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Kalamazoo Friday (and Thursday)

9 May, 2014

Yeah, so travel sucked on Thursday, and I didn’t get to registration till almost 23:00, so I missed the blogger meet-up, karaoke, and all sorts of things. However, I did run into a bunch of Germans and Germanistik people who complimented me on my fluency. Funny, since it’s ever so long since I’ve spoken German regularly.

Missed this morning’s meetup because unpacking and sleep.

SO basically, I suck at social.

But I will be blogging the conference as I experience it. Probably re-posting throughout the day. Also, if you already know me and are looking for me, try Mug Shots till at least 12:30, unless someone sweeps me away for lunch. It could be you! I have both UK and US phones, but best to use Viber to get me on the UK phone.

UPDATE on Blogger Meet-up at the Zoo

6 May, 2014

Hi all — 

So, because I can’t do math properly, I suggested a start time for the meet-up on Thursday that is before I can get there without a TARDIS. Since I was planning on picking up drink and food on the way, this means there is a need for volunteers, or people will be hungry, thirsty, and all leave for receptions… There will be signs for the location in the Eldridge end of Eldridge-Fox, which is I think Valley III?

Blogger meet-up at Kalamazoo 2014

5 May, 2014

Aargh. I am useless this year. So… the Super Sekrit plan, unless there are strong objections, is that bloggers will meet Thursday evening, beginning sometime after 8:00. Probably overlapping with the Toronto party, but in the same building. Alternate/additional time Friday morning at Mug Shots from opening till people depart for sessions. Pick your poison accordingly.

Room for Thursday escapes me but will be made clear by asking that nice medievalist woman blogger who Gets Shit Taken Care Of at the Zoo. By the time the dance starts, she’ll wanna be sedated. Also, I will post here. Yes, donations of food and beverages gratefully accepted. If anyone will be in town with a car before Thursday, or has time, let me know if you are willing to help with drink cups, etc.

Doing All The Things

22 April, 2014

Holy crap! I don’t know where time has gone, but gone it has. I have finally managed to clear the big stumbling block off my to-do list, and am now deep in the “OMG I am overcommitted and have no time!” phase of the sabbatical. I’ve re-discovered my total inability to impose structure on my life, which is depressing. On the other hand, I have been reasonably successful at getting back into a running program (although I am now having some foot pain…), have lost 4+ kilos (which means I only have about 12 to go…), and have managed to get sleep on a regular basis. I have spent time with friends. I have gone sight-seeing in East Anglia, and saw things I had not seen before. They reminded me how much I really wanted to be an Anglo-Normanist.

And yet… I have papers to write! Lots of them. I have to have one paper done for Kalamazoo in two weeks, and (more importantly, because the stakes are bigger and it’s a bigger project) I am giving a paper to All the Scary Scholars in a month. During which time, I will have gone home and to the Zoo. 

As part of all of this, I am going to re-commit to writing here more. I forget that it helps me to get my thoughts in order, and right now, I need order to my thoughts. 

Commence panicking … NOW.



Sabbatical Musings Two: Observations on the past and the present

20 March, 2014

What the hell? I thought I was going to be blogging more! Mostly, I’ve been sleeping more and actually getting exercise. But sometimes, you just have to blog, and now is one of those times.

Being on sabbatical in another country is just weird. First, I don’t have my cats. This is bothering me a lot. But beyond that, I find that I am constantly fighting with myself, and trying not to beat myself up for not feeling grateful for what I have. Now, honestly, I also worry that this is not the sort of thing that people who are more self-confident, and especially men, worry about. Logically, I know that there is no real conflict between being grateful with what you have and wanting more. In fact, it’s what I have, and how fortunate I feel, that make me want more, if that makes any sense.

Since I’ve been on sabbatical, I have had the luxury of attending one or more medieval history seminars a week. This means that, at least once a week, I get to sit in a room full of medievalists and talk about stuff that makes me think. Basically, that’s one more talk a week than I normally get in a year. To be honest, I am not being nearly as productive as I’d like, but I have managed to get back into a semi-regular exercise routine, and can at least get back into some of my smaller clothes. Not in a way that I would wear them, but not having to jump up and down to get a pair of jeans on is something.  Nevertheless, every time I do a medievalist thing, I find myself thinking ‘if only’.

