Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Am I Still A Medievalist?

I’m still a little bitter with Spivak for making me read through 20, 30, 50 pages of extremely dense prose to get to a one-word answer. I don’t claim to be able to create an essay like Spivak’s, mostly because I don’t like to be scoffed at openly. But I do know that I can also go on a bit. Anyway, I will spare you the discomfort of slogging through pedestrian meta-navel-gazing and assorted ickiness. She who spends many hours of her days thinking about, studying, and working with the medieval is a medievalist. The answer to the title’s question: dunno.

If you’re the busy sort, have a great holiday! If you, like me, have a snow day and time to kill before you travel, you are most welcome to stick around for the whole thing.

When I began this blog, lo these many years ago, I placed ‘medievalist’ first on the list of descriptors located below the title. It was hubris, likely, to claim that title for myself with just a few classes in medieval language and history at the undergraduate level, and a shot at a graduate school education that had not yet begun, but I did anyway. It was a ‘dress for the job you want’ decision, and I shrugged my self-consciousness off as a repeat of the resistance to adopting an authoritative voice I had experienced as an undergraduate. I lectured myself I fit the above description of a medievalist, and therefore I counted. I occasionally added a “damn it!” to that, for emphasis. In desperate moments, I even imagined my undergrad mentor shouting “Get over it!” at me, as Mentor was wont to do when anyone got neurotic.

Like most medieval bloggers, I considered and then quickly abandoned the idea of making the blog fully medieval. As a first year grad student, I didn’t have all that much to say. I also entered graduate school determined to follow in the footsteps of my female professors, who managed to be full PEOPLE who studied and wrote about medieval or even renaissance topics. I specify female professors because a great majority of my male professors in undergrad showed themselves to us as stereotypical ‘professors,’ the brain on a stick phenomenon. They were smart, certainly, but also very single-minded in their activities and seemed very alone in their lives. Given the choice between becoming a fussy, out-of-touch megalomaniac – the all medieval, all the time route – or a full person with a multiplicity of enthusiasms, the greatest of which is my job, I chose to try to become the latter.

And then I started the Grad school experience. Oy. Watching the really unseemly faculty wars in my department at that time, I began to think that perhaps academia was not the place for me. Though I maintained a love for my work, the people I worked with made me want to jump out of my own skin on a fairly regular basis. And then that life I was determined to have got unwieldy. Heomodor could not physically, financially or emotionally handle being alone. And so she came to Microburg with me, and I was responsible for an elderly and infirm relative who would have what I suspected were anxiety attacks, but could also have easily been cardiac issues, every day as I got ready to leave for class. Looking back now at Heomodor’s quadruple bypass and advanced PAD, I think they probably were cardiac, and I’m glad I risked censure and eye-rolling and a whole mess of aspersions cast on my character and intellect to attend to them.

Now, I don’t tell that story simply to feel sorry for myself in public. I recognize that the department I was in was far more dysfunctional than most. I know several of my professors would start classes by telling us not to let ourselves be scared off by what was going on at Microburg, because simply nobody behaves like that; not really. But I thought I saw something structural in the academy that wouldn’t work well with my personality and my responsibilities. I also saw myself becoming a neurotic mess who was convinced that my self-inflicted poverty was actively killing my mother.

I didn’t apply to the PhD program at Microburg or anywhere else, but took my ‘terminal MA’ and a deep breath, and moved on to teaching youngsters about gerunds. It’s more fun than you think, but it isn’t medieval studies.

Heomodor came with me here to the shadows of the capitol as well, and developed other health issues that required attending to, and the medieval, being far from an immediate need, fell to the wayside. And now, while I go through Heomodor’s things, and mine, and finally begin to think about who I am when I am not centrally a caregiver, I have to consider whether two and a half years is too many to catch up on. Or if I even want to catch up as a professional. I mean, I am looking middle age straight in the eye, and I am less patient now than ever before. Besides, penury sucks.

Though I have largely dropped out of the conversations that started so promisingly, with Ancrene Wiseass and Dr. Virago, and Karl and later Medieval Woman, and Bardiac, and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Scott Nokes and others who were so helpful and supportive and funny and smart and generous, I love that blogging allows me to eavesdrop on the best parts of the academic experience, the parts where people who love the same stuff get together wherever they are to talk, think, share, and even just geek out about it. (Wlonk!) Sometimes I’ll even venture in to add my admittedly now na├»ve, dilettante voice to the conversation.

