At last, August

July seemed like a very long month, perhaps because I was so busy. But the last three days of it also seemed very long, perhaps because I wasn’t trying to do very much, which I think is the secret of extending time. I kept thinking, “Is it still July? It’s still July. There’s some summer left. Wow.” I was surprised both that the trees and flowers were so late-summer looking, rather than early-summer as when I left (i.e., the trip was All A Dream and I was only “gone” one night), and that the season wasn’t even later (I was in Faerie and time stood still, or flowed more slowly, there than here). But here we are, on schedule.

The garden is shaggy but recognizable. Both creeping bellflower and bishop’s weed are making some attempts to return, but these attempts are as yet feeble and so I am pleased that I have made such progress against them. The mulch I spread lavishly before leaving is hosting lots of shoots grown up from bird seed, not to mention now being spread lavishly over the patio, because the beds need some sort of edging to hold the mulch in place. It has clearly been at least a couple of weeks since anyone mowed the lawn, and the shrubbery is growing enthusiastically over the walks it borders. On the whole, though, the garden has held up fairly well.

The house . . . Sir John has nearly emptied the TV room, and presided over some repairs, and moved around Stuff that needed to be moved so that those things could be worked on. Progress has definitely been made. And yet there is still a lot to do. There are more repairs to organize, more boxes to pack, and all the packed boxes still need to leave for rented storage space. I had hoped a lot of that might happen in my absence.

This experience, combined with a party we went to this weekend, have me thinking a lot about order, chaos, and stuff. Things. Objects. I feel like we have a lot of stuff. I am none too good at getting rid of stuff once it’s in the house. On the other hand, I do fairly well at not bringing it home in the first place. The friends who hosted the party have lived in the same four-bedroom house for probably 30 years, during which they raised one child and did a lot of traveling. They are musical and enjoy folk dancing; they read widely; they enjoy cooking and gardening. Every room is crammed with books, CDs, and souvenirs. The music room (probably originally intended as a small dining room), which faces south, has a windowsill overflowing with plants, pictures on the walls, multiple smaller instruments besides the piano, books, sheet music, and more. The family room has three large bookcases (not shelves, multi-shelf bookcases) full of cookbooks, as well as many and varied souvenirs of travels. The living room holds the music library as well as a multi-shelf case of small dolls in various national dance costumes and other dance souvenirs. And so on, with every room. Jet-lagged and needing to be quiet for a bit, I wandered around trying to find a place away from people for a few minutes, and the amount of stuff all over made me feel like there was nowhere to be quiet even when there weren’t people in the room. It’s not really into hoarding territory, by my standards (and my dad really is a hoarder, so I do know what that looks like). The house is livable and safe. But it does testify to a life lived rather than curated.

We also have friends both of whom are immigrants, and whose house shows that they left a lot behind when they came here. Everything is chosen. The furniture is colorful, the walls are white, a few choice objects are on display. It’s a restful house. To be sure, I don’t know what the private rooms are like. I have never seen them. Maybe they’re the house’s Id.

We’re somewhere in the middle. Books are our particular vice. Sir John is untidy and leaves piles of paper around much as a snail trails slime. Cat paraphernalia (beds, toys, scratching posts) also appear in every room. As do the cats, though we’ve cut down significantly there: when we had five, it really did seem like there was another cat everywhere you looked. Anyway, I’m trying to live with the current state of chaos: boxes in the living room, a stack of chairs (which we have agreed to de-accession) in the dining room, Sir John’s piles, my not-quite-unpacked luggage in my study, along with a single box of to-be-packed things that I need to pack. Behind the boxes, I’m beginning to see a pleasingly cleaned-up version of our house: what we might look like if we lived a curated life, rather than one in which Sir John can’t keep up with his mail and both of us are always accumulating more books. I prefer the boxes to the crammed shelves of our friends’ house. I hope there will come a time when we can cut back more on the stuff, yet keep what is important to us.

I guess that’s what this rambling post comes down to: trying to work out what is important. I know, people (cats) and experiences are important, and the rest is just stuff. But some stuff matters more than others, and I don’t like regretting the loss of objects I was too hasty about letting go. Once I’ve lived without some of it for awhile, we’ll see whether I say “Why was I keeping that?” or “Hello, there you are!” when we unpack the stored boxes.

In the meantime, August: balancing the work (finish summer projects, prepare for fall), the house stuff (as above), the life (take a week off and have some proper vacation time). I hope this, too, will be a long month.

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Change activities

Hey, Dame: what are you doing indoors on a gorgeous fall afternoon?Go outside! Don’t hang around reading blogs because you’re too lazy to get up.

I’ve finished a decent writing stint. It would be a good thing to go cram some yard waste into bags, and take the leaves Sir John raked and spread them in the flower beds to be mulch. And if I were not a professor who can always find something to write, read, or prep, and if I were not afflicted with more garden than I actually want (eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome is not limited to food), what would I do with myself?

