Fighting the Bishop

“Colonel Weatherhead was pulling up Bishop-weed in his garden. He had a fearful tussle with the Bishop every Autumn, for the Bishop was entrenched in a thorn hedge at the bottom of the garden near the river, and however much of him Colonel Weatherhead managed to eradicate there was always enough root left embedded in the thickest part of the hedge to start him off again next year. Colonel Weatherhead had a kind of sneaking admiration for the Bishop—here was an enemy, worthy of his steel—. The Colonel went for him tooth and nail, he dug and tore and burned the Bishop, and the sweat poured off him in rivulets.” (D. E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle’s Book [London: Herbert Jenkins, 1936], 78)

A bit later, the Colonel is trying to persuade his fiancée to marry him sooner rather than later, and they find themselves at cross-purposes:

“Why not? . . . it’s absolutely the hand of Providence pointing. The weather is as foul as your drains, and my Bishop is done for—”

“Who is your Bishop?” interrupted Dorothea somewhat irritably for such a good-natured woman. “Who on earth is your Bishop? You’ve been talking about him for ages, and I don’t see what he has got to do with our getting married—”

Colonel Weatherhead roared with laughter. “Good Heavens! I thought everyone in Silverstream had heard about my Bishop—I can’t be such a garrulous old bore after all—have I never told you about my struggles with the brute every autumn?”

“Never,” said Dorothea primly, “and I really do not think you should speak of a Bishop in that way, Robert dear. He may be very trying at times—I am sure he is—but after all we must remember that he is consecrated—consecrated with oil,” said Dorothea vaguely, “and therefore—”

“It’s a weed,” gasped the Colonel between his spasms of laughter. “Bishop—weed—it grows in my hedge—it has roots like an octopus—” (99-199).

 

You see! Not only is bishop’s-weed a dreadful opponent, but the octopus reference reminds me of my very own octopus, otherwise known as the MMP. No wonder I’m still in difficulty with the last vestiges of it.

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Idle Google-stalking is not a good idea

Apart from the waste of time. I looked up a former student . . . who has published more books than I have.

Granted, that is not difficult, since I have not yet published any book. And we’re not talking academic presses, or even well-regarded commercial presses. The student was certainly both talented and a go-getter, or I wouldn’t even remember the name after all this time.

Hrrmph. I shall contemplate the glories of the completed MMP for a bit, and then get back to the Next Thing.

Maybe someone from my past will Google-stalk me and be impressed, and slink back into the woodwork.

Burying the lede in a post-break post

How did it get to be Thursday already? Not only that, but the second Thursday post-spring break? I think someone greased the downhill slide toward the end of the term (wheeeee!). I have grading to do (but of course), and yet another editorial query about the MMP to answer (please can this be the last one? Please?), miles to go on the translation (though I am past the halfway point), and visions of my other sidelined projects dancing in my head. I also have thoughts about posts on dealing with trauma around intellectual issues, and on dealing with de-cluttering and de-accessioning Significant Objects, but not enough time to develop these thoughts in writing.

Because the reward for a job well done is another job, I have about seven weeks to complete another large writing and organizing project. My department thinks I’m ready to apply for promotion to Full Professor, and I’m not going to wait around another year just because I have deadlines looming and would like to knock out the last set of overdue revisions and am trying to pack up everything Not Wanted On Voyage so we can move, not to mention keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to make another sudden trip to FamilyLand. I have been writing hard for the last few years, trying to get un-stuck from my long sojourn as Associate Professor, and if the department is willing to support my bid for Full, I am by all the gods going up now, not later.

So either posting will be thin(ner) on the ground for a bit, or there will be lots of it as a self-soothing and/or procrastinatory measure. You just never know.

Day 7: finally awesome!

Finally, a day on which I both felt well and did not have any social or other commitments.

