Spring break, day 1

I’m a copy-cat. Clarissa reported on her spring break, last week, so I’ll do the same this week. The exciting life of a professor on break. I’m sure you can hardly wait to hear what I’ve been up to.

I worked out, bought cat treats, re-tested a new food that I think will make it back into my diet, cooked a meal that will provide leftovers for several more meals, and sorted through five boxes and three bags in the basement. This means I’m done with the nasty ones that got wet and subsequently moldy, following the Great Basement Flood of almost two years ago. Done! Obviously neither one of us was really eager to deal with these boxes. Fortunately nothing crucial was damaged or lost. Most of what I looked at can go into the trash, no bother, and I have managed to save a few sentimental items.

There’s still a lot of stuff in the basement to go through, and either give away, throw away, or re-pack. But the really icky part is now over.

Then I watched a stage of Paris-Nice and stayed up too late re-reading a favorite book, one of Cherryh’s Er-series (ForeignER, DefendER, etc). I love this series because the main character is a fragile, scholarly translator-diplomat plunged into highly dramatic space opera involving aliens, shooting wars, and tense political negotiation. It’s his skill with words and languages that repeatedly staves off disaster.

Shoe bleg

I’m vain, but not stupid.

I like cute shoes. This doesn’t mean high heels. I like a bit of heel, but I can live without it, and I may have to, going forward. I’ve had a bum ankle for years (sprained multiple times since the age of 20), and it seems like for the last most-of-a-decade I’ve been repeatedly rehabbing it from minor strains. I’ve noticed that the ankle feels better in my gym shoes, which start with some built-in arch support and then have added the arch-support inserts I’ve used in all my shoes for the last 30 years. So I can see that I need to spend more time in properly supportive shoes (not stupid). But the gym shoes are hideously neon and I refuse to be seen in them anywhere but the gym. For the moment, I’m wearing them around the house and changing when I go out (vain).

I have very high arches, as you might guess from needing to add arch supports to shoes that already have some support. All I want is a pair of black oxfords, ideally something menswear-like (wingtips?); at least not hopelessly old-lady-ish; preferably not gym shoes; with good arch support and a fairly well-cushioned sole. In other words, something that feels like gym shoes, but looks dressier. It is astonishingly difficult to find such a shoe.

So, gentle readers, any recommendations? Brands, at least?

Joining the 21st century

I just discovered that my online class register links to photographs of my students.

This feature has probably been available for some time, but I’m a little slow about these things, particularly when I have to click rather than getting stuff automatically displayed.

I have trouble matching names and faces, and it is not helped when students have similar names (think Jane, Janet, and Janna . . . who often all wear their hair in similar styles and don’t stand out in other ways). At the beginning of the semester, I get them to use name tags, but within a couple of weeks, they lose the name tags and I should really know them by that time. But the current Jane/Janet/Janna combo has continued to confuse me. Now I can study on my own time!

Except, actually, these students look more alike in their photos than they do IRL. Must not get distracted by hair and make-up. Bone structure. Face measurements. I can do this.

One of the ways Sir John and I are complementary (or, rather, that he complements me) is that he is, if not quite a super-recognizer, much above average in ability to recognize people, whereas I’m on the low end of the spectrum (though not truly face-blind). He can recognize actors in full Ferengi makeup, for example, whereas I can’t tell one young actress from another. Most of my students are too young to have developed distinctive faces. Nonetheless, the photos will be a help, even if I wind up blurting out “You don’t look like your ID picture!” in class, which I fear eventually I will.

Blogging the lost

A sheaf of guidebooks to English castles, from three summers ago, which should be on the shelves of my school office with all my other similar guides, and which I do not remember seeing anywhere in my home office during a recent re-shuffling of books; if they were hidden in my school office then I ought to have found them during last year’s clean-up efforts; I know I brought them back from England (that was a very heavy suitcase), and they are not the sort of thing that I de-accession.


Update: I found them in a box in the guest room, cleared out of my study at some point, housed in an opaque plastic box/folder, such that it was not clear from the outside what was in it. NB, try to use clear box/folder thingies in future.

Anyway, yay! Now I can turn a class loose on “castle study hall,” where each student gets a guidebook to some castle, and after reading by themselves for a bit, they get together to talk about features that castles have in common, and how their builders accommodated landscape features on particular sites, and what historians and archaeologists still puzzle over. A field trip would be better, and if I taught in the UK might be easily organized. From here, however, it’s not going to happen.

I never did get to that Ozark Castle, and it’s too far from me for a class field trip.

Mustn’t grumble, but I do anyway

Probably just because it’s a gloomy damp day, and grumbling suits it.

