Spring Break, day 1

That is, yesterday.

I drank fancy tea (a birthday present to Sir John from his mom, but I’m always the one who benefits from fancy tea, because he’s happy with a plain grocery-store tea bag) and did some reading in a very interesting scholarly book I’ve been hoping to get to for awhile now, writing fairly copiously in the margins so I’ll remember what I was thinking when I go back to it.

I did yoga and went to the gym.

I cooked fish, rice, vegetables, and mixed up cookie dough for later baking.

We drove a considerable distance for games night with friends, where we played a game to which Queen Joan introduced me, some time ago. It was a hit.

We drove home, and given the time change last night, I was up not just too late but way too late.

Today, so far, I have drunk fancy tea (quite a lot of it, to make up for the late night). I need to feed cats and exercise. We have tickets to an early music concert this afternoon (yes, we really do these things, it’s not just that I want the possibility of them). I will probably do more cooking.

Apparently I didn’t blog spring break last year. I’m not sure I remember it! I think I sorted out moldy boxes in the basement and packed away a lot of things upstairs. Plus ├ža change. The main things I need to do this year are Life Stuff: taxes and tidying, getting ready to list the house for sale. I’m trying not to thrash (a very descriptive CS term I picked up from Sir John). The only grading I have is a small set of in-class paragraphs. I could plan classes for the rest of the term, or I could keep winging it. I can keep research going with an hour or two a day. There’s nothing like having a lot of Life Stuff I really don’t want to do to make me want to Write All The Things, but I must resist. Some posts on writing are brewing in the back of my mind, including the promised one on what I learned from the MMP, so maybe I’ll show up here a little more often.

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Well, that’s new

Inspired by posts by XYkadimqz and Undine, I took the same Myers-Briggs test they did, because despite my skepticism about these things (they’re like horoscopes for intelligent people), they are fun (like horoscopes). Huh. This one pegs me as ISTP, the Virtuoso. I don’t think so. Or maybe my professional persona took the test, because I can see my classroom self as the Virtuoso (Psycho Vigilante, in my preferred version of the types). I hadn’t seen the Assertive-Turbulent axis before, either, and I’m not sure what it adds.

Other times I’ve taken the test, I’ve come out as ISTJ (the Logistician, in this version’s parlance; or The Thought Police, in this one), INTP (Logician/the Egghead), or, once, INTJ (Architect/Outside Contractor). I don’t think I’m really INTJ, because Sir John is very strongly INTJ so I know well what that type is like, and it’s not me. I’m very strongly I and T, no question on either of those (and no doubt why Sir John and I are so well-suited). On the S-N and J-P axes, though, I’m pretty close to the middle, so mood, recent experiences, and who knows what else can tip me one way or the other. Broadly speaking, I’m more S than a lot of academics are, but a whole lot more N than many people, and on J vs P, situation, context, and health have a huge influence. That is, by nature I may be more a planner and an organizer, but living with chronic illness has taught me to be flexible. Some days the plans are just not going to happen. In some areas, like meal plans (hi, Undine!) I want room for flexibility and creativity. And if I have an exciting idea, hell yes, I want to get it written down before I lose track of it. Because my mind is not an opera house. It’s more like a very dim, dusty, outrageously cluttered attic with generations’ worth of trunks and boxes and piles of junk. God knows what all is in there. It’s sure not in any order. If I make lists, I may very well not feel like doing anything on them and find something else to do instead, but without them I will fail to do all kinds of important things.

Salud, Mateo!

January was long in the sense that it was hard to believe so much happened in just 31 days. February is looking like being long the other way, dragging on through cold, snowy days that all seem fairly similar. There’s plenty of work to do, of course. I could make this a month of Grading All The Things, or Writing All The Assignments, or Finishing All The Revisions. I certainly need to Assemble All The Tax Documents.

Considering all those options to pass a snowy day at home (at least I didn’t have to drive to campus) makes me want to go get in a hot bath with a glass of sherry. Wasn’t there a time and place when sherry and biscuits were acceptable elevenses? Or is this academic fantasy?

I am reminded of Diana Wynne Jones discovering that her son thought Kipling’s Kim was “a fantasy set in an alternative world and that Kipling had made all the India stuff up.”(1) I am a veteran reader of academic (and other) novels and memoirs set in 1930s-1970s Britain, where I no doubt got this notion of sherry at 11:00 a.m. being completely normal behavior. And yet I am so much a part of puritanical contemporary American society, the part that fears addiction and values productivity (or it is an internalized part of me), that on a day on which classes are cancelled due to heavy snow, a day on which I could do anything I wanted (sleep late, bake cookies, enact fantasies of 1950s male academic life), I have trouble believing that this could now be (or was ever) acceptable behavior.

