Schedules and sleep

For years I’ve been moaning about having to teach night classes followed within 48 hours by an early morning class or meeting. By nature I’m a morning person (though not an extreme one), and the only time I ever coped well with night classes was back in the last century, when I was able to stack all my obligations in the afternoons and evenings, thus allowing me to sleep from roughly midnight to 8:00 a.m. on a regular basis.

For the first time in the twenty-first century, thanks in part to Zoom and also to some retirements, I have that schedule again.

And yet after my first night class of the semester, I was up till 2:00 a.m. and still didn’t sleep well. Too much stimulation: a day full of new people! a different classroom! also an unhappy colleague to talk off a ledge, and staying late to scan some things that need to go on the V(i)LE site, and finally lying awake thinking (more with pleasurable excitement than with anxiety, but still, awake) about things I needed to do. I hope I get used to the new people and classroom. I never realized the extent to which sheer physical exhaustion used to help me sleep after I got all keyed up to stay awake for class and the drive home.

At any rate, I’m now regularly doing work after dinner, to replace the now-missing mornings. It’s interesting! It feels like re-connecting with my grad-student self. Like early mornings, evenings are peaceful: incoming e-mail is rare, and there’s a feeling that “normal” people are doing other things, not demanding my attention.

Actually my morning-person leanings have been in trouble since last summer, when for various reasons I kept being unable to sleep till very late, and then either sleeping late the next day or taking naps. But basically I was tired all summer. The fall term put me back on a closer-to-normal schedule, but I was still tired a lot of the time.

Then when I had Covid I sort of turned into a cat, no circadian rhythms at all. I couldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a stretch, because I’d wake up congested and coughing, or otherwise uncomfortable. I drank a lot of hot liquids to soothe my throat, so my bladder also woke me up regularly. But all those liquids lacked caffeine, and I haven’t restarted my very modest caffeine habit (usually a single serving of green tea in the morning). I’m sure I would have recovered faster if I’d been able to sleep more, or at least more hours in a row, but it just wasn’t happening. Naps round the clock were the best I could do.

Once I was able to breathe better, I’ve been in bed for eight or nine hours most nights, sometimes even ten, and asleep for most though not all of it (I often wake up for awhile in the middle of the night). I miss the flavor of my fancy green tea, and the alert feeling when the caffeine kicked in, but on the other hand, I don’t seem so generally draggy in the morning. Or maybe I’m a little bit draggy all the time, but not especially so when I first get up.

Though the semester has started, I still have a lot of teaching prep to do, the kind of stuff I like to have done before classes begin. The syllabus for that night class is very rough, and the V(i)LE sites are much less populated than I’d like them to be. But that work is just going to have to get done in the awake hours that I have. Though I keep thinking I’m mostly back to normal, every time I push myself a little the body pushes back and tells me no, you aren’t really. Long nights, short walks, and gentle yoga are where I’m at right now, physically. The brain seems to be in decent shape, for which I am grateful. That means I’m able to do the work that needs to be done, that I want to do, am excited about. But I can only do so much of it.

I’m not complaining. Mostly I’m just noticing differences. It’s like when I was ill in November 2015 and time stretched out so hugely because I wasn’t doing anything. Last semester seems like at least a year ago, and in other ways as well I feel insecurely anchored in time (see above re graduate-student self). Probably the demands of the semester will take over and anchor me again, soon. For now I’m somewhere between dragging and floating, and immensely grateful that I’m able to keep to a consistent sleep schedule this term, even if it’s not what I would have said was my preferred schedule. I don’t think I could cope with one of those 33-hour turn-arounds I used to have.

Spring?

At any rate, the start of the “spring” semester. We’re also getting unseasonal warmth with rain instead of the snow and sub-freezing temperatures that are more usual in these parts at this time of year. This makes me feel strangely adrift in time and place. But at least I don’t feel like I need to stay indoors in my iguana cage. Though Sir John dislikes cloudy rainy weather, I’m okay with it. That is, I can stand cold if it’s bright, and I can stand gloomy if it’s warm(ish); what really gets me down is the combination of dark and cold.

