hotel life

So I'm staying in a quite nice hotel for a few days for this conference. There are a lot of things about how hotels are run that are of course excessive (new towels every day) but seem only like an exaggeration of my regular life -- I change the towels in our house every few days, so fresh ones every day is just stepping up the speed or scale of domestic practice. (And unfortunately this is not a "green" hotel that offers you the possibility of saving your used towels for another day, nor the hooks to hang them on even.)

But then there the little things that I think are supposed to signify luxury, but just seem strange. The folding over of the edge of the toilet paper. The two new bars of soap every single day (but at least they don't take away the used one, so I can just keep using it). And the weirdest one at this hotel is that each day when the room is made up, housekeeping pulls out two kleenexes from the box (concealed by a ceramic container, nice enough) and fluffs them into some kind of flower-like shape and tucks them into the edge of the tissue box. Like I want to use a tissue that someone else has put their hands all over?? Like I'm supposed to be too fancy to pull my own tissue out of the box? (And although writing it out here demonstrated to me that it is probably supposed to aspire to the aesthetics of a flower in a vase given the ceramic container around the tissue box, it's still a couple of kleenexes. It's not that impressive, not like some origami-style dinner napkin at a restaurant.) So every night when I want to blow my nose I remove the fluffed up ones and get a fresh one. My skeeviness about germs wins out over my environmentalism, especially while traveling. (Usually however I can use those to mop up toothpaste or spilled coffee or something. I find some sort of use for them, as I can't just throw them away.)


fantasy academic camp

I read a personal essay recently in some magazine or other -- probably one of those Newsweek "My Turn" columns, or something similar -- in which the writer talked about his experience attending baseball camp for adults. I don't remember the exact name of the camp, and I don't follow baseball -- but what I gathered from it was that a bunch of middle-aged men go to camp to be coached by retired baseball players -- fulfilling lifelong fantasies and their love of baseball. (To be fair, the essay in question also was about starting a charity for ALS sufferers, and the baseball camp was just part of it.)

This came to mind because right now I've been enjoying academic fantasyland for two days. The annual big Victorian conference is at Yale this year, and since I'm on leave I was able to extend my trip so that I could do some research in their libraries before the conference starts tomorrow. So I've had two days of intense work in the library, hours in coffeeshops, Thai food, and Bikram yoga. There is no version of reality in which I could actually live in New Haven and be so carefree and happy -- but it is fantastic to visit. I've been getting lots of good work done, and just enjoying the atmosphere, which is so very different from my own urban campus and my own home city.

I'm going to be really ready to return home to my own cozy life -- it's hard to be away from GF and the dogs for so long -- but as fantasy trips go, it's nice to pretend for a couple days what it would be like to be a major league player in this game.



Today, I am willing to give up my cynicism about politics. Today, I am willing to give up my defeatism learned from years of living in states that don't match my values. Today, I am willing to believe in possibility. Today, I am feeling hopeful about this nation in a way I have never felt before.


my voting story

Voting today was both exciting (since this election is potentially such a history-maker) and strangely anti-climactic: so many people had early voted (I know people who waited for over 2 hours last week to vote early) that there were no lines at all. Granted, GF and I did walk over to our polling place at about 2 in the afternoon; it looked bustling enough at 8:15 this morning when I walked the dogs near the church where we vote. But at 2, there was just us, and the two guys manning the table.

And now, we wait and see what happens...


happy november

What's it like to be on a semester of research leave?

it's awesome.

I kind of feel bad saying that when everyone else is in the throes of mid-term grading, when people I know are in crappy jobs, and when there are much more serious problems in the world than the textual and historical questions I've been spending my time on.

But it is true. And no one ever explained this to me before. I have two close friends who had year-long leaves recently and did not seem to be enjoying them at all. They were each in her own way consumed with anxiety about not producing enough, not having enough time, not being enough of whatever she thought she should be. Colleagues in my own department who have had leaves in recent years similarly reported to me that they wished they had written more, travelled more, or slept more.

With my colleagues, most of whom I'm only casually friendly with, I suppose this might simply be a demonstration of their mastery of either Academic Imposter Syndrome or Academic Faux Insecurity One-Upmanship Discourse: "oh, I'm such a failure, I only wrote four chapters this semester" "oh no, I'm the failure -- I only got a national award this semester" etc. (The conversation is excruciating either way, whether it comes from a psychic place of suffering or dominance.) Smaller versions of this get played out at the end of each summer and winter break, too.

But my close friends were genuinely frazzled and anxious near the end of their leaves. So I approached mine with some caution, having seen what I really didn't want to experience for myself. I counted the days of my leave, vowing to make the most of them. I wrote up plans. I set goals. I did all the things I'd been doing for the last ten years in this job. And then I decided to chuck most of that and try doing things differently. Because although the past ten years have been good in many ways, I haven't been as successful or as happy as I would like, at least as regards my research career.

And it's been awesome.

I took a break from this space for a variety of reasons -- not least of all my sense of needing to withdraw and turn inward for a little while. But also because I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to say, or how to say it. As I often remind my students, it's usually easier to write about a piece of literature that you don't absolutely love. If you love it, it's hard to develop a critical stance, a clear perspective. Now, I don't have a critical stance in this space, per se, or at least not a defined one -- but I've certainly found it easier to write those posts in which I'm complaining or critiquing someone or something. It's harder to say "I'm doing well." Or at least it seems more boring.

I don't think that is just due to the Insecurity Discourse (though a shadow of that ran through my spine as I typed the last sentence: who am I to say I'm doing well, when I haven't met X publishing milestones?). It's more a sense of "who would want to listen to someone who's happy? isn't that irritating?"

Maybe it is. But I'm not really writing in this space for my audience -- I'm always surprised and glad if you're reading it. What I do know is irritating is continually listening to people who are bitter and negative all the time (my Elderly Parent being a prime example, though there are others in my life). So I'm going to see if I can figure out how to write about some good stuff. I'm highly trained in critique -- of self and others -- and I don't expect to lose that. But what would it mean to think and write about happiness for a while? I'm going to try and find out.