Anywhere else

I’ve reached the point in the semester when I want to be somewhere that is Else. In the south of France, there are fresh strawberries. In London, there are flowering quinces. In Portugal, gardens are being planted.  On sabbaticalhomes.com, there are houses and apartments for rent in my home city that have me in a strange state of envy, nostalgia, and something else I can’t quite pinpoint (there’s probably a German word for it). They evoke a life I never had, yet which seems like something familiar and lost, or something I meant to have and didn’t quite achieve: the views, the gardens, the accoutrements of sophisticated living, such as the glorious antique rugs in some of the houses (not compatible with cats: my rugs are decent though machine-made, but have survived various types of feline assault).

If spring would get a move on around here, I might be less restless. Is anyone else desperate for pastures new (or old)? Or are you too busy to care?

A week of spring

But how is it already a week since I posted?

Spring is moseying along thinking about whether it really wants to show up or would rather just turn back, go home, and put its fleecy pjs back on for a Netflix binge. There are more birds. They perch on the roof next door and taunt Reina, who chitters at them. There are snowdrops and crocuses in other people’s yards, not mine. Some other bulb flowers have stuck leaves above ground, in my yard, but that’s all. I considered raking up the leaves/mulch from last year, but we’re still supposed to have some below-freezing nights in the next week, so I think I will wait.

One of my classes is still awesome. The other, well. I had them sign up for conferences about their third paper, and lectured them a bit about making the most of the opportunity by doing a little work beforehand, like at least decide which option they want to write on. And check the instructions for the paper, because I am not giving them instructions just to make them jump through hoops, I am telling them how to do well on this paper and exactly what I am looking for if they will just read the instructions.

I mean, I can explain it to you again but I can’t understand it for you.

I once had a massage therapist who told me that in Chinese thinking, spring is the angry season. Works for me. Of course, then I need some excuse for my mood during the other seasons.

Sometimes I look at spring clothing online or in the catalogs that still show up in the mail, and consider this dress or that shirt, and then realize I don’t want to buy anything new, I want it to be warm enough to wear the spring clothing I have.

Lots of the bloggers I read post recipes they have tried or devised, or about meals they have enjoyed. Sometimes I enjoy these vicariously but more often lately I get cranky because I can’t eat that, can’t eat that, can’t eat the other thing either. It seems like some people travel to eat. I travel to look at things, because architecture, paintings, and scenery don’t make me sick.

I am making progress on some of the things I need to work on rather than having feeeelings about (mainly guilt) but now my feeeeeling is omg there is so much of this no wonder I didn’t want to do it because this is going to take so long. That is, I absolutely should have started sooner, but now the only thing to do is keep slogging along because It Is Not Going To Get Any Earlier, and the best I can do now is Don’t Make It Worse.

Usually this is the sort of thing I say to myself in February. Hey, April, are you going to be bringing warm days and a burst of energy? Come on, girl, we could use you over here. Take off the pjs and put on a flowered dress, you’ll have a good time once you get there.

Moving on

Long ago and far away, when I was an unhappy teenager, I belonged to a church youth group. It was a kinder, gentler place than school, probably in part because its members ranged from nearly-13 all the way to 18, and the older members were used to dealing with younger siblings but not concerned with whatever the ninth graders thought was the One Right Way. I think the group knew before I did that I would one day be an English professor. It was nice, because they didn’t mind that I was such an egghead; it was a characteristic like hair color or liking certain kinds of music. We had a grown-up leader, a fun and loving woman around whom everything coalesced. After she re-married and moved away, the church just could not find anyone who could take her place, and we disbanded.

Over the years, the original group has had several reunions. Occasionally, we managed to go camping for a weekend, as we had done on occasion during our salad days (woooot, away from parents for the weekend! Or, no, not woot; what would we have said then? “Neat”? “Excellent”? “Sweet”? I can’t even remember, that’s how old I am). Sometimes we just got together for an afternoon in a park that was local to more of us than not, or went to dinner. In recent years, our leader’s daughter has hosted birthday parties for her mom, who now lives in an in-law apartment with this daughter, and some selection of the group has managed to turn up for a few of those get-togethers.

I attended one last summer. Along with current friends, relatives, and neighbors, a couple of sisters from the youth group were there. Our leader, now in her early 80s, at first mistook me for her college roommate, before sorting out who I really was. She apologized for something that happened when I was 20, something I had forgotten about; I was in a bad place at the time but it had been decades since I’d thought of that misunderstanding. The sisters were pretty much as I remembered them: one cheerful, matter-of-fact, domestic; the other sophisticated, charming, faintly catty. At first I was delighted to see all three women again. But they don’t know me now, and that made it strange.

