Day 4

It’s going too quickly. Day four was productive, but I definitely did not have time for all the things I wanted to do. Or maybe the problem is (at least in part) energy levels, or attention management (another great Undine concept), rather than time as such.

Things I did: made progress on the revisions to the translation’s introduction with about 1.5 hours of work, in which I cleared comments on maybe 3 paragraphs—it’s hard to gauge progress, since fixing one footnote can take an hour or more as I look things up, and other comments are quick and easy fixes. Graded six papers. Parsed and translated a hunk of Greek. Went to the gym and put in 35 minutes on the treadmill. Cooked for Sir John. Watched two hours of Paris-Nice, commentated by Steve Schlanger of the twang and Christian Vande Velde; they’re good on the action but have nothing to say about the history, architecture, or cultural significance of the towns and countryside through which the race passes. The camera would linger on a chateau, I’d say “Tell us about that chateau!” and they’d go on talking about the riders and race techniques. I miss Paul and Phil. They made the European cycling races a multi-faceted experience, with their deep knowledge of France. Maybe Steve and Christian will get there. Maybe NBC will hire someone who does know the countryside. I know Paul’s family and friends miss him far more than the fans do, but all of us feel he went much too soon and want more time with him in our living rooms.

Plans for Day Five are pretty much more of the same, except I have to get to some of the House things I didn’t do yesterday: buy more paint, buy a replacement light bulb, take some things to the basement, box up other things, tidy everything in sight.

Day 3, and some things I forgot

Reporting with a day’s delay is making me feeling like I have more time than I do; but I stay off screens in the evening (mostly), so here we are.

Things I forgot to mention: the day before break, a colleague who is on a scholarship committee told me that I “write a good recommendation letter.”

On day one, I had e-mail or text exchanges with three different friends.

On day two, I remembered in the nick of time that Paris-Nice was starting, so Sir John had time to tell the DVR to record the whole thing. We’ll watch it a day or so behind, so I’m trying to avoid cycling news. It’s not going to be the same without Paul Sherwen.

Day three: not fabulous as to productivity, but very different from my usual term-time Monday (drive, meeting, classes, meeting, drive), so I’ll take it. The painter came to do a small repair and was done by 11. Our real estate agent visited briefly. I registered for K’zoo and booked a hotel there, wrote a note to Lady Maud, read and took notes on three essays from a collected volume relevant to the translation, set up a comments template for one set of student papers, walked four miles and consulted another relevant volume, did a little cooking, finished re-reading Tremontaine (season one). I did not drive and I did no administrivia. I went to bed a bit late, after eleven, but slept pretty well and got up at 7:30. I’ll need to work on shifting bedtime back an hour or two.

Six days to go, counting today. Long lists of things to do. Think how good it will feel to have finished them.

Day 2

It was a fairly normal Sunday, with less urgency about preparing for Monday.

No real progress on any Things, although I did clear some papers off the guest bed. However, they’re still in the guest room awaiting filing or other action. I put in 5.75 miles on an elliptical machine at the gym, read a bit more of Tremontaine (season one), and posted over at TLQ.

In food experiments, I made the unhappy discovery that although I can eat a couple of thin slices of avocado on rare occasions, twice in a week is too often. I slept badly as a result. Antihistamines tamp down the reaction a little, but not as much as I’d like. So I expect to feel a bit ill and tired for another couple of days.

If nothing else, day 3 has house progress in that the painter has come and done a small job already. Also I have done some reading in a very useful essay collection, and taken 12 post-its of notes on it.

Day 1

It was pleasant and reasonably productive, in a low-key way. I wrote up two assignments for one class and blocked out the letter, thus doing about 1.5 of the “other three things.” My future self will thank me for the extra assignment. For that class, I need only one more assignment, and two more for the other class. Those would make good “productive procrastination” tasks this week.

As for progress on the real “Three Things,” I fixed two footnotes in the translation introduction, downloaded one set of papers and looked online at the thesis statements from the other set, and paid some bills and did a little cooking. I’m trying to start small, and build on these small steps. Even though the House element was routine rather than anything that really moves us toward re-listing, I’m counting it as useful deck-clearing.

Some fun things, since it is after all break: re-reading a couple of chapters of Tremontaine, season one in the tub in the afternoon (Note to self: put later seasons on birthday list), and watching a couple of episodes of Discovery with Sir John. We’re now ten episodes into Season One. I find the show a strange combination of boring and disturbing. I suppose this is a ramped-up version of my usual reaction to Star Trek series (soothing and exasperating).

