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A Child of the Universe

"With all its sham, drudgery & broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world..."

beserene

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DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak you truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child ofthe universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerul. Strive to be happy.

- Max Ehrmann, 1927

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August 1st, 2008

The end of things

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Eleanor
Wow, it's August already. How did that happen?

Oh, wait, I know exactly how that happened -- on July 4th, I got on a plane bound for Ireland. After that first eternal week of seminars, I looked at my compatriots and agreed that, yes, it seemed as though we had been there forever. Then I blinked. And suddenly I find myself three weeks later, in Sligo, at the end of another week of lectures and seminars, facing another airplane that tomorrow will carry me home. It's strange to think that the NEH Seminar is over, that for me the Yeats Summer School is over, that my time in Ireland is over, that the summer itself is almost over. The world has been so full the past several weeks, it's difficult to see time flying by around its bulk.

But tomorrow I will go home. And what will I carry with me?

A few books, some old, a handful new -- several signed by the scholars and poets who wrote them, who taught us how to read them, who drank with us and shoved the biography history spirituality mentality instability ability of Yeats into our heads (at this point I need a shoehorn and a sledgehammer to get anything else in there).

A plump, overstretched pocket notebook, its pages intercut with folded hand-outs, each scribbled with notes on this image or that biographical context, the meaning of lines overwritten one across another -- its formerly empty white space packed with snippets of brilliance gleaned from wafting words in a dark theatre or directive injunctions delivered with force and point from some face across the circle of desks -- that brilliance alternating with messages to seat-neighbors, the regressive results of overheard or overseen drama ('OMG did you see her outfit this morning? Somebody had a late night at the pub' or 'Men are so obsessed with virility, honestly') and each proof that the human brain can only concentrate for just so long.

A wooden spoon, a woven wool hairband, an iron candlestick -- random treasures from market walks and island-hopping, each hand-made, each both useful and useless in its own way -- carrying the memories of those scattered hours outside in the sun, away from classroom walls and desks and notes -- scraps of freedom.

Dirty clothes -- hems lined with dust and mud from rainy streets and too-tramped sheep paths -- shirts spotted from beer-carrying arms knocked sideways or from food hastily eaten, to the horror of passers-by ('That's how they were brought up, of course'), while waiting for a bus.

A pocketful of email addresses, business cards, the promises of new friends to become old friends -- the detritus of life among those who started as strangers.

And a mind stretched with information, understanding, insight -- stretched too full, a water balloon too tight to slosh inside my skull, a vague feeling of daily loss, liquid leaking out my ears -- I know I'll forget half of this before I ever find a way to rearticulate it.

I am, at this moment, and as always, anticipating home with a mixture of joy and disappointment. How fast life travels! I often find myself at the end of things, watching what I have just lived recede in the distance, wondering if I got what all that I could have from that, or sometimes if I even lived it at all.

But, time notwithstanding, this has been good. I have seen. And heard. And drunk the sweetness of life (literally) and washed bright bitter thoughts in good conversation. I have been lonely and happy, solemn and surrounded. I have been home, that home of hearts that beckons me then lets me go then beckons me again. I have learned, and I have longed for what I could not have, and I have been contented with whatever presented itself. It has been an eternity and an instant -- one month in Ireland.

July 16th, 2008

Let's Review

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Attitude
Today was uneventful -- class, lunch, more class, brief vegetative state, reading, dinner, working on online class, second vegetative state... now -- so let's take a moment to review the events of last weekend, which were more interesting and about which I have thus far neglected to blog. (Does anybody else find the word "blog" reminiscent of the sound of a frog throwing up? No? Hmm, must just be me.)

Moving on.

Last Friday -- that would have been the tenth, which seems an awfully long time ago now -- two members of my cohort and I journeyed to Inis Oirr (Anglicized "Inisheer"), which is the smallest of the Aran Islands and to which I had never before been. I have been used to taking students to the big island, Inis Mor, where one has to flee the crowds and seek desolation and peace in the far corners, away from touring mini-buses and bike-riding college children. On Inis Oirr, however, there are few mini-buses -- there was one tractor pulling a trailer on which was perched a shed, intended (one presumes) to shelter wussy tourists as they putt-putt around the island (it was an incongruous sight, but I've come to expect those in Ireland) -- and the dominant mode of travel is by foot. Being lazy Americans, the three of us immediately upon arrival engaged a pony-cart for a brief tour of the six-miles-around island.