‘If only’ I had done things differently. ‘If only’ I had learnt a long time ago how to impose some sort of schedule on myself and follow it, rather than needing some sort of externally imposed timeline (The ADHD laughs from the corner). ‘If only’ I had realized that I like to do research and write, rather than thinking of it as the price I had to pay if I wanted to teach. At least that is something I tell my students now: it’s wonderful to love to teach and be good at it, but if you can’t feel some sort of enjoyment at doing research, there’s not much point. ‘If only’ I had thought more about what the opportunities given to me over the years really meant, and learnt to take advantage of them…

I’m not sure what the second part of that thought is, though. ‘If only this‘ needs to be followed by ‘I could/would/might have/be that‘, and I have no idea what that is. Had more choices, I think. Not got myself stuck and unemployable? I’m not sure that’s true, even if life feels like that a lot. ‘If only’ seems to me to have a sort of terminal implication to it that belies, and even undermines, the present. I wonder if that thought is what kept me from finishing this post last night and posting it in a Rioja and tapas-induced blur? Some small shred of logic trying to beat its way out from under a mudslide of regrets and denial? Let’s try this again, shall we?

Being here, in one of the coolest cities I can think of, in a country where I have many friends, some family, and where reasonably attractive, seemingly intelligent men I’ve never met before strike up conversations with me in cafés and the BL, and where I can hang out with people I like and admire and talk about nerdy things … it’s actually a lot like what I wanted when I started grad school. Perhaps more of the past fifteen or so years could have been this way, if only I had done things differently. And? It feels like I should just stop with that thought. That’s what I mean by terminal implication, and it makes sense to me as a historian. When I think of my life, and myself in it, I tend to feel like an observer. There is always a part of me that is watching and recording, a part that sees me, and thinks ‘her’. I live much of my life outside myself, I think.

But I am here, in a library purpose-built for historians and their research. I am sitting at a desk, and this is my life. My life at the moment is hanging out with people I like and admire and going to seminars and doing research. I have a bunch of projects on that pretty much guarantee that the things I wanted, and have, won’t be going away, unless I turn out to suddenly not be alive anymore. But for now, the ‘would/could/might have been’ is, more or less. I just need to remember that I am supposed to be living my life, and not just observing it from a distance. Ha! As if…


Sabbatical Musings One: On how not to do a sabbatical

20 February, 2014

So. Or even, Hwæt!

I am on sabbatical. I’ve been on sabbatical since the beginning of term in January, but I am really only counting it since a little over two weeks ago, when I arrived in the UK. That’s when the separation from SLAC began, and I didn’t need to worry about my house, etc. Of course, I did have to find a place to live, get settled there, get my paperwork turned in so I could officially call myself a Visiting Research Fellow at an institution where I never dreamed I might have even an honorary affiliation. I’ve been working, but honestly, it feels like time is slipping away, and I managed to have something close to a meltdown. 

Meltdowns don’t really fit my idea of ‘things that one should do on sabbatical.’

So what exactly should I be doing? and how does that relate to said meltdown?

SLAC doesn’t really have a clear policy on the purpose of a sabbatical. We don’t have research leave, other than the sabbatical, which until recently could be taken every eighth year, if approved. The standard load is 24 credit hours per year. Some people have bigger loads than that. Others get a 3-hour release to do research. Add in individual supervisions, etc., though, and it’s never a full course release. Many of us, myself included, teach an incredibly broad range of courses, almost none of which are in our own research areas. So after seven years, we are tired. In my case, it’s been close to thirteen years, i.e., I’ve never had a non-teaching term since I started teaching full-time. Because there are lots of people like me, SLAC’s faculty government, like those at other universities, has kept the regenerative purposes of a sabbatical in the mix. So when planning my sabbatical, I tried to think of non-academic goals in addition to research projects. Basically, I had this weird idea that using the sabbatical and the distance from SLAC to get into healthier habits that would be in the long term beneficial to my health, my teaching and my research. Given that the last approximately four years at SLAC have been hugely stressful and bad for my physical and emotional health, this seemed a good plan. Fortunately, being a productive scholar seems to be important to my well-being, so… yeah. 

I started with modest goals:

  • I would revise and resubmit an article that I really want and need to expand and finish
  • I would do enough research to set up an agenda for the next 2-3 years
  • i would finish an overdue translation for colleagues
  • I would finish a long-overdue (but still only verbally contracted and no agreed-upon estimate of costs for some specialized web programming) project, if I could, AND
  • I would get back into running
  • I would blog
  • I would read in my field, and maybe even catch up a bit
  • I would read fiction, which I haven’t done for about two years
  • I would knit, if I wanted
  • I would draw, and take photographs
  • I would sing
  • I would pay attention to my life as it happened, and to my friends and family.

