I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled

Five decades ago:

I lived in my parents’ house. I had the little room that was once a sleeping porch. I slept with the big Teddy bear I got for my fifth (fourth? sixth?) birthday. At the end of July 1970, I was just over a month out from meeting a girl I shall call A, who was my best friend for the rest of grade school. I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I liked climbing trees.

Four decades ago:

I lived in my parents’ house. I had a larger room at the back of the house. I slept with my cat, a grumpy orange tabby. Lady Maud was among my best friends, though I probably spent more time talking to another girl in our group, B. I was getting into cycling because my boyfriend was an avid cyclist. I was about a month out from starting college. I wanted to be an archeologist, and was planning a special major that I thought would prepare me for that career.

Three decades ago:
I lived in a studio apartment in Grad School Town, probably the nicest place I’d lived in my life up to that point: it was in the basement of a split-level house, so somewhat dark, but everything was in good repair, and there were nice built-in bookcases and desk that the landlord had built. I had great landlords. I slept with my tabby cat, who had been my boyfriend’s cat until I fed her for long enough, and sometimes with my boyfriend. I liked living alone, and had been doing it for a year, after the boyfriend and I decided not to live together any longer. In a month or so, I would meet two women, C and D, who would become close friends; for the moment, however, my best friends were still Lady Maud, Queen Joan, and Sir David (no point in disguising that name: 80% of the men of my generation are named David, Michael, or Eric/k). I wanted to be an English professor when I finished my graduate work. I hadn’t seen my parents for three years. I swam two or three miles a week in a campus pool, besides walking up and down hills a lot.

Two decades ago:
I lived in my third-floor walk-up condo, with windows on east, south and west giving floods of light, though it got very hot in summer. I slept with the same tabby cat, and sometimes with Sir John. In the summer we more often slept at his place, which had central air conditioning (and a different tabby cat). I spent a lot of time on the phone with C and D, junior professors at schools where they were not very happy. Both of them were ultimately to leave “the profession,” one pre- and one post-tenure. I liked living alone, but hoped to move in with Sir John full-time before too much longer. I was a recently-tenured English professor. Some health problems were interfering with research. I probably visited my parents (both of them) that summer, though I don’t recall exactly when. I swam a couple of miles a week at the YMCA, and also worked out on machines there.

A decade ago:

Sir John and I, now married, lived in our townhouse with five cats (the Shakespearean Heroine, the Scot, the Grammarian, the Tiny Cat [all now deceased], and a very young Basement Cat). I slept with Sir John and whatever cats wanted to join us; sometimes I woke up pinned between the Scot and the Shakespearean Heroine. D had just become an American citizen; the ceremony was one of the last times I would see her, and may be the last time I saw her on her (new) home ground. I had met E a couple of years previously, but we hadn’t yet embarked on the Huge Honking Translation project. I was still an associate professor, at the same school. I was getting back to research, feeling a bit anxious about my position in the field and my ability to work, but I had recently returned from a productive research trip to the UK. I’d also traveled to see my father that summer, my mother having died in the intervening decade. I swam and worked out at a fairly swanky gym.

Now:

I live in a split-level house in the suburbs, with three cats (it does remind me, pleasantly, of the house where my grad school apartment was). I sleep with Sir John and Basement Cat, who comes to bed with us so that Glendower can pick at his food overnight. A and I are intermittently back in touch; she teaches third grade in the town where we grew up. Occasionally I hear from C, who is working on yet another master’s degree. I long ago lost touch with B, while D and I deliberately parted company when we ceased to have many shared interests. I am a full professor. Some days, research still seems like a struggle, but I am considerably more confident in my ability to get back to it, and I have published a respectable amount in the past decade. At present a lot of my work time goes into preparing to teach online in the fall. I walk 2-3 miles every morning, and work out with light dumbbells at home; the local pools are closed because of COVID-19.

Looking back in these big swoops of time, it’s curious what shows up and what drops out. I can suppress the six years we spent in the house that was too big, too old, too much work. My entire undergraduate career drops out of the picture, as does my first rented apartment in TT-ville, perhaps appropriately as I tend to forget that I lived there. But all the cats of my life pop up. Day to day, and even year to year, I feel like my life doesn’t change much. I’ve had the same job for going on 30 years. I’ve been with Sir John for more than two decades. I’m something of an exercise addict.

