Slightly brain-dead

Yesterday I turned in my application for promotion, along with a crate (literally) of supporting evidence. Sir John asked a few times why I kept referring to “the crate.” That is what my department calls it; each applicant gets a plastic storage crate in which to assemble paper copies of everything: publications, syllaboi, sample assignments, and so on. It will take at least four months to get through the next stages, possibly longer depending on how many cases the college level has to look at and whether any of them are controversial. The rubber-stamping stages will drag out the process for another six months or so.

But you know my motto: any excuse is a good excuse for champagne. Some members of my writing group accompanied me for a celebratory glass of wine yesterday (the only place open in mid-afternoon didn’t have anything sparkly on the menu). I’ll crack a bottle every time I hear anything. Last night, however, my main celebration involved a novel in the bathtub: Marina Endicott’s The Little Shadows, about three Canadian sisters in vaudeville in the 1910s. It’s divided up into short scenes of 2-3 pages that make it fatally easy to read just a little more . . . and just a little more . . . I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it’s an all-time favorite, but it was fun. I got the recommendation from ClothesInBooks, whose author seems to have similar tastes to mine, both in books and in interest in clothes.

In short, I stayed up far too late and got up at almost my usual time this morning, so I’m a little tired. I plan to do nothing much today (some housework, gym, gardening, more reading). Tomorrow will be time enough to get back to work.

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A hole in the literature

I celebrated the start of summer by re-reading most of the Dinny Gordon books (my library is missing one), and then settled in to correct some proofs.

And I thought that I would love to read a book about grown-up Dinny as an archaeologist, correcting proofs for an article about her latest finds or reconstructions, or about her in college. So I searched for “Dinny Gordon” and “fanfic,” and came up blank.

Someone needs to do something about this.

It’s true that there are some archeology blogs, like Old Stuff in Hot Places, and Middle Savagery, which have entertained me for hours (as well as banished my lingering regret that I didn’t stick with my childhood desire to be an archeologist; I am clearly much, much better off in the library than breathing corpse dust). But I would love to find out how Dinny weathered the sixties and seventies, and hear about her experiences in academia, and perhaps even find out what she’s doing now: has she retired, is she thinking about it, or is she determined to stick at her job as long as she can because she loves it so much?

I have other things to write, but I can imagine doing a grown-up Dinny novel as a group project. Any takers? Anyone want to take up the challenge on their own?

With those armpits

Marcus Aurelius explains it all to you:

“Don’t be irritated at people’s smell or bad breath. What’s the point? With that mouth, with those armpits, they’re going to produce that odor.

–But they have a brain! Can’t they figure it out? Can’t the recognize the problem?

So you have a brain as well. Good for you. Then use your logic to awaken his. Show him. Make him realize it. If he’ll listen, then you’ll have solved the problem. Without anger.”

The Meditations, trans. Gregory Hays (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 5:28 (p. 62).

When Reading Is Doing

It’s Saturday morning, sunny though cold, and I have loads of things I could pick out to do: stretch, go to the gym, pack/de-clutter, grade (the current batch of papers look quite good; this will not be a purgatorial task), work on my application for Full, work on The Last Overdue Revisions, color while the light is good, play with my kitties, futz about on the Internet (oh wait . . .), and what do I do? Put together a bibliography for an article I want to write, on a text I’m teaching, a text that hasn’t received enough attention IMHO. I’ve ILL’d one essay, and I can get several others in hard copy at my library, and there’s one book I’m dying to get my hands on that may require a field trip because there are about 7 copies in the world and they don’t circulate.

(Another obsessive un-answerable question: why are there not copies in UK depository libraries, when it was published in the 20th century in London and copies are supposed to go the BL, the Bod, and CUL? Did someone not send them? Did someone not catalog them? Are they somehow catalogued by something other than author and title? I have poked around in the online catalogues, and I do know how to use them, and this book does not turn up. My lawful-good-J side is deeply disturbed: something went wrong in the book world. I tell you, were I not an English professor I would need to be a Literature Detective.)

Someday when I’m futzing about online I really should create a blogroll. I spend quite a bit of time reading blogs by delightful-sounding women who enjoy food, crafts, gardening, restoring old houses, and similar pursuits that I prefer reading about to doing. Despite all the well-meant advice on the Chron fora and similar places about Getting A Life and Pursuing Hobbies Outside of Work, what I really want to do, what I get excited about and spend sunny Saturday mornings on, is reading, researching, and writing. I’ve tried the gardening, restoring, crafts, and so on. They sound like fun. The results look good. But I just don’t get fired up about things I can do with my hands. Except write, which is manual labor, as Colette said.

I have other projects I need to finish right now, so this putative article will go on The List (I have learned the hard way not to get distracted by the New Shiny). Someday I will get to it, and my future self will be happy to have the core bibliography assembled and some basic thoughts outlined. Maybe next spring, when I hope to teach this text again.

Spring Break, day 6

Another day of being under the weather. Marginally worse mentally, but marginally better physically, so I managed to cook a stir-fry, go for a very short walk, and do a load of laundry.

Yesterday I gave up on anything productive about mid-day, took a nap, re-read the first Invisible Library book, started the second. Today I finished the second and read all of the third. Maybe I should have done the re-reading before I read number four earlier this week.

I wonder what the odds are on tomorrow being a more energetic day.

Spring break, day 4

Despite my brave plans, there may have been some thrashing today. Do this? Do that? But the one! But the other! Avoidance activity! Anxiety spiral! More avoidance!

Eventually I pulled myself together and worked through 500 lines of translation, went to the gym, corresponded with a couple of students, paid for something online, read some more stories by P. S. Beagle, and tossed in a load of laundry. This is progress.