The pony-cart was driven by a young man, perhaps barely in his twenties, wearing Oakley sunglasses and a sports jersey. When one considers that the usual drivers are old gentlemen in tweed caps and Aran sweaters, one realizes just how much of an odd man out young Ronan (that's his name) was. Upon seeing him, I did have an immediate urge to veer toward one of the older drivers. What sudden fear, you might ask, rose from the depths of my subconscious at the thought of being driven around a small and rocky island by a fellow who wouldn't be old enough to drink in the USA? Was I perhaps afraid that this young man, obviously of a deviant bent, would suddenly break his constraints (and the unspoken pony-cart speed limits) and go tearing across land and ocean like the legendary (at least according to the Clancy brothers) leprechaun jarvey? No, my friends, no such trepidation assaulted me. Frankly, I just didn't want to be seen being driven around by some punk who looked vaguely like my brother. If one is going to be a tourist, one ought to be a proper tourist, with the appropriately (if falsely) quaint tour guide. Still, I am not one to deny a young man his wages, so in the end I clambered into Ronan's cart, behind the piebald pony named Paddy, who had a serious tendency toward flatulence, and enjoyed a brief tour of the island I had never seen.

We did come across a few points of interest, in between pony farts, including the remnant of a massive ship thrown up on the stony beach by a storm, years ago. The rusted hulk would have tempted the childhood adventurer in me, but fortunately the island people (and children) have more sense than to go banging around in a pile of rotting metal. We also saw the lake of Inis Oirr (90% fresh water, which I think is rather remarkable, given that the thing is all of ten feet from the sea), a few disinterested cows, and quite a bit (surprise, surprise) of rock.

After our tour concluded, Ronan dropped us off at the pub (one of three -- not bad for an island with just over 200 residents) for a warming lunch, as the brisk wind had quite chilled us, even packed as we had been into the back of the cart. The pub served solid, comfortingly uniform grub -- cheese toasties and soup with brown bread -- and, thus fortified, we felt prepared to venture out on our own feet.

Inis Oirr has (or, from another perspective, is) a central hill, at the crown of which is perched the ragged ruins of a medieval castle. Naturally (because what else does one do?) we climbed up to them. The view was stunning and the ruins, though small, were charmingly decayed. We walked paths alongside stone walls leading to other small but charming ruins, until the cold air on the hill forced us down, back to the pub for a well-earned (or so we felt) drink.

Overall, I hope you will agree, this was a pleasant day -- nothing too strenuous, but still the feel of a good adventure.

It wasn't until the ferry crossing back to the main land that things got interesting.

I have thus far mentioned, a couple of times, that there was a good, brisk breeze blowing that day -- by late afternoon, when the ferry was loading, it had accelerated into a genuine wind, and cold at that, which had stirred up the whitecaps on the sea. When we boarded the ferry -- and it was the smallest of the fleet of ferries -- we could already feel the pitch and roll beneath our feet. The sun was still out, however, so the three of us remained up "on deck" (a space behind the wheelhouse where a double-sided bench squatted between bicycle racks and life-rafts). Not long after we had pulled away from the dock, the captain stuck his head out of the wheelhouse and said "It's going to get wet up here."

Now, of the three of us, the one who had the most sense was New York J---. She decided, almost immediately, to head down below, to the snug, dry passenger cabin, and enjoy the crossing through a window. L--- and I, due firstly to the fact that L--- was feeling a little queasy and secondly to the fact that I never ever listen to people who talk sense, decided to remain above, risking the wet to stay in the sun and breeze and to stave off motion sickness (I had taken my little pink pills, so was fine, but L--- was on a dangerous brink). The ferry, before getting to the mainland, had to stop at the middle island, Inis Meain, to pick up passengers. Moving between the islands dusted us with a little spray, but most of it was dry again by the time all were aboard, so L--- and I remained, unconcerned, up top. We were joined by Deep South R---, who had hiked around the middle island that day. When he came aboard, we passed along the captain's warning of impending wet, but he resolutely stated, "if y'all are staying up here, I am staying up here." Apparently, R--- doesn't like to be out-idioted by girls.