It’s enough to make me think I should go have the bath and the sherry as a way of breaking out of my usual rut. I mean, if such a tame indulgence seems like the wildest decadence imaginable, clearly I have a bad case of the Februaries and need a bit of enlivening.

(1) Diana Wynne Jones, “Inventing the Middle Ages,” Reflections On the Magic of Writing, edited by Charlie Butler (New York: Greenwillow Books, 2012), 196-210, at 201.

More local news: rainbow edition

One reason I spend a lot of time at the gym is that usually it is either Too Hot or Too Cold to exercise outside. Right now, we’re in that sweet season in which Outside is actually pleasant, so I often take a long walk instead of going to the gym.

Yesterday I put off exercise till I got some work done, and then it was raining hard and supposed to keep raining until after dark. I tried to talk myself into the gym, but couldn’t do it. Eventually I suited up for a walk in the rain, and set out.

I headed west, and noticed that it was starting to clear in that direction, though rain was still falling on me. It didn’t occur to me that that meant a rainbow until a woman who had stepped out onto her porch to take a picture pointed it out to me. It was a wonderful rainbow, a full arch, with a second, paler one besides. I admired, and kept walking. My phone buzzed: Sir John had spotted the rainbow when he took the recycling out, and wanted to make sure I got to see it. No sooner had I ended the call than three small boys, aged perhaps 4-7, very excitedly told me about the rainbow. They were so excited that they could hardly listen to me agreeing that it was a rainbow and beautiful. I met another photographer and a pair of 8(ish)-year-old dog walkers, less vocal, but all very pleased with the double rainbow.

It was beautiful. People are wonderful in their appreciation of natural beauty, and their eagerness to share it with each other. I’m glad that I went for a walk in the rain.

Can’t. Even.

I used to dislike the phrase “I just can’t even.” I’d snarl about needing a main verb. Over time, though, I’ve come to find the phrase very useful, expressive precisely in its lack of verb. W/r/t national news, I can’t even. WTF. OMG.

So today I bring you some very, very local news.

I saw the sunrise. It was pretty. Maybe not red, but very bright pink. Sure enough, within a couple of hours we had a brief rainsquall, thus proving the old adage: “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” (Substitute “shepherd” if you live inland.)

Glendower continues to prefer minced turkey to other types of cat food, and ate up his breakfast promptly.

Reina knocked down a spring-loaded curtain rod and freaked out, but once I re-hung it, she returned to looking out the window.

I have loaded my car with items to take to Goodwill later. The vet tech to whom I am going to give some items for her community theater group is off today, so I won’t drop those things off until Thursday.

I expect to go visit an old neighbor this afternoon, to help give Neighbor Catboy subcutaneous fluids. Poor Neighbor Catboy is not in good shape, and I am sad about this. I have to keep reminding myself that he is 12 or 13, has had a loving home since he was a kitten, that he got to spend his whole life with his littermate, and on the whole has had a good life. Has he had the standard of vet care we provide our cats? No, but by most people’s standards he has done just fine. For longtime readers, this is the cat that Basement Cat always hated. In “Breaking Cat News” terms, he’s Tommy to Basement Cat’s Elvis, although since our BC never got out, they never achieved the rapprochement that Elvis and Tommy managed. (“Breaking Cat News” is now at GoComics, so if you are unfamiliar with this delightful comic, you can read it there.) Anyway, I can at least provide both sympathy and practical help to Neighbor Catboy’s person, who is distraught about his failing health. That’s a small, local bit of bad news that I can actually do something about.

Yesterday was a good writing day: 500 new words and a lot of editing of about 1000 old ones, for a decent new introduction to an essay I’ve been revising. Now I have to insert all the new pieces into the old essay and massage the transitions and check the notes very carefully to make sure I’ve kept all the important references while jamming in a batch of new ones.

Last night on my way home I stopped at Trader Joe’s. I bought one item, a bottle of wine. The guy in front of me had one item, a pint of ice cream. The woman behind me had one large chocolate bar. It looked like we all needed a little something to get through the evening. I expect later today I’ll be the one stocking up on chocolate. It’s important to have on hand in case of exposure to Dementors. In fact, we should probably all be dosing ourselves regularly as a preventive measure.

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.

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.)