Hello again!

I thought I’d write another update to the blog, and I’m thinking about possibly getting back into regular blogging. (Maybe. We’ll see.) I’ve had it with Facebook and I never really got into Twitter, but I feel a little isolated without some social media interaction, especially as I’m on sabbatical again, and working on my own. I’ve also been inspired by Notorious Ph.D., who restarted her blog about a year ago. So I know it can be done!

Anyway, a couple of quick and largely happy updates. First, I wrote another thing inspired by my blog, this time an op-ed piece in the Chronicle on getting over a post-tenure funk. You can read it here. Btw, I did NOT choose that headline. (Writers rarely do.) But anyway, that’s *two* publications that came as a result of this blog (the other of which I mention in the post below), which I never expected. They’re non-scholarly, but I see them both as a kind of service to the profession, which was always how I thought of this blog, too (well, when I wasn’t writing about running or dogs or such).

Second, and related to an update in the post below this, I broke two hours in that half-marathon I ran last year — 1:59:24! Woo hoo! I trained again in the fall, but repeated minor injuries and a busy schedule kept me from doing a race. And then a really busy semester in the spring kept me from running entirely — d’oh! But I’m getting back into it now, and I’m planning on training again for a fall half-marathon, and depending on how that goes, maybe training for a *full* marathon in the spring, a thing I haven’t done in 10 years. A sabbatical year is the only time I’ll be able to fit it in, so it’s now or never.

Thing the third: a very happy doggy update. In the post below this, I reported the sad news of Pippi’s passing. Right after that post, we began fostering another Brittany named Benny, who a year ago found his forever family. And then we took a summer off from pets and fosters. I realized that as I worked at home every day while Bullock went off to the office (he’s chair — he has to be on campus) that the house was an empty and sad place without furry energy to fill it. It took some time to convince Bullock that we really needed another dog, and we may have moved a little fast for him, but on October 1, 2016, Æþelþryð Matilda Wigglesworth — or more simply, Audie — joined our pack.

Audie today

Æþelþryð Matilda Wigglesworth — Audie, for short. (You see, Audrey is the Anglo-Norman version of Æþelþryð, also spelled Etheldreda, and Audie is the diminutive of Audrey. She came to us named Molly, so I was looking for a name that sounded similar to that and landed on Audie.) That box on her collar is the invisible fence receiver. She’s a fence-climber if there’s a squirrel on the other side. (Photo by Bullock. Not to be shared or reproduced elsewhere without permission.)

No, she is not a Brittany. She’s an English Setter. It’s kind of long story how we ended up with a Setter instead of a Brittany, but the short version is that I fell in love. Anyway, since she’s English, I named her for an English saint and an English queen, and gave her a fake English last name (she *is* very wiggly). But I should have named her Wynnie, after the Old English “wynn” or joy, because she is SO full of joy — don’t let her serious look in this picture fool you. Just about everything makes her happy: walkies, treats, her Kong, the toy tied onto the end of a horse whip that we spin around for her in the back yard for her to chase, supper (she dances for it!), sleepy time, car rides, cuddling with her people, being with her people, her people coming home, people putting on shoes (because that could mean walkies!), the nice people who take care of her at boarding (though she’s even happier when her regular people come back to get her), nice doggies she meets, new people she meets, and so on. When you give her the “place” command to get on one of her beds, she *spins* in the air in a full circle as she leaps into the dog bed (because what comes next usually involves a treat).

The only thing she doesn’t like is her crate, because that means the people are leaving her alone and she can’t go anywhere — she’s much better left on her own in the family room with a Kong filled with treats, then she doesn’t mind being alone because she can look out the windows and lie on soft things that smell like her people, so she doesn’t feel so lonely. This is just one of the many ways that she’s different from Pippi, who loved her crate as a chance to be “off duty” and sleep. Pippi was territorial and barked at everyone who merely walked by the house. Woe to you if you were the UPS delivery person! Being in her crate was a vacation from her self-appointed job. Audie doesn’t have a territorial bone in her body, except where squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and cats are concerned. They’re the only creatures she barks at (well, and at us when she thinks it’s time for us to get out of bed). People coming to the door are potential new laps to sit in. (Oh yes, she’s a 35-pound lap dog. That’s also very different from Pippi.)

These differences from Pippi — including the different breed — are good things, I think. Because she’s so different, we’ve gotten to know her on her own terms. I think if we’d adopted a Brittany, we’d constantly see her or him as Not Pippi. Audie is just Audie. She’s her own fur-person. And the joy she brings is also restorative. Plus, I have a great office buddy — she loves to lie at my feet or in the upholstered chair in my office while I work. But right now she wants to go out, so I’ll wrap this up now. If I do get back to blogging, I promise more pictures of Audie — and I’ll make her her own page, too, just as Pippi has.

So what’s up with you since I last blogged?

Hello, goodbye

It’s been over a year and a half since I last posted, so I think it’s safe to say that this blog is defunct, for now at least. Who knows, maybe I’ll feel a need to come back to it, so it’s not going to go anywhere.