I even woke up extra early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I started the day soon after six, always a bonus. I sat, the first time in ages; may it augur well for future mornings. I read a section of the scholarly book I’ve been working on, stretched, studied a little of a dead language, worked through a large hunk of translation and uploaded a chunk, and did a little tinkering with the copy-edits of the MMP. Alas, the document I received earlier in the week was not, in fact, proofs, but an earlier stage in the editing process, with a few requests for further citations and details. (Once I felt that I could not quit this project; now it will not quit me.) I visited a library to check one of these references. I got my hair cut, went to the bank, bought vitamins, and visited the gym. I have added the library reference and sent the document back to the editor . . . who is out of the country on a research trip. I am envious. But at least I’m back to the MMP being on someone else’s desk rather than mine.

I still need to pay bills, rather urgently now. Maybe this evening while we’re watching more Enterprise.

Facing Day 5

This is not going to be an awesome day. I woke up to a flare-up of a chronic ailment, so I’m not feeling too good. Definitely not energetic. It could be worse: I’ll likely recover in a day or two, rather than being sick for a week or more (as with a cold or the flu), and since I’m on break, I don’t have to drive to campus. I can spend the day on quiet activities.

Proofs for the MMP just arrived in my inbox, so there’s a nice quiet activity. I will also try to think of some ways I can make tomorrow a better day, that is, get some low-energy stuff cleared out of the way that will mean my Future Self doesn’t have to deal with it. I’ve put away some laundry and cleaned my winter boots. Stuff like that. On a good day, I’d skip through those in ten minutes in the evening. On a day like this, it’s still better to take care of such low-level tasks than to feel like I’m getting nothing at all done.

Note to Future Selves: do not ever again arrange to go out on the night that the spring shift to DST happens. I think a lot of my recent trouble sleeping, and resulting flare, had to do with being out/up not just late but way too late because of that time change. I’ve been sort of jet-lagged ever since.

Since my last two spring break posts have ended with a hope for the next day, here’s another: I hope I can get through a chunk of quiet work that will make me feel that I did something worthwhile with today, and that tomorrow I’ll feel more energetic.

The MMP and some thoughts about lists

If you thought I was done with the MMP, you’d almost be right. I finished it. And then I did revisions, and put together the huge honking bibliography, and wrote an abstract. I was asked for more revisions, and I have just finished those and sent the thing off again. I hope not to see anything more about it until I get page proofs.

After a brief look at the last round of revisions, I thought they looked very manageable, and spent most of February not-doing them. That is, I was constantly aware that I should be working on them, and always found something else to do, partly because there really are plenty of things to do, and partly because I am so tired of hacking at that Octopus. A few days ago I untangled one of the most gnarly paragraphs, a Frankenstein’s monster of a paragraph that had pieces from two or three different iterations smashed together (and I’m not sure how it survived my last re-write, but these things happen). This morning I spent four hours not-working on the MMP: some productive procrastination, and some pure online sulking/avoidance. In the end, the actual work took the two hours I thought it should. I just . . . I don’t know. I think I was afraid of finding some enormous glaring mistake or omission if I looked at my essay again.

Anyway, done. And now I can do taxes, or grade, or some other useful thing. Ugh. I wonder if I procrastinated this morning so that I could do One Main Thing with my day, rather than cramming in many many useful pieces of work. The one-item list is so clear, so focused, so satisfying. I like getting big things done: sending off a submission, grading a whole set of papers. Many tasks have to be chipped away at, over time, and some of them feel like death by a thousand paper cuts. Even though I have plenty of evidence from my own work and life that chipping away over time produces results, it never feels as satisfying to say “I have done today’s stint” as it is to say “I am DONE.”

Some things really do have to be done all at once. Painting the basement stairs, for example, which I did a couple of days ago. Who’s going to paint one step a day?

I had a bunch of stuff on my February list that I realize is just not likely to happen until summer. It’s important, desirable, useful life stuff that I’m never going to get to while teaching, writing, translating, doing (or not-doing) tax prep, and getting my house ready to sell. Something has to give, and it is going to be those things.

