Saturday, May 11, 2019

Off-topic: a PSA about dementia in the elderly

My mind isn't on writing right now; it's about dealing with the last of the family members with dementia (the other three are now gone).
  • Fun fact #1: you can beg, wheedle, and cajole the elderly person about signing a power of attorney (PoA) or living will or doing advance planning to help them with financial matters and decisions over the course of a decade, but if they get stubborn (they will) and furious (they will), they will flat out refuse. You will hear "I'm in charge of my own money and still pay every bill on time and always will and my mind is as sharp as ever." It isn't, but at this point they will not sign and there's nothing you can do about it.
  • Fun fact #2: there's a stage of dementia when the person is still competent to sign a PoA but suspicious, stubborn, and paranoid, so good luck with #1. After that stage, of course, the person becomes more agreeable but isn't competent to sign a PoA.
  • Fun fact #3: you'll see a stream of nurses, doctors, and medical assistants who will ask the person things like "Do you still drive?" "Of course!" "Still do your own cooking?" "Of course!" and you'll know that none of this is in any way true. 
  • Fun fact #4: if nurses and social workers have said that the only safe place for the person with dementia is assisted living and a drama-loving family member has filled the elderly person's mind with Dickensian visions of it as The Home where residents are fed gruel, how likely is it that the elderly person will agree to consider such a step? And the elderly person ("sharp as a tack!") has total control over their finances, so good luck with that.
  • Fun fact #5: If the elderly person has moved over a thousand miles away from every member of their family, can you guess where your airline miles and family bank account are going to be spent during repeated crises?
  • Fun fact #6: You will feel like James Bond as you strategically disable things like the car and the stove in ways that the elderly person will not notice (you hope). 
TL;dr #1: It takes all the brainpower, cleaning power, and energy of one fully capable adult human being every day to keep a person with dementia going--all the doctor visits, phone calls, medications, and hours of conversations, not to mention keeping the elderly person from smoking near the oxygen apparatus that keeps them alive.

TL;dr #2 There is a miraculous pillminder  that locks and dispenses the right medication at the right time, because the person with dementia will otherwise spend hours rearranging medications that could kill them if they take too many. If the meds are in an openable pillbox, they will snap at you ("I know what I'm doing!") if you protest the rearrangement. The miraculous pillminder takes away all the arguments.

Anyway. I do love this person but had to express a little of what's been going on. I will probably *poof* this because it's not on topic. Sorry to be so gloomy, but thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Writing inspiration: Robert Caro, time, and age

I know I've written about Robert Caro before, but I'm about to dive into On Working. Here's a roundup of recent articles by and about him:

First, a tidbit: Caro writes in longhand and then on a typewriter:
It's because of something that was said to me at Princeton by a professor, a very courtly gentleman, Southern gentleman, who was my creative writing teacher. Every two weeks we'd hand in a short story. I was in his course for two years. For two years he gave me high marks, but I always did these short stories at the last minute. ... I would always start at the last minute and just type, because I could write very fast.

At our last session, he hands back my short story ... and he compliments me, and as I'm getting up to go he says, "But you know, Mr. Caro, you will never achieve what you want to achieve unless you stop thinking with your fingers." ...

But when I quit to do a book, and I began to realize how complex the story of Robert Moses was; I said I must make myself think things all the way through, and the slowest way of committing your thoughts to paper is by writing in hand. So I write three or four or more — sometimes I write a lot of drafts in hand. Then I go to my typewriter and that's how I write.
 Now the age part:

As with George R. R. Martin, at some point in every interview, the interviewer comes up with something like "Mr. Caro, you're 83 and still projecting your next book on Johnson. Don't you think you ought to get a move on?" The one from the NYT is this:

What does it mean to know that there is a group of people out there having the somewhat morbid concern that you might not finish your book before you die? It’s hard to avoid that. Every time someone does an article on me it’s there.

Caro's response is basically this: "You've got me there, but really, that's your problem."  In other word, the process of writing takes what it takes. He's got 99 worries but mortality isn't one.

It's not so much that he's advocating slow writing for its own sake; instead, he wants to get it done the way he wants to get it done.

As I get back to writing after a month of various elder care crises and chaos, I find this comforting.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Handwriting and Cursive Handwriting: Once more, with feeling

The New York Times reports that cursive handwriting is making a comeback, and the headline is this: "Cursive Seemed to Go the Way of Quills and Parchment. Now It’s Coming Back."

