Write the swyvere down (redux)

A movie. I ran across a reference to it recently (blog archives? a more current post? newspaper??): a couple are in, or go to, a big city (New York?) and solve an old, noir-ish mystery. My impression is that the outer story is a rom-com and the inner one is noir. I thought it might be good for one of our friend-group’s Noir Movie Nights.

Why didn’t I write it down? I was no doubt in the middle of something else, and thought I could find it again easily. Does this very vague plot summary sound familiar to anybody? A fun recommendation from NicoleandMaggie, or a comparison Undine made?

Updates on other topics:

Taxes: I sorted out all the tax stuff and delegated the delivery to Sir John, so I didn’t have to face the beleaguered accountants myself (Sir John is enough of a guy not to have guilt hardwired into his autonomic response system). And I wrote in my calendar for next November “pay retainer to accountant” so they’ll know to expect us. I love that this is possible; it’s just that when they send us the form to do it, I say “Oh, the tax checklist” and put it aside unopened, instead of opening it and taking action.

House/cats: We’ve shown the house again. Result: Reina spends all her time lurking on bookshelves, fearing that food is only being offered in order to lure her into humiliating and terrifying captivity, since we crate all the cats during showings. Maybe I should increase her Prozac dose.

Weather/garden: it’s probably warm enough that I could rake up all last year’s leaves/mulch, but now it’s rainy and windy so I still don’t want to go out.

Grading: I have six sets of papers due in April. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I’m halfway through the set that came in on Monday, however, since I have grasped that if I don’t keep up, I’ll go under, so maybe the trick to grading fast is in fact to overload myself. I don’t think I want to plan to test this idea next term.

The not-awesome class: I’ve been having conferences with this group about their next paper and despite their silence in class, everyone so far really likes the book we’ve been studying, and most of them had at least some notes or a vague idea about something they might like to write about, so this was encouraging.

Substantive posts about books and writing and interesting things: you weren’t seriously expecting that, were you? If you get one, it’ll be because I’m deep in procrastination mode, or else because it’s mid-May.


Awesome idea, plus some whining

Apart from going to Mass every day (or at all), this sounds to me like a fabulous vacation, and I am going to try to do something like it after the semester is over:



I have ideas for at least two substantive posts but I still need to Do All The Things even though I am nearly done with one Enormous Thing (style-check of the Huge Honking Translation), and I just don’t have the time/brain to engage with blogging ideas. I found a wonderfully soothing, repetitive loop of classical piano and cello on YouTube that was exactly what I needed to keep my monkey-mind distracted, or do I mean focused, both/either/whatever, while I read through 150 pages of translated medieval text. Only another 50 or so to go! Starting Tuesday I’ll be able to see if the music works for grading as well.

Please tell me I am not the only sorry procrastinator who still has not taken tax-related stuff to the accountant. But if you file E-Z on the 15th don’t tell me, we need the accountant and at this point I am procrastinating in part because I feel so guilty about giving them more last-minute work. I have a stack of documents. I have the checklist from last year. I can do this.

And then the rest of the Things will not seem so bad. Right?

SAD nutjob = me?

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, or visited the archives, you’ll know I get very gloomy in winter (which I think of as Iguana Sseason), that I long to spend all of December in Morocco or Mexico, and that it is very good for me to take at least a short domestic break somewhere sunny, as I did in 2015. So why, why am I contemplating a trip to London in January, when it will no doubt rain every day and the days will certainly be even shorter than they are here at home?

Because of the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at the Tate Britain, which runs 24 October 2018 – 24 February 2019.

I’m not sure that it’s exactly EBJ himself drawing me (if you’d asked me who my favorite nineteenth-century painter was, I probably would have said Rousseau, or possibly Corot), but a combination of his artistic, literary, and historical significance alongside the provenance of many of the exhibited items, on loan from private owners. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see paintings whose owners have gone off to their winter homes in Morocco or Ibiza or wherever, before they come home in March and want their stuff back. It’s not as if Andrew Lloyd Webber is ever going to invite me over for a drink and a good ogle at his Burne-Jones collection. We’ve never even met, and I probably would seem like a dodgy, not to mention boring, guest, likely to drone on about owners of medieval manuscripts and the beginnings of the EETS.

