With those armpits

Marcus Aurelius explains it all to you:

“Don’t be irritated at people’s smell or bad breath. What’s the point? With that mouth, with those armpits, they’re going to produce that odor.

–But they have a brain! Can’t they figure it out? Can’t the recognize the problem?

So you have a brain as well. Good for you. Then use your logic to awaken his. Show him. Make him realize it. If he’ll listen, then you’ll have solved the problem. Without anger.”

The Meditations, trans. Gregory Hays (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 5:28 (p. 62).

Unclear on the concept

Back in March, the Economist’s columnist Bagehot opined, on the rise of authoritarianism, “Such extremism is self-reinforcing. Angry people feed on each other’s anger, sensible people retreat into private life, and institutions are weakened in the tussle.”*

A letter in the March 31 issue expressed gratitude for this “miserable truth,” and said, “Believing myself to be one of those sensible people I am at a loss for what to do. I would like to rally against the forces of all that is unreasonable . . . . But . . . I can’t for the life of me think of how to proceed. How do you rally the reasonable?”**

You don’t. You retreat into private life, like a sensible person. Cultivez votre jardin. You experience, and model, calm and rational responses to those things you can control, and let go of those you cannot control. You refuse the adrenaline rush of knowing all the latest outrages, refuse to feed anger, refuse your attention to the tantrum-throwing public figures, refuse to expend your energy on people and ideas who don’t deserve it.

Strategic retreat is not the worst idea.

*The Economist, March 10-16, 2018, p. 60.

**The Economist, March 31-April 6, 2018, p. 20.

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.

Okay, a little grumpy

I’ve been looking at planners, though I will probably go on with my self-designed entries in little Moleskine pocket-sized notebooks. I like setting up a page that is just what I need it to be, though it does take a bit more time than working with a pre-made one. I’m definitely wedded to paper. I like the act of writing things down, and seeing when a page fills up: no, I really can’t add another thing to that day.

I have long known that I am a difference-sorter, and a rebel. I don’t like being told what to do. “Inspirational” planners make me want to sit in the corner, pick my toe-jam, and sulk. Despair.com has my number, and in fact I have ordered a 2018 calendar from them, starting with “Dysfunctional.” Unfortunately, they only have monthly calendars, not a weekly planner. So in the despairing spirit, here’s my template for the Sulker’s Planner:

I can’t manage to make the picture display at a decent size. Please click to enlarge, and feel free to adapt for your own planning if it speaks to you.

Shoe bleg

I’m vain, but not stupid.

I like cute shoes. This doesn’t mean high heels. I like a bit of heel, but I can live without it, and I may have to, going forward. I’ve had a bum ankle for years (sprained multiple times since the age of 20), and it seems like for the last most-of-a-decade I’ve been repeatedly rehabbing it from minor strains. I’ve noticed that the ankle feels better in my gym shoes, which start with some built-in arch support and then have added the arch-support inserts I’ve used in all my shoes for the last 30 years. So I can see that I need to spend more time in properly supportive shoes (not stupid). But the gym shoes are hideously neon and I refuse to be seen in them anywhere but the gym. For the moment, I’m wearing them around the house and changing when I go out (vain).

I have very high arches, as you might guess from needing to add arch supports to shoes that already have some support. All I want is a pair of black oxfords, ideally something menswear-like (wingtips?); at least not hopelessly old-lady-ish; preferably not gym shoes; with good arch support and a fairly well-cushioned sole. In other words, something that feels like gym shoes, but looks dressier. It is astonishingly difficult to find such a shoe.

So, gentle readers, any recommendations? Brands, at least?

A fictional dilemma

A friend of mine is considering an opportunity that comes with a catch.

The good news: a course release for work she would enjoy. The bad news: working with someone she does not like. And I don’t mean “can preserve professional decorum though would not invite this person to a party.” I mean “would like to smack this creep and was thrilled when he left the department.”

Not to put too fine a point on it. (She might be more tactful if she were writing this post herself, but I’ve heard what she really thinks, and that’s pretty much it.)

The position is an assistant editorship for an academic journal, with a strong possibility of advancing to editor in due course (probably not too long a course); the current editor is someone my friend gets on with, but the book review editor is . . . not. But he is a good friend of the editor.

Historiann, for one, is emphatic about the drawbacks of being an editor. See also Liz’s comment in another thread related to editing. My friend has edited a couple of proceedings volumes, so she has some (dim?) idea of what is involved; she also likes the idea of doing academic work that serves scholars rather than students. She is good at reviewing and copy-editing and has ideas about where she would like to take the journal, should she wind up as editor. I think the course release is a large carrot for her.

If she survives to be editor, she could presumably pick a new book review editor. That doesn’t mean the old one would go gracefully, or that she wouldn’t have to do a lot of teeth-gritting in the meantime. She points out that if everyone reasonable refuses to work with these Old Doods, only Young Doods will be in the running for the editorship, and that it would be a good thing if a reasonable, not-ancient feminist managed to take over this journal and use it as a way to nurture young (and not-so-young) scholars, particularly those of a feminist stripe. Why leave it to the Doods?

I think life is too short to deal with jerks. I suggested she could make it a condition that the book review editor has to go, but she suspects that if she did, the Doods would take the journal to another school altogether, whereas her department would like to keep it.

So . . . what do my readers think?