Still January

It feels like January has lasted for several months. In fact, I think I had spring, skipped summer, and have come back around to winter and ought to be thinking about Christmas shopping. It has not been a bad month, in fact the reverse, but it has most definitely gone on for a very long time (like last July).

I finished the MMP and went back to translating. I planned spring classes and wrote a syllabus for each class. I cooked a lot. I had appointments with a doctor and a dentist. I spent a week visiting family, which meant a lot of application of my hard-earned people skills, mostly acquired in the classroom. I refrained from teaching a pig to sing; instead, I explained some things to people who are either more likely to take them on board or better at dissembling their refusal to listen (time will tell which). I listened to my father and said “We’ll put it on the list” a lot.

I tried to imagine a life in which Sir John and I live near my family, in a very beautiful area where a lot of people take vacations. Sir John can work anywhere he has an internet connection. I have an extensive library. I could retire from teaching, and write my books while looking out at lovely views, and we could go for walks, and visit my father . . . and socialize with my brothers and their families . . . and drive ten miles to get to a grocery store that sells a lot of the specialized items I need, and significantly farther to get to an actual bricks-and-mortar bookstore, and what about the ballet and early music concerts that we love to attend where we live now? Nope nope nope. However lovely the surroundings, I do not want to live in a rural place (even one with only a ten-mile drive to a grocery store, and I know there are far more remote places). The family connection is not exactly an incentive. The cordial detente I have achieved with them is all I hope for; I do not want to have to spend my birthday and other special occasions with my family.

Visiting them is strange, because it makes me realize how odd I am, in the scheme of things. They’re not untraveled or narrow. But they travel for business, and love their homes, and are deeply woven into their communities. I live among academics who take it for granted that you will have to leave your family and move elsewhere, probably several times; thanks to my commute, I’m not well-rooted either where I live or where I work; I travel because I like to be in other places. Probably what I most have in common with my brothers is that we are live-to-work people, whose idea of retirement involves more of the parts of the job we like best and less of those parts we dislike. We also all like to finish things, in reaction to our father, who (like me) is great at generating ideas and has always been terrible at finishing things. I’m slow and a perfectionist, but I do finish, eventually, and I have learned a bit about what things can be done at 70% rather than at 95% or 110%.

I have plenty of work to do today (and another dentist appointment), but what I really want to do is just sit among my books. Not even to read. Just to sit with them, alone except for Glendower and Reina, and be quiet in the middle of a city.

Finally.

The creek did not rise, the Lord lent me a long-handled spoon, the Palpable Worm of Guilt died (or at least hibernated), and this morning I submitted the revised version of the last hunk of the Macedonian Marginalia Project, MMP for short. In one form or another, I’ve been working on this thing for close to ten years. I hereby thank various online writing group members who offered encouragement on various iterations of it (in various iterations of writing groups). You can search the blog for “MMP,” and here’s a selection of quotations from past posts about it:

The bad news is that I have piles of books on the floor, because before returning them I want to be certain that books I think I will need again when I return to the Old Current Project (jeebus: I hereby re-christen that thing the Macedonian Marginalia Project, MMP for short) or to the previous Putative Book project (MaryAnn Ginger! the Big Volume on a Manuscript, or BVM, how’s that?), anyway, I say, I want to be sure those books are noted in the appropriate notes, bibliography, or “dump file,” especially those that are somehow obscure, or came to me via ILL, so I can get them back easily. And no, I will not re-write that sentence.

I hate cold, winter, and the December holidays, and since I can’t spend the entire month in Morocco or Malaysia, I’m going to distract myself this year with the Macedonian Marginalia Project, an article I had hoped to finish over a year ago. Younger self: just go to Mexico.

