Three Colleagues Commentary

To begin at the end, I’m not going to be Terry. I never wanted to change the world. I like teaching and after decades of practice, I’m good at it, but I got into it to support a research habit. It seems unlikely that I’ll suddenly develop a social conscience and want to devote myself to good works after I retire. At least I haven’t managed to irritate the people I’ve worked with enough to make them want to ease me out (or maybe my skin is thick enough that I haven’t noticed their efforts).

Jerry is my pathetic example, the person I absolutely do not want to be. When I retire, I plan to leave very permanently: no coming back to teach one course at a time, even online, no hanging around the edges. It helps that I don’t live in LRU-ville; my social life, such as it is, takes place elsewhere. While I do expect to keep doing research, I’ll have books delivered to a library near me, rather than going to LRU for them, and I’ll see people at conferences, not on campus.

I have long admired Merry’s approach, and hoped to emulate it. The problem is, I don’t know what plays the role of British theatre in my life! At one time, I thought I might want simply to go “home,” that is, to where I grew up. To do that would require time travel. That place has changed significantly; it doesn’t draw me as forcefully as it once did. I can imagine moving to the UK, not to London, but somewhere smaller with both a castle and a cathedral, and training to be a docent at both. That way I could spend the rest of my life in the Middle Ages. But I don’t feel like that’s something I must do, just that it would be fun (and I recognize that it’s hard to move to a new country, even one where you speak the language).

Merry, so far as I know, was single (maybe there was someone in London, but I was not privy to that information). I have a husband to consider. He’s from Here, and likes it here. His mother is still alive, and needs more assistance from her children these days. I completely support Sir John’s interest in staying near his mother through her lifetime; it’s hard enough for me being across the country from my now-very-elderly father that I don’t want to pull him away from family just because I think it would be fun to live somewhere else.

If my “Thing” ever hits me over the head, I’ll file my retirement papers and go do it. But as I said last summer, the things people do in retirement are mostly things I already do as much as I want to. I suppose I could try to completely reinvent myself: sign up for wood-working lessons and workshops on miniatures, build doll-houses and their furniture. Or take golf and bridge lessons, turn myself into my step-grandmother. Or become (yet another) style blogger for the over-50 set (certainly there are a lot of potential friends in that set!). None of those things appeals to me as much as continuing to do the things I enjoy and do well. At some point, I’ll have to make a change. I’m trying to be open to possibilities, to see if I run across an activity that sparks enough joy that I’d want lots more time for it.

Three remarks

A couple of weeks ago, in my grad class, we were discussing the Riverside Chaucer. One of my students, inspecting the publication information, said “That’s the year before I was born!”

I refrained from mentioning that the book came out the year I started graduate school. The students can probably work that out for themselves, if they look me up.

The same week, I unexpectedly saw a colleague in the parking lot, someone who used to be in a writing group with me, but whom I haven’t seen in years. I hailed this person; the first words out of their mouth were “I thought you’d already be retired!”

Sir John says this is sort of like saying “I thought you’d be dead by now.” I didn’t take it that badly, perhaps because in our writing group days I observed that things this person says are much more likely to be about them than about the person they’re talking to. Sure enough, conversation revealed that they’d like to retire but can’t do it yet.

When Sir John and I opened a new joint checking account last year, at the bank he’s used for decades, the woman helping us asked if I’d like to consult with a personal banker: “You might be able to retire sooner than you thought!”

“But I don’t want to retire,” I said, so quietly that Sir John (who knows me well) thought I was angry. Not that. More sad, I think.

I’m supposed to want to retire, but I don’t. I didn’t expect this. When I was approaching the age at which I could retire early, and had a department chair I didn’t like, it was a comfort to think that soon I’d be able to tender my resignation if it all got to be too much. Now that that time, and another couple of chairs, have come and gone, I’m happy with my current life. I’d like things to stay the way they are for awhile longer.

What was I going to say?

I logged in awhile ago, and opened up the New Post page, and then got distracted. Possibly I had some really brilliant idea, but on the other hand, maybe I was just going to whine.