Back at home, in my adult life, Sir John and I went out with another couple: he’s a mathematician, she’s a social worker and a Damned Extrovert who asked probing questions about my recent trip and how I felt about it, not accepting my polite demurrals and attempts to change the subject (she’s really very nice, just totally E and F to my I and T, and her husband is one of Sir John’s best friends, so I always try not to be rude as I would be to more random people who probed like that). So I finally blurted out what I really thought: “I realized that I do not have to maintain ties to the past or people I used to know. I am allowed to be who I am now, and not keep up with people who remind me of things I don’t want to remember.”

Today I got e-mail floating the idea of another reunion, at a time that I could make if I really wanted to, although teaching provides an excellent excuse for not going. I used it. If the rest of the group gets together, I hope they have a lovely time. I wish them well. They’re nice people. They were once really important to me. But I hate remembering how unhappy and trapped I felt through most of my teenage years, and they remind of me that time, because I’ve hardly seen them since.

It’s a bit odd: I am completely unconflicted about putting distance between myself and my family, to the extent that is possible. I have kept up with various old friends from different parts of my life, including school and college friends from those teenage years. The youth group, having been an important escape from home and school, somehow is more associated with misery than the friends who went to school with me and knew my family. Who knows, maybe the group remembers more about my family than I think; that still doesn’t mean that I want to know what that might be. It would be nice to want to see them, but I don’t.

I like my grown-up self. I like being Sir John’s wife, and being Professor [Real Name], and being Dame Eleanor Hull. My old self is dead.

Been down one time, been down two times.

Never going back again.

Blogroll

I have finally created one.

It’s an alphabetized jumble, without categories for academics, ex-pats, writers, gardeners, readers, travelers, or friends-of-blogfriends, and some of the blogs haven’t been updated for awhile. Nonetheless, I recommend their archives and continue to hope that their authors will return to regular blogging, or at least give annual updates, or something. As a somewhat irregular blogger myself, I’m in no position to criticize!

What we saw in London

Attentive readers may recall that I wanted to see the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at the Tate Britain. We started there. I loved it. So many pieces I had seen only in reproduction; I had no idea of the scale of many of the paintings. Some were much smaller and others much larger than I had imagined. I amused Sir John by referring to an early Annunciation as “Treehouse Mary.” Our old neighbor’s daughter Meg bears a certain resemblance to Margaret Burne-Jones, so I got her parents a postcard of MBJ’s portrait. Circe’s panthers were another highlight (since I’m fond of black cats).

We also saw Sir John Soane’s house, nipping in before it closed for a week for renovations. I enjoyed that very much, as I love house museums. I can’t imagine why I hadn’t seen it before, considering all the time I’ve spent in and around Lincoln’s Inn, but perhaps on previous trips it was being renovated, or was just too crowded. I bought a fascinating little book about the Soanes’ domestic life.

We visited the Museum of London, where we concentrated on pre-history, Britons, and Romans. After that, our feet gave out and we went to lunch, followed by a brief return to the gift shop. I’ve seen the medieval and early modern galleries before. I would have liked more time with the later materials, but we were just too worn out. There may have been some time in a bookstore later in the day.

At the British Museum, we focused on “I Am Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, King of the World.” Well done and interesting, we thought. I did think the gift shop missed a trick in not having coloring books based on Assyrian designs. I had in mind flowers, birds, horses, and abstract borders. Sir John said, “Severed heads in the bushes, and corpses in the river, and refugees leaving town, just the thing for coloring books.” I conceded that he had a point. Methods of warfare really didn’t change much over the millenia; the siege ladders and wall-defenders looked much the way they do in medieval depictions.

We spent a pleasant afternoon in Wimbledon with an old friend, following a pub lunch with a wander around the common and a rummage through some charity shops.

Had our airline been a bit more timely in advising us of a delayed flight, we would have been able to put in a morning at the V&A, but that didn’t happen. I had thought possibly we’d get tickets to some theater production, but didn’t organize anything before we left, and in the event, it’s just as well. Sir John needed a nap every day in the late afternoon/early evening (I’m faster at adjusting to time zone changes, or maybe just more used to functioning on insufficient sleep, thanks to years of sleep disorder), so I fear he would have fallen asleep in a dim theater.

It was a good trip, and I’m glad we went. Thanks to traveling to more northerly, gloomier climes, it seems much brighter at home now. And I can’t believe it’s still not quite the middle of January. Thanks to two trips over the winter break, it feels like the break lasted for months, even though each trip was only about a week long.

