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 Col贸n 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.)聽 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! 馃檪聽 (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?

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!

Rhythms

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.聽 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聽 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!

What a semester!

I haven’t been blogging as much as I intended to this semester, largely because this has been an insanely busy semester — busier than most. (I do have a few posts brewing, including one on whether tenure robs you of the incentive to work hard.)聽 Some things you know about — buying a new house, getting married — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.聽 So, in a nutshell — or in bullet-point lists, actually聽 — here is what my semester, which is actually still not over, has looked like:

Professional:

  • Having changed my English medieval lit class so that it alternates, on a three-year basis, between early medieval (Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic — ASNaC for short), late medieval (after the Norman conquest), and a topic across the period, I taught the ASNaC version for the first time.聽 This included teaching many texts — all of the Celtic and Norse stuff — for the very first time as well as *reading* much of them for the first time.聽 Here’s some advice based on my experience:聽 do not assign a 250-page Old Norse saga you’ve read only in excerpt, or at least don’t schedule it for the two weeks before Thanksgiving.
  • I also changed the assignment sequence in my Old English class — a class I still feel I do not know how to teach! argh! — so that I was doing a lot of fresh work in that course, too. It didn’t take much time for me to do said work, but it caused morale/attitude problems with the students.聽 That’s something else I want to blog about in more detail later.
  • To review: I had two mostly new preps this semester (my own damn fault). I am an idiot. On the bright side, the complicated assignment sequence I did in the medieval lit class seemed to have worked well.聽 More on that later, too.
  • In service-related news, I served on the personnel committee of another department because they’re too small to field a full committee from their own faculty.聽 Said DPC had to vote on a fifth year renewal, a promotion to full, and two tenure cases, one of which was hugely contentious (and ugly — really, really ugly) and involved meeting after meeting after meeting.聽 I counted up the hours of meetings:聽 twenty freakin’ four!
  • Oh, and I also got into an ugly fight with a colleague in my department — so ugly that it made me cry in a professional situation, something I haven’t done in about 20 years.
  • In more positive news, I’ve got two contracted professional publications in progress (one a companion-to article, the other an anthology of texts which I’m co-editing). Alas, though, I feel constantly behind on them, despite working diligently on them.聽 And I’m waaaaayyyyy behind on the review essay that I’m supposed to have written by the end of this month — I haven’t even finished the books. Ack!
  • Oh, I also had to deal with two minor academic dishonesty issues this semester. See Flavia’s post on the topic for a reflection of how I feel and think about these things. (Also, read the comments for SEK’s hilarious story.聽 I so want to be able to quote that ad infinitum.)
  • And this was all in my first semester back from sabbatical.聽 Hey, welcome back, Virago!

Personal:

  • At the very beginning of this semester, I had minor, out-patient surgery. Everything’s fine and my prognosis is excellent.聽 But still, it took up a lot of time, including a couple hours of pre-surgery testing and medical history recording a few days before and then all day for the surgery and a weekend to recover. It was also the first time I had real surgery or general anesthesia.聽 (And boy, anesthesia is *weird*!)
  • I crazily flew off to Amsterdam for 4 days over our long-weekend Fall Break for a girl’s weekend with an old friend.聽 Here’s proof:

    This should totally be a postcard that says "Welcome to Amsterdam."

  • Got married. As you know.
  • Bought a house. We closed on it yesterday and get possession on Monday. For some reason, in this state (or it may just be this county), a seller can stay in the house after closing, free of charge. The standard time is 30 freakin’ days, but we negotiated down to five. We really wanted聽 immediate possession, but we compromised. Anyway, now we own two houses — crazy! (Well, Bullock does. Technically I’m a renter in the current one.) The plan is to remain in this one while we do some remodeling in the new one, and to use the new one to declutter this one in order to make it look good when we list it.聽 We’ll likely move in February.

