Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good News, Feckless News

You know, I really hate being called "Miss." More even than I hate being called "Mrs." (although I certainly hate that quite a lot, too). Time to bump that post down.

Anyway, apologies for the light, boring blogging of late. This post promises to be more of the same, as I am STILL sick. On Tuesday, I mistakenly believed that I was all better; then yesterday I felt a little rough; and today I canceled classes and am drinking tea in my pajamas--which is rather nice, I confess, but this cold really must go away because I'm supposed to travel to Northern City on Saturday for a party, and I'd be sorry to miss it. Particularly because the train tickets are purchased. Also, I am tired of being sickly.

(It's not a terrible illness or anything. The sore throat has simply resolved itself into some truly annoying sinus pressure. How it went from point A to point B I cannot explain, but there you go. Gah.)

Well, so, on this unexpected day off, what will happen? One thing that is happening is that I am trying to reschedule all the comp conferences that I had arranged for today. So I will have lots more conferences than expected tomorrow, and a handful on Monday. That's kind of irritating, but oh well. The other things that are happening, however, include finishing the two books that I'm teaching next week (nearly done! hooray!) and, presumably, once I get my shit together, finishing the trifling quantity of grading that I've been carrying around with me lo these many days. I could hammer all of that out in two hours or so if I just got my wits about me, but I have been staunchly ignoring the necessity of doing so for, as I said, lo these many days. But I have told a class that they'll get their papers back tomorrow, and I must be true to my word.

Here's some superlatively good news, though: At yesterday's faculty meeting, a proposal to revise our composition sequence in a significant and pedagogically awesome way (that will, incidentally, also cut our comp loads in half for the next two years) PASSED. We are all quite delighted. A lot of work went into the proposal--not by me so much, but by my senior colleague, who did a great job--and it ought to make our students better writers while also allowing us to deploy our comp-energy in much more productive ways. Now that it's passed, we plan to spend a few days this summer hammering out the course--handouts, prompts, everything--so that it will be far less hectic and random than it normally seems to be.

I have a lot more to say about this, actually--as well as, possibly, about the objections raised against it (some legitimate, that might be a post for another day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Miss Mihi is indisposed at present

Actually, I'm feeling better, but a day spent reading Sense and Sensibility has affected my diction in too tempting a way not to indulge.

The circumstances of my reading yesterday, in fact, lend themselves nicely to such language. I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening perusing my Regency novel whilst reclining on The Minister's chaise longue atop a burgundy chenille coverlet, propped up on pillows of an Indic design, sipping hot water with lemon out of a teacup WITH a saucer and well supplied with drowsy cats. For dinner we had savory crepes and homemade apple cider--the latter a highly effective treatment for a sore throat, I should add.

And then today we have more snow, more bitterly cold weather, etc. I like the snow, but that 40-degree day we had last week has ruined me for the winter; luckily I have some fantabulous spring break plans that are more or less keeping me going right now.

Anyway, my feeling slightly better means that today cannot be spent languishing upon fainting couches and the like. I do have a few things to do. I must: confirm that what I've planned for comp tomorrow is sensible; decide what on earth I'm going to do with the five very short, relatively uninteresting poems I for some reason assigned in the survey; read some more Monmouth for the upper-level; and perhaps--perhaps--begin grading the batch of short papers I got on Friday. I make no promises. I must also conclude the laundry and make some granola. And possibly some butter, as I have an inordinate amount of cream this week. Which also means culturing some buttermilk. Annnd...yes. That's it. I'd also like to watch a movie. Perhaps some 19th-c. period piece on Netflix Watch Instantly, since I'm spending the weekend more or less in that mode.

Alas! This is quite a boring post. I don't have any real grievances at the moment, though. Nope. Sorry. Happy Sunday, everyone!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Heu mihi, indeed

I seem to have a cold!

At least, an incipient cold. My throat hurts. Also, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours because my furnace was making odd noises, and I feared that it would explode.

It's funny how rational such things seem at 2 am.

Well, oh well. We just closed out the second week of the semester, and so far all is running smoothly. Classes are going well, and prep is shockingly un-time-consuming, and with every semester I become more and more at ease in the classroom. I have some lovely students. I have some grading to do. But I also get to spend the weekend reading Jane Austen, which is just about perfect for a Weekend With A Cold.