The ferry moved away from that second dock with growing speed. As soon as we had cleared the harbor area, we discovered how much in earnest the captain had been. The first spray struck us from the side and slightly behind, and we tilted up our jacket collars and chuckled. The second spray whipped over the side of the ship and stung our exposed skin, rippling into our ears and eyes and soaking our hair. Each rise and fall repeated the soaking sprays, until jacket collars turned from protection to mere funnels through which the water could run down necks and backs (and, resulting in an interesting bib-shape on my shirt, cleavage). Though, from our angle, the distant white caps didn't look too tall, the ferry tipped and tossed over crests and into troughs at an alarming tilt. There were several moments when we, facing the side rails of the ferry, found ourselves looking down into the water instead of out over it -- in those moments, we clung to the back of the slippery bench with our arms and tried to hide our faces from the inevitable spray as the ship righted itself again.

At some point it became clear that this was the adventure we had chosen, and I laughed madly at the tilt and the salt-sting in my eyes -- I kept laughing until we reached the far harbor, and the sea beneath us settled, and the sprays stopped rising over the sides. At that point I, in my mere cotton jacket and jeans, was thoroughly soaked. I stripped off the jacket and stood in the cold wind and sun, hoping to dry a little (or at least stop dripping) before the hour-long bus ride back to town.

To paraphrase an oft-read passage, there are some things that you just can't do without becoming friends -- apparently enduring a foolishly chosen rough crossing is one of them. Since Friday, L--- and I have become quite good friends, and R--- shows a grudging respect for both of us, the "tough" ones who laughed at an angry sea.

And you thought this trip was only going to involve literary adventures. :)

Alas, the remainder of the weekend was not quite as thrilling -- though the Galway Film Fleadh (festival) was on, so I saw a couple of films, including some delightful new Irish animated shorts, and the Saturday market was in full fling, so I ate boehrwurst on a roll with chutney and mustard, hot doughnuts with cocoa and sugar, and spicy samosas from the Hari Krishna stall. I deserved it -- after all, I was the conquering hero of the Inis Oirr ferry.

July 15th, 2008

(no subject)

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Attitude
Tonight we took a "brain break" and piled down to Monroe's pub, where Tuesday nights find Mr. Monroe (or at least that should be his name) harassing the young women to take to the floor for rounds of Irish dancing. At first, the gathering crowds are reluctant to show their prowess (or lack thereof), but Mr. Monroe, dapper in his crisp pink shirt, silver hair brushed smooth, is a persistent man. He takes a hold of a slim, young arm and, with a bit of a tug and a winning smile, cajoles the less-than-eager girls, American and Irish alike (for locals are here alongside tourists) to leave their pints and purses in the hands of less agile friends and find their feet on the open dance floor.

The dance floor itself is merely a space cleared by the moving of tables and stools, but the band -- a man with a button accordion, another with pipe and fiddle -- is perched on a real stage, with microphones to carry their sound over the hubbub of clinking glasses and conversing spectators. There is no excuse for missing the beat, but no remonstration either -- the inevitable misstep (made mostly by the Americans) is met with an encouraging cheer from those gathered around.

On occasion, as tonight, Mr. Monroe takes an arm and finds an unexpected treasure. Imagine his astonishment this evening when not one but two of the leggy beauties he has chosen (and it is apparent by his selection that Mr. Monroe enjoys Tuesday nights not just for the dancing) turn out to have taken Irish step dancing lessons in their youths. Imagine his even greater astonishment when, three girls selected, he calls the tune to the band and these high-steppers proceed to leap and fling themselves about the floor, leaving Mr. Monroe quite in the dust. Mr. Monroe's sort of dancing, we learn after these ladies have flung out their energy, is a more sedate -- though not too sedate -- method. His is the true traditional dance -- no Riverdance leaps here -- in which couples triple skip and step neatly together, without jarring elbows or kicking the air, then spin and turn and trot amidst the circle of fellow dancers. All this Mr. Monroe teaches us without an instructional word -- rather, we learn by witnessing, as he calms the over-excited youngsters into less flinging and more careful stepping, as more and more couples join him on the dance floor, until there are two circles of eight spiraling through the open space where an hour or so before we, the uncoordinated spectators, had sat to enjoy our pizza.

Only one of our number -- Little D---, who I swear is a younger incarnation of Georgia Grandma -- was bold enough to dance in front of the assembled masses. Alas that she was not so young and leggy as the others -- she got only one turn -- but we cheered mightily at every step and celebrated her return to our grouped seats no less enthusiastically than Rome celebrated the return of its conquering heroes.