I’m bad about hobbies. I enjoy reading about the Desert Knitter‘s creations, but having made more than a few attempts at handwork, and hanging out with knitters pretty regularly IRL, I’m quite sure needlework is not something I want to pick up. I like jigsaw puzzles. I like going for walks outdoors, and admiring scenery/other people’s gardens. (Just because you like to look at something doesn’t mean you need your own one. Why didn’t I realize that sooner?) I don’t particularly enjoy activities that get my hands dirty or banged up. I enjoy coloring in coloring books for adults, but I don’t seem to spend much time on the one I have, even though I can think of one or two coloring books on different themes that I’d like to acquire. Sometimes I listen to music and think I should do that more often, and then I completely forget to do it for weeks or months. Does waving feather toys for the cats count as a hobby?

Probably my favorite “hobby,” apart from reading, is studying foreign languages, which could also be classified as “professional development,” since languages are a medievalist’s stock in trade. Even if I took up a language that was in no way connected to my research it could probably be useful in teaching or student outreach, somewhere along the line.

So I’m off to tidy the garden, which I have come to think of as a task, much like housework, rather than a hobby, as I once hoped it would be. I’ll enjoy being outside, and doing the clean-up will probably make me all the happier to get back to my computer or a book. I prefer to think of myself as ideally suited to being a professor, rather than as lacking the imagination or initiative to take up hobbies.

 

It’s August! Panic stations!

A few years ago, I wrote about oh-shit-it’s-August-syndrome, when the summer hits the fan, as it were, and it’s hard to decide what most urgently needs attention because it all does, but time is limited and yet it’s still so hot that it’s hard to believe that anything really is urgent.

I thought I’d revisit that post to see how much of it can be recycled without updates.

OK, so there’s what I really have to do, and there’s what I really want to do, and there are all those things that I thought I’d like to get done but need to let go of. And then there’s the question of whether some elements of the last group don’t actually belong there.

Check, check, check. That paragraph works.

It’s August. Classes start in two weeks, with faculty meetings beforehand. Besides writing and class prep and having some last bits of summer fun, I have a couple of medical appointments I’m taking care of before classes start, and possibly one or more dentist appointments depending on whether a sensitive spot calms down or gets worse. (If it’s going to get worse, I wish it would just come on and do it already, instead of waiting for the first or second day of classes.) I’m pretty clear on the have-to (syllabi etc, and at least one House Thing) and the most definite want-to (a little more fun reading and a sewing project).

Classes don’t start for three whole weeks! I’m starting early on the panic. Only not so early, because I’ll be away during the faculty-meeting week. So actually I only have about ten days. Wheeeee! Down the panic slide we go! Never mind last bits of summer fun. I’d be thrilled to get the writing and class prep done in the time. The medical stuff happened in July (excellent, pat self on back) and I have only one more dentist appointment to go, which should be a quick and easy one. There are no house have-to’s, though there are a batch of house things for which I need to organize people to come and give estimates. Still, those could happen any time over the next eight weeks or so. Sooner is no doubt better than later, but I’m not going to put those on the must-do-now list. No sewing projects (well, unless visiting a tailor counts, and again, not urgent). There’s no fun reading I’ve been putting off.

But then there are writing-related but not-writing activities, which are desirable but not really essential, like tidying up my home office. . . . There is a heap of paper stuff that needs to get filed.

The home office is fine. I can even see wood on my desk. I tidied it a few weeks ago. It’s true that means there are heaps of paper in the guest room that I need to sort out, but out of sight is out of mind, and at the moment that is A-O.K. I can use sorting them as a procrastination activity when I start getting things to grade! Isn’t that great planning?

Since I got back (not counting writing done on the plane), I’ve produced . . . let’s see . . . Basement Cat, get off my research journal . . . about 2000 words. These are what I might call “focused pre-writing,” rather than true rough-draft writing, because the section presently under construction didn’t get as much pre-writing as the first chunk I wrote. But that’s fine. This stage of writing has to happen sometime, and I might as well do it now, while I’m on a roll.

Since I got back, I’ve produced roughly 3000 new words. Very roughly. It’s hard to be sure. There has also been a lot of editing in which words get tinkered with, cut, re-written, and so on. The current version of the MMP-1 is just shy of 10K words, but I think I’m done with it, except for sorting out its footnotes properly in the style required by the journal to which I plan to send it. I really want to send it and have it be Someone Else’s Problem for awhile. There are plenty of other things to work on.

Nobody sits on my research journal these days. Sometimes Reina sits behind my monitor, but I am in her bad graces at the moment because of unlawful confiscation of licensed weapons cutting her claws. It’s true, when the children grow up you miss the things that used to drive you crazy.

