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.

Saturday morning

  • Wake at 0640 because Basement Cat feels yowly; pull on clothes, go down with BC, let him lick out Glendower’s bowl because Glendower finished his food last night. Make tea.
  • Observe that it is snowing. I had thought I might sweep up some leaves today. Never mind.
  • Sit in front of light box working through Dead Languages, then reading a chunk of a less-dead chronicle.
  • Feed cats.
  • Start cooking my favorite breakfast. We’re out of spinach, but have leftover cooked chard. Cut that up and heat it in the microwave, add the rice, beat two eggs and pour the liquid over the rice and chard. This looks odd. Oh! I should have just broken the eggs into the pan. Did chopping the chard remind me of cutting up potatoes, so I thought I was making a tortilla española? Well, it’s a frittata now. MORE TEA.
  • Cut up cotton gauze for brushing cats’ teeth. Brush cat teeth.
  • Head back to study with tea, to tackle the day’s thrashing exercise. Write-grade-plan/book travel-pay bills-write-grade etc. If I Write First, then I can at least try to soothe the deadlinedeadlinedeadline voices with assurances that I’m working on it.
  • So, as exercise in procrastination, write blog post. It’s a good thing I didn’t commit to daily blogging during November. Still, I’m doing more than I usually do, so let that be a lesson in not letting the best be the enemy of the good.
  • More internet procrastination: read the winter weather prediction, for a colder-than-normal winter here.
  • Draw curtains and turn light box back on. La la la not listening to anyone but my friends the iguanas. It’s always the same weather inside this nice iguana tank.

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.

 

Basement Cat strikes again

I know They don’t like Me to do it, but I can’t help Myself: I need to chew on plastic. Those covers on magazines, mmm, I perforate them all the way around if I can. Plastic bags. Bubble wrap. Anything, really. It’s just this thing I do. This morning I discovered that They didn’t take off the strip of plastic that binds a bunch of bananas together (disgusting things, bananas, fruit in general, really, hoo-mans will eat the strangest things) so I chewed it off for Them. I got a bit of it caught in My throat so I threw up. Of course it was on the table! That’s where I was! I mean, if I’d already been on the floor, obviously I would have chosen the rug, but why would I jump down just to throw up? That doesn’t make sense. I gather that She was not pleased when she found My puke all over the table, but that’s what She gets if She’s going to sleep late. She should get up when I do, and feed Me, instead of removing Glendower’s leftovers and going back to sleep. It’s not like She needs twenty hours a day. (He seems to need more than She does, but He is clearly part Cat, since He has a furry face.)

“Write first”

It always sounds like such great advice. But there’s a theory/practice problem: the writer is embodied. That is, the physical body has its quirks, and it lives somewhere, and the household also has quirks. Cats. Whatever. Same thing, really.

I am frustrated with not getting more writing done this fall, and so, like Gwinne, I resolved to use the NaNoWriMo energy to spur me to action. Yesterday I wrote on the train, doing some work toward a hunk of close reading to appear in the introduction to the Huge Honking Translation. There were a batch of things I needed to look up, later. Okay. I came home last night, fourteen hours and twenty minutes after I left the house in the morning (but who’s counting?), and resolved to make it easy on myself to Write First this morning. I made tea in my travel mug to leave by my bedside, laid out my clothing for morning, and went to bed at a fairly decent hour. I knew I’d have to go downstairs long enough to check on whether Glendower had finished his food overnight, and if not, take his bowl away from Basement Cat, who sleeps with us so Glendower can graze at his leisure, but I thought then maybe I could get in half an hour of Writing First before the natives (i.e. cats) got restless.

OK. I slept as well as I ever do, and woke up at dawn (which comes late these days). The tea was cold (n.b., get a real thermos, not just the travel mug). Since I had to go down with Basement Cat anyway, I might as well put the tea in a mug and heat it up. My neck hurt, so I also wanted to heat the wrap-around hot/cold pack. There were other bodily needs to take care of. Roughly half an hour later, I made it upstairs with heat pack and hot tea, sat at my desk, and opened up the document from yesterday. Success! I’m Writing First, more or less! Now for looking up words in an etymological dictionary! Oh . . . the internet is down. Call the company that rhymes with Bombast. Recorded voice apologizes for the interruption in service and estimates that it will be restored within four hours.

Well, that’s one way to avoid being distracted by the wonders of the Internet. In the meantime, I fiddle with the edition’s glossary, my Latin dictionary, and what I can pull out of my ass memory about sound changes from Latin into modern Romance tongues. I remember that I have, somewhere, a CD with a most excellent dictionary for the language in question, which I installed some time ago, on the laptop that is now both kaput and permanently wiped (though not yet taken to be recycled, sigh), and on my office computer (do I still have the same office computer? hell if I know), and I start wondering where the CD is: at work? But I didn’t see it recently when I was looking for another CD with Important Images on it, which I couldn’t find either. At home? Not in any of the obvious places. Quite likely packed away in a box marked as “miscellaneous work materials.” I am so tired of living with half my things packed into storage.

OK, the internet is back, three or more hours before Bombast’s estimate. Yay! Look up a word. Stare confusedly at results and hard-copy Latin dictionary. Go to different online Latin dictionary. Write about ten words of notes in my document. Let Glendower into my study. Prevent Glendower and Reina from tussling about who gets to curl up in her bed. The natives are definitely getting restless. Check e-mail before going to feed cats . . . a graduate student has replied to my query about articulating a research question, good, citing Habermas in the first line, bad . . . I am NOT dealing with Habermas before food and more caffeine, so off I go to feed myself and the cats.

Whereupon I discover that there is no more cooked rice, so I have to do some pre-cooking before I can have breakfast.