I also made an attempt at reading a library book that I pretty promptly gave up on. It seemed promising (fluffy academic mystery), but the plot was all cliches, and while that’s fine if they’re handled with panache and wit, they were not. I particularly object to the trope in which the heroine is reunited with The Boy Who Broke Her Heart When She Was Sixteen, whom she has Never Gotten Over. Unless there is something very wrong with you psychologically, by the time you are in your 40s and have been married, you have recovered from your teenaged heartbreak and know something about how adult relationships work. Your reaction to seeing That Boy again might be “Huh, what did I see in him?” or “Well, now that we’re both grown up this might be worth re-considering,” but I cannot believe you have been carrying a torch for 30 years. Also nearly everything the heroine wore or decorated with had lace on it, so I both wondered what was up with the lace fetish and felt that she was really not my sort of person. I used to find it hard to give up on books once I started but no longer: Life’s Too Short is a useful motto in all sorts of situations.

Day two is starting with feeling jet-lagged, thanks to having trouble going to sleep last night combined with springing forward. I plan more baby steps, and a vigorous gym workout. Day three is going to start early, with work being done on the latest house maintenance problem, so I need either to sleep tonight or be prepared to deal with tomorrow on insufficient rest and lots of tea.

The day before spring break

That is, yesterday.

Far too much talking to people: colleagues, students, mentoring of colleagues junior to me, meetings, blah blah. Came home feeling that I Cannot People Any Longer.

Students. Both my classes had papers due last night. I required the lower-division class to have conferences with me: bring a rough draft, a thesis statement, or your notes, I said. The assignment even offered sample thesis statements that they could use without altering, so that the essay would be plug-and-chug (an exercise in developing topic sentences and providing support). Well. One student signed up, then blew off the conference completely, did not respond to e-mail. One let me know he couldn’t make his appointment. One, a junior, actually brought a very decent rough draft. All the others—ten or so—came in with various degrees of “I don’t know what I’m going to write about.” People. On Wednesday, you still had two days, so okay, sort of. On Friday, when your paper is due in 12 hours, don’t you think you could at least look at the assignment sheet while you’re in the hallway and pick a thesis statement?

In contrast, three of the upper-division class came in voluntarily. One even came twice, with different versions of her paper, and a most admirable ability to de-couple writing from ego. She’ll go far. That whole class is a lovely group of people and I enjoy them so much.

All week, I’ve been looking forward to the break and thinking about Dr Medusa’s description of the Spring Break Professor House: “Do they still have the MTV Spring Break beach house or party house or whatever? If MTV were to do a Spring Break professor house, there would be a lone dishevelled woman in strange outfits (which I, like many of my comrades, tend to wear when I write), books and papers everywhere, a bored chihuahua, maybe something like The Maltese Falcon on the television, and several bottles of red wine in various states of fullness–one on the desk, one by the bedside, one by the table. Every once in a while in the MTV Spring Break Garret, the dishevelled prof would rouse herself from the laptop, put some Led Zeppelin or Violent Femmes on the iPod and dance wildly. Then it would be back to the writing.” This sounds great to me. Substitute cats for chihuahua and sherry for the red wine, and I’m there.

I just have to do Three Things in the next week: translation, grading, house. That’s it. Three things.

Um, except then I remembered another Three Things: letter, assignment, taxes. Dammit. So maybe this morning I will try to knock off at least a couple of those, and say that I’m still on the Day Before Break, until maybe noon, and then I can start my Spring Break Professor House Party with Three Things.

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.

Adventures in sleep

Not dreams. The vagaries of sleep schedules.

Sir John can fall asleep within minutes of lying down. Me, not so much. I know all about sleep hygiene. Sometimes it is hard to put those principles into practice, because I often am required to teach night classes, with a long drive home at the end of them, and then (due to my own inner nineteenth-century schoolboy and a fetish for dead languages) I have to be up and on the road again about 33 hours later. This semester I have no night class, so I’ve actually been able to be somewhat consistent about bedtime.

Tuesday I went to bed at 9:30. I was in bed for eight hours, and asleep for quite a bit of it. When I left campus around 2:00, I hoped to put in a couple more hours of work at home: preferably research, but I figured if I wasn’t up to it, I could usefully design more undergrad assignments or read.

I arrived at home with a raging headache. Made tea, took tylenol, sat in a dim room for an hour or so waiting to feel better. When I realized that not only could I not bear to look at a screen, reading on paper also felt awful, I went to bed. At 5:30. I didn’t fall asleep right away, because my feet were cold, but it was pleasant to lie in a dark room with my eyes closed, and eventually I did sleep. The last thing I remember is smelling Sir John’s dinner and thinking I ought to get up and eat something.

At 11:30, I woke up, and went down to get dinner. My beloved vampire was about to have an early night, so although I expected to hang out with him for a bit in his prime time, instead I ate by myself and read for awhile. I went back to bed at 1:30. Again, I did not fall asleep right away, but finally Morpheus came for me. I woke up at 7:30.

