Friday, June 29, 2007

Hello jet-lag, my old friend

Okay! I’m back on this side of the Atlantic. I did indeed finish transcribing the two manuscripts that it was my task to transcribe (more on that in my next post), although I’m not at all sure that I haven’t permanently crooked my back, damaged my eyesight, and laid the groundwork for repetitive stress injuries of the fingers, wrists, and forearms.

I like London, and I like the fact that it’s a city I’m now reasonably familiar with--which isn’t to say that I know it in any deep or profound sense, or that I don’t still get lost, or that I wasn’t nearly run over two or three times after failing to look in the necessary direction (some of you were there, and can vouch for the accuracy of at least that last statement). But as I indicated in my previous post, I’d still take New York over London any day, and my youthful attraction to any and all things British—which was probably really just an attraction to anything that wasn’t obviously present in the suburban world around me--has declined steadily over the years.

Still, I had fun. I spent some quality time with the Ex-Pat--one of my college roommates--and her husband and saw their amazing new home. (I think I need say no more than this: northwest London; three bedrooms, two baths, lots of skylights.) I saw a play at the Globe. I met Dr. Virago and hung out with a variety of other friends, professional friends, and bloggers. I ate the best Lebanese food I’ve had in my life. And I spent a couple of evenings with Victoria, once with and once without the Mancunian (Victoria is my high school friend who’s finishing up a Ph.D. in English in NYC--hers is the apartment I regard as my personal hotel when I’m in the city, since she’s often gone for long stretches visiting the latter, her fiancé, who's a history professor in another state).

And as much as I enjoy traveling by myself, and as often as I do it, I think what I like best about traveling is the excuse and the opportunity that it gives for conversation and for forming or reestablishing friendships--the restaurants and museums and bars of another city are really just the backdrop for that much more important activity.

My last night in London, Victoria took me to a beautiful deco bar essentially unaltered since the 1930s, tucked away down a side-street and reachable only through what appeared to be a private alleyway. Although Victoria and I see each other every few months, and we’ve spoken on the phone a couple of times recently, we haven’t had a real talk in a while. You know what I mean: the intense, wide-ranging, totally honest and totally hilarious conversations that you can have with someone you’ve known for sixteen years, and who’s made many of the same life choices, and who just instantly and automatically gets you. We ordered some food, and a bottle of wine. We thought about desert, we thought about coffee. . . but instead we ordered a second bottle of wine. I don’t even know how many hours passed.

We left as night was falling, and as I cut across Russell Square to get back to my room I felt a rush of happiness and optimism that I think wasn't just the effects of the Grenache. More and more often, I'm feeling that I have a life that I like.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Must. Transcribe. Faster!

That's really all I have to say, other than my observation that I almost can keep up on everything that I absolutely need to--email, blogs, etc.--in the one hour's worth of internet access a day that I'm willing to pay for. (This makes me concerned about the amount of time I spend on the internet when I'm not paying for it, but that's a worry I'll push to the back of my mind for now.)

I was rather expecting my time in the U.K. to be low-key: four or five hours of work a day, and then good times at night with the various friends and acquaintances who happen either to live here or to be overlapping with my visit. But lemme tell you: yesterday I got to the relevant archive late, and then spent the next five hours straight transcribing the longer and more important of the two MSS that I came here to copy. And when I say five hours straight, I mean five hours straight: did not use restroom. Did not take lunch break. Did not get up from chair. Today I did take a long, leisurely lunch with a friend-mentor who teaches nearby, but the three hours on either side of that lunch I spent similarly rooted to my chair.

On the positive side? I'm getting really fucking good at reading Secretary hand even in this tiny, cramped (and for the last few pages, increasingly lazy/sloppy) form. There are few words that I truly can't make out, although some do require my testing out different letter combinations on my computer screen to see what might produce something comprehensible. On the negative side? I'm transcribing at a steady rate of barely over two pages per hour. And this MS is more than 70 pages long.

Guess what? Ain't getting done on this trip.