You know, just looking at that looks a bit ambitious.  Basically, though, it boils down to this: write a couple of things and get some control over my life.

Then, somehow, there were more projects. Add to the list three presentations and a commissioned article, none of which I could turn down, because they all offered me opportunities to work with people I respect. In many ways, each offer was like a fairy tale come true. I could use my sabbatical to pretend I was a real academic, someone who, if she’d done things differently (i.e., better), might have ended up doing that sort of thing all of the time. By the time I landed, I’d internalised the idea that my sabbatical was an opportunity for make-believe. I was going to have seven months to pretend to be someone I clearly wasn’t, because if I were, I wouldn’t be flailing about trying to figure out how to do a sabbatical, how to pay for it, and how to keep up a pretense for such a long time. 

Longtime readers are unlikely to be surprised by this. As the Cranky Professor has said, I have a massive inferiority complex. But you know? even I can look at this and say, “wow. That’s just … kinda fucked up.” And really, that’s not the whole of it. Because at the same time, I was thinking, “Holy Crap. I got a (small, but helpful) grant to help pay for the sabbatical. SLAC chose to nominate me for it. That says something. And I have this kick-ass honorary position and title. Just because it’s honorary doesn’t mean they hand them out like copies of the Evening Standard. People recommended you, idiot. Also? Smart people don’t invite you to present with them just because they need to fill panels. Nor because they want to see you humiliated. They don’t ask you to contribute to volumes as a joke. Aaaand… just like that, by the end of Week One, I wasn’t worried about pretense. I was worried about proving myself. 

By the beginning of Week Three, Proving Myself became “OMG I am OLD and have had cancer and this is the only real chance I have to do enough research and publish enough that I can Ever. Apply. For. Another. Job! MY ENTIRE FUTURE RESTS ON THIS SABBATICAL AND ME SHOWING THE WORLD I CAN HACK IT AT A PLACE WITH A 3-2 LOAD AND MAYBE EVEN GRAD STUDENTS!!!! I CAN’T SCREW THIS UP!!!!!! NONE OF MY MEDIEVALIST COLLEAGUES WILL RESPECT ME IF I DON’T DO ALL THE THINGS! SUPERDEAN WILL FEEL LET DOWN!!”  No pressure, then. 

Cue meltdown.

And then, I stopped. 

Just like that. More or less. 

One of the things that the last few years at SLAC have taught me is how to recognize anxiety. Not worry, mind you, but anxiety of the ‘way too much adrenaline coursing through my body at the wrong time for the wrong reasons’ sort. It’s that fight/flight/freeze thing that can keep a person from accomplishing anything and push a person into a pit of worthlessness and despair. Or so I hear.  Recognizing a physical feeling for what it is is a great way of re-setting one’s bullshit detector. So I called bullshit on myself. And then, of course, I verified my analysis with LDW and a couple of other friends, and came to the conclusion that perhaps, just perhaps, I had allowed feeling like I might be an actual medievalist worthy of hanging out with cool medievalists who are scary smart — a good thing — lead to a set of possibly unrealistic, perhaps even unachievable, expectations. In short (ha!), perhaps I was putting pressure on myself where no such pressure existed? 

It took me about another hour to take that all in, and to figure out that it had taken me just over two weeks to set myself up to come back from sabbatical as the most stressed-out stress bunny that ever lived.  So today, I started again. I’m not thrilled that I didn’t get into the Reading Room. But I did things I wanted to do: 

  • I sat in a cafe and reviewed my goals
  • I read a couple of blog posts
  • I let myself appreciate being in one of the coolest cities in the world, and looked at flowers, and street signs, and other such things as I walked its streets
  • I took a break from people
  • I breathed
  • I took care of some mundane things
  • I came close to accepting that I know how to translate Latin, since every time I check a translation with someone else, they have the same thing, so maybe I should just stop panicking and finish the bastard thing
  • I found some other things I want to read and think about

Because really, if I can’t allow myself to stop and think during my sabbatical, how is it a break, or even a change of pace? 

And yes, I just realized I already had a panic about Getting All The Things Done, but that was DIY stuff. Note to self and others: a knack for self-imposed stress is not actually a helpful life skill. Just sayin’.


Next time: Nicholas Kristof needs more Sondheim in his life.






While I continue to prepare for a journey to Forn Parts…

28 January, 2014

I give you something awesome: New Doctor