A fine time was had by all. When we departed, back to our readings and our monkish enclave, Mr. Monroe was still out there on the floor, surrounded by the energy of the dance.

That's all the update to be had this evening. Watching other people dance is simply exhausting.

July 14th, 2008

Despite the fact that I have no time for a full entry (it's after midnight and session starts at 9:00 am):



Hello from Ireland!

July 10th, 2008

The first few days of the seminar here in Galway found me in almost constant debate with myself. One the one hand, I am geeked -- this is awesome! -- and delighted to not only be in Ireland, but also be surrounded by people who like to read and discuss books, people who will dissect a poem for fun -- my people. That great joy has been punctuated, however, by great self-doubt -- what am I doing here? -- as I realized and rediscovered the limitations of my own knowledge and experience. It's a strangely conflicted situation and I am surprised, though perhaps I should not be, that these adjustment issues are even happening.

Things are, however, getting better. Today, with two faculty members in the classroom, we had the best seminar session yet. I really benefitted from having access to two different perspectives on the texts we were discussing. Also, I was relieved to hear MH---, the youngest yet of our famous faculty and a delight to listen to, assure us that, yes, there are bits of Yeats' occult writing that are supposed to be funny, ironic, etc. This was especially helpful for those of us who felt that we had been blaspheming each time we chuckled or scoffed at A Vision (case in point: Mother S---, who apparently laughed out loud at points). I continue to be surprised by our faculty. Also, AS--- and MH--- actually seem to like Yeats, and have faith that his marriage to George was not only a fruitful but also a loving relationship, so this session was significantly more "feel-good" than some previous.

It also helped that, yesterday, we "got out of the house" on a group field trip to Thoor Ballylee (former summer home of the Yeatses) and Coole Park (the site of Lady Gregory's manor house -- Lady Gregory was perhaps Yeats' greatest friend). It was a pleasure to leave town and classroom behind for a few hours and be outside. It had rained in the morning, but by the time we got to Thoor Ballylee, the sky had cleared, at least partly. Walking up to the medieval fortress tower is an exercise in self-control, as one has a riot of awe and glee at the sight of this romantic, poetic locale, so closely associated with Yeats' later years and so tangibly a part of his life. I had never been to Thoor Ballylee before, and after seeing it, I hope to take my students there in future.

To give you a better idea...


The tower sits on the river (in fact, the lower floor floods relatively often -- there are stories of George Yeats "mucking out" the dining room while W.B. writes above in the study). Attached at the back is a cottage, where the children lived, but inside the tower are several stories -- dining room, bedroom, study -- that are accessed by a steep winding stair typical of fortified towers...


One imagines Robin Hood buckling swashes down those stairs. :)

They are a bit of a bear to climb (and a little bit worse going down), but aren't as bad as those at the Joyce Tower in Sandycove, in my expert opinion. ;)

When we first arrived at the tower, and first went inside, one could here the murmured chorus of "oh, I could live here" at each turn of the stair, through each arched opening into a new room, or looking out over some new, stunning view. After a while inside the building, however, we began to feel the pervasive damp, the cool, musty damp that soaks into the bones and trembles the limbs. It would not have been, even in summer, a cozy place, but its history, vistas, and sheer solidity make it clear why Yeats would be inspired by such a place.

The roof was the only spot that was warm. Heated by the sun and escaping the river's mucky damp, the roof supported a word of unexpected growth. Moss and ivy and flowers grew in the corners and over the stone ramparts in graceful founts and softening edges...



I stayed up there, sunning myself and snapping pictures for quite a while.

Our second stop was Coole Park, former home of Lady Gregory, who collaborated with Yeats in recording folktales and in creating the Abbey theatre (Irish National Theatre). Her house was torn down long years ago by citizens of a new Ireland eager to forget the pains of a feudal past -- though Lady Gregory was no harsh landlord, she represented a formerly powerful and oppressive class, thus not a stone of her fine house was left standing. What remains, however, are a charming visitors' center and gorgeous grounds, with wild woods and peaceful lakes, formal gardens and some of the most extraordinary trees I have ever seen...



