Greensleeves

More interesting bloggers than I am have reviewed this book:

http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2018/02/greensleeves-by-eloise-jarvis-mcgraw.html

Harmonic discord and finding one’s proper key: Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves

http://www.stuckinabook.com/greensleeves-by-eloise-jarvis-mcgraw/

And one or other of those posts, I no longer remember which one, made me check out a local copy of the book last winter for cold-weather comfort reading. Ever since, I’ve meant to do my own post, and I am tired of having it on my mind, so you get it now.

I will not recount the plot, since Moira, Simon, Jenny, Kat, and indeed Amazon will do that for you.

I first read this book when I was maybe ten, and I probably read it a couple more times when I was quite young, say 13 or 14. Then I forgot about it (or at least forgot any details that would let me find it again) until I ran across it in my late 20s and had a lovely nostalgic wallow in some out-of-town library: I can visualize perfectly the room in which I sat but I have no idea what city it was in or why I was there. After that it faded again until last winter. So I have several distinct sets of memories and feelings about it.

At ten, I liked the idea of disguise and trying to find out about other people’s lives. Nothing else about Shannon’s life stuck with me. At that point, I thought she was quite grown up. (She’s 18, well traveled but very young in other ways.) When I found the book in my 20s, the reason for her pretending to be a country girl and working in a diner was the part I rediscovered with pleasure, along with the struggle to figure out who she was and what she wanted to do when the number of available options was confusing. Life is simple when there is One Clear Path to becoming what you know you must be or do; but when you have a lot of talents and a lot of people encouraging you in the direction they think would be best for you, it’s much harder to find your own way.

Back in my early teens, before I ever kissed a boy or had one around to kiss, it was the boys (Dave and Sherry), and Shannon’s reactions to them, that interested me. At that age, I did not want to Do It, but I did want to know what Doing It was like, and how you got around to it, or maybe how you put it off, and Greensleeves was, in a fairly chaste way, reasonably explicit about sexual feelings:

“The plain fact is that I wanted to walk straight into his arms and hang on like a limpet, and for a split second it was perfectly clear to me that I didn’t care a bean for anything else. I knew if I moved one inch toward him right then, I’d get so tangled up in his life that it would take ten years to dislodge me. And I had a vivid picture of what ten years with Dave Kulka would be like—the two of us fighting like wolverines but never able to get free of each other.”

Eventually they do kiss, and at first Shannon likes it, and then the analytic side of her brain kicks in again and she’s revolted, and that’s that. But! There’s still Sherry (George Sherrill), who is much nicer; they’ve been getting to know each other slowly and he is in love with her, wants her to go to college at the same school he attends, wants to marry her. After a lovely day at a summer party, he kisses her:
“And immediately I knew there was no reason at all why he shouldn’t, and every reason why he should. He loved me, I loved him, and people who loved each other kissed each other. What’s more they didn’t hold out on each other, either, or draw inward lines. I must not hold back from Sherry any longer—it wasn’t fair. I suddenly decided that the moment had come to find out whether I was playing for keeps. . . . I obliterated my inward line. I can’t say precisely how I did this; probably I don’t need to. Anybody knows. It’s instinct or something . . . I found out one thing, right away . . . Sherry was as combustible as anybody else, and fully as able as Dave to ignite emotions in me too powerful to control. It was all too easy, and it happened all too swiftly, and the conflagration soon rose high and bright enough to scare us both.”

Okay. That inward line. What the hell was it? What were the electrical sparks with Dave? How was it that she could kiss Sherry without any burning fires until she kissed Dave and then she and Sherry were scaring each other so she thought they’d be married within a year unless she ran away? My poor little pubescent brain really struggled with these questions. Obviously Dave is supposed to be the bad-news guy (a driven artist!) with whom you have chemistry but nothing else, and Sherry is the good, responsible guy, who is smart, and nice, and tends to play it safe rather than take risks. Good husband material: if you want a husband when you’re 18 and think you might want a career of your own if you could get several sets of parents off your back for long enough to work out what you want. Anyway, though I did not really understand how all this worked, it was vaguely reassuring for a young reader: (a) there are nice guys; (b) you can easily tell the difference between them and the bad-news types; (c) crossing that inward line will ignite what Captain Awkward calls pants-feelings for a nice guy whom you like a lot and haven’t really felt sparks about before.

