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.

Stevie Smith, 1937

From a letter to Naomi Mitchison:

“I think at the present moment you are in a state of mind that hungers for the disaster it fears. If there are these forces of evil you see you are siding with them in allowing your thought to panic. Your mind is your own province—the only thing that is. Yes, this brings up another point. There is a sort of hubris in this unreal worrying. For if you have achieved peace in your own mind when the worse happens (if it does) you will have reserves of strength to meet it. And if you have not achieved peace in your own mind how can you expect the world to do any better. You are the world and so am I. And at the moment the world is a great deal too articulate! (You will agree!!) and worries too much and so on.”

Quoted in Mitchison’s memoir, You May Well Ask (London: Gollancz, 1979). p. 155.

 

Motivation, it was just here somewhere, I’m sure

Maybe if my desktop weren’t so cluttered with grading I could see what I did with it. Also with my get-up-and-go.

However, while looking for motivation I came across Mrs Ford’s Diary, which I recognized as inspired by Diary of a Provincial Lady, one of my favorite books ever, and the inspiration is confirmed by the “about” page, so I feel clever. Cleverness helps with motivation. Or it should.

Like me, Mrs Ford has been trying to divest herself of her house since last year: “have decided to embark on New Life in nearby university city, and have put house On The Market. House-selling process so far proving good for Light Social Comedy but poor for actual Results, so may well be chronicling the ins and outs of Village Life for some time yet.”

I sympathize, but also feel I have Let Down The Side in that I have no Light Social Comedy to report w/r/t the House-Selling Process. It is all very much automated here: an app pings us to ask to see the house at such and such a time, we say yes or try to reschedule (and usually just have to take the original time), Sir John and I run around the house stashing the accoutrements of everyday life so as to suggest that if you lived here, you would never have any trash or need to clean your toilet, then when the cats are thoroughly riled, we stash them and their litterboxes, too, I run the vacuum cleaner to get rid of the tell-tale drifts of cat fur (no moggies here, nope, no one is stress-shedding, no way), and we run out the back door before the house-hunters arrive in the front. I usually go to the gym, and Sir John goes to Dunkin Donuts to drink coffee and read the paper, or else he sits in his car on a conference call, depending on day and time. After an hour or so we go home and un-stash everything. Eventually the app may or may not yield some “feedback” such as “Maybe” or “Thanks!”

I cannot see how I can generate any Light Social Comedy to relay to my readers unless I somehow slip back to hide in a closet and try to overhear the viewers. I don’t think there’s room for me behind the upstairs furnace but I could check. Or I could join Reina in my clothes closet, if I took up the space behind my bathrobe where I now stash my sewing tote, the Mending Heap, and my delicate-laundry bag. I expect there could be mild comedy or at least irony in hearing the comments people make about my scholarly book collection, probably along the lines of “Wow, that’s a lot of books!” (at least half of my books are in storage and I am getting very tired of this situation), or possibly “How many languages does she know?” (Not enough, never enough).

Sir John would probably discourage this plan, so I’d somehow have to circle back and elude him as well as the viewers and their real estate agent. While we have both a front and a back door, there is only one set of stairs. Rather than Light Social Comedy, I think I’d wind up with the dodging and diving of French Farce.

Right, well, I will just go and see if those papers have managed to grade themselves. Later, darlings.

Greensleeves

More interesting bloggers than I am have reviewed this book:

http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2018/02/greensleeves-by-eloise-jarvis-mcgraw.html

Harmonic discord and finding one’s proper key: Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves

http://www.stuckinabook.com/greensleeves-by-eloise-jarvis-mcgraw/

And one or other of those posts, I no longer remember which one, made me check out a local copy of the book last winter for cold-weather comfort reading. Ever since, I’ve meant to do my own post, and I am tired of having it on my mind, so you get it now.

I will not recount the plot, since Moira, Simon, Jenny, Kat, and indeed Amazon will do that for you.

I first read this book when I was maybe ten, and I probably read it a couple more times when I was quite young, say 13 or 14. Then I forgot about it (or at least forgot any details that would let me find it again) until I ran across it in my late 20s and had a lovely nostalgic wallow in some out-of-town library: I can visualize perfectly the room in which I sat but I have no idea what city it was in or why I was there. After that it faded again until last winter. So I have several distinct sets of memories and feelings about it.

At ten, I liked the idea of disguise and trying to find out about other people’s lives. Nothing else about Shannon’s life stuck with me. At that point, I thought she was quite grown up. (She’s 18, well traveled but very young in other ways.) When I found the book in my 20s, the reason for her pretending to be a country girl and working in a diner was the part I rediscovered with pleasure, along with the struggle to figure out who she was and what she wanted to do when the number of available options was confusing. Life is simple when there is One Clear Path to becoming what you know you must be or do; but when you have a lot of talents and a lot of people encouraging you in the direction they think would be best for you, it’s much harder to find your own way.

