A happy ending

Yesterday was a little frustrating. Not a day when everything went wrong (it didn’t), but a day when most things did not go as planned. The urgent got done, at the expense of the important. We were a little late to a performance. The performance itself was good, but the story was harrowing, so we didn’t enjoy our night out as much as we hoped to. I remembered to silence my phone during it, and later found that I had voicemail from PetWatch.

Of course all three of our cats were present and accounted for, so if a cat chipped to me was found, it would be a feral or a stray that I trapped at some point. Because I’m a worrier and because Sabra gave us so much trouble while we had her, I feared that somehow her chip hadn’t transferred to her new people and that she had gone walkabout again. But no, it was a feral cat I trapped, neutered, and released some five years ago. For most of that time, he’s been cared for by a human (let’s call them Jamie), and I guess now the cat is tame enough that Jamie was able to get him to a vet and find the chip. Jamie wants to keep the cat. I don’t want the cat (no more cats in this household till Basement Cat is no longer with us; it’s just too hard on him, and he makes it hard on the others), but I am thrilled to know that he has found a good home with people who like him and whom he trusts.

TNR, people. It works. Feral cats can look after themselves, living mainly on rodents who would otherwise be pests. (I know bird people worry about cats catching birds, but cats can’t fly, and birds can. For four years I’ve watched (and discouraged) our neighbor’s outdoor cat stalking birds at our feeder; once he managed to get a sparrow. Once. In four years.) A cat who has been neutered is not begetting or bearing more kittens. A cat who has been neutered will be much less likely to get into fights, and will need a smaller territory, and so be less likely to get killed by cars or coyotes. Cats who have been treated kindly by humans, even briefly, are more likely to find themselves a steady gig living under the porch of someone who feeds them, and then will be even less likely to go after birds. Feral cats, as opposed to strays who are dependent on humans, are rarely sick or disease vectors: their mamas teach them to avoid eating things that can give them worms. If they get their shots when they’re trapped and neutered, they’ll be even more disease-resistant. And my experience shows that they do often wind up as someone’s pet: of five cats I trapped, one was a stray who went back home, two have found themselves homes (I guess I never blogged the first one, so see below), and two are unaccounted for. The survival of this one makes me hopeful that the other two have also got themselves looked after, just by people who haven’t had them scanned (or maybe the cats are still too shy to come in). Here are some links about TNR if you want to read more: Alley Cat Allies. Best Friends. The Anti-Cruelty Society.

The first story of a cat who found himself a home: Years ago, we TNR’d a pair of siblings. About nine months later, I got a call; one of them, chipped to me, had been brought in by people whose porch he’d been living under. They’d been feeding him and trying to tame him, but he’d remained skittish until the day he came to their door meowing loudly. Some unspeakable jerk had shot him with a BB gun, and he turned for help to the people who were kind to him. They were happy to take him in and pay his vet bills, and I was happy to sign the chip over to them. That cat is now an indoor cat (yay indoor cats!) who gets along with their dog, other cat, and children. I love happy endings.

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At last, August

July seemed like a very long month, perhaps because I was so busy. But the last three days of it also seemed very long, perhaps because I wasn’t trying to do very much, which I think is the secret of extending time. I kept thinking, “Is it still July? It’s still July. There’s some summer left. Wow.” I was surprised both that the trees and flowers were so late-summer looking, rather than early-summer as when I left (i.e., the trip was All A Dream and I was only “gone” one night), and that the season wasn’t even later (I was in Faerie and time stood still, or flowed more slowly, there than here). But here we are, on schedule.

The garden is shaggy but recognizable. Both creeping bellflower and bishop’s weed are making some attempts to return, but these attempts are as yet feeble and so I am pleased that I have made such progress against them. The mulch I spread lavishly before leaving is hosting lots of shoots grown up from bird seed, not to mention now being spread lavishly over the patio, because the beds need some sort of edging to hold the mulch in place. It has clearly been at least a couple of weeks since anyone mowed the lawn, and the shrubbery is growing enthusiastically over the walks it borders. On the whole, though, the garden has held up fairly well.

The house . . . Sir John has nearly emptied the TV room, and presided over some repairs, and moved around Stuff that needed to be moved so that those things could be worked on. Progress has definitely been made. And yet there is still a lot to do. There are more repairs to organize, more boxes to pack, and all the packed boxes still need to leave for rented storage space. I had hoped a lot of that might happen in my absence.

