RBO end of June

Squirrels dug in the pots where I’d planted my grown-from-seed lettuce seedlings and destroyed them all, even though I’d put the pots up on a table to make it harder for critters to get to them.

I wrote and delivered a conference paper that helps to expand what I have for the final chapter of the Putative Book, and have just had an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend working on something related.

Sir John and I went on a road trip and had a great time. The cats obviously missed us terribly, though we had a friend visit them twice a day to tend them. Basement Cat met us at the door, yowling until we were actually inside, and Reina, who had been confined to my study, yowled until we released her. She hasn’t deigned to sit on either of us, but does do more rubbing against us and talking, while Basement Cat demands lap time and reclining snuggles with Sir John. They were separated while we were gone to keep them from fighting, and I was afraid we’d have to do some elaborate re-introduction routine when we came back, but it went fine, which is to say there’s only the usual staring and hissing.

I’ve taken everything out of my closet and washed it or run it through the dryer on hot, after I saw a moth near the beginning of the month. Now for cleaning the walls and then putting things back. Last night there was another moth in the bathroom, which I didn’t manage to kill before it disappeared against a patterned background. Reina couldn’t find it, either.

I’ve done at least a little bit of work on all four of the classes I will teach next year. Anything I can do now will help out my future self. There’s never enough time in the winter break to prep spring classes, so I’m trying to do some revision on them this summer.

I’ve also done a lot of fun reading, mostly fantasy, romance, and mid-century novels by British women, the sort of thing published by Furrowed Middlebrow. Sometimes the FM blog gives brief descriptions of now-unattainable books that make me want to head straight to one of the UK depository libraries and spend the summer reading through everything they have of this kind. If I worked on twentieth-century literature, that might even be a respectable research project. I suppose I could go work on a respectable medieval project and then spend evenings reading old novels in the not-medieval reading rooms, after the manuscripts room closed.

Summer of real life

Some time ago, I wrote this in a draft post: “I miss real life. So much of what I do already involves staring at a screen: writing, grading, even quite a bit of reading, as more books get published electronically, and as it’s really not worth printing out every article I need to read. I’m going to have to start writing on paper and figuring out what other activities I can move off-screen, because I need more reality, not more screen time.”

I think I’m going to have to have at least one more Zoom meeting (but not more than two) in order to wrap up something for a professional organization, and then I can ditch online meetings for nearly three months. In order to do this, I’m taking the summer off from my writing group. Instead, I’ll be meeting with grad students for writing dates.

The garden is going to get a lot of attention this summer. I want to move the iris into a sunnier bed, thin out the hostas, clear the vegetable patch of weeds and plant veg and herbs, and plan a native-plant bed, possibly on a fairly grand scale. (I may not do the planting of that one this year.) I need to mulch a lot, and put weeding on my list of “habits,” things I do 3-4 times a week if not daily.

I have two road trips planned. Both will involve seeing Actual Live People as well as places that are either new to me, or which I have not seen in twenty or thirty years. We also have plans to have monthly dinners with another couple, and some other get-togethers with friends are already scheduled.

Writing on paper hasn’t been going particularly well for me, partly because so many of my notes (and spreadsheets) are already on the computer. I don’t know how people used to write as Derek Pearsall (for instance) is said to have done: longhand, page after page straight on from beginning to end of article or book. Maybe that worked because he was Derek Pearsall: I mean, once you get invited to contribute to things because you are a Name, perhaps editors don’t ask you to do a lot of revision. I still suspect that decades ago Oxbridge, or the schools that prepared people for Oxbridge, taught their students in ways that made thinking, organizing, and writing more straightforward, especially on purely literary subjects. Varying topics and approaches can make things simpler or more complex. Jon Jarrett’s recent post on the long and winding road to one publication made me feel much better about my own such quests. But I digress. Working out organization, and revising tricky paragraphs, are both things I can do on paper, even if I continue to do a lot of writing on the computer.

I want to go swimming, even if that means getting up at dawn to hit the local pool during their hideously early lap swim hours. Submersion in water feels very real.