Back in my early teens, before I ever kissed a boy or had one around to kiss, it was the boys (Dave and Sherry), and Shannon’s reactions to them, that interested me. At that age, I did not want to Do It, but I did want to know what Doing It was like, and how you got around to it, or maybe how you put it off, and Greensleeves was, in a fairly chaste way, reasonably explicit about sexual feelings:

“The plain fact is that I wanted to walk straight into his arms and hang on like a limpet, and for a split second it was perfectly clear to me that I didn’t care a bean for anything else. I knew if I moved one inch toward him right then, I’d get so tangled up in his life that it would take ten years to dislodge me. And I had a vivid picture of what ten years with Dave Kulka would be like—the two of us fighting like wolverines but never able to get free of each other.”

Eventually they do kiss, and at first Shannon likes it, and then the analytic side of her brain kicks in again and she’s revolted, and that’s that. But! There’s still Sherry (George Sherrill), who is much nicer; they’ve been getting to know each other slowly and he is in love with her, wants her to go to college at the same school he attends, wants to marry her. After a lovely day at a summer party, he kisses her:
“And immediately I knew there was no reason at all why he shouldn’t, and every reason why he should. He loved me, I loved him, and people who loved each other kissed each other. What’s more they didn’t hold out on each other, either, or draw inward lines. I must not hold back from Sherry any longer—it wasn’t fair. I suddenly decided that the moment had come to find out whether I was playing for keeps. . . . I obliterated my inward line. I can’t say precisely how I did this; probably I don’t need to. Anybody knows. It’s instinct or something . . . I found out one thing, right away . . . Sherry was as combustible as anybody else, and fully as able as Dave to ignite emotions in me too powerful to control. It was all too easy, and it happened all too swiftly, and the conflagration soon rose high and bright enough to scare us both.”

Okay. That inward line. What the hell was it? What were the electrical sparks with Dave? How was it that she could kiss Sherry without any burning fires until she kissed Dave and then she and Sherry were scaring each other so she thought they’d be married within a year unless she ran away? My poor little pubescent brain really struggled with these questions. Obviously Dave is supposed to be the bad-news guy (a driven artist!) with whom you have chemistry but nothing else, and Sherry is the good, responsible guy, who is smart, and nice, and tends to play it safe rather than take risks. Good husband material: if you want a husband when you’re 18 and think you might want a career of your own if you could get several sets of parents off your back for long enough to work out what you want. Anyway, though I did not really understand how all this worked, it was vaguely reassuring for a young reader: (a) there are nice guys; (b) you can easily tell the difference between them and the bad-news types; (c) crossing that inward line will ignite what Captain Awkward calls pants-feelings for a nice guy whom you like a lot and haven’t really felt sparks about before.

Well. It would be pretty to think so.

Shannon wants so much to marry Sherry that she runs away, doesn’t see him for two years, and at the end of the book is just about to meet him again, now that she’s had two years at a university and “toughened a bit” as well as having some small successes with writing and theater work.

My current 50-something, cynical-old-bat self had very different reactions to this book than any of my younger selves. For one thing, I was highly doubtful about the academic side of Fremont College, Sherry’s studies, and Professor Edmonds, a math prof who tutors Sherry in ancient Greek. In 1968, maybe things were different in academia . . . but I did grow up in a college town; I remember or have heard a lot of bits and pieces about how things were back then, and this book’s details don’t hang together. Sherry thinks that in graduate school “You can really browse around” among courses. Um, no, that’s when you can really get specialized.

Also, 1968: even allowing that that was the publication date, and that the events might be set at some earlier point, it can’t be earlier than the 1950s (given various lifestyle clues), and no man in the book is concerned about the draft. In the ’50s it would have been Korea; in the ’60s, Vietnam. La la la. All the young people are happily being young and even when they have Serious Thoughts About Life and Learning, they’re not thinking that they should go to college (or get married) in order to get a draft deferment.

Again, wildly different from my experience and understanding of that time.

