Another look back

Jon Jarrett just posted his report on K’zoo 2017, as part of an on-going effort to catch up on posts about research-related events in his life, and so I thought to look back at my experiences at the same conference. Any research-oriented notes on papers are in the conference program (yes, the paper version, you’re surely not surprised that I’m old-school), which is of course packed away somewhere, so the following extracts are from my personal journal, in which I was thinking about scheduling and how I was feeling, physically (generally, tired: I don’t sleep well in strange places).

I got to K’zoo about 7:00, collected my registration packet without seeing anyone I knew, and checked into the hotel. This morning I e-mailed presenters in the sessions I’m chairing to ask if they have any recent accomplishments they’d like me to mention. I’ve picked out sessions for today; there’s a —– Society Board meeting; I’ll have some time in which to come back to the hotel, eat, shower, change into fancier clothing for the Wheeler reception.

Thursday night’s reception was, as usual, loud. Val Garver received the Wheeler Award, and Lorraine Stock was giving money to the fund in honor of Alice Colby-Hall, who was there to be honored.

[Another morning] I chaired a session that went very well, though AV problems meant we started a few minutes late. The afternoon session also went well; my grad student got no questions on her paper, but I told her I’m the same way: we put together tightly constructed, well-argued and thoroughly documented papers, and no one can see what they might add, so they focus on the papers with more loose ends. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I also had the —–Society general meeting and reception, followed closely by a Frenches of Fordham reception, and later in the evening, the Early Book Society meeting.

I think I would enjoy receptions more if I could drink like other academics. It’s odd being stone-cold sober when everyone else is getting tipsy and loud. It’s not that I feel I need to drink to have a good time; rather, alcohol takes the edge off discomfort at being in loud, crowded spaces, and makes it easier to deal with other people at the end of a long day. But it makes me feel too ill.

Last night I slept for 3–4 hours, tossed around for awhile, finally got up at 5:30 and ate something, then went back to bed for another couple of hours. I skipped today’s morning session; there were several things I could have gone to, nothing that I felt was a can’t-miss, I was awake for 2–3 hours in the middle of the night, and I wanted to visit the book exhibit. But a book I was considering got away. Oh well. I guess I didn’t want it enough.

As Jon said, “I was there and I learnt things,” though I think he had more fun than I did. I did have some meals with friends, and it was nice to catch up with people, but 2017 wasn’t one of my really energizing Zoo trips.

Private medievalist

With the cancellation of the Medieval Congress at Leeds, I’m 0 for 3 on the conferences I hoped to attend this year.

First-world problems, yes. I hope all my posts to do with the virus* remain of this type, I truly do. I’m mainly disappointed that I don’t get to see my friends, or travel in the UK. Sir John was going to come this year. We were going to climb around old castles together, and have a swell time. I’m sure we’ll have a swell time at home, too, but we’d been looking forward to this trip for awhile. I suppose the castles will still be there next year. In the meantime, I’m shut in the house with my favorite person and three cats, so no complaints there, and e-mail, Skype, and the phone still work for getting in touch with people. For me, conferences are about social events and travel. Even in this first-world situation, it’s not as if I’m a junior person who was counting on conferences to help make significant progress on a book. And I’m sure not the hospitality industry losing all their bookings.

Where has the last week gone? Mainly checking CNN’s live updates, blowing my nose, coughing, writing up assignments for my students and sending reassuring e-mails, cleaning, trying to nap, advising Sir John about online shopping: local grocery stores are delivering, but there’s a lot of “we’re out of this, what about X substitute?” that we have to negotiate.

As the introvert’s introvert, I actually am looking forward to settling down to reading and working on my own schedule, without commuting. The only reason I’m not already doing this is that I’m ill with something, and whether it’s just a cold or Something Else, I don’t want to aggravate it. This is not the time to Carry On, and get sicker. So I rest a lot, though sleep is iffy because of symptoms (this is totally normal for me with a cold), and say “oh swyve it” to a lot of things, and figure that the obsessive news-checking is part of trying to take in the scale of the crisis. I keep wondering how I could have been in denial for so long, but I’ve seen posts from doctors admitting they were, too, so it’s not just me.

