It is incredibly reassuring when you email your boss and HR the sick note for the fall and the immediate reply is ‘take the time you need to get better, you will be well supported.’ I continue to be grateful for a good job and good people to work for and with. I still am wrapping my head around the idea that it’s going forward. It seems like a strangely academic issue – something that doesn’t feel real or immediate, but rather theoretical.
And I only did check my work email a few times today. So that’s better, too. I am finally slipping into vacation mode.
I read Tony Parsons’ Departures: Seven Stories from Heathrow this morning, and then followed it up with Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary. Both books were written during as a result of the Heathrow writer in residence program. Though they’re not necessarily meant to be read together, they pair well. Fiction first, I think, as an appetizer, and the non-fiction as the main. Alas, I could not find a third book to be the dessert, but sometimes you get more than enough with your supper and you don’t really need anything afterwards. Parsons’ short stories are lovely; just enough to capture the moment, and there’s a nice intermingling of characters – one story is infused with the character from another, but only briefly.
De Botton’s book is certainly a bit denser and more substantial, and I quite enjoyed the story he builds. You get a distinct feeling that he spent most of his time poking around the airport, where the Parsons stories give you the feeling that he stood back and observed. Both approaches are valid, but the nice thing is that you get a distinctly different experience from both.
I do like airports. I enjoy the strangeness of them, and I think the mechanics of them – the way the facility is built to funnel people through – are fascinating. Both books are shorter works, and pleasant reading, though I think they might be ruined if you actually read them in an airport. They’re meant to be read elsewhere – airport reading should be the guilty books, or the books you want to lose yourself in, or the books you plan to read and leave behind in a hotel room or hand over to another passenger as you leave (preferably the book you read hits all three). Books about airports? Best enjoyed when you are firmly on the ground, unmoving and not travelling.
Vacation is going swimmingly, though I must stop checking work email. No, really – I will stop doing it. I had an appointment at the hospital today with the surgeon, and he has booked surgery for September, and I will be having a hysterectomy. This surgery will be bigger – it comes with a night or two in the hospital and a longer recuperation. But it’s got the advantage of fixing the problem completely, so I’m relieved (if a little apprehensive about surgery). It’ll be good to get this taken off, and I’ll have a better idea of what to expect…hopefully, I won’t be so frustrated by the recovery process. It’s a weird feeling of mingled relief and anxiety.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the decision. Certainly it ends the possibility of having children (though I’m single, so they were hypothetical children). There are some good resources out there when you’re reading up on it, trying to decide, but some weird ones, too – like a forum with a strange, hyper-feminized discourse that both sexualizes and infantilizes the process: women referring to each other as ‘princesses’ going to the ‘castle’ to get their ‘crown.’ I find it an eerie, creepy narrative, and if I was still in grad school, I’d want to write a paper about it. Several papers.
Granted, there’s a reason for narratives like that, I think – the hyper-feminizing narrative is obviously a response to the feeling of a loss of femininity inherent in the procedure, assuming you conflate sex with gender (one biological, one culturally constructed). I assume it’s helpful for some women…it doesn’t appeal to me at all; it’s been strange to sort through it, but I’ve also received some good advice (this time from a knitting forum, where I had a much more practical discussion with other women).
I read a good book on the weekend, too – Lauren Streitcher’s The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy was very clearly written, with excellent advice – though there was lots of information about insurance companies that wasn’t relevant. The hospital’s pamphlet is also terribly matter-of-fact. And the surgeon drew me a diagram and talked to me about the risks and benefits, noting that of the women he’s operated on, about 97% report that they are satisfied. That sounds good to me.
And so the surgery is booked, and I have more pamphlets to read through (along with a note that after surgery, I may be asked to share a room with a patient of the opposite sex – I do not like the idea of that). It’s a couple of months away, so I’ll put things aside and enjoy the summer.
With the appointment out of the way, I’ll settle in to do some reading while I’m on holiday – I finished Zane Grey’s The Call of the Canyon last night, and I thought I might read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tonight and tomorrow. I need something light and simple, I think.
I suppose it’s a mark of how much I like my job. I’m on vacation next week, but I stayed late on Friday to do more work and brought more home with me for this morning. I’m pulling reports to help with analysis today, and it looks very much like the data I thought I’d have to compile by myself is available in a standardized report. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but believe me: when you are working at home on the first Saturday of vacation and you discover that a canned report pulls out what you need it to, it is a very happy and exciting moment, indeed. You celebrate what you can, right?
So. On vacation. I haven’t had time off in June since, well, forever. I was an admissions officer before, and June is when a lot of final grades start arriving, so it was always blacked out on the holiday calendar (along with most of May, lots of July, and August, and a chunk of February and March). The new job – which is not so very new, as I’ve been there a year now – is busiest around a series of deadlines in September, December, early January, and April, with a very steady pace throughout June, July, and August. But the boss doesn’t black out the vacation calendar, and June is okay. September not so much. It’s a compromise you make, I suppose – no more 3-Day Novel Writing contest weekends, because that’s the height of busy season – but you do get time off when the weather is pleasant.
Also you get good coworkers, and contact with smart and talented young people. One of them brought me back a pound of coffee from a volunteer trip he’d taken to Costa Rica. It went into the coffee maker today and I must say, it was really nice.
So I think that my work is done (at least it seems that way), and I’m going to happily slip into vacation mode.
There was mention of Mary Rowlandson’s account of her capture and captivity in a New York Times story on the weekend (the article was about captivity memoirs), and I thought I might look it up and read it.
It’s an extraordinarily short book, to be sure – written in the 1700s, it’s not exactly a light-hearted account, either. But it’s rather remarkable and quite interesting, and I thought the conclusion was quite something. She writes about her changed attitude after the eleven weeks as a captive, and the I thought her reflection was quite profound.
I can remember the time when I used to sleep quietly without workings in my thoughts, whole nights together, but now it is other ways with me. When all are fast about me, and no eye open, but His who ever waketh, my thoughts are upon things past, upon the awful dispensation of the Lord towards us, upon His wonderful power and might, in carrying of us through so many difficulties, in returning us in safety, and suffering none to hurt us. I remember in the night season, how the other day I was in the midst of thousands of enemies, and nothing but death before me. It is then hard work to persuade myself, that ever I should be satisfied with bread again. But now we are fed with the finest of the wheat, and, as I may say, with honey out of the rock. Instead of the husk, we have the fatted calf. The thoughts of these things in the particulars of them, and of the love and goodness of God towards us, make it true of me, what David said of himself, “I watered my Couch with my tears” (Psalm 6.6). Oh! the wonderful power of God that mine eyes have seen, affording matter enough for my thoughts to run in, that when others are sleeping mine eyes are weeping.
I have seen the extreme vanity of this world: One hour I have been in health, and wealthy, wanting nothing. But the next hour in sickness and wounds, and death, having nothing but sorrow and affliction.
Before I knew what affliction meant, I was ready sometimes to wish for it. When I lived in prosperity, having the comforts of the world about me, my relations by me, my heart cheerful, and taking little care for anything, and yet seeing many, whom I preferred before myself, under many trials and afflictions, in sickness, weakness, poverty, losses, crosses, and cares of the world, I should be sometimes jealous least I should have my portion in this life, and that Scripture would come to my mind, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every Son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12.6). But now I see the Lord had His time to scourge and chasten me. The portion of some is to have their afflictions by drops, now one drop and then another; but the dregs of the cup, the wine of astonishment, like a sweeping rain that leaveth no food, did the Lord prepare to be my portion. Affliction I wanted, and affliction I had, full measure (I thought), pressed down and running over. Yet I see, when God calls a person to anything, and through never so many difficulties, yet He is fully able to carry them through and make them see, and say they have been gainers thereby. And I hope I can say in some measure, as David did, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” The Lord hath showed me the vanity of these outward things. That they are the vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit, that they are but a shadow, a blast, a bubble, and things of no continuance. That we must rely on God Himself, and our whole dependance must be upon Him. If trouble from smaller matters begin to arise in me, I have something at hand to check myself with, and say, why am I troubled? It was but the other day that if I had had the world, I would have given it for my freedom, or to have been a servant to a Christian. I have learned to look beyond present and smaller troubles, and to be quieted under them. As Moses said, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14.13).
‘I have learned to look beyond present and smaller troubles, and to be quieted under them.’ Quite a stirring remark, I thought.
It was a nice evening of Dungeons and Dragons – I was glad to go. I haven’t been feeling all that great (I will be calling the surgeon in a couple of weeks to ask about starting the next step) but it was worth going and having a fun time. Restorative in a different way.
It’s rainy and overcast today; a bit of thunder growling away. I’m going to settle down to watch the end of Mr. Selfridge, and then I might try to finish a short story I’ve been writing in the mornings before work starts. And probably watch the rain for a while.
What a long week. I’m tired and frustrated and not feeling well – overworked and stressed out. So I bolted out the door at 4pm (actual quitting time, though I haven’t left on time for weeks) and took myself to have Avatara pizza.
Because there’s something awfully nice about discovering that they put the pizza in the oven when they saw your tweet about needing pizza, and even nicer when you sit down and the owner asks you how the writing is going.
I finally have some vacation time coming up, though – just one week more, then a week off. Then a couple of weeks back, and then another week off. I’ve been going full out since February (with the pause for surgery in April, but that was hardly a vacation) so it’ll be nice to slow down with some time off. I need it.
Tonight? Off to play Dungeons and Dragons again, though I’ll buy the team’s snack with cash so that I don’t risk my card being skimmed again at the grocery store.
We are swarming with bees at the moment. Or rather, the 16th floor is.
