Monday, December 18, 2006

Onward and Upward

I finished my grading yesterday at 5:22pm (only 22 min. late) and dutifully entered my grades online (O brave new world).

I'm done! I'm done! I'm done!

Now all I've got left: one letter of recommendation and two articles to send out.

One of the articles reminds me of an old warrior I'm sending out to battle for the fourth time. He's got a limp, a cripped left arm, and is creased with scars from previous battles, but his spirit is high and his heart is true. Please, someone, give him a home in a distinguished scholarly journal. It is the last wish of his old age. Don't make him tilt another windmill. He's also bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the one who keeps getting his limbs chopped off but defiantly won't give in: "I'm invincible!"

The trouble is that I know this is probably my best piece of work to date: It got me a job and a postdoc and important connections. But because it has inspired such vehemently mixed reactions (I love it! I detest it!) it has been rejected three times already, twice with no explanation or readers reports. Thus I'm a bit scared to send it out again. If you reject him once more, at least send him home on his shield.

Tomorrow I leave for "God's Country" in the midwest. I haven't been home in 6 months so it will be good to see everyone again. My parents throw a big party on Dec. 25th for all the non-Christians in town. It's called "Our thing on the 25th." It's become a big deal because it is the only event of its kind in town, so the house is completely packed with people and we usually run out of bagels and lox and wine early on. I haven't been home on the 25th for three years (because of MLA) so it will be good to catch up with people, though I hope they don't notice how much weight I've gained since grad school (I was pretty emaciated from 2003-2005).

Then I'm back here for three days to recuperate. Then I'm off to Montreal where I will happily spend the first two weeks of the New Year. I can't wait.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Professor's Complaint

With apologies to Shakespeare . . .

From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded
A plaintful story from a sist'ring vale
My spirits t'attend this double voice accorded
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle Prof full pale,
Tearing of Papers, breaking pens atwain,
Storming her world with marking's wind and rain

Upon her head a beret black of wool
Which fortified her visage from the cold
Whereon the thought might think sometime it held
The carcass of her manuscript, growing mold
Time had not scythed all the semester had begun
Nor work all quit; but spite of heaven's fell rage,
Some energy peeped through lattice of seared age

Oft did she heave her papers to her eyne.
Which on them had conceited characters,
Laund'ring the mismatched figures in the brine
That seasoned woe had pelleted in ink
And often writing "why" and "what do you think?"
As often scribbling undistinguished woe
In phrasings of all size, both high and low.

Okay, I realize that some of you might not recognize the first three stanzas of Shakespeare's poem "A Lover's Complaint," even without my horrid emendations. Because not many people read it anymore. Which is a shame. Because it's actually quite interesting for a complaint poem. I'm particularly fond of it because the language is so dark and dissembling. It's also a great parody/one-upping of Spenser. But yes, grading is hell. And grades are due the day after tomorrow. Chappy Chanukah everyone.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Good lord, I had no idea tarte tatin was this easy. I used my cast iron skillet.

Everyone is welcome to a virtual bite, with or without creme fraiche.

The tea party was a delight. I relaxed and had a fine time. Could this be the beginning of a new era?

It did help that my guests numbered in the single digits (8). I think I can do tea. Maybe I'll be able to work up to an intimate soiree. Baby steps.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Happy Birthday Milton

Now we are 398.

Happy Miltonmass, everyone.

One of the professors I worked with last year on my postdoc (a Miltonist) holds an annual party in honor of Milton's birthday instead of a Christmas party. It takes place in her gorgeous Victorian in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal, around the corner from the all night bagel shops, where you're likely to encounter frum housewives wearing headscarves, groups of yeshiva students in streumels, Portuguese hipsters, and university professors all on one block.

Students and faculty and the local used bookstore owners attend. There's usually a birthday cake for Milton, and everyone gathers around the piano and sings carrols. In the front hall the boots and slush pile up, and people wander around in their socks or in nicer shoes that they bring along in plastic bags. The compulsively obedient border collie trots from room to room, checking up on everyone, whimpering and whirling when another guest walks in the front door. It's cold and wet outside, but warm, bright and jolly inside. Everyone gets drunk and can't stop hugging everyone else goodnight.

I've always wanted to be the kind of professor that throws parties like this. But whenever I throw a party I spend too much time worrying.

It didn't used to be like this: during my year at Oxford I had people over constantly, cooked up a storm. Dinner parties in grad school were haphazard and fun. Then things seemed to deteriorate. The first party I threw post grad school was mediocre: too large for a dinner party and too small for a party. By the time the last of us found ourselves stuck in an entirely un-engrossing conversation about drywall I knew it was time to shoo everyone out the door.

