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 détente 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!

Winter Break, day eight

CATS!

I’ve taken my notes on the big fat ILL book, and I’m going to take it to campus, scan some bits, return it, and pick up other books that I need for planning classes and finishing that dratted essay revision.

Speaking of which, after a week of procrastination (during which I drilled a lot of Greek, read the medieval Spanish art exhibition catalog from the Met (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/the_art_of_medieval_spain_ad_500_1200), started Sénac’s Charlemagne et Mahomet en Espagne, which I purchased five [!] years ago in Paris, read two mystery/ suspense books in full [https://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2020/12/reprint-of-year-award-2020.html], baked two batches of cookies, ordered flowers for the dowager Lady Hull’s birthday, bought presents for my great-niblings which will no doubt arrive after Xmas, and talked to two different friends on the phone), I got back to said revision this morning.

First I opened up the four most recent documents I’ve been tinkering with. Then I printed one, a series of topic sentences, and cut them up to spread out on my desk in an effort to ensure that the whole thing is well-organized before I start messing with large hunks of prose.

Glendower came in and, ignoring his food dish on the floor, leaped to my desk, sliding in among the little slips of paper. I rewarded him for this bad behavior by putting his food in front of him, because we’re always trying to make sure he eats enough.

Hissing in the living room was followed by Sir John yelling at Basement Cat for harassing Reina. I went out to see what was going on, and encouraged Basement Cat to stay upstairs. Then I went to the bathroom.

Back in my study, Basement Cat was definitely encouraged to stay upstairs—he was on my desk, eating Glendower’s food, with the slips of paper in even greater disarray than before.

Dear editor, it’s not exactly the-dog-ate-my-homework but it’s definitely in that genre . . . .

I may have to take my slips of paper to campus with me and spread them out in my office. Good thing I have to go return that ILL.

Winter break, day 3

Or is that “break”? I have no classes or meetings to show up for (oh, thank Cat, no meetings), but I have two classes to prepare for online delivery in the “spring” semester. In this climate and since spring break has been omitted from the calendar (to prevent students going away and spreading The Virus), that will be the “winter” semester for most of its length, I expect.

But I digress. One of these classes I have taught before, and preparing it is just (“just”!) a matter of revising for online delivery. And now I know how much is involved in that revision. Last summer I did a whole lot more planning and writing of assignments than I normally do in summer, and vastly more to build an online site for the class, and still I was scrambling nearly every week of the semester to finish putting up the necessary online stuff in time.

The other class, well, technically I’ve taught it before. Once. Over a decade ago. And I will not be teaching it in anything like the way I did then. Different books, different approach, different assignments, different everything. So effectively starting from scratch. I kept trying to find time to work on it, this fall, but all I really did was order books and start assembling a reading list.

So I’d have my work cut out for me, if class prep were all I had to do in the next four weeks.

There are also the dread Annual Documents to prepare, an accepted essay to revise (I kept trying to work on it all through the fall, and could not keep momentum going), a new essay that has been nagging at me and which I’d like to have a bash at, a whole lot of reading that I want to do, starting with a book on medieval Spanish art that Jon Jarret kindly recommended, continuing with various books that I have more or less impulsively bought or requested from the library, and assorted PDF essays that I ran across while helping students with their projects and more or less impulsively downloaded for research purposes of my own. Also I must take notes on a big fat ILL book, now overdue, which I have finally finished reading but only by dint of putting in a sticky note wherever something caught my eye and plowing on, so now I must return and see if I can work out what was important on the marked pages. There are only a few copies of this volume in the US, and none in my state, so I have it from Far Away, thus the need for good notes and perhaps some scanning.

I’d also like to do some more settling-in to the new house. Some repairs need seeing to, and I really want to get books and other items out of the storage unit and unpack them. Then there will be a whole lot more reading I’d like to do, when I have my favorite fiction available again! Also pictures to hang, and china . . . well, I probably shouldn’t unpack the china until we acquire a suitable sideboard or china cabinet for it. But I can gloat over the boxes, at least.

I came here planning on reporting on the first two days of break. So far, I’ve done yoga before breakfast three days in a row (yay), written nearly 1000 words of notes on the big fat ILL volume, cut my own hair, gone for a six-mile walk (and a shorter one the second day), baked cookies, read a very frothy novel published in 1910, loaded a bunch of teaching files into a shared folder on Dropbox for a colleague at another institution, and drilled a lot of Greek vocabulary, principle parts, and noun endings.

Do I know how to have fun, or what?

How I wish it were true that university faculty don’t work more than six hours a week and swan off to the Caribbean the minute classes are over (or maybe before) to guzzle brightly-colored drinks with little umbrellas.

At any rate, it’s time to get down to work on the writing and planning, so here we go.