Pseudo-science and Rational Woo

First the disclaimer: I don’t believe in astrology.

However, I recently took a trip down memory lane that has to do with astrology. It started when I was reading an old thread at the Chron fora on which an astrologer was posting in ways that people on the thread seemed to find useful—more about working with symbols and archetypes than with predictions, sort of like reading Tarot cards in terms of what the symbols mean for the person getting the reading rather than as they’re generally interpreted. On a whim, I plugged my birth date and place into one of the sites that will give you a full horoscope, what house all your planets are in, the whole nine yards.

The results surprised me, because they were not what I have believed for the past more than forty years.

See, back when I was in junior high, I was quite “into” astrology. I don’t remember if I believed it, or what sparked my interest. Possibly there was a fad for it among my friends; perhaps one friend was annoying about interpreting everything in terms of sun sign, and I decided to find out more as a defense. I mean, obviously not everyone born under Virgo is going to get run over by an egg truck today. What I do remember is that I got books from the library, and read up on both the principles and the techniques, and then, to the best of my ability, calculated my horoscope with all the planets and houses. This was long before the internet, significantly before the computing power now available meant that inputting date, time, and place could instantly spew out all the details. It was also before my math skills were as developed as they later became.

So there I was, at the age of twelve, struggling with the tables and conversion factors in one of the books I’d checked out, and determining that my rising sign was Leo. I liked this result very well, not least because of my fondness for felines. I’m sure that doing all the work was useful in various ways. That is, on the social front, it no doubt allowed me to participate with authority in junior-high conversations (though I don’t remember this part—I try to forget as much as possible about junior high school). Certainly this was child-led education, in that I found something that interested me, went to the library, did the reading, did the math (to the best of my ability), and wrote up my results in a way that pleased me. If I neglected my school homework to do it, well, tant pis; I always have been one to do more of what interests me than what I have been assigned.

The results of my recent whim show that my rising sign is not Leo, nor is my moon where I believed it to be. So much for my long-ago efforts. Looking at what I’m “supposed” to be like according to my new horoscope, I scoff. Definitely a pseudo-science. But! What are the effects of believing, even for a short time, even only half-consciously, that you have certain characteristics? What effect on my adolescent psychology did it have, to believe (or at least, put about to my credulous friends) that I was self-aware, ambitious, faithful, authoritative, energetic, creative? Those are good things to believe about yourself, wherever you get the ideas. It’s hard, at twelve, to have established much of a personality or track record (or so it seemed to me, at the time: friends who knew me at 8 think I’m pretty much the same person now as then!). I spent a lot of time feeling like I was just not-quite at a lot of things I wanted to be better at, so it was helpful to have a horoscope assuring me that I was going to make it, eventually.

So now I wish I had disregarded all the tables and details of my actual birth and just cast for myself the best possible horoscope, the perfect forecast of the person I most hoped to become, and believed in that until I had a track record to believe in. This is what I call Rational Woo: “Sometimes in order to get where your rational self wants to be, you need a little woo-woo. Of course you know the odds against you: will your novel even find a publisher, let alone become a best-seller that will let you move to New Mexico and write full-time? Ha ha. Will your academic book really change the face of the discipline? Uh-huh. Will your dissertation even get you a job? Um . . . .

But an unwritten novel is guaranteed not to be published; the unwritten academic tome doesn’t stand a chance of changing anything; the unfinished dissertation will most certainly not get you the job that requires dissertation in hand. You can’t ensure your own success, that is true. But you can most certainly ensure failure. So you have to at least meet the bar of finishing whatever it is.

And so it’s time for the woo-woo that will let you shut off the voices and the doubts and get on with it. . . . It’s your fantasy life: let it be rich, productive, and comforting. Whatever keeps you doing the work, moving the project forward every day, taking baby steps if that’s what you’re able to do.” So I said seven years ago.

Right now, I want a horoscope that tells me I am a hard worker who sometimes needs significant down-time to let thinking happen in the background; that I can come roaring back from this slow period to knock out a lot of good work quickly; that my trip to visit family is going to go smoothly and be a refreshing change; that the next two months of this summer are going to be excellent for me in many ways, so long as I just keep truckin’.

What a fool believes? Whatever. If I say I have Leo rising, then I have a nice protective lion leaning over my shoulder to help me out, okay? Cat is my co-pilot! I can wake up from a nap and instantly nab a mouse! Cats never doubt themselves. They are perfect just the way they are. So I’m sticking with Leo as my horoscope-totem-whatever.

Another one finds a home!

In May, I trapped/neutered/released two cats, both the Glendower look-alike and another, when I set the trap again just to see what happened. The second was a tabby with white feet.

Yesterday I got a call from the local shelter about cat #2. Some people have been feeding him for about a week, and were hoping to adopt him. Their kids love him and he gets on with the cat they already had. First thing this morning I went down and signed paperwork relinquishing my claim on him so he can go home with his new people.

This makes my day. In fact, it makes my week. Maybe the month! I love it when cats decide they want to come in from the cold.