I just hope the plants realize they’d better hang on for a few months before putting out buds, because I’m sure we’ll get real winter eventually.

At any rate, it’s a new year, and not only that, we’re well into it already. Halfway through January! I’m back from a delightful week in the company of Queen Joan and Lady Maud, spent in the land of bougainvillea and rosemary hedges. We visited the sites, we cooked together, we did some vintage shopping (just as we did in college), we worked a jigsaw puzzle (and had to give up on a second one). We survived what the locals saw as a fearsome rainstorm (in the midwest, we call that sort of rain “summer”). Unfortunately, on a previous stage of Queen Joan’s royal progress, she caught a cold, which she generously shared with her attendant ladies; fortunately, it was no worse ailment, and I had warning enough to go get zinc lozenges and start on prevention / amelioration in good time, so I’m only rather snuffly. But I’m pretty damned tired of being sick, and I hope that I can be healthier in the rest of the coming year.

I am not up to making resolutions or even picking a theme for the year. I am in the mode of putting one foot in front of the other, and my main hope is that things can just keep keeping on much as they are right now. Life is pretty good, as I have indicated in my posts about retirement, and I would like to keep enjoying this pleasant state of affairs.

Anyway, hello blogosphere! I’m sorry I haven’t been commenting much lately, though I do read. Happy belated birthday to Ganching, and I look forward to hearing about more of Carolbaby‘s creative explorations; I hope MLA went well for those, like Undine, who attended. May all the academics have good semesters, with delightful hard-working students and plenty of writing time!

Year in review on the Feast of St Thomas Becket

We’re in the low ebb of the year, in more ways than one (see below). But can look ahead to the new.

January 2022: I wrote an abstract for a conference, wrote and submitted a book review, the first week of classes was online.

February: I did a lot of grading, the mask mandate was dropped, Russia invaded Ukraine and I started wearing a blue and yellow ribbon.

March: two cats had check-ups, one cat got out and spent two nights hunkered under the deck until we broke her out, I drafted a conference paper, Queen Joan and an attendant lady visited.

April: I went to an excellent conference in the UK, where I was also able to do some sight-seeing, and did a lot more grading.

May: I visited my father and brothers in the PNW, where there was an excursion to a very beautiful rhododendron park, and painted the guest room.

June: I wrote another conference paper and went to an excellent conference I could drive to, with Sir John.

July: We went to a local park for 4th of July fireworks (highly enjoyable), and watched the Tour de France; I cleaned my closet very thoroughly and peer-reviewed an essay; I was asked to submit a conference paper to a special issue of a journal.

August: We made a road trip to Canada, and fall classes started; I made plans for January 2023 excursion with Queen Joan and Lady Maud.

September: I did a lot of interesting local walks, a lot of grading, a certain amount of e-Bay shopping; saw a friend I met in France seven years ago, got cards for two local library systems, and made progress on the paper-to-essay project.

October: this month was a blur, but I kept writing and grading. An overturned tanker truck on a key on-ramp made me late one morning, and I re-read a couple of favorite books from my childhood, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and Little Plum. I went to a workshop that wasn’t that useful.

November: I voted in person for the first time in years, continued the interesting local walks, finished a draft of the special-issue essay and sent it to another contributor for comment, which was both helpful and favorable; my mother’s best friend died, as did the father of another old friend, though I didn’t learn of that till December.

December: I did a lot of grading and more e-Bay shopping, submitted the essay (suggestions for revision came back within a couple of weeks; I suspect I’m the only person who actually turned it in close to the original deadline), went to visit my father and brothers, had Covid, my father died, we had a very quiet Christmas as both of us were sick.

Perspective

Although I’ve been working at LRU long enough to retire, one of my siblings thinks that I work not at Large Regional University, but at [LRU’s Townname] University, which isn’t a thing in my state or any other, though there is a Townname College elsewhere.

I’ve left quite the impression on my family, haven’t I?

Or maybe this is what happens when you move far away and don’t show off about your achievements. I’ll have to make sure someone who actually knows me writes my obituary.