This experience, combined with a party we went to this weekend, have me thinking a lot about order, chaos, and stuff. Things. Objects. I feel like we have a lot of stuff. I am none too good at getting rid of stuff once it’s in the house. On the other hand, I do fairly well at not bringing it home in the first place. The friends who hosted the party have lived in the same four-bedroom house for probably 30 years, during which they raised one child and did a lot of traveling. They are musical and enjoy folk dancing; they read widely; they enjoy cooking and gardening. Every room is crammed with books, CDs, and souvenirs. The music room (probably originally intended as a small dining room), which faces south, has a windowsill overflowing with plants, pictures on the walls, multiple smaller instruments besides the piano, books, sheet music, and more. The family room has three large bookcases (not shelves, multi-shelf bookcases) full of cookbooks, as well as many and varied souvenirs of travels. The living room holds the music library as well as a multi-shelf case of small dolls in various national dance costumes and other dance souvenirs. And so on, with every room. Jet-lagged and needing to be quiet for a bit, I wandered around trying to find a place away from people for a few minutes, and the amount of stuff all over made me feel like there was nowhere to be quiet even when there weren’t people in the room. It’s not really into hoarding territory, by my standards (and my dad really is a hoarder, so I do know what that looks like). The house is livable and safe. But it does testify to a life lived rather than curated.

We also have friends both of whom are immigrants, and whose house shows that they left a lot behind when they came here. Everything is chosen. The furniture is colorful, the walls are white, a few choice objects are on display. It’s a restful house. To be sure, I don’t know what the private rooms are like. I have never seen them. Maybe they’re the house’s Id.

We’re somewhere in the middle. Books are our particular vice. Sir John is untidy and leaves piles of paper around much as a snail trails slime. Cat paraphernalia (beds, toys, scratching posts) also appear in every room. As do the cats, though we’ve cut down significantly there: when we had five, it really did seem like there was another cat everywhere you looked. Anyway, I’m trying to live with the current state of chaos: boxes in the living room, a stack of chairs (which we have agreed to de-accession) in the dining room, Sir John’s piles, my not-quite-unpacked luggage in my study, along with a single box of to-be-packed things that I need to pack. Behind the boxes, I’m beginning to see a pleasingly cleaned-up version of our house: what we might look like if we lived a curated life, rather than one in which Sir John can’t keep up with his mail and both of us are always accumulating more books. I prefer the boxes to the crammed shelves of our friends’ house. I hope there will come a time when we can cut back more on the stuff, yet keep what is important to us.

I guess that’s what this rambling post comes down to: trying to work out what is important. I know, people (cats) and experiences are important, and the rest is just stuff. But some stuff matters more than others, and I don’t like regretting the loss of objects I was too hasty about letting go. Once I’ve lived without some of it for awhile, we’ll see whether I say “Why was I keeping that?” or “Hello, there you are!” when we unpack the stored boxes.

In the meantime, August: balancing the work (finish summer projects, prepare for fall), the house stuff (as above), the life (take a week off and have some proper vacation time). I hope this, too, will be a long month.

Quick check-in

I’m not dead, but I still think I’ve gone to heaven. Though I have to do a fair amount of food-shopping and prep (thanks to dietary restrictions; eating out is tricky), all other housekeeping is off my shoulders. Sir John is discovering the joys of paying household bills and wondering if there’s enough money in the joint account to cover unexpected repair bills (there is, because I expected them, but this is not his usual wheelhouse). I spend long hours in the library. My students are enthusiastic and independent. As JaneB said, it’s the life of the 1950s male academic, and it’s quite the life; one sees why they would want to hang on to their privileges.

The flip side

As in, “See you on the flip side.” I’m on it. My life has flipped to UK mode, a new time, a different setting, a life with students and colleagues but no husband or cats, a life with work and walking but without housework or gardening. The time is going all too quickly and I know I’ll be back in my US life before I know it, but in the meantime there is that amazing library, interspersed with sight-seeing (old churches) and cultural events (live music, theatre).