There and back again

Any time now I’m going to go over to TLQ and post some session goals. As soon as I’m no longer whacking the TRQ moles. I got up at 6:30, fed cats, unpacked dirty clothes, put in a load of laundry, looked things up in order to fill in missing bits on two syllabuses so I could send them in to be copied in time for Monday classes, made and ate breakfast, sent more work e-mail, tried to fix a clogged sink, put it all back together and asked Sir John to call the plumber, did a bit more unpacking, had lunch, gave the cats more food, let in the cleaner and explained about the sink and the plumber, looked up more stuff and sent more work e-mail, let in the plumber and showed him the sink and the pipes in the basement, wrote a belated Christmas thank-you, sent more work e-mail, wrote checks to the plumber and the cleaner, made a cup of tea, and hello! Here I am.

I ought to go to the gym and I really do not want to. I feel like I’ve been running around since 6:30 getting stuff done on not enough sleep and I should get to be done now please thank you.

24 hours ago I was on a plane. Yesterday when I thought it was the time it is now, I was hanging around Heathrow. It’s hard to believe that yesterday morning I had breakfast at the Giraffe World Kitchen (World Giraffe Kitchen?) near Victoria Station. And that although it was chilly, with a wind that would cut through you, nonetheless it seemed like spring, with flowers in boxes and hanging baskets. We even saw flowering trees in Wimbledon on Sunday.

This is why I’m having trouble contemplating goals for the next twelve weeks. I need to catch up to myself.

Bah!

Humbug.

The great thing about Christmas is that once the 25th rolls around, the hoopla is over and normal life can resume. I could use some normal life. I went and visited my family for nearly a week, as soon as exams were over, so I was still grading, and I managed to do a little writing each day as well. Sometimes only a sentence, but I did something.

Then I came home and stopped writing for nearly another week. I don’t know how that happened. A dab of jet lag, getting up later in the morning so I didn’t have my preferred early morning writing slot; determination to re-establish a gym habit; assorted small distractions that really are no excuse. Really I think what happened was that I needed to recover from the family visit. I spent a lot of time reading novels, doing crosswords, and working on a jigsaw puzzle, all prime self-soothing activities. I wrote six single-spaced pages about my father and the one brother I saw during my visit. I saw him for an hour, total: can one person be that irritating in one hour? If it’s my Brother Less Reasonable, why yes, yes he can. I keep reminding myself that I have had far more therapy than he has, that I can understand what is going on and feel compassion, that I need to keep in mind my goal (our father’s care) and not get distracted by petty complaints about our father’s character.

Unfortunately, doing all that emotional labor tends to exhaust my store of patience for dealing with Other People, so that I get snappish with people at the gym, and impatient with my mother-in-law’s political discourse. (Seriously, what is it with people who can’t stand the current president and yet talk about him all.the.time? Anything, anything else would be preferable. Explain the rules of football to me [again]. Talk about the Kardashians. Your favorite television shows. The iniquities of handymen and plumbers. Anything!)

Today there will be no Other People. That is, my gym will be open for another couple of hours, so if I get my act together I could go work out and hope not to run into anyone annoying. But I could just spend the whole day at home and not see anyone except Sir John and the cats. Since I’ve finished La Belle Sauvage (A, looking forward to next one), Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (B: okay but will not go on with the series), and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (not so satisfying as I remember; question: to teach or not to teach?), I can go on to Pedro I El Cruel y Enrique de Trastámara, which was supposed to be my winter break project (research plus language maintenance). I could give up and look up the answers for the crossword puzzle I’m stuck on (far too many names of TV and sports figures) so I can fill it in and go on to another. At some point after Sir John wakes up, we will exchange presents, and then maybe go back to the jigsaw. I cooked yesterday so we will eat leftovers. As usual when writing has been not-happening, I feel like I ought to Write All The Things, but let’s set the bar low: one sentence on the Overdue Thing, and some polishing of an abstract for a conference submission, and then I’ll have re-started.

If you are celebrating today, then I hope you’re enjoying yourself and don’t feel like murdering your relatives. If you’re not celebrating, then I hope you’re having a peaceful and productive day.

Ask a stupid question

I just had to update my account with an airline. This meant selecting and providing answers for a list of security questions.