For roughly another 36 hours, I have no grading to do, so it is reasonably possible that there will be more writing today and tomorrow before I return to the realms of procrastination creating useful and friendly feedback on other people’s writing.

All the tea in China

Fortunately, road work is slacking off and I got home in tolerably good time last night.

Unfortunately, I messed around for awhile before feeding the cats and heading to the bathtub.

Fortunately, my lovely husband likes to talk to me when he gets home.

Unfortunately, chatting meant it was very late before I picked up the book I wanted to finish (Foundryside).

Fortunately, I enjoyed it, despite what I thought was a bit of hand-waving at several key points (aka Thing That Has to Happen just Happens, OK?).

Unfortunately, staying up to read meant it was midnight before I went to bed.

Fortunately, I fell asleep quickly.

Unfortunately, when Sir John came to bed, he snored in every position he tried. Also I was hot and a bit congested. Further, Basement Cat thought he should get up around 5:30.

Fortunately, we have a large house and a comfortable couch, so I could try to go back to sleep in a quiet space.

Unfortunately, our new next-door neighbors’ bathroom window faces the window of our quiet-room-with-couch, and they turned on their FIVE THOUSAND WATT bathroom light at 6:20 a.m., at which point I gave up on sleeping any more.

Fortunately, I have my choice of lots of flavors of tea around here, and have now sucked down three cups of Russian Caravan.

Unfortunately, that may interfere with sleep tonight.

Fortunately, I have managed to get at least a few tasks done this morning, and will keep trying to work on the list. If my brain gives out, I can go dig out more oregano roots.

Basement Cat on the trip to Kalamazoo

I have indicated before that the hoo-man servants are NOT to leave us unattended for more than a few hours.

That woman from the veterinary practice (why are they practicing? will they ever get good at dealing with us, or are we condemned to amateurs?) is NOT an acceptable substitute for our hoo-mans, and we cannot understand why you would trust her with our care or let her into our house, considering her past crimes.

She has robbed us of our precious bodily fluids on multiple occasions: she has stolen blood from all of us for some nefarious Dark Arts potion; she has mishandled Me such that I was forced to micturate inappropriately in an inappropriate place, in a great assault on My dignity; she has deprived us of effective use of the weapons on our front paws through the barbaric practice of claw-trimming, even on Reina, who succeeds in keeping you from clipping her claws at home: that is how obdurate That Woman is.

Though I feared poison, weakness compelled Me to eat the food she left. Scooping litter boxes was just about within her capacity.

I’m not going to say that I’m glad you’re back. Don’t think I would express such a ridiculously soft opinion. If I curl up against your legs when I think you’re asleep . . . and if I groom your hands when you pet Me . . . you’re probably asleep and dreaming.

Don’t you dare go anywhere ever again or you will have to face My wrath.

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.

Still January

It feels like January has lasted for several months. In fact, I think I had spring, skipped summer, and have come back around to winter and ought to be thinking about Christmas shopping. It has not been a bad month, in fact the reverse, but it has most definitely gone on for a very long time (like last July).

I finished the MMP and went back to translating. I planned spring classes and wrote a syllabus for each class. I cooked a lot. I had appointments with a doctor and a dentist. I spent a week visiting family, which meant a lot of application of my hard-earned people skills, mostly acquired in the classroom. I refrained from teaching a pig to sing; instead, I explained some things to people who are either more likely to take them on board or better at dissembling their refusal to listen (time will tell which). I listened to my father and said “We’ll put it on the list” a lot.

I tried to imagine a life in which Sir John and I live near my family, in a very beautiful area where a lot of people take vacations. Sir John can work anywhere he has an internet connection. I have an extensive library. I could retire from teaching, and write my books while looking out at lovely views, and we could go for walks, and visit my father . . . and socialize with my brothers and their families . . . and drive ten miles to get to a grocery store that sells a lot of the specialized items I need, and significantly farther to get to an actual bricks-and-mortar bookstore, and what about the ballet and early music concerts that we love to attend where we live now? Nope nope nope. However lovely the surroundings, I do not want to live in a rural place (even one with only a ten-mile drive to a grocery store, and I know there are far more remote places). The family connection is not exactly an incentive. The cordial detente I have achieved with them is all I hope for; I do not want to have to spend my birthday and other special occasions with my family.

Visiting them is strange, because it makes me realize how odd I am, in the scheme of things. They’re not untraveled or narrow. But they travel for business, and love their homes, and are deeply woven into their communities. I live among academics who take it for granted that you will have to leave your family and move elsewhere, probably several times; thanks to my commute, I’m not well-rooted either where I live or where I work; I travel because I like to be in other places. Probably what I most have in common with my brothers is that we are live-to-work people, whose idea of retirement involves more of the parts of the job we like best and less of those parts we dislike. We also all like to finish things, in reaction to our father, who (like me) is great at generating ideas and has always been terrible at finishing things. I’m slow and a perfectionist, but I do finish, eventually, and I have learned a bit about what things can be done at 70% rather than at 95% or 110%.

I have plenty of work to do today (and another dentist appointment), but what I really want to do is just sit among my books. Not even to read. Just to sit with them, alone except for Glendower and Reina, and be quiet in the middle of a city.

R. I. P. Neighbor Catboy

He was vastly more gregarious than the Scot, but the same sort of purely loving soul. If his person struggled to let him go, I can believe that he tried to stay with her as long as he possibly could, and can understand that it would be very hard to lose that sort of generous, uncomplicated affection. I love our current cats, but I still miss the Scot, who was my very special one. I’m not telling my poor bereaved former neighbor that she may always miss her Catboy, even if she loves another cat just as much.

Some animals just seem like the essence of love, and we’re lucky to share some time with them.