Monday, February 25, 2008

Favorite quote of the day...

...brought to you by the need to do laundry, coupled with the dangers of teaching too much modern European history:

the LWI's fierce declaration "I will be the Bismarck of my socks!"

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Charmed, I'm Sure

So the LWI and I went to a Big Shindig last night. Well, the shindig itself wasn't all that big, but it was attended by lots of Important People. I am not, myself, anywhere near to being an Important Person, but I have a connection to this particular group, just enough to put us in the general circles of Important People milling about before and after the shindig.

At the pre-shindig reception, the LWI noticed an unusually distinguished-looking gentleman strolling through the group, and pointed him out to me. "Look at that guy; have you ever seen anything more aristocratic? He has to be Spanish nobility." And it was true - if it's possible for aristocracy to be etched in a face, this guy had it. In fact, he looked just like a twenty-first century version of this guy.

I went off for a moment to talk to an Important Person who's working with me on the conference I'm organizing later this spring, and when I came back, I was astonished to find the LWI engaged in a delightful conversation with the Spanish Nobleman. He introduced me to His Excellency, who greeted me warmly, gave a gracious little bow, and kissed my hand. I about peed my pants.

Generally I'm a fan of the proletariat; I identify with the common people. But being kissed on the hand by an old-fashioned gentleman? Priceless.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Conclusive evidence

So one of my students turned in an assignment where his job was to analyze a primary source, in this case a letter from a woman in Renaissance Florence to her son. My student concluded from the letter that the woman's son was gay.

What evidence did he use to support this? That the mother at one point in the letter expressed disappointment to her son for “having caused her grief” in the past.

Boy, I think there may be a lot more going on there than I know what to do with.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

This Is It

A most encouraging coincidence:

The LWI and I are in the study, each plodding away on our own projects, the radio playing in the background. Suddenly the LWI speaks up with the news that Obama has won decisively in Georgia. In the pause that follows this statement, as we are savoring the news, we hear Kenny Loggins sing out: "This is it, for once in your life, here's your miracle, stand up and fight!"

As a fan of portents and omens, I find that profoundly heartening.

Friday, February 01, 2008

On the Eights

So yeah, I procrastinate a little, but eventually things get done. An embarrassingly long time ago, the captivating Wayfarer Scientista tagged me for a meme; I've been thinking about it ever since, but hadn't written anything down. (You know, my grandmother was in the hospital, and my boyfriend broke up with me, and I've been having problems with my computer... no, wait, that's my students. Sorry.) Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Meme of Eights:

Eight passions in my life

I had to think about this one a little, simply because I wouldn't describe myself as being passionate. Thoughtful, yes; appreciative, definitely; grateful, enthusiastic, occasionally obsessive, sure. But I'm a little too quiet and introspective and distant to think of my interests as passions. But that's taking the wording a little too seriously.

1. Walking. See? That's not something you'd ordinarily describe as the object of passion. But I love to walk, both as exercise and as a way of maintaining contact with the world - when you move yourself through a space, you're much more in tune with that space and yourself than if you are moved by car or bus or even bicycle. I like to look at the sky, and at my surroundings, and to feel the rhythm of the movement of my body and the contact of my feet on the ground. I did a 300-mile pilgrimage walk a few years ago, and the physical act of walking across fields and up hills and along ancient paths pleased me as much as the cultural experience of the trip.

2. Ideas. Yeah, that's vague. But there's nothing more fun than coming up with a new question or new perspective on something, talking it over with a friend, seeing new angles, and feeling my brain muscles stretch to try to handle it. That hasn't happened nearly enough lately; I'm enough in a comfortable rut with most of my friends that I already know what they think about most topics, and we exchange anecdotes more than we wrestle with entirely new ideas. I need someone to shake my brain up a little.

3. Things I can see. Maybe this works more in reverse; I can't really be passionate about things I can't visualize. My brain works in a very visual way, so I tend to think of concepts and words and people in terms of color and shape. That's not exactly a passion in itself, but anything I'm passionate about takes on some sort of visual presence in my head.

4. Learning. My god, I get bored if I'm not on some sort of learning curve. Unfortunately that means I like beginning projects more than following through on them.

5. The BBC. Really, I didn't realize how hooked I was on BBC news until our local public radio station moved it an hour later at night, and that's the hour I usually listen. For most of the past fifteen years I've listened to the BBC while I'm getting ready to go to bed, and besides the basic quality of the news, it gives me that sensation that no matter how crazy the world gets, there will be sensible calm people to help figure it out.

6. Environmental responsibility. I certainly don't do everything I could to conserve resources, but it matters a lot to me to understand my impact on the world and moderate it as much as possible. All I have to do is imagine any individual action - throwing away a battery, letting the sink drip, not recycling plastic bags - and multiply it in my head by the three million people in the metropolitan area where I live, and that's horrifying enough.

7. Getting into other people's heads. The main reasons I study history and literature are because they give me a way of understanding other people's culture and beliefs and behavior, and I find that endlessly fascinating.

8. Sleep! I am so not one of those people who can party or study or play all night; never have been. I'll sacrifice fun time or shopping or housecleaning or eating time if I really fall behind on something, but never sleep time. I need seven hours a night to be a human being, and since I used to suffer regularly from insomnia, sleep is a precious treasure. The last few years, I've slept better than I ever have in my life, and oh what a difference it makes.

Eight things to do before I die:

I vividly remember one point in graduate school when I realized that I was at the age when most people had a job, a car, a spouse, maybe even a kid, decent furniture, a retirement plan, leisure time... and I wasn't even close to getting any of those things. Being the incurable optimist that I am (I can hear New Kid laughing at me now) I decided that the best part was that I still had all of those things to look forward to. The truth is that I enjoy looking forward to things almost more than I enjoy doing or having them, so I'm almost hesitant to make a list like this; ironically the only way I would die happy is to still have things to look forward to. I guess the solution is to make sure that as I do these things, I add new things to the list. No final bucket list for me!