It was a pleasant way to while away a couple of hours and I wish we could have stayed longer, but as we walked among the avenues of living towers, the dark clouds rolled in, the woods darkened, and great crashes of thunder pealed out over the lakes. A summer storm sent most scampering for the bus, though I lingered to the last moment, dry under the spreading boughs, to drink in the changing atmosphere of the place.

Yeah, this is awesome. 

July 8th, 2008

So I decided to post the gist of the email I sent to friends and family, so that everyone is up to speed. The entry that follows this is more recent, but my next updates will come in the usual most-recent-first blog order. Confused? Just keep reading -- that's what I always do.

*** I once again find myself in Galway, this time without my passle of ducklings (otherwise known as undergraduate students). The National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on W.B. Yeats is designed for those who teach undergraduates, and I have found that many of my comrades have study abroad experience -- I think we all are relieved not to be responsible for a group this time around.
 
Our accomodations are, essentially, dorms (suite-style, with 4 bedrooms to a unit and a shared common area for each unit), so having gotten through all of undergrad and grad school without living in university housing, I now find myself adjusting to sharing a bathroom, walking barefoot on questionably sticky floors, and finding strangers' trash in cupboards when I go to put things away. Many of you have been previously familiar with such things. It is kind of funny to watch the different methods of dealing with the situation -- the mildew smell is killer, so one of our number went to the store on the first day and bought a huge bottle of bleach cleaner, with which she has been attacking the bathroom every day. It's not really working -- I think the mildew is actually under the carpet, but I haven't told her that.
 
Thus far I am enjoying myself. I feel a little out of my depth, as I think I am the only one of the 25 seminar participants who does not have a PhD in something (though one guy is just finishing his, but that counts). There is, of course, a lot of reading, some of which I enjoy and some of which is snooze-worthy in the most literal sense -- I actually fell asleep reading the other afternoon -- but a whole month of reading and talking about it is like a little piece of heaven. We've been set our tasks now, so there will be reports to write and various other responsibilities, but since we've just had our initial meeting, it all seems a bit far off yet (though even for me, the queen of procrastination, the time will arrive soon enough).
 
The weather of the first few days was wet and gloomy and thoroughly Irish. Today was marginally better -- still damp and cold, but I haven't gotten really wet yet, so that is an improvement. I left my big black vinyl coat at home this time, foolishly thinking that it would be warmer here in July than it was in May -- apparently I was wrong. It has yet to break 60, even when the sun comes out. But hey, that just means more time inside reading, which is what I am here for. ***

I really am delighted to be here. It's shaping up to be a lot of work, but that's to be expected --they don't hand out these things as free vacations, after all. So I'd better get some sleep now (it's nearly midnight here). Read on!
The second night I was here in Galway, after I had met my fellow seminar participants, I opened my journal and jotted down some first impressions of the group and the individuals as I had thus far encountered them. I thought, for example, that Academic A--- was overly sensitive, since on my first day I had offended her by calling Yeats a wuss (she looked shocked, insisted that he was "a very strong person" and left the table -- oops). J--- I despised on sight, perhaps because of her perfect, trim suit and trendy hair style, or the way she focused solely on the director instead of introducing herself to the entire group, or that annoying, affected mannerism of leaning forward earnestly and holding out her hands while speaking -- or perhaps it was because she was obviously more attractive and successful than I -- but whatever the cause, I instantly recoiled. I thought TB---, Yeats biographer and our first faculty lecturer, was an old school academic who thought too much of his own knowledge to allow for other opinions. There were other impressions, of course, but those are a few strong ones.

Turns out, they were also wrong ones. Academic A---, while definitely academic and definitely uptight, has earned a speck of over-sensitivity as a 20-year veteran of textual criticism. J--- (though she is a modernist and would have fit at MSU's English department better than I ever did) looks pretty normal when she has to be at a seminar session at nine in the morning, and some of her ideas are both sharp and interesting. And TB---... well, he might hold court as a representative of old school academe -- holding up his side of the post-seminar Socratic dialogue in a tweed jacket and white oxford shirt, his emigrating hair thoughtfully mussed, perched on a pub stool surrounded by awestruck devotees -- but he also allows that his perspectives are just that -- his -- and that there is plenty of room for other ideas in the pool.

