Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Mom of the World, or Shouting into the Void

 If you're a mom, or a teacher, or have a certain kind of organizational brain, you're used to this: 

Mom version: 

Day 1. "Mom, where are my socks?"

"In the drawer where they always are." (Or in my case, in the laundry basket where I hadn't folded them.)

"Oh, okay." 

Day 2. "Mom, where are my socks?" etc. 

But you put up with it because they're kids and learning.


Teacher version: 

"How many sources do we need for this paper?" (after you've already said "as many or as few as you need" in class many times.)

"As many or as few as you need. If you're supporting a point . . . " (and you can do this from memory, I'm sure.) 

You answer patiently because they're students AND you have learned that some draconian teacher in their past has probably terrified them by saying "this specific number, no more and no less." They need that reassurance that, unlike a real colleague I had one time, I am not going to dock them points for putting one space rather than two after a period back when that was a thing. 


But what about grown-ups? 

Person A to Person B & C (me):"Where did we put this file? Who has it? What did we say about X? Isn't that a problem?"

Person C (me): "The file is here. Here is the system I set up so we could all keep track of these files together. Here is what we decided about X, and here is why we thought it was a problem." 

Person B: "I don't remember what we decided, Person A, but I think X is a problem because [what I as Person C just said without crediting me]." 

Person A: "Thank you, Person B, for your vast insights and wisdom."

Person C (me): "Hello! I'm talking here."

In short, apparently I am the Mom of the World, organizing things and shouting into a void that is not responsive. As with other responsibilities where this has happened, the world will not change, but I can stop being its Mom.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Midpoint while teaching & writing in cyberspace

 We're halfway through the semester, and so far the Great Online Experiment is going--as well as can be expected?  In The Invisible Woman, her biography of Dickens's mistress, Ellen Ternan, Claire Tomalin says that's the phrase always used for women after childbirth, and while that is so not me, it seems to fit. Given "these challenging times" in which everyone "hopes you are well," we're doing what we can, I guess. 

  • As mentioned previously, I feel oddly closer to and more relaxed with my students teaching this way. Is it because of the informality baked into the whole Zoom teaching process? Because I have actual books at home that I can use to illustrate points? That I spend more time checking in on how they're doing? I can't tell. What I can tell is that I'm really happy to see them on class days, happier than I have been for a while.
  • They seem to be--adjusting? I offered to meet with them (masked, distanced, etc.) in person and have traveled to campus for that purpose, but only one person took me up on the offer. Or are they more resigned than adjusted? 
  • Of course they don't have to keep their cameras on, and I've told them so. But they do, which is really helpful and makes a huge difference.
  • I'm still getting asked admin questions from time to time, and I am responsible about answering and referring without giving my opinion. Whose circus is it? Whose monkeys? Not mine. And I really do think that a change in perspective in the position will ultimately benefit everyone, despite the absolute perfection of my judgment in all things :).
  • It's still very hard to write, but some glimmerings are starting to emerge of some ideas.
  • WordPress has decided to become more horrible even than in its last "new & improved" update. Now it hides ALL the things I need to access, makes it harder to start a page, sends you to a bunch of clicks when all you want to do is add a file, and is generally behaving in an exasperating and time-consuming fashion. Did WordPress decide that we have too much time on our hands? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Has it really been a month?

 Time expands and contracts at a different rate now, as I'm definitely not the first to notice. Here are some random bullets until I can write a real post:

  • We're teaching online (synchronously) and I am so far enjoying it. That's heresy, I know, but I feel much more relaxed with the students and much, I don't know, better and more connected to them. I asked the students whether they wanted recorded lectures or live ones, and they voted for live; in a humanities discipline, there's a lot of Q & A that goes on in the midst of a class, so it probably works better for this class. Not having a long commute is really helping, too. I'm really enjoying the students, and I love being able to show them books without having to lug them a long distance. I bought a document camera, and it's great for this. 
  • I had promised the students that I'd be on campus for in-person check-ins sometime, but our campus, like some others, is Covid Central right now, so maybe I'll postpone that. The powers that be don't want us on campus; they wisely want us to stay put, so who am I to argue? 
  • It still took many, many--too many--hours to scan, upload, and prepare the classes, like maybe 50+ hours over the course of a couple of weeks. That's without recording any lectures! 
  • But I did quit my admin job, as you all so wisely advised, or rather I let my contract run out though I'd thought about continuing. After spending pretty much all my time last spring and this summer on administration, it's a relief to take a deep breath. My colleagues were gracious about it, and I had definitely done enough and left things in good shape.
  • As if to fill up the void, let's see: family drama surrounding my mother's estate takes a fair chunk of my week every week, and having the landscape try to kill us with fire, deadly smoke, and of course the ever-present pestilence is really distracting. Let's not even talk about the political situation, which is terrifying.
  • I don't know how people are managing to write. I can barely keep up with the reading in the courses I'm teaching, and yes, I understand it's worse for the students and am cutting them all kinds of breaks. 
 Happy first day of fall!


Friday, August 21, 2020

More pictures

I have a syllabus to do (don't we all right now?), but here are a few more pictures from the little house. As you can see, the furniture gets moved around quite a bit, except for the bookcases. 

What looks like a blue studio couch is actually the chair, which folds out like a Transformer.
Here's the chair in chair form. The unit on the wall is an Amana heat pump for heat & AC.
You can see the bookcases against the wall. The windows on that side are small, like the one over the desk, just enough to give a cross breeze.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Writing House

(This may be a temporary post because of the pictures, but I'm so happy that you want to hear about my little writing house.)