It’s mid-July, and past the middle of the year, and more than past the middle of the summer. Boo. I have not done those things I ought to have done. We are contemplating a road trip before the summer is truly over, and I feel (a) that I’m not sure I want all the hassle of driving and sleeping in strange beds and figuring out how to feed both of us with our different finicky diets in unfamiliar places, not to mention the struggle to find a suitable cat-sitter* and also (b) that I really want to do this because it will be a very Summer Thing To Do, nice to look back on, and great to see friends we haven’t seen in years (and years, in one case, due not only to The Covids but also to these friends’ normally very international lifestyle, as in, it’s difficult to be in the same country as them without going to another hemisphere).

Things I have done this summer: visited family, painted the guest room, cleaned my closet, planted a vegetable garden**, wrote a conference paper, drove to conference and delivered it (and stayed in swanky hotel and saw Real! Live! People!), accepted an invitation to expand it for publication, did at least a few hours’ worth of planning for all of the classes I will teach next year***, recycled literally years’ worth of Brita filters, made a date with a retired colleague, watched a lot of cycling and read a lot of trash. I’m negotiating with Queen Joan about a January trip to somewhere sunny, and hope to get reservations nailed down before I settle into the winter gloom in which I just endure circumstances rather than finding the wherewithal to do anything about them (aside from SAD light and pretending to be an iguana).

Things I have not (yet) done: nope, not going there, too depressing! The list is long. Let’s just say it contains various items that should have happened a year ago, and that really all my electronic items need updating.

If we go on this trip, I have about two weeks left (give or take depending on friends’ schedules) in which to do any work, and then another week (or so) after it, and then I’ll be on contract again, though classes don’t actually start till a little later in August. Ack. Ack! Will this realization make me buckle down and do some of the things I ought to have done? Or will I stick my head firmly in the sand and pretend that summer really is endless****?

*We no longer live near the vet-assistant person to whom Basement Cat objected here. I’m sure he’d rather have her than someone completely new. The cats think their normal human servants should never even have days off, let alone extended holidays.

**Have not yet re-planted lettuce and spinach seedlings after the wretched squirrels destroyed the last batch. Must do that.

***Any time now I’m going to have to concentrate on those for the fall, but I hope that January Self will be grateful to Summer Self for doing some advance work on next spring’s classes. I fear she will just wonder what the hell Summer Self was thinking.

****People who have retired (see my last post) might suggest that it is like having endless summer, but unless I can move somewhere with a decent climate, it’s no such thing. If I have to live with snow, I’d rather be working, because it’s a distraction and give me something to do that isn’t sulking at home in my iguana-cage, and Sir John actually likes it Here and does not want to move to Mexico or the Southwest, let alone Morocco, so here we are. My husband may be a winter-loving nut-job but I’m quite fond of him and would rather be with him than alone in a warm dry climate, even if I have to remind myself of that frequently from November to March.

RBO end of June

Squirrels dug in the pots where I’d planted my grown-from-seed lettuce seedlings and destroyed them all, even though I’d put the pots up on a table to make it harder for critters to get to them.

I wrote and delivered a conference paper that helps to expand what I have for the final chapter of the Putative Book, and have just had an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend working on something related.

Sir John and I went on a road trip and had a great time. The cats obviously missed us terribly, though we had a friend visit them twice a day to tend them. Basement Cat met us at the door, yowling until we were actually inside, and Reina, who had been confined to my study, yowled until we released her. She hasn’t deigned to sit on either of us, but does do more rubbing against us and talking, while Basement Cat demands lap time and reclining snuggles with Sir John. They were separated while we were gone to keep them from fighting, and I was afraid we’d have to do some elaborate re-introduction routine when we came back, but it went fine, which is to say there’s only the usual staring and hissing.

I’ve taken everything out of my closet and washed it or run it through the dryer on hot, after I saw a moth near the beginning of the month. Now for cleaning the walls and then putting things back. Last night there was another moth in the bathroom, which I didn’t manage to kill before it disappeared against a patterned background. Reina couldn’t find it, either.