As for Dave and Sherry, the Older Man Dave, at 25, now looks very young indeed to me, though I agree that he’s too old for Shannon and that she did well to steer clear of him at that point in her life. If she were 25 to his 32, however, I’d think they were a good match. Now that I’ve kissed more than a few men, including some friends with whom I tried very hard to step across some inward line, I agree whole-heartedly with Dave: “Things like this don’t happen very often.” Sure, if you’re young and healthy you can work up some sexual energy for lots of people, but the “kick galvanic” (to quote from A. S. Byatt instead of McGraw) is rare. I might have been better off, at 16, and also at 23, had I been able to get the rational side of my brain to kick in about a couple of guys who were really not good for me, despite the amazing chemistry. This is not to say that they were bad boys. They were nice, smart, reasonable people, who eventually married other women and, so far as I know, are living happily ever after. I just mean that in both cases we did spend about five years entangled and fighting like wolverines (at least intermittently), because we were not well matched. I did try, at a couple of other times, to combust with men who seemed like they’d be good partners. I was even engaged to one of them, once, and then I met Mr 23 and the fire actually caught, and there we were.

I should have realized at least by my late teens that a book aimed at teenage girls in an era in which the Pill was pretty new, and abortion was not yet legal, was not going to be a good guide to what to do about sexual feelings. It’s going to pack a message about sublimation inside an attractive package of thinnish plot and breathless narration. I was never particularly convinced by Sherry, and now it annoys me that he wants to make a living at something he’s good at but doesn’t like, and “leave his mind free to go on finding out things he’d no need to know and never meant to use, and wondering how it felt to live in places he might never bother to go to.” I want him to want something. His plan for a life with Shannon also annoys me: that he’d “forget the graduate school notion” (even if he hasn’t a clue what graduate school entails), get a job, earn enough that they can get married after her second year of college, that he’s not really thinking about what she might want to do apart from marry him. In fact, it seems like his notion of marrying Shannon is another way of deferring his dreams of traveling and finding out what it’s like to live in other places.

Dave Kulka has a good idea of what he wants, and what he’s good at, and knows that he works better when he feels like he’s fighting something. This may mean he’ll never be a good choice of husband, but it’s hard to tell. Some people are like that when they’re young, and adaptable enough to find new ways to work once they’re successful. The last word Kulka utters in the book is “interesting.” I now find him the most interesting character. Although the ending seems to allow hope that Shannon and Sherry will finally get together, I think it’s more likely that their meeting will fall flat—both of them having changed in two years—and that Shannon will eventually find a man who suits her both intellectually and physically.

Day 7

I finished revising the introduction to the translation and sent it to my co-conspirators. I did some more house-tidying. We met with our real estate agent and re-listed the house. I returned library books and checked out more, avoiding long imprisonment in the stacks by going half an hour before closing. At the gym, I beat up an elliptical trainer for half an hour. We watched two days’ worth of Paris-Nice. I did some crosswords and stayed up too late reading in the bath: a collection of Connie Willis short stories that wasn’t really worth staying up for (Christmas theme: obviously not great for someone who doesn’t like Christmas, but I was thinking ‘Connie Willis that I haven’t read, let’s try it,’ plus ‘grab something and go, the library’s about to close’).

Sleep. It is so obvious that I do better at getting on with things and not getting overwhelmed by tasks and feelings about tasks (guilt, mainly) when I have slept enough. At the same time, I am not good at just going to bed (even when I’m sleepy) if I haven’t had any reading/puttering/winding-down time in the day, and I do not count watching TV as winding-down. I do try to have down-time in the evening, and when I get it, it’s much easier to go to bed, so long as I haven’t started reading something I want to go on with (my name is Eleanor and I am a literature addict*). Clearly I need to be more consistent about a bedtime winding-down routine.

I set an alarm this morning (getting set for going back to early rising in two days), but frittered away a lot of the morning on Ask A Manager and the Willis book. Two days! Must keep grinding away at things that need to be done. Tuesday is going to be a day on which work will not really be possible, so I’m planning for that, and trying to finish off some important stuff so next week isn’t too stressful. Onward!

*I am amazed that I don’t have a post of my own to link to. I guess I must have commented on other people’s blogs about this affliction; I remember some discussions Back In The Day about reading habits. In his book on writing, Steven King has an anecdote about an addiction counselor who asked someone (King? a friend? my copy is packed away) how much he drank, and the person looked at the counselor like she was crazy and said “All of it.” That’s me, if you ask how much I read. The only sure way to stop is not to start.

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.

Day 1

It was pleasant and reasonably productive, in a low-key way. I wrote up two assignments for one class and blocked out the letter, thus doing about 1.5 of the “other three things.” My future self will thank me for the extra assignment. For that class, I need only one more assignment, and two more for the other class. Those would make good “productive procrastination” tasks this week.

As for progress on the real “Three Things,” I fixed two footnotes in the translation introduction, downloaded one set of papers and looked online at the thesis statements from the other set, and paid some bills and did a little cooking. I’m trying to start small, and build on these small steps. Even though the House element was routine rather than anything that really moves us toward re-listing, I’m counting it as useful deck-clearing.