And we're getting a pizza for dinner. Perhaps all is not so heu-worthy after all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Q&A

Q: What could make Obama's inauguration day even better?

A: Margaritas!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Meddling with Making*

I promised to blog about something in particular, didn't I? Well, I've forgotten what it was, and I'm not going to go check right now! So I bring you this other post instead.

(Thanks to all the suggestions for my reading list, by the way. I have a lot of work to do now. Apparently this is a good thing.)

Anyway, now that the manuscript is back at the publisher's, and I'm only teaching 3 classes, and the semester isn't far enough along for me to be overwhelmed, I find myself with slightly more free time than I'm accustomed to having. I also find myself in need of something other than academic work to do--I have forbidden myself from starting on my conference papers or going back to l'article until February. On Saturday, therefore, I gave myself an Art Day. Actually, it was more like an Art Five Hours, since I ran out of steam at around 2:30, but it was truly refreshing and generally awesome.

Some context: I was an Art Girl back in high school; my senior year I even got to take two back-to-back studio classes. I was also, unsurprisingly, the Literature Girl: I ran the lit mag and sort of started up an alternative underground counter-lit mag (which we couldn't afford to print--why I was writing an anonymous counter-mag to the mag that I ran is unclear to me now; I'd have to revisit my diaries). And my two interests came together quite splendidly when, sometime in my sophomore year of HS, I discovered book arts. I gave up papermaking when I was 17 (too messy and I sucked at it), but bookbinding has remained my art form of choice ever since, with collage a strong competitor.

Since moving to Field a year and a half ago, however, I had completed zero (0) art projects. Last year my art supplies were all impounded in the storage unit back in MomTown, and this year? No excuse, really. So on Saturday I decided to warm up with a couple of collages:

[CAVEAT: I do not pretend to be a visual artist at all; I'm not even sure that I like these. They're just here because, well, this is a blog, after all, and what would a blog be without pointless self-indulgence? ]

The second one is a reflection on the soil quality of Field State.

Here's what I'm really happy with, though. I wanted to make a book, but I didn't want to take all day--so, using a couple of ideas from an instructional book, some interesting scrap paper, and a gorgeous bit of leather from a journal I made a few years ago, I invented and produced the following (it's a little more than 3" square):

The leather wraps around and closes with a pendant from a necklace that I wore a lot and loved in--coincidentally--high school.

The binding, which hasn't reproduced very well, is a coptic stitch.

Making stuff is good for me: I get totally absorbed in it in a way that nothing else (except maybe correcting formatting issues in a massive document) absorbs me (needless to say, the formatting absorption is less pleasant), and, because I am not a visual artist, the pressure that accompanies any form of writing--including creative writing--is lacking. It was, therefore, a nice day. I should do this kind of thing more often.

For your enjoyment, I also include a picture of the sweater that I knitted this fall (pattern available for purchase here):

*3 extra credit points to everyone who gets the allusion in the title. Hint: It's a Middle English text that you may have studiously avoided throughout grad school and beyond.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How nice!

Ortho and Medieval Woman have both given me Inspiration Awards! How very lovely. Thanks!

I am now supposed to nominate some other inspiring blogs. Here, after all, are the rules:
  • Please put the logo of the award (above) on your blog if you can make it work with your format.
  • Link to the person from whom you received the award.
  • Nominate 7 or more blogs.
  • Put the links of those blogs on your blog.
  • Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.
Let's see.... In addition to, of course, Ortho and MW and the various other bloggers who, I see, have already received these awards, I will nominate:

1. Dr. Crazy, who always inspires me to, like, blog about something of broader significance, although that particular inspiration seldom results in action.

2. Maude, whose determination and honesty are so very inspiring in themselves.

3. Bardiac, who just seems like a really neat person.

4. Fretful Porpentine, whose life weirdly mirrored mine for a while back there.

5. Sisyphus, whose prose is too terrific to ignore.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

But First, A Question (on theory and medieval studies)

Before I write the posts I hinted at in my previous post (and when do I ever write the posts at which I hint?), I have a question for y'all, especially y'all medievalists.