Also, today he broached an idea that a few of us had tossed around but, this being only the second official seminar day, were too shy or intimidated to suggest -- the possibility that W. B. Yeats had Asperger's Syndrome, or at least borderline high-functioning autism. We had been talking about Yeats' lack of affect, inability to form lasting relationships, obsession with repetition and patterns, and general pitilessness toward other human beings in seminar session this morning. (Turns out that the more you know about Yeats, the less you like him. Then you start to see that the things you want to like him for -- like his poetic genius -- and the things you dislike him for -- the symptoms mentioned above, his unfailing faith in hierarchical social systems and brief support of Fascism, his obsession with finding the pattern of the universe to the point of irrationality, his over-the-top pursuit of spiritualism -- when taken together could indicate more than just average personality quirks.) It's not everyday that you hear an academic allow, let alone introduce, such an idea about one of the great literary masters -- it kind of makes sense that he waited until the pub to bring it in. Even more interesting is that my suite-mate, the adorable and maternal Mother S---, had mentioned that same possibility to me in conversation the previous evening, but when TB--- said it, we both sat there open-mouthed for a second, before recollecting ourselves and jumping into the discussion.

After that topic had been talked about for a while, with quite a bit of assent, I offered the theory (and it is someone's theory, but I have no idea whose) that neurological defect or what we might call mental illness is actually necessary for true genius, particularly artistic genius. This instantly offended Academic A---, who snapped "Obviously you are not an artist." At first I just laughed and said, "nah, but I am pretty defective" (it's amazing how quickly I got used to offending A---, since it is so easy to do -- just can't seem to help it), but when that seemed to make the offense worse, I leaned over to her and said "Look, I may not be an artist, but I do have a family that is chock-full of mental illness," just to be clear that I wasn't harshing on mentally ill people. At that point, however, TB--- overheard me and said something to the equivalent of "Don't we all" and then turned the discussion to safer topics.

It was an interesting discussion, I assure you. The best discussions are always held at the pub -- It's funny that scant hours before I was in the seminar session rolling my eyes at some of these same people as they strained to impress with their own personal academic interpretations and knowledge. The pub, perhaps, relieves that pressure to perform, or the alcohol files away some of the inhibitive awe-inspiring aura of "the great academic" and reduces the need to be thought his near-equal, or perhaps it all just makes me more tolerant of pompousness and willing to participate. Regardless, it was nice, even for a moment or two, to feel like I did belong here.

(I still think, in all seriousness, that I am entirely too silly for this seminar -- I keep wanting to crack jokes whenever people overuse the word 'quotidian' or start sentences with 'the juxtaposition of modernity and...' -- I have an urge to shout 'hot dogs', but that would probably start a theoretical debate -- I love English people. Perhaps silliness is just my reaction when I don't fully understand things, or perhaps a lot of what is being said is just wind up my metaphorical skirt. I do seem to be the only person having this problem.)

No doubt, tomorrow will bring a different faculty lecturer with a whole new set of favorite seventeen-syllable words -- TB--- really did use "quotidian" about six times in our first lecture and I just longed for him to switch it up and say, oh I don't know, "everyday" or something -- a fresh seminar session, and spanking new opportunities for me to feel like an idiot.

July 1st, 2008

There have been occasions over the past couple of years, mostly during those semesters when I have been struggling to teach six classes while helping my grandmother and building study abroad programs and keeping up my house (sort of) and maintain my sanity (again, sort of), occasions when I have thought to myself "gee" ( I don't say 'gee' in real life, but this is a blog, so...) "gee, if I only had to teach one or two classes, I could really do a lot with my time. I would write, get the office tidied up, arrange the basement so that it's usable again, have a garage sale to get rid of the junk that's piling up; maybe I'd even exercise -- get myself into a daily routine. That would be so easy if I only had more time."

I have realized, just this month (and no, I don't know why it took me so long) that this is a blatant lie; I've been lying to myself for YEARS.

How do I know? Well, grasshopper, I've been home from Ireland for a month. I've had one class to teach, some budget reconciliations to take care of, and a second trip to Ireland to plan -- one which only concerns me, and I'm not even responsible for the itinerary -- so all told, not a whole lot demanding my time. I've had time; each day, in fact, I've had time to play games online and watch more "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" reruns than any one person should absorb. You would think that I would have spent a day reorganizing the office, as I have always planned. Or perhaps I would have written a short story. You'd think, at least, that I would have my grading and the laundry caught up.

Nope.

