How we spend our lives

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.”

— From “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Still summer

At least, by the calendar.

August has always been the month that feels most transitional to me, the month in which I am aware of the planet turning, the stars shifting toward the winter layout of constellations, the trees displaying the deeper green that presages autumnal colors. Even when the weather is still hot and humid, I can feel the year sliding toward the equinox and shorter days. The light shifts; though the days are still long, dawn comes later, sunset earlier. I have one more quick trip to make before classes start. Then, in some sense, summer really will be over, although often weather in the first few weeks of school is so hot that it feels like summer is in extra innings.

I have not been so present on the blog, this summer, as I intended to be. I thought I’d do a lot more Six on Saturday posts, to mark the time I’ve spent on the garden, and more writing inspiration posts, to cheer myself on with various projects. The list of other things I’d hoped to do this summer likewise still has various items unchecked. The house has not sold; we will not be moving yet. A new course I will teach next spring remains only very sketchily planned, whereas I had hoped to get it more fully developed. A revise-and-resubmit continues to hang on my computer like an albatross.

On the other hand, I have finished final edits on the Huge Honking Translation, written a conference paper, planned fall classes fairly thoroughly, done a lot of gardening, watched the all of the Tour de France as well as the Tour of California, read all of a scholarly book I’ve wanted to read for a couple of years, read quite a lot of light fiction, and drunk a respectable amount of wine. I’ve visited family, traveled to a place new to me, and am about to spend a few nights in my native soil (like one of nicoleandmaggie’s partners, I need that every so often to keep from withering away). By objective standards, it’s been a good summer. I may manage to hack off that albatross soon, and I can keep chipping away at the new-course planning. The house, well, maybe it’s time to bury St Joseph in the front yard.

As for the year’s turning and growing darker, this is probably the moment to plan a trip next December or January, while I’m aware that I will need it, but before I start feeling that I just want to hibernate and it’s too much like work to organize travel.

Motivation, it was just here somewhere, I’m sure

Maybe if my desktop weren’t so cluttered with grading I could see what I did with it. Also with my get-up-and-go.

However, while looking for motivation I came across Mrs Ford’s Diary, which I recognized as inspired by Diary of a Provincial Lady, one of my favorite books ever, and the inspiration is confirmed by the “about” page, so I feel clever. Cleverness helps with motivation. Or it should.

Like me, Mrs Ford has been trying to divest herself of her house since last year: “have decided to embark on New Life in nearby university city, and have put house On The Market. House-selling process so far proving good for Light Social Comedy but poor for actual Results, so may well be chronicling the ins and outs of Village Life for some time yet.”

I sympathize, but also feel I have Let Down The Side in that I have no Light Social Comedy to report w/r/t the House-Selling Process. It is all very much automated here: an app pings us to ask to see the house at such and such a time, we say yes or try to reschedule (and usually just have to take the original time), Sir John and I run around the house stashing the accoutrements of everyday life so as to suggest that if you lived here, you would never have any trash or need to clean your toilet, then when the cats are thoroughly riled, we stash them and their litterboxes, too, I run the vacuum cleaner to get rid of the tell-tale drifts of cat fur (no moggies here, nope, no one is stress-shedding, no way), and we run out the back door before the house-hunters arrive in the front. I usually go to the gym, and Sir John goes to Dunkin Donuts to drink coffee and read the paper, or else he sits in his car on a conference call, depending on day and time. After an hour or so we go home and un-stash everything. Eventually the app may or may not yield some “feedback” such as “Maybe” or “Thanks!”

I cannot see how I can generate any Light Social Comedy to relay to my readers unless I somehow slip back to hide in a closet and try to overhear the viewers. I don’t think there’s room for me behind the upstairs furnace but I could check. Or I could join Reina in my clothes closet, if I took up the space behind my bathrobe where I now stash my sewing tote, the Mending Heap, and my delicate-laundry bag. I expect there could be mild comedy or at least irony in hearing the comments people make about my scholarly book collection, probably along the lines of “Wow, that’s a lot of books!” (at least half of my books are in storage and I am getting very tired of this situation), or possibly “How many languages does she know?” (Not enough, never enough).