I have identified a weakness in myself as a scholar: namely, I am not comfortable with theory. More precisely, I am not comfortable "applying" (for lack of a better word) theory in my research. Here's the problem, I think: My first year of grad school--about half my coursework--was All Theory, All The Time. At that point, I was not a medievalist; I imagined that I'd go into 19th/early 20th-c. literature. That all changed in my second year, and I began taking courses that would brush up my knowledge of medieval literature and language--Middle High German, medieval French narrative, Old English, paleography, etc. And I never really encountered theoretical approaches to medieval literature in the classroom.

I have to admit, too, that I was not into theory in those early years. As a first- and second-year grad student, I found it exhaustingly intimidating and difficult. So it was with great relief that I began focusing on things like manuscript transmission and paleography and auctoritas, rather than postcolonial this or that.

But now, when I do think that I'm intellectually sophisticated enough to deal with theoretical texts in a more mature fashion (hey, I liked reading Gender Trouble this summer), I feel a bit at sea--it's been a long time since I was in a specifically "theoretical" mindset. I think that there's theory implicit in a lot of my research, and I'm not looking to just drop some Derrida references in my Chaucer article, or anything like that. But when I'm asked point-blank--as I have been, in a job talk and at an MLA interview--about which theorists inform or are useful to my research, I can feel the Blank Stare of Doom settling across my brow. Or eyes. Whatever.

Anyway, so now that the MS is revised (for yes! It is in the copy center as I type, awaiting mailing), one of my next Intellectual Projects, I think, should be to read some scholarship that approaches medieval literature from an overtly theoretical standpoint. Just to see what's out there.

Here's the question, then. Any suggestions? Broadly speaking, my work is on Middle English literature, dream visions, hagiography, and visionary texts (keeping this deliberately wide open). I am somewhat, though probably insufficiently, familiar with Amy Hollywood's stuff, and I read Dinshaw's Getting Medieval ages ago (I can't remember it very clearly). Anything else come to mind as a good example of theoretically informed medieval literary scholarship?

No school!

Hurrah! It's extremely cold--my computer is reading -17 F, not including wind chill--and classes are canceled!

What's great is that this truly is the day when I can have my class canceled and not fall behind. They read a bunch of stuff for today, but it was all kind of introductory (for an upper-level class) and I really wasn't sure how I would fill 75 minutes with it. But next week we will have plenty to discuss!

In other news, there are a lot of things that I want to write about. First, how happy and delightful and cheery I've been all of this week--the first week of classes--and then how my spirits sort of plummeted last night when I came to terms with the fact that I'm probably not getting any fly-outs at this point, and then how I saw that much of the source of my dissatisfaction is in the truly ego-driven competitive sense of what kind of job I "should" have.... But this is matter for another post, so I'll just leave it at that, and allow this unexpected day off to restore my earlier cheeriness. Whatever shall I do with myself this morning?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On Habits, or, More of My Profound Wisdom

What with all the new year's resolutions that have been buzzing around, I've been thinking about habits, and how to form them. I am, of course, embarking on my own (previously unannounced) Program of Reform: namely, I am striving--for the eighth or ninth time--to start practicing yoga at home, regularly. There are too few yoga studios around here, offering too few classes and located too far away, for me to count on classes to get my yoga in (anyway, a year and a half of living here has proven that that is not feasible in this location). In the past, I've sort of half-thought that, since I figured I wouldn't be at Field for all that much longer, there was no real point in developing sustainable habits adapted to this location. Well, it's been a year and a half, and that kind of thinking isn't doing much for me. So the plan is this: 20 minutes of yoga--whatever I want to do--per day, unless I engage in some other fitness activity (swimming or soccer). So far, so good; in fact, I've been having a hard time sticking to only 20 minutes. But we'll see what happens when classes start next week.