I worry about my dad in his assisted-living facility, but there is nothing I can do about that. Apply Stoic principles, and accept whatever happens. I can’t bring myself to get in touch with my brothers. My Brother Less Reasonable at least has a grasp of statistics and scientific principles, but he is also a Negative Nicholas and I don’t want to hear his version of how bad everything is going to get, even if he’s right. My Brother More Reasonable** will undoubtedly have some kind of crackpot theory that might be amusing if I could keep sufficiently detached to just say to myself, “Wow, yeah, there he goes again,” but I’m not sure I could do that. So I just don’t. They haven’t called or e-mailed me, either, so we’re even, I guess.

* “the virus” used to be HIV. It seems so weird to have it be something else, and something whose generic (“the coronavirus”) is something I associate with shelter cats. A few weeks ago, I was joking with Sir John that our cats had done their best to ensure that we’d have some antibodies when COVID-19 hit the States: bats, cats, one letter difference. Right? Um.

** The More and Less Reasonable descriptors refer only to how easy I find it to negotiate my father’s care with them, not to their belief systems or ways of interacting with the world.

Anchors

The closures and cancellations keep coming. My dentist, my gym, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo.

The last makes it even stupider that I stayed up so late, last week, reading the program and thinking about what sessions to go to. But I suspect that at some level I understood that this might happen, and was clinging to normality for a little bit longer. Queen of Denial! This was not the year to have been so efficient about registering and booking a hotel. Sometimes procrastination is not a bad thing!

I feel more cast adrift than I did yesterday, even though in practical terms, little has changed. I’m still staying home for 2-3 weeks, no matter what; I’m not on the K’zoo program this year, so I already didn’t need to write a paper, was just going to go to see friends and attend whatever struck my fancy. Maybe by mid-May I’ll be able to take some other sort of vacation.

But the gym was a near-daily anchor in my life, and I liked to think of it being there whether I was in it or not. The conference is a yearly anchor; I’ve been there every year since I was in grad school, over 30 years now. It’s what I do, in May. It gives me a punch of research-energy going into the summer. It’s very strange to have gone in less than a week from having two conferences on the horizon to none. And, yes, first-world problems, etc., keeping the vulnerable safe, I know. But if you’re reading this, you’re quite likely an academic of some stripe and know what I mean, or can imagine, even if your conference is at a different time of year.

Holy Innocents

If you like colo(u)ring books, here’s a link for you:

http://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections/

I hope you have time to indulge before you go back to work.

Today is the 9th day in a row I have worked on the article I’m trying to finish before the New Year. I feel like it was written by someone else, and I’m trying to re-make it in my own voice, as the scholar I am now, not the person I was when I first put the essay together, certainly not the person I was when I wrote the conference papers it was based on.

I am never again going to write a conference paper. I will write articles, and boil them down into conference papers if I want to go to the conference, but building longer pieces out of short ones just does not work for me. If it works for you, carry on, but if you’re like me, or suspect you might be, consider this permission to stop doing what isn’t working (even though it’s standard advice).

That said, I still have a couple of papers from last summer that I wanted to write, ideas that may be part of The Putative Book, and may be spin-offs. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

On August, time, and grace

It’s being one of those long, busy months. I still feel the stars hurtling through the heavens, the northern hemisphere slouching into a new season, but there’s less time to appreciate the passing of time now that classes have started again. My life is carved into lists, lists for each class, lists for research, lists for house, health, finances. Sleep, once again, is iffy, because I am over-stimulated. Not worried, there’s nothing to worry about, but change is coming down the pike, this year, next year, soon, and I feel unsettled.

August has been long in part because of two trips. I went to a most excellent conference, which stimulated in all the good ways; research is definitely exciting at the moment. Sir John accompanied me on a trip to my old stomping grounds, during which we had a very active social life. It was great to see people, but I wish we could have scattered all our events over a couple of months instead of cramming them into a week!

