I’m not dead, but I still think I’ve gone to heaven. Though I have to do a fair amount of food-shopping and prep (thanks to dietary restrictions; eating out is tricky), all other housekeeping is off my shoulders. Sir John is discovering the joys of paying household bills and wondering if there’s enough money in the joint account to cover unexpected repair bills (there is, because I expected them, but this is not his usual wheelhouse). I spend long hours in the library. My students are enthusiastic and independent. As JaneB said, it’s the life of the 1950s male academic, and it’s quite the life; one sees why they would want to hang on to their privileges.
As in, “See you on the flip side.” I’m on it. My life has flipped to UK mode, a new time, a different setting, a life with students and colleagues but no husband or cats, a life with work and walking but without housework or gardening. The time is going all too quickly and I know I’ll be back in my US life before I know it, but in the meantime there is that amazing library, interspersed with sight-seeing (old churches) and cultural events (live music, theatre).
I really must create a blogroll in the space for it at the bottom of the page. There are the ones I’ve read for years and those I’ve read for months and some others I discovered only weeks or even days ago. Another Eleanor said “Nowadays, I use the academic style to hide behind. I have lots of things to say but they are not always acceptable. I stifle the urge to write publicly because what I have to say is inflammatory, to me and to others. Betrayal, loathing, exclusion, hate, love. Academic writing is a mask.”
I have found my own academic writing to be surprisingly revealing. Coded, certainly. I doubt it would say the same things to other people that it says to me. I never realize, at the time I am working on a project, what it really is about, what I am working out by writing such and such an article. Each time, I believe instead that I have finally finished working out my issues and am at last doing scholarship that just interests me. When articles appear in print, years later, and I re-read them from a later perspective, I find that, after all (as Z said in this thread), my unconscious was working on my behalf.
I am enjoying seeing my students’ worlds expand. They are observant, thoughtful, determined to experience as much as they can while they are here. I want to emulate them. I have work to do, but I will not spend all my time in the library (though I love it there).
There are those who do, and those who dream.
It has taken much of my life to realize that there are very few things I’d rather do than read about doing. That number keeps shrinking. You might think eating would be a definite Do, but as I am at present on a fairly restricted diet, there are a lot of foods I enjoy only vicariously, by reading about other people’s enjoyment of them. Easy country walks fall into both categories; travel to countries other than those in Europe and North America, however, is strictly Read/Dream. I also love reading about detectives solving murder mysteries, and about Bren Cameron translating for aliens, but I have zero desire to do either, myself.
Currently I have tabs open for four gardening blogs, whose archives I am reading with considerable pleasure. And then I look at my own garden, and wonder how much work it needs to make it possible to offload it, along with this house, onto someone else, and how much of that work I’m willing to pay someone else to do. Despite all my efforts, the garden is still afflicted with creeping bellflower and bishop’s weed; various ornamental grasses and flowers that dry to ornamental interest need to be cut back now that it’s spring; the lawn is patchy; the flowerbeds are covered in last year’s leaf mulch, though some bulbs are popping bravely through.
The gardening blogs I’m dipping into are almost entirely those of people living in the U.K., with a far kinder climate than U.S. zone whatever I’m in (five? six?). Their “winter garden” pictures are of greenery artistically rimed with frost, at times when my garden is usually under a foot or two of snow. At the end of February, their gardens are farther along than mine is in April, and their idea of a baking summer afternoon is what the thermometer here hits by 10:00 a.m. on a July morning before soaring into temperatures that demand drawn curtains and air conditioning.
Possibly in other circumstances, I would be a gardener, as in other circumstances, I might be a number of other things that, either by decision or happenstance, I am not: a mother, an interpreter, an accountant, a superstar scholar, a third-grade teacher. But I think I should pay more attention to what I like to do, and not assume that the things that interest me in print are things I want to do IRL. Gardening is hard on back, hands, fingernails and complexion. I am fair-skinned and not particularly sturdy, in fact in some ways rather fragile. I can see that there must be great creative satisfaction in producing a glorious garden, but it is clear to me that what I like most is reading. I’m just as happy to spend my outdoor time going for walks on which I admire other people’s gardens. I do want some small private place where I can sit outdoors to read on a nice day without being spare-changed or otherwise harassed, as too often happens in parks, but a balcony, patio or front stoop would suit me fine.
A sheaf of guidebooks to English castles, from three summers ago, which should be on the shelves of my school office with all my other similar guides, and which I do not remember seeing anywhere in my home office during a recent re-shuffling of books; if they were hidden in my school office then I ought to have found them during last year’s clean-up efforts; I know I brought them back from England (that was a very heavy suitcase), and they are not the sort of thing that I de-accession.