So, I really don’t know if I am a medievalist anymore. I mean, yeah, I do spend an awful lot of time drawing parallels between the modern and the medieval. Also, if you could see my bookcase, even after I thinned it out, you would see that a large percentage of my reading time is spent between, oh about 800AD and Caxton. I do know that I’m happy that this blog exists, lame as it often is, and that the blogs of others more active in the field continue to exist in significantly less lame form. And I also know, that now, thanks to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's recent, eloquent article about blogging and medievalism, I'm feeling a little pressure to be less lame about this blogging thing. Possibly the best inadvertent application of guilt by a non-Catholic this year! Well done, Jeffrey!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Requiescat In Pace

Heomodor passed last Saturday, October 3rd, at 4:40 am. Just to be ornery, she died of a Pulmonary Embollism rather than the illness she has been fighting for the past few months. She is now buried next to my brother, as she wished.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Being a Black Hole of Emotional Need

The best news I have to share with friends these days is this: my fear that enrolling myself in educational programs was somehow causing my loved ones to develop life-threatening or life-ending illnesses is now demonstrably untrue. For the first time, a loved one has been diagnosed with one of the "oh shit" illnesses while I am not anyone's student.

So, there's that.

I tend to hole up somewhere when I am in this sort of emotional state, and wait for six months or so until I can call people and chat about my life without getting sloppy about it. It seems tacky to emote all over people who just want to be happy and tell you about how their 2 year-old draws perfect replicas of Monet's greatest hits. But that wouldn't really be fair this time, because the person who is now mortally ill is Heomodor, and, truth be told, EVERYONE likes her. My friends like her more than they like me. By a lot. My ex-friends lament the loss of my mom in their lives. They do not miss me.

I'm a grouch. I scare people. I stand outside libraries in my leather jacket and discuss battle poetry. I ask uncomfortable questions. Since working as a CNA for years, I have very little sympathy for people with bruises and papercuts. Hard to get worked up about a papercut when you've seen a gangrenous leg almost fall off a guy. Since studying medieval literature, I have very little decorum left. Things that other people think is the most filthy thing imaginable I would say in church, because I got it from 12th century nuns anyway. I have been called tough countless times, and people were astounded and amused when I attempted to object.

My mom is not like me. She was raised to be ladylike, to be stoic when necessary, to be taken care of when possible, to listen. Strangers tell her their life stories because they feel like she will understand. People confess crimes to her, because they "know" she won't judge them harshly. Repairmen charge her less than they charge others, because she's so gentle a soul they can't take advantage of her. Once, when I was in undergrad and my income did not allow us to live in a great neighborhood (OK, but not great), I was reprimanded by a plumber for making my mother live in a working class town, when she clearly belonged "by the water." This was code for on the North Shore of Long Island, where the wealthy to obscenely wealthy live. Richard Nixon once pronounced my mom adorable and gave her a little booklet full of newly minted five dollar bills as a souvenir of meeting him. Luciano Pavarotti once hugged her when she "gently corrected" his phrasing. I'm not kidding.

Due to a fear of being alone, and some financial and health issues, gentle Heomodor has followed surly old me around for quite some time now, from undergrad to grad school cities, and now resides with me several states away from home in Virginia. So, I am the party responsible for disseminating some very bad news to lots of people with whom I don't always communicate as much as I should. Again, I hole up when stressed, and being responsible for my mom has often stressed me out. So, I have to call these folks and say "Mom is dying." And I really, really want to have a nervous breakdown, and get very uncharacteristically sloppy about it all. But I can't really request that level of support from people with whom I have not put in my time in some time. And they will be suffering themselves. Plus, I am so very bad at being emotional. I do it all wrong and upset people.

I really, really hate being weak and needy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burgerification Continues Apace

I have evidence.

1) My kitten has health insurance. I didn't have health insurance until I was twenty. I didn't have good health insurance until last year.

2) I take Latin and advanced German classes for giggles. This knowledge will not help me financially. Even if I manage to pass the near-fluency German test, um, I think the Germans have all the Anglo-Saxonists they need. They certainly have all the English teachers they need.

3) As of this afternoon, I have been to a therapist. A therapist who advised me to: practice mindful breathing, keep a 'feelings journal,' and read Eckhart Tolle. I just paid a guy $150 to listen to me explain my childhood and give me advice I could have gotten at home watching a single Oprah show. And apparently, I have to be Buddhist.

4) I actually said, without irony, just the other day: "I wish I had time to get a facial."