I don’t want to be a conversation-starting scholar. . . I don’t imagine there will be a huge conversation about the MMP. I don’t have the writing-personality to start one, and the skills required to do this kind of work are too rare to get a lot of followers. What I can do is take the time necessary to make my article solid, accurate, and reliable. So it’s already taken more than two years. If I do it right, it will still be useful in 50.

As I work toward finishing the MMP, which I have been working on for 3 years now, I can’t really see why it took so long. Should I not be farther along than creating topic sentences for all my paragraphs? And yet, I do see what took so long: synthesizing the details, figuring out what they offer a larger conversation, working out how to get from larger to smaller and back again, figuring out connections, thinking about what work each paragraph needs to do. Three years! What a good thing I had no idea it would be 2018 before the thing saw print.

The MMP began life as an exploration of Thing One and Thing Two because they had something in common with Thing Three . .  last summer I was pretty sure I had got Things One and Two (my lively eels) wrapped tidily round each other in an attractive twist. There were just a few little bits to work on . . . and then Thing One grew a tentacle. . . picture, here, a small two- or three-masted sailing ship, on a calm sea, under a sunny sky, sails happily belled out by a brisk but pleasant breeze, and Dame Eleanor, in period costume, rearranging piles of parchment on the poop deck, holding them down with deck quoits, while behind her rises the Giant Octopus of Doom, stretching its suckers toward the little ship. Comrade Physioprof liked “octopusing” as a verb. So do I.

I would really like to hurry up and finish the MMP (or, rather, the MMP-1 and MMP-2) and publish them and get on to the next thing and get to be a full professor before I retire.  How many of my colleagues have to get to transcribe or at least read 78 x 3 lines of early modern law-Latin in an Anglicana hand before they can get on with writing their articles?

I have no idea what my first sentence is going to be, or the last. The MMP-1 is taking shape from the middle section outward. Its shape is an hourglass. (Well, that’s what I thought in 2013.)

I sorted and labeled all the photocopies with different-colored sticky notes for Literature, Manuscripts, Reading Practices, Book History, Biography, and Theory. I also labeled the piles of printouts: MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, and listed what was in them (notes, tables of data, early drafts, feedback from RL writing group, usw). I’m not sure where all those stacks are anymore. Buried in my office? Can I recycle it all now?

I [hacked] and [slashed] the second rejected version to meet a draconian word limit for a prestigious journal. (Reviewers thought it seemed disjointed. No shit, really?)

For (mumble) years now, I have been living with its protagonist. When I’m working on this project, I stare at Google Images of his tomb and his lands (as they are now: so far, I have not convinced Google to cough up overhead shots from earlier centuries, though there are some nineteenth-century images of his parish church and nearby bridge). Last summer I visited his tomb and said some prayer more or less for his soul. And took my own photographs of said tomb.

Sometimes I feel delighted to send an essay out into the world. This time, I’m hopeful but wary. If projects are children, the MMP-1 has had a hard time in adult life, and has sucked up a lot of my resources; some of the younger kids have suffered because of the attention this one needed.

This means I am finally done (bar revisions) with the Project That Ate My Life for the last seven years, a project that initially seemed simple and then turned into three separate articles plus a companion-piece spin-off, a project that was supposed to be ancillary to a book project that has been sidelined while I work on the other book that cropped up in the meantime. (Generating ideas is not a problem I have. Finishing things, yes, guilty as charged.) Oh, yeah, revisions. They couldn’t possibly take six months.

A few details on the MMP-1, since my brother didn’t ask: it contains over 14,000 words (a number that will grow when I revise further before publication) and 102 footnotes, it deals with multiple manuscript sources (one literary, at least five documentary), it involved extensive transcription from wills and other documents written in Latin and in secretary hand, it surveys critical literature in an area that is Not My Home Field, it included references to criticism read in a modern language not English, and the last round of readers’ reports included phrases such as “clear argument,” “very welcome,” “compelling” and “impressive.” Shoot, even its first rejection included the phrase “impressively well documented.” Adding two more literary manuscripts, 25 footnotes, and 3000 words might account for the six months. I guess.

