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.

SAD nutjob = me?

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, or visited the archives, you’ll know I get very gloomy in winter (which I think of as Iguana Sseason), that I long to spend all of December in Morocco or Mexico, and that it is very good for me to take at least a short domestic break somewhere sunny, as I did in 2015. So why, why am I contemplating a trip to London in January, when it will no doubt rain every day and the days will certainly be even shorter than they are here at home?

Because of the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at the Tate Britain, which runs 24 October 2018 – 24 February 2019.

I’m not sure that it’s exactly EBJ himself drawing me (if you’d asked me who my favorite nineteenth-century painter was, I probably would have said Rousseau, or possibly Corot), but a combination of his artistic, literary, and historical significance alongside the provenance of many of the exhibited items, on loan from private owners. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see paintings whose owners have gone off to their winter homes in Morocco or Ibiza or wherever, before they come home in March and want their stuff back. It’s not as if Andrew Lloyd Webber is ever going to invite me over for a drink and a good ogle at his Burne-Jones collection. We’ve never even met, and I probably would seem like a dodgy, not to mention boring, guest, likely to drone on about owners of medieval manuscripts and the beginnings of the EETS.

Traveling overseas purely to see a museum exhibition seems most extravagant and self-indulgent. If the exhibit ran until summer, I could combine it with the Early Book Society conference or Leeds, but the dates are what they are (and I’m not giving a paper at either conference, it’s just that if I paid my own way to either I’d feel that I had a respectable professional reason to travel, plus I could take some time to look at manuscripts). However, January is the off-season, as well as when I have a little bit of a break from both teaching and family obligations. If I take a not-so-desirable flight, and go for a shortish period of time, I can stay someplace decent and probably pay for the whole thing with my first year’s full-professor salary bump.

I think I’ve talked myself into it, even though I hate traveling in the winter, as a general thing. Does exposure to art counteract SAD as well as actual sunshine does? Perhaps it’s worth running the experiment.

(Self)Promotion

My application has passed another level of inspection, the one after which all the rest is rubber-stamping. So, although I’ll be getting another couple of letters of approval as the process takes its course, I am now certain that as of next spring, I will be a full professor.

It has taken me a long time, and I’m happy to achieve this goal. It might have happened sooner if the MMP had been less recalcitrant, but research takes the time it takes. Anyway: Yay!

An era ends

We’re done with the translation. It’s going to go to the editors this week. No doubt they will have queries and corrections, and at some point there will be proofs to correct (I love correcting proofs because they STAY DONE), but that’s all just fiddly bits. We have in fact finished.

I haven’t blogged that much about this project, though it appears regularly in various writing group posts, because it has all been fairly straightforward work. Find the right words; decide what elements need footnotes; for the intro, describe our methods and the manuscript, and sum up what is known about author, patron, date, and so on. The translation has never made me struggle with figuring out an argument, stating it succinctly, and supporting it appropriately without wandering down some by-way of digression, all the elements that give me fits when writing articles and chapters. However, because we’re translating a very very long medieval text, and working as a team each with individual interruptions and other projects, it has taken years to complete. Longer than I anticipated; but not so long as one of our editors jokingly suggested back in the beginning.

Although there have been periods sometimes amounting to months when I have done no translation work, it has assuredly been part of my mental load throughout the whole process, and I have often felt guilty about not getting on with it. Now I can put down that nagging feeling, and enjoy the feeling of achievement (keeping in mind the inevitable queries and proofs; must not over-schedule self this year such that dealing with them will produce overload).

Possibly NOW I can really do what I always say I am going to do, and work on one thing at a time until that thing is done. And read. I have another very very long medieval text that I bought at K’zoo this year, with which I would like to get acquainted. I am not going to write about it. I have a list of projects to work on already! Just read.

I promise.

Slightly brain-dead

Yesterday I turned in my application for promotion, along with a crate (literally) of supporting evidence. Sir John asked a few times why I kept referring to “the crate.” That is what my department calls it; each applicant gets a plastic storage crate in which to assemble paper copies of everything: publications, syllaboi, sample assignments, and so on. It will take at least four months to get through the next stages, possibly longer depending on how many cases the college level has to look at and whether any of them are controversial. The rubber-stamping stages will drag out the process for another six months or so.