I am exhausted!聽 And next semester isn’t likely to be any less crazy.聽 We’ll be moving, the Pastry Pirate is coming to visit (if her car, which has been in storage while she’s been “on the ice” in Antarctica, manages to start), and I’ll be going back to a three-course load.聽 (I know, many of you do four, and that is definitely more work. I am privileged to have a 2/3 load.聽 But three is still an adjustment for me, since it’s been five years since I’ve done that.)聽 I’ve scheduled my classes for four days a week, which I’ve never done before, because I thought that might be less exhausting than three in one day.聽 We’ll see.聽 And, of course, I’m changing things in all three classes (although mostly just assignments, not readings).聽 Oh, and just two days ago, I agreed to do an advanced Old English independent study with one of the students who apparently actually *likes* Old English.聽 I was so happy that some good has come out of that class that I agreed. I did warn him, though, the emphasis may be on *independent*. At least I know he’s a student who can handle that — he’s smart and super-competent. Plus, he’s a really nice guy; I love working with nice people.聽 In professional news, I’m going to MLA, where I’m participating in a pre-conference digital humanities workshop (so excited about that!).聽 And also, in late March, I’ll be giving an invited talk (my first!) and a seminar at a flagship university in another state, and I’m crazy nervous about it. The work I’m presenting/workshopping in each case is so in-progress that I’m not even sure what titles to give it and I need to do that soon.

So, just to give you a heads up, if this blog goes totally silent in April, it may be because I’m dead from exhaustion.

It’s the service, stupid

Want to know what runs professors down and makes them cranky and extra protective of their time?聽 The freakin’ service, that’s what.聽 For non-academic folks who may still read this blog, service = the business of running departments, programs, majors, colleges, and curricula, as well as hiring, reviewing, and promoting — or not — other professors, plus a bunch of other stuff that’s too “inside baseball” to mention, as well as all the other academic-related stuff that goes on at a university (special lectures, conferences, film series, blah, blah, blah). And then there’s service to the profession and the discipline, too. I haven’t even mentioned that here. In other words, the university works because we do, and that work isn’t just teaching and research.聽 And one of the big problems at my university is that we’re being shrunk by attrition so there are fewer and fewer of us to share the burden of the service.聽 Excellence without money!

Anyway, I’m off to yet another meeting of a committee that is killing me and preventing me from doing as good a job as I should on the teaching and research parts of my job — at least this week, anyway.聽 And what kills me the most is the fact that committee work is the hardest to control and organize.聽 Your classes meet at certain times, and you block out things like writing time, office hours, class prep time, and so on.聽 But when your fellow committee members send you stuff to read and respond to hours before it’s due or hours before you’re going to meet about it (or you don’t see it until hours before because you were teaching all day and couldn’t check e-mail), what are you going to do except drop everything and respond, or be the asshole who doesn’t pull his weight?

Sigh.聽 On that note, gotta leave for that meeting!

Three weeks in…

…and already I feel so very, very tired.聽 But happy.聽 I’m glad to be back in the thick of things.

Today’s supposed to be a writing day, but I had an early morning meeting, followed by an hour and a half spent at a health care facility getting poked and prodded and giving the world’s longest personal health history (long story — may blog about it later), and then I called my sister to tell her some news, and now I’m too tired to do the hard writing.聽 So I shall write this blog post and then do some grading and service-related work and that will do very nicely today, since I actually already met my week’s writing goal anyway. So there!聽 (Woah, I just turned into Dr. Crazy there — I *never* use the verb “shall.”)

Anywho, I’m now three weeks into my first semester back from sabbatical and I have to say: I’m actually happier than I was during sabbatical.聽 Tired, but happy.聽 Seriously, I do not do well mentally in the slough of despond that is the isolation of sabbatical (or dissertation fellowship or whatever), at least not when it’s a whole year long and I don’t have a major project to *finish*. Don’t get me wrong — I got a lot accomplished over sabbatical.聽 I did the major chunk of the initial research for the still-inchoate second book (or whatever — it might not turn out to be a book, exactly, but it’s big) I’ve started; I edited most of my half of a co-edited anthology of primary texts and co-wrote its introduction; I drafted 15 pages of an article (ideally one I should’ve finished this past year, but which I’ve put off until this year and next summer to finish); and I read three books in the field of historical English linguistics to help make me a better teacher of Old and Middle English linguistics courses, and maybe more prepared to teach History of the English Language if we never get a line to replace our retired historical linguist after the VAP line we currently have runs out. Oh, and I also did a lot of preparatory reading for the brand new early medieval lit class I designed because I had never previously read all of The Tain or Grettir’s Saga, etc.聽 I did not get as far in my plan to re-read my undergraduate classical-to-renaissance great books syllabus (in prep for *another* new class next year), but I did at least re-read The Iliad, the Homeric hymns, and all of Sappho’s poetry.