We went to a dinner that assembled several high-school friends and our spouses. We all married “out,” that is, to people who are from somewhere else, met when we were adults, who know only by hearsay of our long-ago parties, excursions, jokes, and catch-phrases. In such a mixed group, we can all be our adult selves, with minimal reminders of the teens we once were. Maybe my friends would be okay with the reminders, but I am much happier as an adult and prefer to think that I have moved far beyond my young self. Long ago, when I was slightly freaked out about turning 18 and thus being legally adult when I had little notion of how “to adult,” as the phrase now goes, the host of this dinner assured me, “Grown-ups have more fun.” I have found this to be true.

We also attended a memorial service for a friend’s father, a beloved and influential teacher. My friend told me that he had kept the poems I showed him when I was, what, 18? 20? I am not, now, a poet. I channeled my creative impulses into literary research, and as a scholar I am tolerably successful. (That is, employed!) I may have a better appreciation for poetry because I once wrote some; I don’t know. My friend’s father’s great gift was to see and respect young people, children and teens, as complete people, interesting in themselves, not for what they might become. If they were interested in basketball, poetry, or rap music, then he talked to them about basketball, poetry, and rap. He learned from them. They learned—we learned—something about how to be an adult who pays attention, who is kind, who takes people of any age seriously.

These are not lessons I learned from my parents.

I am still most extremely imperfect in putting those lessons into practice.

These two events, and others with them, have me thinking: who do I want to be, and how can I be that person? My lists and obligations do not sum me up; they are part of me—I’m sure my friend’s father made his own lists—but not all of me. I want to live with something of the attention, intention, and grace that he had, that he gave freely to everyone who passed through his life.

Still summer

At least, by the calendar.

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

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

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

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

Bah!

Humbug.

The great thing about Christmas is that once the 25th rolls around, the hoopla is over and normal life can resume. I could use some normal life. I went and visited my family for nearly a week, as soon as exams were over, so I was still grading, and I managed to do a little writing each day as well. Sometimes only a sentence, but I did something.

Then I came home and stopped writing for nearly another week. I don’t know how that happened. A dab of jet lag, getting up later in the morning so I didn’t have my preferred early morning writing slot; determination to re-establish a gym habit; assorted small distractions that really are no excuse. Really I think what happened was that I needed to recover from the family visit. I spent a lot of time reading novels, doing crosswords, and working on a jigsaw puzzle, all prime self-soothing activities. I wrote six single-spaced pages about my father and the one brother I saw during my visit. I saw him for an hour, total: can one person be that irritating in one hour? If it’s my Brother Less Reasonable, why yes, yes he can. I keep reminding myself that I have had far more therapy than he has, that I can understand what is going on and feel compassion, that I need to keep in mind my goal (our father’s care) and not get distracted by petty complaints about our father’s character.

Unfortunately, doing all that emotional labor tends to exhaust my store of patience for dealing with Other People, so that I get snappish with people at the gym, and impatient with my mother-in-law’s political discourse. (Seriously, what is it with people who can’t stand the current president and yet talk about him all.the.time? Anything, anything else would be preferable. Explain the rules of football to me [again]. Talk about the Kardashians. Your favorite television shows. The iniquities of handymen and plumbers. Anything!)

Today there will be no Other People. That is, my gym will be open for another couple of hours, so if I get my act together I could go work out and hope not to run into anyone annoying. But I could just spend the whole day at home and not see anyone except Sir John and the cats. Since I’ve finished La Belle Sauvage (A, looking forward to next one), Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (B: okay but will not go on with the series), and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (not so satisfying as I remember; question: to teach or not to teach?), I can go on to Pedro I El Cruel y Enrique de Trastámara, which was supposed to be my winter break project (research plus language maintenance). I could give up and look up the answers for the crossword puzzle I’m stuck on (far too many names of TV and sports figures) so I can fill it in and go on to another. At some point after Sir John wakes up, we will exchange presents, and then maybe go back to the jigsaw. I cooked yesterday so we will eat leftovers. As usual when writing has been not-happening, I feel like I ought to Write All The Things, but let’s set the bar low: one sentence on the Overdue Thing, and some polishing of an abstract for a conference submission, and then I’ll have re-started.

