen the Assertive-Turbulent axis before, either, and I’m not sure what it adds.

Other times I’ve taken the test, I’ve come out as ISTJ (the Logistician, in this version’s parlance; or The Thought Police, in this one), INTP (Logician/the Egghead), or, once, INTJ (Architect/Outside Contractor). I don’t think I’m really INTJ, because Sir John is very strongly INTJ so I know well what that type is like, and it’s not me. I’m very strongly I and T, no question on either of those (and no doubt why Sir John and I are so well-suited). On the S-N and J-P axes, though, I’m pretty close to the middle, so mood, recent experiences, and who knows what else can tip me one way or the other. Broadly speaking, I’m more S than a lot of academics are, but a whole lot more N than many people, and on J vs P, situation, context, and health have a huge influence. That is, by nature I may be more a planner and an organizer, but living with chronic illness has taught me to be flexible. Some days the plans are just not going to happen. In some areas, like meal plans (hi, Undine!) I want room for flexibility and creativity. And if I have an exciting idea, hell yes, I want to get it written down before I lose track of it. Because my mind is not an opera house. It’s more like a very dim, dusty, outrageously cluttered attic with generations’ worth of trunks and boxes and piles of junk. God knows what all is in there. It’s sure not in any order. If I make lists, I may very well not feel like doing anything on them and find something else to do instead, but without them I will fail to do all kinds of important things.

Salud, Mateo!

January was long in the sense that it was hard to believe so much happened in just 31 days. February is looking like being long the other way, dragging on through cold, snowy days that all seem fairly similar. There’s plenty of work to do, of course. I could make this a month of Grading All The Things, or Writing All The Assignments, or Finishing All The Revisions. I certainly need to Assemble All The Tax Documents.

Considering all those options to pass a snowy day at home (at least I didn’t have to drive to campus) makes me want to go get in a hot bath with a glass of sherry. Wasn’t there a time and place when sherry and biscuits were acceptable elevenses? Or is this academic fantasy?

I am reminded of Diana Wynne Jones discovering that her son thought Kipling’s Kim was “a fantasy set in an alternative world and that Kipling had made all the India stuff up.”(1) I am a veteran reader of academic (and other) novels and memoirs set in 1930s-1970s Britain, where I no doubt got this notion of sherry at 11:00 a.m. being completely normal behavior. And yet I am so much a part of puritanical contemporary American society, the part that fears addiction and values productivity (or it is an internalized part of me), that on a day on which classes are cancelled due to heavy snow, a day on which I could do anything I wanted (sleep late, bake cookies, enact fantasies of 1950s male academic life), I have trouble believing that this could now be (or was ever) acceptable behavior.

It’s enough to make me think I should go have the bath and the sherry as a way of breaking out of my usual rut. I mean, if such a tame indulgence seems like the wildest decadence imaginable, clearly I have a bad case of the Februaries and need a bit of enlivening.

(1) Diana Wynne Jones, “Inventing the Middle Ages,” Reflections On the Magic of Writing, edited by Charlie Butler (New York: Greenwillow Books, 2012), 196-210, at 201.