I’ve done at least a little bit of work on all four of the classes I will teach next year. Anything I can do now will help out my future self. There’s never enough time in the winter break to prep spring classes, so I’m trying to do some revision on them this summer.

I’ve also done a lot of fun reading, mostly fantasy, romance, and mid-century novels by British women, the sort of thing published by Furrowed Middlebrow. Sometimes the FM blog gives brief descriptions of now-unattainable books that make me want to head straight to one of the UK depository libraries and spend the summer reading through everything they have of this kind. If I worked on twentieth-century literature, that might even be a respectable research project. I suppose I could go work on a respectable medieval project and then spend evenings reading old novels in the not-medieval reading rooms, after the manuscripts room closed.

Spreadsheets for Humanities research

For awhile now, I’ve intended to blog on this topic, since Undine expressed interest. I have a few tabs open with related posts, and I want to close them, and I’m feeling a Friday-afternoon slump, so let’s do this.

I originally started working with spreadsheets because the tables I’d created in WordPerfect were so long and complicated that they had become unstable. I mentioned that here. From what I said in that post about a concordance and Topic A in Author Z, I think this was an earlier stage of research on what is now my book-in-progress. This project began as a conference paper. A journal editor who attended my session asked me to expand and submit the paper to their journal. When I started expanding, the danged thing grew, and grew, and grew some more. It’s still growing. I am still adding to the spreadsheet, as I realize that more and more words have connections to Topic A.

Profacero asked, around the same time, about using spreadsheets and calculators and bibliography managers. I don’t need spreadsheets for numbers. For me, they’re a useful way of tabulating information in a way I can get at easily.

I had another spreadsheet for part of the MMP, the Macedonian Marginalia Project. It had a long list of the marginalia, including columns for manuscript folio, edition page, text by which the marginalia appeared, and I forget what else, but there was more.

Another book-related spreadsheet tracks family relationships for multiple generations. I could get specialized family-tree software, but that’s not exactly what I want. I need to comment on what people were doing, and marriages they thought about negotiating but didn’t go through with, and similar matters. I like having different columns in which I can put this kind of information. Excel appears to be a very robust program. I can fill up cells with text, not numbers, and it just chugs along, keeping things organized.

I have a spreadsheet that I’m trying to use to organize the book itself, section by section, including primary and secondary quotations, historical analogues, and various other things that I want to use to support my main points. That isn’t going as well, TBH, because I do a lot of my thinking by writing, and then I have to take the time to move points from a written document into the spreadsheet, and it all seems stupidly fiddly: until the moment when I’m struggling with what goes where and I wish that I had moved things into the spreadsheet so that I could see things spread out clearly instead of having to pull them out of a long wall of text.

Then there’s the spreadsheet with all my scholarly books in it, which I wrote about here.

There might be some others, but those are the main ones that occur to me. Questions welcome!

Where the day went

Before I started work, I fed the cats, did yoga, ate breakfast, watered and fertilized the tomatoes, watered the African violets, brushed the cats’ teeth.

Checked e-mail and answered a couple of messages. Declined an “opportunity” that would interfere with time I want to use either to do research or to prep my grad class, though technically I’m “free” at that time.

Wrote 567 words.

Commented on all the undergrads’ discussion board posts. Assigned points to both classes’ posts. Discovered that I have loaded to Blackboard all but one assignment for each class (I thought I was missing more than that for one class, so this made me happy). Made notes toward the two assignments I still have to write up in detail.

Attended a committee meeting online. Volunteered for a subcommittee.

When the meeting ended early, I used the “found time” to swing by the grocery store (half an hour) and move some boxes around in the garage, then started unpacking one box of books (another half hour). ILL’d a book I need, only to have the request cancelled because the book is already checked out of one of the libraries that has it; another is a non-circulating library; the third claims to have it but in fact hasn’t ordered it yet. Thppppbtt.