But before I sign off, I thought I’d do some important catching up. Between the last post and this one, I contributed an essay called “Downtime” to the collection How to Build a Life in the Humanities, edited by Gregory Colón Semenza and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. I was asked to contribute to that collection because of this blog, and in my bio, I name the blog. So it’s possible that you’re here because of that essay, in which case, I wanted to add an update to that piece. In it, I talk about the importance of having a “third thing,” an activity (or set of activities) for rest and relaxation that are neither family/home responsibilities nor work responsibilities, and I chronicle my experiences with my major “third thing” for many years, long-distance running. At the time I was writing, I had burned out on marathons and competition and had not yet found a single “third thing” to replace that pastime. But since then, I am happy to report, I have gotten back into running — this time half marathons instead of full ones. I trained for and ran my first in late 2014 and have run two more since. (I also trained for another this past fall, but ended up not being able to run because of other things going on in my life — updates I’ll give below.)  And now I’m training for another one in April. Right now, my current PR is a respectable 2:01, and though it would be nice to get it under 2 hrs, I’m happy just running. And really, that was my secret to getting back to running and racing: I’m focusing *only* on the running, on the process, *not* on any time goal. I’m trying to be very Zen-like in my attitude, and living in the moment of a run-day or a rest day of my training plans, or in the run itself. If I focus too much on the results, that’s when I’ll burn out again. I don’t want to end up crying during a race again because I’m not going to make a certain time!

That’s the good news. Sadly, the last year also brought with it terrible loss. In mid-December, “Bullock” (my pseudonymous spouse) and I had to say a final goodbye to our dear, sweet, soulful, smart, beautiful dog, Pippi. Many of my regular readers are also Facebook friends, and already know this, so I’ll spare the details, especially since narrating everything again will make me terribly sad. In short, Pippi died of an aggressive stomach cancer that didn’t show even the vaguest signs until October (and only in retrospect did we realize they *were* signs). By November, right before Thanksgiving, she was very sick, but with what *seemed* to be a stubborn pancreatitis (and in fact, it was — it was just *caused* by the cancer). By a week before Christmas, we had a firm diagnosis, and it was clearly time, so we let her go before her pain and discomfort escalated. She was only about 10 or so (the Brittany is a long-lived breed, generally) and we’d only known her for just under 8 years. We’re still mourning.

Pippi lived her life on this blog, in a way. I first wrote about her when we were still in the adoption process and even posted a poll to help us choose her name. (I actually went with readers’ second choice, because as soon as I finally met her, I knew she was a Pippi.) There are people in my life who only know her through the internet, and yet who have mourned her passing with me. She’s internet-famous. If you do a Google image search for “Pippi Brittany,” she’s the first image (and others in the first ten), and even a more generic search like “roan Brittany” turns up her pictures from this blog. And, of course, she has her own page here (which I will update).

Only time will tell if we adopt another dog. Pippi was one of the great ones, and they’re hard to get over. In the meantime, though, we’re helping with the rescue organization that brought us Pippi (and with a few others). We’re volunteering for transports to help dogs get to foster and forever homes, sometimes even giving them an overnight place to stay, and soon we may be fostering a young Brittany (as I write, we’ve volunteered, but he’s a stray in a county shelter and may still be claimed by an owner).

In the meantime, I run, I work, I spend time with Bullock, and I try to think of happy times with Pippi. And maybe I’ll come back to this blog when I have more interesting things to say again.


Happy New Year!

2013 wasn’t a bad year or a particularly notable year, though Bullock and I did celebrate 10 years together, and I was named Humanities Institute director. Otherwise, it was a kind of normal year, I guess. We didn’t quite end the year in a particularly good way, though — Bullock had a root canal and Pippi had to be taken to the vet for a foot injury, both on the last days of the year. My two gingers are recovering now.

Professionally, 2013 was solid. The anthology that I co-edited technically came out in 2012, but Spring 2013 was the first semester it was used in classes, and it did pretty well for such a specialized volume. So that’s cool. And I taught our gen-ed poetry class three times in a row (well, two consecutively) to reasonable success. Since this was the first time I’d taken on this particular class, that was good. (But I’d forgotten how much non-majors balk at having to learn technical terms. Seriously, guys, when in Rome!) Oh, and I *finally* finished the Article That Wouldn’t Die (or whatever I called it last) and submitted it to Dream Journal. This is the first time I’ve blindly submitted an article since my very first article submission — everything in between has grown out of something else (like a conference) or been invited in some way (but often still peer reviewed). Scary! Fingers crossed!

2014, however, is already shaping up to be a little more eventful, at least professionally. Here’s what I have planned so far, a list of bullet points I offer in lieu of resolutions.