Some fun things, since it is after all break: re-reading a couple of chapters of Tremontaine, season one in the tub in the afternoon (Note to self: put later seasons on birthday list), and watching a couple of episodes of Discovery with Sir John. We’re now ten episodes into Season One. I find the show a strange combination of boring and disturbing. I suppose this is a ramped-up version of my usual reaction to Star Trek series (soothing and exasperating).

I also made an attempt at reading a library book that I pretty promptly gave up on. It seemed promising (fluffy academic mystery), but the plot was all cliches, and while that’s fine if they’re handled with panache and wit, they were not. I particularly object to the trope in which the heroine is reunited with The Boy Who Broke Her Heart When She Was Sixteen, whom she has Never Gotten Over. Unless there is something very wrong with you psychologically, by the time you are in your 40s and have been married, you have recovered from your teenaged heartbreak and know something about how adult relationships work. Your reaction to seeing That Boy again might be “Huh, what did I see in him?” or “Well, now that we’re both grown up this might be worth re-considering,” but I cannot believe you have been carrying a torch for 30 years. Also nearly everything the heroine wore or decorated with had lace on it, so I both wondered what was up with the lace fetish and felt that she was really not my sort of person. I used to find it hard to give up on books once I started but no longer: Life’s Too Short is a useful motto in all sorts of situations.

Day two is starting with feeling jet-lagged, thanks to having trouble going to sleep last night combined with springing forward. I plan more baby steps, and a vigorous gym workout. Day three is going to start early, with work being done on the latest house maintenance problem, so I need either to sleep tonight or be prepared to deal with tomorrow on insufficient rest and lots of tea.

A few more random observations

  • I’m reading two sets of archives at the same time (Dr Medusa’s and KulturFluff, and how I regret Frenchie Foo having disappeared her whole blog). I should sync them up, because one is starting the summer and the other is writing about Thanksgiving, and it’s making my head spin.
  • That’s okay because it makes me go back to work.
  • Students. Oy. I was assigned a class at the eleventh hour, so made sure that for the first few weeks, all readings were available online, since there was no way the bookstore would get books in for the first week. But this week we’re starting to read Actual Real Books. I showed everyone the books in the first week of classes, reminded them periodically about buying books, have posted announcements on the electronic course thingy, etc. And now students are “confused” and don’t know what they’re supposed to read.
  • Like heu mihi, I’m reading Malory. In this case, re-reading. There is some serious timeline-slippage in the Book of Tristram, which I’m only now picking up on. Hmmmmm.
  • Is February over yet? I’m not sure I can take another week of this weather. I appreciate the lengthening days; they’re great. But I have actually started wishing for snow (yes, I, the desert creature who spends the winter imagining she’s an iguana) in preference to any more freezing rain. I hate freezing rain. (I do love the meteorologists’ abbreviation fzdz for freezing drizzle, however.)
  • Maybe I should have done these bullets as a Fortunately/Unfortunately series, but I’m too lazy and the items are too random.

Blogroll

I have finally created one.

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

Grumpy and grumpy, with a side order of grumpy

Could I have some with not so much grumpy in it?

I have lost a stripy scarf I’m fond of. There is a great deal of snow on the ground. The house has settled a bit more so there are more cracks in the ceiling (we were hoping to sell it before any more settling happened). Sir John has had an infection that could have been serious (fortunately he is responding to antibiotics and all is well, hence I am merely grumpy about this and not freaking out). We’re a little under-equipped for being snowed in, due to his illness and me not getting the right things at the store, which happened because I was distracted by the first week of classes and having to finish off final edits to the revised introduction to the Big Honking Translation (okay, yay that that’s done). Lady Maud’s father has entered hospice care, which is sad though he has had a good life and people are rallying around because he is a wonderful, loving and beloved man (a great contrast to my father, the old grouch). The son of a friend of Sir John’s has been diagnosed with cancer. This child is still in single digits. I feel guilty feeling grumpy about my scarf (let’s just say I’m displacing my distress) when 2019 is already sucking very hard for a couple of sets of friends.

The nicest thing this week was reading The Dalemark Quartet, which I got for Christmas and finally broke out. But the downside to that is that now there is no more Diana Wynne Jones that I have not read. I put off Dalemark for years, so that there would still be something. I’m trying to persuade myself to do some work rather than getting out Rotherweird, which I got in London, intending it for the plane, but then our over-seat lights didn’t work so I spent the flight working on my laptop (and got quite a bit of useful course prep done as well as saving the book, so ill winds etc).