Dead language group meeting, online.

Talked to Sir John while completing the unpacking of that box of books. Sorted out a stack of books to give away. I’m pretty sure that box of books never got unpacked in the last house, so it was easy to distinguish between the books I was glad to see again and those that made me wonder where and why I got them in the first place.

Checked in online with my dissertating students.

Ate dinner. Went for a walk. Unpacked a new batch of masks from Etsy that arrived in today’s mail.

While watching the Vuelta, answered more e-mail and started reviewing an article I’m teaching tomorrow.

Another five-minute post

I’m home again, which means exchanging a view of blue salt water for a sea of green grass and green trees. This should not be anything to complain about, but I do miss salt water here in the middle of the country. If classes move online again, I may just go to my brother’s and teach from there (this does not seem fair to Sir John, so I might not be able to pull it off).

I absolutely must work on syllabuses and class plans. I feel very very disinclined to do this, although in response to a query from a colleague I looked at a syllabus & course site from last spring and experienced warm feelings toward those students, which helps a bit. I wish I could be sure we’d be in the classroom for the whole semester! It’s partly the uncertainty that is off-putting: I want to plan the course once, not work out a whole lot of contingency plans.

I have always worked at home a great deal. When I was a student, I found it difficult to concentrate in the library (other people, so many books), and the shared TA office was used mainly for office hours, and sometimes for computer work, but we had to schedule time on the computer. Later I got my own computer. In my final year of grad school, I was on fellowship and could work at home every day if I wanted to, but I usually went to campus at least to swim and/or spend time in the library, because I got cabin fever spending all day every day in my studio apartment. Once I had a job, I was delighted to have an office of my own. I still did research at home, mostly, but loved having an office in which to do class prep. Over the years, I wound up doing more and more “real work” at home on non-campus days, because having a long commute meant that campus days filled up with teaching, meetings, library trips, all the things that required a physical presence on campus. But after last year, I’m really tired of living in the office, and want to go back to campus, so that working at home in my study feels, again, like a privilege rather than a requirement.

Eight minutes. Publishing now.

Things I did today

Drank black tea as well as green.

Reviewed and commented on a graduate student’s outline.

Looked over an undergraduate paper draft that changed very little since the last version.

Grappled with late classical Latin.

Struggled with ugly medieval Latin.

Read about 20 pages of a Middle English text.

E-mailed with a colleague about an awards ceremony.

E-mailed with a friend about our honors students.

Met briefly with my (currently non-)writing group to talk about summer plans.

Climbed a ladder to inspect our new roof.

Cooked rice and fish.

Walked around the block.

Unpacked the stereo plus the cushions and old sheets that lined the boxes.

Agreed to write a recommendation letter.

Another exciting day

Exciting because it was so almost-normal.

I woke up before my alarm went off, and would have been able to see the sunrise had there been one. But it was a grey day that just got gradually lighter, no color to speak of. Around 7:15 I started stretching, finishing half an hour later. I fed the cats, put in a load of laundry, ate breakfast, answered e-mail, wrapped a present for a friend’s birthday. Then I put up a discussion board question for a class, and hung the laundry on a rack to dry.

Around 10:30, I drove to campus, where I returned ten books and checked out three. I scanned four selections from various books for my grad class, and collected my mail, which consisted of issues of three different journals. Then I drove home again, thinking about passages to discuss in my afternoon class. I arrived in time for a half-hour lunch break before a half-hour language group meeting, then had about twenty minutes before my undergrad class.

Class was okay, but students weren’t very willing to talk. Discussion worked better last semester than at present. This might be because in the fall, more students knew each other from in-person classes. I know I have a few this term who are new to LRU. Or it might just be that it’s February and every day feels like a snowy Monday.