I've written (though not by hand--hah!) on this blog about handwriting and specifically cursive handwriting, most recently in response to Anne Trubek, who has a lot of strong opinions about it

But I have a few issues with, well, this issue.

First--you see what I did there in the title?

Writing by hand is not writing in cursive.

Writing by hand means making marks on a piece of paper (or with an Apple pencil on an iPad, or whatever else isn't typing). It can be printing letters rather than connecting them. It could probably mean shorthand.

Cursive is a subset of handwriting in which the letters are connected. If I could draw a Venn diagram in Blogger, it would show a little circle inside a big circle.

Second,  what's the evidence?

The evidence is that writing notes by hand, not writing notes in cursive handwriting, is what helped students learn back in those studies done earlier in the century. Cursive may be faster to write, but it's not a defining factor. It'd be nice if students learned it, but no classroom has 18 hours a day.
Figure 1. My precious.

Third, there's an ominous political tinge to all this.

Now, I happen to like cursive, and yes, I think that, like languages, music lessons, and unpaid internships, it will become a class marker to separate the haves from the have-nots, if it hasn't already. I also like fountain pens. I mean, who wouldn't like to write with those beauties in the picture?

And yes, it'd be great to have students who could read cursive so that they can read letters from ages past, or letters from their grandparents, or handwritten notes on graded papers. (If they can't read the last-named, they will have a hard time in my class, but so far, no complaints.)

But the idea that they have to be able to read cursive in order to read the Declaration of Independence or other documents from the founders--well, those documents have been in print form for quite some time now.

Figure 2. Go ahead. Tell us what it says, cursive-reader.
And the idea that "Magna Carta" was "written in cursive" is kind of like saying that a tiger is a cat. Technically, yes, but its being written in cursive isn't as much of a stumbling block as that it is written in Latin, which the NYT doesn't mention. Let's not even get into the varieties of handwriting, like 5th-century Uncial or secretary hand, which have to be learned as a separate skill.

There's a fantasy going around now in conservative circles about how if students can read cursive, we can just get back to the originary documents, including the Constitution, written in cursive, that will mystically reveal extreme right-wing principles about how God hates the poor, the rich deserve to be richer, etc. and other principles dear to the GOP heart.

I do like cursive. I am glad it is being taught. But I don't agree with the reasons now being touted for teaching it. 

Figure 3. Something about "all men are created equal" seems to be missing from the reasoning of some state legislators who promote cursive handwriting.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Time management and the confetti bomb

Gwinne and Dame Eleanor have good posts up about time management and schedules and also links to people who write about time management and schedules. ("fabulous SHU" and "GetaLifePhD" and "Raul Pacheco-Vega" are three of them.)

Such charts! Such beautiful, colorful charts! I hunger for their time charts.

But then reality sinks in. As xykademiqz described so eloquently (and I posted, too), charts are not for the likes of us INTP types. And even if the MBTI is invalid, I'm claiming that it is because it fits.

Figure 1. Leuchtteurm1917 or . . .
For now, I'm sticking with the ex post facto method: the black notebook, in which I record what I'm actually doing, with a to-do list in the right margin, rather than how I think my day might unfold. I also keep the Excel spreadsheet for writing and noting events.

It's gotten so bad (or good) that if I do anything mildly work-related--write, read, grade papers, answer emails (especially answer emails)--I grab frantically for the black notebook to write down the time.

If I work, it's in there. If I waste time, it's in there. At least I know what I was supposed to be doing, because of the to-do list.
Figure 2.. . . Moleskine? Name your poison.

This is where the confetti bomb comes in. Suppose you're sitting in your office, as one does, grading papers, as one does, and keeping to your color-coded grading block.

Then, if you're a person in the world, and especially an administrative person in the world, someone walks in and says, in effect, "Congratulations! Here's a juicy, complex problem that it will take many phone calls, meetings, and a lot of thought to solve. Oh, and it needs a solution now."

That someone heaves a confetti bomb, which then detonates all over your desk.

Now, you could say this: "Now is my SACRED WRITING TIME or SACRED GRADING TIME or MY ORANGE BLOCK! Can't you see that it is my orange block and not a confetti block? Go away immediately. My chart says you can't be here."

