Things to do

So we have come to live in Bizarro World. There is a rift in the space-time continuum, only half the passengers understand this, the Enterprise is stuck and can’t make it over to bail us out, and Sisko and the Bajorrans are too far away to do anything clever with the wormhole. What now?

Some of the people whose blogs I read regularly are already thinking about how to react: Christine, with a comforting post; Cloud, with a thoughtful one; Fie, with characteristic refusal to quit. And John Scalzi’s worth a look. In The Middle makes a statement I can get behind.

I expect part of the reason I am so stunned is that I am not, in general, a very political person. I tend to cultivate my own garden, focus on the things I can change, ignore the ones I can’t, avoid conflict, political debate, and activism, and just sort of float along, sticking my neck out for nobody, as Rick says in Casablanca. I have only so much energy and only one life, and I like contemplating lilies (if you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily).

Thus, in that lily-contemplating spirit, while I’m going to be looking for ways to help people who help immigrants, I’m also a patron of the fantastic blog Medieval People of Color, because people need to know that the European Middle Ages were not a white supremacist’s fantasy land, and of Pamela Dean, because we’re going to need some more good escapist fiction.

It’s a start.

.

.

.

.

I don’t know what to say to my students tomorrow.

My students who are Muslim, mixed-race, American-born black, American-born of Hispanic descent, West-Indies-born immigrants. Those are just the ones I know I will face tomorrow . . . so many other faces of other backgrounds, from other semesters, are in my mind, including a young woman who found out, months before her 21st birthday, that she was illegal, in this country illegally, brought as an infant, which her parents never told her. These students know, better than I do, how racist this country is. I don’t want them to have to comfort me. But I’m not sure I have it in me to be their older, wiser, reassuring professor.

It’s not an epiphany

(And if it is, ur doin it rong.)

This article really pissed me off. “[M]enopause delivers a mind-blowing mid-life recalibration – one with a valuable message of growth and expansion.” Uh, what? My mind is still here, unblown. Life trundles along the way it has for years. Maybe it’s being a professor: growth and expansion come with the territory. New students, new ideas, new courses (or new ways of doing the old ones), new research.

“[F]emale bodies are powerful intuitive barometers and mine was trying to tell me something.” Probably every body is a powerful intuitive barometer, whatever its sex. I count on mine to tell me when I’m hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and so on.

“I routinely put others first which meant racing through my life over-achieving and under-prioritising me. Exhausted and running on empty, letting go of my expectations of me would be the first positive move.” Okay, now you’re finally getting to your problems. Don’t suggest that those are everyone’s problems. (And by the way: dangling modifier. That irritates me, too.) You could have set a higher priority on yourself at any point, however; there’s nothing magical about menopause. Maybe that’s what got your attention, but in someone else’s life, it might have been a parent’s death or a child’s starting school, a change of jobs or a milestone birthday. I think Franklin’s realizations are not uncommon in midlife, actually, but the menopause thing is coincidental. I know women who went through menopause very early due to medical treatments or just because it happens early in their families, and they pretty much carried on as usual until their fifties, when the reality that life is short became more than just a phrase to follow with “so eat dessert first” or “don’t drink bad wine.” Men do this too. What do you think the sports cars are about?

“In menopause our body roars. All these years it has put up and shut up and now will not tolerate abuse or disrespect any longer. This commotion is simply a demand by your newly awake self for quality not quantity, for re-evaluation and re-balancing. Perhaps (when your time comes) you plan to put your hands over your ears? Think again, there is nothing so primal and immediate as your body’s hormonal call to action.” Our body? Speak for yourself. You have yours, I have mine. I wouldn’t say that mine put up and shut up. It has made its needs clear for decades. I treat it kindly. My self is as awake (or maybe not-awake) as it has been for years. I can’t say that I’m experiencing a hormonal call to action. Hot flashes, yes, but they don’t move me to much action beyond reaching for an ice pack. I always thought I’d enjoy getting up to room temperature, that it would make a pleasant change from being freezing most of the time. The problem isn’t the hot, it’s the flash, the sensation of being suddenly dumped into a sauna. I do not experience them as power surges, just as a passing nuisance. They definitely do not roar.

“Post-menopause needs renaming and reclaiming for what it truly is, a magnificent time of curiosity, creativity and rank. It’s not surprising that some societies have been threatened by this natural female evolution to leader and mentor. In Pagan times of Goddess Worship, female tribal elders were respected and celebrated but with the introduction of Christianity came the brutal persecution of middle-aged women as witches and heretics. As feminist history explains, older women were simply channeling their menopausal force to intervene in an oppressive culture that undermined female wisdom and equality.” Gag me. Where to start? Is there seriously any historical evidence for a pagan feminist paradise before the coming of Christianity? I used to have this argument with my mother, who blamed Christianity for everything that afflicted women (in her later years; when I was little, she was as conventional as they come: we both wore white gloves to church). In the medieval and early modern periods, an appalling number of women died before they made it to menopause. I can hardly bear to tour medieval churches any longer, despite the lovely architecture, because of all the plaques and gravestones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, memorializing women who died in their thirties after bearing nine, or eleven, children, more than half of whom preceded them to the grave. Such a waste. At least Catholicism offered the option of the nunnery, where a woman could have some sort of intellectual life, and not have to go through childbirth.