Unrelated observations: every time I come here, I'm reminded of all the ways in which London isn't New York. Today I got stuck behind a crowd of freshly disembarked train passengers at Paddington, and despite the fact that it was EIGHT A.M. and everyone was in a suit and clearly had someplace to be, they all just shuffled slowly along like cattle, no one taking advantage of any openings in the crowd to slip ahead. Similarly, the staff in the coffee shops at Paddington apparently do not understand that their customers have trains to catch. I think I hissed 'Jesus CHRIST' under my breath about fifteen times this morning.

So far there are just two areas in which London emerges as the clear winner:

1. The men here love their suits, and I've seen some very handsome ones (suits, not men) in pinstripes and dark grey flannel. About women's fashions. . . well, I've admired several pairs of shoes, and the totally awesome brown-purple haircolor that one woman was rocking. That's about it.

2. Supermarkets. I especially love the small neighborhood versions of Sainsbury's and Tesco, where they have rows upon rows of appealing sandwiches and other prepared foods. Oh, and those mini bottles of wine with the screwoff caps.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Probable interruption in blog service

Okay kids--after a couple of lovely days in NYC, I'm off at this atrocious hour for JFK and thence to London (will be back here for another couple of days on the return end; this was my brilliant strategy for (a) eliminating the danger of lost luggage, missed connections, etc., and (b) getting RU to pay for me to hang with my friends in the city).

I have no idea what my internet connectivity will be while there, so although I'll be checking email daily no matter what, if I'm paying for access to this series of tubes, blogging may be light to nonexistant. Will try to keep up on the lives of all y'all as best I can, however.

And of course: if you'll be in London while I am, feel free to drop me a line.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

What is this "Renaissance" of which you speak?

A few weeks ago I joined Evey, her husband, and some of the other young faculty from her university for some beers. It was a pleasant night out until near the end of the evening, when I happened to use the word "Renaissance" in describing something that I teach or work on. "Renaissance?" Said a certain junior faculty member. "But you're talking about the seventeenth century--that's not the Renaissance."

Since the guy isn't a native English speaker (nor is he a historian or literary scholar), and his educational background would likely have focused on continental Europe, I wasn't surprised by his remark. Instead, I went into the little spiel that I do for my students about how the Renaissance happened in different times in different places.

"But really--Shakespeare? He's not a Renaissance writer! That's so late."

Good-humoredly, I expanded my earlier explanation.

"But, the sixteenth and seventeenth century isn't the Renaissance. That's the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation. That's the baroque."

Less good-humoredly, I trotted out some other ways of thinking about the English Renaissance as a coherent whole and defining its parameters (developed in response to a particularly jerky question I'd once been asked in a job interview). I also floated the term "early modern," which interested him not at all.

Instead, he just kept shaking his head and saying, disbelievingly, "The Renaissance!"

Then it got worse: one of Evey's colleagues, a creative writer, decided to bust in with his theories about a "Renaissance sensibility," and how we could see this in writers from all different time periods--like Emily Dickinson and T. S. Eliot. Every so often, Guy One would interject, "But, the sixteenth century! That's not the Renaissance!"

We went around and around like this for at least an hour, and it was one of the more tedious hours of my life.

But you know--it was still an enjoyable evening on balance, so I quickly forgot about the way it concluded.


Until I got an email from Guy One suggesting that we discuss the Renaissance and the baroque some more, maybe over drinks.

Riiiight. Because our previous conversation was so much fun.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I wonder what this means

Let it be known that I do not have dreams with happy endings. I generally don't have what could be called nightmares, either, but the only dreams that I remember are anxiety dreams. The most common one involves my trying to get somewhere important--to campus, to a conference, to the hospital--but running into obstacle after obstacle as it gets later and later and later. Or I arrive somewhere, discover that I'm completely unprepared, and have to wing it--whether "it" be a class, a job interview, or even a social encounter. Infrequently, but maybe once a year, I have a dream in which I'm getting married: I'm actually at the church when I realize that this is absolutely the wrong move and the wrong person, and so I run around trying to figure out if I can stop the process.

I have dreams like this ALL THE TIME, regardless of what might be going on in my waking life or whether there's even any conscious source of stress. And really, unless there's a particularly novel twist, I don't think about them much; they're just psychic wallpaper.