Sir John would probably discourage this plan, so I’d somehow have to circle back and elude him as well as the viewers and their real estate agent. While we have both a front and a back door, there is only one set of stairs. Rather than Light Social Comedy, I think I’d wind up with the dodging and diving of French Farce.

Right, well, I will just go and see if those papers have managed to grade themselves. Later, darlings.

Write the swyvere down (redux)

A movie. I ran across a reference to it recently (blog archives? a more current post? newspaper??): a couple are in, or go to, a big city (New York?) and solve an old, noir-ish mystery. My impression is that the outer story is a rom-com and the inner one is noir. I thought it might be good for one of our friend-group’s Noir Movie Nights.

Why didn’t I write it down? I was no doubt in the middle of something else, and thought I could find it again easily. Does this very vague plot summary sound familiar to anybody? A fun recommendation from NicoleandMaggie, or a comparison Undine made?

Updates on other topics:

Taxes: I sorted out all the tax stuff and delegated the delivery to Sir John, so I didn’t have to face the beleaguered accountants myself (Sir John is enough of a guy not to have guilt hardwired into his autonomic response system). And I wrote in my calendar for next November “pay retainer to accountant” so they’ll know to expect us. I love that this is possible; it’s just that when they send us the form to do it, I say “Oh, the tax checklist” and put it aside unopened, instead of opening it and taking action.

House/cats: We’ve shown the house again. Result: Reina spends all her time lurking on bookshelves, fearing that food is only being offered in order to lure her into humiliating and terrifying captivity, since we crate all the cats during showings. Maybe I should increase her Prozac dose.

Weather/garden: it’s probably warm enough that I could rake up all last year’s leaves/mulch, but now it’s rainy and windy so I still don’t want to go out.

Grading: I have six sets of papers due in April. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I’m halfway through the set that came in on Monday, however, since I have grasped that if I don’t keep up, I’ll go under, so maybe the trick to grading fast is in fact to overload myself. I don’t think I want to plan to test this idea next term.

The not-awesome class: I’ve been having conferences with this group about their next paper and despite their silence in class, everyone so far really likes the book we’ve been studying, and most of them had at least some notes or a vague idea about something they might like to write about, so this was encouraging.

Substantive posts about books and writing and interesting things: you weren’t seriously expecting that, were you? If you get one, it’ll be because I’m deep in procrastination mode, or else because it’s mid-May.

 

Day 7

I finished revising the introduction to the translation and sent it to my co-conspirators. I did some more house-tidying. We met with our real estate agent and re-listed the house. I returned library books and checked out more, avoiding long imprisonment in the stacks by going half an hour before closing. At the gym, I beat up an elliptical trainer for half an hour. We watched two days’ worth of Paris-Nice. I did some crosswords and stayed up too late reading in the bath: a collection of Connie Willis short stories that wasn’t really worth staying up for (Christmas theme: obviously not great for someone who doesn’t like Christmas, but I was thinking ‘Connie Willis that I haven’t read, let’s try it,’ plus ‘grab something and go, the library’s about to close’).

Sleep. It is so obvious that I do better at getting on with things and not getting overwhelmed by tasks and feelings about tasks (guilt, mainly) when I have slept enough. At the same time, I am not good at just going to bed (even when I’m sleepy) if I haven’t had any reading/puttering/winding-down time in the day, and I do not count watching TV as winding-down. I do try to have down-time in the evening, and when I get it, it’s much easier to go to bed, so long as I haven’t started reading something I want to go on with (my name is Eleanor and I am a literature addict*). Clearly I need to be more consistent about a bedtime winding-down routine.

I set an alarm this morning (getting set for going back to early rising in two days), but frittered away a lot of the morning on Ask A Manager and the Willis book. Two days! Must keep grinding away at things that need to be done. Tuesday is going to be a day on which work will not really be possible, so I’m planning for that, and trying to finish off some important stuff so next week isn’t too stressful. Onward!