I’ve seen not-Glendower once in the last few days. Since he likes to hang out with a neighbor’s indoor-outdoor cat, I hope that eventually he’ll find himself a home, either with that neighbor or with someone else. He’s very pretty, and once the testosterone is out of his system, he might calm down enough to let himself become someone’s cat.

Mustn’t grumble. Mustn’t . . . oh, hell, why not?

Definitely in the category of First-World problems, I do realize.

All my e-mail programs are now doing two-factor authentication, which I hate. I don’t even have a smartphone, but I still get annoyed when the dumb phone buzzes. I do not want to be messing with the frigging phone when I’m trying to work on my desktop computer.

I shut down my computer over the weekend, including shutting 18 tabs in Firefox (I don’t know, it just happens) and when I hit “restore previous session” I got six back. One-third is not very good restoration, Firefox! I remembered a few that I wanted to have back, such as the drill for principle parts of ancient Greek verbs, and located a few more through my browsing history, which I am very lazy about clearing out. But I’d had some of them hanging around for long enough that I’m not really sure what was there, just that I wanted to be able to click over to look at them for inspiration sometimes.

Inspiration. I not haz. Motivation neither. I slept badly because I woke up both hot and with my wonky hip hurting (and though I know it’s muscular, in the middle of the night I always start wondering if I need a hip replacement already and how that might have happened), and I have a headache because of allergies and not sleeping well, so I’m late to start on anything this morning. And that just strengthens the “why haven’t I done this already it must be because I suck” buzzy-bugge voices.

I will just sit with the grumpiness for awhile. I have jasmine tea, two snoozing cats in my study, and a leafy green view. Eventually those may take effect! I’m not sure I even have the attention span to keep up a good head of Grumble all day long.

The Very Local News; or, How I Spent a Summery Saturday Morning

  • I woke up at 7:00, Glendower at my feet, thinking that I needed to go outside as soon as possible. A few minutes’ thought allowed me to recall that I needed to release the feral cat who was recovering in the garage (TN done yesterday, R today).
  • After feeding the indoor cats, I woke Sir John for the ceremonial Release of Cat, since it was his concern for this cat that led to the TNR operation. Feral cat, a ringer for Glendower, has been hanging out for a month or two. I thought he might be a neighbor’s pet, but inquiries led nowhere, and his behavior at the vet certainly indicated feral status. We put some food in his usual hang-out corner of the garden, and hoped he’d have a bite before dashing off, but as soon as I got the trap open he leapt the fence and was gone.
  • Sir John went back to bed, where he remains (he seems to be on Hawaii time lately).
  • I read three essays in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe.
  • The urge to go out kept nagging me until I remembered that I had planned to go to the Farmers’ Market. I walked, taking the long way so as to go by the ATM, admiring other people’s gardens (and noting a few that have that vile beast, creeping bellflower, invading their lawns), and greeting dog-walkers, joggers, and religious proselytizers.
  • I bought two pounds of rhubarb, two potted herbs, and two heirloom tomatoes (I think a Cherokee Purple and a Lucky Cross).
  • At home, the first course of lunch was two half-tomatoes sliced with salt and pepper.
  • I drank mint-ginger iced tea with a splash of lime seltzer. A couple of weeks ago, I found ginger-lemon seltzer at TJ’s, but I like this homemade blend better.
  • Dessert was a brownie from this recipe. These are lethal! Their impact is probably more intense because, my 8×13″ pan being packed away, I baked them in an 8×8″ pan for 50 minutes. They separated: the bottom layer is lighter, gooey, rather caramel-like, then comes a thick fudgy layer, and on top there’s a thin crunchy crust. I think I might capitalize on this tendency by baking them over a pie crust next time.
  • After lunch I made rhubarb compote. Two pounds rhubarb chopped into roughly 3/4 inch pieces, one cup sugar, half-teaspoon salt, hefty dash cinnamon, and a knob of ginger peeled and cut into three thick slices. Put it all into a pot on very low heat until eventually it boils and the rhubarb gets as soft as you like it. Fish out the ginger slices. Put them in a glass and pour more seltzer over them.

Diary of an academic lady trying to sell her house (1)

Since Undine said she’d enjoy it . . .

In March, order tickets for all-day event in Our Quaint Village. In April, Real Estate Agent decides to take advantage of traffic to Our Quaint Village for all-day event and schedule Open House for that day. Raise eyebrows but Sir John decides we can Make It Work, so agree, and make Plans accordingly.

In May, Plans come unraveled due to being poorly following misguided polite acceptance of dish containing onions while at luncheon with a friend (friend seems sceptical re low-FODMAP diet, in general; mem. consider whether this means one must affirm Courage of Convictions before eating with this friend, or if one should rather avoid any occasion involving food and plan Healthy Walks or similar instead). Am not in condition to prepare house before the day of the Event and Open House; husband, being Vampire, is neither up early On The Day nor did he prep the night before (probably due to consideration of poorly self trying to sleep, as is very Considerate vampire).