I hope to be truly awesome tomorrow.

Spring Break, days 2 and 3

The concert was lovely. Even better: every piece was new to me. Afterwards, we went to a bookstore and I bought Peter Beagle’s new collection, Overneath. When we got home, we watched two episodes of “Enterprise.” Over the course of the day, I read the first half of the fourth Invisible Library book.

I slept badly and felt very achy this morning, but I had an engagement with a friend visiting from out of town. We visited a greenhouse and then went to lunch. When I got home, I finished yesterday’s novel and read the first two stories in Overneath. I also did some of the cooking I didn’t do yesterday. We watched another “Enterprise” episode.

I hope to sleep better tonight. Tomorrow I need to do both Professorial Work and Life Stuff. Here’s a picture for the TLQ group:

Writing rituals, crankiness; “Are you paying rent?”

I like writing (or translating) early in the morning, before other people are up (or expect me to be available), mainly for the sense of uninterruptable time. If I can get at least a little done early, and then leave the document open on my computer, I can often add a little here and a little there, later in the day, even with interruptions. The work stays “present” in my mind, if I have that morning foundation. Changing venues also helps with moving from “interruptable” to “not available to anything but writing.” One semester, I got quite a lot done in the afternoon by moving to a coffee shop some distance from campus, before returning for office hours and a night class. A colleague once showed up and expressed interest in what I was doing, and I pled an imminent deadline so as not to have to talk.

A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail message about a book, or maybe it was workshops, I’m not sure, called “Shut Up and Write.” Wow. Really? You think I’m going to respond to an unsolicited message that rudely suggests that I’m talking instead of writing? I get enough rudeness from real people around me, thank you just the same. It’s true I often need to quiet the voices in my head in order to write, but I have found that treating them patiently and kindly is much more effective than being rude and impatient.

Writing is hard, I wrote in the last-linked post, because “to do it, you have to sit down and be quiet. You stop rushing around juggling tasks, stop talking to (and listening to) students, fellow committee members, partners, children, friends, and you try to turn off the task list in your head that says ‘grant proposal, answer e-mail, laundry, what am I going to wear tomorrow, what’s for dinner tonight, a cookie would be good right now, how many papers are left to grade, overdue book, gosh this room is a mess.’ Once you get quiet, anything lurking at the back of your mind will come out. It may be sadness, disappointment, anger, worry, even excitement about a good thing; but it will come out and try to get your attention. The Thing in the Back of Your Mind does not like being ignored or told to shut up. Well, really, who does? So it gets louder, and it calls up all its friends and supporters, like the Mean Censor and Self Doubt, so they can all gang up on you. The most concrete current Things are in some ways easiest to deal with. You tell them yes, this is a serious problem, and you are going to call the insurance company as soon as you have put in this half hour writing. Assure the Thing that it will get your full attention in its proper turn. This politeness will usually get it to ease up for 30 minutes or so.”

I still subscribe to this theory. Be kind to yourself. I guess if you need to be told to shut up, or need to treat your voices that way, then that’s your thing; do what works. But it’s not going to work for me any more than lighting candles as a pre-writing ritual. I don’t like scents, I don’t like smoke, I once had very long hair (fire hazard), I still have cats (fire hazard), I really do not understand the whole candle thing: candle-lit baths, for example, though I love baths; you can’t read by candlelight. Oh, hey, yesterday I did drink sherry in the bath while re-reading Protector in the middle of the day, and I did not drown in a drunken stupor; in fact I got out after an hour and did some work and some grading. It really was very nice.

So, I’d love to have a ritual to help me write . . . or would I? Actually, I think I’d rather be Julia Cameron and just “drop down the well” any time I have a few minutes and a blank page. Or an already-open document on the screen. I think I’d like a mantra or motto that would help me close the mental door on Things that want attention, or people who don’t actively need attention but who annoy me and take up mental space. Maybe ask if they’ve paid their rent, since I don’t like to let anybody take up my mental real estate unless they’re paying their way. There we go. I have written my way to a new mantra. “Are you paying rent here?”

Salud, Mateo!

January was long in the sense that it was hard to believe so much happened in just 31 days. February is looking like being long the other way, dragging on through cold, snowy days that all seem fairly similar. There’s plenty of work to do, of course. I could make this a month of Grading All The Things, or Writing All The Assignments, or Finishing All The Revisions. I certainly need to Assemble All The Tax Documents.

Considering all those options to pass a snowy day at home (at least I didn’t have to drive to campus) makes me want to go get in a hot bath with a glass of sherry. Wasn’t there a time and place when sherry and biscuits were acceptable elevenses? Or is this academic fantasy?

I am reminded of Diana Wynne Jones discovering that her son thought Kipling’s Kim was “a fantasy set in an alternative world and that Kipling had made all the India stuff up.”(1) I am a veteran reader of academic (and other) novels and memoirs set in 1930s-1970s Britain, where I no doubt got this notion of sherry at 11:00 a.m. being completely normal behavior. And yet I am so much a part of puritanical contemporary American society, the part that fears addiction and values productivity (or it is an internalized part of me), that on a day on which classes are cancelled due to heavy snow, a day on which I could do anything I wanted (sleep late, bake cookies, enact fantasies of 1950s male academic life), I have trouble believing that this could now be (or was ever) acceptable behavior.

It’s enough to make me think I should go have the bath and the sherry as a way of breaking out of my usual rut. I mean, if such a tame indulgence seems like the wildest decadence imaginable, clearly I have a bad case of the Februaries and need a bit of enlivening.

(1) Diana Wynne Jones, “Inventing the Middle Ages,” Reflections On the Magic of Writing, edited by Charlie Butler (New York: Greenwillow Books, 2012), 196-210, at 201.