Well. It would be pretty to think so.

Shannon wants so much to marry Sherry that she runs away, doesn’t see him for two years, and at the end of the book is just about to meet him again, now that she’s had two years at a university and “toughened a bit” as well as having some small successes with writing and theater work.

My current 50-something, cynical-old-bat self had very different reactions to this book than any of my younger selves. For one thing, I was highly doubtful about the academic side of Fremont College, Sherry’s studies, and Professor Edmonds, a math prof who tutors Sherry in ancient Greek. In 1968, maybe things were different in academia . . . but I did grow up in a college town; I remember or have heard a lot of bits and pieces about how things were back then, and this book’s details don’t hang together. Sherry thinks that in graduate school “You can really browse around” among courses. Um, no, that’s when you can really get specialized.

Also, 1968: even allowing that that was the publication date, and that the events might be set at some earlier point, it can’t be earlier than the 1950s (given various lifestyle clues), and no man in the book is concerned about the draft. In the ’50s it would have been Korea; in the ’60s, Vietnam. La la la. All the young people are happily being young and even when they have Serious Thoughts About Life and Learning, they’re not thinking that they should go to college (or get married) in order to get a draft deferment.

Again, wildly different from my experience and understanding of that time.

As for Dave and Sherry, the Older Man Dave, at 25, now looks very young indeed to me, though I agree that he’s too old for Shannon and that she did well to steer clear of him at that point in her life. If she were 25 to his 32, however, I’d think they were a good match. Now that I’ve kissed more than a few men, including some friends with whom I tried very hard to step across some inward line, I agree whole-heartedly with Dave: “Things like this don’t happen very often.” Sure, if you’re young and healthy you can work up some sexual energy for lots of people, but the “kick galvanic” (to quote from A. S. Byatt instead of McGraw) is rare. I might have been better off, at 16, and also at 23, had I been able to get the rational side of my brain to kick in about a couple of guys who were really not good for me, despite the amazing chemistry. This is not to say that they were bad boys. They were nice, smart, reasonable people, who eventually married other women and, so far as I know, are living happily ever after. I just mean that in both cases we did spend about five years entangled and fighting like wolverines (at least intermittently), because we were not well matched. I did try, at a couple of other times, to combust with men who seemed like they’d be good partners. I was even engaged to one of them, once, and then I met Mr 23 and the fire actually caught, and there we were.

I should have realized at least by my late teens that a book aimed at teenage girls in an era in which the Pill was pretty new, and abortion was not yet legal, was not going to be a good guide to what to do about sexual feelings. It’s going to pack a message about sublimation inside an attractive package of thinnish plot and breathless narration. I was never particularly convinced by Sherry, and now it annoys me that he wants to make a living at something he’s good at but doesn’t like, and “leave his mind free to go on finding out things he’d no need to know and never meant to use, and wondering how it felt to live in places he might never bother to go to.” I want him to want something. His plan for a life with Shannon also annoys me: that he’d “forget the graduate school notion” (even if he hasn’t a clue what graduate school entails), get a job, earn enough that they can get married after her second year of college, that he’s not really thinking about what she might want to do apart from marry him. In fact, it seems like his notion of marrying Shannon is another way of deferring his dreams of traveling and finding out what it’s like to live in other places.

Dave Kulka has a good idea of what he wants, and what he’s good at, and knows that he works better when he feels like he’s fighting something. This may mean he’ll never be a good choice of husband, but it’s hard to tell. Some people are like that when they’re young, and adaptable enough to find new ways to work once they’re successful. The last word Kulka utters in the book is “interesting.” I now find him the most interesting character. Although the ending seems to allow hope that Shannon and Sherry will finally get together, I think it’s more likely that their meeting will fall flat—both of them having changed in two years—and that Shannon will eventually find a man who suits her both intellectually and physically.

