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.

Owl/lark

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.

 

 

I fear change . . . and yet . . .

As people do around this time of year, I’ve been thinking about the coming year, what I want to work on, what’s on the schedule, what I hope for, and so on. I like the idea of a theme rather than resolutions, and as I was thinking over possible themes, one popped into my head. I wanted to resist it, to consider other themes, to find one I really liked and wanted to work with, but this one wouldn’t go away. I don’t especially care for this one, but it’s insisting that it is my theme for the year, will-I nill-I:

Change.

There are changes I hope for (selling the house that is wrong for us and moving to something that suits us better), and changes I fear, both specifically (friends retiring and no longer being part of my campus life) and more generally (political changes for the worse). Who knows what else may come, either in the train of known changes, according to the Law of Unintended Consequences, or just as part of life. I suppose it is some help to have notice, from my unconscious or the zeitgeist, that change will be coming. Maybe I can surf that wave rather than being pulled down by it.

And it has begun already. Not only did I spend the New Year in a place new to me, but this morning I placed a telephone call to my House representative, about the changes to rules proposed for the 2017 session. My representative is as blue as they come, so at first I thought (as I have been thinking), “Why bother?” and then I decided that I could at least express my enthusiastic support for his vote against weakening ethics oversight. I spoke to a human being, and said my piece. I hate telephone calls, but more will be necessary in the years to come, and practice will no doubt make them easier. I can’t remember the last time I contacted any elected official, and I am certain that the last time I did, it was in writing rather than by phone. But the vote is supposed to happen today, so I phoned.

Yay? And yet I so much wish that this were not necessary. As I move into this strange new world created by 11/9, I want to remember that my core values, the ideas that really matter to me, have to do with learning, education, the life of the mind. Yes, one needs certain conditions in order to have those things, and one must act to create those conditions. At the same time, strength of various kinds—personal, cultural, political—comes out of a focus on education, on thoughtfulness, on informed communication. I will continue to stand for these ideals, whatever changes come to pass.

New Year’s Eve

I’m enjoying a few days in the tropics with Queen Joan. We’re in the sort of place where most visitors suck up alcoholic drinks adorned with umbrellas, flowers, or fruit; get sunburned; and acquire a bunch of tourist tat to take home.

We’re doing things a bit differently. Neither of us can drink anymore, thanks to assorted health issues. Joan doesn’t do well in the sun, though she enjoys the warmth here. I’m a bit sturdier, but as the whitest of the white girls, I coat myself in #70 sunscreen before approaching a window, let alone going out. Also due to health issues, rather than eating out, we’re doing a lot of cooking.

We we both think back to our youth, and how different things were then. We met a little over 30 years ago. We could drink, and dance, and stay up all night. She went to India. I went to France. She visited me there on her way to Burkina Faso. In Paris, we cooked on a two-burner propane stove in my chambre de bonne, and she had a mattress on the floor, and that didn’t kill her back. We wouldn’t meet either of our husbands for some years yet, and while we had career ambitions, we didn’t know if they would be achievable. I’ve come much closer to achieving mine, though I said last night that I expected I’d do either much more or much less: I might not have got into grad school, or not finished, or not got a job, or not got tenure. Neither of us is quite sure how we wound up with the lives we have. Things happened, choices were made, and even when we got what we wanted, it turned out to be not quite what we had in mind.

But we are still here! We are alive, we are friends, we still travel together. We’re a long way from the mattress on the floor in Paris, and yet the spirit of that trip is with us. She drags me out of my stick-in-the-mud tendencies; I’ve had a lot of experiences, thanks to Joan, that I would not have had on my own (good ones).

So here’s to friendship, and survival, and continuing to have adventures even if they’re more low-key than they once were. We know what we were, and what we are, and there’s still some time for what we may yet be. I feel some trepidation about the year ahead, but in the meantime, there is this gentle tropical morning with the rustle of palm fronds sounding like rain. I wish you some of its peace and energy in the year to come.

Familles, je vous hais

So, more good news (not), this time from my side of the family: my oldest nephew and his wife are splitting up. These are my favorite people on my side, and I love their kids, and this was not a happy thing to hear on a Christmas where Sir John’s favorite relative isn’t speaking to him. I guess I can be glad mine are speaking to me, as well as grateful that Sir John and I are together, healthy, employed, and housed.

I’d tell 2016 not to let the door hit it on the way out, except that I expect in a few weeks, I’ll be begging 2016 to come back. It did, after all, contain half a sabbatical year, a trip to England, a couple of fun conferences, and the successful placement of the last chunk of the MMP. On the personal level, I’ve nothing much to complain of.

I also made Christmas calls to my other relations. Told one brother I’d had an essay accepted (not the journalist, who I knew would just talk about the number of articles he writes every day). Well. Bro #2 is a mucky-muck in his trade organization, so he writes and publishes an article every month in the trade publication. He has a tech writer or editor or something who puts together the framework, and then my brother re-writes so every sentence does what it should, because he is a better writer than the editor.