Anyway, the point is that this has me thinking--not for the first time--about how to form habits. Unsurprisingly, I'm far from perfect on this score, but I'm a fairly willful person and I've had some success in getting myself to do new, potentially unpleasant things on a regular basis. My two major categories of examples on this score are yoga (going to classes, anyway) and fiction writing. I've written two novels, one when I was 23 and the other when I was 30; they're both quite likely bad and will probably never be published, but having written them makes me happy, and I'm proud of the accomplishment, as they really did require some pretty serious discipline and general unpleasantness. I also went, in my 20s, from a fairly lackadaisical exercise schedule to serious vinyasa yoga classes 3x/week, despite all the usual reluctance and malingering, and stuck to that schedule for several years (until I moved to Field. I still miss my studio so terribly!) Doing these things has led me to develop a pretty reliable set of rules for getting myself into gear when it comes to forming new habits. And so, while these may not be useful to anyone else, I offer my reflections--some of which are, I'm sure, obvious and hackneyed.

But what else is a blog for, other than to offer hackneyed and narcissistic reflections on topics of general interest?

Anyway. Here goes.

1. Make your goal reasonable. This is probably the most obvious and hackneyed of them all, but it's the one that I break the most. I seriously convince myself that I will make such changes to my life as, for example, starting to get up at 4:00 am for an hour of yoga followed by 45 minutes of meditation. Um. Yeah, I haven't done that once. So planning to spend two hours a day at the gym or write ten pages every morning before class are pretty much dooming yourself to failure. We all know this.

2. Focus on form, not content. It is better to do something lame than to do nothing at all. So, for example, when I wrote my second novel, I committed to writing 1000 words a day, but the words themselves could be totally stupid and it wouldn't matter. Knowing this was a help when I felt "uninspired," because I would tell myself that I could just describe a room for half a page or write a purely functional action sequence (this happened, then this happened, etc.). In practice, I usually got into the swing of things pretty quickly, but sometimes I did have to resort to a kind of "summary" paragraph. The point, though, isn't for every single day to be brilliant, but to get into the habit. If the habit is what matters, then the details of what you're producing don't. And the habit really is what matters, typically.

Similarly, when I committed to going to a particular yoga class every week, there were certainly days when I was "tired" or "out of sorts" (or just whiny). So I would tell myself that I would go, but I didn't have to try very hard or do much and I could sit out in child's pose for half the class if I wanted to. Invariably, once I was there, I worked as hard as I ever did, so all the whininess was just that--whininess.

The point, I think, is to get out of your own way. There are a billion content-related reasons for not doing something (I don't have any ideas, my leg hurts, I'm distracted and can't put my all into it today). But form-wise, there isn't much. Just show up and see what happens. If nothing happens, at least you showed up--and that's all you've asked of yourself, so good for you!

3. Make it non-negotiable. This is, for me, the most important thing.

When I started my first novel, I was 23, living in a new city. I was unemployed, running out of money, and plagued with great pretensions of being A Writer. (Someday. Not yet.) And one day I got thoroughly fed up with myself and said, OK, I'm unemployed, I have only one friend in this city and nothing to do all day, and I never write a goddamn thing. So here's the deal: four pages per day for 100 days, or I never get to pretend that I'm going to be A Writer again.

I was very stern with myself. It was quite intimidating.

So, I started. And then I got a (very boring) 9-5 job.

But I'd written about 20 pages, and I wasn't about to give this up; the idea I'd had for the novel interested me (although I was a bit embarrassed about it--it was genre fiction! So not what I wanted to be known for!). And I did the only thing I could: I started getting up at 6 am to write as much as I could of my 4 pages before work.

This was not in tune with my natural rhythms. But I reminded myself that it was just for a few months, and if I didn't get up early I'd have to write when I got home and was tired, so I got my ass up every frigging day, and I wrote the damn thing. In fact, I exceeded my limit and wrote more than 500 pages of melodramatic, self-indulgent, dearly beloved prose. (I really do love this novel. I do not think that it is particularly good, and I don't really like showing it to others. But I love it.)

And when I started going to yoga every Monday at 5:45 pm and Thursday at 6 and Saturday at 3, I did something similar. It was non-negotiable. I wasn't allowed to talk myself out of it. So I'd walk to class with a whole monologue about how I was tired and so forth and shouldn't I just stay home?, but my body had already left, and my mind could chatter away as much as it wanted--it wasn't running the show. I scheduled things around classes. It was a priority--an immovable fixture in my week. There was no "I'll go on Tuesday's class instead"; Tuesday's class was dead to me. It was Monday, period.

