Day 5

The break is accelerating, definitely, and Day Five was another day on which I was productive yet did not do all the things I intended to do. Possibly this is an exercise in figuring out how much time things really take. Possibly I should stop doing crossword puzzles between tasks.

Anyway, yesterday, day five of the break: I struggled with a tricky Greek passage and made excellent progress on the introduction to the translation. All that remains is to sort out a couple of paragraphs based on my own original research and overly compressed by the author of the first version of the introduction.* I brushed the cats’ teeth, which I try to do twice a week; since the beginning of the year, I’ve skipped only once when we were at home, so yay me, and yay cats for putting up with it. I went out and bought paint, stain for the front porch, a light bulb, and some other household items. I changed the light bulb. I walked about three miles. I did a little more cooking, and went to a Wednesday-night gathering with friends.

I did not do any grading or tidying-up/putting away of Stuff.

I was of at least two minds about that gathering. Staying home and going to bed early seemed like a good idea, as did staying home and doing something crafty and useful**, or cooking something fun***, or doing some tidying up. OTOH, even when I’m not teaching on Wednesday nights, I often skip because I’m too tired, so it seemed like a good idea to go while I’m on break. Furthermore, it seems really pathetic to go through all of spring break without any social plans whatsoever. So I went. This is a regular gathering of people who know each other from another activity; how much I enjoy any given night depends on who is there, and that is unpredictable. When the quiet people I like are there, we all sit around like companionable cats and it is very nice. When the loud people I don’t like are there, several l.o.u.d. conversations happen all at once, my ears start ringing, and I huddle under the bookcase in a corner wondering if the loud people will leave before I have to. I am a cat without whiskers or tail.

Last night was a loud night.

So on coming home, I needed some quiet time to decompress, so I was up late, slept badly, and Day Six is not getting off to a super start. Gah.

Today so far I have done morning pages (an irregular activity but good for re-aligning my brain, or chakras, or whatever the hell the woo-woo people re-align), sat around reading blogs and drinking tea, messed around with bits of cardboard, cloth, tape and a stapler, and started tidying up. This mostly meant spiraling around the house: card table and stepladder went to the basement, special box for special vase came up so vase could be packed, then the box went back to the basement; assorted things from the ground floor moved upstairs, items from a drawer moved to a box, books moved from one room to another, and I packed up my SAD light and took it to the basement, one of those important seasonal markers.

Things that still need to happen today: gym workout. Catch up on two days of Paris-Nice before Sir John leaves for an evening with his friend. If I’m very focused, this might mean I have two hours left for work. Or clearing away clutter.

I swear I will not fritter it on crosswords, but I can’t promise not to return library books on the way to the gym and find myself lost and imprisoned in the stacks before finally staggering to the exit.

*I thought I might do that this morning but the day is getting away from me.

**Done this morning instead, because I had that bee in my bonnet. It may need further attention, but the basic idea works.

***Likely to happen tonight, since Sir John is going out and I can putter on my own.

In a Vase on Monday

Nature morte:

Barberry, bayberry, and dried oregano flowers. I don’t know the cultivars of any of these; the previous owners planted the garden here, and I just try to keep it up as best I can. The vase was a present from a Korean graduate student, some twenty years ago, and I’m pleased I was able to find it when so many of our things are packed up in hopes of selling the house and moving somewhere smaller, newer, and more manageable.

I just spent an hour and a half shoveling snow—we did get snow, after all, so I’m at home rather than on campus—and contemplating the winter remains of the garden as I worked. I had thought that this might be the only Vase post for weeks if not months, but I think I may be able to pull together one more winter vase.

This meme comes from here: https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/in-a-vase-on-monday-it-makes-scents/#comments

Any readers who miss snow and four seasons, I will happily swap places with you.

Blogroll

I have finally created one.

It’s an alphabetized jumble, without categories for academics, ex-pats, writers, gardeners, readers, travelers, or friends-of-blogfriends, and some of the blogs haven’t been updated for awhile. Nonetheless, I recommend their archives and continue to hope that their authors will return to regular blogging, or at least give annual updates, or something. As a somewhat irregular blogger myself, I’m in no position to criticize!

Roxy

Back to the Dinny Gordon universe, I really don’t believe in the canonical outcome for Dinny’s sister Roxy.

In the early books, Roxy loves boys and clothes and dating around. When she goes to college, she meets a man named George Bean, from Wyoming. They fall in love, she visits and spends the summer working on a dude ranch, George takes her hiking and skiing, she starts learning to ride. His plan is to become a ranch boss. In DG, Senior, Roxy and George get engaged, somewhat to the surprise of the Gordon family. But Roxy is calm and happy and convinced that this is what she wants.