So, I got stuff done.聽 But.聽 Even so, I felt like sabbatical kind of sucked. I think I might have done all of those things more efficiently with just a semester off.聽 Or maybe not — it did take me almost all of the first semester to remember how to organize my own time, and planning and preparing for the six-week research trip to England took a lot of time.聽 But still, I’m a lot happier with a lot of different tasks on my plate.聽 And I’m even making more headway on a couple of other writing tasks than I was making on them over sabbatical. (Good thing, too, since they’re due in November and December — though I can get, and will probably need, an extension on the November deadline.)聽 Check out the meters I added over in the sidebar of my homepage.聽 The first one is the one I’m working on now, so expect it to grow this semester more than the other one does.聽 The second one is the one I made headway on over sabbatical, but then stalled out on; however, as it’s related to a talk I’m giving in the spring, it might start to grow a little, too.聽 I also joined ADM’s and Notorious’s awesome bloggy writing group to help spur me to keep up the progress on number 1.

I think that I’m just a lot happier with multiple tasks going on at once, and with the adrenaline that juggling gives me. As tired as it makes me, it works for me better than the quiet contemplation of a year of reading and research.聽 However, *perhaps* if I’d had a discrete (but large) project to *finish*, I would’ve felt better about sabbatical聽 My second dissertation fellowship year was a *hell* of a lot more productive and satisfying than the first, but that’s because I had the dissertation all mapped out and just need to write the damn thing down.聽 I had a writing group of sorts, then, too, with the screenwriter across the courtyard from me. (Have I never told you that I spent my grad years in Melrose Place?聽 I kind of did — different address and no pool, but movie industry “aspiring types” and plenty of drama.聽 Beside the screenwriter across the courtyard and the costumer downstairs, one of my neighbors was this actress.) Anyway, the screenwriter guy decided that one page of my dissertation was about ten pages of his screenplays, and so we’d each try to write at least that much every day.聽 Some days I’d come out with ten pages (really!) and he’d be all like, “No way! I’d have to write a whole script to keep up!”聽 Hells yeah!

So, in short, I like structure, and sabbatical didn’t give me any.聽 I tried to *make* some for myself, but it never felt right.

Sabbatical was really good for me in some ways, though: in addition to the work I did get done, and which I couldn’t do during the school year (e.g., do manuscript research in the UK), the break from teaching alone did wonders for my morale and the teaching part of my job.聽 And it gave me a clear break from being grad director, since I wasn’t around for students to say, “I know this isn’t your job any more, but could you just…”聽 And man, was I burnt out from being grad director!聽 Teaching, too, though I think that may have been colored a lot by being grad director.聽 I like my professional distance and compartmentalization, and as grad director (which also means instructor of the intro to research course for the first year grad students), I saw some students way more than I might have liked — in class, in my office, in their exams.聽 Too much!聽 And that’s true of the easy students as well as the needy ones.聽 As the person teaching Old and Middle English, which a buttload of grad students take (both courses) to satisfy various language-related requirements, I still see a lot of the grad students, but outside of the bounds of the course, they are not my problem any more.聽 And since this is the first I’m meeting them, I also don’t have any history with them.聽 Clean slates are *awesome*.

But if I had to do it all over again — or in ideal circumstances, anyway — I might have waited to take sabbatical when I had a clearer long project to finish, some more concrete, anyway, and I might have taken only a semester.聽 Oh well, something to keep in mind in another seven years, if they haven’t done away with sabbaticals altogether.

A stiff drink

[Edited to change the title to something pithier]

So between the blog posts and tweets of Dr. Crazy and Flavia lately, and Bullock’s adventures with alcohol and the iSi Whipper (infused vodka!) and iSi Twist ‘n’ Sparkle (carbonated margaritas!) here in our house (not to mention our well stocked liquor cabinet that we drink without the modernist cuisine gadgets), there seems to be a lot of drinking going on in this corner of the blogosphere.聽 Like Flavia and Crazy, Bullock and I like to unwind from a bad day or rough week with a good cocktail, or a quality glass of wine or bourbon or scotch or gin.聽 Or a beer.聽 We’re equal-opportunity drinkers when it comes to the type of beverage, though we’re a bit picky about the quality. (Btw, Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu is a really tasty ale-like concoction. We just had that for the first time the other night.)

