On misfortune and the joys of trees

Away last week for midterm break; would have posted something on return on Friday the 24th but our return suffered various mishaps, including a very delayed flight. So the plan to do another of the Old Talks series posts in the early evening failed. Saturday involved laundry and visiting the Mounties (all well, not to worry, we have done nothing bad or wrong). Sunday included preparation for Monday and last week. The rest of the week involved work, catching up on missed work of the week before the break (bah humbug tummy bug), making lists of things to do, ticking off things on the lists, making lists of lists, and so on.

Thus continued the week until Friday.

I am, of course, still behind on some work and just about catching up with other work.

To some extent, such is the way of the universe. But there’s been a lot of playing catch-up of late. That is not a good thing for general health and well-being, and might have something to do with succumbing to the dread tummy bug.

A good thing: the discovery of Google Keep. I’ve been using Evernote for years, and will continue to do so for notes to be kept in the longer-term. But Keep is great for rapid simple note-taking on the fly; some of which can then be transferred to Evernote as needed.

Most of my notes have not needed to be transferred there, of late. All of them have featured nice little check-boxes to the left. I like ticking boxes. When you tick these ones, a very satisfying tick appear: it’s large and has just the right angles and a reasonably large down-stroke on the left; too large, and your tick turns into a “v”; too small, and you have a slash which could be confusing, suggesting “either/or”-ness rather than a definite “YES!” You have achieved something. The action of ticking also strikes out the content of that list-item, rather than deleting it. This is not annihilation. It is accomplishment. These are two very different approaches to the same act, of ticking something off on a list.

Striking-through, as contrasted with deletion or destruction, is a different kind of linguistic silencing. This has something to do with one of the next Old Talks series posts, on le non-dit in the Romance of Flamenca.

On which topic: The next Old Talk Series post will be appearing at some point next week. Also, there will be a post about libraries, and an idea for how they might be improved as regards their online existence. There may be some ranting about my institution’s administrative-philistine ills, but I shall try my best to keep that to the minimum and focus on ideas for future positives. Turning frown upside down to make it a smile, and all that.

I’m also thinking about trees. Because there are a lot of them here, and because I have always liked them. And in relation to MLA in 2015, which is here in Vancouver, and for which I also need to send in an abstract.

This is an item very far down the To Do Lists, whose order is sadly dictated by prioritising what I am employed to do, as per my contract and what’s happening in teaching. This feels rather like an existence in a state of basic day-to-day survival. It feels like elements of “essence” are absent. Lacking, or in the background or underground; distant and hibernating rather than deceased. Fortunately, one of the courses I’m teaching is a more creative one, and about culture, so I have some sense that brain-death hasn’t yet set in. Also because the students are fab.

So, a tip to anyone else in a similar situation, that is, of much teaching and work and over-work; a life spent playing catch-up; an intermittent sense of despond and worry that it will turn to full constant burn-out and breakdown. Make sure that at least one of your courses has a component where students write comments online. (In the case of FREN 333, this is in the form of comments added to each week’s post, with the latter including a synopsis of the week’s material.) These comments are wonderful to read in their own right. They give a sense that the course is moving and dynamic, that it has energy and engagement. That it’s alive. Completely selfishly, they give a sense that you’re alive yourself: through the human interaction of conversation.*

Other survival tip–or rather, tip for moving from survival to feeling alive and “having a life”–keep reading imaginative stuff that’s not directly related to work. (Even if it starts to become related to work.) And go see, hug, talk to, and otherwise interact with trees. In a dignified and respectful way, of course; especially if they’re big trees like our cedars here, that might not take kindly to silliness. I’ve seen trees frown, here in Vancouver, and definitely also raise a quizzical eyebrow and shrug stoically. One would not wish to upset one of these very big trees.

In a few weeks, hopefully, we’ll be able to sit outside and read under trees, cradled in tree-roots. Clearly the original inspiration for every chair in the history of furniture world-wide. (OK, plus the hammock, but it too is related to trees; just higher up in the branches and canopy.)

* no, please don’t tell me this is Freud, Lacan, Landmark, or any other quacked-up cultish perversions of simple, common-sense talking cures.

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