Here’s my take on it: the marriage does take place, because Roxy is, in her way, just as stubborn as Dinny. Also, having been a girly-girl, she enjoys the feeling of competence she gets from learning that she can ride and ski and do things she never tried before. However, after a couple of years isolated on a Wyoming ranch, she is increasingly unhappy. George takes her on a vacation to Los Angeles, intending just to give her a break and cheer her up. On a movie studio tour, she’s the lucky winner of a screen test. It’s really a promotional gimmick, but in this case, the camera loves Roxy, and the test leads to a small role in a movie. In turn, the movie role leads to regular work in commercials and, finally, to a recurring role on a soap opera.

At first, George tries to be a good sport and support Roxy, since she supported him. He moves to L.A. with her, and looks for work in local agribusiness. But orange groves and Wyoming ranches are not the same thing. One of Roxy’s new friends is a girl who starred in every high school play back in South Dakota, and left for Hollywood the day after graduation. Things have not worked out so well for her as she hoped, and she’s homesick. Life as a ranch boss’s wife sounds really good to her.

The divorce is amicable, and George and his new wife are very happy back in the mountains. Things keep going well for Roxy, as outlined above. She has the sense not to date the obvious Hollywood types. Her second husband owns a Mexican restaurant, and his hobby is ballroom dancing and Latin dance, at which Roxy is terrific.

Years after she divorced George, Roxy confesses to Dinny that George was the first man with whom she achieved orgasm, and for a time she confused sexual satisfaction with true love. She had much more in common with her second husband, and the sex was even better. Their marriage was successful in every way, and now, in 2018, their little bungalow is worth millions. Roxy is planning to sell it soon and move to a very comfortable retirement community, near her grandchildren.

Okay, a little grumpy

I’ve been looking at planners, though I will probably go on with my self-designed entries in little Moleskine pocket-sized notebooks. I like setting up a page that is just what I need it to be, though it does take a bit more time than working with a pre-made one. I’m definitely wedded to paper. I like the act of writing things down, and seeing when a page fills up: no, I really can’t add another thing to that day.

I have long known that I am a difference-sorter, and a rebel. I don’t like being told what to do. “Inspirational” planners make me want to sit in the corner, pick my toe-jam, and sulk. Despair.com has my number, and in fact I have ordered a 2018 calendar from them, starting with “Dysfunctional.” Unfortunately, they only have monthly calendars, not a weekly planner. So in the despairing spirit, here’s my template for the Sulker’s Planner:

I can’t manage to make the picture display at a decent size. Please click to enlarge, and feel free to adapt for your own planning if it speaks to you.

The War of the Emerald Ash Borer

One chilly autumn afternoon, Sir John and I set out to walk in a bit of urban greenbelt which we haven’t visited in some time. The sky was grey, the trees were bare, the path was covered in dull brown leaves. Since this is an urban area, even when we appeared to be deep in the woods, we could still hear the roar of traffic at a distance, and since even the vines had lost their leaves, we could see houses and their back gardens through a fence. It was all very drab, chilly, and ordinary.

We walked about five miles, looping out on a paved path shared with runners and cyclists, and back on a once-gravelled trail used only by walkers and the occasional horse. When we were about half a mile from the parking lot we’d started from, the trail began to slant downhill, toward a branch of the river, and suddenly the undergrowth was bright green again. We saw a deer grazing, her tail a white flag. We walked on toward a gently arched bridge, passing a white deer skull balanced at the edge of the stream. I said, “You know if we cross that bridge, we’ve had enough signs that we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves in the middle of the War for the Oaks or the War of the Emerald Ash Borer or something.”

We crossed. We reached a liminal space, where woods, prairie, and houses came together. We met only a mountain biker in a fluorescent vest, accompanied by two black Labradors each wearing a glowing collar, one green, one blue. And then when we were nearly back to our car, another group approached us: a silver-muzzled blond Lab leashed by a silver-haired man, and by his side a woman with an owl’s head . . . .

Things to do

So we have come to live in Bizarro World. There is a rift in the space-time continuum, only half the passengers understand this, the Enterprise is stuck and can’t make it over to bail us out, and Sisko and the Bajorrans are too far away to do anything clever with the wormhole. What now?

Some of the people whose blogs I read regularly are already thinking about how to react: Christine, with a comforting post; Cloud, with a thoughtful one; Fie, with characteristic refusal to quit. And John Scalzi’s worth a look. In The Middle makes a statement I can get behind.