The thing is, once you introduce exceptions, every day becomes an exception. Be stern. No exceptions. (Unless, of course, something truly extraordinary happens. It's a little like your late-paper policy....)

4. Spend a lot of time thinking about how awesome you are. This is extremely important for me. Positive reinforcement is terrific. Again, focus on form, not content; if you're just developing the habit, it doesn't matter that you ran slowly and only for half a mile. You ran; therefore, you rock. It also helps me to have someone to whom I can brag routinely. Boyfriends are good for this; parents can work well, too. Or just a friend who has a high tolerance for your absurdities.

5. It might take a few tries for the habit to "take." As I said above, this is not the first time that I've tried to establish a regular home practice. But that's okay. As my old yoga teacher used to say, it's all practice--and the more you practice making a positive change in your life, the more likely you are to succeed down the line. If you can't stick to something, think about what didn't work and then try again. My problem with the home yoga practice in the past may have been trying to practice a certain way or for a certain length of time every day; an hour is too much, and a particular DVD gets boring after a while. Make it fluid. Find what works for you.

That's it for me, I think. I did a pretty soft yoga practice today--Womanly Issues and all that--but hey, I did it, and now I'm finishing up this post and a little glass of scotch because hell y'all, I spent all friggin' day on my comp syllabus. Damn.

A little too quiet.

So the wiki has not been updated since January 3rd.

My bloglines this morning reported one new post (thanks, undine!).

What the hell am I supposed to do instead of working, eh?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I'm here in my warm, tiny kitchen, sitting at the table next to the heat vent. The little pink-shaded light is glowing on the wide windowsill, next to the pepper plant, the small jade, and a couple of Christmas cards. Bottles of scotch are lined up at the end of the sill, awaiting more strenuous days. Behind me, on the stove, the milk is cooling for this week's yogurt. It's snowing.

My comp textbook is beside me, closed.

I'll work on my syllabus soon, I promise.

But right now, I think I'll just enjoy this.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I didn't even know that I was in suspense

I just checked the medieval wiki for the first time since MLA. I've already been rejected by Big Scary (which was fine and unsurprising; I am not of that league, just yet), but I was pleased to see that none of the other schools with which I interviewed have scheduled campus visits yet. I'm surprised to feel a bit of relief, a sense that I'm no longer avoiding something dreadful.

My feelings about being on the market are ambivalent. On the one hand, it would be awesome to get a reasonably well paying 2-2 or 2-3 job in a cool(er) place. On the other.... Well, yesterday I found some pictures I took of my yard this summer [see fig. 1] and that got me thinking about how it would feel to be moving away from here. It would be exciting, sure, but sad, too.

[fig. 1: yard]

I don't have deep roots here. But I do have a great boyfriend, nice colleagues--a few of whom I see socially--and some students whom I'd love to continue to know. I have a sweet little house with a garden; there are farmers' markets all around (if you don't mind driving 20-30 minutes); the harvested cornfields are sad and gray and beautiful in the winter. There's a yoga studio a half-hour away--a little far for frequent trips, but at least it's there (and I did go this morning).

No, I would not want to live here forever. I would not want this job forever: it asks an awful lot and gives so little back, either financially or in time for research and writing. But I'm a long way beyond the terrible dissatisfaction I felt at this time last year (at that point I was staring down three 20-student sections of comp, for one thing; this semester I'll only have one!).

So, yeah. Job market = a thing about which to feel ambivalent. And then a part of me thinks that my very ambivalence will score me a job--kind of like how you're supposed to fall in love when you're not looking for it, as that wearisome advice-nugget goes.

I'm also meaning to blog about other things--the MLA and its meet-up (I'll probably not get to this one, but it was great to catch up with Sisyphus, What Now, Medieval Woman, Flavia, the Rebel Lettriste, Dr. Virago, and SEK) and new year's stuff--but that'll wait. Or, in the case of the MLA, be skipped altogether. Right now I think I'd like to take a shower.