But in the last few weeks, many of the dreams that I've remembered have had some kind of unexpectedly happy ending--they start out as anxiety dreams, but at the last moment, things get resolved. I do get to wherever I'm going, and in just enough time. I do manage to change someone's mind about an important decision. I do avoid marrying that seemingly great but inexplicably wrong guy (in last night's case, one of my colleagues [!]).

I don't believe that dreams have any predictive power, but I do wonder what these particular ones might reveal about my subconsciousness.

I mean. . . it has to be good, right?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Speaking of those more successful than oneself. . .

It's no secret, to them that knows me, that I love the Sunday NYT wedding announcements. The fact that I don't have a paper subscription means that I don't peruse the thing very closely these days, but when I can get my hands on a hard copy, it's always an exquisitely enjoyable 30 minutes.

So when Stave (or possibly Def) sent me this link, you can imagine how much I loved it. You, too, will love it.

Go. Read. Now!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More pretty, more shiny

. . . but this time not an article of clothing, but a journal article!

I made the trek to campus yesterday solely because I knew that my copies and offprints of a particular article would be there, and all I can say is: this is far and away the loveliest article I've published or ever expect to publish.

That's not to say that it's an important article, because it isn't. Nor is it in an important journal; I imagine that the only scholars who will ever cite it are excessively diligent graduate students, and me. But boy, does this journal have money: the editor consulted with me a million times on matters large and small; the typeface and layout are beautiful; and there are handsome illustrations and little decorative flourishes throughout. Even my offprints are presented in an unusually careful and attractive manner.

And you know, even though I use articles in a strictly utilitarian fashion when I'm researching ("Anything here that's important? No, no, no; that's been said before; that's bullshit; oh. . . this is pretty cool"), and even though this article isn't exactly a major contribution to scholarship, it's rather nice to see one's work all decked up and tricked out for a change.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Advisor meeting

And, oh yes: I also saw Advisor this weekend.

In short, it was a delight. She was relaxed and chatty, gossiping mildly but not inappropriately about other advisees, former advisees, and people in our field, and telling me repeatedly how good I looked. Perhaps most flatteringly, she seemed genuinely happy to see me and to hear about my life. At one point, after I'd thanked her for a particular piece of professional advice, she said something to the effect that she'd enjoy keeping an eye on me--if I didn't mind her doing so. (To which I said, "I hope you will! Who else is going to?")

But here's the weirdest part:

Almost the first thing that Advisor asked me was how my personal life was going. Since we've virtually never discussed my personal life, this was unexpected. I told her that my boyfriend and I had recently broken up, and I think that I may have added an explanatory sentence or two. She blinked for a couple of moments, saying nothing, and then--as if recollecting the sentiment that was called for here--said, rather awkwardly, "Well. I'm sorry to hear that."

Conversation went on. Ten or fifteen minutes later I said something in passing about GWB, and she interrupted: "I have to admit that I'm not totally sorry to hear that your relationship has ended."

"Um." I said. "Okay. . ."

"Because you can do better."

I had no idea what she was talking about. She should know who GWB is (she was the outside-field member of his dissertation committee, and their intellectual interests have significant overlap), but on the occasions when I've reminded her of his identity it's been pretty clear that she has no recollection of him.

She continued, "You're going to be a. . . quietly influential mover in this field. And you can do better."

"Really." I said. "Okay. Well. Thanks!"

* * * * *

So, I have to ask: what the fuck was that all about? And what does my career--bright as it may or may not be--have to do with anything?

If we assume that Advisor doesn't actually remember who GWB is, we're left with three possible interpretations:

1) She was simply saying, in a maternal sort of way, that whoever the guy in question might be, anyone causing me drama could obviously be done-better-than. And P.S.: you rock and have a brilliant future ahead of you!

2) She meant that any relationship (but perhaps especially a long-distance one) must be a time-suck that I couldn't afford.

3) She thinks that I should go out and attach myself to someone important, who could be helpful to my career.

Now, I really don't think it's #2. As monstrously efficient as Advisor is, she's always been devoted to her partners and family; as long as one is on top of one's work, she approves of romantic relationships. #3 is totally gross, but not for that reason an invalid interpretation. Indeed, the decisiveness with which she made the comment, and the fact that it clearly came after some thought, makes that seem somewhat more likely than #1.