So [should I focus on] writing syllabi . . . and hacking back the horribly overgrown and weedy garden? Actually, I am terribly tempted to abandon the garden until frost kills off some stuff—this seasonal nonsense is good for something!—though I do rather fear What The Neighbors Will Think. . . . I could give up on the sewing and garden instead . . . if we ever get a cool enough day that I want to be outside.

Write syllabi, work on revisions, and hack back the garden. Not that I care what the neighbors think. The front looks all right and the back is nobody’s business. But I’m making progress with the bellflower and I’d like to keep on rather than letting it grow back. The weather is certainly a consideration. We had a pleasant weekend, so I did some more digging.

So, it looks like I’m doing rather well compared to four years ago. That’s a very pleasant discovery. Now to pull a conference paper out of . . . wherever this one comes from.

Second Ph.D.?

Recently on the fora at the Chronicle of Higher Education, someone with tenure, I think in a STEM field, and on the math-ier end of it at a guess, was wondering whether it would be worthwhile to get a second Ph.D. in a related field. Commenters urged him (her? unclear, but I had the impression it was a guy) to just read and do research in that field, although it sounded like he really wanted to have the immersed experience of Ph.D. level courses. I’m not so sure how he felt about a second dissertation, though since math/comp sci dissertations can be short, and/or can assemble a batch of articles you’ve published already, that doesn’t seem so hard.

Anyway, I was somewhat surprised at the way commenters piled on, wondering why anyone would ever go through a second Ph.D. experience. It’s obvious to me: if I won the lottery, I would absolutely get a second Ph.D., in Classics this time. I’d have to start by learning ancient Greek, so I might need to start with a second B.A., but the necessity of learning Greek is, to me, a feature, not a bug. And for the purposes of language-learning, classroom immersion is about 95% necessary. There are some gifted, disciplined people who don’t really need it, and a lot of us have picked up one or more medieval languages by hammering away with a grammar and some texts, but for a really strong grasp, you need a lot of time, a lot of exercises, and a good teacher.

It’s true that I am not contemplating doing this while holding my tenured position, nor as a means to improve my current position or research ability (though it would certainly expand the areas I could research, and give a different perspective on what I work on now). I probably won’t even do it in retirement (well, maybe the second B.A.), because I have so many medieval research projects in mind already, and I’d like to make sure I get them done. The “winning the lottery” point is that I could pay my way wherever I wanted to go.

One of my colleagues actually did get a second Ph.D., while continuing to teach in our department, in a related field. Basically, it took up his research time for a few years, and I’m pretty sure one sabbatical leave went to the required coursework. His second dissertation was a well-regarded book. So it can be done, and there can be good reasons to do it.

What about you? If there were world enough and time (and money), would you go back? In a related field, or something really different? Why, or why not?

Oh, Parliament . . .

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/11/world/europe/critics-ruffled-as-parliament-turns-the-page-on-parchment.html?emc=edit_th_20160211&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=28733710

I did not know that parchment had remained in use until the present day by this august institution, but I am disappointed that the tradition is ending. While it is true that high-quality paper lasts for centuries, parchment lasts longer. The cost doesn’t seem high enough to make much difference in a country’s budget. Will sixteenth-century Acts of Parliament still be available to scholars when the 21st-century ones have crumbled to dust?

I had not thought about this question before: what style of handwriting was used through the twentieth century for the written-on-parchment records of the British Parliament? I’ve never looked at anything later than the 17th century.

Slowing down time

Usually I feel like I have way too many things to do, and days go by way too fast.  I am shocked by how little I get done, and I don’t know where the time went, and I start the next day feeling behind.  I expect you know what I mean.  This sense of being harried is why we’ve had writing groups and the Top Left Quadrant group, after all.

However, I have recently discovered the secret to slowing down time, and for what it’s worth, I’ll share it.

Don’t do anything.

Since the beginning of November, I’ve been sick with some sort of respiratory crud.  Recovery is steady but very slow.  For the first week, I didn’t even try to do anything.  If I wasn’t in bed, I was on the couch (or on one warm day, on the front porch).  I did a little bit of scholarly reading in a book that is sufficiently off my usual path that, although it is surprisingly useful, I would not have checked it out if I were not on leave.  Mostly I napped or stared out the window or read fun books, since I’m not a big fan of TV, and anyway the TV is in Sir John’s lair because he likes to have it on when he works at home.  So I could read a few pages, and look out the window, and read a few pages, and zone out for awhile, and then find that maybe 30 minutes had passed.  I did not cook, I did not do any housework, I most certainly did not go to the gym.