There is a lot of unpacking and settling in to our “new” house remaining to be done. This is definitely a real-life project. I have finally painted the guest room, which means that room can now get properly organized. We may need to put some more bookshelves in there! I’d like to open all the boxes in the garage: some can be unpacked, some may be things we want to purge, some might be re-packed for storage. Speaking of storage, I want to do some house-related shopping, in real-life antique stores and junk shops. Another wish is some sewing: the guest room will also be where I set up the sewing machine.

It’s hard to get completely away from screens, even for an old-school curmudgeon like me who has no social media accounts apart from this blog. Apart from the writing and reading previously mentioned, I need to prepare the online sites for my classes, and there are some games I play online. Sir John and I like to watch TV/movies, and you better believe I’ll be watching the Tour de France starting on 1 July. But I’m definitely going to try limiting screen time to the extent possible. I crave experience and sensation. I used to think I lived more in my head than most people. That may even be true. But I’ve hit my limit.

Six on Saturday, after rain

How did we get more than a week into October already? I am not ready for this. I have been vaguely thinking that in the autumn I would plant some crocus bulbs in the new bed in the front. Uh, so, that would be like now. Oh dear . . .

After weeks of drought, it rained for a couple of days, and now things are looking very lush. For #1, another view of the asters in the front, here with Honorine Jobert to add contrast (the purple and white reminds me of the garden at the last house):

The front bed, which I planted with white peonies and Russian sage (the sage is visible if you look closely), is thick with cherry tomatoes and another potato plant, all volunteers; this is what happens when you use soil from the compost heap, I guess:

I also have yellow grape tomatoes on one of my late-planted seedlings:

And all the rain has brought on toadstools, here in the front yard:

Sir John reported a fairy ring of them in the back, when he came in from mowing the grass. What sort of revenge do the fairies take for mowing down their dancing ring?

I think a few weeks ago I reported replacement tomatoes on the plant attacked by the groundhog; they’re trying hard (some of the catnip is muscling in, thug that it is):

So that’s my Six for this Saturday. I keep imagining that I will write some meatier blog posts (really I must do something at least about writing, if not properly medieval, since I survived Jon Jarrett’s purge of his blogroll!), but though I imagine them, sitting at the computer, logged in, is necessary to get them written. Sigh. Anyway, Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator, and I want to get in some garden posts while I can, before I’m knee-deep in snow and consumed by envy for those who garden in the British Isles and on the west coast of North America. Maybe winter would be a good time to blog more about writing.

Confidential to Undine: there’s some setting you click to make text wrap in Excel, though what I generally do, after expanding cells to be double or triple wide, is just pick my opening words so that they give me a clue what the rest of the entry will be. The way I use it for notes, I don’t usually need to see a ton of text at any particular time.

Spreadsheets for Humanities research

For awhile now, I’ve intended to blog on this topic, since Undine expressed interest. I have a few tabs open with related posts, and I want to close them, and I’m feeling a Friday-afternoon slump, so let’s do this.

I originally started working with spreadsheets because the tables I’d created in WordPerfect were so long and complicated that they had become unstable. I mentioned that here. From what I said in that post about a concordance and Topic A in Author Z, I think this was an earlier stage of research on what is now my book-in-progress. This project began as a conference paper. A journal editor who attended my session asked me to expand and submit the paper to their journal. When I started expanding, the danged thing grew, and grew, and grew some more. It’s still growing. I am still adding to the spreadsheet, as I realize that more and more words have connections to Topic A.

Profacero asked, around the same time, about using spreadsheets and calculators and bibliography managers. I don’t need spreadsheets for numbers. For me, they’re a useful way of tabulating information in a way I can get at easily.

I had another spreadsheet for part of the MMP, the Macedonian Marginalia Project. It had a long list of the marginalia, including columns for manuscript folio, edition page, text by which the marginalia appeared, and I forget what else, but there was more.

Another book-related spreadsheet tracks family relationships for multiple generations. I could get specialized family-tree software, but that’s not exactly what I want. I need to comment on what people were doing, and marriages they thought about negotiating but didn’t go through with, and similar matters. I like having different columns in which I can put this kind of information. Excel appears to be a very robust program. I can fill up cells with text, not numbers, and it just chugs along, keeping things organized.