In ten years’ time, though, things do change. At no point did I foresee a pandemic (so I think now: but C says I used to claim we were overdue for one), but twenty years ago I wouldn’t have predicted my 2010 life, either. I haven’t mentioned the people I work(ed) with; colleagues and office staff have changed, though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the year for most of them, without the diaries that are still in storage. But they do make a difference. Twenty years ago, my department was much heavier on older men than it is now, and I looked young enough that I had to put a lot of energy into establishing and maintaining my authority in the classroom. Now I can let my grey hair do a lot of the work for me.

Maybe I’ll do another look-back-the-decades in two or three or five years, and see whether looking at different points (college; a sabbatical year; living in the Too Old House) changes my perspective.

What was your life like, ten and twenty years ago? (Or more: I make no assumptions about my readers’ ages.)

Spring break in the time of coronavirus

Around the middle of last week, it occurred to me that I usually post daily through spring break. I thought about doing a sort of Cliff’s notes version for the first few days, but, TBH, I was sort of paralyzed by the news, even as I tried to avoid the most flamboyant sources. It was a bit like preparing for a hurricane, where you know it’s coming but life just continues as usual, around the nailing of windows and stashing of supplies, until the rain and wind actually hit.

As of today, Sir John has sniffles and a low fever. I think I have spring allergies, because I feel the way I always do around this time of year (that is, some respiratory stuff, no fever, don’t feel particularly ill), and the trees I see from my study window are in bud. We are isolating ourselves. We’re well stocked and this is an area where it shouldn’t be a problem to have things delivered if we need to order online.

This week is “extended break,” to allow faculty to prepare to teach online for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe longer. Because of my commute and Midwestern winter weather, I generally have a couple of days’ worth of online ideas up my sleeve, but I’m going to have to think about the second week, and the further future. Although I think it would be fun to learn about some of the fancy stuff it’s possible to do online, it’s probably better to keep it simple. I don’t know what my students’ tech is like, and considering how much difficulty I sometimes run into with stuff I use regularly in the smart classrooms on campus, I can imagine the hassles with 25+ of us trying to do something unfamiliar to at least a few people. So today I plan to revise my syllabus, and think about what I can reasonably put into place.

Here’s the Cliff’s notes for last week. Already it seems unbelievable that we did some of these things:

Saturday, 3/7: gym, Spanish conversation group, some work with a manuscript facsimile.

Sunday, 3/8: read 1960s YA novel in the bathtub, after some gardening.

Monday, 3/9: Stock market tanked (round one). Cooked a lot. Mammogram. Watched stage one of Paris-Nice.

Tuesday, 3/10: Stock market bounced upward. Watched stage two of Paris-Nice and went out with friends. Stayed up too late reading program for K’zoo. E-mails from LRU hinted at coming changes.

Wednesday, 3/11: tried to sleep in but Basement Cat was having none of that. Went out with different friends for the afternoon. Watched stage three of Paris-Nice. Started watching Avenue 5, which we find hilarious (big fans of Hugh Laurie in this house). LRU announced plans to extend break, teach online after that.

Thursday, 3/12: A conference Abroad was cancelled. It was one I was really looking forward to, and before it I was going to get to see a manuscript in another bit of Abroad. I made a store run; store was well stocked and had more shoppers than I expected for mid-afternoon, mid-week. We went to a concert that was (a) the last for this group, whose home is in a state that had already banned gatherings of over 100 people, and (b) the last for this venue, because the next day the university where it is located banned large gatherings, and sometime in the next few days the state did the same. I’m not sure exactly when; in all the excitement, I kinda lost track.

Friday, 3/13: Went for a walk with a friend, who said local schools had closed; she thought it was premature. Afternoon: the state announced school closings. We re-listed our house. Our timing is so bad it should be comical, but I’m not really appreciating the joke. I thought spring break would be the perfect time: fairly early in the spring market, and I’d organized myself to have no grading last week, so I could spend time on tidying up all the stuff that silted up while we were off-market last fall. I did some garden work while the weather was nice. We watched two stages of Paris-Nice. Either today or Thursday (I get confused because of watching stages a day late, and doubling up on Friday), the race organizers announced that the race would finish a day early.

Saturday, 3/14: I made strawberry-rhubarb pie, and cleaned the refrigerator. More cycling.

Sunday, 3/15: lots of e-mail with students. I went to the gym, for what will be the last time for a few weeks, cleaning all machines obsessively. Made plans to work to a schedule Monday. Watched the last stage of Paris-Nice; disappointed that Alaphilippe didn’t pull off the attack he made, but pleased with Quintana’s stage win.