Things are actually going well enough, just not to plan. I’ve done some teaching things . . . not the most urgent ones. I’ve done some research . . . on the long-term project, not this month’s main event. (That actually was the plan, for today; the trick will be going back to the main current thing tomorrow, instead of getting caught up in the old thing that now seems like the New Shiny, thanks to the break while I worked on other things.) I’ve been to the gym, though I left two hours later than I planned to. What I never account for, in planning a day at home, is the process that goes like this:

If it snows tomorrow, I can’t wear those boots. Unless I waterproofed them. That would be a great idea, actually. What did I do with the waterproofing stuff? Oh, look, it’s exactly where I thought it was, how very organized of me! Why doesn’t it have a nozzle? Oh, right, now I remember: the old cleaner was having a clumsy day, maybe a year ago (more?) and knocked the nozzle off a new can of bathroom cleaner, and I was a clever-boots and found that the nozzle from the waterproofing stuff fit the can of cleaning foam, and I told myself to remember to notice when we ran low on the foam and move the nozzle back to the waterproofing stuff. Predictably, I was not nearly clever enough to remember to do that. Now, what do I have that will fit the waterproofing can? Not that . . . look under a different sink . . . not that . . . try that one . . . well, that made a mess, and I don’t think it did anything for the boots . . . is there anywhere else to look? (Repeat process a couple of times.) Okay, that worked. Put back the nozzle that didn’t fit (why do household items have at least two different sizes of nozzle, anyway?). Put back the one that did fit. Leave the boots to dry. Get back to Plan A.

Sir John suggested that I toss out the nozzleless can and buy a new one. “Call it your contribution to economic stimulus.” I admit that he has a point, but if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been able to do the boots today, or not unless I’d added another errand to the list of things to do today. It might have been quicker anyway, but then again, maybe not.

It’s this sort of thing that always derails me. That, and feeling that it is time for a cup of tea. If it were just the tea, it would be fine, but I always do something while the kettle boils and then, twenty minutes later, resume Plan A. It would be quicker just to stare out the window while the kettle boils.

At any rate, I was supposed to spend the afternoon decluttering, but I still have Urgent Teaching Things to do before tomorrow, and I think I can see how this is going to go. Once the UTT are done, it will be time to cook dinner, and afterward I will get ready for tomorrow’s departure at sunrise, and then I will do something to wind down before bed, and the clutter will be exactly where I left it.

But I will be able to wear my favorite boots even if there are snow showers. Win?

Refusing fear, finding joy

I’ve already lost enough years of my life to fearing nuclear war.

In my teens, I was undoubtedly disturbed in various ways, tormented by hormones, situational depression, anxiety, blah blah, but that was one of my big fears. It was probably much less likely in the 70s than it was for my brothers, half a generation earlier, but I was greatly influenced by their accounts of what they worried about, at my age. (Please note: those “kids these days think they have it so tough” lectures can backfire terribly, since “kids” practically by definition do not have brains as mature as those lecturing and may misapply the intended lesson.) I wanted to live to grow up. I was terribly jealous of, and furious at, adults who had already lived a good chunk of life, most especially those who were engaging in the political posturing that I found so frightening. They had already done the things I was hoping to get a chance to do (go to college, travel, get married); it was my entire life they were threatening. In my view. I mean, looking back, I can see things differently, but that was my lived experience, the fear and rage. I think I even got a letter to the editor published in some local paper, when I was particularly angry about something a columnist said. That just came back to me, as I write this. I don’t remember the exact topic, but I do remember that it felt better to write about my fears, that I was amazed when the letter was published, and that the columnist was still rather patronizing in his response. But at least someone heard me.

Now, that fear keeps cropping up, strangely familiar. I do think that it’s more likely than not that we’ll somehow muddle through, avoiding the ultimate disaster, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be various smaller yet still serious disasters along the way. And I am enraged by the fear. Enough to take action, in various small ways—sending e-mails, making phone calls—but also enough to be determined to refuse it. I will not live in fear again. I have, now, had the life I wanted to have. Not enough of it; I definitely hope to live as long as my father has, in equally good health and enjoyment of life. But I have reached my 50s, achieved college and graduate school and a highly rewarding job, traveled quite a lot, married a wonderful man. It’s been good.

So my goal is to be one of Carolyn See’s “hedonists . . . too enchanted by [my own life] to get excited by Death descending,” to go on “making love, or napping, or fixing dinner,” to do the things I find meaningful and enjoyable. Teach my students, write my articles, brush my cats, tend my garden, eat raspberries and re-read my favorite books. If we muddle through, I don’t want to have lost these years (as I lost a chunk of my youth that could have been a lot more fun than it was). If we don’t, I want to enjoy the end of my life. I want to fill it with music, dance, art, beauty, pleasure, joy. I want to refuse the fear and instead appreciate every mundane moment, every bite of chocolate, every sun-shot afternoon, every meal I cook. This is my rebellion. This is the flag I will fly: love of life.