I have a spreadsheet that I’m trying to use to organize the book itself, section by section, including primary and secondary quotations, historical analogues, and various other things that I want to use to support my main points. That isn’t going as well, TBH, because I do a lot of my thinking by writing, and then I have to take the time to move points from a written document into the spreadsheet, and it all seems stupidly fiddly: until the moment when I’m struggling with what goes where and I wish that I had moved things into the spreadsheet so that I could see things spread out clearly instead of having to pull them out of a long wall of text.

Then there’s the spreadsheet with all my scholarly books in it, which I wrote about here.

There might be some others, but those are the main ones that occur to me. Questions welcome!

Another five-minute post

I’m home again, which means exchanging a view of blue salt water for a sea of green grass and green trees. This should not be anything to complain about, but I do miss salt water here in the middle of the country. If classes move online again, I may just go to my brother’s and teach from there (this does not seem fair to Sir John, so I might not be able to pull it off).

I absolutely must work on syllabuses and class plans. I feel very very disinclined to do this, although in response to a query from a colleague I looked at a syllabus & course site from last spring and experienced warm feelings toward those students, which helps a bit. I wish I could be sure we’d be in the classroom for the whole semester! It’s partly the uncertainty that is off-putting: I want to plan the course once, not work out a whole lot of contingency plans.

I have always worked at home a great deal. When I was a student, I found it difficult to concentrate in the library (other people, so many books), and the shared TA office was used mainly for office hours, and sometimes for computer work, but we had to schedule time on the computer. Later I got my own computer. In my final year of grad school, I was on fellowship and could work at home every day if I wanted to, but I usually went to campus at least to swim and/or spend time in the library, because I got cabin fever spending all day every day in my studio apartment. Once I had a job, I was delighted to have an office of my own. I still did research at home, mostly, but loved having an office in which to do class prep. Over the years, I wound up doing more and more “real work” at home on non-campus days, because having a long commute meant that campus days filled up with teaching, meetings, library trips, all the things that required a physical presence on campus. But after last year, I’m really tired of living in the office, and want to go back to campus, so that working at home in my study feels, again, like a privilege rather than a requirement.

Eight minutes. Publishing now.

Book nerd

I own a lot of books. My spreadsheet shows over 1100 books in my scholarly collection, and I suspect there are a few that have escaped the spreadsheet.

I don’t keep track of the fiction, as there’s a certain amount of flux in that collection. Some favorites have been with me for most of my life, while other books come in, get read, and then given away again.

Because I have so many books, I keep the scholarly collection ordered by Library of Congress call numbers. Roughly. Due to various moves, sometimes they’re only sorted by letter(s) and then maybe by period: DA is English history, and I can usually tell by the title whether they’re 13th, 14th, or 15th century. I have ambitions to get them all properly organized, so in my spreadsheet I try to give each its proper call number.

This is easy for books published in the US, which generally print an LC number on the publication page. It’s still easy for UK and European books that are owned by major US libraries that use the LC system, or which belong to some UK libraries that have adopted the LC system for convenience (IIRC, the Oxford History Faculty does this).

Then there are the truly obscure books, published by minor presses in the UK, owned only by repository UK libraries and various German libraries, none of which use LC numbers. This is where I get into the Library of Congress site and start downloading PDFs explaining their system, so that I can assign an appropriate number in my spreadsheet.

Why do I do this? (A) I need some sort of system, and (B) most of the libraries I use are on LC, so (C) it’s convenient to be able to look for books among their usual friends, no matter where I am.

I actually love getting into the LC’s PDFs and figuring out how to catalog my weird books. It’s so cool that the LC provides information about their system to anybody who wants it. I may have only one book in the CB category, but I know that is its proper area.

Things I did today

Drank black tea as well as green.

Reviewed and commented on a graduate student’s outline.

Looked over an undergraduate paper draft that changed very little since the last version.

Grappled with late classical Latin.

Struggled with ugly medieval Latin.

Read about 20 pages of a Middle English text.

