Thursday, July 20, 2017

A midsummer night's thoughts

Back from travel and more travel, lovely but draining. It was a conference, but a conference in Europe, so I got work credit and the benefits of seeing life from another perspective.
  • The perspective of "oh, yeah, Roman ruins, no big deal" to those who live there, but a wondrous thing to me. Walking on roads that I now see are laid in the Roman pattern while not being in Rome gives me a whole sense of the empire's reach that we never got in Latin class and a new appreciation for those stylish nail-soled boots. 
  • And to see foundations laid by the Romans, built up by the Normans, abandoned, reclaimed, repurposed into air-raid shelters or what have you--again, magical. Knowing that there's not a square inch that hundreds of people in previous millennia haven't already walked on--which is not the case where I live--still amazing.
  • Here as there, people take their dogs everywhere, especially the elderly ladies with their tiny dogs, as a matter of course.
  • How I know I'm a hopeless rube: dinner at 9:30 p.m., however delicious, takes some adjustment when you're used to getting up at 5 a.m.
  • The blue of the evening sky. The moon. The moon in the blue sky even close to midnight.
  • Architecture and public sculpture--aspirational, representational, and worth seeing--everywhere I looked. Things happened in these spaces, some terrible, and they were commemorated lest we forget. 
  • Walking to see everything, about 10 miles a day. When you walk, you own the space in a different way than when you ride or drive. We took trams or buses some places, of course, but walked much more than we had before. In my usual walks, I feel as though I own the terrain, as Thoreau did, because I can visualize it all and see the minute changes.  Walking in a strange place gave me a temporary possession or perhaps a different understanding of it, one reinforced by all those cobblestones, narrow streets, and buildings.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Writing inspiration: random thoughts

Gwinne's post on writing had me thinking about the process (and also made me buy the Air & Light & Time & Space book), so here are some random thoughts:
  • It's still June! You still have a lot of summer left--really! That's it for the inspiration part of this post.
  • Doing all the home improvement stuff was a little like having a baby: your brain refuses to do much else for a time since the process is all-consuming. I'm slowing coming out of this and was able to send a long-promised revision today 
  • I don't know why this is, but if I promised to write something and don't want to write it, I have a really, really hard time even looking at it. This last instance took me about 2 months to write a couple thousand words that I could have knocked off in a week or two if I wanted to do it--but I didn't. It was in the middle of the house disruption, but still: there's a lesson here about promising things you're not enthusiastic about doing. 
  • All those authors who talk about "write first--walk later" must live in a much cooler climate than Northern Clime, where if you don't get out first thing in the morning, the temperature is in the 90s before you know it. Also, who can sit still first thing in the morning? 
  • This month is an experiment in writing without access to books--well, access to most of my books, anyway, since they're still in boxes except for two bookcases full.  How far can you go and how much can you write without a lot of books, using just online articles & books & information and what you already know? Time will tell. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

For Bardiac, who asked to see the floor results (will disappear)

Bardiac had asked to see the results of the hardwood flooring installation, so here goes! I'll take this pic down in a day or two. The flooring is red oak, with a clear finish.

*Poof*--all gone!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

June: home upgrades but work downgrades

For the past month I (we) have been doing some much-needed house refreshing--hardwood floors in place of 20-year-old carpet, some new carpet--which involves packing & carrying more books and furniture than I even thought I had. This has gone on for weeks, and it involved lots of trips to Goodwill & other charities to donate furniture & books that I should be able to take out of the library if needed, Marie Kondo-style.

It also confirmed my medieval (?) view of the world. I read or heard one time that in medieval times the peasantry observed mass from behind a lattice screen (medievalists, this may not be true, but hear me out) because they had only a primitive set of beliefs in which simple transgressions brought immediate punishment or because (more likely) the nobility didn't want to rub elbows with them. My behind-the-lattice primitive set of beliefs was borne out in this process of home refreshing because for everything I dared to order that might be considered hubristic (new carpet, hardwood in place of worn and stained carpet) something else in the house of equal value broke and had to be replaced or repaired (furnace, water damage). My wanting a decent-looking house was discovered by the Powers Above, and absolution came only in the form of having to literally pay the price for things that broke. Random events joined by post hoc reasoning or sound retribution for the sin of house pride? You decide.  

Hours spent in moving, cleaning, and talking to repair people has played havoc with my writing, of course, so more about that anon.

