On blogs, research, and not-retiring

Once again, blogging because I logged in to leave a comment elsewhere. JLiedl is back! Yay!

I read people’s archives not only because I miss their voices but because old blogs are so hopeful. Most of the academic bloggers who blogged back in the golden age of academic blogs were young, newly minted assistant profs or grad students, who wrote about turning their dissertations into books, about finding and decorating new apartments or houses, about relationships and babies: building their lives. Of course there were the cases of people who couldn’t find jobs, like Sisyphus, or didn’t get tenure, like New Kid, or, in a few cases, tragically early deaths of spouses. But mostly people were on the upswing, and it’s pleasurable to read the stories of how they got to be tenured, married, happily settled.

I wonder if one reason for the death of blogging (in addition to the Book of Face, the Realm of Twits, etc) is that there’s no more plot after that point. Getting to Full is often a bit of an anti-climax, after the tenure drama. People who become administrators generally have to stop blogging from a combination of lack of time and real confidentiality issues. I doubt anyone wants to read about the late-career person who could retire but doesn’t want to, who fears becoming irrelevant, bored and boring, out of touch.

I ask recently-retired friends what they spend time on (when they’re healthy, though in some cases there are a lot of medical appointments). The answers: look after grandchildren, take music lessons, art lessons, language lessons, wood-working, spend more time exercising and gardening, volunteer, run for local office. My (usually unspoken) reaction: shoot me now, don’t wait till you get home. The things from that list that I enjoy are things I already do, and which I do not want to do full-time. I like my job. I have a good teaching schedule, a nice office, and mostly nice students. If I retired, I would need to find something else that gave me contact with people while not requiring that I be really friendly with them (I am very introverted but need some interaction with other humans). People suggest volunteer tutoring, but why teach subjects I don’t care about for free when I can get paid to teach things that really interest me? I have one friend who wants to retire so she can ramp up a second career that combines sales and scholarship. I understand that. That’s retiring-to, not retiring-from.

I’ve been asked to prepare for publication the conference paper I gave last month, on a fairly tight turn-around. I said yes. I intended that paper to be part of the book, and it still will be. I haven’t published any other pieces of the book in progress, just given conference papers, so I’m not saturating the market; given the venue and editor, I don’t anticipate any problem with permissions when the time comes. I’m glad to be asked, and even for the timeline: it gives a clear shape to research for the next few months, a bit of local plot, so to speak. Can our heroine clear the hurdle? Even if the answer appears obvious, a goal with an outside arbiter helps to create narrative tension.

So this site will not turn into all garden-blogging all the time, not yet. I should do more cat-blogging, I suppose. After all, the internet is all about cats, right?

O hai

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Nothing awful has happened in my life, though it does seem like the world is trying hard to go faster and more steeply than usual to hell in a handbasket, and in the circumstances I’ve not made blogging a priority. But today I logged in to leave a comment on Jon Jarrett’s cat pictures, which appeared in my honor, so while I’m here, hello and happy Western Easter if you celebrate it.

Garden update: It looks like spring here, with daffodils in bloom and the magnolia just breaking into flower, but it’s pretty cold still. For now. We might hit 80 at the end of the week, which would probably be the end of the bulb flowers.

Cat update: Basement Cat and Reina have mostly settled down again, except for a bad week after she got out and hid under the deck for 36 hours and didn’t smell right when we got her back inside. We still miss Glendower, especially every time we open a door and there’s no need to keep him from getting out, or to admire his perseverance in fitting himself into the linen closet.

Work update: the end of the semester is in sight. Or else it’s an oncoming train. I traveled to give a conference paper. Discussions at the conference prompted the sabbatical proposal I’m about to turn in. Must.finish.book. (how many years have I been saying that?)

Family update: everyone still present and accounted for.

We’ll see if I can make a blogging comeback, even if it’s all pictures of the garden and cats.

Quick Sunday round-up

I’m not going to say “five minutes” because even five minutes to write turns into 15 to post and fill in categories. And it won’t be ten things I did today because it’s not yet noon here.

Gardening update: the groundhog broke through the newly patched fence by Thursday (when I discovered the damage). I’ve piled heavy pavers in front of the hole, and bought some new metal fence posts that I plan to use to hold the chicken wire in place, and also just to block access. Honorine Joubert is coming into bud. Most of the late-starting volunteer tomato plants have fruit on them, so maybe I will have tomatoes for Halloween.