So WHERE ARE THEY?
Update: I found them in a box in the guest room, cleared out of my study at some point, housed in an opaque plastic box/folder, such that it was not clear from the outside what was in it. NB, try to use clear box/folder thingies in future.
Anyway, yay! Now I can turn a class loose on “castle study hall,” where each student gets a guidebook to some castle, and after reading by themselves for a bit, they get together to talk about features that castles have in common, and how their builders accommodated landscape features on particular sites, and what historians and archaeologists still puzzle over. A field trip would be better, and if I taught in the UK might be easily organized. From here, however, it’s not going to happen.
I never did get to that Ozark Castle, and it’s too far from me for a class field trip.
This is really yesterday’s post, but I was traveling then.
Fortunately, I got to see the dawn. I do this fairly frequently, wherever I am, but it was especially pretty, with a pink glow over the mountains, reflected in the bay.
Unfortunately, it was my last day of that view.
Fortunately, I had time for one more walk on the beach, where I picked up a few pieces of pink quartz and white beach glass to remind me of the place.
Unfortunately, going down to the beach meant toiling up the hill one more time, afterwards.
Fortunately, I was able to recover with brunch on the balcony, watching bright yellow birds (goldfinches?) and bright blue ones (no idea) flashing through the trees, with the occasional dancing orange butterfly adding even more color interest.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of food left over.
Fortunately, that meant the feral cats on the corner got a feast.
Unfortunately, the taxi came earlier than we expected, and I was running up and down stairs communicating with the driver and letting in the rental agent, while Queen Joan was still getting dressed, and I still had lots of things to throw in my suitcase.
Fortunately, my Spanish was adequate to the task, the driver was patient, and everything got done.
Unfortunately, when we were in the taxi and jouncing to the airport, I couldn’t find my passport.
Fortunately, once we got to the airport and I could get to my suitcase, it was in the first place I looked, scooped up along with other to-be-packed items at the last minute.
Unfortunately, that meant I had to get on a plane and leave the tropical paradise.
Fortunately, I was looking forward to seeing Sir John and our cats, and I had a whole book to read that I’d saved for the trip home.
Unfortunately, there was an 80 degree drop in temperature between the place/time I left and the one where I arrived.
Fortunately, Sir John brought my down coat to meet me. I won’t say I was happier to see it than I was to see him, but I would have refused to leave the airport without it.
Unfortunately, in spite of all our added insulation, new windows, new curtains on the old windows, the replaced front door, and whatever other energy-related improvements I’m forgetting, our house still is fairly chilly, especially in the front room downstairs. I hate living in an old house, in this climate.
Fortunately, I was very successful in sticking to my complicated diet while I was gone (Queen Joan helped a lot, and taught me to cook some things I’d never tried before), so I’m feeling very well and tolerably energetic. If I can keep managing the diet, then I hope to have enough energy to sort out this house (file, give away, pack up, throw out, as necessary) and get it on the market this spring. We’ll see what happens, since of course I will also be teaching and I do not handle multiple tasks, or switching among them, especially well.
Unfortunately, my grad class for the spring (on a very cool and most excellent topic, which I was looking forward to teaching) was cancelled due to low enrollment, as I learned when I checked e-mail at the tropical airport.
Fortunately, oh very fortunately, I have been granted a research release in its place.
I’m enjoying a few days in the tropics with Queen Joan. We’re in the sort of place where most visitors suck up alcoholic drinks adorned with umbrellas, flowers, or fruit; get sunburned; and acquire a bunch of tourist tat to take home.
We’re doing things a bit differently. Neither of us can drink anymore, thanks to assorted health issues. Joan doesn’t do well in the sun, though she enjoys the warmth here. I’m a bit sturdier, but as the whitest of the white girls, I coat myself in #70 sunscreen before approaching a window, let alone going out. Also due to health issues, rather than eating out, we’re doing a lot of cooking.
We we both think back to our youth, and how different things were then. We met a little over 30 years ago. We could drink, and dance, and stay up all night. She went to India. I went to France. She visited me there on her way to Burkina Faso. In Paris, we cooked on a two-burner propane stove in my chambre de bonne, and she had a mattress on the floor, and that didn’t kill her back. We wouldn’t meet either of our husbands for some years yet, and while we had career ambitions, we didn’t know if they would be achievable. I’ve come much closer to achieving mine, though I said last night that I expected I’d do either much more or much less: I might not have got into grad school, or not finished, or not got a job, or not got tenure. Neither of us is quite sure how we wound up with the lives we have. Things happened, choices were made, and even when we got what we wanted, it turned out to be not quite what we had in mind.
