On August, time, and grace

It’s being one of those long, busy months. I still feel the stars hurtling through the heavens, the northern hemisphere slouching into a new season, but there’s less time to appreciate the passing of time now that classes have started again. My life is carved into lists, lists for each class, lists for research, lists for house, health, finances. Sleep, once again, is iffy, because I am over-stimulated. Not worried, there’s nothing to worry about, but change is coming down the pike, this year, next year, soon, and I feel unsettled.

August has been long in part because of two trips. I went to a most excellent conference, which stimulated in all the good ways; research is definitely exciting at the moment. Sir John accompanied me on a trip to my old stomping grounds, during which we had a very active social life. It was great to see people, but I wish we could have scattered all our events over a couple of months instead of cramming them into a week!

We went to a dinner that assembled several high-school friends and our spouses. We all married “out,” that is, to people who are from somewhere else, met when we were adults, who know only by hearsay of our long-ago parties, excursions, jokes, and catch-phrases. In such a mixed group, we can all be our adult selves, with minimal reminders of the teens we once were. Maybe my friends would be okay with the reminders, but I am much happier as an adult and prefer to think that I have moved far beyond my young self. Long ago, when I was slightly freaked out about turning 18 and thus being legally adult when I had little notion of how “to adult,” as the phrase now goes, the host of this dinner assured me, “Grown-ups have more fun.” I have found this to be true.

We also attended a memorial service for a friend’s father, a beloved and influential teacher. My friend told me that he had kept the poems I showed him when I was, what, 18? 20? I am not, now, a poet. I channeled my creative impulses into literary research, and as a scholar I am tolerably successful. (That is, employed!) I may have a better appreciation for poetry because I once wrote some; I don’t know. My friend’s father’s great gift was to see and respect young people, children and teens, as complete people, interesting in themselves, not for what they might become. If they were interested in basketball, poetry, or rap music, then he talked to them about basketball, poetry, and rap. He learned from them. They learned—we learned—something about how to be an adult who pays attention, who is kind, who takes people of any age seriously.

These are not lessons I learned from my parents.

I am still most extremely imperfect in putting those lessons into practice.

These two events, and others with them, have me thinking: who do I want to be, and how can I be that person? My lists and obligations do not sum me up; they are part of me—I’m sure my friend’s father made his own lists—but not all of me. I want to live with something of the attention, intention, and grace that he had, that he gave freely to everyone who passed through his life.

Awesome idea, plus some whining

Apart from going to Mass every day (or at all), this sounds to me like a fabulous vacation, and I am going to try to do something like it after the semester is over:

https://lafemmefollette.typepad.com/lafemmefollette/2016/06/castaway.html

 

I have ideas for at least two substantive posts but I still need to Do All The Things even though I am nearly done with one Enormous Thing (style-check of the Huge Honking Translation), and I just don’t have the time/brain to engage with blogging ideas. I found a wonderfully soothing, repetitive loop of classical piano and cello on YouTube that was exactly what I needed to keep my monkey-mind distracted, or do I mean focused, both/either/whatever, while I read through 150 pages of translated medieval text. Only another 50 or so to go! Starting Tuesday I’ll be able to see if the music works for grading as well.

Please tell me I am not the only sorry procrastinator who still has not taken tax-related stuff to the accountant. But if you file E-Z on the 15th don’t tell me, we need the accountant and at this point I am procrastinating in part because I feel so guilty about giving them more last-minute work. I have a stack of documents. I have the checklist from last year. I can do this.

And then the rest of the Things will not seem so bad. Right?

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.

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.

A nutjob with company

Sir John is also interested in the Burne-Jones exhibit, so we’re going to make it a joint vacation. Yay! It is lovely to be married to someone who is weird the same way I am shares my interests.

And this weekend (well, tomorrow, I guess) we’ll visit the storage unit and dig out my light box.

I expected to be unpacking in a new place by now, but no such luck. Hello housing slump. Hello continued hellish commute (now with extra road work). I shall think about what other packed-away items I’d like to have back, since it looks as if we’ll be in this house for another winter.

SAD nutjob = me?

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, or visited the archives, you’ll know I get very gloomy in winter (which I think of as Iguana Sseason), that I long to spend all of December in Morocco or Mexico, and that it is very good for me to take at least a short domestic break somewhere sunny, as I did in 2015. So why, why am I contemplating a trip to London in January, when it will no doubt rain every day and the days will certainly be even shorter than they are here at home?

Because of the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at the Tate Britain, which runs 24 October 2018 – 24 February 2019.

I’m not sure that it’s exactly EBJ himself drawing me (if you’d asked me who my favorite nineteenth-century painter was, I probably would have said Rousseau, or possibly Corot), but a combination of his artistic, literary, and historical significance alongside the provenance of many of the exhibited items, on loan from private owners. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see paintings whose owners have gone off to their winter homes in Morocco or Ibiza or wherever, before they come home in March and want their stuff back. It’s not as if Andrew Lloyd Webber is ever going to invite me over for a drink and a good ogle at his Burne-Jones collection. We’ve never even met, and I probably would seem like a dodgy, not to mention boring, guest, likely to drone on about owners of medieval manuscripts and the beginnings of the EETS.

Traveling overseas purely to see a museum exhibition seems most extravagant and self-indulgent. If the exhibit ran until summer, I could combine it with the Early Book Society conference or Leeds, but the dates are what they are (and I’m not giving a paper at either conference, it’s just that if I paid my own way to either I’d feel that I had a respectable professional reason to travel, plus I could take some time to look at manuscripts). However, January is the off-season, as well as when I have a little bit of a break from both teaching and family obligations. If I take a not-so-desirable flight, and go for a shortish period of time, I can stay someplace decent and probably pay for the whole thing with my first year’s full-professor salary bump.

I think I’ve talked myself into it, even though I hate traveling in the winter, as a general thing. Does exposure to art counteract SAD as well as actual sunshine does? Perhaps it’s worth running the experiment.

New Year’s Eve

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.

Day 2

A thoroughly idle day.  The usual Sunday activities, including cooking and eating meals.  With Sir John, a walk and some outdoor tidying.  Another fun book down (didn’t enjoy this one so much; the hero was obnoxious), and a third started (much better).  More red wine, another bath, this time without bubbles because I’m out of bath foam.  And the Prologue of Paris-Nice.

Another royal progress

My good and gracious lady Queen Joan did once again request that Lady Maud and I accompany her on a royal progress.  So summoned, I departed the Land of Winter for the Land of Bougainvillea, that region also known as the Dukedom of Surf and the Principate of Venice, where we three did disport ourselves most excellently well.  We donned our summer robes, we promenaded upon the sand, we rode in the Wheel of Ferris and played at the SkeeBall.  Our repasts began with exotic frozen delicacies, because the motto of Queen Joan, which doth appear upon her personal seal, is “Vita brevis, imprimis edite bellarium.”

But I am now returned unto the Land of Winter, and lo, there are lamentations and dismay.  Wherefore must I wear boots and promenade through snow rather than taking my barefoot ease upon the strand?  Truly, this life is but a vale of (frozen) tears, to be endured with fortitude and patience.

And now I must attend upon my feline overlords, before hunger driveth them to war upon one another.