The list of secondary sources includes work in at least three separate scholarly fields. I think altogether I cite works in five different languages. But who’s counting?

It’s the end of an era. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

900: Falling off the face of the Earth

In the middle of last month, I realized that my next post would be #900, which seemed to call for some special notice. I was mulling over a post about metaphors for writing and why I like to read blogs about restoring old houses in France (which is definitely one of those reading-not-doing items for me). I hoped to write the post before leaving for the Thanksgiving break, but figured after, or even during, would work just fine.

Then we went to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and all plans went to hell in a handbasket. My father, reportedly doing very well following a hospitalization at the end of October, was supposed to move from a rehabilitation facility to “independent living.” My soon-to-be-ex-niece-in-law (I had understood) had done a lot of the necessary organizing and everything was set for an orderly transition. There were just a few little loose ends that could be easily wrapped up.

Mmm-hmm. I’m not sure if I should say that the loose ends unraveled or that pulling on them led to a massive snarl of yarn. Either way, it was a mess, and I didn’t really work out how much of a mess until I had about 36 hours before I had to leave for the airport. I moved mountains, and was briefly proud of myself, and then the mountains collapsed, after all (volcanic eruption? I really should leave the metaphors alone). A week later, my father was in the hospital with pneumonia, all his work in rehab undone.

To make a long story short, he is now in a nursing home, where he seems likely to stay for the rest of his life. He is one of the highest-functioning patients there, both mentally and physically, but he’s still not in good enough shape to tackle even assisted living. He might get there, but at his age, just making the move from one situation to another would be enormously stressful and likely to lead to another setback.

At any rate, my life seems to be back on track now. Grades are in. One of my greatly-delayed sets of revisions, the easier one, is done and submitted, thanks to the editor leaning on me. And I really do mean thanks; I would not have got them done without the kick in the pants, but the work provided a useful counter-irritant to a whole lot of calls and anxiety about my father. The editor for the last chunk of the MMP has extended me mercy unhoped-for. I have to pound out a revised intro and conclusion, but I think I’ve fixed everything else, and if I can keep a clear head and finish off in the next ten days or so, the largest and most elaborate piece of the MMP will see daylight in 2018. God willing and the creek don’t rise, with the help of the Lord and a long-handled spoon, and any other such folk sayings we can come up with (please leave them in the comments).

One happy side-effect of living on adrenaline appears to be that I am not suffering from SAD this year, at least not so far, and so you are spared my usual grousings about winter and the holidays. I am actually looking forward to a sane and ordinary get-together with Sir John’s side of the family, and to a nice calm dose of ordinary work instead of having to apply my skills at gathering, organizing and communicating information to elder-care. I guess another happy side-effect is realizing how useful these skills actually are in real-life situations.

Roll on Christmas excess. Sir John impulse-bought a lovely bottle of lovely Spanish sherry last week, and I have been lapping it down at such a rate that I think I need to get him a new bottle for his stocking. Ding-dong, merrily get high!

When the light is right

I am still slogging away at the MMP. Inspired by Jane B., I have for the moment put aside the effort to compose the perfect concluding paragraph, and am working on the bibliography, since it also has to be done, and it does keep me in touch with the project. The bibliography work mainly involves combing through my footnotes, with a side order of tracking down details online.

Here I have to note that at least since early October I have been in a state of combined despair and anxiety over this project, wondering why it is such a struggle to put to bed, when I thought I would polish it off in three weeks last summer. The editors have not been nagging me, but I’m doing a fantastic job of nagging myself.

Working on the notes/bibliography is doing wonders for my state of mind. Look at that list of manuscript and archival documents consulted in the making of this essay! The list of primary sources is wide-ranging. The list of secondary sources includes work in at least three separate scholarly fields. I think altogether I cite works in five different languages. I still wish I could work more quickly, but by all the gods, I am thorough.

Sometimes I actually impress myself.