Now I’m back to doing some work, and some cooking, but I’m still taking it easy and the days still seem long.  I’m sure the sense of pressure will return as my health improves and I get more worried about Doing All The Things.  That is, I would love to believe that this experience has somehow permanently changed me so that I can maintain this zen-like calm for the rest of my life, but I doubt it.  It is definitely an interesting shift in perspective, though, and while I’d rather not have got sick, I’m enjoying the sense that the main thing I need to do is rest and recover, and any other little things I get done are gravy.

So I guess this is why people try things like the “Three Things” approach to to-do lists (no more than 3 things per day) and why you get advice about going out and staring at the sky for 10 minutes when you feel stressed.  Looking at nature is a way of slowing down time and getting away from the harried feeling.

If I were teaching, I’d be very worried about missing classes, and would be pushing myself to get to school or keep up with students via online assignments, and it would all feel awful.  And then I might be like my colleague who had this or a similar illness and for whom it advanced to bronchitis so that she has been sick even longer than I have.  I wonder whether next year, if I get sick, I’ll be more willing to stay home and get over it rather than toughing it out.  The thing is, I usually wonder if I’m malingering, if I just don’t want to go to school and deal with people.  This year, I’m quite sure that that is not the problem!  The problem is that I’ve had a nasty virus.  And since I’m sure of what the problem is, the usual nagging voices (you should go to school, you’re such a slacker, you’re not that sick) have shut up and are leaving me alone.  I don’t feel guilty about staring out the windows, or watching the cats, and when I get back to work it’s because I really feel like doing a bit.  If I can retain even a little bit of this calm after I’m fully recovered, I’ll be grateful for this illness.

Rosemond Tuve on teaching

“Stay[ed] up till 2:15 writing a page each to my grad sem. 2 nights ago, anent their plans for papers (they’re as infantile about being able to find themselves something they want to Find Out, as a bunch of seniors)—and havent caught up sleep since then . . . . trying to learn to do as the men do, teach w. left hand and leave myself some leisure.  Not succeeding as yet; take it as seriously as if at C[onnecticut] C[ollege], far more seriously I took Shak[espeare] than the students did.”

Tuve, quoted in Rosemond Tuve: A Life of the Mind, by Margaret Carpenter Evans (Portsmouth, NH, 2004), pp. 156, 158.

Rosemond Tuve on My Own Work

“I’ve just worked like hell this year.  The extra course is just one too much, added to all the others as before; yet it’s been so much fun (the Spenser to Milton one I mean particularly) that I wouldn’t have not had it for anything.  But it has chopped off all my extra curricular activities such as letters & Serving Tea to Friends, & riding about viewing country.  To a great extent, anyhow.  Shall probably catch up sometime.  I try stoutly to refuse giving up on some non-utilitarian reading at least . . . . Also try to have one 3 hour session per week on what they call My Own Work—now almost indistinguishable from my advanced-course work, so that it’s a naughty shame that I can’t get to more of it—from the teaching point of view.  But nevertheless, a good life.”

Tuve, quoted in Rosemond Tuve: A Life of the Mind, by Margaret Carpenter Evans (Portsmouth, NH, 2004), p. 93.

700: three weeks’ worth of three weeks

This is my seven hundredth post.  After . . . seven and a half years?  Not particularly prolific.  But long-lived!  You have to give me that.

It seems appropriate that this is a numbers post.  I like doing the numbers.  I’m starting a year of sabbatical leave (woot!), and need to think about ways to break up the time and make it meaningful to me, so I don’t waste it.  I’ve written before about the struggle I have to make time seem concrete and real.  It seems like progress to have worked out that I have this problem.  More than a year (since I have next summer and this summer) seems like a lot of time.  Fifteen months is even more time.  Breaking it down into weeks . . . there’s a long string of weeks, more than sixty.

I have found that I can schedule tasks for myself for up to three weeks at a time.  That is, I can be quite specific for one week (400 words on Specific Topic), a little more general in the second week (400 words added to Essay X), and in the third week things get vaguer (at least one hour on whatever Essay X needs then).  By the end of three weeks, I have to recalibrate.  But I can get my mind around three weeks, in a way that doesn’t work so well with longer lumps of time.

So, that long stretch of over 60 weeks?  Actually, it’s sixty-three weeks until I’m on contract for my next teaching semester.  3 x 3 x 7.  Twenty-one times three weeks.  Three weeks is 21 days.  So, three weeks’ worth of three weekses.  I can grasp this, and plan in three-week chunks (though in practice, I’ll need to review at least every second week, since when I start that vague third week, it needs to get some details).  It’s a plan.

Old to-do lists

Sometimes I find old lists and am thrilled to find that by now I have done all the things (or else the things don’t matter anymore).

This morning I cleared the top of my desk and found one that is dismaying.  I did cross off some items.  And I’ve done two and a half more items since I made that list.  But all the really important (yet not urgent-enough) items still need to be done.

And they’re not going to happen today, either.