The whole thing was interesting. I believe in sleeping when you feel sleepy, because otherwise you’re training yourself not to allow give in to sleep (this contradicts the standard advice about a fixed sleep schedule). Some of the time last night, I was not sleepy, but I sure didn’t feel like doing anything except lying down. I don’t usually have divided nights like that, but I think I wouldn’t mind doing it on a regular basis if I could have a work/social schedule that allowed for it. I used to have a colleague who taught 8:00 a.m. classes and was done with all her campus obligations by noon. She went home and napped for 2-3 hours till her children came home from school, then did mom-things till their bedtime, did prof-things again till around midnight, and slept another 4-5 hours till time to get up and teach. I’m not sure if she had to teach night classes; maybe in those days it wasn’t a requirement. I’ve always wondered if her schedule would suit me, because I like being up at dawn, and I also like the quiet hours in the evening when other people are sleeping or at least not e-mailing you. My colleague’s hey-day was before e-mail, so her evenings would have been undisturbed even by nocturnal students (imagine).

More brilliance from the past

In my remembrance of things past via visits to defunct (or merely suspended? like the Seven Sleepers, perhaps the right impetus will awaken some bloggers) blogs, I have been relieved when some writers actually quote large chunks of text from other webpages, rather than just linking. Links, sadly, break. Thus, having found a clear exposition of Z’s amazing and admirable process in comments at Undine’s, I’m copying and pasting here. I’m not this hardcore, but I agree about the need to think, and that writing before you have thought is “just stewing.” That is, sometimes I write to help myself think, but I have to be very clear that that is what I am doing, and not have any expectation that any of those words will be good, keeper words.

The rest of this post is Z, not me:

*

People say just write, write, write and this will make you see what you are doing. Through the so called process of writing you will figure out what you mean, they allege. I think that is completely crazy, at least for my case … writing is just stewing and will only ruin your thought process unless you have already decided what you are doing. Until such time as your first line comes to you unannounced, and you know what the content of your last paragraph is going to be, you are much better off just meditating as far as I am concerned.

If I do that, all I come up with are a whole lot of great first pages. I could do that for months and even years – and HAVE done it for that long sometimes – and never finish a single piece.

*

My most classic example of this, to which I have alluded before:

When I was in college and graduate school I had a typewriter, not a computer. (In college and through my Ph.D. exam it was a manual one; for my dissertation I bought a self-correcting one by Olympia.) For all papers I kept handwritten notes and would then write directly on the typewriter, no revisions. My dissertation director couldn’t believe my dissertation draft, she said it read like a book, how could this be, but she would have just DIED had she known I had composed it directly like that. She had been yelling at me because I had said I was only writing one page a day, with Sundays off, and would write the whole thing that way in a year. She nearly fainted when this turned out to be true.

Of course in order to be able to do that I had to sit around and think about it for several months first. It took seven months to come up with a dissertation prospectus. Then it took ten months to think. Then it took nine months to write, and four months to have the committee read it and then for me to enter it into my very first computer and print it out on acid free paper. This adds up to 30 months during which I also moved to a new country and took a full load of graduate courses in a new subfield, in a language I was not (initially) very proficient in.]

*

This methodology is the only one which works for me, and/but I warn everyone that even it only works if one is actually working on one’s ideas (not stewing, not rushing, not worrying, but WORKING) in a calm, organized, but *concentrated* way in the meantime. That is what will, in good time, make a first line come into one’s head … and one knows it is the RIGHT first line because with it comes the content of the last paragraph.

A few more random observations

  • I’m reading two sets of archives at the same time (Dr Medusa’s and KulturFluff, and how I regret Frenchie Foo having disappeared her whole blog). I should sync them up, because one is starting the summer and the other is writing about Thanksgiving, and it’s making my head spin.
  • That’s okay because it makes me go back to work.
  • Students. Oy. I was assigned a class at the eleventh hour, so made sure that for the first few weeks, all readings were available online, since there was no way the bookstore would get books in for the first week. But this week we’re starting to read Actual Real Books. I showed everyone the books in the first week of classes, reminded them periodically about buying books, have posted announcements on the electronic course thingy, etc. And now students are “confused” and don’t know what they’re supposed to read.
  • Like heu mihi, I’m reading Malory. In this case, re-reading. There is some serious timeline-slippage in the Book of Tristram, which I’m only now picking up on. Hmmmmm.
  • Is February over yet? I’m not sure I can take another week of this weather. I appreciate the lengthening days; they’re great. But I have actually started wishing for snow (yes, I, the desert creature who spends the winter imagining she’s an iguana) in preference to any more freezing rain. I hate freezing rain. (I do love the meteorologists’ abbreviation fzdz for freezing drizzle, however.)
  • Maybe I should have done these bullets as a Fortunately/Unfortunately series, but I’m too lazy and the items are too random.

Spontaneous haiku

Because I’ve already done an hour of Dead Language, and need to start Actual Real Urgent Work On Revisions, of course I took a break in someone else’s archives. Inspiration: Haiku in the Raw Meme: Look out of the window. Write a haiku about what you see.

Snow lying on rooftops
Two trunks of oak tree divide
Apple tree’s bare branches.

So I’ve done some writing today. Seventeen syllables, plus the blog post. Oh all right. Actual real work coming up.