Change activities

Hey, Dame: what are you doing indoors on a gorgeous fall afternoon?Go outside! Don’t hang around reading blogs because you’re too lazy to get up.

I’ve finished a decent writing stint. It would be a good thing to go cram some yard waste into bags, and take the leaves Sir John raked and spread them in the flower beds to be mulch. And if I were not a professor who can always find something to write, read, or prep, and if I were not afflicted with more garden than I actually want (eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome is not limited to food), what would I do with myself?

I’m bad about hobbies. I enjoy reading about the Desert Knitter‘s creations, but having made more than a few attempts at handwork, and hanging out with knitters pretty regularly IRL, I’m quite sure needlework is not something I want to pick up. I like jigsaw puzzles. I like going for walks outdoors, and admiring scenery/other people’s gardens. (Just because you like to look at something doesn’t mean you need your own one. Why didn’t I realize that sooner?) I don’t particularly enjoy activities that get my hands dirty or banged up. I enjoy coloring in coloring books for adults, but I don’t seem to spend much time on the one I have, even though I can think of one or two coloring books on different themes that I’d like to acquire. Sometimes I listen to music and think I should do that more often, and then I completely forget to do it for weeks or months. Does waving feather toys for the cats count as a hobby?

Probably my favorite “hobby,” apart from reading, is studying foreign languages, which could also be classified as “professional development,” since languages are a medievalist’s stock in trade. Even if I took up a language that was in no way connected to my research it could probably be useful in teaching or student outreach, somewhere along the line.

So I’m off to tidy the garden, which I have come to think of as a task, much like housework, rather than a hobby, as I once hoped it would be. I’ll enjoy being outside, and doing the clean-up will probably make me all the happier to get back to my computer or a book. I prefer to think of myself as ideally suited to being a professor, rather than as lacking the imagination or initiative to take up hobbies.

 

It’s August! Panic stations!

A few years ago, I wrote about oh-shit-it’s-August-syndrome, when the summer hits the fan, as it were, and it’s hard to decide what most urgently needs attention because it all does, but time is limited and yet it’s still so hot that it’s hard to believe that anything really is urgent.

I thought I’d revisit that post to see how much of it can be recycled without updates.

OK, so there’s what I really have to do, and there’s what I really want to do, and there are all those things that I thought I’d like to get done but need to let go of. And then there’s the question of whether some elements of the last group don’t actually belong there.

Check, check, check. That paragraph works.

It’s August. Classes start in two weeks, with faculty meetings beforehand. Besides writing and class prep and having some last bits of summer fun, I have a couple of medical appointments I’m taking care of before classes start, and possibly one or more dentist appointments depending on whether a sensitive spot calms down or gets worse. (If it’s going to get worse, I wish it would just come on and do it already, instead of waiting for the first or second day of classes.) I’m pretty clear on the have-to (syllabi etc, and at least one House Thing) and the most definite want-to (a little more fun reading and a sewing project).

Classes don’t start for three whole weeks! I’m starting early on the panic. Only not so early, because I’ll be away during the faculty-meeting week. So actually I only have about ten days. Wheeeee! Down the panic slide we go! Never mind last bits of summer fun. I’d be thrilled to get the writing and class prep done in the time. The medical stuff happened in July (excellent, pat self on back) and I have only one more dentist appointment to go, which should be a quick and easy one. There are no house have-to’s, though there are a batch of house things for which I need to organize people to come and give estimates. Still, those could happen any time over the next eight weeks or so. Sooner is no doubt better than later, but I’m not going to put those on the must-do-now list. No sewing projects (well, unless visiting a tailor counts, and again, not urgent). There’s no fun reading I’ve been putting off.

But then there are writing-related but not-writing activities, which are desirable but not really essential, like tidying up my home office. . . . There is a heap of paper stuff that needs to get filed.

The home office is fine. I can even see wood on my desk. I tidied it a few weeks ago. It’s true that means there are heaps of paper in the guest room that I need to sort out, but out of sight is out of mind, and at the moment that is A-O.K. I can use sorting them as a procrastination activity when I start getting things to grade! Isn’t that great planning?

Since I got back (not counting writing done on the plane), I’ve produced . . . let’s see . . . Basement Cat, get off my research journal . . . about 2000 words. These are what I might call “focused pre-writing,” rather than true rough-draft writing, because the section presently under construction didn’t get as much pre-writing as the first chunk I wrote. But that’s fine. This stage of writing has to happen sometime, and I might as well do it now, while I’m on a roll.

Since I got back, I’ve produced roughly 3000 new words. Very roughly. It’s hard to be sure. There has also been a lot of editing in which words get tinkered with, cut, re-written, and so on. The current version of the MMP-1 is just shy of 10K words, but I think I’m done with it, except for sorting out its footnotes properly in the style required by the journal to which I plan to send it. I really want to send it and have it be Someone Else’s Problem for awhile. There are plenty of other things to work on.