WTF. Who makes up these questions? And how old are they? The list included “favorite ice cream flavor” and “favorite pizza topping.” I cannot eat either ice cream or pizza. If I make something up, I’ll have to write it down somewhere, because I’ll never remember. I think I made my attitude about “favorite” this and that clear seven years ago: https://dameeleanorhull.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/book-meme/  I have not changed my mind since then!

The answers are also to be selected from a list. I’ll give them credit for this much: there were some pretty creative answers for “favorite musical instrument,” including “didgeridoo,” but I’m pretty sure they didn’t have “crumhorn.”

Others included “month of your best friend’s birthday”: I don’t have a best friend. “Month you met your significant other.” For that, I’d have to ask Sir John; he’s the one who keeps track of such things. Besides, what about people who have gone through an SO or two since the time they provided answers? Do people have to work back through a process like “okay, I think I was dating Dave then, or was it Eric, and I remember when we broke up, but did we meet in summer or late spring? Maybe it was May because I think we went to that picnic for Memorial Day . . . or was it Mike at that picnic?” Are Kids These Days more inclined to stick to one person, or am I the only old broad who went around the block a few times before settling down with my most excellent and well-beloved husband who remembers the actual date we met and not just the season?

Favorite subject in school. Favorite winter activity. Favorite vacation.

I think my favorite winter activity is Ranting About Stupid Shit I Hate Because I Have SAD And Hate Everything.

That was not an option.

How about “Favorite child”? Wouldn’t that cause a few family rumbles when someone’s trying to help Mom update her account! Hey, how about “Favorite Significant Other” or “Best F^*k”? Or something I have an actual opinion about, like Favorite Toilet Paper, Your Usual Shampoo Brand, Preferred Brand of Chocolate, Your Pet’s Preferred Food/Brand, or Your Toothpaste? I’m in favor of a question that would make people learn something: Most Distressing Plague in History, Worst Civil War, Favorite English Monarch, Favorite Roman Deity, Favorite Ruined Temple. The answers could show pictures or link to Wikipedia.

What’s your least favorite security question?

Random thoughts

  • I don’t like the two matching green pens I found in my desk drawer; they have too thick a line, and the ink smudges easily. Probably I ought to throw them out. But I may leave them in the department office to see if anyone wants to adopt them. Some people like thick lines, or else why would there be 0.7 mm tips?
  • However, in my attempts to color with them, I have established that I need a new and different green felt tip pen. No, really, I need it. A sort of pine green, fine tip. Perfect for flower stems and leaf borders.
  • Here’s someone who seems to have similar feelings to mine about gardens: http://gritsday.blogspot.com/2007/04/success-in-garden.html. But this is in England, 2007. If her gardener is even still in business, he’s not likely to come here. Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time living in the past.
  • For another 36 hours or so, I have no grading to do. This is very strange and makes me feel unmoored.
  • OTOH, I really must get on with a complicated piece of writing I’m working on. That ought to be enough to anchor me.
  • Or I could feel anxious about the need to book flights and some other elements of travel.
  • I wonder what it’s like not to have anything hanging over one’s head to feel anxious about. If I achieved that state, would I start getting anxious about something unbelievably trivial, just because I’m used to having some nagging little worry in my head? Or would I go set up a jigsaw puzzle, visit a bookstore or the library, bake cookies, and settle into a hot bath with a glass of sherry and a novel at some mid-point of the day? (In other words, indulge in my exceedingly tame version of wild debauchery.)
  • Perhaps I should move my desk for the winter. In seasons when there are leaves on trees, I like looking out the window into the treetops. When I’m looking at branches either bare or with a few miserable dead leaves stubbornly clinging, and houses on the other side of the alley, I’m not so happy with the view. I wonder where Sir John’s painting of California foothills (golden hills, olive green live oaks) has got to. No doubt wrapped up and in storage. I’d happily stare at that all winter if I could find it.

Don’t overthink it

I spend a lot of time living in the past (as longtime readers may remember).

Lately some of that has been the more recent past, as I go through the archives of Grit’s blog, letting time spool backwards as her daughters grow younger. Thanks to her, I have learned of the Battlefields Trust, an organization I would gladly join if I spent more time in the UK, and also got some new ideas of places to visit next time I am there in the summer.

I also reflected on the usefulness of a Just Do It attitude, as in the following post from 2011:

As I drive home with the lovely safe brakes that don’t SCHCHGLMSHKSCH each time I lay my foot on the brake pedal, I consider how I have reached that point where I solve difficulties by throwing cash at them, and sort problems in minutes that otherwise would take me months, simply by doing, and not thinking or planning at all.

There seems to be so much stress in academia on planning, but really, you’re often better off just acting.