Traveling overseas purely to see a museum exhibition seems most extravagant and self-indulgent. If the exhibit ran until summer, I could combine it with the Early Book Society conference or Leeds, but the dates are what they are (and I’m not giving a paper at either conference, it’s just that if I paid my own way to either I’d feel that I had a respectable professional reason to travel, plus I could take some time to look at manuscripts). However, January is the off-season, as well as when I have a little bit of a break from both teaching and family obligations. If I take a not-so-desirable flight, and go for a shortish period of time, I can stay someplace decent and probably pay for the whole thing with my first year’s full-professor salary bump.

I think I’ve talked myself into it, even though I hate traveling in the winter, as a general thing. Does exposure to art counteract SAD as well as actual sunshine does? Perhaps it’s worth running the experiment.

Another book someone needs to write

I was reading Helen Cooper’s review of Richard Firth Green’s Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church, in the July 2018 Speculum (852-4), when I tripped over a line containing a quotation from Green himself: “Elfland, Green claims . . . was ‘a contested site in the struggle between the official and unofficial cultures of the Middle Ages'” (852, citing Green 2).

Now, I’m looking forward to reading Green’s book for scholarly purposes; but I really want to read an urban fantasy in which Faerie is a contested site in any struggle between human cultures. Faerie is almost always difficult to get into and hostile toward humans, so the idea that it could become a human battlefield intrigues me. I’d be fine with a medieval setting, as in the quote itself, but I’d love to see what Emma Bull (for example) could do with this. I suppose Emma Newman‘s Split Worlds series comes close, but there’s room for more of this sort of thing, IMO.

The only reason I haven’t already read Elf Queens and Holy Friars is that I’m going to have to get it ILL (thanks to budget cuts to LRU’s library and the Excellence Without Money initiative), and since I’ve been working on finishing assorted projects, I’ve held off on ILL’ing books I don’t actually need for such purposes. If it had been on our shelves I’m sure I would have snatched it. I don’t know why I didn’t buy it at K’zoo this year; that seems like uncharacteristic restraint. Maybe I was just too overwhelmed in the book exhibit, or ran into a friend at a key moment and got distracted from my buying spree.

Pennies from somewhere

As I pack, it amazes me how much stray money I find, most of it either very small denomination or not usable. Lots of American pennies. Also an Irish Euro-cent, a pfennig piece, assorted centavos, 100 lire, and a 50-franc note from Lichtenstein.

How does this happen? I’m not asking where all this comes from (Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Italy, and Lichtenstein, obviously, and I have been to all those places so I believe they’re mine), but rather, how do these coins and notes filter their way into boxes and on shelves, instead of being used up in the airport or donated when the flight attendants collect your last coins for charity? I’m particularly baffled by Lichtenstein, because I don’t think I’ve been there since 40 years ago this summer. How did that bit of paper survive, and in what box, all this time?

Gentle readers, do you have items like this appearing from who knows where? Coins, or some other type of object?

Feminist husband

We went to sign our tax return. The papers came out of the envelope, and I started to look at the numbers. Sir John began to read at the top of the page, and said, “That’s not this woman’s name.”

Despite my nom de blogue, IRL I use the name I was born with, legally, personally, professionally. Sure enough, though that name was all over all the paperwork we left with the accountant (a firm we have used before), I was identified by my husband’s name on every form filled in for 2016. So we didn’t sign. They’ll have to re-do the forms and we’ll go back again.

I am amused that Sir John noticed before I did.

Happy things

I feel well, the sun is shining, flowers are flowering, birds are twittering, I’ve done a whole lot of stuff today including some things I really didn’t want to and also some things I enjoyed, I found that I forgot to record a substantial deposit some time ago and that’s why the bank thinks we have more money than I thought we should (so no more waiting for something to clear or worrying about mistakes), and there’s still time in the day to get some more useful and enjoyable things done. I’m reading a delightful book, a memoir by L. M. Boston called Perverse and Foolish, which is broken into little chunks that can be enjoyed either in a few minutes between other things or at longer stretches.