But we are still here! We are alive, we are friends, we still travel together. We’re a long way from the mattress on the floor in Paris, and yet the spirit of that trip is with us. She drags me out of my stick-in-the-mud tendencies; I’ve had a lot of experiences, thanks to Joan, that I would not have had on my own (good ones).
So here’s to friendship, and survival, and continuing to have adventures even if they’re more low-key than they once were. We know what we were, and what we are, and there’s still some time for what we may yet be. I feel some trepidation about the year ahead, but in the meantime, there is this gentle tropical morning with the rustle of palm fronds sounding like rain. I wish you some of its peace and energy in the year to come.
Not mine. That is, every month it seems we’re supposed to be more excellent with less money, but that’s been going on for so long that I don’t think it qualifies as a change.
No, I recently did a little web-stalking of an ex-colleague (I’m beginning to think I should have a separate category for reporting on the results of web-stalking). This person worked with me, oh, maybe ten years ago, and, like me, commuted because of a two-body problem. In this case, there were small children in the mix, combined with the ultimate inability of a partner with a prestigious but not-so-employable Ph.D. to find a suitable permanent academic position.
My colleague quit.
Both partners spent awhile cobbling together jobs, benefits, networking opportunities. These included adjuncting and freelancing and temporary positions involving soft money. And as of a few years ago, both are employed in very responsible positions in the non-profit sector in a very cool West Coast city, the sort of place I’d be glad to live.
But would I want to work my way through five or six jobs, including a period of hustling for freelance work, in order to get there?
Oh hell no.
Possibly if I were younger and more energetic, the calculation would come out differently, but I’m lazy. I like to set it and forget it, in every area possible: marriage, job, finances. I want to live my life, not have to scramble to move up, move on, make the right connections. Long-term readers know I whine a lot about being homesick for the west coast, but I don’t hate where I am. I don’t love it, but it is a decent compromise that lets me lieben und arbeiten at a lower cost of living than in most of the places I’d like to be, which in turn means I can travel to places I like. I love the job security of tenure. Scrambling in Paradise would be a nerve-wracking situation for me.
Maybe if my Ph.D. were in economics or CS or engineering, I’d feel differently about it. However, considering that all my degrees are in areas that made many people ask “And what are you going to do with that?” while I was working on them (“cram my diploma edgewise into the mouth of the next person who asks that” was a response that frequently came to mind), I’m pretty happy to be a professor at LRU, despite the excellence without money scenario. Could the situation be better? Certainly. Could it be worse? Definitely. I’m happy for my former colleague, but glad I don’t wear those shoes.
Travel agents. Remember travel agents? There still are a few in the world, I know that, and I’m beginning to wonder whether I would feel it was worth paying someone else a fee to book hotels and trains and so on for me. I just spent three hours arranging train travel and hotels in the UK for a trip later this summer. In theory, I could do this at some point of the day that is not prime writing time. In practice, I have found that when I do that, I wind up booking myself on a train that departs a week after I leave the country.
Seriously. I did that once.
I got lucky that time. The conductor did come round to check tickets, but just before he got to me, he encountered another woman with a wonky ticket: she was booked on a train that left at a different time, and that apparently was a huge problem. By the time he’d finished sorting her out, we were near the next station, so he only glanced at the time, not the date, on my ticket, punched it and moved on.
Probably I could leave the stewing over hotel reviews to non-prime-time, though, and just bookmark the ones that seem to have the best intersection of low-ish price, quiet rooms, and cleanliness, then make the decision later. It can be hard to tell the difference between shabby and unclean, based on some reviews. I don’t so much mind stained carpet, if it doesn’t smell and has been well vacuumed. I do mind the odor of stale cigarette smoke. I prefer the white-noise roar I get from a window that overlooks the hotel’s ventilation system to the intermittent uproar of overlooking a street in a popular area of town. Any hotel where people complain (complain! they don’t know they’re born) about the presence of a cat immediately moves to the top of my list.
Of course, if I felt like spending money on a travel agent, I could probably also afford fancier hotels, and taxis rather than public transport. It still might be worth it for the trains, just to make sure I’m really traveling on the correct date (and if not, it would be Someone Else’s Problem). Do travel agents provide cats?
Certain aspects of life in Blighty bring me to utter these words. Sometimes it’s a question of vocabulary, sometimes a deadpan response that I think must be a joke though I may not be sure whom it’s on, sometimes an overheard exchange. This example is fictional, inspired by the photograph, yet it has that authentic ring.
Bully for you, sir! How can we help?
Streets that line up with the solstice sunrises and sunsets, around the world, can be found here:
So now you know where to go tomorrow at dawn. Or dusk.