I really must create a blogroll in the space for it at the bottom of the page. There are the ones I’ve read for years and those I’ve read for months and some others I discovered only weeks or even days ago. Another Eleanor said “Nowadays, I use the academic style to hide behind. I have lots of things to say but they are not always acceptable. I stifle the urge to write publicly because what I have to say is inflammatory, to me and to others. Betrayal, loathing, exclusion, hate, love. Academic writing is a mask.”

I have found my own academic writing to be surprisingly revealing. Coded, certainly. I doubt it would say the same things to other people that it says to me. I never realize, at the time I am working on a project, what it really is about, what I am working out by writing such and such an article. Each time, I believe instead that I have finally finished working out my issues and am at last doing scholarship that just interests me. When articles appear in print, years later, and I re-read them from a later perspective, I find that, after all (as Z said in this thread), my unconscious was working on my behalf.

I am enjoying seeing my students’ worlds expand. They are observant, thoughtful, determined to experience as much as they can while they are here. I want to emulate them. I have work to do, but I will not spend all my time in the library (though I love it there).

The right to concentrate

In a thread at Jonathan’s about procrastination (or whatever not-working is), Profacero said “one needs to feel one has the right to concentrate, and to the time that goes into struggle with material.”

If one doesn’t naturally feel that, one needs reminders, internal or external.

I don’t think I had trouble concentrating, or feeling that I had a right to concentrate, when I was in elementary school, high school, or college. My parents emphasized that school was my job, and let me do my homework in peace. So at least for me, this is not an early trauma (I don’t think), but one that developed during a particular un-peaceful time in my life, which was also a difficult time for my mother.

Between college and graduate school, after several months living in another country, I returned to my parents’ house. My mother was needy and possessive. She had missed me. She was going to miss me more. Although I didn’t know this at that time, my parents’ marriage was particularly rocky at this point. I was very anxious, waiting for acceptances from graduate schools, working several part-time jobs, studying Latin in my few spare hours, because I knew it would be important for my graduate work and I had exaggerated my competence on my applications.

My mother interrupted me frequently when I was trying to study. She did not respect my time. She no longer thought, apparently, that school (or preparation for it) was my job. My job, in her eyes, was looking after her. I was 22 and I thought I was all grown up. I wanted to be compassionate. I was somewhat flattered that she wanted me to be my friend, although I also wanted to live my own life and have her live hers. I tried to answer her patiently and compassionately. I always wound up furious and then self-reproachful for losing my temper.

I wasn’t even trying to write, just to study. I still find studying languages soothing and I think I am less likely to self-interrupt when reading in another language or working on vocabulary than I am when researching and writing. But when I read Z’s comment, that was the time in my life that I immediately zeroed in on as a source of my intermittent sense that I do not have the right to concentrate, that I am to be at other people’s disposal. I’m not sure how to get back that earlier sense that studying is my job, but I wish I could feel that way again, as a regular thing.

This may be a silly idea, but perhaps it could come via clothing . . . long ago, maybe at one of Dr Crazy’s blogs, there was a discussion of writing costumes (special writing outfits, whether super-comfy or dressed up). Maybe if I dressed as my teenage self or even my childhood self, I could sink into that happy, absorbed “now I am doing my homework!” feeling. How much do external cues help? I would hope that the more I access that self, the more accessible it would become, without costume.

(I am so tired of dealing with my mommy issues. It seems to be the case that when my life changes in significant ways, the issues that seemed to have been resolved come back for another round, and the “new me” has to work through them again.)

A week on

Somehow I didn’t do one of these posts last weekend, because . . . Life Stuff . . . or just general feebleness. And now the quotation I want to quote about writing seems silly and trivial, but let us imagine it being offered in a stiff-upper-lip, there-will-always-be-an-England sort of spirit, so I can register world events yet carry on with my trivial semi-academic posts.

This is from Robert Liddell’s book Elizabeth and Ivy, about his friendships with the novelists Elizabeth Taylor and Ivy Compton-Burnett; he is quoting a letter written by art historian Roger Hinks “about a meeting with Ivy at Madge Ashton’s when there was some talk about Angus Wilson.”

“Madge said: ‘I hear he wrote it [Anglo-Saxon Attitudes] in four months, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon.’ ‘Really?’ observed Ivy; ‘one cannot imagine anyone doing anything in the afternoon between 2 and 4, except hoping that tea would be at 4 rather than at 5.’ There was talk about how many words people wrote an hour. ‘How many do you write, Miss Compton-Burnett?’ said someone. ‘Ten,’ said Ivy, in the tone of an editor saying that this correspondence was now closed.”