Nobody sits on my research journal these days. Sometimes Reina sits behind my monitor, but I am in her bad graces at the moment because of unlawful confiscation of licensed weapons cutting her claws. It’s true, when the children grow up you miss the things that used to drive you crazy.

So [should I focus on] writing syllabi . . . and hacking back the horribly overgrown and weedy garden? Actually, I am terribly tempted to abandon the garden until frost kills off some stuff—this seasonal nonsense is good for something!—though I do rather fear What The Neighbors Will Think. . . . I could give up on the sewing and garden instead . . . if we ever get a cool enough day that I want to be outside.

Write syllabi, work on revisions, and hack back the garden. Not that I care what the neighbors think. The front looks all right and the back is nobody’s business. But I’m making progress with the bellflower and I’d like to keep on rather than letting it grow back. The weather is certainly a consideration. We had a pleasant weekend, so I did some more digging.

So, it looks like I’m doing rather well compared to four years ago. That’s a very pleasant discovery. Now to pull a conference paper out of . . . wherever this one comes from.

A garden is a loathsome thing, God wot

When I lived in my third-floor walk-up, I had pots of flowers and herbs on the back stairs, and dreamed of a larger garden.

When I lived in my townhouse, I had a plot roughly 10′ by 10′, plus another bit about 4′ by 3′. I crammed in roses, day lilies, Asiatic lilies, a butterfly bush, iris, spring bulb flowers, hostas, and a clematis. I still dreamed of a larger garden that I could divide into “rooms,” each on a different theme.  I also spent a lot of time drowning beetles that liked to eat the roses.

I now have a larger garden, not the huge one I dreamed of, but normal city-lot sized garden. It was very pretty when we bought the house, color-coordinated in shades of purple and white. Iris, hyssop, nicotiana, roses, ornamental thistles (the goldfinches love them), clematis, assorted other hardy flowers and herbs. Including campanula . . . oh, wait a minute.

I now see the point of lawns: they are a low-maintenance way of providing space between you and your neighbors; you can hire someone to come and cut the lawn and trim the shrubbery and you’re done. You do not have to spend hours ripping out creeping bellflower, and then ripping it out again, and again. I found some tiny little lemon balm plants struggling for survival underneath it. I didn’t think there was anything that could choke out lemon balm. Morning glories have spread from somewhere (those tiny little seeds . . . ) and I’m unpicking them from the roses (ouch).

The hostas are holding their own fairly well against the bellflower. I may try to plant a sentinel ring of hostas around the iris and the roses. But I’m now dreaming of a condo with a balcony where I could grow a few flowers and herbs in pots.

Weeding is FUNdamental

Morning writing time today went on the incredibly overgrown garden. I didn’t exactly mean to do that, but such is oh-shit-it’s-August syndrome. I took my tea outside to get the paper, and pulled a couple of weeds, and it was so nice out (yes, nice! not hot! not cold! pleasant!) that I did a few more, and I thought, well, twenty minutes or so and then I’ll go write. There were a lot of weeds with obnoxious roots that wanted to break off, so I was about to stop when I hit a damper patch where they came out easily, so I kept going.

Eighty minutes and a backache later . . . it was clearly breakfast time for me and the cats. And then yoga. And then a vet appointment. And a scheduled House Maintenance Thing. Then I dashed off for my last chance at seeing a friend in a performance.

Tomorrow night there will be a different friend, in a different kind of performance. Opportunities like this are why I live here and not within walking distance of campus; but they are definitely disruptive to work, too.

But the most overgrown part of the garden is 3/5 improved. It’s actually easier and quicker to pull out the big weeds that are there now than it was to deal with the smaller ones that were there before I went to England. Another reason to procrastinate! Woot! Wait till you have big easy problems instead of small difficult ones!

Wait, what?

Anyway. This means that tomorrow I have to get some mulch, to stop (or at least slow) the cycle of weeding and not-weeding.

Syllabus. Book. If I wait, will they turn into big easy problems?

August syndrome

Over at ADM’s new blog some charming people enjoyed my reference to “oh-shit-it’s-August syndrome,” and two weeks ago Notorious wrote about not panicking, so now I’m going to do my own post about the syndrome, and panic, and lists . . . (wait a minute while I freak out, which is what the syndrome is all about).

OK, so there’s what I really have to do, and there’s what I really want to do, and there are all those things that I thought I’d like to get done but need to let go of. And then there’s the question of whether some elements of the last group don’t actually belong there.

It’s August. Classes start in two weeks, with faculty meetings beforehand. Besides writing and class prep and having some last bits of summer fun, I have a couple of medical appointments I’m taking care of before classes start, and possibly one or more dentist appointments depending on whether a sensitive spot calms down or gets worse. (If it’s going to get worse, I wish it would just come on and do it already, instead of waiting for the first or second day of classes.) I’m pretty clear on the have-to (syllabi etc, and at least one House Thing) and the most definite want-to (a little more fun reading and a sewing project).