*I am amazed that I don’t have a post of my own to link to. I guess I must have commented on other people’s blogs about this affliction; I remember some discussions Back In The Day about reading habits. In his book on writing, Steven King has an anecdote about an addiction counselor who asked someone (King? a friend? my copy is packed away) how much he drank, and the person looked at the counselor like she was crazy and said “All of it.” That’s me, if you ask how much I read. The only sure way to stop is not to start.

Day 5

The break is accelerating, definitely, and Day Five was another day on which I was productive yet did not do all the things I intended to do. Possibly this is an exercise in figuring out how much time things really take. Possibly I should stop doing crossword puzzles between tasks.

Anyway, yesterday, day five of the break: I struggled with a tricky Greek passage and made excellent progress on the introduction to the translation. All that remains is to sort out a couple of paragraphs based on my own original research and overly compressed by the author of the first version of the introduction.* I brushed the cats’ teeth, which I try to do twice a week; since the beginning of the year, I’ve skipped only once when we were at home, so yay me, and yay cats for putting up with it. I went out and bought paint, stain for the front porch, a light bulb, and some other household items. I changed the light bulb. I walked about three miles. I did a little more cooking, and went to a Wednesday-night gathering with friends.

I did not do any grading or tidying-up/putting away of Stuff.

I was of at least two minds about that gathering. Staying home and going to bed early seemed like a good idea, as did staying home and doing something crafty and useful**, or cooking something fun***, or doing some tidying up. OTOH, even when I’m not teaching on Wednesday nights, I often skip because I’m too tired, so it seemed like a good idea to go while I’m on break. Furthermore, it seems really pathetic to go through all of spring break without any social plans whatsoever. So I went. This is a regular gathering of people who know each other from another activity; how much I enjoy any given night depends on who is there, and that is unpredictable. When the quiet people I like are there, we all sit around like companionable cats and it is very nice. When the loud people I don’t like are there, several l.o.u.d. conversations happen all at once, my ears start ringing, and I huddle under the bookcase in a corner wondering if the loud people will leave before I have to. I am a cat without whiskers or tail.

Last night was a loud night.

So on coming home, I needed some quiet time to decompress, so I was up late, slept badly, and Day Six is not getting off to a super start. Gah.

Today so far I have done morning pages (an irregular activity but good for re-aligning my brain, or chakras, or whatever the hell the woo-woo people re-align), sat around reading blogs and drinking tea, messed around with bits of cardboard, cloth, tape and a stapler, and started tidying up. This mostly meant spiraling around the house: card table and stepladder went to the basement, special box for special vase came up so vase could be packed, then the box went back to the basement; assorted things from the ground floor moved upstairs, items from a drawer moved to a box, books moved from one room to another, and I packed up my SAD light and took it to the basement, one of those important seasonal markers.

Things that still need to happen today: gym workout. Catch up on two days of Paris-Nice before Sir John leaves for an evening with his friend. If I’m very focused, this might mean I have two hours left for work. Or clearing away clutter.

I swear I will not fritter it on crosswords, but I can’t promise not to return library books on the way to the gym and find myself lost and imprisoned in the stacks before finally staggering to the exit.

*I thought I might do that this morning but the day is getting away from me.

**Done this morning instead, because I had that bee in my bonnet. It may need further attention, but the basic idea works.

***Likely to happen tonight, since Sir John is going out and I can putter on my own.

Day 1

It was pleasant and reasonably productive, in a low-key way. I wrote up two assignments for one class and blocked out the letter, thus doing about 1.5 of the “other three things.” My future self will thank me for the extra assignment. For that class, I need only one more assignment, and two more for the other class. Those would make good “productive procrastination” tasks this week.

As for progress on the real “Three Things,” I fixed two footnotes in the translation introduction, downloaded one set of papers and looked online at the thesis statements from the other set, and paid some bills and did a little cooking. I’m trying to start small, and build on these small steps. Even though the House element was routine rather than anything that really moves us toward re-listing, I’m counting it as useful deck-clearing.