I expect part of the reason I am so stunned is that I am not, in general, a very political person. I tend to cultivate my own garden, focus on the things I can change, ignore the ones I can’t, avoid conflict, political debate, and activism, and just sort of float along, sticking my neck out for nobody, as Rick says in Casablanca. I have only so much energy and only one life, and I like contemplating lilies (if you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily).

Thus, in that lily-contemplating spirit, while I’m going to be looking for ways to help people who help immigrants, I’m also a patron of the fantastic blog Medieval People of Color, because people need to know that the European Middle Ages were not a white supremacist’s fantasy land, and of Pamela Dean, because we’re going to need some more good escapist fiction.

It’s a start.

.

.

.

.

I don’t know what to say to my students tomorrow.

My students who are Muslim, mixed-race, American-born black, American-born of Hispanic descent, West-Indies-born immigrants. Those are just the ones I know I will face tomorrow . . . so many other faces of other backgrounds, from other semesters, are in my mind, including a young woman who found out, months before her 21st birthday, that she was illegal, in this country illegally, brought as an infant, which her parents never told her. These students know, better than I do, how racist this country is. I don’t want them to have to comfort me. But I’m not sure I have it in me to be their older, wiser, reassuring professor.

Rewards

Although I’m not in the TLQ group, I often follow along because it can be motivating to see other people’s efforts to get to the truly important stuff, and comforting to see how/when/why they have trouble getting to it (since I also often get distracted by the Urgent rather than focusing on the Important).  This week’s topic made me want to write about something I started doing last week (that is, before this topic posted).

I don’t do well with external rewards, no matter what they are.  Either I want the thing now, rather than later; or I’m going to do it later whether or not I am done with the tasks; or I find that I don’t really want the thing after all, in which case it’s a lousy motivator.  And yet just having the satisfaction of having completed a task does not necessarily motivate me, either.  It may feel like way too small a portion of the whole thing: I wrote a paragraph of my book, big whoop; how many hundreds of paragraphs to go?  Or it may be something that provokes disproportional anxiety (hello, phone calls), so that the delight of having it over with is dwarfed by the agony of doing it combined with the feeling that I am doing-it-wrong because I can’t manage to think of this as the simple task it is for other people.

Okay, so having already admitted that I’m both perverse and pathetic, I will now tell you how easily I am motivated by a kindergarten technique: colored stars.  On difficult days, I keep a list not of things to do but of things I have done, and I assign myself points for them and draw colored stars or flowers to celebrate having done them.  I choose points depending on how hard it feels to do things.  The easy routine things like administering cat meds are one point; writing 400-500 words is five points; calling the insurance company is at least 10 points.  I don’t do anything with the points, like adding them up to win prizes of some kind.  It’s just a way of acknowledging to myself that that task took some energy and so I should get some recognition for it.  Drawing a star or flower or doodle takes very little time, a few seconds for a one-pointer, maybe a minute for something fancy to celebrate a ten-point task, but it’s a creative break from doing harder things.  And getting a page full of colored doodles for things I have done is surprisingly motivational.  I think drawing them myself is important.  Stickers don’t have the same effect unless they’re part of a design I have made.

Next year I’ll see if this works for grading.

Lapsus digiti

I needed to search for an idea, and typed “the vale of bad scribes.”

This vale of tears, filled with bad scribes.  The mountain valley where no good scribe will venture to teach decent techniques.  The steep alley off the main drag where the bad scribes, who can’t afford the rent in a better location, set up shop. The retirement community for those whose eyes are poor and hands shaky.  I can think of so many interpretations of this phrase, though it wasn’t what I was looking for.

IOW, reach must exceed grasp

In a review of a biography of economist Albert O. Hirschman, the New Yorker includes this quotation:

“Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened.  In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming.  Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.”

The reviewer continues, “People don’t seek out challenges, he went on.  They are ‘apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.’  This was the Hiding Hand principle . . . . The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky.  Then, trapped . . . people discover the truth—and because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job.”

Malcolm Gladwell, “The Gift of Doubt,” The New Yorker, June 24, 2013, pp. 74-5.

This explains the Octopus phenomenon rather well.  I don’t think projects are going to be such a big deal until I’m well into them.  And then they’re much harder and less manageable than I expected them to be.  But I love the notion that this hassle will force me into being more creative and brilliant than I would otherwise have been!  It’s an empowering way to approach a task that has turned daunting.

His wife (Sarah Chapiro Hirschman) has a good quotation, too.  “It is impossible to know what is best and . . . the present is so much more important—because if the present is solid and good it will be a surer basis for a good future than any plans that you can make” (p. 76).

So, since nicoleandmaggie take Thursdays off, here’s your economics-related post for the day!