But you know my motto: any excuse is a good excuse for champagne. Some members of my writing group accompanied me for a celebratory glass of wine yesterday (the only place open in mid-afternoon didn’t have anything sparkly on the menu). I’ll crack a bottle every time I hear anything. Last night, however, my main celebration involved a novel in the bathtub: Marina Endicott’s The Little Shadows, about three Canadian sisters in vaudeville in the 1910s. It’s divided up into short scenes of 2-3 pages that make it fatally easy to read just a little more . . . and just a little more . . . I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it’s an all-time favorite, but it was fun. I got the recommendation from ClothesInBooks, whose author seems to have similar tastes to mine, both in books and in interest in clothes.

In short, I stayed up far too late and got up at almost my usual time this morning, so I’m a little tired. I plan to do nothing much today (some housework, gym, gardening, more reading). Tomorrow will be time enough to get back to work.

Green stuff, Summer, Projects

Yesterday I graded All The Things and then filed All The Grades. At home I drank sherry, had a bath, and crashed.

Summer started this morning, and despite my protests about being overly married to this house, I started with housewifery. I put out the bags of yard waste from my weekend endeavors, did some more weeding and spraying of bellflower, thought about the way it and the thistles were resisting the Very Nasty Weedkiller recommended by people at the gardening group I attend sporadically, and laughed at them a little more. Clearly they think of gardening as a genteel hobby, whereas the way I do it, it’s more like habitat reclamation. Or terraforming. Some of us just can’t do things the easy way. The clematis, at least, is doing beautifully, and the little volunteer clematis is back with buds on.

I like the thistles, or at least I love the goldfinches who perch on them to eat the seeds; the yellow and purple are beautiful together. If we weren’t trying to move, I’d just let the thistles be. But I don’t think most people want to buy a yard full of thistles.

Anyway, then I did a load of laundry and some ironing, because secretly I like ironing if I don’t have many other more important things to do. My linen will wind up crumpled, of course, because that’s the nature of the beast, but at least it won’t look like it spent the winter in a ball on the bottom of my closet. There are degrees of rumpled.

After lunch I turned to scholarly endeavors for a couple of hours.

I am waiting for a blast of e-mailed temper from my Brother Less Reasonable, since the other one has found an appropriate assisted-living facility to which to move our father. Less has already stated that he is categorically opposed to such a move. But he’s outnumbered. Maybe he’ll realize that that dignified silence might be the better part of valor.

Well, I can hope.

Time for exercise and bill-paying. There will no doubt be TV later. With sherry. Such an exciting (well, satisfying, anyway) life I lead.

Summer!

Not only green stuff, but warmth. Heat, even. It’s true that I have to go to campus twice more, and that I have papers to grade, and will have exams to grade, but we’re so close to the end, and the weather is so nice, that I’m feeling all laid-back and relaxed about it. Working in shorts and sandals doesn’t quite feel like working.

Burying the lede in a post-break post

How did it get to be Thursday already? Not only that, but the second Thursday post-spring break? I think someone greased the downhill slide toward the end of the term (wheeeee!). I have grading to do (but of course), and yet another editorial query about the MMP to answer (please can this be the last one? Please?), miles to go on the translation (though I am past the halfway point), and visions of my other sidelined projects dancing in my head. I also have thoughts about posts on dealing with trauma around intellectual issues, and on dealing with de-cluttering and de-accessioning Significant Objects, but not enough time to develop these thoughts in writing.

Because the reward for a job well done is another job, I have about seven weeks to complete another large writing and organizing project. My department thinks I’m ready to apply for promotion to Full Professor, and I’m not going to wait around another year just because I have deadlines looming and would like to knock out the last set of overdue revisions and am trying to pack up everything Not Wanted On Voyage so we can move, not to mention keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to make another sudden trip to FamilyLand. I have been writing hard for the last few years, trying to get un-stuck from my long sojourn as Associate Professor, and if the department is willing to support my bid for Full, I am by all the gods going up now, not later.

So either posting will be thin(ner) on the ground for a bit, or there will be lots of it as a self-soothing and/or procrastinatory measure. You just never know.

