You might as well blog

I should probably turn this into a “very local news” post. That’s a step up from random bullets.

Celebrity sighting: here is Glendower looking beautiful. Well, he always looks beautiful. Here he is posing for the papparazzi:

Health and beauty: it’s random bullets, I mean very local news, because I have forgotten how to sleep (again), and I’m too tired to do much of anything. I do all the right things and still can’t fall asleep till after midnight. Sometimes I manage to sleep in, so I do wind up rested, but then the day goes to hell because the schedule is off. Sometimes I get up at dawn so I can get some exercise while it’s still just hot (as opposed to unbearably hot), and then the day goes to hell because I’m too tired to think straight (like today). But! I have had a real haircut since I last blogged. That is, in a salon, cut by someone who is not me. It came out too short, but it’s hair, it will grow.

Politics, feline: they all seem to be getting along acceptably well lately, but Reina is reluctant to eat in her usual spot, atop a chair, and wants to be on a bookshelf or under a table. I am not sure whether her paranoia is due to other cats, humans, or just Secret Messages From The Spirit World telling her this is what she has to do now.

Politics, human: we’re going to a family wedding soon. I think most of the people on non-speaks will be present. My side still doesn’t know the reason for the non-speaking. The main culprit says “if you don’t know, I don’t have anything to say to you,” so . . . yeah, that’s helpful. I doubt we’ll learn anything on this occasion. Secretly I hope for a flaming row that might clear the air, but I expect everyone will stiff-upper-lip it and just manage to be on the other side of the room from each other.

Fashion: I am going to wear a Lands’ End poly-rayon sheath dress to the wedding (outdoors!), and probably boil (did I mention outdoors, and unbearably hot, see under health), because when I got out my linen-blend Ann Taylor shift dress that is my Summer Wedding Guest go-to, it looked terrible, even after I steamed it. The fabric puckered, the bust darts are in the wrong place (I guess I’ve sagged with age? Or just gotten pickier about fit? Let’s say I’m pickier, I like that better), the color is unflattering now that my hair is much greyer than the last time I wore it. My back-up dress is a rayon floral that is pretty but wrinkles if you look at it, and I have had it with looking hopelessly crumpled. I’m giving those two away. The Lands’ End dress fits, is a reasonable color, and doesn’t wrinkle. It’s unremarkable and appropriate. Maybe I’ll carry a fan as an accessory.

Economy: because I am a person much affected by salary compression, I got a raise. Yay! Because my salary is computed on a nine-month contract, but I get paid over twelve months, I’m not sure how much money I’m actually getting. Boo! I suppose if I spent awhile on the uni website I could figure out how many pay periods they think there are in my contract, and apply the appropriate multiplier. But see above about fatigue. I may just wait till next year’s W-2 is available and see what my annual salary is then. But raises are good. Thank you, union negotiators.

Agriculture: I’ve fallen off the Six on Saturday wagon, but here’s a report minus pictures. Chard, collards, and cilantro are doing fabulously. The bok choi bolted ten minutes after I planted it. For a couple of weeks I kept pinching off flowers and hoping it would pull itself together, but today I gave up and pulled it out. I harvested enough leaves to put in a stir fry. Still in pots, I have another tomato (a freebie from a neighbor), more chard seedlings (rescued from a sale table), and some sage and basil. Another dozen plants can totally fit in the space where the six bok choi were, yes? There is a strawberry plant vining its way out from under the mint. It has put out three flowers and set one fruit. I’m not sure if it’s a real strawberry or one of those mini groundcover things, and I expect a bird will get to the fruit before I find out, but I’m letting it alone just in case. Also, the peony finally bloomed. It is now nearly done and needs to be dead-headed, but here’s one picture; look how pretty:

Decorating: I painted my study. It is now a pale, attractive color and seems larger and more welcoming, now that it is not institutional green. There is a spot over the closet that I need to re-touch, because the paint advertised as one-coat coverage isn’t, quite. Next up, the bathroom . . . after I finish moving books back into my study.

Books: I read Rachel Neumeier’s The Sphere of the Winds, and enjoyed it, but it’s a little too much like the first one, somehow. But if The Floating Islands floated your boat, the sequel is the sort of thing you’ll like. I loved Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, and I’m excited that a sequel is coming soon. I re-read Elizabeth Fair’s six novels, starting with Bramton Wick, and enjoyed them just as much as the first time. If you like Barbara Pym, you’d like E. Fair. You may gather that I like books where not too much happens. I like to explore other worlds without feeling harrowed.

The sports section got lost, and the writing reporter failed to turn in copy on deadline. Anyway, this is plenty long enough already. Have a good weekend!

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.)

What urban soul?

Apparently, all I need to trigger a sense of home is hills and hemlock trees. The new house is in a town that has hills (this is a big deal in my part of the midwest) and lots of evergreens among the deciduous trees, including hemlocks. From my front door, I see two hemlocks silhouetted against the sky, and they make me feel so peaceful and happy. Despite the vile heat and humidity, suddenly I have no desire ever to move back to my home state, or to the one where much of my family live now. I don’t ever want to go anywhere again.

Well, I would like to go to the UK and visit some manuscripts. But apart from that, I’m fine right here.

Earlier this week, we went back to our former town to do some errands. It seemed like years since I’d been there, and very strange to think that I had lived there for so long. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I want to leave? I love the new house and the new town.

The enormous yard makes this place like living in a park. It’s tremendously relaxing to look outside and see so much green, and so little that has to do with other humans. We have squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, birds, and probably other animals who are more nocturnal; I’m sure there are also deer, possums, raccoons, and either foxes or coyotes.

I’ve been looking up old posts on Clarissa’s blog because I recalled her making a similar transition when she bought a house surrounded by greenery. She went from liking concrete to preferring leaves. She felt like she’d become a completely different person. She could see herself in that house at 80. Well, maybe by 80 I’ll be ready to move somewhere with no stairs. But I’m amazed by how much at home I feel here. Clarissa is one of those bloggers I find interesting precisely because often we are so different, but on this topic it’s like we’re soul mates!

Maybe it’s because humans in general need to be exposed to nature a lot, and it’s good for us. I spent a lot of time outdoors at my old house, gardening, going for walks, shoveling snow (oh, you know what? if you don’t have sidewalks, you don’t have to shovel them), and there were plenty of trees and other green things to see from the windows. But this is a whole new level of nature, and it makes me feel like a whole new person.

To be sure, there’s a grocery store and other shops about a mile away, perfectly walkable, so it’s not the level of isolation that both my brothers have, which always makes me long to rush back to civilization. I’m not willing to drive ten miles to buy groceries, and I think my feelings on visiting family influenced my sense that I needed to be urban. But now I think the suburbs are a fabulous place to be (even though I don’t recognize myself). I feel like I get to spend the rest of my life on vacation.

Appearing organized

If you want to acquire a reputation for being organized, here are my two top tips:

1. Answer e-mail promptly.*

2. Do not perform stress.**

That’s it! Go forth and appear in control.

 

 

* Answers can be “Yes, thank you for thinking of me,” “Maybe, please tell me more,” “No, I can’t do that now, but I can get to it at X time,” “No, I can’t do that, but here’s someone you could ask.” The key is to be prompt, even if you’re saying no, rather than to hide out hoping people think you’re doing something more important than checking your e-mail.

**You can be a total stress monkey in your head as long as your outward demeanor is “Everything’s fine.” I started acting like everything was fine a long time ago, when I realized that I got very stressed being around people whose outward narrative is “OMG there’s so much to do I have deadlines no time to exercise or eat properly the world is going to hell in a handbasket and I am so important only I can do this stuff OMG.” Things get done, eventually. Only once have I reached the end of the semester without all the grading being accomplished, and even then, it was okay.*** Nobody else really needs to know the number of times I have done things at the last minute, or dropped a ball or several, or faked my way through a meeting or a class (I read fast, and there’s always think-pair-share exercises plus “That’s an interesting observation, do tell us more”). I’m more effective when I exercise, eat good food, try to get a reasonable amount of rest, and don’t try to run on caffeine and sugar.

***That was the semester when I had to spend two weeks with my parents when my father had emergency surgery and my mother was suffering from Parkinson’s-related dementia. I kept everybody informed, filled out manual change-of-grade forms, and the world kept turning. Sir John and some trusted friends got an earful, but nobody at work needed to know the details of how completely awful those weeks were.

Three months ago

Today, events of just a few months back seem like an April Fools joke. You did what now?