Monday, 3/16: since I had trouble falling asleep last night (general anxiety, financial, virus, blah blah) I got up later than I’d planned, then Sir John got up (temporarily) earlier than usual and announced that he wasn’t feeling well. He’s back in bed, which is no doubt the best place for him, and I’m trying to concentrate. One of the people I was worrying about last night, whose home is in Bergamo, reports today that he and his elderly father are feeling better after a couple of weeks of fever and aches. So that’s a bright spot!

Productivity advice

Do the thing you really want to do.

I decided that I will go to a conference that I love but whose timing is terrible, and started working not on the paper I thought I could easily put together but on the one that I really want to do.

Once I started doing that, I also graded an entire set of papers over two days, and finished taking notes on an ILL book that would not renew, adding about 1500 words to my annotated bibliography. Would I rather be doing “real writing”? Well, yes, but it is worthwhile to have thorough notes on ILL books, and it keeps me in touch with the project, not to mention allowing me to return that book so that I’m not blocked from further ILL requests, so win-win-win.

Having been wildly productive in the past six hours, now I am going to go work in the garden, then go for a walk to un-kink my back (inevitably kinked after significant garden time), cook, and watch something on TV with Sir John. We are spoiled for choice right now: old cycling, new Durrells, or new-ish Discovery episodes. Such an exciting life I lead.

Actually, there was a bit of excitement earlier this week: I had a tiny dinner party! Mid-week! A friend was in the area and suggested dinner, and I countered with an invitation to dinner chez Hull. It was lovely. It made me feel so . . . sophisticated? Leisured? Socially active? Like my memories of Lady Maud’s father, who often hosted guests (fascinating, varied, intellectual, artistic) to dinner at his family table, and not just on weekends. Like I was living the life I meant to have, instead of the one I wound up with!

It also helps that I’ve two nights of entirely adequate sleep in a row. What a difference that makes. Long may it continue.

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.

Spam au chocolat

Ganching: I commented on Saturday the 13th, and it showed up right away, then disappeared.

However, all seems to be well (w/r/t commenting) chez Carolbaby—hope you’re feeling better by now!

Everybody else: sorry I haven’t been around these parts. I traveled to see family, came back shortly before the Tour de France started, and have been trying to do all the work I didn’t do in June while keeping up with cycling events. I keep missing Six on Saturday because I get confused about what day it is. I took pictures in my sister-in-law’s garden; now I’m back, I ought to take some of my own. The day lilies are doing well, and sweet peas are out. Two shrubs are dying off branch by branch, and I’m not sure what their problem is, but it worries me when I’m not totally preoccupied with the Huge Honking Translation or a conference paper possibly related to The Book.

That’s the summary version!

Days 8 and 9, the end of break

In no particular order, after my mainly-frittered Saturday morning, I baked cookies, walked four miles, wrote the letter (from the secondary set of three things), put in 20 minutes or so looking for quotations for my next conference paper, cooked, did two loads of laundry, did more house-tidying, graded a set of papers, put in 45 minutes on the treadmill and did some weight-training, and re-stained the front porch. There was a night of sleep in there somewhere!

If you recall, I had two sets of Three Things to work on during the break: translation, grading, house were the Big Three, and then there were the Other Three: letter, assignment, taxes. How did I do? Well, I finished revising the introduction to the translation, but did not get on to the style review. I graded all of the papers for the smaller class, and 1/3 of the papers for the larger class. The house is re-listed but I still have a fair bit of tidying up to do before it is view-able, and I think I am going to wind up shoving lots of things into boxes that can be hidden away quickly, rather than carefully and thoughtfully organizing things so that I can find them again later instead of cursing my former self for not being better organized. I dealt with the letter and the assignments (and as of this afternoon, I have only one more assignment plus an exam to write for the rest of the semester).

That’s pretty good. I’d love to have done all the grading and got the house really squared away, but I made good progress on all of the Big Three, and did two out of three of the Other Three. I also did a lot of crosswords, fun reading, and watching of cycling. I went to the gym or walked outside every single day, and my cardiovascular fitness is noticeably improved. I even managed a little bit of garden clean-up on a warm day, and I made that pie.

Taxes. Ugh. Must get on that.

And some things are already boomeranging: further editing needs to happen to both the letter and the introduction before they go to their intended recipients (but a big thank you, seriously, to my collaborators on both projects for getting back to me quickly and with useful suggestions). So this week’s Things look a lot like last week’s Things. It’s March: why is my life doing a Groundhog’s Day Week?

