Three Colleagues Commentary

To begin at the end, I’m not going to be Terry. I never wanted to change the world. I like teaching and after decades of practice, I’m good at it, but I got into it to support a research habit. It seems unlikely that I’ll suddenly develop a social conscience and want to devote myself to good works after I retire. At least I haven’t managed to irritate the people I’ve worked with enough to make them want to ease me out (or maybe my skin is thick enough that I haven’t noticed their efforts).

Jerry is my pathetic example, the person I absolutely do not want to be. When I retire, I plan to leave very permanently: no coming back to teach one course at a time, even online, no hanging around the edges. It helps that I don’t live in LRU-ville; my social life, such as it is, takes place elsewhere. While I do expect to keep doing research, I’ll have books delivered to a library near me, rather than going to LRU for them, and I’ll see people at conferences, not on campus.

I have long admired Merry’s approach, and hoped to emulate it. The problem is, I don’t know what plays the role of British theatre in my life! At one time, I thought I might want simply to go “home,” that is, to where I grew up. To do that would require time travel. That place has changed significantly; it doesn’t draw me as forcefully as it once did. I can imagine moving to the UK, not to London, but somewhere smaller with both a castle and a cathedral, and training to be a docent at both. That way I could spend the rest of my life in the Middle Ages. But I don’t feel like that’s something I must do, just that it would be fun (and I recognize that it’s hard to move to a new country, even one where you speak the language).

Merry, so far as I know, was single (maybe there was someone in London, but I was not privy to that information). I have a husband to consider. He’s from Here, and likes it here. His mother is still alive, and needs more assistance from her children these days. I completely support Sir John’s interest in staying near his mother through her lifetime; it’s hard enough for me being across the country from my now-very-elderly father that I don’t want to pull him away from family just because I think it would be fun to live somewhere else.

If my “Thing” ever hits me over the head, I’ll file my retirement papers and go do it. But as I said last summer, the things people do in retirement are mostly things I already do as much as I want to. I suppose I could try to completely reinvent myself: sign up for wood-working lessons and workshops on miniatures, build doll-houses and their furniture. Or take golf and bridge lessons, turn myself into my step-grandmother. Or become (yet another) style blogger for the over-50 set (certainly there are a lot of potential friends in that set!). None of those things appeals to me as much as continuing to do the things I enjoy and do well. At some point, I’ll have to make a change. I’m trying to be open to possibilities, to see if I run across an activity that sparks enough joy that I’d want lots more time for it.

Kitchen table piles

Do these happen in everyone’s houses, or just in the places I live?

My dad always had huge heaps of papers on the kitchen table, gradually encroaching on his place from the unused places, and then spreading further till my mother would make him remove some of the junk. So maybe it’s just that I’m used to it, and it doesn’t really occur to me to move my stuff or ask Sir John to remove his, because in my mind that’s what tables are for.

After my mother died, my father’s piles spread to encompass the whole house. He brought in new surfaces to put stuff on. He’s still piling things up on the bedside table in his nursing home.

I once mentioned, casually, to a colleague that my father was a hoarder. She said, horrified, “Did you know?”

How could we not?

I had the impression she thought his kids should “do something,” but there’s really nothing to do. Cleaning up would just make him mad, and then he’d need to collect more stuff, so we would have damaged the relationship with nothing much to show for the effort.

At any rate, here in the Hull house we can still eat on the table. There’s sort of a steady-state equilibrium of stuff coming in, sitting for awhile, and then going out again. So I think we’re okay.

But I do sometimes wonder if other people do better at keeping surfaces clear.

Who should that be but our cousin Scotland?

I don’t think it’s so much that I’m especially interested in the royal family as that I have a hangover from my mother’s interest, which permeated my childhood. She was a few years younger than Elizabeth II, and thanks to her collection of magazine clippings and a few books, such as The Little Princesses, I grew up with the topic. That book combined with James Kenward‘s Prep School (a battered Penguin copy kicked around our bookshelves, surrounded by Scholastic kids’ books; I have no idea who acquired it, or when) to fuel many happy hours of playing school with my dolls and dollhouse when I was small.

So although I can’t say I feel particularly bereft by the death of Elizabeth II, it does feel a smidge like some distant friend of my mother’s finally passed on, someone I used to hear about; and it does feel like the end of an era. Being what I am, I immediately tried to link this to what people might have felt when Elizabeth I died, people like the chap I once spent years researching. In both cases, for many people the queen was The queen, the person who had always been on the throne. Only when the first one died, there was also the question of who would inherit, which worried a lot of people. Now that’s not an issue. I have to admit that I would have advised against taking on the name Charles (not particularly well-omened), but I guess it’s a good thing for a monarch not to be superstitious.

Some inner child in me would like to get out the dolls’ house and sew little black costumes for the dolls who were sometimes little princesses (and sometimes children from Swallows and Amazons), then find the old plastic horses (where in the world did those go?) and make them suitably funereal draperies for the cortege.

But I’ll probably mark the occasion only by checking out a few M. C. Beaton books for a re-read, even though historical fiction (or biography) might seem like a more appropriate choice.

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.