Friday, May 05, 2017

The merry month of May

First, the not-so-good:
  • Did I come down with the deadly plague after encountering the cheerful colleagues in the previous post? Why, yes, and I lost a whole week of work in addition to feeling horrible and lying in bed. On the other hand, it's probably not their fault; there's a lot going around at this time of year.
  • Getting an article rejection, a grant rejection, and a "where are your revisions?" email was icing on the cake, though it probably serves me right for trying to look at email when too sick to reply.
  • The political news, especially on Twitter first thing in the morning, is the gift that just keeps on giving, isn't it? I'm reminded of the line from Mad Men: "They won't stop until they figure out how to steal more bread from the mouths of children."
But then, it's May, and there is some good somewhere.
  • The snow is gone, and the rain even stopped for a day so we could see the sun.
  • There are flowers out now, though I know that's not a blessing for those of you with allergies. One of the walks I took pre-plague goes by a steep dropoff with fields and trees, and one set of those trees has white flowers with a scent so delicious you can almost taste it. They don't seem to be mock orange (which has a great scent), and I don't know what they are.
  • I wake up at 4 every morning now (thanks, plague!), and now that I feel better, it's cool and beautiful when I go outside to get the paper. The birds are singing then though it's not quite dawn.
 Time to see if I have a brain left to do some of the work that got neglected this week.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Highly rhetorical questions for the end of the semester

  • If you ask me a series of technical questions in a group email, and I jump right on it and spend 20 minutes answering them, and then you ask the same questions again in a slightly different form as if I had not responded, am I going to be passive-aggressive enough not to answer this one? To remind you that I answered the questions? To wait a few days before responding to any other messages? All of the above? Yes.
  • Is there a possibility that after the 1,751st draft of something in which we have collectively moved a passage from one place to another and back again, making inconsequential language changes and fighting about the MLA style each time, I will write an email saying, in more polite language, "Do whatever you want. I don't @#$@$^ care any more"? Yes.
  • If you're sick with some kind of deadly contagious plague, is it better to stay home or to come to work and buttonhole everyone you meet to tell them, "Boy, I can't believe I am this sick during the last week of classes! I really feel horrible"?
  • If you collectively dream up a position that not even Jesus with feathers on could successfully fill, is it someone's duty to point this out? 
  • If you are in a meeting and someone is being all pouty about something, is it better to let it get you down or to declare silently, like Roger Murtaugh, "I'm getting too old for this [stuff]" and get just angry enough to keep from being depressed? 
  • Knowing the volatility that everyone has at the end of the semester, is the best reaction to remember your colleagues with affection, keep your head down, and just power through? Yes. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are you the colleague you want to meet in the hallway?

Figure 1. Edmund Wilson's version of auto-reply.
There's been a movement afoot to light on fire, in Twitter terms, anyway, anyone who tells a woman to "smile!" Next to "you look really tired," I can't think of any phrase that's less welcome, especially if you are really tired. Also, some of us have RBF and aren't going to look happy no matter what.

Just so we'll get the obvious out of the way:

1. Do people say this to men? No.
2. Do they treat women who smile all the time any better? No.
3. Are women who are all smiles treated well in the workplace? No, because they're taken less seriously.
4. Are women who are direct and/or abrupt treated well in the workplace? No, because they're seen as -- well, fill in your own uncomplimentary adjectives.

But despite this double-bind, you might want to think twice before embracing "grumpiness for grumpiness's sake," as recommended in  "The Case for Being Grumpy at Work." 

The author cites a number of studies about emotional dissonance, about the emotional labor that women especially experience when forced to pretend to be happy in the workplace, and so on. Women are expected to be more caring, which means that their anticipated response in the workplace is effectively lagniappe for employers, a trap especially for service workers like cashiers (been there, done that). 

But the author's equation of grumpiness with some superior form of pessimistic insight is wrong. You can be plenty pessimistic and not present yourself to others as grumpy. One's a way of perceiving the world. The other is a way of acting out so that the world can see that you have All The Feels. 

Look, nobody has to be happy or pretend to be happy all the time, especially at this point in the semester. I suspect that most of us cut our colleagues a little slack in April, knowing the stress we're under, and we hope for the same from others.

In other words, we're being the colleague that we want to meet in the hallway.

A curmudgeon thinks that this is a one-way street. Everyone should be charmed by his (or her) grumpiness, and all should cut him some slack, but he doesn't have to return the favor. You may think your grumpiness is adorable, but other people may not share your high sense of self-regard.

A "lovable curmudgeon" may exist in literature--who doesn't like to read about Edmund Wilson's famous postcards or Mary McCarthy's acid reviews?--but in real life, the term is an oxymoron.

One of the great lessons of adulthood is that except for a few of those close to you, nobody cares how you feel. They want to know if you get the work done. 

My approach is the same thing that I do in emails: mirror what I'm receiving. If you're professional and at least marginally pleasant, I'll respond in kind, and promptly.

If not, not.

I realize that this is a position of privilege and that not all jobs will allow this luxury. (See cashier experience, above.)  But at the very least, those of us who do have the ability to respond to rudeness or curmudgeons shouldn't indulge their behavior.