Ending one silence

It has been a very, very long time since I’ve had any contact with my first boyfriend. We dated for four years, but it was an often-stormy relationship that ended badly. Some years back, I stopped thinking ill of him, and also got a better perspective on what a self-absorbed drama queen I was in my teens (“unlike every other teenager,” Sir John said, kindly).

After some web-stalking and dithering, I sent him a brief note to say hi. He was pleased to hear from me, and wrote me the nicest note about my dad, really the best one I have received. I wish I could have told my father what he’d done for my boyfriend (I guess I need a pseudonym for him, although of course in my generation every man is named Michael, David, or John, so the real one wouldn’t give much away). If my dad remembered David (we’ll say), of course; in the last year, he seemed not to remember much about my youth. He knew perfectly well who I was, but I had the impression that along with being me, I sort of stood in, as well, for my mother and his mother, that I was an amalgam of every comforting feminine presence in his life.

But my dad’s death was one of the prompts for initiating contact, along with memories of my mother, in her last years, worrying over someone she had dated, or been friends with, when she was young.* Somehow, she knew where this man was, or had been, and that his wife was still alive, and maybe he was. My mother worried and dithered over whether to get in touch, or if that would be unwelcome, and on and on, rather tediously. She never wanted to take the step, and that seemed sad to me. If there had been no response, or if she had been rebuffed, then at least she’d know; and maybe it would have been nice for them all to reminisce about the days of their youth. The passage of enough time can shift people’s perspectives remarkably.

So I decided I’d take the risk with David, taking the advice I tried to give my mother. It seems like we’re in the same place as far as feeling that having been young together trumps any unhappy memories. It’s early days, but I’m happy that we can reconnect.

At the same time, I think I needed the long break. If we’d always been connected through the Book of Face (which I have never been on), or had heard about each other through friends, that would make the situation feel very different. Probably a constant irritant, TBH.

*I never was sure I had the whole thing straight; she tended to speak allusively, to forget that she was talking to someone who didn’t know the story, who hadn’t been there. But I think the story was that he was a college classmate, young but already married, with whom she had coffee a time or two. When he telephoned her house to make some arrangements (about a church-group gathering? again, not sure), my grandmother made a scene about her “seeing a married man.” But the wife was also a friend . . . I don’t know. It was very muddled. If you have a lurid mind, it could sound bad, but my mother was immensely innocent as a young woman, and probably thought it was the height of sophistication to have a cup of coffee with a married man.

More silence

Along with being able to silence my phone, it has occurred to me that when my Brother Less Reasonable sends me e-mail, I can . . . . . . . just . . . . . . . . . . not . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . answer.

Even if I do the thing he wants me to do, I don’t have to tell him about it.

I don’t need to placate him or humor him or argue with him.

My Brother More Reasonable observes normal conventions of human interaction, like asking how Sir John and I are doing, and provides explanations/rationales when there are things he would like me to do. So he gets responses. I even enjoy interacting with him.

Just Stay Silent. It’s an amazing pleasure.

Conversational styles

Maybe I belonged to the Society of Friends in a past life. I like to have some spaces in conversation.

At the same time, I want some back-and-forth. One of my brothers doesn’t really converse; he monologues. He’s happy to take turns: once he’s told his story, he’ll listen to someone else’s. But by the time he has finished, I’ve checked out and am just murmuring “Hum” and “Go to,” without feeling the slightest impulse to contribute.* I have a friend** from another walk of life who is prone to unloading for an hour or so, which I find exhausting, maybe because I don’t check out and feel a need to provide proper responses.

My idea of a proper conversation goes something like this: someone makes an observation about the weather or other neutral topic, such as “Nice to have some sun” or “Sure looks wet out there.” All present agree that the weather is weathering and contemplate the weather for a bit. Anyone not up for talking now closes eyes and falls asleep in the sun, or goes to take a nap, or declares a need to run errands and offers to bring back anything desired from wherever they’re going.

Anyone remaining has tacitly declared that they are up for conversation. Someone asks a question like “How’s it going with X?” or maybe “I was thinking about what you said [last time/ in e-mail/ to someone else] and I wondered [if you would elaborate / how that might apply to Other Thing / if you had thought about Approach].” The topic might be personal, with friends like Queen Joan or Lady Maud, or it might be a more general topic like kitchen renovation, books, or gardening.

The addressee is allowed time to think about an answer, to develop it a bit, but does not monologue. A few sentences, maybe, perhaps finishing with a question about the original questioner’s experience with contractors, or at book group, or with invasive species. Or maybe all present contemplate this answer and the sun / rain / snow / wind before someone relates the answer back to her house hunt and refusal even to contemplate a house with a kitchen that someone else had already renovated.