If you are celebrating today, then I hope you’re enjoying yourself and don’t feel like murdering your relatives. If you’re not celebrating, then I hope you’re having a peaceful and productive day.

Odds and ends

I cherish the fond illusion that I file/recycle/toss paperwork every 3-6 months, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Very otherwise. However, today I have tackled stacks of paper. As usually happens when things pile up for long enough, I have been able to recycle large quantities, including early drafts of two essays for which I have now corrected proofs, print-outs of conference papers given three and four years ago, and receipts associated with those conferences.

Still on my desk:

*a program from a conference four years ago, in a place I particularly enjoyed;

*instructions for my phone. which I seem to have got on quite well without;

*a two-year pocket calendar for 2014-2015;

*a postcard from Hull;

*a paper written by a graduate student for a course I taught, which I think I kept because in theory I am on the student’s dissertation committee (in practice, I don’t think the student has submitted any work yet);

*receipts from this year’s stay in Kalamazoo;

*a stack of references to things I mean to read for scholarly purposes;

*a set of newspaper clippings referring to books I have thought of reading for pleasure, along the lines of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey and Her Brilliant Career;

*a handout from a paper at this year’s K’zoo with my notes connecting the paper to one I’m thinking of writing;

*a check re-order form;

*an important piece of paper I should have put in my safe deposit box four years ago but which at this point is probably irrelevant;

*a chapter draft with marginal comments from discussion with my writing group;

*the label with which to return printer ink cartridges for recycling;

*a certificate, in Spanish and English, testifying to my having given a paper at a conference in a Spanish-speaking country.

Snapshot of my desk/life.

 

K’zoo weather: my fault

Sorry! I should not have ironed my linen blazer, trousers, and sleeveless tops. The next few days are going to be cool and rainy in Kalamazoo, rather than linen weather. That’s arguably better than the really hot and steamy years. I will do what I can to improve the weather by packing a wool sweater, raincoat, and umbrella. If I throw my wellies into the car, maybe I can ward off serious rainfall.

After the Zoo

The Kalamazoo* experience varies, from year to year. Sometimes I have to take piles of grading along and retreat to my hotel room to grade. Other years I’m all done. Once (I think only once) I took piles of books and completed my paper just before I had to give it. Sometimes I get all energized to do research but come home to piles of grading before I can get back to writing, and sometimes I ought to be energized but am so worn out from the conference that it takes a week to recover.

I never manage to write about the conference during it. Afterwards, it seems like the proper/expected version goes “I heard inspiring papers, made new connections for an innovative collaboration, and now I’m going to do fantastic things with my summer.” Or maybe, “I heard fantastic papers, made inspiring connections, and now I’m going to do innovative things with my summer.” Pick your adjectives.

This year my adjective was “tired.” I didn’t sleep well, I spent lots of time rushing around, I pretended to have a better time than I was having (because I didn’t want to be a downer, and really I have nothing to complain about, except being tired and having too many things going on). Bardiac introduced herself and we had a nice chat. I did hear good papers, though I wish I’d been in a better headspace to concentrate on them and think about their significance. I had dinner with what are now the usual suspects on Saturday, and that was delightful. Rather than meeting new people, I mostly re-connected with old friends. I do not need any new projects, innovative or not; I need to finish some of my old ones. I bought 11 books, a fairly modest number, and left the conference cross because a paper I thought ought to have cited my work, didn’t. (It’s a conference paper; one doesn’t include all the footnotes in oral presentations.)

Once I got home, I slept straight through the night (which for me is a minor miracle) and got up at dawn to file grades. Then I started taking notes on something I have to read for the book project that I have been neglecting, and produced 800 words. Being cross may be a better spur to work than more exalted forms of inspiration.

My plan for the next few weeks is to put in one hour of research time per day, and after that hour, focus on Life Stuff, most especially packing, repairing, and doing whatever we need to do to sell this house. So it is not a good sign that I am still at my desk at this late-morning hour. I’d rather be here, I’d rather focus on the work, but in the long run, the work will be better served by a living situation that doesn’t need so much attention. I suppose that’s innovative, in its way.

 

*International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.