Sunday, March 25, 2012

Recharging the Batteries

This most recent stretch of time has been intense, grappling with whether it was going to be possible to finish a book worth submitting and then the work pent up from pushing all else aside while in that final push. Now that this stretch is over, or all but, I’ve not done much except rest and cocoon while I try to get the batteries recharged.  The good news is that I was able to get through that period, including some efforts that wouldn’t have been possible last year: the benchmarks of progress keep accumulating, and that’s heartening. I’m reasonably confident the book isn’t totally awful and the compensatory techniques I’ve been honing in recent times keep serving me well--and improving. At the same time, recovering from the exertion is taking longer than I’d expected, and still less than I have any right to have hoped for.

While many of the events that had piled up were interesting, informative and worthwhile,  there were elements that were disorienting as well, as in at least one of the circumstances, I turned out to be the repository of institutional memory--which made me, if not the old person, at least the one trending in that direction. It reminded me of people I’ve known saying that, at some point in their lives, they started seeing contemporaries in the obituaries regularly, which I suppose is another marker for the passage of time.   

Back to resting up before the week starts, with this stray thought: in the night, something woke me up and I got to thinking (no clue what stimulated THIS train of thought) about statements that are completely accurate, without any particular intent to deceive that are at the same time completely misleading. Here’s an example: it would be totally accurate to say we live in the same house we purchased when I was in law school. At the same time, the house that statement would conjure up is pretty far from how we live. Sure, the house was not in very good shape when we bought it, nor has it ever been in the most desirable part of our wonderful neighborhood.  We’ve enhanced it a lot over the years and, yet, it was a great house (good bones, as it were) when we got it and it’s a great house now.  In some ways, the house it is now would probably be out of our reach, especially if transported eight or ten blocks south--or at least we’d never attempt such a house.  The twists and turns life takes are strange. 

I am SO looking forward to this summer when absolutely nothing is programmed, other than relaxing and visiting with family and friends. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Future Corset

I am living the future and yet I still own a corset. Of course, neither of those is true; still, they encapsulate a sense of displacement I experienced this morning. I’m attending a three-day working conference and have been sitting next to a vice president for research from a research-intensive university. Carving out the time for this meeting has been painful for me, and I can only imagine what it’s costing him in the off-hours of the meeting.  I have been watching him juggling the messages that are coming into his phone and computer and making lists about who to call first when we take breaks. (He’s been heroic about not answering his email during the meeting, which has increased my respect for him, especially during some of the really dry stretches of the meeting. I confess that, in a less obtrusive seat today than yesterday, I graded a paper this morning during one patch. I try not to be rude with my computer but probably was while I was grading. It was better, I consoled myself, than snorting, interrupting or saying something inappropriate during the presentation....)
Waking up this morning, I got to thinking about my office-life days, and what it was like to travel before cell phones. Airports back then had banks of pay phones, and between flights, they were always packed with people trying to get a call into their offices. When I was in the midst of an investigation or negotiating a complicated agreement, I would be one of those people. I remember a new vice chancellor once confiding that she’d always thought an earlier campus administrator had been pretentious in using phones in airports, only to discover when she took her new job, how important those calls back could be when others needed information or go-aheads on various projects.
That train of thought led to what it was like, *gasp* when most families had only one telephone, in a central location and everyone in the family knew who called for what family members and what kind of conversations they had.  
THAT train of thought led to recollections of generations before me telling stories of growing up:  both my dad and Michael’s learned to drive on Model Ts, and my father told stories of growing up on the prairie in a house where they often awoke covered with snow or ice in the winter, and how they took stones heated in the wood stove up to bed for warmth. And what it was like to have a “farm girl” (from a family with too many kids to feed, who helped out with chores for room and board and perhaps a little money) and how, if he was clever about it, he could get her to bring in the wood for the stove so she never had to say she was going to use the outhouse.  Those times seemed so remote and old-timey. My imagination all but sepia-colors them.
And yet. I went to the world’s fair in New York in 1964 and saw the outlandish and futuristic “vision phones.” Today, I skyped for a meeting. The transition from before-personal-computers-and-cell-phones to now is as massive a social disruption as many of the technological changes that existed between my dad’s childhood and adulthood.  The “primitive” communication technology of my childhood is as remote from my children and the students I teach as my dad’s was from mine. I don’t feel like either a historical or transitional figure, I just feel like me, in my now. Yet, I’m actually living a quite remarkable future, compared to my youth. It’s a strange feeling: I never had a corset, and I’m connected by a strand going way back to women before me who did.