The New York Times recently posted an article about backyard offices, and for once I may be ahead of the curve.

You see, for decades I had talked about wanting a writing house. I looked at all the pictures online and dreamed about it, as longtime readers know. 

Finally, when we were out from under many years of paying off student loans, Spouse said, "If you want this, we should do it," so we saved up and got it built. It's a permanent Christmas/birthday/anniversary present and better than any other present could be.

I'm not Michael Pollan with acreage in the woods somewhere, so it's in the back yard. 

We decided on 12 x 16, the largest we could have without a permit in our area. We hired someone to build it, so it has frame construction, insulation, and tall ceilings. 

It's a functional 4-season space, with A/C, heat, and wifi. The lights inside are bright enough to illuminate the whole space, and it's quiet.  It's not an art studio filled with decorative elements like in the NYT piece and elsewhere online. (I've made quite a study of these little structures, clearly.) 

 It's meant for work, with 4 bookcases, a desk and desk chair, and two chairs for sitting, including the rocking chair.

Inside, I can sit at the desk and write, or pace back and forth, or read in the rocking chair. I can and do stay up late without bothering anybody, when the writing is going well, which is often late into the night rather than in the morning. 

What else to say about it? Having this space makes me happy every single day, no matter what else is going on. 

I'm clearly besotted with this little house, and although I have looked at a lot of them online, this one suits me right down to the ground. 

What would you have or want in your writing house?



Monday, July 27, 2020

Online it is and random bullets of other news

  • What is happening in the fall? It's official: our undergrad courses are online in the fall unless there's some really pressing need (like lab science courses) to be in person. That's a huge relief. Grad courses: about the same, although I still have an assigned room.
  • Writing inspiration: lately I've been time-tracking rigidly, as in "9:40-9:43 stood up & got a snack." It seems to have helped productivity. 
  • Chasing that writing feeling: But nothing has been as good as when I sat down last night at around 9:45 p.m. and the writing just flowed, for the first time in forever. No anxiety, no fidgeting, just writing. It felt good. At 12:30 a.m., Spouse came down and asked what was wrong. Nothing is wrong, I told him. I'm writing. It was lovely.
  • Enough is enough. Doing about two official things in a day--two Zoom calls or whatever--is apparently about enough, for my body shuts down and I fall asleep sitting up after that. It's never for very long, but it happens. Residual stress, maybe? 
  • Absence from social media is good for the soul. If FB is to be believed, I am literally the last person in this part of the U.S. not to have gone on or be planning to go on vacation--a car trip, a camping trip, a hiking trip, renting a house at the beach. These are all COVID-conscious academics and relatives, yet everyone is going away. So the strategy here is twofold: (1) stay off FB and (2) have fun planning a really passive-aggressive autoreply for when they all get back from their vacations and start bombarding me with emails. (I won't do it, but I want to.)
  • A post about a secret to share. COVID news is fine, but it feels as though between the political hellscape and COVID, we could all use a break to talk about something else. I would really like to share a secret with all of you blog friends: I have a little writing house and want to tell you about it, if you are interested.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Invictus, I guess, and maybe some writing inspiration

Are you finding you're having good weeks and bad weeks in coping mentally with the way we live now?

This isn't meant to be a complaint. I have nothing to complain about--no child care to worry about, enough space & time to walk, the strength to get my own groceries (23rd Psalm motto: my mask and my gloves, they comfort me), a car, etc.

But at the end of the day, I'm hard pressed to say what I did, especially in terms of intellectual work.
  • Some days it's a few hours of meetings: some colleagues, when I say "we've been on Zoom for 90 minutes; it's time to wrap up" will say "just this one thing then." Sometimes I simply say "gotta go" and bail anyway. But that still leaves a lot of time to read & write, so why don't I?
  • Some days--well one day every 2-3 weeks--it's grocery day, so I mask up (I only have one mask, having lost the other) and drive around and get what we need. I come home, do the Silkwood shower, and get to work, or try to. 
  • Some days it's sit and obsess about the fall classes, which are not totally online, even though I'm trying not to. 
  • Some days, once I've gone for a long walk, which I try to do every day, I just want to admire the trees. 
  • If I do an article or manuscript review, well, then--I'm done, right?
  • There's always cooking and baking and some laundry, but I look forward to those tasks, because I get to watch old comforting TV then and not otherwise, a self-imposed rule. Spouse has always done the laundry, but he has backed off after seeing from my woebegone face that I couldn't spend 20 minutes watching The Crown or The Office if I weren't folding clothes.
Last week was the week of magical thinking about writing.
  • If I sit down to write before breakfast, I will write.
  • If I walk first, before breakfast, I will write.
  • If I walk, then shower, then eat breakfast, I will write.
  • If I change it up and eat, then walk, then shower, I will write.
  • If I start at 8:30, I will get in the habit of it and write.
 You get the picture. I figured that there was a magical sequence to daily activities and if I could just get the sequence right, the writing would follow. It was a helpless feeling: oh, no, I've got the sequence wrong. Too bad about today!

Then on Monday something snapped: it's just writing. There is no magic sequence. It's just writing. If you break out in a fidgety cold sweat when you sit down to write, well, pick up a book and start reading, and you'll want to write fast enough.

Someone Being Wrong on the Internet is nothing to Someone Being Incomplete in a Book for getting your writing juices going.

I control the process. Me, not magic sequences. It may be lousy, but what comes out is still writing.

Henley's words*:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

*Yes, I know: imperialism, yadda yadda, but it helped in the moment.