Anywhere else

I’ve reached the point in the semester when I want to be somewhere that is Else. In the south of France, there are fresh strawberries. In London, there are flowering quinces. In Portugal, gardens are being planted.  On sabbaticalhomes.com, there are houses and apartments for rent in my home city that have me in a strange state of envy, nostalgia, and something else I can’t quite pinpoint (there’s probably a German word for it). They evoke a life I never had, yet which seems like something familiar and lost, or something I meant to have and didn’t quite achieve: the views, the gardens, the accoutrements of sophisticated living, such as the glorious antique rugs in some of the houses (not compatible with cats: my rugs are decent though machine-made, but have survived various types of feline assault).

If spring would get a move on around here, I might be less restless. Is anyone else desperate for pastures new (or old)? Or are you too busy to care?

Nomenclature anecdote

Partner. In what is apparently now a blog-archive habit, I found this early post from Flavia: http://feruleandfescue.blogspot.com/2006/05/in-praise-of-partnership.html. It reminded me of a wedding I attended, with Sir John, a year or two after Flavia’s post.

We were finding our seats at a table full of people we did not know; some guests were already sitting down, and others had yet to find their place cards. One man introduced his wife to us, and then said, “I’ll save this seat for my partner.”

I blinked, and smiled brightly, thinking, “How very . . . enlightened. I would not have expected that in this company.” Sir John later told me that he had the same reaction.

And then the penny dropped. The bride and groom were lawyers, as were many of the guests. The man meant law firm partner, not that he was in a poly relationship, or had a legal wife and a homosexual partner (gay marriage was not yet legal at this time, how strange that is to remember now) who knew about each other and all attended social events together.

I suppose a lot depends on your social circles. What else, after all, would lawyers working together call one another? I did have the impression that “partner” was getting much wider traction as a relationship term for awhile, but perhaps legalizing gay marriage has shifted us back to “husband,” “wife,” or for a gender-neutral term, “spouse.”

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:

https://lafemmefollette.typepad.com/lafemmefollette/2016/06/castaway.html

 

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?

Calm

It will be so much quicker to just do some of the things I have to do than to start having feelings about them (ugh, don’t want to, why can’t someone else on this committee do more, why didn’t I do this last week/last month, why am I so slow, guilt, too many things, gah). So I’m declaring this morning a no-feelings zone.

Yesterday I saw a colleague who has been dealing with a perfect storm of deadlines for months now. She is usually a fairly calm person but has been performing stress lately, including complaining about having spent the whole of spring break working. I said I’d worked throughout it as well but also had spent a lot of time at the gym, reading, etc. She asked if I had deadlines to meet and I said oh yes, they whooshed by. She said she was losing sleep over hers: “I’m neurotic that way.” I laughed and said, “Well, I’m irresponsible that way.” She thought we should be combined into one person.

I don’t agree. I’d rather be me. She has accomplished more than I have, in less time, it’s true, and I do have a little envy of that. But I’m being responsible to my health, and if I don’t do that, I won’t be able to work at all. So I have a lot of days when I don’t get that much done (and waste time and energy having feelings about that “failure”), but I hit the gym, and go to bed early (or as soon as I can), and try to set myself up for a better day tomorrow.

And this is tomorrow, so let’s see what I can get done before the next round of House Stuff and the afternoon gym visit.

Days 8 and 9, the end of break

In no particular order, after my mainly-frittered Saturday morning, I baked cookies, walked four miles, wrote the letter (from the secondary set of three things), put in 20 minutes or so looking for quotations for my next conference paper, cooked, did two loads of laundry, did more house-tidying, graded a set of papers, put in 45 minutes on the treadmill and did some weight-training, and re-stained the front porch. There was a night of sleep in there somewhere!