Three hours after I went to bed last night, the bedroom smoke detector started chirping about its low battery.

Since Sir John was still up, I called him, and he came and replaced the battery. No one had to stumble groggily around the house, and only one of us had sleep disturbed by the incident.

It’s quite useful being on different schedules.

Random bullets of only-barely-coping

*I always think I’m prepared for things, or as prepared as I can be, and then the thing happens and I’m not prepared. I know this about myself. And the nature of the not-prepared always surprises me.

*I really want to stay home and not go out or talk to anyone and just work on jigsaw puzzles. It’s a psychological defense mechanism, creating order from chaos.

*My evil/eval documents are still overdue. Really must get them in today.

*I have already identified most of the heart-breaking types of students listed in this post. So far, the plain annoying types are hiding or non-existent. We’ll see.

*My wonky ankle is being really wonky again. Besides the obvious (strained it again), I think it also doesn’t like the chilly damp weather we’ve been having, and I think I may be getting some referred pain from further up the same leg. All this going on at once makes it hard to figure out what is best to do for it. I’m getting cranky from lack of vigorous exercise, but the ankle needs to be rested.

*Reina and Basement Cat remain at odds. Do we have to put everyone on Prozac?

*I know why I loaded myself with grading short assignments in the first two weeks of classes: to convince students that they can’t just coast and then pull an all-nighter to write an incoherent five-page paper in week 5 of the semester. I want them to learn decent work habits early on, and to stay engaged with the material via frequent assignments. OK, pedagogically sound, and look what a good teacher I am . . . only, couldn’t I have had some compassion for myself and care for my workload? What was I thinking? That I really am Minerva McGonagall and have a Time-Turner? Or that I’m the Dowager Duchess and have servants?

*It’s not going to get any earlier. Just get started. Suck Less. Choose the practice freely.

Friday’s fortunately/unfortunately narration

This is really yesterday’s post, but I was traveling then.

Fortunately, I got to see the dawn. I do this fairly frequently, wherever I am, but it was especially pretty, with a pink glow over the mountains, reflected in the bay.

Unfortunately, it was my last day of that view.

Fortunately, I had time for one more walk on the beach, where I picked up a few pieces of pink quartz and white beach glass to remind me of the place.

Unfortunately, going down to the beach meant toiling up the hill one more time, afterwards.

Fortunately, I was able to recover with brunch on the balcony, watching bright yellow birds (goldfinches?) and bright blue ones (no idea) flashing through the trees, with the occasional dancing orange butterfly adding even more color interest.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of food left over.

Fortunately, that meant the feral cats on the corner got a feast.

Unfortunately, the taxi came earlier than we expected, and I was running up and down stairs communicating with the driver and letting in the rental agent, while Queen Joan was still getting dressed, and I still had lots of things to throw in my suitcase.

Fortunately, my Spanish was adequate to the task, the driver was patient, and everything got done.

Unfortunately, when we were in the taxi and jouncing to the airport, I couldn’t find my passport.

Fortunately, once we got to the airport and I could get to my suitcase, it was in the first place I looked, scooped up along with other to-be-packed items at the last minute.

Unfortunately, that meant I had to get on a plane and leave the tropical paradise.

Fortunately, I was looking forward to seeing Sir John and our cats, and I had a whole book to read that I’d saved for the trip home.

Unfortunately, there was an 80 degree drop in temperature between the place/time I left and the one where I arrived.

Fortunately, Sir John brought my down coat to meet me. I won’t say I was happier to see it than I was to see him, but I would have refused to leave the airport without it.

Unfortunately, in spite of all our added insulation, new windows, new curtains on the old windows, the replaced front door, and whatever other energy-related improvements I’m forgetting, our house still is fairly chilly, especially in the front room downstairs. I hate living in an old house, in this climate.

Fortunately, I was very successful in sticking to my complicated diet while I was gone (Queen Joan helped a lot, and taught me to cook some things I’d never tried before), so I’m feeling very well and tolerably energetic. If I can keep managing the diet, then I hope to have enough energy to sort out this house (file, give away, pack up, throw out, as necessary) and get it on the market this spring. We’ll see what happens, since of course I will also be teaching and I do not handle multiple tasks, or switching among them, especially well.

Unfortunately, my grad class for the spring (on a very cool and most excellent topic, which I was looking forward to teaching) was cancelled due to low enrollment, as I learned when I checked e-mail at the tropical airport.

Fortunately, oh very fortunately, I have been granted a research release in its place.