Dunno. But despite the grossness of what I think she might have meant, I left our meeting feeling ridiculously cheery. Because that's the way Advisor is: she makes pronouncements. And even when I know that she can't possibly have the necessary evidence to make those pronouncements, or when I don't respect the values that underly them--I tend always to believe her.

Dissertation directors, man. They're the gods that roam the earth.

Reunion: some highlights

Bert and I both got in late Thursday afternoon, and after dining at the most famous purveyor of the food for which Alma Mater City is most famous, we trundled on over to our class reunion headquarters to register. Commenting that it was going to be all open bar, all the time, I encouraged the undergraduate staffers to help themselves to whatever was on offer.

"I mean, we're paying enough for this thing," I said, "and it's totally easy to crash. At my five-year, some of my own students showed up."

"Actually, we get fired if we crash," one of them said.

"So, we'll bring you drinks," Bert said. "How 'bout that?" Then, turning to me: "Hey, we have to go! The liquor store closes at eight!"

The staffers laughed. After all, it's their job to make us think we're charming.

* * * * * *

Luckily, they didn't see what happened next: after buying a bottle of Jameson's for me and a bottle of Malibu for Bert, we went back to our hotel room and made some very large drinks. Then we went down the block to Big Furniture Store--me with a paper cup of whiskey still in hand--where we wandered upstairs and down, testing out sofas and commenting loudly on eveything of which we disapproved.

* * * * * *

As predicted: every single lawyer I met announced his or her profession with some embarrassment, and often accompanied by the phrase, ". . . like everyone else." This was true even of the people who were doing non-corporate and in many cases truly interesting sounding work.

* * * * * *

Clearly, the 10-year is a big deal--the university must see it as its chance to cultivate the millionaire donors of the future. We had the best location of all the reunions, and the university's president and spouse came to one of our receptions to rub shoulders with us. Fortunately I didn't come face to face with the prez, or I'd have felt compelled to explain exactly why I wasn't giving the insitution any money (never mind that I don't have any to give).

* * * * * *

I expected to be, and can now confirm that I was, the only alumna/us who attended the receptions for both the new center for Catholic life and the gay and lesbian organization.

The space for the former was prettier and the people at the latter cooler, but the comestibles at both events were similar and there were very few women at either. In fact, when I was chatting with a lesbian couple at the latter event, the only other alumna in the room came over to introduce herself and bemoan the gender imbalance. "What the hell is up with that? That's such a commentary on the INRU gay community--like, 30 men and 4 women."

"Yeah," said one half of the couple, "and I didn't even go to INRU--I graduated from Dartmouth."

"And I'm straight," I added.

"GodDAMN! That's so fucked up."

* * * * * *

On the shuttle from our hotel to campus, Bert and I met an 87-year-old alumnus in town for his 55th reunion; he'd flown in from San Francisco by himself. We learned that he was a former farm boy and WWII vet who'd attended INRU on the G.I. Bill. He also explained, pleasantly, how George W. Bush was ruining the country.

* * * * * *

At the GLBT reception I ran into someone from my graduating class whom I knew only by name, but when I overheard him saying that he'd just defended his dissertation, we got to talking and it turns out that his degree is also in English. Although we work in entirely different fields and his grad program is on the other side of the country, we immediately ascertained all the people we knew in common and started slinging our best gossip.

* * * * * *

I did indeed look fabulous. The former love of my life looked disappointingly fine himself, but at least he recognized me and greeted me by name. Given that we never had so much as a single date (or even knew each other all that well); that we've only run into each other twice since college; and that he has since achieved a minor degree of celebrity, this acknowledgement was sufficiently gratifying. By contrast, a guy whom I actually did date, long after college, very obviously saw me and even more obviously avoided me.

* * * * * *

INRU has an unusually excellent--and very singable--song as its alma mater. Said song involves an even more excellent conclusion, which incorporates a dramatic physical gesture. Everyone knows how the song concludes. But people who don't know the rest of the words and just mumble along? They suck.

Needless to say, none of our friends suck. Or at least not in that particular way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The key to all mythologies

You know what I need to see fewer of?

