Sorry! I should not have ironed my linen blazer, trousers, and sleeveless tops. The next few days are going to be cool and rainy in Kalamazoo, rather than linen weather. That’s arguably better than the really hot and steamy years. I will do what I can to improve the weather by packing a wool sweater, raincoat, and umbrella. If I throw my wellies into the car, maybe I can ward off serious rainfall.
Yesterday I graded All The Things and then filed All The Grades. At home I drank sherry, had a bath, and crashed.
Summer started this morning, and despite my protests about being overly married to this house, I started with housewifery. I put out the bags of yard waste from my weekend endeavors, did some more weeding and spraying of bellflower, thought about the way it and the thistles were resisting the Very Nasty Weedkiller recommended by people at the gardening group I attend sporadically, and laughed at them a little more. Clearly they think of gardening as a genteel hobby, whereas the way I do it, it’s more like habitat reclamation. Or terraforming. Some of us just can’t do things the easy way. The clematis, at least, is doing beautifully, and the little volunteer clematis is back with buds on.
I like the thistles, or at least I love the goldfinches who perch on them to eat the seeds; the yellow and purple are beautiful together. If we weren’t trying to move, I’d just let the thistles be. But I don’t think most people want to buy a yard full of thistles.
Anyway, then I did a load of laundry and some ironing, because secretly I like ironing if I don’t have many other more important things to do. My linen will wind up crumpled, of course, because that’s the nature of the beast, but at least it won’t look like it spent the winter in a ball on the bottom of my closet. There are degrees of rumpled.
After lunch I turned to scholarly endeavors for a couple of hours.
I am waiting for a blast of e-mailed temper from my Brother Less Reasonable, since the other one has found an appropriate assisted-living facility to which to move our father. Less has already stated that he is categorically opposed to such a move. But he’s outnumbered. Maybe he’ll realize that that dignified silence might be the better part of valor.
Well, I can hope.
Time for exercise and bill-paying. There will no doubt be TV later. With sherry. Such an exciting (well, satisfying, anyway) life I lead.
I celebrated the start of summer by re-reading most of the Dinny Gordon books (my library is missing one), and then settled in to correct some proofs.
And I thought that I would love to read a book about grown-up Dinny as an archaeologist, correcting proofs for an article about her latest finds or reconstructions, or about her in college. So I searched for “Dinny Gordon” and “fanfic,” and came up blank.
Someone needs to do something about this.
It’s true that there are some archeology blogs, like Old Stuff in Hot Places, and Middle Savagery, which have entertained me for hours (as well as banished my lingering regret that I didn’t stick with my childhood desire to be an archeologist; I am clearly much, much better off in the library than breathing corpse dust). But I would love to find out how Dinny weathered the sixties and seventies, and hear about her experiences in academia, and perhaps even find out what she’s doing now: has she retired, is she thinking about it, or is she determined to stick at her job as long as she can because she loves it so much?
I have other things to write, but I can imagine doing a grown-up Dinny novel as a group project. Any takers? Anyone want to take up the challenge on their own?
Apart from the waste of time. I looked up a former student . . . who has published more books than I have.
Granted, that is not difficult, since I have not yet published any book. And we’re not talking academic presses, or even well-regarded commercial presses. The student was certainly both talented and a go-getter, or I wouldn’t even remember the name after all this time.
Hrrmph. I shall contemplate the glories of the completed MMP for a bit, and then get back to the Next Thing.
Maybe someone from my past will Google-stalk me and be impressed, and slink back into the woodwork.
Not only green stuff, but warmth. Heat, even. It’s true that I have to go to campus twice more, and that I have papers to grade, and will have exams to grade, but we’re so close to the end, and the weather is so nice, that I’m feeling all laid-back and relaxed about it. Working in shorts and sandals doesn’t quite feel like working.
Fortunately, there is sunlight and something approaching warmth.
Unfortunately, that means the creeping bellflower is coming back.
Fortunately (at least for my back), the returning bellflower is in the graveled bit around the garage where I feel justified in using weedkiller rather than painstakingly digging it out.
Unfortunately, I haven’t even got around to that small task.
Fortunately, I do have this afternoon free, because Sir John is going out (which I had forgotten all about).
Unfortunately, I have lots of worky-work that needs to get done rather soon, and I may be doing that rather than gardening.
Fortunately, I’m still feeling very calm about work.
Unfortunately, I think I might need to feel rather more urgency about it, so that I get on with it instead of blogging and making extra cups of tea and all those other not-working activities.
Fortunately, I probably have good blog-fodder in a series of e-mails between my brothers.
Unfortunately (for any remaining readers) I can’t face going through them to pull out the good bits.
Fortunately for my brothers.
Unfortunately, I think I have run out of excuses.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I have only two more teaching days. Not much prep left, and not even a huge amount of grading, but various other deadlines and ancillary projects (like “buy new laptop”) are now looming large.
A couple of people have called me “calm” in the last few months. This is not a word I would ever have applied to myself, so it surprises me to have it come up in both a familial and a professional setting.
My more reasonable brother said I was a calm person, based on (I suppose) his observations of my interactions with our father and other brother. The chair of my department said I seemed very calm about the process of applying for Full.
