Friday, August 18, 2017

How can we write in the current environment?

I saw a tweet the other day that said something like "I hope I can put the 6 hours a day I spend watching the news about the U.S. destroying itself on my annual review."

Amen to that.  I know that this is a first world/academic world problem, and it's insignificant in the face of what Charlottesville has suffered and what continues to happen throughout the country,  but it's a problem nonetheless.

How do we keep calm and carry on, as the Brits say, when there's a fresh !@#$show every time we open our laptops? How can we develop consecutive thoughts about research when the country is being run on the reality show principle that every day is an escalation of the worst of the day before? When Nazis are back and racism is horrifyingly endemic? I might be ripped apart for saying this, but we were making progress on racism. Obama did give us a sense of hope. Now the president endorses white supremacy, and the Congress does nothing? Is this the United States?

And what if we are horrified by what's happening but express ourselves incorrectly? For example, Tina Fey did a sketch recently about eating sheet cake to drown out stress or to satirize people's desires to turn away rather than to protest. I didn't think it was hilarious but thought it was okay--until social media tore her a new one, pointing out the parallels to Marie Antoinette, branding her with the most heinous of insults--"liberal" and "neoliberal" and "racist"--and generally taking her down.

It feels disloyal or traitorous, somehow, to write about something other than the events that are happening around us. About the only non-news things on Twitter, for example, are those that are put out by twitterbots, which would churn out tweets if the sky was falling, which it kind of is.

If we need to write about our actual research, we seem unfeeling or uncaring (we're not). Ditto for teaching, with each fresh tragedy appropriately bringing with it a "syllabus" to teach resistance to the Nazis. Yet we have obligations that demand other kind of content, and we have to consider that, too, don't we?

I have research-related posts and writing that I want to do, but I keep thinking I'll wait for the !@#$show to end or at least die down. Like the never-ending heat this summer, though, it never does.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Off-topic: Some Sears homes

The Westly, apparently one of the top 4 models.
As a chaser from current news and the last post, I give you some Sears homes.

With Sears in its current cratering state, it's possible that people don't know that it once shipped not only girdles, engagement rings, and farm equipment, but houses. From 1908-1940, you could have all the pre-cut materials shipped to you on a rail car (plumbing and heating extra) and build the home on your own lot. The lot sizes were included so you could decide.

This fancy model has a servant's room.
These were well-built homes, and especially if you live in the Northeast or Midwest, you've probably seen them. This site ( has pictures and floor plans, and if you're looking for distraction, it's a great place to visit. Here are the most popular models.

Floor plan for "Modern Home #115" from 1908-1914.
It's an interesting tour through the early twentieth century, too. The earliest plans don't include bathrooms as a matter of course; the later ones do.  The one at left has a pantry, parlor, 3 bedrooms, and an attic but no bathroom.

You can see the trend toward neo-Colonial versions emerge in the 1930s, with names like "The Salem" and "The Lexington," but the majority continued to be bungalows.  One defining feature seems to be whether the homeowner was willing to pay for extras like dining rooms and hallways--not so different from today, really.

By 1940, the homes are virtually all two-story or 1 & 1/2 story models, more Cape Cod than bungalows.

After the war, one of the hit movies celebrating/satirizing  individualism in home ownership was Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).  You can see a clip from it above. (The completely blank stare from Cary Grant when he doesn't have the faintest, foggiest notion what the builder is talking about is priceless. I have so given that blank stare at being given a choice between two options when I didn't even know there were options to be considered.) There were a lot of these houses built, too, all over the country, including Northern Clime.

Do you have any Sears homes in your neighborhood, or have you seen any?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Catching up and current events

I've been gone again with travel, and more travel, and still more travel via planes, trains, and automobiles.  I'm home for now, though.

While away, I barely looked at the news. It is always depressingly the same:  the President is a crazy person who threatens all our lives with his stupid, showy, dangerous posturing, the only certainty of which is that he times each new outrage to the daily 24-hour news cycle before moving on to the next. In the meantime, his administration guts the hard-won protections (EPA, health care, women's rights, voting rights, the social safety net for the elderly, immigrants, the poor, and the rest) that keep  us functioning.

And then the white Nazi terrorists at Charlottesville, and seeing the brave students standing up against Nazis. In this country. (And the President, who uses Twitter as a flamethrower against movie stars and dictators as crazy as himself, says nothing lest he disturb his Nazi followers, but enough about that.)

How is it that random violent idiot terrorists--er, "low-information voters for Trump"--can dress in camo and patrol the streets with assault rifles, which we're not allowed to call assault rifles officially because the NRA has a fit, as if this is a normal thing to do?

And, while we're at it, why can't the CDC track gun violence as a public health issue, which it definitely is? And why is concealed carry in classrooms permitted in ten states? (Wait! I know the answer to that one, and I'll bet you do, too.)

People are being raked over the coals on Twitter for asking questions like "how did we come to this?" and "what can we do?" so I won't ask those. 

But I do think about people of my parents' generation, the older ones of whom fought in World War II. A close family member was a pilot and flew during the D-Day invasion and the Battle of Remagen. Other families have heard stories from Holocaust survivors.  Did we really go through all that to have Nazis here in this country?

I know that the U.S. has a fraught history of racism and isn't close to perfect. But we are better than this and need to show it.

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.