  • A presentation later this month at a selective, by-application workshop for manuscript scholars that I *hope* will jump start where I need to go next on my in-progress not-quite-a-book-yet research.
  • A trip to Hong Kong for the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes annual conference. I’m looking forward especially to the workshops for directors and for the public humanities, and to being in Hong Kong! I last visted HK in the early 90s, but got sick on the way from Guilin to HK and spent the whole three days of our visit in the hotel room. So I added three extra days in the city — one before and two after — to just be a tourist. The conference and thus the hotels are in Sha Tin, which is outside of the city center in the New Territories (where the university hosting the conference is), but I’m actually kind of looking forward to getting around on public transportation and off the beaten track a bit.
  • A trip to Iceland for the New Chaucer Society. I’ve never been to Iceland, so I’m especially psyched to visit a new country. NCS has arranged a lot of excursions of the kind I might have taken anyway, so I’m only adding on two extra days for being a tourist on my own, especially since, holy crap, hotels in Iceland are freakin’ expensive in high season! Strangely, Hong Kong is cheaper. Even at the non-conference rate, I’ll get to stay in a *swank* high-end hotel with a Tolo Harbor view in Hong Kong for about the same as I’m paying for a two-star, bare basics Reykjavik hotel at the conference rate! (Yes, yes, I realize that the Yuan is artificially controlled and that the hotels in Chinese cities like Hong Kong are probably also partly subsidized to encourage tourist and business travel. But still, it kind of surprised me.) Bullock was going to go to Iceland with me, but when we realized that the two of us could take a non-work-related trip somewhere else less expensive for the cost of taking him to Iceland with me, we decided I’d go solo.
  • And I’m excited about what I’m doing/presenting at NCS, too. My anthology co-editor and I arranged a seminar (something relatively new for NCS — I’m interested in seeing how it goes) on a text near and dear to us both. And I’m presenting on a teaching panel about something I’m doing in my medieval lit class this spring, which brings me to…
  • My awesome medieval lit class this spring! I haven’t been this psyched for a class since I did that awesome ASNaC class in 2011. (That’s Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, btw.) It really deserves its own post. Maybe the next one. Anyway, this time I’m focusing on manuscript collections and anthologies from the Exeter Book to the Morte Darthur (which I’m reading, somewhat atypically, as a collection of sorts), with a bunch of miscellanies in between (Harley 978, with Marie de France’s Lais and Fables — collections in a collection! — and “Sumer is icumen in”; Laud Misc. 108 with Havelok and Horn and saint’s lives; the Auchinleck MS; and so on). I’ve arranged the syllabus by MS collections and paper assignments are all going to be about how we read such collections (e.g., read a work not assigned for class from one of our collections and write about how it fits the whole or works in tension with it). There will be lots of digital resources, too, to give students a sense of the material book. And I think I finally figured out how to give the grad students in a “slash” course a more graduate student worthy experience — they’re going to present their research projects in the two-hour time slot reserved for the final and the undergrads will be their audience and interlocutors (something I can totally repeat in future classes).
  • And the Humanities Institute will be up and running soon! Our first event is the first of our Humanities Happy Hours. I’m still trying to get a big speaker for a major event — important people are bad at answering emails! — but I’m actually more excited for the Triple-H (as I call it) series, which will showcase *our* humanities scholars in a public-friendly way.
  • I’m also going to write and submit my first big organizational (as opposed to individual) grant for our HI. I’m going to start with a regional one and then if that’s a success, maybe aim higher next year. I’m kind of looking forward to this. Yes, I know I’m weird.
  • I’m also writing a short essay on “managing down time” for a collection of essays that Greg Semenza is co-editing as a companion to Graduate Study for the 21st Century. So, um, first I must manage my down time! 🙂  (Seriously, no big plans for the personal life — just the usual making time to relax and exercise and all that. And maybe get back to teaching myself Italian, which I started last summer and then dropped.)

So what are your plans for 2014, professional or personal, or both?

A National Arts and Humanities Month announcement

So, I just learned today, half way into the month, that October in the US is National Arts and Humanities month. Who knew?

Well, from now one I will know, and it will be my business to know, because…drumroll please…I have been named the new Director of the Humanities Institute at Rust Belt University.

Our HI was founded in the 80s, but it’s been defunct for about 5 or 6 years now, so I’m essentially presiding over a “reboot,” Humanities Institute 2.0, an HI for the 21st century. I think I’ll take Doctor Who and Sherlock as my models (though with less of Steven Moffat’s disappointing sexism, thankyouverymuch), since the old HI was pretty beloved here and I want both to do it justice, but also to make it new, to make it useful for the humanities at RBU now. I’m meeting with my college’s dean this week to start the ball rolling — including putting together a steering committee, etc.– and I’m going to work on a draft mission statement today. We’ve only got a small budget to start with, so for our first semester of events and activities, I need to keep things realistic as I also seek out other funding. But my general vision for the Institute is one that makes connections: across humanities disciplines (and with those scholars who do humanities-type work in non-humanities departments), of course, but also between RBU and the wider community. I also primarily want the Institute to be an engine of advocacy and support for the humanities, both within the university and in our community.

So, internet hive mind, if your university were just starting up a Humanities Institute, what would like to see it do?

Dr. Virago – bicycle commuter?


Maybe not.

So yesterday I didn’t have to teach my Thursday 8 am class (I gave them the day off to break up the intensity) but I did have to go to campus for two meetings with departmental colleagues. So I thought, “Ah, perfect opportunity to try out riding my bike to campus from the new house” (which I’d been meaning to do since we moved in last year). Now, I occasionally rode my bike to campus from the old house, but not nearly as much as I should have. I think I gave up on making that a regular thing because it didn’t really provide *any* fitness benefit — we were only a mile and a quarter away from campus. But now we’re 6 miles away by direct route and 8 miles via the protected bike trail (which is what I took — no way am I ready to ride in traffic).

So yeah, I did a 16-mile round trip yesterday. Yay me! Physically it wasn’t that taxing (although I *really* need a gel seat cover — ouch!) and it was really pleasant to be outside (it was muggy, but in the 70s). But I found out that doing this has its drawbacks and I’m not sure I’m going to become a regular bike commuter, as much as the idea appeals to me on many levels, unless I work out some of the problems here.

First of all, even though I was riding at what I thought was a gentle, easy pace, I arrived a sweaty mess, mainly where my body was making contact with the bike or my backpack. So that means my back was sweaty — and not just a bit of a “glow,” but *dripping* *wet* — as were other areas that I’m sure you can imagine. (Luckily, nothing showed through my clothes — I had on a loose cotton blouse with a really loud print that disguised the sweat on my back, for instance.) OK, so how do bike commuters avoid this? Do they bike in one set of clothes and towel off and change at work? I know they don’t all do this — I remember seeing tons of Londoners and Parisians biking in their work clothes. (Btw, the scenes of crowds of Londoners and Parisians biking everywhere is part of what appeals to me about being a bike commuter. I’m such a Europhile that I’ll take any opportunity to pretend to be European. Shoot, I get excited because our Bosch dishwasher with its little pods of detergent make me feel European!) Anyway, unless I can solve the sweat problem, this isn’t going to happen.

The other problem is that I’m not sure this is a time-efficient way to commute and/or exercise, and I can burn equal amounts of calories with shorter runs. (Though it *is* a fossil-fuel-efficient way — another reason why it appeals to me.) According to various calculators on the intertubes, I probably burned about 340 calories on each leg, and the trip each way took me 50 minutes door to door. I burn the same amount of calories in an easy 30 minute run (so 60 minutes would give me the equivalent of the round-trip bike ride). Of course, running doesn’t get me to my destination, but it takes up less of my day than an hour and forty minutes of round-trip biking. Meanwhile, my *driving* commute is only about 20 minutes door-to-door. So it all kind of breaks even in terms of time spent in the abstract, if you combine everything: 40 minutes of driving + 60 minutes of running vs. 100 minutes of bike-commuting, both burning about 680 calories. But I don’t normally run 60 minutes on a day I’m going to campus (I usually squeeze in 30 on weekdays when I run), so in reality, by biking I’d be spending *more* time on those days.

Of course, in reality, if I’m going to do this, it will only be on Tuesdays after my 8-week class ends, because there’s no way I’m going to be out there biking to work on days I have to teach an 8 am class. So maybe I can afford the extra half hour of combined exercise and commute each week.

But that still leaves the sweaty mess issue. I can bungee-cord my backpack to the rack I have on the back of my bike, but what about the rest of me? Is carrying a change of clothes (and a towel) the only option? Is it me – am I exceptionally sweaty? Or does it get less sweaty in cooler, less muggy weather? What would a Parisian do??

Beginnings, endings, and anniversaries

I just learned that a couple of blogs I’ve read more or less since their inceptions are closing up shop — Dame Eleanor Hull (which Dame E began writing in 2007) and A Ianqui in the Village (Ianqui’s been blogging for 10 years!) — and it got me thinking about time, beginnings, endings, and cycles in my life. No, I’m not closing up shop here — not yet anyway — but I am nearing my 8-year blogiversary (on September 5, at least by the old blog’s first post), which makes this blog pretty long in the tooth! My dog and my blog are about the same age, but my dog is middle-aged, while my blog is elderly. (“Blog years” totally should be an idiom, just like “dog years.”)

Meanwhile, in other markers of time, 10 years ago I just finished teaching my first week of classes here at Rust Belt University.  My picture on my campus ID is still the picture from 10 years ago and I looked so damn *happy*. I had a tenure-track job! I was finally grown up! 11 years ago I was about to file my dissertation (which also made me happy, but there’s no picture to go with it). 19 years ago I was just beginning graduate school (my pictured self on that ID also looks pretty happy). In the personal realm and also a subject of happiness: Bullock and I are looking forward to our 10-year relationship anniversary next month. (Yes, we started dating a month after I started working here. We met early after my arrival — my colleague Victoria had a little get-together to introduce everyone. So she kind of set us up without our knowing it. Smart lady.)

On the phone with Virgo Sis the other day, I realized that by my age, my mother was the mother of one college graduate (Virgo Sis — Ms V and Fizzy would follow after), and in three years she’d be a grandmother to Ms V’s first born. Just thinking that I could have a college-age kid freaks me out. The idea that I could theoretically be a grandmother within a few years is just *crazy*. Also, thinking about the fact that my mom and Ms V both had their first kids at age 22 also makes me think “That’s crazy!” Yes, people have kids even younger, but in no way would my 22-year-old self have been ready for it. And the guys I was with then…well, I’ll just point out that they either only just started having kids in the last few years or also still don’t have kids, so clearly they wouldn’t have been ready back then, either. Or else we just all thought we weren’t. But yeah, in a parallel universe, it’s totally possible that I could have grown-up or nearly grown-up kids, and I get that my traditional-aged students sometimes look at me as parent-aged. But then some of them think I’m younger than I am, because I don’t look/dress/act like their parents. (If I didn’t dye my hair to cover the gray, they might think otherwise!) You know how in the media they say things like “40 is the new 30”? In Rust Belt, sometimes 40 is the old 50. Hard lives or growing up too fast can age you, and there’s a lot of that around here. So can the sun, and people seem to still purposely get tan around here (and to still use the expression “to lay out” — meaning to lie purposely in the sun in order to get a tan — which I hadn’t heard since I was a teen). But whether they think I’m closer in age to their parents or them, most of the younger students still grant me my authority.  Most of the non-traditional ones do, too, but a couple have talked to me in their “mom” voices (so far I haven’t gotten any “dad” voices, thank god). I want to say to them, “In academic years, I am *your* elder, thank you very much.” And yet sometimes I feel like I just arrived out of graduate school.