E-mailed with a colleague about an awards ceremony.

E-mailed with a friend about our honors students.

Met briefly with my (currently non-)writing group to talk about summer plans.

Climbed a ladder to inspect our new roof.

Cooked rice and fish.

Walked around the block.

Unpacked the stereo plus the cushions and old sheets that lined the boxes.

Agreed to write a recommendation letter.

Another exciting day

Exciting because it was so almost-normal.

I woke up before my alarm went off, and would have been able to see the sunrise had there been one. But it was a grey day that just got gradually lighter, no color to speak of. Around 7:15 I started stretching, finishing half an hour later. I fed the cats, put in a load of laundry, ate breakfast, answered e-mail, wrapped a present for a friend’s birthday. Then I put up a discussion board question for a class, and hung the laundry on a rack to dry.

Around 10:30, I drove to campus, where I returned ten books and checked out three. I scanned four selections from various books for my grad class, and collected my mail, which consisted of issues of three different journals. Then I drove home again, thinking about passages to discuss in my afternoon class. I arrived in time for a half-hour lunch break before a half-hour language group meeting, then had about twenty minutes before my undergrad class.

Class was okay, but students weren’t very willing to talk. Discussion worked better last semester than at present. This might be because in the fall, more students knew each other from in-person classes. I know I have a few this term who are new to LRU. Or it might just be that it’s February and every day feels like a snowy Monday.

I had a little over an hour between the afternoon class and my night class. I ate dinner and tried to do some last-minute prep. I discovered that two of the pieces I scanned in the morning failed to send properly: I had two copies each of two selections, instead of one each of four. I think I know what happened, but I will need to make another campus run to scan the lost pieces. One of the grad students said, before we started class, that she was enjoying my teaching style and appreciated my approach to the class. This really threw me off! I’ve been feeling so barely-prepared for this class, and am constantly thanking my students for their patience with me as I make adjustments to the syllabus. The only thing I think I’m doing right is extending the same generosity to them when it comes to deadlines. We’re all doing the best we can, and it’s February, and we’ve had nearly a year of pandemic life.

After class I spent a few minutes reading through a conference paper I wrote nearly eight years ago. It’s supposed to be part of the book I’ve been working on at least that long. I’m wondering about expanding it into an article. I think this would just be procrastinating on the revisions I need to finish on another article.

On a normal day (old-normal) I would have stayed on campus for my classes, and then driven home at night. I might have managed to do some research in the afternoon slot when in this reality I was driving home.

Campus was eerily empty. While I was in the library, I saw six people, four of whom were staff. While I was in my office building, I saw one other person, a staff member who seemed to be roaming the halls for exercise, as I used to do on long on-campus days in cold weather. I had no trouble finding a parking place.

I used to get so tired of spending my life driving back and forth to LRU. I found my office building dreary, and had to remember that any library excursion would take twice as long as I thought it should. On this day, it was exciting to drive even such a familiar route (it’s been at least a couple of months since I last did so), and felt that I had never properly appreciated having an office to go to. The library errands took almost exactly the time I expected, since I didn’t have to search for books that weren’t shelved where they ought to be, nor did random books hurl themselves into my arms as I wandered the stacks, as the stacks are closed to patrons. Flirting with random books is one of the main things that used to eat up library time, but I miss those serendipitous discoveries.

Hail the new!

My intention for the year: roll with the punches. I’m sure there will be some.

That doesn’t stop me planning. I’ve re-booked a trip I had hoped to take last year, mainly (TBH) because the voucher I was holding was about to expire. The airline wanted me to use it within twelve months of when I first booked the trip. Well, ha very ha, sorry, but that’s not happening. It took quite awhile, but I did manage to get the trip pushed out to May, so we’ll see if that’s time enough to get vaccinated and for the library I want to visit to re-open. Considering that the alternative was just giving up and losing the money entirely, I’m willing to gamble.

