Category Archives: personal

Feed the Soul

Summer is well and truly underway. I know this because I’ve planted some flowers in my front yard. The roses that survived the winter (four of five) won’t bloom for a few more weeks so I fed my colour craving with a swathe of begonias and violas. Red, orange, yellow: the cheery colours please me and feed my soul.

My summer work schedule is going pretty well. I’m only behind by a day and a half from my original plan which isn’t bad. To-do lists of particular tasks combined with long-range plans do the trick of keeping me from panic. Tomorrow I have to purchase more canned cat food, book a check-up for the older dog and get rolling on a RESP maturity application as well as finish the unit on Achaemenid Persia for the correspondence course I’m writing. I’ll try to get more read in the M.A. essay I’m supervising which appears decent so far. Lurking ahead on the horizon is the task I really want to tangle with: more Old Bailey writing, and that is up next. All of those tasks are on the plan. All of that work will get done. But they’re not exactly deeply nourishing in a personal sense.

Teaching preparation has an appeal, but I’ve found, over the years, that it’s not the best use of my time at the start of the summer so I’m resisting the urge to dive into my new course prep readings. I have an alluring stack of books on ancient, medieval and Renaissance occult topics, including Deborah Harkness’s study of John Dee’s angelic conversations. These all need to sit and wait until after the Old Bailey article is in good shape because an article for publication trumps reading for teaching. In any case, it will be better for my teaching to complete the reading closer to the time I’m refining all of the course plans and better know what I need to know and teach. Right? Right!

It’s funny but the prospect of my next research writing project just ahead feeds my soul as much as the begonias and violas in the flower bed. It may be a cliche that academics can’t tear themselves away from their research. I can and frequently do, but when a research topic gets me energized, I don’t want to wait! Soon, I won’t be waiting any more.

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Low on Spoons

Of late, I’ve been dealing with health issues and, you’ll be happy to know, I have an excellent doctor who’s taking this seriously. We’re pursuing a diagnosis and have already started on one part of a treatment which seems to really help.

That’s the upside. The downside is that I still don’t know what my problem is and what it will take to fix it. And, boy, howdy, does this body need some fixing because I am running low on spoons.

Yes, spoons. For those of you not acquainted with the Spoon Theory, explaining how chronic illness can be likened to a handful of spoons. When each task in your day, however modest, must be paid for in spoons, that morning handful can be quickly depleted. Walk up a flight of stairs? Pay with a spoon. Put away a load of laundry? Forfeit another.

The metaphor of a handful of spoons explains my situation of the past several months pretty well. Thankfully, my morning handful’s been getting larger every day for the past few, but I’m still nowhere near normal. That said, I have the prospect of a pretty full recovery, once we get the latest test results back.

Until then, I have to shepherd my spoons carefully – working on the article revision, supervising my M.A. student and wrapping up the last elements of the correspondence course manual. Yes, much of my work doesn’t require a huge output of physical effort, but my endurance is at low ebb. I don’t have the energy for a lot of normal activities: not walking the dog, not working on the next article, not reorganizing my office, not picking back up my needlework. Saddest of all, missing more long-anticipated conferences just ahead, beginning with the Toronto Berks.

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Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards

The teaching term has definitively ended and it was one of the best I’ve enjoyed in many years. However, if the term is over, the paperwork isn’t! Next week I have to polish off my annual report along with my teaching and research dossiers. The dossiers represent a staggering amount of paperwork although this year not quite so daunting as I’m between two deluges of publications. Next week I also must needs start on my summer’s hectic schedule of WRITE ALL THE THINGS.

In fancy-pants academic lingo, I’d label this week as “liminal”, being the semi-porous boundary between the old term and the new. It’s all stressful because, OMG wrap up all of this term-end stuff and get going on the summer research plan, now, now, NOW! But which way to jump? What gets done next?

A check-in on Friday with Jo VanEvery made a world of difference with my stress levels and sense of flailing. Jo helped me work through my long list of obligations, aspirations and implications, winnowing down to the important questions of what do I have to do, what do I want to do and how am I going to use my time to achieve those goals. Jo’s advice is always spot-on, as with her recent post on self-directed writing retreats, a version of which I will use in June to wrap up an article I desperately want to complete this summer because the project is very dear to me.

Now I have a better handle on the week ahead and the summer beyond that. I still have a lot on my to-do list but it’s going to be whittled down in an orderly fashion, matched up against a calendar for the time-sensitive elements (textbook orders due mid-month, grad student research essay deadlines in July and August). It may not be simple, but I feel a bit more in control as I look backwards and forwards this week.