Robert Liddell, Elizabeth and Ivy (London: Peter Owen, 1986), 54-55.

This does rather illustrate my life lately, except that I feel more despairing than editorial.

Getting a late start

When your day starts late, for whatever reason, do you

A) just skip whatever you would normally have done in the lost hours (like missing school: if you stayed home sick in the morning, you missed history and math, but could get to science and English in the afternoon);

B) do what you would normally have done, but compress the schedule (reduce time on tasks from 30 minutes to 15, or similar);

C) focus on the top priorities, with normal (or near-normal) time spent on these tasks, and ignore the others;

D) have some other sort of late-start or short-day routine that you can put into practice without thinking too much?

Please share! I’ve been having difficulty getting to sleep, and so I get up late, rested but feeling very behind and like the whole day is shot by 8:30 a.m., and then I thrash, trying to figure out where to put my energy. When I start my day early, everything is fine, and there’s enough time, but some days that just isn’t an option. I need to figure out a clear Plan B. Or C, or D.

 

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?

An aspirational shoe post

Two months ago (time flies), Elizabeth Anne Mitchell got me to look at Crockett and Jones shoes, which are beautiful and expensive. Now I’ve found the site of Daphne Board, a US shoe artist and pedorthist. Also, it appears from her Instagram feed, a cat servant. Anyway, if C&J aren’t beautiful and expensive enough for you, check out Daphne. Or maybe, if you need to justify a pair of C&J shoes, look at how much more you could spend. Wouldn’t it be better to save the extra $400 you might lay out for Daphne’s welted Oxfords? And back on the first hand, consider what you spend on not-quite-right shoes. Could you clear out the ones you’re not wearing in favor of shoes you’ll wear all the time . . . for twenty years?

I’m thinking. The Chacos are good for now. I got a pair of their sandals, as well. If those will keep me out of shoe stores for three years or so, then maybe I’ll splurge on the Oxfords of my dreams.

After the Zoo

The Kalamazoo* experience varies, from year to year. Sometimes I have to take piles of grading along and retreat to my hotel room to grade. Other years I’m all done. Once (I think only once) I took piles of books and completed my paper just before I had to give it. Sometimes I get all energized to do research but come home to piles of grading before I can get back to writing, and sometimes I ought to be energized but am so worn out from the conference that it takes a week to recover.

I never manage to write about the conference during it. Afterwards, it seems like the proper/expected version goes “I heard inspiring papers, made new connections for an innovative collaboration, and now I’m going to do fantastic things with my summer.” Or maybe, “I heard fantastic papers, made inspiring connections, and now I’m going to do innovative things with my summer.” Pick your adjectives.

This year my adjective was “tired.” I didn’t sleep well, I spent lots of time rushing around, I pretended to have a better time than I was having (because I didn’t want to be a downer, and really I have nothing to complain about, except being tired and having too many things going on). Bardiac introduced herself and we had a nice chat. I did hear good papers, though I wish I’d been in a better headspace to concentrate on them and think about their significance. I had dinner with what are now the usual suspects on Saturday, and that was delightful. Rather than meeting new people, I mostly re-connected with old friends. I do not need any new projects, innovative or not; I need to finish some of my old ones. I bought 11 books, a fairly modest number, and left the conference cross because a paper I thought ought to have cited my work, didn’t. (It’s a conference paper; one doesn’t include all the footnotes in oral presentations.)

Once I got home, I slept straight through the night (which for me is a minor miracle) and got up at dawn to file grades. Then I started taking notes on something I have to read for the book project that I have been neglecting, and produced 800 words. Being cross may be a better spur to work than more exalted forms of inspiration.

My plan for the next few weeks is to put in one hour of research time per day, and after that hour, focus on Life Stuff, most especially packing, repairing, and doing whatever we need to do to sell this house. So it is not a good sign that I am still at my desk at this late-morning hour. I’d rather be here, I’d rather focus on the work, but in the long run, the work will be better served by a living situation that doesn’t need so much attention. I suppose that’s innovative, in its way.

 

*International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.