Probably I’m simply the wrong audience for this sort of essay. I never went for the Powerful Female Experience rhetoric, whether it was attached to menstruation, childbirth, menopause, or any other natural process. There are lots of bodily processes that we could bond over. Some are universal human experiences, shared with men, and even with other animals. How come we never talk about the profound experience of digestion, and how at one with the universe we feel when we are replete after a good meal, or about the pleasures of relieving a full bladder, or making one’s mark on the world by taking a dump? Oh, wait, those aren’t mystical; they have nothing to do with the process of bringing another life into the world, which is the real power of women. Of course. And that must mean that I, as a childless-by-choice woman, am not a real woman. Never mind my double-x chromosomes, my years of living in a female body with (almost) all that that implies, my experiences with sexism overt and covert. I’m not sure that I’m even allowed a powerful menopause, in this model: if I haven’t sacrificed myself to others, if I haven’t given birth and suffered sleep deprivation while looking after a newborn and exhausted myself raising children while having a career, then probably what I’m going through isn’t really the hormonal wake-up call that Ms Franklin is on about.

OK, then, fine, never mind. Nonetheless, I think it’s sad if you haven’t managed to put yourself first before your mid-fifties. I thought that was an affliction of my mother’s generation, not of my own. I have a variety of friends (women and men) who have children. A few inhabit the martyr role. Most of them think about their own needs as well as those of their children. The second set are happier. How’s that for a powerful human experience?

“Happiness exists, and it’s important; why refuse it? You don’t make other people’s unhappiness any worse by accepting it; it even helps you to fight for them.”

 

 

I dreamed

that I forgot to write my paper for Kalamazoo.

I discovered this when sitting outside the room where I was supposed to present, during the preceding session. I remembered writing the paper, or writing something about it. But the paper was not in the folder where I expected to find it. In another folder, I found my notes. The paper was supposed to be on “Pulling Back the Bedcurtains in the Seven Sages of Rome and Le Roman de Silence.” How alliterative. Mostly my notes consisted of carefully copied passages from the poems, in a Caroline minuscule with Anglicana traits (talk about bastard hands), apparently done with a fine-tip felt pen. Capitals were colored in alternating red and blue, and I’d done a few historiated initials at the start of particularly important bits.

I was trying to work out whether I should just bag the session entirely (there were four papers scheduled, so it wouldn’t have been too awful not to show up, I thought) or try to do some sort of talk based on my notes.

Waking up was partly relief and partly annoyance, because I would have liked to know what my argument was and why it had been so important to produce a hand-copied, prettified set of quotations.

Groundhog’s Day

I don’t know about Punxsatawny Phil, but nobody around here is seeing any shadows today. What I’ve never understood is whether seeing the shadow means only six more weeks of winter, or at least six more weeks of winter, or even exactly six more weeks of winter. In parts of the country where I have lived, only six more weeks of winter from now would be a joyful prospect indeed, and in others it would be about right, and in places where I aspire to live, it would be “what the hell are you talking about?”

So if the shadow does not appear . . . .

This starts to sound like one of those obnoxious logic problems about identical triplets one of whom always tells the truth and one of whom always lies and one of whom is insane, and you have to come up with one single question to ask each of them that will reveal which is which. Phooey.

In other news, Sabra just spent a minute kneading my sore arm (return of an old RSI). It feels wonderful. Whatever Basement Cat says, I think she’s a good one to have around.

a pre-modern question

How did people in the British Isles tell fortunes before the advent of tea-drinking?  (And after the Romans; presumably in Roman Britain, they practiced augury with entrails and birds flying overhead and so on.)

 

Coming soon: a follow-up post to my last.

The Feast of Thomas Becket

St Thomas Becket

British Library, Yates Thompson MS 13, fol. 85v.

To read a description of the manuscript, click here.

I like Becket because (a) he stood up to the king, (b) he took his job seriously, (c) he hid his piety even when (d) he would have been more popular with other churchmen had he not done so.

Names and other inheritances

I was already trying to sort, purge, and organize our stuff when the basement flooded.  Now I have real motivation to make progress.  One of the items rescued from the rising tide is a small wooden chest that belonged to one of my grandmothers.  I hadn’t even looked at it in years, and hadn’t opened it in much longer.

It contains, among other papers, educational records for this grandmother, who was what we now call a returning student: she earned a college degree in her 60s, because she had always wanted to go to college, and finally was able to.  I knew that, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy teaching the population I teach, including the returning students who are a generation or more older than the “typical” college student.

But I did not know her full name, or at least, I don’t recall ever being told it.  The “middle” name I knew for her was her nom de jeune fille.  Her given middle name:

Eleanor.

So, although when I began blogging I chose the name of an obscure medieval woman translator in an effort to publicize the fact that there were accomplished, intellectual medieval women, in fact I have a sort of right to the name.  Oddly, I’ve even become a translator, when I had no thought of that however many years ago I began this blog.  The “Dame” part, though . . . well, we all know “There’s nothing like a dame.”  I expect that’s the best I’ll ever do in that direction.

Dream, interrupted

When the cat alarm went off this morning, I was having tea with Peter Wimsey, the ghost of his grandmother (or possibly the Dowager from Downton Abbey; it looked like Maggie Smith, which I suppose is not incompatible with being Peter Wimsey’s grandmother), and a former student of mine who is devoted to historical reenactment and was most fetchingly and appropriately dressed for the occasion.

The cat alarm said that the squirt bottle was not an appropriate way to activate the snooze function, and would in fact result in escalating the alarm noise.

I really wanted to go on with that dream.  I’ve never before had tea with Peter Wimsey, let alone his grandmother, corporeal or otherwise.  And there were other people present to whom I had not yet been introduced.  Could one of them have been Harriet Vane?  Or Peter’s mother, the enchanting Dowager Duchess?  And I hadn’t even started on the petits fours.