Time seems very much elastic to me these days — wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, as The Doctor might say:

For that reason, I like to remind myself of its passing now and then. It’s good to keep in mind that any of my students applying to a graduate program this year would be doing it 20 years after I did, and the world of those programs (whether academic or professional) is very different. (And yes, I do give them all the warnings.) That gap and difference is only going to get wider. And though it’s fun to mock the Beloit Mindset List (and it deserves that mockery), it is sometimes a helpful reminder that what seems like a “current” pop-culture reference isn’t. (Though just like I was into the 60s in the 80s, the kids today seem to be into the 90s. Well, some of them. And have you noticed that the whole boho, flippy, floral dress with combat boots look is back? Kelly from 90210 and Lisa Loeb would be so pleased!)

I know it’s normal for time to blend together more as you get older, but I can’t help but think it seems intensified for someone like me, who repeats seasonal/academic cycles — the students don’t age! — and who doesn’t have kids of her own to mark the time more obviously. Of course, at least we *have* seasons here (the weather kind, that is) — in LA I didn’t notice time passing, either, but that’s because the weather was always the same! Or that was my theory, anyway. Or maybe I should just blame graduate school. At any rate, while some things do seem emotionally/psychologically/experientially far back in time to me (applying to graduate school, for example), when I put a number to them (20 years ago), that’s when it seems impossible. I think, also, having not really started my career until my 30s (unless you count graduate school, which I do in some ways and don’t and others), I feel like I shouldn’t yet have reached an age where anything I did as a grown-up could be 20 years ago. According to this Salon article, this may be a common feeling for a segment of “Generation X,” since so many of us, regardless of profession, started our “grown-up” lives later than generations before us. (As my students would say, I found that article really “relatable.” As they say on the interwebs, though, YMMV.) Or maybe it’s just about being 40-something.

I have no idea what I’m trying to say here. Clearly this *post* has gone all wibbly-wobbly. To sum up: 10 years at Rust Belt University and 10 years with Bullock, 8 years as a presence on the intertoobs, and 19 years since I started the graduate program that made it all possible. Oh, and it’s been 6 years since my first book came out and people are still reading it! W00t! Here’s to many more years of successful professional activity and happiness in personal relationships! And maybe I have at least another year of blogging under my belt.

The end (but not really).

RBOC: Early summer edition

    • Hey, my blog got me a (future) publication! I’ve been invited to do a very short, personal essay on managing down-time in academia; it’s for a collection of essays on life in the humanities. I know the editor knows of me mainly through the blog (though he knows my real-life identity, too), and it’s the main reason why he invited me to contribute. OK, so it’s not that big of a publication (not scholarly, not peer-reviewed), but it will be easy and it’s not due until next year. Also, some of the other contributors on board are VIPs, and I think it’s important that not *all* of the contributors are VIPs at fancy R1 kind of places. One of the things this blog has always been about is what life is like at a regional public university, and a collection of essays about the life of humanists should reflect the diversity of careers and institutional affiliations we have. So, I said yes. For those reasons and more.
    • Wait, it’s summer, right? Well, technically it’s not yet “summer” (as in the season that begins later this month), but on the academic calendar it is, and it is strangely cold today! Brrrr, it’s 60F outside!
    • Just how small (for a city) is Rust Belt? This small: my dental hygienist is in the same running group I just joined. And my dentist lives in my neighborhood (according to the hygienist — I actually haven’t seen the dentist about).
    • Oh yeah, I’m trying to get back into the running groove. I joined a 5K training group, organized by the running store in town. I’m in the second slowest group, where once upon a time I would have been in one of the two fast ones, but hey, at least I’m running again! They have a marathon training program, too, and I may do that later in the year. If only they’d had these programs back when I was training all on my own. First of all, it’s a *lot* easier to do tempo runs and speed workouts with others than by oneself. Second, if I’d had faster people to run with, I might have gotten faster. And third, if I’d paid for training and had a group to meet even just once a week, I might not have dropped out of running like I did. I got so bored doing it by myself, especially once I met my goal of qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. And hey, maybe I’ll meet some new people outside of the university.
    • Speaking of meeting new people, I had the funniest interchange with a neighbor the other day. I was out gardening (my other, newish hobby — I need to post pictures here for those of you who aren’t my FB friends) and she stopped to say hello, introduce herself, and tell me she was on the way to a “Chip Off the Old Block” party (apparently other neighbors had rented a chipper and were inviting everyone to come use it). She said she’d “heard about” me from one of the other neighbors. (Really?) And then she said something about not knowing any of the other neighbors except the “old people” — her words. (Our neighborhood still has a lot of original owners, many of whom are of the grandparent sort.) She kind of encouraged me to come along, but not very directly. I still had a lot of gardening to do and I was all grubby (from an earlier run *plus* gardening — I was a stinky, dirty, hot mess!) or otherwise I might have joined her. It wasn’t until later that I realized that she was kind of awkwardly trying to make a new friend — she was roughly 30- or 40-something, I think, and maybe was looking to connect with someone who wasn’t one of the “old people.” It was a little like a playground interaction when someone’s parent says to the kid, “Go make a new friend.” I could use a neighborhood friend, but now I don’t know what to do — I don’t even know for sure what house she lives in, and even if I did, what would I do? Knock on the door and say, “Can the nice lady come out and play?”
    • Speaking of our neighborhood, besides friendly neighbors and dentists, it has a surprising abundance of wildlife. For instance, our yard is often full of these guys:
    • Frog! This guy was in our backyard, but they're all over the place. I frequently encounter them when I'm gardening.