Or you could do what most of us do.

Get to work cleaning up the confetti bomb, and write it in your notebook so you'll know why your best-laid plans gang aft agley. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Random bullets of being incognito

I'm at a conference where I do not know a single solitary soul and where no one knows me. I'm incognito!
  • This has advantages:
    • First, I don't feel that I have to attend anything at all except my own session, so what I do go to is pure delight. 
    • Second, I'm sick with a cold (feverish, coughing, feeling horrible, not sleeping), which makes me everyone's nightmare conference-goer ("please-don't-sit-near-me, PLEASE-don't-sit-near-me"), so I am staying away from everything possible and sitting far from everyone if I do go to something. 
    • It is purely fine to give yourself permission to stay in the room, sleep, and get better, and no one notices if you're gone. Also: one splurge on room service.
    • Third, since I know no one, I don't have to hunt up people for dinner or, conversely, explain why I am staying in so as not to be Typhoid Mary. 
  • This has disadvantages: 
    • Missing sessions that I'd like to see.
    • Wanting to meet some people whose books I've read but realizing in advance the look of horror that would come over their faces if Typhoid Mary introduced herself. 
I am also extending the "incognito" thing via autoreply, since everyone back at Northern Clime took advantage of spring break to fire off complicated questions and land them on my desk instead of theirs.

I thought of going all Edmund Wilson on them or maybe "nope nope nope don't care right now leave me alone" but settled for a traditional, dignified "reply when I return."

Now I'm the one holed up in a Fortress of Solitude and firing flaming arrows of autoreply.

And I'm incognito.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

On copyediting and Arrested Development

There's an episode of Arrested Development that perfectly encapsulates my experiences with copyedited material.

Michael: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you a promotion. Welcome aboard, Mr. Manager. George Michael: Wow. I’m Mr. Manager. 
Michael: Well, manager; we just say manager. And you can hire an employee if you need one. George Michael: Do you think I need one? 
Michael: Don’t look at me, Mr. Manager. 
George Michael: Right, it’s up to me now. I’m Mr. Manager. 
Michael: Manager. We just say-- 
George Michael: I know, but you... 
Michael: Doesn’t matter who.

So which is it? Mr. Manager or just plain manager?

Dates in parentheses after a work is mentioned in the text? If I put them in, the copyeditor deletes them. If I don't put them in, I get an AU QUERY: "Please insert dates after titles."

Spell out "University Press"? If I do, it gets abbreviated to "UP." If I don't, it appears in full or sometimes as "Univ. Press."

Western, Eastern? I consult The Chicago Manual of Style and think I have it set, but if I have it capitalized, it's made lower-case and vice versa.

US or U.S.? If I use the periods, the copyeditor changes it to US--and vice versa.

Use a short form of the publisher's name? If I spell it out, it gets shortened. If I don't, it gets added back in.

Include the number of a journal that is paginated by issue? Don't get me started. 

I'm more amused by this than anything else.  I have heard of senior scholars who wax splenetic at the thought of changing a capital (think: Romanticism versus romanticism), but for me, that's not a hill to die on. I embrace a sort of learned helplessness since there's no point in fighting some of these.  Only if there's a change that creates a grammatical mistake will I shout "STET!" in the margins.

The new loosey-goosey MLA Handbook, 8th Edition, which is sort of Chicago-lite, doesn't help much.  I actually went to the session on this at MLA and asked questions that had been puzzling me, but they mostly said something along the lines of "Well, that is a pretty pickle, isn't it?" without answering the question.

Between MLA 8, Chicago 16 (and now 17), and various quirky house styles, I now take my best shot with the help of Endnote and Zotero, knowing that this is a battle that can never be won.

For I am Mr. Manager.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

White male privilege: a poem. Or a rant. Take your pick.

If I have to endure one more lecture

        Or email

        Or posted screed

        Or self-righteous comment

        Or public online attack

From another tenured white male

         Who is eager to show how woke he is

          And how committed to “the struggle”

         By making every conversation about “the struggle”

         And derailing every conversation to show how committed he is

         Even though creating funding, safeguards, and equality is the process I’m trying to further

         And, in the process, making it all about him and his wokeness,

I just might lose it.

Updated: McSweeney’s nails it again: