1. This has not been a great blogging year, as you may have noticed. I have been writing and editing at work, and I seem to have some limits on how frequently I can dip into that writing/editing reservoir before I weary of the sound of my own voice.
2. The good news is that things are going well on the research front: I had a paper accepted a couple of weeks ago -- the one that was rejected in June from the flagship journal in my field. I got the proofs back today and the queries look straightforward -- mostly tidying references. I also got really enthusiastic reviews -- the most enthusiastic I've ever received -- about the paper I wrote last fall. Stop me if I already told you this (oh, wait, the thing about blogging is you're stuck with me if I'm being repetitive), but one reviewer said, "This paper should be published as quickly as possible." And I'm working on an IRB protocol for a project that promises to be super-interesting-- mostly my idea, mostly other people's primary expertise, which seems to mean I get to do the fun parts. So far, anyway.
3. I am trying to remember when I learned what an IRB protocol was, and I think I must have been a doctoral student. The IRB is the board that reviews all research involving human subjects, and the protocol is the document in which you tell them exactly what you're going to do and exactly how it could go wrong. Our IRB is tough. They tend to ask questions like, "But how will you REALLY KNOW if your participants are upset??" I'm optimistic that we're most of the way there, but sometimes the process makes me want to say, "Listen, we are recording their voices. This is a LOW-RISK procedure."
4. Right now I also have another paper under review, one with a lot of my heart in it. It's tricky writing about things that make me passionate, because the emotional investment is inevitable. I revised it extensively -- no, that's not right. I need a word like fortississimo. Extensensensively. The reviewers had lots of stuff for my co-author and me to do, and so we did it. It spent 3 weeks with the associate editor and now it's beginning its fifth week with the editor. That's a little weird. I hope it doesn't mean bad news, because I will be crushed like a sad bug if it gets rejected after all of that revising. Maybe throw up a quick prayer to Our Lady of La Leche for me if you're so inclined. (<-Hint as to topic. So excited about the prospect of getting this paper in this journal. Too bad my refresh key does not ring a little bell inside the editor's brain. Although on second thought that would probably be a really dreadful state of affairs.)
5. This semester I am only teaching one class, the one I prepped last semester. It's going much better the second time around, as classes always seem to do. Fifty students this time, and I think I finally have everybody's names and faces linked up. I probably won't be teaching this one again for a while, so I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.
6. There is one unpleasant task on the docket: the supplemental materials for my recently accepted article have needed tidying and OH MY GOODNESS it is a huge task. Huge. And unbeLIEVably boring. My poor GAs deserve, like, a pony apiece after all the slogging they have been doing. (We are editing a giant document, something like 15,000 lines long in its original incarnation, great swaths of which required cleaning up. Is zitbutt a word? Is ying? Is morn being used as a word or is it just a word fragment? Talk about decision fatigue. But! The end! Is in sight!)
7. Gosh, that was a whole bunch of words all about work. Life is good; kids are good. I'm working toward that spring 10K again, and last week I took Stella to family Zumba. She thought dancing together was the best thing ever and has asked every day since if it's time to go back to Zumba (though she tends to mangle the name. What's that fun thing that starts with a Z, mom?). Today there were more girls in class, and I was surprised to see that the moms were sitting on the bench, hanging out on their phones. I spent ten minutes on the bench, feeling self-conscious about wanting to be out there with the kids, and then I thought, "This is silly, self. You came for some mother-daughter fun and the instructor says parents are welcome to be on the floor. Get out there!" So I did, shrugging off my stubborn self-consciousness for the rest of the class.
Afterward the instructor encouraged one of the moms to try it herself next week. "Oh," she said with embarrassment, "I'm not coordinated enough for Zumba." I'd been thinking the whole time that she was too cool for family Zumba, and that wasn't it at all. At all!
I have a New Love.
Last weekend I was looking for some entertainment while Elwood was away, and I clicked idly on a Great British Bake-Off video. You guys! How did I not know about the Great British Bake-Off?
It ticks SO MANY of my boxes. Britophile heaven? Check! A nicely balanced blend of classic cookery and innovation? Check! Fun food history interviews? Check! Fast-talking hosts who make terrible puns and spout off in other languages? Check! A roomful of people for whom Baking = Love with an overlay of competitiveness? Oh, my, I am embarrassed to admit to the magnitude of that particular check.
The thing I love most about it, I think, is the common language that the contestants speak. Norman from the north of Scotland and Kate from the south of England have very different accents (oh! the accents! love the accents!), but they share a mental image of fairy cakes and Bakewell tart. They share, too, a belief that time spent baking is time well spent, and a mastery of skills that have become uncommon in the States.
Probably the Great American Bake-Off would feature Oreo dirt cake.
When the boys came back from their weekend away, I told them about my New Love. They watched an episode, and then another. They have watched almost all of season 5 now, with an enthusiasm that surprises me. (Maybe if a boy grows up in a house without a TV, he'll watch 1980s episodes of the McNeil-Lehrer Report with alacrity -- compared to which the Great British Bake-Off is positively thrilling.) Joe, the 12-year-old with a sweet tooth, is the biggest fan. One day this week when I was opining crabbily about people who had failed to pick up after themselves, he asked in a voice full of tentative hope if perhaps a GBBO episode might dispel my bad mood. He doesn't just want to watch, though.
We should bake more, he said last weekend. We should bake more, he said most days of the intervening week. We should bake more, he said yesterday. And so we baked. I have mentioned this book before -- it is my go-to resource when I want to make something fancy. He wanted to make something that combined chocolate and orange. (That's another thing we all enjoy about the show -- the flavor combinations that are so familiar to the bakers and so exotic to my crew of viewers. OH did I love Jaffa cakes when we lived in Scotland. It's funny that something entirely ordinary there is so unfamiliar here.)
We made orange mousseline buttercream. We beat egg yolks with sugar to the ribbon stage, and dusted in flour and cocoa and ground almonds and stiffened egg whites. I shuffled kids off to bed and split the layers carefully in two.
And then I realized that I'd had a recipe-reading fail, glossing right over the line that said I needed "2.5 quantities of orange mousseline buttercream" and making a single batch instead. That's the cake in progress at left, awaiting the rest of its buttercream. So I am going to separate some more eggs, and boil up some more syrup, and beat in some more butter, and try to coax my piping skills out of the dim space in my brain where they have lain dormant for years. If they were to see the finished product, Paul and Mary would doubtless point out that my cake layers are uneven (stupid oven is not level) and Joe's chocolate fans are pretty freeform (all the more so since someone used the toaster oven upon which they were resting). I expect, though, that despite those shortcomings he and I will return to bake another week.
Kaboom, it's a crisis. Egeon is condemned to die! Antipholus is missing a thousand marks! Act I of Comedy of Errors is short, especially compared to Lear, but it flings us right into the soup with the characters.
How could Egeon possibly raise his ransom? Why did Dromio apparently lose his mind? Who is this mysterious woman claiming to be Mrs. Antipholus?
Is the suspense killing you? It's not too late to join in the Comedy of Errors February Read-Along.
All right, you all, I am almost healthy again. I have finished the antibiotics; my lungs are mostly de-glooped. In the thick of it I was thinking, "How do I not wake up every healthy morning of my life overwhelmed with gratitude for normal balance and normal energy?" Game on! What are you sprucing up this week?
Over on the PBS site I found a video of Christopher Plummer talking about playing Lear.
I've only watched the beginning, but I'm intrigued that he calls Lear a boor. I see Lear as imperious and hotheaded, but not a boor.
How about you? Reading any Shakespeare this week? Joining me for Comedy of Errors this month?
Dernit, this post was supposed to have a first line and it was this: There are a bunch of reasons you should read Comedy of Errors with me this month.
Reason #5. Because it is SO wintry and dreary that you need a little infusion of the Mediterranean coast into your life.
Reason #4. Because it is Shakespeare's shortest play, and thus only a modest commitment.
Reason #3. Because it will lead you straight to Plautus, Shakespeare's source, who is full of silliness and fun. (And testicle jokes. I can't even guess at the number of times Plautus characters say "I'm intestate!" -- meaning "I might die without a will" but also "And wouldn't it be hilarious if I were missing some important parts?")
Reason #2. Because reading is more fun when you can chat about it during and after. (I just finished The Paying Guests this morning and it left me wishing for a pal who could talk it over with me but also very sure I didn't want to recommend it to any book clubs. Let's talk about Comedy of Errors instead.)
Reason Too Lame for a Number. Because I have strep throat and you should be nice to me.
Reason #1. Because it is frothy and fun and you'll be glad you did.
All right, y'all, this week was a total fail. I was slammed all week at work (I have been at search committee dinners for three of the past seven evenings), sick in bed on Saturday, busy for much of Sunday. (And anyway, Sunday's more about resting (and making plans) than about smiting Blu-Tack stains. Even when a person is feeling behind, it's better to rest on Sunday than to rush on Sunday.) So this week I'll just try again on last week's goals.
I do love hearing about your plans and your successes, so comment away if you have something to share. Onward!
This morning I was felled by an attack of vertigo and spent most of the day in bed. It was weird: I was up tending to a sick kid at 3:30 and I was perfectly fine. The alarm went off at 6:20 and I tried to get up for a 7:00 meeting. It was immediately evident that I wasn't going anywhere. I am mostly better and am freshly grateful for the concatenation of small miracles that makes possible my usual good health. Once I was a little better I finished Lear. I also had lots of time to think, and one of the things on my mind was Melanie's comment about beauty. She asked if I would describe Shakespeare as beautiful. What makes a work of literature beautiful? I have a formula for your consideration.
Phi is for phrasing. From the time I was small I have always loved a wordsmith, always felt a little shiver of pleasure at a thoughtfully constructed sentence. (It doesn't have to be clever phrasing, just memorable -- like Lear's "Never never never never never" today. Love that train of trochees.) But phrasing isn't enough. I often enjoy David Foster Wallace's writing, but I'd never call it beautiful. The more important part of beautiful literature, I think, is that it brings a moment of recognition, a glimpse of an enduring truth that is both familiar and unfamiliar.
The υ is for the unfamiliarity factor, the blending of known and unknown. There's a range of ratios that works, but it's important for me that both be present. Too much unknown and it feels too alien to be beautiful; too familiar and it seems trite. The τ is for truth. To be beautiful, a work needs to tell you about something that matters. This weekend I read Sign of the Seahorse to Stella. It scans beautifully; there are some clever turns of phrase. But the wanderings of saltwater trout don't offer much in the eternal truth department.
And I'm going to part company with Keats here: I disagree that truth is beauty. The world, I think, is awash in ugly truth. I've got that gamma in there as an exponent because what makes truth beautiful is seeing it through the lens of goodness. Maybe it's human goodness; maybe it's divine goodness. Naked truth can be monstrous, though. I haven't seen Hotel Rwanda, but I doubt I'd call it beautiful.
So that's my parenthetical term. The thing about beauty, though, is that you have to be in the right place at the right time to see it. The μ is for mysterious readiness. You can read Keats in a cynical mood and think "Shut UP, pal." You can see beauty in Calvin and Hobbes if you're feeling receptive. Sometimes it's about state of mind; sometimes it's about life circumstances. I was especially responsive to the bits of Lear that talk about frailty and death today, given the malfunction of my vestibular system.
This is my favorite Shakespeare quote, from Merchant of Venice: Such harmony is in immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. It ticks all of those boxes: there's so much food for thought in the phrase "muddy vesture of decay." It puts me in mind of "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" It reminds me that there are better things beyond us that we cannot see. I came across it in late December one year, as I was reflecting on the year that was passing away and the year that lay ahead. There is a longing in that last line -- we cannot hear it -- that speaks to my heart year after year.
This is a post in which I could tinker and edit and feel dissatisfied for a long time. But I am going to take my slightly wobbly self to bed, in hopes that a little extra rest will be good for the parts of my muddy vesture of decay that manage my sense of balance. Please tell me what you think -- I'm curious about your thoughts, and your favorite Shakespeare quotes, and the literature that you find beautiful yourself.
Mixed success this week. Our long-handled duster seems to have disappeared, so some of the cobwebs are still mocking me. And I was going to order a replacement, but Amazon is giving me decision fatigue.
I was also going to ease matchsticks into the stripped screwholes for the speaker grille so the screws would have something to grab, a trick I learned from The Tightwad Gazette back when my oldest was a toddler. Alas, my attempt to clean up my husband's clutter (the speaker grille) was thwarted by my husband's attempt to clean up my clutter (the matchsticks). It's like the cynical married version of The Gift of the Magi: Jim and Della, Twenty Years Later. (He says, "I love you, honey, but your hair gets EVERYWHERE. Want to sell it again?" She says, "I love you too, honey, and your watch is SO DAMN LOUD I can't get to sleep until it winds down. Want to pawn it again?")
Progress, though: I did smite some of the Blu-Tack stains and my husband and I are trying out a bold plan for dealing with the exasperating office chairs situation. And yesterday, when I wasn't prowling around in a vain search for the missing wooden matches, I tamed the stinging medusa. Every time I reached into our server, it caused me a little pang of despair. I have to reach into the server frequently, because that's where the placemats and napkins live. But they were in such a horrible jumble that things came spilling out all over the floor if you even thought about opening the door. This is not a House Beautiful solution, but it works. Placemats are in two separate and reasonably neat stacks, sorted by shape. Napkins are piled in a serving dish, with a different dish brought up from its basement exile for serving bread. (It seemed silly to store the napkins in the bread bowl if they were going to be tipped out every time I served hot bread.) We'll see how well it works.
For this week:
How about you?