I had a little over an hour between the afternoon class and my night class. I ate dinner and tried to do some last-minute prep. I discovered that two of the pieces I scanned in the morning failed to send properly: I had two copies each of two selections, instead of one each of four. I think I know what happened, but I will need to make another campus run to scan the lost pieces. One of the grad students said, before we started class, that she was enjoying my teaching style and appreciated my approach to the class. This really threw me off! I’ve been feeling so barely-prepared for this class, and am constantly thanking my students for their patience with me as I make adjustments to the syllabus. The only thing I think I’m doing right is extending the same generosity to them when it comes to deadlines. We’re all doing the best we can, and it’s February, and we’ve had nearly a year of pandemic life.

After class I spent a few minutes reading through a conference paper I wrote nearly eight years ago. It’s supposed to be part of the book I’ve been working on at least that long. I’m wondering about expanding it into an article. I think this would just be procrastinating on the revisions I need to finish on another article.

On a normal day (old-normal) I would have stayed on campus for my classes, and then driven home at night. I might have managed to do some research in the afternoon slot when in this reality I was driving home.

Campus was eerily empty. While I was in the library, I saw six people, four of whom were staff. While I was in my office building, I saw one other person, a staff member who seemed to be roaming the halls for exercise, as I used to do on long on-campus days in cold weather. I had no trouble finding a parking place.

I used to get so tired of spending my life driving back and forth to LRU. I found my office building dreary, and had to remember that any library excursion would take twice as long as I thought it should. On this day, it was exciting to drive even such a familiar route (it’s been at least a couple of months since I last did so), and felt that I had never properly appreciated having an office to go to. The library errands took almost exactly the time I expected, since I didn’t have to search for books that weren’t shelved where they ought to be, nor did random books hurl themselves into my arms as I wandered the stacks, as the stacks are closed to patrons. Flirting with random books is one of the main things that used to eat up library time, but I miss those serendipitous discoveries.

Fast away the old year passes

And thank Cat that’s over . . . except that one of my principles is “it can always get worse,” so I’m not entirely thrilled to see 2020 go. We’ll hope for the best. In 2020, I got to move, and discovered that I don’t hate teaching online as much as I expected to. As the introvert’s introvert, I’m very happy to be at home with Sir John, my cats, and lots of books, all the time. Life is good, though I miss traveling.

2020 saw an international trip in January, the only trip I made this year. I re-submitted an old R&R, which was rejected a few months later (I immediately submitted it elsewhere). I made strawberry-rhubarb pie for Pi Day. I lost track of the weeks at the end of the pivoted-to-online spring semester, and still came up with a final assignment that the students enjoyed writing and I enjoyed reading. It might not have been wholly rigorous, but this year, I’m taking continued student engagement as a Big Fat Win. We finally got an offer on our old house and went into contract on it. I did a whole series of posts about house-hunting, starting here; it was somewhat stressful staring down a closing date and having to move during a pandemic, but we were so happy to be getting out that really it was all okay. I did my last old-house Six on Saturday.

We love the new house. Basement Cat and Reina have achieved d├ętente here, although the dialogue reported in this post is still enacted regularly. I considered five decades of changes in my life. For a couple of days, the surface of my desk was visible. I enjoy the new garden.

I discovered Maria Nikolajeva’s blog, and am sadly reminded, today, that I have to put together my documents for annual review. It’s a comfort to know that even the wildly accomplished hate the process. I emulated a minor character from Barbara Pym. Once the semester was over, I thought about all the things I needed and wanted to do over winter break, far more than there is really time for. A good bit of the break has gone to reading and doing jigsaw puzzles, and we have also managed a couple of runs to the storage unit for more boxes, so I’ve happily done some re-discovery of Books I Have Missed.

I found at least two books in the fantasy/YA stash that I have no recollection of either reading or buying. I am guessing that I acquired them not long before the Massive Declutter Effort, now some four years back, when I thought the house would sell quickly and I’d only be without the packed items for six months or so, and that I packed unread books thinking that they’d be an incentive to unpack once we moved. I wonder what other unexpected treasures I’ll (re)discover once the weather cooperates enough to let us go for another load.

I plan to celebrate the New Year on Nova Scotia time and go to bed after that. See you in 2021!