Reading: though it should be all for teaching and research, this is me we’re talking about, so I’ve read Katherine Heiny’s novels and short story collection because Moira’s posts made her sound like fun. I liked the short stories best. Standard Deviation seemed very familiar, never quite so familiar that I said “Oh, that book, I don’t need to re-read it,” but always with the sense that I knew [whatever event] was going to happen once it did. I’m not sure if Moira did such a good job reporting on it that I expected everything, or if I really did read it a few years ago and forget. I’m also not sure if I was slightly bored because of that sense of familiarity, or because nothing much happens, or because I’m tired of books about privileged New Yorkers. I definitely found Early Morning Riser dull, in part because the setting is so very familiar (small midwestern town). It had some funny lines, but I thought we were in Anne Tyler territory (not literally, since AT writes about Baltimore and its environs; in terms of how random events and long-standing loyalties shape lives), and that Tyler does it better. It made me wonder if Moira and her British commenters like Heiny so much because for them the familiar aspects of her work are slightly exotic, the way I only read British chick lit because I prefer the tone and settings to American chick lit, which usually feels a little cloying and/or claustrophobic to me.

Also reading: Elly Griffiths’ series about Edgar Stephens. I do not like it nearly as well as the Ruth Galloway series. I thought the villain of the first book was completely unbelievable. But at least it’s Elly Griffiths, so they’re readable, and as picky as I am about my fun reading, sometimes readable is good enough.

Researching: I’ve managed a couple thousand words on my book in the past couple of weeks. Yay!

Teaching: I more-or-less finished the most troublesome syllabus a couple of hours before that class started. I still have to write a bunch of assignments. Why is it just as hard to turn an online class into in-person as the other way around? I thought it would be easier going this direction.

Washing and drying: I am enjoying having the new washer and dryer, which were delivered while I was in Familyland, but the washer does have a tendency to twist clothes into ropes. However, both machines have the settings I want to have, and are not so fancy that they want to communicate with the smart phone I don’t have, or decide for themselves how to wash or dry the clothes. I want to be the one who bosses the machines, not the other way around!

Exercising: not enough. It is much too hot out most of the time to go for walks, and I’m not getting up early enough to go out at sunrise when it’s bearable, because we’re staying up late . . .

Watching: the Vuelta à España.

Winter Break, day eight

CATS!

I’ve taken my notes on the big fat ILL book, and I’m going to take it to campus, scan some bits, return it, and pick up other books that I need for planning classes and finishing that dratted essay revision.

Speaking of which, after a week of procrastination (during which I drilled a lot of Greek, read the medieval Spanish art exhibition catalog from the Met (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/the_art_of_medieval_spain_ad_500_1200), started Sénac’s Charlemagne et Mahomet en Espagne, which I purchased five [!] years ago in Paris, read two mystery/ suspense books in full [https://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2020/12/reprint-of-year-award-2020.html], baked two batches of cookies, ordered flowers for the dowager Lady Hull’s birthday, bought presents for my great-niblings which will no doubt arrive after Xmas, and talked to two different friends on the phone), I got back to said revision this morning.

First I opened up the four most recent documents I’ve been tinkering with. Then I printed one, a series of topic sentences, and cut them up to spread out on my desk in an effort to ensure that the whole thing is well-organized before I start messing with large hunks of prose.

Glendower came in and, ignoring his food dish on the floor, leaped to my desk, sliding in among the little slips of paper. I rewarded him for this bad behavior by putting his food in front of him, because we’re always trying to make sure he eats enough.

Hissing in the living room was followed by Sir John yelling at Basement Cat for harassing Reina. I went out to see what was going on, and encouraged Basement Cat to stay upstairs. Then I went to the bathroom.

Back in my study, Basement Cat was definitely encouraged to stay upstairs—he was on my desk, eating Glendower’s food, with the slips of paper in even greater disarray than before.

Dear editor, it’s not exactly the-dog-ate-my-homework but it’s definitely in that genre . . . .

I may have to take my slips of paper to campus with me and spread them out in my office. Good thing I have to go return that ILL.

Winter break, day 3

Or is that “break”? I have no classes or meetings to show up for (oh, thank Cat, no meetings), but I have two classes to prepare for online delivery in the “spring” semester. In this climate and since spring break has been omitted from the calendar (to prevent students going away and spreading The Virus), that will be the “winter” semester for most of its length, I expect.

But I digress. One of these classes I have taught before, and preparing it is just (“just”!) a matter of revising for online delivery. And now I know how much is involved in that revision. Last summer I did a whole lot more planning and writing of assignments than I normally do in summer, and vastly more to build an online site for the class, and still I was scrambling nearly every week of the semester to finish putting up the necessary online stuff in time.

The other class, well, technically I’ve taught it before. Once. Over a decade ago. And I will not be teaching it in anything like the way I did then. Different books, different approach, different assignments, different everything. So effectively starting from scratch. I kept trying to find time to work on it, this fall, but all I really did was order books and start assembling a reading list.

So I’d have my work cut out for me, if class prep were all I had to do in the next four weeks.

There are also the dread Annual Documents to prepare, an accepted essay to revise (I kept trying to work on it all through the fall, and could not keep momentum going), a new essay that has been nagging at me and which I’d like to have a bash at, a whole lot of reading that I want to do, starting with a book on medieval Spanish art that Jon Jarret kindly recommended, continuing with various books that I have more or less impulsively bought or requested from the library, and assorted PDF essays that I ran across while helping students with their projects and more or less impulsively downloaded for research purposes of my own. Also I must take notes on a big fat ILL book, now overdue, which I have finally finished reading but only by dint of putting in a sticky note wherever something caught my eye and plowing on, so now I must return and see if I can work out what was important on the marked pages. There are only a few copies of this volume in the US, and none in my state, so I have it from Far Away, thus the need for good notes and perhaps some scanning.

I’d also like to do some more settling-in to the new house. Some repairs need seeing to, and I really want to get books and other items out of the storage unit and unpack them. Then there will be a whole lot more reading I’d like to do, when I have my favorite fiction available again! Also pictures to hang, and china . . . well, I probably shouldn’t unpack the china until we acquire a suitable sideboard or china cabinet for it. But I can gloat over the boxes, at least.

I came here planning on reporting on the first two days of break. So far, I’ve done yoga before breakfast three days in a row (yay), written nearly 1000 words of notes on the big fat ILL volume, cut my own hair, gone for a six-mile walk (and a shorter one the second day), baked cookies, read a very frothy novel published in 1910, loaded a bunch of teaching files into a shared folder on Dropbox for a colleague at another institution, and drilled a lot of Greek vocabulary, principle parts, and noun endings.

Do I know how to have fun, or what?

How I wish it were true that university faculty don’t work more than six hours a week and swan off to the Caribbean the minute classes are over (or maybe before) to guzzle brightly-colored drinks with little umbrellas.

At any rate, it’s time to get down to work on the writing and planning, so here we go.

WTF?

It’s been awhile since I’ve read either the Chron or Inside Higher Ed. I have enough to do, what with reading archives of my favorite bloggers, teaching, and trying to write, or maybe those things go in reverse order. But today a blog-update link showed a headline at IHE that interested me, so I went and read the piece, and then clicked on the Advice section to read a some advice about teaching online.

Tip #1, about establishing rules for the classroom, starts with this sentence: “Many students alchemize participating in distance learning with sitting in front of an optically and audibly challenged neophyte substitute.”

What?

Seriously, I have no idea what this sentence means. Did the writer take a comprehensible sentence and run it through one of those synonym-substituter programs?

I should have stopped reading there. The rules suggested strike me as . . . out of touch with current reality, despite the claim to respond to COVID-related teaching concerns. Repeated logging out/in can be because of network connectivity problems. Maybe the bed with a sibling’s band on the other side of the wall is the only place the student has any privacy (it’s true they could at least make the bed). The point to a chat forum is that it simulates the back-and-forth of actual conversation; that’s why people use abbreviations for frequently-used phrases.

I’ll go back to checking out people’s archives when I need a break, and continuing my abstention from higher-ed news. It’s strangely unenlightening.

For Moira

This is really a Clothes In Books post. Doris Langley Moore (fashion historian as well as novelist) has featured on that blog, but not with the book Not At Home (1948). Amazon suggested the book to me based on my other reading, and it certainly fits my “light British women’s fiction from the first half of the twentieth century” reading theme from this fall. I found about the first half of the book rather hard going because of the way the lady with the lemon suede gloves treats poor Miss MacFarren’s house, and while I am not completely unfamiliar with the struggle it can take to stand up to a charming person who is determined to stay put, I would long since have bit the bullet and given the lady and her husband notice. Also there should be a content warning for neglect of animals. Still, the clothes and period details have much to recommend them, and the visit to the film studio is fascinating.

“On the step was a woman laden with flowers, a wonderfully smart woman with a white cloth coat, a yellow taffeta turban draped in the newest style, and white wedge-heeled shoes as complex as a Chinese puzzle. Her hair was pale gold and her ivory-coloured face suggested rather than achieved the most extraordinary beauty. With a smile of such radiance as lies only in the consciousness of flawless teeth, she extended from amongst the flowers a lemon-coloured suede glove.”

I don’t know where Moira finds the images to go with her posts; that is, she cites them, but I lack her touch with the databases. Unless she picks up the challenge, you’ll just have to imagine the outfit.

Trolls writing in my head

I got to this post via Maria Nikolojeva, and found it completely delightful and utterly recognizable. Nearly everything I’ve ever written has been kidnapped by trolls, even the pieces that I’m reasonably fond of, like the largest hunk of the MMP. The version in my head has a golden glow that just doesn’t make it onto the page. Anyway, then I was poking around Undine’s archives (instead of doing any actual work, sigh, I know, but look, it’s better than doom-scrolling, I’d way rather let Undine into my head than random voices from all over), and found this related idea.

Instead of writing elves, maybe some of us get visits from the writing trolls, who take away our beautiful words and leave fake smelly ones in their place.

The fantasy almost writes itself, doesn’t it? The war between the writing elves and the writing trolls, taking place by night while the writer sleeps down the hall. The stealthy attacks. The interruptions by the writer’s cats, who pounce on a writing elf but also scare off the trolls. The quest to the troll-lair to recapture the kidnapped book-baby.

I’ll have to let it write itself while I go tend to a bit of scholarship about an obscure medieval romance.

Thinking/writing/words

I’m still living in the past and vicariously enjoying Cambridge via Maria Nikolejeva, who writes:

“We all write in different ways. I remember a writer friend was furious when I mentioned that I had finished a novel in three weeks. Obviously the reason for his rage was that no decent writing could go that fast. However, the three weeks of actual writing had been preceded by months of thinking and researching. The process of transferring words from my mind onto the computer screen was a matter of my typing skills. However, I know, or know of, writers who proudly say that they are happy if they can write a hundred words a day. Or twenty. Or ten.

“Similarly, I can write a 6,000-word scholarly article in a day, but it means that I have been thinking about it for a long time and just need to write it down. I think best when I weed the garden or, as I have started doing recently, walking at fast pace in the park. After that, I rush to my desk to record all the clever things that came to my mind during the walk. I could never sit down to write a hundred words from scratch. I just don’t function this way. But some people do. Some fellow scholars set goals for themselves: a thousand words per week? That adds up to six weeks for a 6,000-word essay. Sounds reasonable, but it includes thinking and researching. If you intend to publish two articles a year, what are you doing the rest of the time?”

https://nikolajeva.blogspot.com/2011/01/word-count.html

This sounds wonderful if you can do it. I don’t write in my head, or anywhere but on paper or on-screen. I know many people who “write in their heads,” and once had a professor, in grad school, who advised me to go for a walk and think through a writing problem I had come to see him about. Then as now, I could/can set out on a walk with the firm intention of thinking through a problem, and within a few paces become absorbed in looking at flowers, birds, the veining on leaves, clouds in the sky, unusual numbers of cars in a neighbor’s driveway, in waving at the kid playing in his yard, listening to birds or the wind, smelling burning leaves or dinners cooking, and otherwise being engaged in my immediate physical surroundings. Anything so abstract as writing or problem-solving takes not just a back seat but another bus entirely.

This is (part of) what I mean when I say I am one of Nature’s contemplatives. I contemplate what is near me, not anything abstract. If you put me in a blank-walled room, I could go into my imagination and amuse myself for quite some time. I might even be able to “write in my head,” in such conditions. I’m not sure that I’d be able to recall that “writing” when I was back with paper or screen, however.

What am I doing the rest of the time? Reading and thinking; transcribing wills and IPMs written in Latin, in secretary hand; struggling to turn “hey, that’s cool!” moments into actual coherent arguments (I suspect this is something that head-writers are doing in their heads, but again, I lose the thread pretty fast if I’m not making physical notes).

And, of course, prepping classes and grading. I am very behind on grading just now. Hence the procrastiblogging.

The dreaded annual report

It’s a relief to know that even famous professors at Cambridge hate putting together their annual reports (or did, ten years ago):

“I am spending – wasting, as it were – a beautiful autumn Sunday writing an annual report. Of course it’s my own fault, I shouldn’t have put it off until the very last days, but, frankly, writing annual reports is absolutely the worst part of being an academic, worse even than Quality Assurance and Grade Adjudication put together. . . .

It is not even an annual report. It is a biennial report, summing up my achievements since I came here two years ago. I thought that when I reached the height where I am now, all this would be over and done with. I cannot climb higher (because I don’t want to be Head of Faculty, or Head or School, or Second Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor twice removed). I cannot be fired. Let me be. But no, I must write this report, with everything I’ve done since I came here – I wish I’ve kept track – with a list of publications, five most important highlighted, two academic referees from Cambridge-acknowledged institutions who must know me well, but not too well, and the worst of all, a personal statement. I am sure there are services on internet that write personal statements for anyone, although I wouldn’t quite trust them. But if I could pay somebody, from the pay increment I might get through this painful exercise, to do this for me! I find it tedious and humiliating. I understand it is necessary – or is it? So many hours, days, perhaps weeks spent every year in academia to write these reports that will be scrutinised by numerous committees, and how many hours and days do I spend writing references for other people going through the same process. Perhaps I would not make a sensational scientific discovery today, Sunday, instead of writing my report. On the other hand, who knows? I am not sure whether it was on a Sunday that Newton was hit on his head by that famous apple, but surely he was sitting and meditating in one of Cambridge’s many pretty gardens rather than writing an annual report.”

Maria Nikolojeva, Confessions of a Displaced Hedgehog: Self-Assessment, 17 October 2010