But then there are writing-related but not-writing activities, which are desirable but not really essential, like tidying up my home office. It’s workable right now. It’s not fabulous. There are heaps of books on my desk. There are more library books on the shelves than I really need right now, especially if I’m mainly focusing on the article that wants to be a monograph. There is a heap of paper stuff that needs to get filed. But all of these are fairly normal procedure, really, and I am working. Since I got back (not counting writing done on the plane), I’ve produced . . . let’s see . . . Basement Cat, get off my research journal . . . about 2000 words. These are what I might call “focused pre-writing,” rather than true rough-draft writing, because the section presently under construction didn’t get as much pre-writing as the first chunk I wrote. But that’s fine. This stage of writing has to happen sometime, and I might as well do it now, while I’m on a roll.

Anyway. Clearly I am managing to work. OTOH, the desk where I worked at the Wilde Wommene’s Colony for Enditers was truly spare. I thought it was actually a little intimidating: no friendly heaps of books, no way to look things up! But I sure got a lot done while I was there. That might just be because of the lack of distractions in the way of cats and household stuff, and because “chapter one” had received more pre-writing, so I had a lot to work with. Nonetheless, you know how writers are magical thinkers, and have to have their Special Writing Clothing, or Special Pen, or Special Coffee Mug? Right. I am wondering if I would do better to have my Specially Cleared Desk.

Certainly I could return some books that are meant for last year’s Current Project (which really needs a better name). The only reason I don’t is that it’s a bit of a hassle to get the interlibrary loan ones back again. But that doesn’t sound like such a good reason, really. If I sent some books to their natural habitats, I could get the heaps off my desk, and maybe be a bit more organized with the current current projects, including class plans.

So is working on my only-manageably-cluttered study a good use of my time that will pay off in greater efficiency down the road, or is it a piece of magical thinking that I should let go of in favor of writing syllabi, working on my sewing project, and hacking back the horribly overgrown and weedy garden? Actually, I am terribly tempted to abandon the garden until frost kills off some stuff—this seasonal nonsense is good for something!—though I do rather fear What The Neighbors Will Think. And, come to think about it, for optimal sewing enjoyment the study-clearing would also be a good thing, because there might then be room to set up the machine in here and not clutter the living room with it. I could give up on the sewing and garden instead . . . if we ever get a cool enough day that I want to be outside.

Thrashing. It’s what oh-shit-it’s-August syndrome is all about.

If the paper’s crap . . .

I have reflected before that people who need to do archival research Elsewhere in the summer ought not to have gardens, or only the most self-sustaining kind (or hire gardeners, but then what is the point?). Alternatively, perhaps people with gardens ought not to go to libraries and so on that are Elsewhere in the height of growing season.

A large chunk of time today that might have been better spent on the paper went to finishing a chunk of digging and re-planting that I started two weeks ago and then bogged down on. If it were left till I get back, it would all be to do again, not to mention how dreadful it would look in the meantime. More weeding is called for, as is mulch in quantity, but I truly do not have time for that; I will just have to resign myself to hours more when I get back. But at least the front of the house looks like I made some effort.

Really I should leave things like collecting cat meds and cat litter to Sir John (and he’d be the first to say so), but I did those errands, too. So the garden is okay, and the cats have what they need, but I have yet to pack, and I feel I need more time with my books. But maybe the books are just a sort of security blanket.

RBOC

  • Glasses have not reappeared. I ordered new ones. If that makes the old ones reappear, then there will be one pair for work and one for home.
  • I don’t like the colors currently available in similar glasses cases. Le sigh, le pout.
  • 3 sets of papers to grade. Le waaaaah.
  • I have lots of green tomatoes refusing to ripen. Cooking mince pie filling is no doubt in my future. Maybe it would be a good break from grading. Maybe if I took mince pies to school, people wouldn’t notice they didn’t have their papers back yet.
  • The Rebelletriste’s Twain seriously freaked out Basement Cat. Poofy tail, spinal horripilation, nervous retreat up the stairs. Never mind squirt bottles, I want me a baby to threaten that cat with when he’s bad.
  • I think I want top-down/bottom-up honeycomb blinds on some of our windows, preferably cord-free ones, because of the cats. Does anybody have experience installing them? Wot’s it loike?

Step . . . forward?

I can’t face the mess of the 6000-word document any longer. I’ve opened a new document, and am working from the marked-up print-out as I move bits in. At first I was moving paragraph by paragraph, from the start of the original, and re-writing each paragraph lightly. Now the whole organization is shifting and I’m taking bits from here and there around the original. I got up to 2200 words in the new version and realized I left out a paragraph that needs to appear about 500 words back, only now the transition to it is rough and I’m not sure that the paragraph should be the previously-written paragraph. Maybe the original paragraph should all be footnote to a new paragraph.