And recently Bullock and I re-watched the entire run of Sports Night, which often featured Isaac pouring himself a stiff drink from the elegant little liquor cabinet in his office, years before (in broadcast time) and after (in narrative setting time) Don Draper was doing it on Mad Men.

So I keep wondering, what do you think would happen if I put such a liquor cabinet in *my* office at school? Would anything happen (assuming I didn’t show up to class drunk and didn’t offer it to under-aged students)? This is all hypothetical, since there isn’t *room* in my office for such a cabinet, but I still wonder.聽 In plenty of other higher ed contexts it wouldn’t even be noticed — for example, among the ubiquitous sherry hours, Pimm’s-soaked garden parties, and subsidized student bars of Oxbridge (where the drinking age is 18) — but I wonder how it would go over in a place like Rust Belt U., or in US public higher ed in general.聽 And would it read differently for a woman to have such a cabinet?

Fellow drinkers, would you ever be tempted to do that? Have you ever known a US professor with well-stocked liquor cabinet/beer fridge/wine cellar in his/her office?

I need to dream bigger

Last night I had a dream that a more prestigious university in a much bigger and more economically vibrant city called to offer me a job. No search, no campus visit — just an automatic offer of a job. And when I mentioned Bullock, they cheerfully said they’d get in touch with the relevant department and they’d be calling to make *him* an offer. OK, so we’re *definitely* in fantasy dream land, right?

Yeah, except for one thing: the salary the dream school was offering me was a mere $3,000 more a year than I make now, but in a much more expensive city.聽 And I was still *really* excited about the offer and ready to say “hell yes!” as soon as the offer for Bullock came through. And I was particularly dazzled by the salary! What the what?

Bullock thinks my unconscious was trying to tell me that we have it pretty good here in Rust Belt — that we have “big city” salaries in a small city. (I don’t think he was saying that was necessarily, actually true, but that my unconscious was making that the guiding metaphor.)

You know what I think? I think my unconscious hasn’t looked at my pay stubs in a really long time!

********

PS — Also, in the dream, we lived in the country and had *three* dogs, including a red colored setter or retriever of some sort and a Bernese Mountain Dog, along with Pippi. We took long walks through woods and fields with them all off-leash and Pippi would sometimes pick fights with the setter/retriever and the sweet, gentle Berner would break it up. And Bullock was wearing Wellies and a barn coat (?!). And I kept thinking, “Where are we going to put all these dogs in the big city?” but I was still excited about the job. Geez, do I have conflicting desires or what? That country fantasy sounds really nice, but so does the big city!

>Wanna see the rest of my office?

>Long time readers of this blog may recall that I used to have a tiny (7’x’7′) but brightly colored office. I posted pictures of the colors here. It had huge windows that looked onto a leafy courtyard full of 19th century medievalism in the collegiate gothic style. In fact, here are some more pictures:


Note the gargoyle-like heads in at the top of the leaded glass windows in this one:


Now, alas, I have no view. But boy do I have space! I can have *multiple* students meet with me at once (there are two chairs supplied for them) and my books shelves and file cabinet have room to grow. And I can spread my work out on the l-shaped desk. Heck, I can *actually* *work* in my office, instead of just using it to meet with students (or rather, one student at a time in the old office). Check it out:


What you’re not even seeing is the space to the right of the door (from which the first picture was taken), which is *totally* *open* except for the five-drawer lateral file over against the wall. I have *open* space in my office. I’ve never had that before!

And how do you like my clever repurposing of one of my old curtains to get rid of the end- view of the institutional metal bookshelves, eh? (Btw, that’s the rug that brought my whole day together in the old post linked above.) For those of you who like toys and humor in office decor, if you look closely (or “enbiggen”), you’ll see: a toy Manx cat (she moves around); two Monty Python and the Holy Grail figures (in their boxes) surrounding, yes, a wooden grail (hand carved!), and a disco ball hanging under the cabinets above the computer desk. There’s also a picture from Medieval Times, a dragon with a bell around his neck, and a Nunzilla in there somewhere.

I still have to get a high enough step-ladder to hang my beaded chain-swag lamp up above the wicker chair (it’s on the top of the bookshelf now — you can barely see it), but otherwise I’m moved in and unpacked, and I have to say it’s a pretty good place to work. We’ll see what it’s like when the building is hopping, but my office, at least, is within the department main suite (since I’m grad director), so that may help.