I have, basically, two days before I leave again (for a month) and there are still piles of dirty clothes to wash, grades to finish, suitcases to pack, floors to vacuum and dishes to scrub. Don't even talk to me about the office or the basement.

By Thursday, I fully expect to be losing my mind. And I have brought it all, no question, on myself.

This, my friends, is true procrastination. This is a level of procrastination that few people really achieve.

How fortunate am I to have the opportunity to plumb the depths of my neurotic laziness?

And believe me, that is not sarcasm. I've had a pretty good time this last month. I've gone to the movies (Kung Fu Panda, Prince Caspian, Wall-E, Indiana Jones, The Incredible Hulk, The Happening, etc.); I've hung out with family (I've seen more of my father than I had in the last year together -- ditto with the M--- family -- and I even took L--- for her driving practices several times this last week); I've spent time with friends (old friends M--- and S--- sat together at my table just the other day, playing Munchkin Bites with fervor and hilarity -- how fun is that?); I've read some books (The Sisters Grimm series #1-3, "The War of the Worlds", "Good Omens", and parts and pieces of at least half a dozen other texts) and I've slept (I love sleep) most mornings until 9... 10... sometimes even 11. In other words, I have reacquainted myself with at least a part of that long-gone feeling of... summer vacation.

Should I feel guilty about this? Should I beat myself up about the procrastination, the fact that I have been moving at a pace of just one practical achievement per day, and most of those have been small accomplishments? Should I berate myself for the still-untidy office? The muddled mess of a basement? The dirty laundry and that one suitcase still sitting in the corner of the living room, only half unpacked?

Nah.

But I do need to acknowledge that even "having the time" isn't going to change me into someone miraculously and constantly productive. If I want to get things done, I need to schedule them and force myself -- motivate myself -- to get them done. "Time" apparently is not the key ingredient -- discipline and motivation are more significant. This is my nature. I'm not going to be changing it, obviously, so it's time to operate my life within the parameters of my self.

Wow. Put that in a fortune cookie, someone.

I am blessed to be able to do things that I love to do, to visit places I love to visit; I am fortunate to have friends and family (and anonymous strangers) who care about me and support me even in my most ill-timed endeavors. I am lucky to be alive, and reasonably healthy, and living in ample, comfortable space, in a world where many still don't have such stability. This is my life, and it's pretty good. So, self, let's start acting like it's a life, not a waiting period.

See, turning 30 has made me smarter already!

June 26th, 2008

I think someone is looking out for me, and not in the abstract "God is watching over you" way -- well, that too -- but in a "things keep appearing in my mailbox" kind of way.

Before anyone calls the loony-bin, let me explain.

I finally got my airline ticket arranged today. I am going to Ireland (WOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Okay, that's out of my system) for the July seminar. It took two and a half weeks to get the college funding that I expected arranged, but a trip to the office, two pieces of paper, one acting chair, and several phone calls, all operating in concert this morning and it got worked out (granted, for more than expected, but still, worked out, and I am grateful). So that is the abstract watching over me part. I felt blessed to be really truly going, I can tell you.

But here's the mysterious part: Tuesday, when I was in the office looking into this matter (and in a panic about my ticket), I found a cashier's check, made out to me for a sum more than $100 but less than $500, in my mailbox. (When I opened it, I almost cried -- I had been doubting that I would even make it back to Ireland, but seeing that check reassured me that this is something I am meant to do -- I almost cried right in front of the whole summer office staff.)

The check had been mailed from zip in my city, but listed only a P.O. Box and no name in the return address corner. There was a scrap of paper in the envelope with the check, with a message that said simply "Use this for your studies" -- again, no name. The check bears a date, June 6, and the envelope a date stamp of June 11.

I've called the credit union it was drawn on and requested a name but, naturally, there are confidentiality issues. I've looked up the zip +4 on the internet, but only got the generic city-name. I thought at first that this might have come from the colleague with whom I was recently traveling, but she says it wasn't her, and that perhaps it was the support staff. But why would the staff sitting in that office mail something when they could just drop it in my box? Also, the hand-writing on the envelope looks a little bit familiar, but I can't place it.

So where did this miraculously-timed check come from?

I feel weird taking someone's money, especially when I don't know who this person is.