It looks as if the summer teaching abroad program has enough students to run, and though I have batches of grading to get through they are smaller batches than at the beginning of the term because I “forgot” to point out to students until after spring break that whereas there are five (say) assignments of Type X on the syllabus they only have to do four of them, so now lots of them are breathing sighs of relief and ceasing to turn in work, except for those who want extra credit, and those are usually the better students anyway.

We finally got around to watching the Paris-Roubaix bike race and I think it was the most boring Paris-Roubaix I have ever watched but at least it wasn’t heart-breaking; no one was seriously injured. Paris-Roubaix is called “the Hell of the North” and runs over 25-29 cobblestoned sectors that are brutal; when it’s raining or has rained recently it’s incredibly muddy, slippery, and awful, and when it’s dry it’s incredibly dusty, slippery, and awful. When it’s windy the winds can blow the race apart even without the cobblestones. I still remember vividly watching Frank Schleck crash and break his collarbone in three places. Anyway, this year it wasn’t muddy or windy and was only a little dusty and it seemed like everything went very well, and I’m glad no one got badly hurt.

Reina is snoozing on a chair and Glendower is dozing in a cat carrier with his head poking out just a little so I can see his tufty ears. It’s nice to have their company. Research . . . well, I should do some. I gave a talk this week that went well but it has just dawned on me that I’m supposed to contribute to my writing group this week so I can’t rest on my laurels. It’s a good thing there’s still some time today!

Signs of the times

So it’s lovely to hear from Notorious, and to enjoy, vicariously, the notion of a big mostly-empty office in which to work on a new(ish) project. My home study is pretty big, actually, but it’s also the site of many old projects, some of which are still pending (revisions . . . ), plus household files, and pickle dishes or their equivalent that I’m sorting out, and usually a cat or two, plus it’s my dressing room. Thus, even though I am better equipped for space than many academics, I still enjoy the fantasy of a fresh start.

What really hit me in this picture (click to enlarge), though, is the telephone.

At LRU, we’re losing our office phones. And cutting the library budget drastically. There is no travel money, though some may be pulled from some dark place for the untenured. And we are to expect further mid-year cuts, since the fall semester had to be scheduled before we knew what the budget would look like (besides dire).

It’s not that I use the phone so much. I can live without it, and I’d rather give up the phone than the monographs budget (not that that’s a choice: they’re both happening). But it’s a sign of faculty status, even tenured faculty at tolerably respectable universities. I frequently run into people in my area who went to LRU, or whose kid or nephew or cousin’s daughter goes there, and they think highly of the school and they think I have a good job. (Mostly I agree with them.) I think these people, whether they work in sales, accounting, law, nursing, programming, or office support in any of these or various other types of work, would be surprised that I no longer have an office phone. And I’m pretty sure that that’s not what they think they voted for.


While we’re on the topic of nostalgia, in my totally unscientific and undoubtedly observer-biased surfing around, it seems to me that a lot of people gave up blogging around 2008-09.  Was this part of the growing hegemony of the Book of Face, or did it have something to do with the financial crisis?  People also identify 2008 as the Year Things Changed in the job market, due to financial stuff.

Because of family problems, I paid very little attention to the outside world in 2008-09.  I sum these things up, briefly, by saying “My parents were both very ill and my mother died.”  Although the death belongs in the “blessed relief” category, the grieving process takes its course regardless of one’s actual feelings.  I hadn’t grasped that before.  Grief isn’t necessarily about sadness, but about adjusting to a new reality.  Anyway, I remember vividly the day that Lehmann went under, because I was in FamilyLand, on the phone with a friend in New York who was stunned by the whole thing; she reported on the financial people wandering the streets in the middle of the day looking shell-shocked.  But it was late morning on the left coast, and, in a brief respite from attending on my mother, I was sitting in the sun in a hemlock grove, on a redwood deck built by my nephew from trees he had felled, enjoying the peace and the sunlight, enjoying hearing from a friend I loved but rarely saw, and who was a tremendous support during my mother’s last years.  It was a rare moment of comfort in a difficult trip.  The bankruptcies and the Dow’s slide seemed remote, unreal, impossible, a matter of pixels on screens; reality was wood, slate, glass, concrete, a whole house that was not there before my nephew built it.  This would continue, I thought, people would make things, the world would go on.