      Frog! This guy was in our backyard, but they’re all over the place. I frequently encounter them when I’m gardening. I don’t think Pippi ever sees them, since they’re well camouflaged and stay still when another creature is near, so they’re safe from her.

    • And a few weeks ago, we had visits from a pair of these turkeys. No, I mean *actual* *turkeys*:

      Wild turkey! He and his mate or buddy were in the neighbor's yard, just on the other side of our fence.

      Wild turkey! He and his mate or buddy were in the neighbor’s yard, just on the other side of our fence. Pippi treated them more like interlopers than prey — she barked at them and patrolled the perimeter to make sure they didn’t come in our yard.

    • Other critters in the yard include the usual suspects: chipmunks, a cardinal pair nesting in our viburnum, a robin pair who first tried to raise a brood in our holly (but the eggs all disappeared, alas — presumably taken by predator birds, since they seemed to disappear without any disturbance to the bush around the nest) and now are building a nest in the lilacs, and big, fat bumblebees who love our flowers. (So frogs and bees are doing fine by us!) There are lots of other bird species, too, but I’m terrible at bird identification.
    • I’m really enjoying the show of flora and fauna in the yard because Bullock and I finally got deck furniture (other than my little bistro table and chairs, which I’ve had since I moved to Rust Belt, and which sits on the lower deck with the grill). Until today, the weather has been so gorgeous and perfect that I’ve been doing a lot of work outside on the deck. Poor Bullock, who is now chair of his department, has not been able to enjoy it until evening. He’s a little jealous.
    • Here’s our upper deck with our swank, retro furniture (which I think fits the lines and colors of the deck perfectly and makes the 80s style of the deck suddenly seem as mid-century modern as the furniture):

      One end of the upper deck. Someday the near end will have a dining table and chairs. The coffee table is actually an ottoman -- it's two things in one!

      One end of the upper deck. Someday the near end will have a dining table and chairs. The coffee table is actually an ottoman — it’s two things in one! Since taking this photo, I’ve put a big planter with impatiens in it to the right (in this picture) of the chair with the green pillow, which makes the whole area seem a little more finished. I think there needs to be a colorful, funky end table at the near end of the couch, though.

    • In the evenings, we’ve been enjoying a number of different seasonal, regional, and microbrew beers on the deck. Around here, Bell’s Oberon always says it’s summer, but my new favorite of the moment, especially with the chill still in the air, is 5 Rabbits’ 5 Vultures beer. It’s a nutty brown ale made with ancho chilis in it, and has a kind of chocolatey or molasses-like quality. It’s kind of like what a mole sauce would be if it were a beer, if that makes sense.
    • And finally, to bring it back to work-related news, I’ve finally got a 21-page working draft of the article I’ve been toying off and on with for WAY too long, and it finally know what it’s going to be when it grows up. Huzzah! This baby WILL be finished by the end of the summer. Must be all that inspiration I get while sitting on the deck!


Every year I have a little trouble transitioning from the rhythms of the academic year to the rhythms of summer. Even when I make myself detailed schedules — breaking up the planned work into chunks of time so I don’t while it away staring into space, and so that I have concrete plans for my best working hours — it still takes me awhile to make myself stick to it. I think I need to remember that and just give myself the last couple weeks of May to make the transition, and not feel such guilt for not working at full speed just yet. It really is a very different pace of work, with no or few external deadlines or structure, and it takes some time to adjust from the highly scheduled and highly interactive semester to the seemingly bottomless chasm of time and quiet that summer offers.

I’m also adapting this year to a different work/home rhythm with Bullock, who is now chair of his department, and so has to go in every day. In the past, when we both worked from home in the summer, we could ease quietly into whatever our individual rhythms called for, in our various spaces in the house. But now mornings have a bit of bustle to them that they didn’t previously have, and it’s throwing me off a bit. One of things I put on my summer schedule was an hour of language study each day — I’m trying to learn Italian, partly for the heck of it, partly so I can teach Dante and Boccaccio without feeling like a total fraud — and I put it on the schedule in the morning so that I could warm up my brain that way. But Bullock is often still here during that hour, and I feel a little self-conscious about doing the oral practice right now, as I’m still in the tourist phrase-book stage. I’ve got to find something else to warm up with — and NOT e-mail and NOT Facebook! — while Bullock is still getting ready for his day, something that can be interrupted more easily, too.