Monday, April 13, 2009

2009: The Summer of the Word Nerd, and related topics

A local institute of higher learning has an embarrassment of riches offered in the way of language courses this summer. This is convenient, because I have an urgent desire to apply myself to the acquisition of more language skills. It is double convenient that the school in question does not have the deliberately gatekeeping schedule that so many schools pretend happens by accident.
So, though the intensive Latin course starts early enough to get the students fresh from a short family break after final papers, they are late enough at night to make it possible for people to come home from work, throw a sandwich at their children, and spend the remainder of the night at Latin class. Hooray!

I really need the structure of a class for a language, I find. I have all the resources for Latin, but I keep having to start over because it's very easy to put the "my hobby" thing down when the teacher stuff needs doing. And the teacher stuff always needs doing. I hope that with an instructor holding my feet to the fire, I'll prioritize the Latin a little higher up on the scale.

One thing. Teacherling at work heard "summer of the word nerd" and wanted in. He's a smart kid. So smart I almost forget he's barely in big boy pants sometimes. He's also extremely competitive in the "I will twist this issue every possible way until you tell me I win" way that young men often are. I don't tend to tell people they win if they are arguing disingenuously, because I am like that. When I was his age, I would have probably told him he was right to shut him up, but I am currently old and mean. Hilarity is almost guaranteed to ensue.

Local church has a Latin Mass which it has had forever, which makes the rector a heretic. Latin practice for me, a chance to live a memory for Mama. Good stuff all around. Except, I have read the rector's website and, um, he's the suckiest heretic that ever was heretical. I mean, generally I enjoy all things transgressive, but this dude totally ruins it. His heresy is of the "We demand that the authority beats us more often and more vigorously" kind that might make for an interesting weekend if you're into that sort of thing, but is just awful in a person setting himself up as a sort of authority. So, I'm not sure I want to understand his Masses, because ew.

[Edited to protect innocent readers from stupid, whiny rant.]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Spring!

I managed to get out among the cherry blossoms for an hour or two today. Yay! I guess all of us who experience a winter get a little goofy in the spring. I tell myself that is so because otherwise I'm just a slightly modernized version of my corniest relatives. And that can't be. Because I'm not corny. I'm weird, which is way better than corny.

Anyway, a bit early ...

Sumer is icumen in.
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wde nu.
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lowthe after clave cu,
Bulloc sterteth, bucke verteth
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Well singes thu cucco
Ne swik thu naver nu!

Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!
Sing cuccu, sing cuccu nu!

And sunshine and flowers and hooray!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Hope you are enjoying a fine celebration.*

*Unless you're British, then confusticate and bebother you! (Only for today, though. Regularly scheduled Anglophilia will resume tomorrow.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Meet the Kitty!

This is Finn, as a new kitty in my new apartment, just after Christmas. We thought he was a female kitty then, and gave "her" a very studious woman's name to go with "her" love of books, papers, and pens, and also to satisfy my pretentions to intellectualism. There have since been decidedly unfeminine developments that occasioned an emergency name change.

I, however, remain a pompous ass. Kitty is now named after two Finns; the Germanic Finn of Fragment fame, and the Celtic Finn of general Badass of Antiquity fame.

Since reaching adolescence, Finn has taken to curling up in the shamrock pot,

and protesting all human activities that do not produce food.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Clear Message

One of the struggles I have had as a teacher is creating assignments that are just challenging enough to promote intellectual growth without accidentally convincing anyone that s/he is a hopeless dolt. Because I teach in a middle school, that's supremely hard to do. The young people come to school overwhelmed. They are adjusting to multiple teachers and multiple sets of expectations. Also, they are being beaten silly by hormones and the general self-consciousness that arises when one's own body turns on one. Since the work of just BEING is so strenuous, all homework assignments I give are greeted with a groan that loosely translates to: "Why, oh why, must adults always ruin my life with their incessant demands?"

So, as a teacher, you learn to seek feedback from other teachers, parents, and your daily horoscope before you ask the children if you make them work too hard. But, sometimes, the young people perceive that one assignment, more than any other in their memory, is the biggest suckfest of suckiness that ever sucked. And they find a fun way to express that.

Do you know how you can tell that your students consider the project you have assigned them over the next couple of weeks to be excessively demanding?

Well, I'll tell you. After you have explained the project, the students look around at each other, dumbfounded. And then one brave soul stands up, points his pen at you, and shouts:


Eloquent, no? I laughed so hard I almost changed the rubric.