Journal articles that claim that all previous readings of Pretty Famous Works of Literature are hopelessly wrong and misguided, but that the author has right here in his pocket the key--heretofore unknown, unrecognized, and untried!--that will unlock all the work's mysteries, explain its apparent inconsistencies, and bring into the brilliant light of day the true motives for its composition.

Now, it's not like I haven't made my share of embarrassingly brash rhetorical moves (I have, in print, dismissed the work of "most twentieth-century literary critics" on a certain topic), and I'll even plead guilty to a mild form of intentionalism. . . but I like to think that I've never a) failed to define the single term that my entire argument depends on; b) neglected to establish how the work's author could possibly have known or why he would have followed a particular tradition or model in writing the work in question; and c) after saying that my argument explained all of a work's inconsistencies, gone on and happily ignored most of them.

Seriously, dudes. Cut that shit out.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Keeping up appearances

Yesterday I had a long phone conversation with HK, and then another slightly less lengthy one with Bert. This isn't news in itself, as I've been spending a lot of time on the phone lately--but in the course of those conversations HK happened to mention that she'd been doing a serious number of stomach crunches every day, and Bert mentioned that he'd started going back to the gym.

Well, of course, you might be thinking. It's summertime, so everyone's getting in shape.

No: it's summertime, and our 10-year college reunion is in less than a week.

I'm not so big with the exercise, but I've begun my own regimen: 8.5 or 9 hours of sleep a night, and to bed by 11 or midnight. 64 oz of water a day. No crying. Because while I've generally been doing okay with regard to That Thing That Happened, I've had consistent trouble getting as much sleep as I actually need, and what with that and even the occasional meltdown (most recently, Friday night), my eyes have seen some serious dark circle and puffiness action, which I find is just not my most fabulous look. And it would be a shame to disappoint my pretty clothes by looking haggard in them.

I don't think there's anyone in particular whom any of us is trying to impress--speaking for myself, I can say that none of my exes or ex-crushes is important enough for me to want to dazzle (although, okay: I wouldn't absolutely hate it if I did), and they're all married anyway. But at a time like this I think that everyone does want to project something that seems like her best self, even if more for herself than anyone else. And like it or not, it's the external self that first telegraphs a message of success or the lack thereof.

Hence, these physical self-improvement projects. Hence, the repeated trips to the mall (where, God help me, I just bought another pair of shoes).

Bert and HK and I are all, I suppose, behind the ball in some ways--not currently partnered, not property owners, and with no savings to speak of--but we're otherwise doing respectably enough by the standards of our graduating class. Bert's been doing HIV/AIDS public policy work in New York and will be starting a grad program in that field next fall. HK has worked a variety of interesting jobs, lived abroad for a couple of years, and just graduated from one of the approved law schools (nevermind that she hated it). And as for me, well, I guess that I have a Ph.D. from an approved institution, and now I have a tenure-track job (nevermind that it's at a school most of my classmates won't have heard of--at least it's in a blue state in the east!).

And although I do feel some anxiety over the probable greater success of many of my classmates--those nice homes, summer homes, spouses, and exotic travel--one of the nicest thing about Instant Name Recognition U is that even the corporate-climbers tend to have a sincere interest in and respect for the arts, the liberal arts, and the more unusual career paths. All those lawyers and bankers? Most of them kinda think they took the easy path. They know their jobs aren't particularly interesting, and they try to make up for it by getting season tickets to the opera and the symphony and reading the latest literary fiction. In my experience they love to hang out with people they can romanticize as having "pursued their dreams."

But you know, nothing says, "I have an amazing life that I love" better than looking gorgeous and prosperous, or as close to those things as one can reasonably come. And it's not only my college classmates I have to impress: I'm also having lunch with Advisor, who has a tendency to notice--and to comment on--matters of self-presentation.

So, we're trying over here.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

CFP (Call for Posts)

Horace, over at To Delight and To Instruct, is assembling an on-line resource of blog posts that demystify graduate school and the process of becoming an academic professional--basically, required reading for graduate student survival.

So if you've written or read such a post recently, check out his fuller description here and drop him a line with the link.