And I really do need a warm-up “exercise.” I’m a slow starter in the morning. I’m trying to trick myself into being a quicker starter by reading something at least semi-work-related over breakfast and coffee, instead of my usual Entertainment Weekly or Esquire (both of which come to our household in Bullock’s name, but which I end up reading) — a leisure reading that can stretch into my work day because I lose track of time. It doesn’t have to be research-related — lately it’s been the Kinoshita and McCracken companion to Marie de France (whom I often teach, but don’t work on) — but it needs to be somewhat substantive. But at any rate, I do not wake up eager to work on whatever research I’m engaged in at the moment. I have to get there. (Side note: I also don’t wake up eager to go for a run, not even when I was in peak marathon-training mode. I’ve always been more of an afternoon runner than a morning runner. I think all of this may have to do with my extremely low blood pressure and heart rate, even when I’m not in shape.)

My problems getting started and getting going this year are compounded by the fact that in the fall I’ll be teaching an 8 a.m. class (followed by a 9:30 a.m. class), after 10 years of teaching mostly in the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. range and never earlier than 10:30 or 11 a.m.  A decade of that kind of schedule creates some deep habits for both work rhythms and all the other rhythms that surround work, including sleep. As my mother’s daughter, I’ve inherited a tendency to be a bit of a night owl, though never to the degree she was. (She often stayed up until 3 a.m reading and watching movies on cable.) But still, I am most certainly NOT a morning person, but an 8 a.m. class means I’ll have to be up and *on* earlier than I’ve ever needed to be as an adult. (My college and grad school institutions didn’t have 8 a.m. classes, and my jobs before grad school started at 9 a.m. on most days, sometimes at 8:30. I’ve been lucky.) That’s an adjustment after all this time doing things otherwise. So this summer, I’ve set out to readjust my internal clock, getting up a little earlier bit by bit.

But that’s been a little difficult already, because after years of being “on” in the evenings (rarely did I have a schedule that didn’t at least have a 5:45-7 p.m. class, and sometimes later ones), I’ve developed a general tendency not to really “come down” and be able to sleep until 11 p.m. or later. And this past semester, I developed some intermittent insomnia that kept me up even later. To combat it, I started playing what I think are soothing games (mainly on my iPhone) to help me relax, although Bullock thinks they keep my mind too active. Perhaps they do; here’s one ‘free draw’ drawing I did in Draw Something 2 one night:

Keep in mind I drew this with my finger on an iPhone screen! (And no, we don't have exposed brick in our house -- I just wanted to use the "brick" pattern tool in the game.)

Keep in mind I drew this with my finger on an iPhone screen! (And no, we don’t have exposed brick in our house — I just wanted to use the “brick” pattern tool in the game.)

So yeah, the insomnia is making changing my biorhythms “interesting,” to the say the least. I should probably ban electronics — especially really glowing ones — from the bedroom. In Sleepwalk With Me — a very funny, if low-budget and low-key movie about *extreme* sleepwalking issues — comedian Mike Birbiglia says all of the advice he’s been given to help him sleep and to sleep well includes totally powering down all electronics hours before bed time. I should probably take that advice, huh?

OK, so, if you’re still with me, I’m having trouble getting into the summer work groove, and having trouble sleeping as well. All of these are issues of changing “rhythm” in my work and personal life, and I’ve got to adjust to these new rhythms. There’s still one more rhythm adjustment to come next semester. Not only will I be teaching an 8 a.m. class, but I’ll be teaching it *four* days a week instead of two, for 8 weeks instead of 16. In the first half of the semester I’ll have 3 separate classes, two on M-W and one on MTWR, but in the second half of the semester I’ll have only the 2 M-W classes remaining. I’m kind of interested in seeing what this does to my teaching/research balance of time. On the one hand, I’ll be completely *done* with one class half way through the semester; but on the other hand, that means I’ll have to do *all* of its prep and grading in the first half. Meanwhile, I have two honors thesis students, and work with them will probably ramp up in the second half of the semester. However, the MTWR class is a section of one of the other two classes I’m teaching, so having *finished* one version of it mid-way through the semester, I’ll have most of the prep done for the other version of it for the second half of the semester (with some adjustments). Still, this is all going to be VERY strange, so I think I shouldn’t expect to have as productive a fall as I might have otherwise anticipated.

So see, that’s another reason why I need to get on the case this summer and use it *well*. I know, life’s hard. /sarcasm  But the constantly changing rhythms of academic life are part of what makes it different from other professions. Not better, not worse, just different. I suppose it keeps it from being that rut of the work week, especially since even in the school year, every day is a little different, but it’s a challenge that needs to be managed over and over and over.

Huh, I guess that’s where the regular rhythm is — in always having to adjust one’s rhythms!

Nothing says summer nostalgia like a Caro-Nan purse

What’s a Caro-Nan purse, you say?  *This* is a Caro-Nan purse:

This is a personalized Caro-Nan. All of the business names and addresses on the buildings are references to the owner’s friends and family.