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Despair in Disorder

Unlike Herrick, I do not delight in disorder. However, the end of term (and two piles of exams) has brought a lot of disorder to both my work and my personal environment. Add to this the usual burdens of the season and, well, I’m disturbed by all of these messes impinging on my space and taking over my brainpower. Because they do: there’s a palpable psychic weight to all of the stuff that accumulates, waiting to be managed. First thing that’s on my to-do list once marking is well and truly wrapped up is to tackle the mountains of random paper so I can purge what’s likely a lot of trash and set the rest to filing or, in the very rarest of cases, responding.

I had hoped to get on top of all of my office paperwork last summer but the new puppy took the wind out of my sails with her needy nature. Here’s hoping that the summer of 2014 will be one for organization and decluttering!

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Another Derailment Moment

There was a family medical emergency this week that necessitated packing one dog off to the kennel, arranging for our trusty cat-sitter to watch the felines and then the loading up of everyone else in the household to hurry south.

The good news is that the affected individual was professionally and capably treated, so much so that normal life resumes tomorrow.

The bad news is that there went a lot of time – particularly for the ill individual who’s a university student. I’m hoping that the medical excuse provided by the clinic and corroborated by the hospital will do the trick for ensuring accommodation but, as always, there’s only so much that can do when the student’s class time has taken a hit.

I’m rejiggering my own schedule. The blog post that I’d planned to share on historical and Game of Thrones women, reputation and ambition will wait as I make up for four less-than-productive days in terms of writing and marking. I have an article to polish off, two classes of marking still to complete and other sundry requests on my plate. And revisions on an accepted chapter have come back now that it’s gone through the press’s peer review – thankfully that’s not due until 15 December!

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The Incentive Program

A lot of habit-changing programs or groups incorporate some sort of incentive. Lose X pounds of weight, get a branded star or reward yourself with a coveted item. Let’s be honest: sometimes it works. I’ve found it very useful for me this summer as I’ve powered my way through several writing projects as well as my recent round of course preps.

I have to say, my incentive program doesn’t involve tangible goods that are purchased or expensive experiences. My incentive program is game time. Yes, deep inside, this fifty-year-old academic is rather akin to a tween gamer. What’s embarrassing is what game is my reward: Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. Gone are the days of playing EQ or DaoC, WoW or Warhammer: Online. These days the only game I’ve got is a silly one with matching virtual jewels in one-minute bursts.

Despite that, this incentive program works exceedingly well. I have to log in every day to the game to maintain my free points reward level. Never mind the fact that I have 1.5 million points banked. I can’t let those points slide. So I’m inspired on a daily basis to achieve a goal, say, five hundred words of writing or another completed section of my course outline, all so I can fire up the game, do my free spin and play a few rounds.

Extra bonus confession? If I’ve completed my entire day’s work goal, I can play not only a three-game streak but I allow myself a half hour of the addictive mess.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a game to play. Be back soon!

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Pain Management

Over the past week, I’ve battled a horrific headache that’s felled me by the late afternoon most every day. I’ve described it as rather like having a rusty icepick slowly inserted and twisted from the base of your skull into your eyeball. At first I thought it was a simple neck strain, but it didn’t really respond to ibuprofen the way that has in the past. Then I wondered if it was a particularly long-lasting migraine of the type that I occasionally suffer for a three-day stretch.

These were getting so bad I was a snarling mess: pity my poor family who bore the brunt of my ill-temper, try as I might to bite my tongue. I longed to curl up somewhere and lie down and just turn my brain off for a while, hoping to get away from the pain that dogged me most of the day and into the night.

Yesterday, after spending much of the day pain-free, it clicked. The pain only appeared once I’d spent half an hour or more sitting in my customary seat in the living room where I computer and also hangout with the family. My comfy spot is literally causing me agony. I confirmed that today by avoiding my usual seat entirely, opting instead for either the floor, the dining room chairs or the wing chair. If I sit in any one of those, I’m good, although trying to mouse anywhere other than with my elbow at my hip causes some twinges. But even just sitting on the slightly reclining seat I normally use causes the lower point of my right trapezius to tweak like a son-of-a-gun.

I’d calibrate my pain levels over the past five days peaking at a 5-7 on a scale of 10. Today, the worst that I felt was a 3, somewhat stiff upon wakening and twinges again after trying to mouse on a slightly raised surface.

So, obviously, I have to engineer an entirely new work schedule and situation for the rest of the summer. Some days I can spend a bit of time at the office (not right now as the recent hot spell has left our under-ventilated chambers feeling like saunas) but I need to come up with a compact and comfortable solution at home. Wish me luck! If you’ve got any suggestions for how to help my trapezius relax any faster or better, I’m all ears!


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