Today I did two things I’ve been putting off for months: potted or re-potted some house plants (two African violet plantlets had been rooting in water since August), and hung pictures. The plants took under two hours, including setting up and cleaning up afterwards, and did not spawn any off-shoot projects. I certainly have had spare chunks of two hours in the last four months, but not the bandwidth to deal with getting out the new pots and soil, shutting up Basement Cat, clearing the kitchen table, actually dealing with the plants, putting everything back, and cleaning up. I spent my spare time reading fluff or going for walks, rather than embarking on multi-step projects, although I did at some point buy new pots, also drywall screws for the pictures.

Hanging the pictures took a little longer. There, the steps were find toolbox, get out drill, dig around for drill bits, discover that the little doohickey that tightens down the bit holder is missing, take everything out of the tool box to look for it, find that it is entirely missing, test various Allen wrenches and screwdriver heads to find something that will sorta-kinda replace it (and make note to get a real replacement on a day that is not a national holiday), measure various walls, make holes in walls, screw in the drywall screws, hang pictures, put everything away. I managed to lose the hammer at one point, but found it in the bag with the drill. The hammer was part of an off-shoot project; one picture frame was loose and needed to be tacked down again. Fortunately I recently turned up a little packet of the right sort of tacks.

It’s the propensity for off-shoot projects that keeps me from tackling tasks like this. So often, the steps go Find Object A, Discover that Part B is Missing, Spend C Amount of Time Looking for Part B, Spend D Amount of Time Going to E Stores for Replacement Part B, return home to discover that Cat F has Damaged Object A, Say “oh fuck it” and Pour Wine or Eat Chocolate.

I have also started setting up calendar stuff for January and beyond, which I’ve been putting off for a week, I think in rebellion against the entire idea of calendars and task lists.

Today’s productivity may or may not be a good sign for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, if I do nothing else but worky-work for the rest of the month, at least I’ve done these two things that will Stay Done (for awhile, anyway; eventually the plants will need more attention), so I’m claiming that I have Won January.

Fast away the old year passes

And thank Cat that’s over . . . except that one of my principles is “it can always get worse,” so I’m not entirely thrilled to see 2020 go. We’ll hope for the best. In 2020, I got to move, and discovered that I don’t hate teaching online as much as I expected to. As the introvert’s introvert, I’m very happy to be at home with Sir John, my cats, and lots of books, all the time. Life is good, though I miss traveling.

2020 saw an international trip in January, the only trip I made this year. I re-submitted an old R&R, which was rejected a few months later (I immediately submitted it elsewhere). I made strawberry-rhubarb pie for Pi Day. I lost track of the weeks at the end of the pivoted-to-online spring semester, and still came up with a final assignment that the students enjoyed writing and I enjoyed reading. It might not have been wholly rigorous, but this year, I’m taking continued student engagement as a Big Fat Win. We finally got an offer on our old house and went into contract on it. I did a whole series of posts about house-hunting, starting here; it was somewhat stressful staring down a closing date and having to move during a pandemic, but we were so happy to be getting out that really it was all okay. I did my last old-house Six on Saturday.

We love the new house. Basement Cat and Reina have achieved d├ętente here, although the dialogue reported in this post is still enacted regularly. I considered five decades of changes in my life. For a couple of days, the surface of my desk was visible. I enjoy the new garden.

I discovered Maria Nikolajeva’s blog, and am sadly reminded, today, that I have to put together my documents for annual review. It’s a comfort to know that even the wildly accomplished hate the process. I emulated a minor character from Barbara Pym. Once the semester was over, I thought about all the things I needed and wanted to do over winter break, far more than there is really time for. A good bit of the break has gone to reading and doing jigsaw puzzles, and we have also managed a couple of runs to the storage unit for more boxes, so I’ve happily done some re-discovery of Books I Have Missed.

I found at least two books in the fantasy/YA stash that I have no recollection of either reading or buying. I am guessing that I acquired them not long before the Massive Declutter Effort, now some four years back, when I thought the house would sell quickly and I’d only be without the packed items for six months or so, and that I packed unread books thinking that they’d be an incentive to unpack once we moved. I wonder what other unexpected treasures I’ll (re)discover once the weather cooperates enough to let us go for another load.

I plan to celebrate the New Year on Nova Scotia time and go to bed after that. See you in 2021!