This is the paper I wanted to have done before leaving for Leeds. Now I’m wondering if I can finish before classes start.

If there were more rose-beetles about, I’d go drown some, to relieve my feelings. I’ve only got 7 in the last two days, because yesterday it was raining and they don’t seem to like rain much. But I’m still afraid I’ll come back to find my roses hopelessly infested. Since I don’t want to use spray, I think I may have to offer the neighbors’ children a bounty on beetles.

I don’t know why this paper is being so difficult. It seems like a nice tidy topic, comparing two manuscripts, basically. Only everything I touch seems to grow tentacles. I have the Octopus Touch when it comes to writing. A bit like Jean de Meun, come to think of it.

The next post will likely be from across the pond. Toodles.

Score-keeping and settling

Monday: rose-beetles drowned, 8; escapees, 1.
Tuesday: rose-beetles drowned, 3; escapees, 0.
Today: rose-beetles drowned, 9; escapees, 1.

Couches peed on, 3-day total: 0
Couches covered in plastic sheeting: 2
Husbands who don’t find retro plastic-covered couches cool but uncomfortably reminiscent of grandmother’s house: 1

At least so far the rose-beetles are confined to just two bushes. I hope I can eradicate all the breeders before I leave for Leeds on Saturday.

Words written: mumble. Excuses. See, um . . . It’s this way. I have been doing things that support my research, without actually writing actual words.

Monday I phoned the British university library that has ignored 3 weeks’ worth of e-mails and faxes, and spoke to a very nice person who took down my information and sent me an e-mail yesterday saying yes, I could photograph the manuscript I’m intererested in. I also read and responded to both a friend’s conference paper draft, and a conference abstract draft from a member of my writing group. I attempted to view images of a different manuscript (one I’m writing about in the Current Project), only to have my laptop computer’s CD drive make dreadful noises and refuse to copy the images to the laptop’s memory. Mild panic ensued. I consulted Sir John and resolved to attempt a copy to a thumb drive at school on Tuesday. (I also paid bills, swam, and watched Tour de France coverage.)

Tuesday I checked out more books for Current Project, met with my writing group, wrote a recommendation letter, and put the CD in my desktop at work. Desktop claimed the CD was blank. Further panic ensued, despite my conviction that I could not have erased the disk. Sir John, in phone consultation, said to try again at home, if not in my machine then in any of his various machines and external drives. Deep breaths. Made final set of reservations for trip to England (train). Long drive home punctuated by traffic accident (not mine) and getting lost on way to drop off letter of recommendation (this is me making up for procrastination, not going above and beyond; the person being recommended is a friend and rewarded me with homemade jam, too). The evening went to the Tour, of course, with much flinching over the latest round of crashes and mourning for Frank Schleck’s collarbone, not to mention other people’s injuries and abandonments.

Today: more drowning of rose-beetles, just to start the day off on a vicious note. The CD opens and displays its files in my laptop, so far without horrible noises, but I’m waiting for another consult with Sir John before I do anything else with it. I have achieved the final medical appointment needed this summer (knock on wood). I have persuaded the gas company to refund a ridiculous amount of money due me because I put last month’s credit card payment in the gas envelope (and vice versa).

Have thought, “Must join 21st century and learn to pay bills on line.” Have also had nostalgic meltdown: I grew up in a world run by people, not machinery. Envelopes were opened by people who would notice that checks were not made out to their company, rather than by machines that scan for numbers. When you called for customer service, you would speak to a person in the building downtown, not spend 6 minutes punching buttons and speaking words that the automated system can’t understand before getting to be placed on hold another 7 minutes for a human being located who-knows-where. I feel like this isn’t my world anymore, and I’m not even 50 years old yet! How much worse will it get? Don’t answer that.

Anyway, I have this vague feeling that I have scores that need settling, but nothing on which to take out my animus except the rose beetles, which after all are just trying to live their buggy little lives. The best revenge would no doubt be settling down and writing words on the Current Project. (Clears throat, sits up straight, speaks portentously, or was that pretentiously?) The Life of the Mind endures, while the rest is Trivia.

Funny how absorbing Trivia can be.

Keeping score

Rose beetles drowned: 9.
Rose beetles that got away: 3.

They’re really quite pretty, with their copper and green, and Gerald Durrell wrote about them fetchingly in My Family and Other Animals, but they eat my roses and I won’t have it. Gardening brings out my ruthless streak.

Cats that peed on furniture this morning: 1.
Frustrated and furious cat-moms: 1.

It sounds like a tie, but I think the cats are winning. If nothing else, I’m going to wind up living in a house where the couch is covered in plastic. How . . . retro.