No, really: in early January, I visited another country. I flew there, on an ae-ro-plane! I visited restaurants! I rode crowded buses to sites of historical interest! And not long before that, I joined a family party of 14 people in a restaurant to celebrate the birthday of an 80-something person! Not only that: in mid-December, I took another set of flights to visit my father, in his assisted-living facility that is now closed to all visitors, and saw at least eight other members of my family, and went to a restaurant, now closed for the duration, in a city that is struggling with a high case count.

People are adaptable. At that time, I would not have believed the current situation. Now, everyday life that was normal a short time ago seems strangely exotic. What will “normal” be in a year?

Feast of John the Apostle

The joye of sayn Jonez day watz gentyle to here.

British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x. (art. 3) f. 104/108 verso (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight lines 999-1035)

http://contentdm.ucalgary.ca/digital/collection/gawain/id/317/rec/136

Actually it’s a very quiet day chez Hull. We both slept very late. I’m still working on my writing project. Why can’t I ever just do a little light revision instead of re-thinking the whole dratted thing?

The potentially-dramatic Xmas gathering of my family seems to have gone fine, as even my Brother Less Reasonable could find nothing worthy of report. Good for them. I’m still happy I stuck with my husband, his mom, and young Alan.

25 December 2019

Right, it’s that day when nearly everything is closed and people with happy families are together being all alike.

I’m going to do some writing, as I have managed to get back into a long-postponed project; go to the gym (open for a few hours, yay); open presents with Sir John if we can get to them before the cats shred all the wrapping; and spend the afternoon at his mom’s. Just us: the rest of his family is doing their individual-family thing.

I have not spent Xmas with my family since 1986. For many years, it was my policy to avoid them on major holidays. In the last decade, Sir John and I have twice gone to mine for Thanksgiving. The first time was lovely, except that Sir John came down with a cold and spent most of the visit sleeping. The second time was an unmitigated disaster and has led me to a renewed determination never, ever, to visit for a major holiday. They are having a big shindig today that, given the list of attendees, has the potential for major drama. I hope it will all work out fine, but I am very happy to be a couple thousand miles off-site.

Whatever your situation, I hope you have a lovely day. I vote for peace and comfort over merry and bright, but you do you.

Family visit

Sometime he angers me
with telling me . . .
such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff
as puts me from my faith. I tell you what:
he held me last night at least nine hours . . .
I cried “hum,” and “well, go to,”
but mark’d him not a word.

Advice from William Shakespeare, I Henry IV III.i

Psychological pathologies

Someone I read posted about wanting to fix all the problems, and trying to figure out how to navigate her priorities (work, family, writing, various sorts of service to various communities) so she can do as much as possible.*

My first thought was, “You might want to work on that over-developed sense of responsibility in therapy.”

Then I had to wonder if other people would agree that that is something to work on. I know a lot of academics, for instance, who score highly in “neuroticism”; they are reliable, responsible colleagues, concerned and effective teachers, and valuable members of the community . . . and the ones I know are not exactly unhappy, but they’re none too relaxed, either.

I can be quite intense (i.e., not relaxed), but I aspire to be relaxed and calm, and to be able to distinguish between things I can do something about and things that are out of my control. As a result, I’m generally happy. At least, I think it’s a result, but who knows, maybe I’m happy for other reasons, like genetic predisposition, or having enough money. I have a strong sense of priorities (health, marriage, work in the sense of vocation, job, in that order; enjoyment fits in there somewhere, or maybe it’s an over-arching theme that precedes all the others). I think my reaction to this idea of Fixing All The Problems comes from my own particular family-of-origin constellation, which expected me to be The Fixer, from an early age, and in part by my very existence, of problems way too large for anyone, but especially a child, to be able to solve. So maybe if you come from a psychologically healthy family, responsibility is a good thing; maybe a person from such a background gets real satisfaction from identifying and solving more and more problems.

It’s huge, for me, that I have learned to say “not my circus, not my monkeys” about many things that I mentally paint pink and slap a “‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ field” on (thanks to Douglas Adams for that lovely turn of phrase). But maybe this means I’m the one who is or was broken, that it’s my idea of responsibility that is at fault, an unfortunate inheritance from my parents. Even if so, I like to think that I’m stronger at the broken places.**

*I’m not going to link, because I’m being critical, but it’s someone on my blog roll.

** “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” (Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms: call this my early Armistice Day post.)