Finally.

The creek did not rise, the Lord lent me a long-handled spoon, the Palpable Worm of Guilt died (or at least hibernated), and this morning I submitted the revised version of the last hunk of the Macedonian Marginalia Project, MMP for short. In one form or another, I’ve been working on this thing for close to ten years. I hereby thank various online writing group members who offered encouragement on various iterations of it (in various iterations of writing groups). You can search the blog for “MMP,” and here’s a selection of quotations from past posts about it:

The bad news is that I have piles of books on the floor, because before returning them I want to be certain that books I think I will need again when I return to the Old Current Project (jeebus: I hereby re-christen that thing the Macedonian Marginalia Project, MMP for short) or to the previous Putative Book project (MaryAnn Ginger! the Big Volume on a Manuscript, or BVM, how’s that?), anyway, I say, I want to be sure those books are noted in the appropriate notes, bibliography, or “dump file,” especially those that are somehow obscure, or came to me via ILL, so I can get them back easily. And no, I will not re-write that sentence.

I hate cold, winter, and the December holidays, and since I can’t spend the entire month in Morocco or Malaysia, I’m going to distract myself this year with the Macedonian Marginalia Project, an article I had hoped to finish over a year ago. Younger self: just go to Mexico.

I don’t want to be a conversation-starting scholar. . . I don’t imagine there will be a huge conversation about the MMP. I don’t have the writing-personality to start one, and the skills required to do this kind of work are too rare to get a lot of followers. What I can do is take the time necessary to make my article solid, accurate, and reliable. So it’s already taken more than two years. If I do it right, it will still be useful in 50.

As I work toward finishing the MMP, which I have been working on for 3 years now, I can’t really see why it took so long. Should I not be farther along than creating topic sentences for all my paragraphs? And yet, I do see what took so long: synthesizing the details, figuring out what they offer a larger conversation, working out how to get from larger to smaller and back again, figuring out connections, thinking about what work each paragraph needs to do. Three years! What a good thing I had no idea it would be 2018 before the thing saw print.

The MMP began life as an exploration of Thing One and Thing Two because they had something in common with Thing Three . .  last summer I was pretty sure I had got Things One and Two (my lively eels) wrapped tidily round each other in an attractive twist. There were just a few little bits to work on . . . and then Thing One grew a tentacle. . . picture, here, a small two- or three-masted sailing ship, on a calm sea, under a sunny sky, sails happily belled out by a brisk but pleasant breeze, and Dame Eleanor, in period costume, rearranging piles of parchment on the poop deck, holding them down with deck quoits, while behind her rises the Giant Octopus of Doom, stretching its suckers toward the little ship. Comrade Physioprof liked “octopusing” as a verb. So do I.

I would really like to hurry up and finish the MMP (or, rather, the MMP-1 and MMP-2) and publish them and get on to the next thing and get to be a full professor before I retire.  How many of my colleagues have to get to transcribe or at least read 78 x 3 lines of early modern law-Latin in an Anglicana hand before they can get on with writing their articles?

I have no idea what my first sentence is going to be, or the last. The MMP-1 is taking shape from the middle section outward. Its shape is an hourglass. (Well, that’s what I thought in 2013.)

I sorted and labeled all the photocopies with different-colored sticky notes for Literature, Manuscripts, Reading Practices, Book History, Biography, and Theory. I also labeled the piles of printouts: MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, and listed what was in them (notes, tables of data, early drafts, feedback from RL writing group, usw). I’m not sure where all those stacks are anymore. Buried in my office? Can I recycle it all now?

I [hacked] and [slashed] the second rejected version to meet a draconian word limit for a prestigious journal. (Reviewers thought it seemed disjointed. No shit, really?)

For (mumble) years now, I have been living with its protagonist. When I’m working on this project, I stare at Google Images of his tomb and his lands (as they are now: so far, I have not convinced Google to cough up overhead shots from earlier centuries, though there are some nineteenth-century images of his parish church and nearby bridge). Last summer I visited his tomb and said some prayer more or less for his soul. And took my own photographs of said tomb.