This is typical, and one of the reasons why I don’t see more of my family. I want to make it clear that I am not sneering at my brother for being in trade. He’s not only good at what he does, I can believe that he’s a better writer than the other person he’s dealing with. Writing and teaching are the family trades, at least in my branch, for a couple of generations now. What I mind is the complete lack of any attempt to understand the difference between what I do and what he does.

A few details on the MMP-1, since my brother didn’t ask: it contains over 14,000 words (a number that will grow when I revise further before publication) and 102 footnotes, it deals with multiple manuscript sources (one literary, at least five documentary), it involved extensive transcription from wills and other documents written in Latin and in secretary hand, it surveys critical literature in an area that is Not My Home Field, it included references to criticism read in a modern language not English, and the last round of readers’ reports included phrases such as “clear argument,” “very welcome,” “compelling” and “impressive.” Shoot, even its first rejection included the phrase “impressively well documented.”

Long ago, I decided that talking to most of my family was like teaching a pig to sing.* I suppose it’s only the sadness and uncertainty I feel about my nephew and his family that bring up all the rest of this nonsense. I should just let it go. Again. I have a partner, friends, and colleagues who get what I do and think it matters. That’s enough.

*It wastes your breath and annoys the pig.

A little peace and quiet

The run-up to Christmas can get strained around here (and how does that make us different from anyone else who celebrates Christmas?). Sir John’s family has birthdays and stuff to celebrate, so there are multiple gatherings. For me, Christmas week is flanked by the anniversaries of two significant deaths, so, in the years since those happened, I tend to want to stay home and be quiet. This year I’ve been better; I even had stirrings of celebratory feelings, such that the Christmas cards we received got lined up on the mantel, and I sent a few of my own.

But just when I’m more cheerful than usual, Sir John’s family suffers a spate of weirdness and re-shuffles itself. Usually the whole clan gets together for all the events. This year, due to Stuff, I thought we were going to have separate gatherings, with the Plain Speakers on one side and the Socially Correct At All Costs on the other. Instead, the Plain Speaker With Feels seceded from all the rest of us, and since Sir John didn’t feel like losing his whole family, we spent Christmas Eve with the Socially Correct chunk of the family. It was much quieter than usual, but at least we didn’t have to talk about feelings.

It was especially quiet for a moment after my mother-in-law mentioned that she’d be spending Christmas afternoon with the one With Feels. We thought that one wanted a year without any of the rest of us, just immediate descendants . . . I’m pretty sure you could have seen the exclamation points hovering over my head and Sir John’s. But we changed the subject and moved on.

So today will at least be normal, since we always spend Christmas quietly at home with the cats, recovering from the week’s uproar. I’ll go to the gym. Sometime after Sir John wakes up, there will be presents. I’ve done stockings from Sandy Claws. I will cook. We’ll read Christmas presents or watch some TV.

I hope that by next year either things will be back to normal or we can go visit my family, who have young ones. It’s more fun wrapping for children than for teenagers, who mainly want gift cards or money. I realized when wrapping our presents that I spent years stockpiling bags for odd-shaped presents, and now I don’t really need them any more!

If you need some peace and quiet today, I hope you get it. And if you’re enjoying a whirlwind of presents and family, more power to you.

Productive procrastination, or Working when Stupid

I’ve been sleeping poorly, again, which makes it difficult to focus during the day.

I know what’s wrong. My wonky ankle has been acting up, so I’m resting it, which means I’m not working out, which means I don’t sleep so well. This will pass. The ankle will improve, and I will work back up to a decent level of cardiovascular exercise, and all shall be well. In the meantime I try to do more yoga and other relaxing things before bed.

Anyway: what to do on a work day when I have stacks of (well, three) articles to revise, and I don’t feel like I can grasp my own arguments, let alone anyone else’s? Answer: write syllabi and plan spring classes. Tired and fuzzy-headed (or, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid) is the perfect state to work on these tasks. When I’m alert and intelligent, I get over-optimistic about wildly creative, innovative ideas that require lots of energy and a clear head to put into practice in the classroom, and I forget that I may not have those attributes on the future days when I will need them. When I’m tired, I recognize that bad days happen, and that it would be a good idea to re-use old assignments (tweaking as appropriate); to omit or re-schedule that reading that always needs Extra Energy and Enthusiasm!!!; and to leave some flex days on which I can either experiment with a new innovative assignment as a low-stakes, in-class activity so that I can work out potential problems with it, or else, if the flex day is a low-energy day, show a relevant movie or You-Tube clips with discussion of same.

Some more alert and intelligent Future Self will have to look over today’s plans to make sure I haven’t done anything really stupid, like putting all the wrong dates on the syllabus or scheduling two separate sets of readings for the same weeks. Even so, today I’ll get something useful done, and my Future Self will be glad to have a chunk of the work at least drafted.