1. Live within walking distance of campus. I've been associated with university campuses of one sort or another since I was a kid, and until my current job, I've always lived within walking distance. It feels very odd to me now not to, and I'm always torn between wanting to go to evening events and activities and really really not wanting to drive back in to campus. There's a good chance this move will happen in the next three or four years, fortunately.

2. Decorate and furnish our house (the one closer to campus) in a way that reflects a reasonably consistent and attractive style. We still have the sort of odds-and-ends collection that we cobbled together when we got married, and the pieces we like best don't really fit with the house, so our style is sort of Lower-Income Hodgepodge. We've been keeping a savings account dedicated to buying stuff that will coordinate with itself and the new house, whenever that comes about. That is going to be the world's most satisfying shopping spree.

3. Learn to play the piano, again. (Did the usual lessons as a kid; hated them; have finally recovered enough to actually want to play.)

4. Walk somewhere. (see "passions," above.) I don't have any concrete goals for this, but another pilgrimage, or walking across a country, or the Appalachian Trail, or something.

5. Discover some new talent I didn't know I had. Wouldn't that be fun? I'm always taken by these stories of people who started playing the guitar, or writing, or woodworking, in their thirties (or older) and discovering a real ability when they never had any idea that was something they'd be good at.

6. Find some sort of community service project I can really get into. I've done odd bits of volunteer work here and there, but as I get more comfortable in my career, I'd like to spend more time finding ways to contribute to the world outside of it.

7. Travel more. This one's pretty much a given, and we've gotten good at taking little adventure trips to new places every summer. But I want to plan that in to the rest of my life, too.

8. Figure out a way to get through the next 30 years of my career without feeling stagnant or burned out. I'm almost ten years in, and there have been enough challenges and enough of a learning curve to keep it exciting. But that's not likely to last, and I want to make sure I find ways to keep it satisfying and rewarding. Not sure how that will be done, yet.

Eight things I often say

1. "Awesome!" (I am so trapped in the eighties.)

2. "Run-run-run to the kitchen!" (high-pitched and with great excitement.) This is part of our nighttime ritual of feeding the cats. We're on a regular enough schedule that the cats start pacing around about ten minutes before their dinnertime, watching to see if we shut down the computers. But they wait for that final cue to bolt downstairs.

3. "You're such a cat." Another feline ritual. OneCat curls up in my lap every evening while I work, and looks up at me with that contented sleepy face of his, and I always feel irrationally compelled to inform him fondly that he is a cat.

4. "Husband!" For some reason the LWI and I almost never call each other by our real names, but simply refer to each other as Husband and Wife.

5. "Thank you." A habit we got into when we first moved in together, that I think has had a healthier impact than almost anything else we've done - whenever either of us cleans the cat box, empties the dishwasher, gets the mail, clears the table, all those things that happen every single day, the other says Thank you. It really helps to acknowledge what each person does every day to keep the household running, and to have those things be appreciated.

6. "Don't eat that." A frequent admonition to TwoCat, who has an unhealthy interest in chewing on envelopes, photographs, and plastic bags.

7. "It's in the syllabus."

8. "Really. The answers to all those questions? They're in the syllabus."

Eight books I've read recently

I'm listing only fiction, since I don't "read" history books in the traditional sense; I dip into them and grab a few pages at a time.

1. Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes. About the relationships and events leading up to a school shooting. What I liked best was that you know at the outset what happens, but not who did it, and the story engages several high school students in such a way that they're all perfectly normal kids, but there are moments when you can imagine any of them getting to that point. It's remarkably sympathetic without downplaying for a moment the hideousness of the crime.

2. Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs. By the guy who wrote Empire Falls, which I haven't read yet but loooved the movie. He does a beautifully convincing job of telling a story from the perspective of a single narrator, but at different moments in his life. Plus it's a fascinating comparison of the advantages and downfalls of naive optimism vs. calculated skepticism.

3. José Luis Sampedro, Real Sitio. A historical novel about Spain (and about the writing of history itself) that hops back and forth between the Napoleonic era and the years just before the Civil War, set in the palace of Aranjuez.

4. Garrison Keillor, Pontoon. My favorite kind of weekend reading, just charming and sweet.

5. Fannie Flagg, Can't Wait to Get to Heaven. Same as the above (in fact they're remarkably similar plots.)

Okay, this is embarrassing, but I probably read eight books over Christmas break alone, and I couldn't for the life of you tell me what they are. I get completely caught up in the world of a book when I'm reading it, but then when I move on, I don't remember that much. I can remember individual scenes from several of them, but not authors or titles. So I'll have to abandon this at five.

Eight songs that mean something to me

My commentary is getting absurdly long, so I'll just list these, and leave the stories for another post. :) Most of these are pretty recent; I'm sure I could come up with an entirely different list if I thought back to high school/college.

1. Lyle Lovett, "South Texas Girl"
2. Manu Chao, "Merry Blues"
3. Jorge Drexler, "Milonga del Moro Judío"
4. Everly Brothers, "Dream"
5. Paul Simon, "African Skies"
6. Julieta Venegas, "Me Voy"
7. The 9s, "Can't Stop the Groove"
8. Bela Fleck, "Sinister Minister"

Eight qualities I look for in a friend

Kindness; responsibility; willingness to see humor in things; tolerance; talent; independence; ideally they'll have the same general values I do but a perspective different enough that we can learn things from each other.

Apologies to Wayfarer for taking so long with this; I tag everybody who'd like to play!