The next time I tried too hard. I burnt the fiddleheads for the morel risotto, filling the kitchen with smoke. When my guests arrived (coughing), the risotto wasn't done, so they took turns helping me stir while I wrung my hands and paced from room to room. Then I accidentally froze the creme brulees and had to put them back in the oven which for some reason turned the caramelized tops a crestfallen shade of gray. As I took them out of the oven, one of them was so disgusted with my attempt at french cuisine that it abandoned ship, skidding off the tray and sacrificing itself on the kitchen floor. Meanwhile I'd invited a guy I'd fancied who didn't return the sentiment but couldn't figure out how to break it to me. I contemplated telling him it was okay, but my attempts at semaphore went unnoticed. It was months before I could have people over again.

The only party that was not an entire flop happened at the end of the summer. And I had help. Still, I fretted. Of course it was ok. No one got into a fist fight, there were no awkward silences, no one ended up having to sit in the corner. We invaded the backyard patio belonging to my landlords and sat outside in the candlelight. It was difficult to get folks to leave, actually, because I think some of the people were having a very good time. But a very good time has a price: After the last person departed the two of us left passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Which brings us to December, 2006. I can't seem to have parties on my own. I need someone to pry the vacuum cleaner from my shaking hands at 1am the night before the party when I'm terrified that my allergic friends won't be able to breathe, or that my fastidious friends will frown at the giant dustbunnies snuggling together under the bed.

Tomorrow I'm having 8 or 9 friends and colleagues over for tea. I went to Whole Foods, got some interesting cheeses. And I'm going to try my hand at a pear tarte tatin. I purchased ready-made puff pastry so I won't do it all from scratch. I've vacuumed and dusted, but I'm not going to mop or polish the bathroom sink. I think this is a nice compromise. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Maira Kalman Day

The first Wednesday of every month is Maira Kalman Day. That's when the writer and illustrator Maira Kalman publishes her blog, The Principles of Uncertainty, on the New York Times website.

Kalman has written and illustrated a number of children's books, Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," and produced some very famous New Yorker covers and back pages, including "Newyorkistan," and "Ask Your Doctor," a made-up list of new drugs that I remember reading aloud to my adorable mildly hypochondriac parents, laughing until we could barely breathe. She is also a professor of desgin at the School of the Visual Arts in New York.

Her blog is out of this world. Or rather, very much in this world, in an ethereal, tragicomic way. She makes me miss New York and Paris. She makes New York and Paris more beautiful even than they are.

And she has fabulous hats.

We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Cat is Too Smart for Her Own Good

It's about half an hour before "kitten dinner" time. Saffron's started meowing and probably won't let up until I feed her.

Two seconds ago she ran up to the Grape Ivy plant, stood on her hind legs and took a large bite out of it, munching vigorously and loudly, purring as she munched. Then, still munching, still on her hind legs, she turned around and looked squarely at me, her mouth full of leaves. Still staring hard at me, she uttered a plaintive, muffled, questioning mew.

A berating mew that seemed to say, "See how your Great Neglect has forced me, a poor, starving, helpless animal, to forage for my dinner like a savage beast in the forest?" A mew that concluded, "If you don't feed me This Instant, I will mangle your plants and vomit all over your beautiful Turkish carpet."

Of course there is nothing I can do but feed her.

Of course she knows it.


I taught my last classes of the semester on Thursday: Huzzah!

I am now free until 17 January. Free to work on my own articles, fellowship applications and manuscript, free to read what suits me, free to sleep past 8am, free to take a while to respond to e-mails. And I'm not going to MLA, so free to Not Be Anxious Dec. 27-30: Huzzah!

I love my new car. Thanks to some excellent family bargaining, I managed to get the fancy, souped up Impreza for close to the same price as the no-frills version. So now I am the proud owner of a Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. With a tremendous sound system, satellite radio, automatic climate control, ipod jack, four wheel drive. If I wanted to, I could even drive up to "God's Country" (Midwestern Family Seat) and Canada this winter instead of flying, though it would probably even out in gas and motel costs. I'm already fantasizing about road trips this summer. My first longish drive will be Friday, when I drive east to Big Fancy Research Institution's Medieval-Renaissance Seminar to hear a talk on Islam in the Renaissance. Maybe if I ask one of my "Look at Me!" questions I'll get noticed like I did at SAA and then they'll invite me to present or collaborate with them. (Oh come on, a girl can dream). I'm so excited. Mobility and comfort are beautiful things: Huzzah!

And I've been added to the Graduate Faculty here, so I can be a reader on two Masters Thesis committees. Both are smart, talented young women writing about Renaissance drama. One single-handedly created the Early Modern Reading group. The other is applying to a number of very good Ph.D. programs: Huzzah!