Tempest-uous Spring Planning

I will be teaching The Tempest in the spring. I thought I had taught it sometime, maybe ten years back, and had some assignments to draw on. But as I search my files, it appears that I haven’t taught it since I was in graduate school.

Oh-kay. Well. I’m sure it will be fine. Advice would nonetheless be welcome. Even more welcome would be suggestions of one or more short stories with which I could pair the play: stories with thematic connections, or in which characters refer to The Tempest, or are acting in it, or reading it at school, something like that. My idea, if I can get a suitable story, is to read it first, in order to generate questions about its allusions that could be solved by reading the play itself. Thus, I’m not picky about genre. A story that belongs to the SF/fantasy genre, or aims at a YA audience, would be fine. Even fan-fic, so long as it’s tolerably literate and has a recognizable story structure.

Ideas? Anyone? Bueller?

Productive procrastination, or Working when Stupid

I’ve been sleeping poorly, again, which makes it difficult to focus during the day.

I know what’s wrong. My wonky ankle has been acting up, so I’m resting it, which means I’m not working out, which means I don’t sleep so well. This will pass. The ankle will improve, and I will work back up to a decent level of cardiovascular exercise, and all shall be well. In the meantime I try to do more yoga and other relaxing things before bed.

Anyway: what to do on a work day when I have stacks of (well, three) articles to revise, and I don’t feel like I can grasp my own arguments, let alone anyone else’s? Answer: write syllabi and plan spring classes. Tired and fuzzy-headed (or, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid) is the perfect state to work on these tasks. When I’m alert and intelligent, I get over-optimistic about wildly creative, innovative ideas that require lots of energy and a clear head to put into practice in the classroom, and I forget that I may not have those attributes on the future days when I will need them. When I’m tired, I recognize that bad days happen, and that it would be a good idea to re-use old assignments (tweaking as appropriate); to omit or re-schedule that reading that always needs Extra Energy and Enthusiasm!!!; and to leave some flex days on which I can either experiment with a new innovative assignment as a low-stakes, in-class activity so that I can work out potential problems with it, or else, if the flex day is a low-energy day, show a relevant movie or You-Tube clips with discussion of same.

Some more alert and intelligent Future Self will have to look over today’s plans to make sure I haven’t done anything really stupid, like putting all the wrong dates on the syllabus or scheduling two separate sets of readings for the same weeks. Even so, today I’ll get something useful done, and my Future Self will be glad to have a chunk of the work at least drafted.

I play one on TV

I’m not literally a foreign language teacher, and certainly was not trained in FL pedagogy. But since I teach Middle English literature, and since many of my students find Middle English baffling, I often feel like I’m teaching a foreign language, though I am without portfolio (so to speak). Usually it’s the native-born monolinguals who have the hardest time; immigrants, heritage speakers, and students who have minors or majors in a FL pick up ME just fine. They’re used to code-switching, they have a better grasp of grammar, they have a sort of mental flexibility about language and its oddities. I’ve done a lot of reading about FL pedagogy, trying to figure out how to bring those techniques into what is supposed to be a traditional literature course.

Despite my efforts, there are two areas where my current (soon-to-be former) students are really struggling: verb endings (especially second and third-person singulars, thou goest and he goeth, for example), and clauses involving relative pronouns, especially when combined with inverted syntax of a sort common in poetry and even more common in ME (“Ask I you that listen that I say . . .” where the second that, in ME, translates to that which or what: “I ask you who listen to what I say . . . “). Not getting these points means that while my students can get the gist of their reading, they’re often shaky on who does what to whom. Because I’m really teaching literature rather than language, this is a problem. If you’re just trying to order in a restaurant, you can say “Querer un cafe” and the server will probably work out that you mean “quiero.” But if you’re analyzing poetry, you need to understand the forms of words and how they interact.

It’s possible that having a small class, this term, is distorting results: if I had this many students having these problems among a group of 70-odd, I wouldn’t worry about it. In a group of <20, however, the percentage of problems stands out.

If I have any readers who really are FL teachers (Z?), do you have any suggestions?

Orderly transitions

Using “Trump” along with “President” in the same sentence, never mind the same noun clause, makes me want to hurl.

Just so we’re clear on that.

However: the Electoral College exists for a reason. It keeps the more populous states from dominating the more sparsely populated ones. The principle is that the states are just as important as where the population resides. Any individual state can decide how it wants to distribute its electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska distribute them in proportion to the popular vote. That’s their decision. Other states go by the winner-take-all method. They get to decide that.

We have a rule book. We need to follow it. Dictatorships and banana republics change the rules when the game doesn’t come out the way they want it. That’s not how we do things in the USA. Think what your reaction would be, if the vote had gone the other way and Trump supporters were petitioning the Electoral College to cast its votes differently from the way they were pledged.

If you don’t like the Electoral College system, try working in your state to get your electors’ votes cast proportionately to the popular vote rather than as winner-take-all. Work to get Democrats elected in mid-term elections. Let your voice be heard in the new administration. Speak. Write. Register voters. Talk to people. Act. Contribute time, money, ideas, energy to the people and organizations who matter to you.

But let’s do things right. Democratically. By the rules. It’s true, rules can change, and sometimes they need to. Make sure, though, that the rules you ask for are fair to everyone, because next time the shoe may be on the other foot. Do as you would be done by. Do it by the book.