According to what I can find on the interwebs, Caro-Nan purses were made by Carolyn McDaniel and Nancy Steele in Jackson Mississippi from the late ’50s to the mid ’70s. As their popularity spread, they custom-made them for boutiques around the country, with the names of that town’s stores and landmarks (even though all of the buildings always look like they’re in Amsterdam, architecturally speaking), and for individuals with place names that meant something to them, like the one in the picture above. [Updated to add:  Not all Caro-Nan bags featured buildings. Some had flowers and plants and cute insects. But I like the city scapes the best.] On the top of the cityscape bags, they decoupaged arbitrary “fun” things, as well as names of international tourist destinations — I think they were supposed to signify “woman of the world.” The inside, which I didn’t take a picture of, is lined in country style, cotton, floral print cloth (think Vera Bradley bags). And they glued on a “lucky penny” with the year of the purse’s creation. Here’s the top of this one:

You can’t really make it out, but my penny is from 1969, the year I was born. (And could the things on the top of this bag *be* any more 1969?) That’s part of the reason why I bought this purse at a local antique shop. But there are other reasons, as well. Read on. (Btw, what’s up with the punctuation in “C’est la, vie!”?!)

As the caption tells you, I bought this purse in an antique shop here in Rust Belt. But the 1969 penny and the “Happiness is” cut out aren’t what provokes the nostalgia for me, even though I spent most of my childhood living in a bedroom decorated by my late sister Ms. V., who included two “Happiness is…” bulletin boards featuring big-eyed Keane-like figures in the decor. (*Shudder*)

No, what provokes the nostalgia — and a bit of “plate o’ shrimp” coincidence — is that my mother had one of these purses, too, and just a week before finding this one in Rust Belt, I found her old one in her bedroom closet. I don’t have a picture of it, because it’s waiting for me to come pick it up from my brother’s house next time I’m in town. My mom’s wasn’t personalized. Instead, it was made for one of the shops in the fancy shopping district in Cowtown, and features all the stores there that I remember from my childhood (and most of which are much older than that) but aren’t there any more. Inside the purse were a bunch of old receipts and coupons (7 cents off cat food!) that showed that the last time she used the purse was 1974. (I think her penny was from 1970.) Also in that purse were two stubs from the train ride at the zoo in Cowtown, which I knew were from a visit she and I made there, as we did every year after school let out, just the two of us.

And that’s when the nostalgia hit me. Hard. Woah. It was intensely sensory; I could see us sitting side by side on that train circa 1974, and see what she was wearing — white skirt, wedge sandals, I think, and a green blouse — and how tan her legs were, and I could smell her (well, I could kind of still smell her in that purse!) and see the quality of the light in Cowtown in late May (because that’s when we went to the zoo — before it got too hot). And I could see her holding that purse in her lap. But I couldn’t see her face, perhaps because in that memory, I was looking at what was around me, and Mom was just a grown-up set of images in the periphery of a 5-year-old excited to see lions, and tiger, and bears, oh my! But the rest was *so* vivid.  It also provoked memories of our country club’s pool and that purse sitting next to Mom by her lounge chair. I could almost smell the chlorine and suntan oil (yes, sun *tan* *oil* — not sun*block* lotion). One person’s madeleine cookie is another person’s Caro-Nan purse.

When I found Mom’s purse, I didn’t know it belonged to a two-decade long, nation-wide trend. I thought it was made by some local artist — after all, all the place names were local.  And then I saw the purse above in an antique store here. Weird! I thought. Of course I *had* to buy this Rust Belt counterpart to my mom’s purse. Not only was it from my birth year, but on the back side are the (official) names of places that mean something to me, too — this lady and I have some things in common. But I had to find out how she and Mom had such similar bags. Was it some kind of direct marketing trend, like Tupperware? Or a craft trend like macrame and latch hook rugs? So then I started searching “Caro-Nan” (the signature in the bag) and found other blogs and Etsy shops talking about them. One of the commenters on one of the blogs said Carolyn and Nancy are still around, though not making bags any more.  I wish they’d get someone to make a web site for them to tell their own story — I’d love to hear it!

So, what provokes nostalgic summer or childhood (or childhood summer) memories for you? And do you know anyone with a Caro-Nan purse?

In other news…

I finally updated my header image here on the blog with pictures *I* took and that mean something to me, to replace the pre-set picture of pretty water god-only-knows-where. I’ve set it to randomly show one of the five pictures I’ve uploaded, so you’ll get something different each time you visit (or, well, until you’ve seen them all). Here’s a bit of information about each picture:

  • The fall trees and leaf-strewn path is from one of the area nature-preserve-like parks here in Rust Belt. These parks — and there are many of them! — are one of my favorite things about this city.
  • The winter scene was taken in the same park and shows our dearly departed Pippi doing that amazing thing that Brittanies do: standing fully erect on her hind legs. Bullock is in the picture, too, but his bipedalism is a little less amazing.
  • The flowers are from Regent’s Park in London, because I love English gardens and London.
  • The pastoral landscape with the pond is in Yorkshire, part of the grounds of stately home there, because I love the English countryside (even planned, artificially “picturesque” parts) and Yorkshire.
  • The “One Way –>” / “Fortune” street sign pair is from a Great Lakes region summer home settlement that I wrote about here. The place does mean something to me, but I like this particular picture because any good medievalist knows that Fortune goes *two* ways: up or down!  (Also, I find it funny that in a community where most of the streets are named after famous American Puritans, there’s a street called Fortune.)