This model works best for long, lazy, in-person visits, as it were house parties with Queen Joan and Lady Maud. I’m willing to speed things up and allow for more wit and repartee at, say, a dinner party, where there are more people and probably less time. OTOH, when you have more people, there can be performers and audience; there is space for some people to sit out and contemplate the main conversation. I do think the performers need to shut up sometimes and let the quiet ones have a chance to get a word in edgewise.

I know families where the model is “everyone talks constantly at full volume about whatever is on their minds and no one listens to anything said by anyone else.” They make me homesick for my monologuing brother.

*I think this brother thinks I am naturally the quiet type and love to listen to him, or maybe that I am just boring and have no stories to relate. “No stories” is probably true. I don’t organize my life in anecdotes.

**At this point maybe I am more a friend to her than she to me, but (a) I think she does need someone to unload to, and (b) some time ago her willingness to listen to me unloading saved my sanity during a particularly awful family visit, so yes, a friend even if sometimes a tiring one.

Another month

Time flies. Fruit flies.

I seem to be having an asymptotic recovery, curving ever closer to normal, but never quite arriving. Maybe in another month or so. Certainly I do better in warmer weather, which I am only privileged to notice because this has been a very mild winter. That is, mostly mild, with some cold days when I try not to go out.

Sometime in the last month, a friend in Pacific Standard Time was sending texts rather later than I wanted to receive them. It dawned on me that I could silence my phone.

For at least fifteen years, maybe all this century, unless I was in a shut-off-your-cell phone situation such as being on a plane, I’ve had my phone on and by me at all times, in case of That Call.

As it worked out, Those Calls generally came in the afternoon, and I never had to get the first plane out in the morning. Although my mother might have believed I could break the laws of physics, my siblings are rational people and were always able to make plans to cover the situation until I could reasonably turn up. In December, I’d just been to visit; they knew I was sick; there was no reason to do anything but keep me informed, at reasonable hours, of what was happening. But it took me another month to silence my phone at night, because it was such a habit.

On the occasions that Sir John goes out at night without me, then I’d have it on. But I don’t think there’s anyone else who couldn’t wait till morning to tell me whatever the news is.

Year in review on the Feast of St Thomas Becket

We’re in the low ebb of the year, in more ways than one (see below). But can look ahead to the new.

January 2022: I wrote an abstract for a conference, wrote and submitted a book review, the first week of classes was online.

February: I did a lot of grading, the mask mandate was dropped, Russia invaded Ukraine and I started wearing a blue and yellow ribbon.

March: two cats had check-ups, one cat got out and spent two nights hunkered under the deck until we broke her out, I drafted a conference paper, Queen Joan and an attendant lady visited.

April: I went to an excellent conference in the UK, where I was also able to do some sight-seeing, and did a lot more grading.

May: I visited my father and brothers in the PNW, where there was an excursion to a very beautiful rhododendron park, and painted the guest room.

June: I wrote another conference paper and went to an excellent conference I could drive to, with Sir John.

July: We went to a local park for 4th of July fireworks (highly enjoyable), and watched the Tour de France; I cleaned my closet very thoroughly and peer-reviewed an essay; I was asked to submit a conference paper to a special issue of a journal.

August: We made a road trip to Canada, and fall classes started; I made plans for January 2023 excursion with Queen Joan and Lady Maud.

September: I did a lot of interesting local walks, a lot of grading, a certain amount of e-Bay shopping; saw a friend I met in France seven years ago, got cards for two local library systems, and made progress on the paper-to-essay project.

October: this month was a blur, but I kept writing and grading. An overturned tanker truck on a key on-ramp made me late one morning, and I re-read a couple of favorite books from my childhood, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and Little Plum. I went to a workshop that wasn’t that useful.

November: I voted in person for the first time in years, continued the interesting local walks, finished a draft of the special-issue essay and sent it to another contributor for comment, which was both helpful and favorable; my mother’s best friend died, as did the father of another old friend, though I didn’t learn of that till December.

December: I did a lot of grading and more e-Bay shopping, submitted the essay (suggestions for revision came back within a couple of weeks; I suspect I’m the only person who actually turned it in close to the original deadline), went to visit my father and brothers, had Covid, my father died, we had a very quiet Christmas as both of us were sick.


Although I’ve been working at LRU long enough to retire, one of my siblings thinks that I work not at Large Regional University, but at [LRU’s Townname] University, which isn’t a thing in my state or any other, though there is a Townname College elsewhere.

I’ve left quite the impression on my family, haven’t I?

Or maybe this is what happens when you move far away and don’t show off about your achievements. I’ll have to make sure someone who actually knows me writes my obituary.

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.