If you recall, I had two sets of Three Things to work on during the break: translation, grading, house were the Big Three, and then there were the Other Three: letter, assignment, taxes. How did I do? Well, I finished revising the introduction to the translation, but did not get on to the style review. I graded all of the papers for the smaller class, and 1/3 of the papers for the larger class. The house is re-listed but I still have a fair bit of tidying up to do before it is view-able, and I think I am going to wind up shoving lots of things into boxes that can be hidden away quickly, rather than carefully and thoughtfully organizing things so that I can find them again later instead of cursing my former self for not being better organized. I dealt with the letter and the assignments (and as of this afternoon, I have only one more assignment plus an exam to write for the rest of the semester).

That’s pretty good. I’d love to have done all the grading and got the house really squared away, but I made good progress on all of the Big Three, and did two out of three of the Other Three. I also did a lot of crosswords, fun reading, and watching of cycling. I went to the gym or walked outside every single day, and my cardiovascular fitness is noticeably improved. I even managed a little bit of garden clean-up on a warm day, and I made that pie.

Taxes. Ugh. Must get on that.

And some things are already boomeranging: further editing needs to happen to both the letter and the introduction before they go to their intended recipients (but a big thank you, seriously, to my collaborators on both projects for getting back to me quickly and with useful suggestions). So this week’s Things look a lot like last week’s Things. It’s March: why is my life doing a Groundhog’s Day Week?

Day 7

I finished revising the introduction to the translation and sent it to my co-conspirators. I did some more house-tidying. We met with our real estate agent and re-listed the house. I returned library books and checked out more, avoiding long imprisonment in the stacks by going half an hour before closing. At the gym, I beat up an elliptical trainer for half an hour. We watched two days’ worth of Paris-Nice. I did some crosswords and stayed up too late reading in the bath: a collection of Connie Willis short stories that wasn’t really worth staying up for (Christmas theme: obviously not great for someone who doesn’t like Christmas, but I was thinking ‘Connie Willis that I haven’t read, let’s try it,’ plus ‘grab something and go, the library’s about to close’).

Sleep. It is so obvious that I do better at getting on with things and not getting overwhelmed by tasks and feelings about tasks (guilt, mainly) when I have slept enough. At the same time, I am not good at just going to bed (even when I’m sleepy) if I haven’t had any reading/puttering/winding-down time in the day, and I do not count watching TV as winding-down. I do try to have down-time in the evening, and when I get it, it’s much easier to go to bed, so long as I haven’t started reading something I want to go on with (my name is Eleanor and I am a literature addict*). Clearly I need to be more consistent about a bedtime winding-down routine.

I set an alarm this morning (getting set for going back to early rising in two days), but frittered away a lot of the morning on Ask A Manager and the Willis book. Two days! Must keep grinding away at things that need to be done. Tuesday is going to be a day on which work will not really be possible, so I’m planning for that, and trying to finish off some important stuff so next week isn’t too stressful. Onward!

*I am amazed that I don’t have a post of my own to link to. I guess I must have commented on other people’s blogs about this affliction; I remember some discussions Back In The Day about reading habits. In his book on writing, Steven King has an anecdote about an addiction counselor who asked someone (King? a friend? my copy is packed away) how much he drank, and the person looked at the counselor like she was crazy and said “All of it.” That’s me, if you ask how much I read. The only sure way to stop is not to start.

Day 6, the rest of it

I made a pie for Pi Day. I didn’t even realize (consciously) that it was Pi Day until the pie was in the oven and I read JaneB’s post. Consciously, I was thinking that before I packed up the food processor, I wanted to make the pie I’ve been thinking about for months now. So I did, and my low-FODMAP crust turned out very well. The pie would have been better with a second bag of strawberries, but we have proof of concept.

That was in the evening, after Sir John went out. In the afternoon, I did a little more tidying, then hit the gym and Trader Joe’s, and we watched Day Three of Paris-Nice before dinner. So we’re still lagging behind . . . I’m detecting a theme to this week. At any rate, I can look forward to two days’ worth of racing this evening.