Thus find ourselves and House finally ready two hours after Event starts, and one hour before Open House. Query: shut up cats early? Go check in for Event, then return at once to incarcerate cats? After quarter-hour discussion, decide to trap cats, since now have only one half hour before we would have to do so anyway. Venture forth to check in and begin our Day Out. Long Lines ensue. After two portions of Event, once again we have not enough time to begin another, nor is it quite time to return home to release cats. Telephone Agent. Return home, consult briefly with Agent (eight groups visited Open House, more than ever before; question is whether they are Looky-Lous or truly Interested), send Sir John out for the breakfast he did not have time for earlier, restore litter boxes and release cats. Thunderstorm begins.

Sir John returns home, decides he is not up for any more Event. Having spent whackload on tickets, I return to Event. Thanks to storm, lines now much shorter. Determinedly complete my Day Out. Drive home, exhausted and damp, and put feet up to watch last stage of Tour of California. Sir John says if ever have similar conflict in future, refuse to schedule Open House. Own view: if ever eat something I ought not two days before Open House, cancel same.

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.

Grading and grumpy

The title really says it all.

The papers are actually quite decent, and I’m making steady if not swift progress. Getting through this batch is my main task for the day, and I’m on track to achieve that. The view from my desk is attractive—the apple tree is leafing out, I can glimpse red tulips by the garage, and a pair of cardinals in the apple tree continue the red/green theme—and now that Sir John is up, I can add music to distract my monkey mind and keep the front-of-mind focus on the papers. There’s no good reason to be grumpy, and I think the main problem is that I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up, and around the time I was finally hitting the point where I get a few good, deep hours not long before sunrise, Glendower wanted to come in the bedroom, and an hour after that, Basement Cat wanted out. Grumble grumble cats grumble.

I’m going to go for a walk to clear my head/reward myself for the six papers done so far, and then come back and tackle the rest. Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting right now. I’ve been thinking about life narratives, introversion, and professional orientation, but this is not the time. The next two weeks are all grading and conference paper writing.

Anywhere else

I’ve reached the point in the semester when I want to be somewhere that is Else. In the south of France, there are fresh strawberries. In London, there are flowering quinces. In Portugal, gardens are being planted.  On sabbaticalhomes.com, there are houses and apartments for rent in my home city that have me in a strange state of envy, nostalgia, and something else I can’t quite pinpoint (there’s probably a German word for it). They evoke a life I never had, yet which seems like something familiar and lost, or something I meant to have and didn’t quite achieve: the views, the gardens, the accoutrements of sophisticated living, such as the glorious antique rugs in some of the houses (not compatible with cats: my rugs are decent though machine-made, but have survived various types of feline assault).

If spring would get a move on around here, I might be less restless. Is anyone else desperate for pastures new (or old)? Or are you too busy to care?

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.

 

A week of spring

But how is it already a week since I posted?

Spring is moseying along thinking about whether it really wants to show up or would rather just turn back, go home, and put its fleecy pjs back on for a Netflix binge. There are more birds. They perch on the roof next door and taunt Reina, who chitters at them. There are snowdrops and crocuses in other people’s yards, not mine. Some other bulb flowers have stuck leaves above ground, in my yard, but that’s all. I considered raking up the leaves/mulch from last year, but we’re still supposed to have some below-freezing nights in the next week, so I think I will wait.

One of my classes is still awesome. The other, well. I had them sign up for conferences about their third paper, and lectured them a bit about making the most of the opportunity by doing a little work beforehand, like at least decide which option they want to write on. And check the instructions for the paper, because I am not giving them instructions just to make them jump through hoops, I am telling them how to do well on this paper and exactly what I am looking for if they will just read the instructions.

I mean, I can explain it to you again but I can’t understand it for you.

I once had a massage therapist who told me that in Chinese thinking, spring is the angry season. Works for me. Of course, then I need some excuse for my mood during the other seasons.

Sometimes I look at spring clothing online or in the catalogs that still show up in the mail, and consider this dress or that shirt, and then realize I don’t want to buy anything new, I want it to be warm enough to wear the spring clothing I have.

Lots of the bloggers I read post recipes they have tried or devised, or about meals they have enjoyed. Sometimes I enjoy these vicariously but more often lately I get cranky because I can’t eat that, can’t eat that, can’t eat the other thing either. It seems like some people travel to eat. I travel to look at things, because architecture, paintings, and scenery don’t make me sick.

I am making progress on some of the things I need to work on rather than having feeeelings about (mainly guilt) but now my feeeeeling is omg there is so much of this no wonder I didn’t want to do it because this is going to take so long. That is, I absolutely should have started sooner, but now the only thing to do is keep slogging along because It Is Not Going To Get Any Earlier, and the best I can do now is Don’t Make It Worse.

Usually this is the sort of thing I say to myself in February. Hey, April, are you going to be bringing warm days and a burst of energy? Come on, girl, we could use you over here. Take off the pjs and put on a flowered dress, you’ll have a good time once you get there.