Well. Have I, perhaps, learned what is and is not important? Is it that I have dealt with far more stressful situations in the past, and so the current ones don’t seem particularly challenging? Or do I take my cues from people around me and I am currently fortunate in that they are fairly calm, so I can be, too? Maybe some of all of these.
Family is easier than it used to be. My mother’s final years were very stressful, because she constantly solicited help and then pushed it away, always with hysterical lamentations of How Awful Everything Is and how None Of Her Children Understood (she showed many signs of Borderline Personality Disorder, though she was never formally diagnosed with it). My brothers couldn’t really cope with her at all, so a lot fell to me. In comparison, my dad is a piece of cake. At his angriest and most demented, he is more straightforward and easier to deal with than my mother was. I have developed a number of mantras to help me deal with my less reasonable brother, including “Geoffrey’s gonna Geoffrey*” and “With those armpits.”
Anything work-related pretty much falls into the category of “not that important.” I do my job to the best of my ability, of course, but it’s not a life-and-death job like medicine. I’ve seen a lot of promotion applications because of sitting on a significant personnel committee, so I have a good idea of what they should look like and what the acceptable range of variation is. My colleagues support me, or they wouldn’t have invited me to apply. I have a good reputation in the college my department belongs to. It’ll all be fine.
Really, the most stressful thing in my life last week was having a journal tell me that the images I had provided were not suitable. This meant I had to scramble to learn a few things about GIMP so I could manipulate what I had (since going to England to take new photographs is not going to happen this week!). It all worked out. I’m a little behind on grading, but I’m sure that will work out too.
Lots of people have real problems, but I’m not one of them, not now anyway. So I guess I am calm.
*Not his real name, but his modus operandi is so predictable that it should certainly be a verb.
I was at the vet picking up medication. A woman speaking to one of the desk staff said of her dog, “She’s the best,” and I smiled, thinking how we all think our animal companions are the best. Then she added, “She’s my child who will never leave me, not that I’m bitter about the two who who’ve grown up and gone their way.”
I stopped smiling.
With an attitude like that, no wonder your kids went their own way the moment they could. Did you expect them to stay small forever?
The point of having children is that you are creating future adults, people, individuals who will in their turn form partnerships, have children of their own, live lives independent of yours. Parenting is a stage of life, one that may lead to grand-parenting, but it’s not a career. If you really want to be around children all your life, become a teacher, or maybe a pediatrician or parks director, something that will put you in contact with multiple generations of kids. This would absolutely not be my choice, but I can understand people like my father who want to surround themselves with children’s energy and interest in the world, the way I want to surround myself with books. Not that I think the woman at the vet wanted to nurture generations of children. I think she wanted control and adoration, which is what she can have from her dog. I hope she had a dog all the while her kids were growing up, so that she had some focus other than the kids.
I felt like I’d heard from my mother’s ghost.
“I developed a system when I was writing my dissertation 50 years ago, and I still use it. Before I start writing a book I need to have at least the illusion that I know how it’s going to end and everything else in between.
So first I need to complete most of my research. Then I review all my research notes — which generally takes several weeks — and I decide what will be useful and where in the book I’ll use it. I’ve concocted an elaborate coding system of numbers and letters, which I give to each idea or fact I anticipate using. Then I put it all into a huge outline with key phrases followed by the numbers and letters that will let me locate the material in my notes. When I was working on The Gay Revolution, an 800-page book, I had a 75-page outline. For my Harvey Milk biography, which is about 250 pages, my outline was 20 pages.
But when I finally start writing I veer away from the outline almost as often as I follow it — which is fine. The outline’s biggest purposes are to be a sort of Dewey Decimal System, to tell me where in my voluminous notes I’ll find things; to remind me of the ideas I want to develop; and to suggest their possible order.”
I wish someone would describe the coding system, any coding system, in more detail. I suppose it’s one of those things that is more useful when worked out for oneself, but some insight into a working system would be helpful in creating/adapting one’s own.
Note that she thinks in terms of Dewey Decimal! Once I discovered the Library of Congress system, I never looked back. It all depends on what you’re used to, I suppose.
The Chronicle has a series called “Scholars Talk Writing.” Quite a lot of the scholars (and creative writers) talk about writing for a general audience, which tends to make me cross, because I write for a very specialized audience and I’m not apologizing for that. But I liked some of the pieces quite a lot. Anthony Grafton on patience: a writer needs “to learn to be patient enough to wait until you have an idea of where you want a piece to go.” Ruth Behar on revision: “I’ll go through this revision process several times. What I usually discover is that I’m not done when I think I’m done. There’s always more revision to do.”
I loved Helen Sword on the various ways we have of approaching writing (not a single “right” way): “Not only did very few of the academics I talked with follow the recommended practices; many of them actually reported engaging in behaviors that the writing guides explicitly warn against, such as ‘binge writing’ or writing only when they feel like it. . . . Successful academics don’t necessarily write every day, but they’re constantly strategizing about how and when they’ll get their writing done. They don’t necessarily consider themselves to be ‘stylish writers'” but they care deeply about wordcraft. They don’t necessarily enjoy every aspect of the writing process, but they relish the challenge of communicating complex ideas to others. These core attitudes and attributes remained fairly constant across nearly all the writers I interviewed.”