On the plus side yesterday, I did not do any crosswords till evening, and I did not lose myself in the library stacks. However, I still have a bag of library books to return, so that could still happen. I was definitely low on energy by evening, due to the short sleep Wednesday plus a vigorous workout, so I was in bed at 10:00 (excellent). This morning I woke up at 5:15 and thought about getting up . . . and went back to sleep till 7:00 (excellent for sleep, not-excellent for re-accustoming myself to getting up 5:30 three times a week). And yet I still feel sluggish. Maybe it’s the weather. Yesterday was spring-like but today we’re back to winter. Disappointed! (That was a reference to A Fish Called Wanda, if the link breaks.)

Three more days, counting today. I’m making progress on my three things, as well as on the other three things, and yet, as usual when there are too many things, I’m not done with anything. I’d try to shift into high gear for the remainder of break, but I don’t feel like I have a high gear. Will just keep grinding away.

Day 5

The break is accelerating, definitely, and Day Five was another day on which I was productive yet did not do all the things I intended to do. Possibly this is an exercise in figuring out how much time things really take. Possibly I should stop doing crossword puzzles between tasks.

Anyway, yesterday, day five of the break: I struggled with a tricky Greek passage and made excellent progress on the introduction to the translation. All that remains is to sort out a couple of paragraphs based on my own original research and overly compressed by the author of the first version of the introduction.* I brushed the cats’ teeth, which I try to do twice a week; since the beginning of the year, I’ve skipped only once when we were at home, so yay me, and yay cats for putting up with it. I went out and bought paint, stain for the front porch, a light bulb, and some other household items. I changed the light bulb. I walked about three miles. I did a little more cooking, and went to a Wednesday-night gathering with friends.

I did not do any grading or tidying-up/putting away of Stuff.

I was of at least two minds about that gathering. Staying home and going to bed early seemed like a good idea, as did staying home and doing something crafty and useful**, or cooking something fun***, or doing some tidying up. OTOH, even when I’m not teaching on Wednesday nights, I often skip because I’m too tired, so it seemed like a good idea to go while I’m on break. Furthermore, it seems really pathetic to go through all of spring break without any social plans whatsoever. So I went. This is a regular gathering of people who know each other from another activity; how much I enjoy any given night depends on who is there, and that is unpredictable. When the quiet people I like are there, we all sit around like companionable cats and it is very nice. When the loud people I don’t like are there, several l.o.u.d. conversations happen all at once, my ears start ringing, and I huddle under the bookcase in a corner wondering if the loud people will leave before I have to. I am a cat without whiskers or tail.

Last night was a loud night.

So on coming home, I needed some quiet time to decompress, so I was up late, slept badly, and Day Six is not getting off to a super start. Gah.

Today so far I have done morning pages (an irregular activity but good for re-aligning my brain, or chakras, or whatever the hell the woo-woo people re-align), sat around reading blogs and drinking tea, messed around with bits of cardboard, cloth, tape and a stapler, and started tidying up. This mostly meant spiraling around the house: card table and stepladder went to the basement, special box for special vase came up so vase could be packed, then the box went back to the basement; assorted things from the ground floor moved upstairs, items from a drawer moved to a box, books moved from one room to another, and I packed up my SAD light and took it to the basement, one of those important seasonal markers.

Things that still need to happen today: gym workout. Catch up on two days of Paris-Nice before Sir John leaves for an evening with his friend. If I’m very focused, this might mean I have two hours left for work. Or clearing away clutter.

I swear I will not fritter it on crosswords, but I can’t promise not to return library books on the way to the gym and find myself lost and imprisoned in the stacks before finally staggering to the exit.

*I thought I might do that this morning but the day is getting away from me.

**Done this morning instead, because I had that bee in my bonnet. It may need further attention, but the basic idea works.

***Likely to happen tonight, since Sir John is going out and I can putter on my own.