Day 6, the rest of it

I made a pie for Pi Day. I didn’t even realize (consciously) that it was Pi Day until the pie was in the oven and I read JaneB’s post. Consciously, I was thinking that before I packed up the food processor, I wanted to make the pie I’ve been thinking about for months now. So I did, and my low-FODMAP crust turned out very well. The pie would have been better with a second bag of strawberries, but we have proof of concept.

That was in the evening, after Sir John went out. In the afternoon, I did a little more tidying, then hit the gym and Trader Joe’s, and we watched Day Three of Paris-Nice before dinner. So we’re still lagging behind . . . I’m detecting a theme to this week. At any rate, I can look forward to two days’ worth of racing this evening.

On the plus side yesterday, I did not do any crosswords till evening, and I did not lose myself in the library stacks. However, I still have a bag of library books to return, so that could still happen. I was definitely low on energy by evening, due to the short sleep Wednesday plus a vigorous workout, so I was in bed at 10:00 (excellent). This morning I woke up at 5:15 and thought about getting up . . . and went back to sleep till 7:00 (excellent for sleep, not-excellent for re-accustoming myself to getting up 5:30 three times a week). And yet I still feel sluggish. Maybe it’s the weather. Yesterday was spring-like but today we’re back to winter. Disappointed! (That was a reference to A Fish Called Wanda, if the link breaks.)

Three more days, counting today. I’m making progress on my three things, as well as on the other three things, and yet, as usual when there are too many things, I’m not done with anything. I’d try to shift into high gear for the remainder of break, but I don’t feel like I have a high gear. Will just keep grinding away.

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.

Day 4

It’s going too quickly. Day four was productive, but I definitely did not have time for all the things I wanted to do. Or maybe the problem is (at least in part) energy levels, or attention management (another great Undine concept), rather than time as such.

Things I did: made progress on the revisions to the translation’s introduction with about 1.5 hours of work, in which I cleared comments on maybe 3 paragraphs—it’s hard to gauge progress, since fixing one footnote can take an hour or more as I look things up, and other comments are quick and easy fixes. Graded six papers. Parsed and translated a hunk of Greek. Went to the gym and put in 35 minutes on the treadmill. Cooked for Sir John. Watched two hours of Paris-Nice, commentated by Steve Schlanger of the twang and Christian Vande Velde; they’re good on the action but have nothing to say about the history, architecture, or cultural significance of the towns and countryside through which the race passes. The camera would linger on a chateau, I’d say “Tell us about that chateau!” and they’d go on talking about the riders and race techniques. I miss Paul and Phil. They made the European cycling races a multi-faceted experience, with their deep knowledge of France. Maybe Steve and Christian will get there. Maybe NBC will hire someone who does know the countryside. I know Paul’s family and friends miss him far more than the fans do, but all of us feel he went much too soon and want more time with him in our living rooms.

Plans for Day Five are pretty much more of the same, except I have to get to some of the House things I didn’t do yesterday: buy more paint, buy a replacement light bulb, take some things to the basement, box up other things, tidy everything in sight.

Day 3, and some things I forgot

Reporting with a day’s delay is making me feeling like I have more time than I do; but I stay off screens in the evening (mostly), so here we are.

Things I forgot to mention: the day before break, a colleague who is on a scholarship committee told me that I “write a good recommendation letter.”

On day one, I had e-mail or text exchanges with three different friends.

On day two, I remembered in the nick of time that Paris-Nice was starting, so Sir John had time to tell the DVR to record the whole thing. We’ll watch it a day or so behind, so I’m trying to avoid cycling news. It’s not going to be the same without Paul Sherwen.

Day three: not fabulous as to productivity, but very different from my usual term-time Monday (drive, meeting, classes, meeting, drive), so I’ll take it. The painter came to do a small repair and was done by 11. Our real estate agent visited briefly. I registered for K’zoo and booked a hotel there, wrote a note to Lady Maud, read and took notes on three essays from a collected volume relevant to the translation, set up a comments template for one set of student papers, walked four miles and consulted another relevant volume, did a little cooking, finished re-reading Tremontaine (season one). I did not drive and I did no administrivia. I went to bed a bit late, after eleven, but slept pretty well and got up at 7:30. I’ll need to work on shifting bedtime back an hour or two.

Six days to go, counting today. Long lists of things to do. Think how good it will feel to have finished them.