Three Colleagues Commentary

To begin at the end, I’m not going to be Terry. I never wanted to change the world. I like teaching and after decades of practice, I’m good at it, but I got into it to support a research habit. It seems unlikely that I’ll suddenly develop a social conscience and want to devote myself to good works after I retire. At least I haven’t managed to irritate the people I’ve worked with enough to make them want to ease me out (or maybe my skin is thick enough that I haven’t noticed their efforts).

Jerry is my pathetic example, the person I absolutely do not want to be. When I retire, I plan to leave very permanently: no coming back to teach one course at a time, even online, no hanging around the edges. It helps that I don’t live in LRU-ville; my social life, such as it is, takes place elsewhere. While I do expect to keep doing research, I’ll have books delivered to a library near me, rather than going to LRU for them, and I’ll see people at conferences, not on campus.

I have long admired Merry’s approach, and hoped to emulate it. The problem is, I don’t know what plays the role of British theatre in my life! At one time, I thought I might want simply to go “home,” that is, to where I grew up. To do that would require time travel. That place has changed significantly; it doesn’t draw me as forcefully as it once did. I can imagine moving to the UK, not to London, but somewhere smaller with both a castle and a cathedral, and training to be a docent at both. That way I could spend the rest of my life in the Middle Ages. But I don’t feel like that’s something I must do, just that it would be fun (and I recognize that it’s hard to move to a new country, even one where you speak the language).

Merry, so far as I know, was single (maybe there was someone in London, but I was not privy to that information). I have a husband to consider. He’s from Here, and likes it here. His mother is still alive, and needs more assistance from her children these days. I completely support Sir John’s interest in staying near his mother through her lifetime; it’s hard enough for me being across the country from my now-very-elderly father that I don’t want to pull him away from family just because I think it would be fun to live somewhere else.

If my “Thing” ever hits me over the head, I’ll file my retirement papers and go do it. But as I said last summer, the things people do in retirement are mostly things I already do as much as I want to. I suppose I could try to completely reinvent myself: sign up for wood-working lessons and workshops on miniatures, build doll-houses and their furniture. Or take golf and bridge lessons, turn myself into my step-grandmother. Or become (yet another) style blogger for the over-50 set (certainly there are a lot of potential friends in that set!). None of those things appeals to me as much as continuing to do the things I enjoy and do well. At some point, I’ll have to make a change. I’m trying to be open to possibilities, to see if I run across an activity that sparks enough joy that I’d want lots more time for it.

Three remarks

A couple of weeks ago, in my grad class, we were discussing the Riverside Chaucer. One of my students, inspecting the publication information, said “That’s the year before I was born!”

I refrained from mentioning that the book came out the year I started graduate school. The students can probably work that out for themselves, if they look me up.

The same week, I unexpectedly saw a colleague in the parking lot, someone who used to be in a writing group with me, but whom I haven’t seen in years. I hailed this person; the first words out of their mouth were “I thought you’d already be retired!”

Sir John says this is sort of like saying “I thought you’d be dead by now.” I didn’t take it that badly, perhaps because in our writing group days I observed that things this person says are much more likely to be about them than about the person they’re talking to. Sure enough, conversation revealed that they’d like to retire but can’t do it yet.

When Sir John and I opened a new joint checking account last year, at the bank he’s used for decades, the woman helping us asked if I’d like to consult with a personal banker: “You might be able to retire sooner than you thought!”

“But I don’t want to retire,” I said, so quietly that Sir John (who knows me well) thought I was angry. Not that. More sad, I think.

I’m supposed to want to retire, but I don’t. I didn’t expect this. When I was approaching the age at which I could retire early, and had a department chair I didn’t like, it was a comfort to think that soon I’d be able to tender my resignation if it all got to be too much. Now that that time, and another couple of chairs, have come and gone, I’m happy with my current life. I’d like things to stay the way they are for awhile longer.

Kitchen table piles

Do these happen in everyone’s houses, or just in the places I live?