I'm grateful, of course -- profoundly so -- but I also, perhaps perversely, have an intense urge to know to whom I am indebted. Is it the chair who knew I was struggling to get back to Ireland? (Again, why mail it when he had access to my box every day?) Is it the older couple whom I escorted around Ireland and who had been generous to the program? (But how would they know that I needed the money and why single me out?) Is it the just-married secretary with whom I bonded while arranging program funds and processing receipts? (But she seems frank enough to tell me -- and doesn't seem to have tons of excess money to hand around.) Is it the colleague that I dated for a short time my first year at 1CC -- what did I used to call him? Mr. Logical Match? Something like that. But unless he won the lotto, he can barely make his own bills, let alone donate to my world-wandering.

I have to add this, of course, to that fact that I still don't know who put the seminar pamphlet in my box in the first place. Months ago, I simply found the thing dropped in there, read it, and submitted my application. It seemed like something I was meant to do, since it essentially dropped in my lap, and though I may have asked a colleague or two who dropped it off, I never got an answer and have been reasonably content with that.

But this is two mysterious "deliveries". And now money is involved. It just seems so... unlikely.

Tuesday I thanked God for those who were looking out for me; it amazed me that such a thing could happen, that I would be granted such assurance, that someone -- someone obviously not a relative, because they would all be upfront about money, always -- would care that much about my academic career... welfare... personal happiness... I've been looking at this check for two days (waiting to do anything until I knew for sure that I would make it back to Ireland for July), just astounded.

Today, knowing that I am going, knowing that now more than ever I could really use this money, knowing that I should be heading for the bank to deposit the check so that I can eat whilst in Ireland, I just feel funny. What if someone has really put themselves out, strained their own finances to help me? What if, being beholden to this individual, I somehow offend him or her in the future, and he/she regrets the kindness? There are so many questions.

Chief among them, honestly: who does this sort of thing? I thought it only happened in movies.

Perhaps I should simply embrace my gratitude and shut up. It's hard to explain the profound effect this check had on me -- I really did almost cry for sheer joy and relief right there in the office -- and I am so grateful and so fortunate, as I said, to have a benefactor. It's just that I am a deadly curious individual. Honestly, if I had married Bluebeard, I'd have been dead on Day 1.

It seems, however, that there aren't any avenues (well, legal ones) through which I can discover the identity of the donor. So I guess I'll simply appreciate it (and silently nurse my pesky curiosity). And go to Ireland. And read and discuss and write and be very, very happy.

But if you are reading this... whoever you are...

THANK YOU.

June 24th, 2008

...and now it's one in the morning, the playlist is stopped, and I have no idea what I was intending to do when I first jumped online.

I love summer.

Of course, the beauty of not having to get up in the morning (teaching literature online, though a load of crap in educational terms, does have its advantages), is tempered by the fact that, with less than two weeks to go, I still don't have a plane ticket to get me back to Ireland. Oh boy.

On Friday, after a week and a half of back-and-forth emailing about funding allocation forms and expense reports, I was still trying to figure out whether or not the college was going to actually give me the money that I'd been promised (now I know that they will give it to me, but probably not until I get back -- oh so convenient). I was reaching the stratosphere of desperation, so my grandmothers and my mother (bless their hearts) offered to combine their frequent flier miles to get me a ticket, but it turns out that it costs serious money to transfer miles and Northwest and Delta, though merging, won't actually combine their miles... yet... so we couldn't put enough together to get it done. Friday was like spinning in circles and hitting my head on a brick wall with each turn -- nothing got done, though I spoke with at least 8 people from 3 companies. So today, after more useless conversations, I find myself waiting to hear whether the college will approve my ticket with a partial payment from me... no idea how to do that, but we're trying it anyway, since no one seemed to have a clear answer about whether or not it could be done... we'll see what happens.

Of course, if this doesn't work, I'll be sitting here blinking my eyes on July 4th, when I'm supposed to be getting on a plane to Galway.

On the upshot, my seminar books arrived today. They make quite a stack -- though I am still missing one (and suddenly I remember why I am online) -- but I have yet to crack the covers, because I'm obviously too busy screwing around online. :)

So, perhaps it's time to put the computer away and take a look at that serious reading list. In less than two weeks (theoretically) I will be in Ireland, discussing W.B. Yeats with 24 other scholars and an international faculty. I suppose I should at least sound like I know what I'm talking about before I get there -- I don't think reciting "Song of Wandering Aengus" is going to cut it with this particular crowd.

Of course, I could sing "Down by the Salley Gardens" too...
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