Well, it did.  And it didn’t.  People who move pixels on screens spend actual money on houses and other objects created by the people who make things.  My nephew and his wife spent awhile living in their own basement apartment while they rented out their beautiful house, though eventually they reclaimed it for themselves and, now, their children.  I tell the story to illustrate my state of mind at the time.  I’ve rarely blogged about world events of any sort, preferring to ramble on about writing, cats, and the academic life, but I was especially self-absorbed that year.  I have no idea what the job market was like, or whether jobs were advertised and then yanked, or what else might have happened.

So, did junior faculty and graduate student bloggers get spooked and feel they’d better be more circumspect, shut down, go away, not be available for hiring committees to observe online?  Did they decide to buckle down and write more on their dissertations or books so they’d be more hire-able or tenure-able, and give up on blogging as a time-waster?  Or is this pure coincidence (how many academic babies were born in ’08-’09?), or simply that I haven’t actually counted up how many of the bloggers I once read quit in particular years?

On giving up

I’m a little amused that a five-year-old meme has caught on again, at least in a small way, thanks to my propensity for re-visiting my past, and thanks to bloggers like Clarissa and Z.

Because I was feeling so rotten last week, spending much of several days asleep, when I was awake I spent awhile re-reading Squadratomagico’s archives, which I greatly enjoyed.  Hers is a blogging voice I miss; but given the range of her interests, I’m sure she’s having a fantastic time doing whatever took the place of blogging in her life.

Since she’s not around to speak for herself (so far as I know—do speak up in the comments if you’re out there, Squadro!), I feel a certain responsibility to speak for her, since I’m the one who returned to the old topic.  The original post, http://squadratomagico.net/2008/02/15/how-much/, responded to changes in the lives of several members of the academic blogging community, some of whom are still with us, others of whom either stopped blogging or may have re-named themselves in moves I have lost track of: New Kid, before law school; Medieval Woman, while still in a long-distance relationship and before the twins; Heu Mihi, before her translation to the cornfields, the advent of the Minister, and Bonaventure; the bloggers who are now Maude and Moria; Hilaire, who I hope is now enjoying a happier life than the one I used to follow.   These potential (at that time—now actual) changes provoked a lot of soul-searching, and those of us who were already enjoying stable positions both empathized and took the opportunity to think about our own lives.

In particular, I want to let Squadro respond to the first line of Jonathan’s post on this topic.  In teaching meme, she explicitly values the contrafactual:  “I love teaching history because I believe it implicitly raises the possibility of counterfactual narratives. I don’t explore counterfactuality in the classroom, but I know some students are thinking about these issues on their own. The ability to imagine alternate social, political, economic, religious, etc. directions within history can, I think, lead to the ability to imagine alternate configurations for current social, political, economic, religious, etc. conditions. The study of history can train the individual to question reality; to question the authority of received cultural (and parental) expectations, hopefully in productive ways. I believe this can be empowering.”

The political is the personal.  Exploring counterfactuality in our own lives can be empowering.  It need not be a sign one should leave academia.  And one’s own contentment does not invalidate others’ struggle.  At the very least, people contemplating entering academia need to know the opportunity costs, the likely starting salaries, and the problems of salary compression.  My own students think professors make “good money” and are astonished that they could earn more teaching high school, but that is the situation in these parts.  YMMV, of course.  Personally, I think academic life has given me more than it took away; my losses have more to do with health and family situations that would almost certainly have arisen in any case.  I still think it’s worth evaluating the gains and the losses.