Grumpy and grumpy, with a side order of grumpy

Could I have some with not so much grumpy in it?

I have lost a stripy scarf I’m fond of. There is a great deal of snow on the ground. The house has settled a bit more so there are more cracks in the ceiling (we were hoping to sell it before any more settling happened). Sir John has had an infection that could have been serious (fortunately he is responding to antibiotics and all is well, hence I am merely grumpy about this and not freaking out). We’re a little under-equipped for being snowed in, due to his illness and me not getting the right things at the store, which happened because I was distracted by the first week of classes and having to finish off final edits to the revised introduction to the Big Honking Translation (okay, yay that that’s done). Lady Maud’s father has entered hospice care, which is sad though he has had a good life and people are rallying around because he is a wonderful, loving and beloved man (a great contrast to my father, the old grouch). The son of a friend of Sir John’s has been diagnosed with cancer. This child is still in single digits. I feel guilty feeling grumpy about my scarf (let’s just say I’m displacing my distress) when 2019 is already sucking very hard for a couple of sets of friends.

The nicest thing this week was reading The Dalemark Quartet, which I got for Christmas and finally broke out. But the downside to that is that now there is no more Diana Wynne Jones that I have not read. I put off Dalemark for years, so that there would still be something. I’m trying to persuade myself to do some work rather than getting out Rotherweird, which I got in London, intending it for the plane, but then our over-seat lights didn’t work so I spent the flight working on my laptop (and got quite a bit of useful course prep done as well as saving the book, so ill winds etc).

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.

Done! (Again)

I have finished re-writing the introduction to the translation, and sent it off to my collaborators for editing. It may well need cutting: it has doubled in size, in my hands. I think I have responded to all the concerns the editors had with the earlier draft (written mainly by one of my collaborators), but I don’t know if they hoped to keep it shorter than it is now. Since my last post about writing in 2018, I added another 4000 words, although a lot of them moved in directly from earlier drafts, and a significant chunk was a quotation and translation, the base of a piece of explication de texte. I probably wrote around 1000 from scratch in the last three days.

I’m sure there will be more work on this project. Comments from collaborators, comments from editors, queries from the press. Someday, proofs. We’re not done-done. But I am definitely celebrating this particular step in finishing off this project, and I am looking forward to getting back to things that have been long set aside in its favor.

So happy new year, and happy work on new/old projects, whichever you’ll be taking up!

End-of-year writing reflections

Finally, this year, I have managed to keep up my writing spreadsheet for twelve months! I started this method of keeping track at the end of 2015, but in 2016 and 2017 I forgot about it during the summer and never resumed making entries. My research journal records some word counts for the months in which I was not using the spreadsheet, but I also use the research journal to “park” projects that have to be put aside, to work through problems that come up, and to do certain kinds of free-writing or data recording, so it’s a bit of a job to go through it looking for word counts.

Leaving aside the writing I did for my promotion application, the spreadsheet shows that I wrote about 18K words in 2018. This seems about right, as a lot of the work I did this year was on the translation (recorded as lines translated or reviewed). I’ve written two conference abstracts, a sort of place-holder document for an essay I hope to write in spring 2019 (maybe), done some work toward a set of revisions that I have repeatedly put aside because of more pressing deadlines, and, most recently, re-written the introduction to the translation. That is, I’m still working on that last, but the end is now in sight. I’ve also reviewed two sets of proofs; one of those articles is now in print, and the other will appear in 2019 (sigh . . . annuals).

For 2017, I recorded about 6000 words of writing before I forgot about the spreadsheet in June. I wrote far more than that, because that was the year I revised the most complex part of the MMP, which involved adding 3000 words and 25 footnotes to the beast. The way I work, that 3000 words probably started as at least double that number. In 2017, I also revised the article that came out this year, under pressure from an editor who is also a friend. I wouldn’t have done it without him leaning on me, because I was very worried about my aged father, but that work provided a very helpful counter-irritant to the family drama.

One thing that helped me keep up with the spreadsheet this year is that I set it up for the entire year in advance, rather than doing a month or so at a time. It probably also helped that I did not travel in summer 2018, so that my work habits didn’t suffer any large disruption or shift in place. I did neglect it during June, when our house was first on the market and I was also often feeling unwell, but my personal journal shows that I did keep working on the translation that month.

The spreadsheet is a means, not an end. It’s better to write and not keep track than to obsess about tracking at the expense of writing. Some years, the research journal is probably more helpful than a spreadsheet. There’s a lot more to research than just writing words; there’s reading, taking notes, planning, outlining, mining online databases, transcribing wills written in Secretary Hand, to name a few activities. I do have columns for “pages read” and “other” in my spreadsheet. I like the spreadsheet because it shows at a glance where my research time has gone. (I’m wondering if it might be similarly helpful to start one for teaching duties. I often put off grading because I just don’t want to get started; seeing blocks of days on which I’ve done nothing might motivate me to get on with it.) I like the research journal because re-reading it often gives me good ideas, or reminds me of old ones.

I’ve set up two years’ worth of writing spreadsheets, so now I’m covered for 2019 and 2020 (2019 is fully formatted; 2020 just has the basics, for now). We’ll see how it goes. I still have a bunch of things hanging around that I would have liked to have finished by now. But I am going to get back to my book in 2019. The two conference papers I am going to give are planned as parts of one chapter, although one of them could be a spin-off: we’ll see what happens. That “maybe” article is about a text I’m teaching this spring, so I’ll see what I can do about the article while I’m talking about the book with my class. If I make some progress and then put it down again, that’s okay.

I never feel that I am as productive as I would like to be, but the evidence shows that I’m making progress. Long-term projects are gradually coming to completion, and smaller ones also are getting done. Jonathan’s idea of mediocritas has been very helpful to me. Sometimes it’s frustrating to keep chipping away and never feel that there is much progress, but 18K words is a lot of words: even if they have to be boiled down to half that, that’s a substantial article’s worth right there.

 

 

 

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 Trast√°mara, 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?

Paul Sherwen

I’m late to the, uh . . . to the wake.

But I only found out today.

For something like two decades, I’ve spent several hours a day, in the height of summer, with Paul and Phil talking to me about cycling during the Tour de France; I’ve heard them commentate on various other shorter races around the year, together or with Bob Roll or, occasionally, someone else. As Sir John said to me when my voice broke, “There are probably people you count as close personal friends whom you’ve spent less time listening to.” It’s true: I never met Paul, but his face and voice spent a lot of time in my living room.

I guess I always hoped I would meet him, that some year, we’d make it to France for the Tour or one of the smaller races, and somehow we’d be at the right place at the right time and bump into him and Phil, share a laugh, maybe even a glass of wine. We’d be just another random contact with fans, to them, but it would have made my year.

I liked this tribute.

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.