Sometimes I feel delighted to send an essay out into the world. This time, I’m hopeful but wary. If projects are children, the MMP-1 has had a hard time in adult life, and has sucked up a lot of my resources; some of the younger kids have suffered because of the attention this one needed.

This means I am finally done (bar revisions) with the Project That Ate My Life for the last seven years, a project that initially seemed simple and then turned into three separate articles plus a companion-piece spin-off, a project that was supposed to be ancillary to a book project that has been sidelined while I work on the other book that cropped up in the meantime. (Generating ideas is not a problem I have. Finishing things, yes, guilty as charged.) Oh, yeah, revisions. They couldn’t possibly take six months.

A few details on the MMP-1, since my brother didn’t ask: it contains over 14,000 words (a number that will grow when I revise further before publication) and 102 footnotes, it deals with multiple manuscript sources (one literary, at least five documentary), it involved extensive transcription from wills and other documents written in Latin and in secretary hand, it surveys critical literature in an area that is Not My Home Field, it included references to criticism read in a modern language not English, and the last round of readers’ reports included phrases such as “clear argument,” “very welcome,” “compelling” and “impressive.” Shoot, even its first rejection included the phrase “impressively well documented.” Adding two more literary manuscripts, 25 footnotes, and 3000 words might account for the six months. I guess.

The list of secondary sources includes work in at least three separate scholarly fields. I think altogether I cite works in five different languages. But who’s counting?

It’s the end of an era. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

900: Falling off the face of the Earth

In the middle of last month, I realized that my next post would be #900, which seemed to call for some special notice. I was mulling over a post about metaphors for writing and why I like to read blogs about restoring old houses in France (which is definitely one of those reading-not-doing items for me). I hoped to write the post before leaving for the Thanksgiving break, but figured after, or even during, would work just fine.

Then we went to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and all plans went to hell in a handbasket. My father, reportedly doing very well following a hospitalization at the end of October, was supposed to move from a rehabilitation facility to “independent living.” My soon-to-be-ex-niece-in-law (I had understood) had done a lot of the necessary organizing and everything was set for an orderly transition. There were just a few little loose ends that could be easily wrapped up.

Mmm-hmm. I’m not sure if I should say that the loose ends unraveled or that pulling on them led to a massive snarl of yarn. Either way, it was a mess, and I didn’t really work out how much of a mess until I had about 36 hours before I had to leave for the airport. I moved mountains, and was briefly proud of myself, and then the mountains collapsed, after all (volcanic eruption? I really should leave the metaphors alone). A week later, my father was in the hospital with pneumonia, all his work in rehab undone.

To make a long story short, he is now in a nursing home, where he seems likely to stay for the rest of his life. He is one of the highest-functioning patients there, both mentally and physically, but he’s still not in good enough shape to tackle even assisted living. He might get there, but at his age, just making the move from one situation to another would be enormously stressful and likely to lead to another setback.

At any rate, my life seems to be back on track now. Grades are in. One of my greatly-delayed sets of revisions, the easier one, is done and submitted, thanks to the editor leaning on me. And I really do mean thanks; I would not have got them done without the kick in the pants, but the work provided a useful counter-irritant to a whole lot of calls and anxiety about my father. The editor for the last chunk of the MMP has extended me mercy unhoped-for. I have to pound out a revised intro and conclusion, but I think I’ve fixed everything else, and if I can keep a clear head and finish off in the next ten days or so, the largest and most elaborate piece of the MMP will see daylight in 2018. God willing and the creek don’t rise, with the help of the Lord and a long-handled spoon, and any other such folk sayings we can come up with (please leave them in the comments).

One happy side-effect of living on adrenaline appears to be that I am not suffering from SAD this year, at least not so far, and so you are spared my usual grousings about winter and the holidays. I am actually looking forward to a sane and ordinary get-together with Sir John’s side of the family, and to a nice calm dose of ordinary work instead of having to apply my skills at gathering, organizing and communicating information to elder-care. I guess another happy side-effect is realizing how useful these skills actually are in real-life situations.

Roll on Christmas excess. Sir John impulse-bought a lovely bottle of lovely Spanish sherry last week, and I have been lapping it down at such a rate that I think I need to get him a new bottle for his stocking. Ding-dong, merrily get high!