My dad always had huge heaps of papers on the kitchen table, gradually encroaching on his place from the unused places, and then spreading further till my mother would make him remove some of the junk. So maybe it’s just that I’m used to it, and it doesn’t really occur to me to move my stuff or ask Sir John to remove his, because in my mind that’s what tables are for.

After my mother died, my father’s piles spread to encompass the whole house. He brought in new surfaces to put stuff on. He’s still piling things up on the bedside table in his nursing home.

I once mentioned, casually, to a colleague that my father was a hoarder. She said, horrified, “Did you know?”

How could we not?

I had the impression she thought his kids should “do something,” but there’s really nothing to do. Cleaning up would just make him mad, and then he’d need to collect more stuff, so we would have damaged the relationship with nothing much to show for the effort.

At any rate, here in the Hull house we can still eat on the table. There’s sort of a steady-state equilibrium of stuff coming in, sitting for awhile, and then going out again. So I think we’re okay.

But I do sometimes wonder if other people do better at keeping surfaces clear.

Who should that be but our cousin Scotland?

I don’t think it’s so much that I’m especially interested in the royal family as that I have a hangover from my mother’s interest, which permeated my childhood. She was a few years younger than Elizabeth II, and thanks to her collection of magazine clippings and a few books, such as The Little Princesses, I grew up with the topic. That book combined with James Kenward‘s Prep School (a battered Penguin copy kicked around our bookshelves, surrounded by Scholastic kids’ books; I have no idea who acquired it, or when) to fuel many happy hours of playing school with my dolls and dollhouse when I was small.

So although I can’t say I feel particularly bereft by the death of Elizabeth II, it does feel a smidge like some distant friend of my mother’s finally passed on, someone I used to hear about; and it does feel like the end of an era. Being what I am, I immediately tried to link this to what people might have felt when Elizabeth I died, people like the chap I once spent years researching. In both cases, for many people the queen was The queen, the person who had always been on the throne. Only when the first one died, there was also the question of who would inherit, which worried a lot of people. Now that’s not an issue. I have to admit that I would have advised against taking on the name Charles (not particularly well-omened), but I guess it’s a good thing for a monarch not to be superstitious.

Some inner child in me would like to get out the dolls’ house and sew little black costumes for the dolls who were sometimes little princesses (and sometimes children from Swallows and Amazons), then find the old plastic horses (where in the world did those go?) and make them suitably funereal draperies for the cortege.

But I’ll probably mark the occasion only by checking out a few M. C. Beaton books for a re-read, even though historical fiction (or biography) might seem like a more appropriate choice.

What was I going to say?

I logged in awhile ago, and opened up the New Post page, and then got distracted. Possibly I had some really brilliant idea, but on the other hand, maybe I was just going to whine.

It’s mid-July, and past the middle of the year, and more than past the middle of the summer. Boo. I have not done those things I ought to have done. We are contemplating a road trip before the summer is truly over, and I feel (a) that I’m not sure I want all the hassle of driving and sleeping in strange beds and figuring out how to feed both of us with our different finicky diets in unfamiliar places, not to mention the struggle to find a suitable cat-sitter* and also (b) that I really want to do this because it will be a very Summer Thing To Do, nice to look back on, and great to see friends we haven’t seen in years (and years, in one case, due not only to The Covids but also to these friends’ normally very international lifestyle, as in, it’s difficult to be in the same country as them without going to another hemisphere).

Things I have done this summer: visited family, painted the guest room, cleaned my closet, planted a vegetable garden**, wrote a conference paper, drove to conference and delivered it (and stayed in swanky hotel and saw Real! Live! People!), accepted an invitation to expand it for publication, did at least a few hours’ worth of planning for all of the classes I will teach next year***, recycled literally years’ worth of Brita filters, made a date with a retired colleague, watched a lot of cycling and read a lot of trash. I’m negotiating with Queen Joan about a January trip to somewhere sunny, and hope to get reservations nailed down before I settle into the winter gloom in which I just endure circumstances rather than finding the wherewithal to do anything about them (aside from SAD light and pretending to be an iguana).

Things I have not (yet) done: nope, not going there, too depressing! The list is long. Let’s just say it contains various items that should have happened a year ago, and that really all my electronic items need updating.