Some fun things, since it is after all break: re-reading a couple of chapters of Tremontaine, season one in the tub in the afternoon (Note to self: put later seasons on birthday list), and watching a couple of episodes of Discovery with Sir John. We’re now ten episodes into Season One. I find the show a strange combination of boring and disturbing. I suppose this is a ramped-up version of my usual reaction to Star Trek series (soothing and exasperating).

I also made an attempt at reading a library book that I pretty promptly gave up on. It seemed promising (fluffy academic mystery), but the plot was all cliches, and while that’s fine if they’re handled with panache and wit, they were not. I particularly object to the trope in which the heroine is reunited with The Boy Who Broke Her Heart When She Was Sixteen, whom she has Never Gotten Over. Unless there is something very wrong with you psychologically, by the time you are in your 40s and have been married, you have recovered from your teenaged heartbreak and know something about how adult relationships work. Your reaction to seeing That Boy again might be “Huh, what did I see in him?” or “Well, now that we’re both grown up this might be worth re-considering,” but I cannot believe you have been carrying a torch for 30 years. Also nearly everything the heroine wore or decorated with had lace on it, so I both wondered what was up with the lace fetish and felt that she was really not my sort of person. I used to find it hard to give up on books once I started but no longer: Life’s Too Short is a useful motto in all sorts of situations.

Day two is starting with feeling jet-lagged, thanks to having trouble going to sleep last night combined with springing forward. I plan more baby steps, and a vigorous gym workout. Day three is going to start early, with work being done on the latest house maintenance problem, so I need either to sleep tonight or be prepared to deal with tomorrow on insufficient rest and lots of tea.

Ups and downs

This morning’s forecast is cheerful with intermittent grumpy.

Looking up: it’s the weekend, so no driving, or at least no farther than the gym. I found my missing stripy scarf, buried in the guest bed. I think I must have napped there, unwound it when I got hot, and forgot to look for it when I awakened. (How I would love to think of this as a good omen for a happy or at least peaceful outcome for the other things making me grumpy last week.) I still don’t have any significant grading to do. I’ve worked through about one quarter of our last (? please let it be last) sweep through the translation to tighten phrasing and improve style. There’s a bit of sunlight today to supplement my anti-SAD light. I had quite a nice note from my oldest friend, in reply to birthday wishes. We have an up-and-down relationship, being very different sorts of people, but there’s a lot to be said for knowing someone literally all your life even if you don’t always get along. (This is probably the sort of relationship many people have with their siblings.) Due to more weather, I will probably be able to stay at home at least one day next week when I would otherwise be driving to campus.

Grumps: would you believe, I’m unhappy because there is not enough snow in the forecast? Yesterday it looked like we’d have significant snow during the Monday morning commute, such that I would feel justified in having class online again, even if the university opened. Today, that weather band has shifted north, so I will probably have to tackle the drive, classes, and a committee meeting on Monday, after all. On topics other than weather/climate, I am fretful because I’ve had to work on the translation instead of on a conference paper or on the long-delayed last set of MMP revisions (and have recently discovered a 2018 book that I now ought to cite in that paper, sigh, this is why one should put everything aside and do revisions ASAP instead of trying not to lose momentum on all one’s OTHER on-going projects). I’ve had a few nights of poor-quality sleep, despite spending suitable amounts of time in bed. The furnace keeps popping on just as I’m dropping off; I can sleep through it if I’m properly asleep, but the noise wakes me if I’m at a delicate moment in the falling-asleep effort.

But I have a working furnace (actually, two), an anti-SAD light, lots of tea, a new hot water bottle, and a couple of cats who sometimes sit on me (Glendower does not believe hoo-mans make good cat beds), so I’m well-equipped for Arctic blasts and an effort to move on to new/old/different writing projects.

Blogroll

I have finally created one.

It’s an alphabetized jumble, without categories for academics, ex-pats, writers, gardeners, readers, travelers, or friends-of-blogfriends, and some of the blogs haven’t been updated for awhile. Nonetheless, I recommend their archives and continue to hope that their authors will return to regular blogging, or at least give annual updates, or something. As a somewhat irregular blogger myself, I’m in no position to criticize!

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.