If we go on this trip, I have about two weeks left (give or take depending on friends’ schedules) in which to do any work, and then another week (or so) after it, and then I’ll be on contract again, though classes don’t actually start till a little later in August. Ack. Ack! Will this realization make me buckle down and do some of the things I ought to have done? Or will I stick my head firmly in the sand and pretend that summer really is endless****?

*We no longer live near the vet-assistant person to whom Basement Cat objected here. I’m sure he’d rather have her than someone completely new. The cats think their normal human servants should never even have days off, let alone extended holidays.

**Have not yet re-planted lettuce and spinach seedlings after the wretched squirrels destroyed the last batch. Must do that.

***Any time now I’m going to have to concentrate on those for the fall, but I hope that January Self will be grateful to Summer Self for doing some advance work on next spring’s classes. I fear she will just wonder what the hell Summer Self was thinking.

****People who have retired (see my last post) might suggest that it is like having endless summer, but unless I can move somewhere with a decent climate, it’s no such thing. If I have to live with snow, I’d rather be working, because it’s a distraction and give me something to do that isn’t sulking at home in my iguana-cage, and Sir John actually likes it Here and does not want to move to Mexico or the Southwest, let alone Morocco, so here we are. My husband may be a winter-loving nut-job but I’m quite fond of him and would rather be with him than alone in a warm dry climate, even if I have to remind myself of that frequently from November to March.

On blogs, research, and not-retiring

Once again, blogging because I logged in to leave a comment elsewhere. JLiedl is back! Yay!

I read people’s archives not only because I miss their voices but because old blogs are so hopeful. Most of the academic bloggers who blogged back in the golden age of academic blogs were young, newly minted assistant profs or grad students, who wrote about turning their dissertations into books, about finding and decorating new apartments or houses, about relationships and babies: building their lives. Of course there were the cases of people who couldn’t find jobs, like Sisyphus, or didn’t get tenure, like New Kid, or, in a few cases, tragically early deaths of spouses. But mostly people were on the upswing, and it’s pleasurable to read the stories of how they got to be tenured, married, happily settled.

I wonder if one reason for the death of blogging (in addition to the Book of Face, the Realm of Twits, etc) is that there’s no more plot after that point. Getting to Full is often a bit of an anti-climax, after the tenure drama. People who become administrators generally have to stop blogging from a combination of lack of time and real confidentiality issues. I doubt anyone wants to read about the late-career person who could retire but doesn’t want to, who fears becoming irrelevant, bored and boring, out of touch.

I ask recently-retired friends what they spend time on (when they’re healthy, though in some cases there are a lot of medical appointments). The answers: look after grandchildren, take music lessons, art lessons, language lessons, wood-working, spend more time exercising and gardening, volunteer, run for local office. My (usually unspoken) reaction: shoot me now, don’t wait till you get home. The things from that list that I enjoy are things I already do, and which I do not want to do full-time. I like my job. I have a good teaching schedule, a nice office, and mostly nice students. If I retired, I would need to find something else that gave me contact with people while not requiring that I be really friendly with them (I am very introverted but need some interaction with other humans). People suggest volunteer tutoring, but why teach subjects I don’t care about for free when I can get paid to teach things that really interest me? I have one friend who wants to retire so she can ramp up a second career that combines sales and scholarship. I understand that. That’s retiring-to, not retiring-from.

I’ve been asked to prepare for publication the conference paper I gave last month, on a fairly tight turn-around. I said yes. I intended that paper to be part of the book, and it still will be. I haven’t published any other pieces of the book in progress, just given conference papers, so I’m not saturating the market; given the venue and editor, I don’t anticipate any problem with permissions when the time comes. I’m glad to be asked, and even for the timeline: it gives a clear shape to research for the next few months, a bit of local plot, so to speak. Can our heroine clear the hurdle? Even if the answer appears obvious, a goal with an outside arbiter helps to create narrative tension.

So this site will not turn into all garden-blogging all the time, not yet. I should do more cat-blogging, I suppose. After all, the internet is all about cats, right?