Honeybees, fortunately, and not wasps. They will come and sniff you before flying away, so I don’t think there’s much risk of being stung. We’ve never had a honeybee swarm – ladybugs, yes, but not bees. It’s definitely strange to see them zooming about. Much less terrifying today. Last night, we thought they might be hornets. That would NOT be cool.
Apparently, it’s something that can happen…they’ll hang around for a while, and then leave to go and find a better place for a nest.
(the post title, btw? A quote from Starship Troopers – a book I have read over and over again.)
Very rainy yesterday (as it has been for the past week or so). It’s awfully damp, but with it being so rainy, we haven’t had any problems with grass fires. The things we think about out here…
I finished reading All Creatures Great and Small yesterday afternoon – a dark, dreary and quite chilly afternoon, but I spent it in my armchair with the book, so it was quite a nice way to pass the time. I read all of Herriot’s books when I was a teenager…maybe thirteen or fourteen? The summer vacations seemed longer back then, and I wasn’t one of the kids that got bundled off to endless ballet lessons or told to play soccer or sent to camp. I was given a library card at a young age; there were pads of paper and crayons, toys and small watercolour sets, and homemade Playdough, and daily swims in the community swimming pool. And always there were books, and hour and hours to sit in a semi-darkened basement, where it was coolest and the best place to be in the scorching heat during the day – curled up under an afghan and reading by lamplight while the air conditioner pumped out cold air to try and cool the house.
In short, probably the best way to grow up, in my opinion, for a person like me. I read and read. I loved the James Herriot’s books back then. Turns out that I loved the book just as much last Sunday as I did so many summers ago. I’ve got the other books (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All) to read; I think I will probably do that this summer. I think this re-reading of the book was enjoyable partly for the memories of reading the books when I was young and also because they are so charming and well-written.
For all that the faux lawn is ready, it’s been a steadily rainy week here – too damp and chilly to really consider sitting outside. It’s been one of those grinding weeks at work, too. Very busy, though I tried with some success to leave on time each day. I had to work from home yesterday, but only for a couple of hours. We have a new person starting with us this week (hurray!), so in time, the workload should ease as we start to redistribute things. I’m really looking forward to that.
I’ve been slowly pecking away at a couple of short stories. Mostly in the morning, with that golden half hour before work starts and everybody arrives. I still can’t decide if I should abandon it and go back to the full walking commute or leave the time for writing, but it is awfully nice to have stories coming together. Perhaps another month of morning writing; if it goes well, I might make it a regular thing.
And there are goslings again. They’ve moved past the adorable fluffball stage to the gawky stage: fuzzy but not very appealing. There is much angry hissing if you walk past. The river is running higher and faster with the rain we’ve been having.
Such a week the past one was that I didn’t go for a Friday sandwich. Too tired to walk home, and so I took the bus and was debating walking the second leg. But the #40 came around the corner and when a #40 appears, like magic, well, you get on board. So I came home, had something heated from a can, and then settled down with a bowl of popcorn to watch things the PVR had thoughtfully recorded for me through the week. I’m all caught up on MASH episodes, and about halfway through the Mr. Selfridge series.
I’m also reading Ivy Compton-Burnett’s Elders and Betters at the moment, though I also have James Heriot’s All Creatures Great and Small on the go. Reading has been a bit slow. I’ve been feeling quite tired the last week or so, and not sure if I should mark it down as the last remnants of fatigue from surgery or from being so busy at work almost immediately after I came back from surgery. Probably the latter, I think.
It’s a damp, dreary day today – quite perfect for settling into an armchair and reading. And that is what I plan to do.
It sounds awfully cheesy (and awfully awful), but I have to say: it looks just like a strip of lawn, and it’s soft to stand on. Comfortable! And the closest thing you can get to a lawn when you live many stories above ground. And even better…it doesn’t need any mowing or watering, and when it gets windy, you just roll it up and put it behind the stacked chairs.
Yup. I’m ready for the warm weather.
So the routine of taking the bus to work in the morning and sitting for thirty or forty minutes to write is working quite well. So well that I’m thinking that I might just keep the bus ride up in the morning, and use that quiet time to keep working away at stories. I wonder if it’s just easier to justify this because of the effort it took to do the morning walk? Hard to say. I’m happily walking home in the afternoons, though, and enjoying the spring weather. Leaves are out, the tulips are up, and it looks like we’ll have lilacs blooming in a couple of weeks or so.
Allergy season is starting, so skipping the morning walk is not necessarily a bad thing there, either…
That, or I’ve got endless justifications. Silly, because I only need to justify it to myself, but that’s how I am!
(I bought another book for bus stop reading today, too – The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories by Stephen Crane. So there’s another reason to take the bus in the morning for another month. That and the bus pass I bought…)
I did indeed spend the weekend breaking in one of my new bookmarks; I finished reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. It was quite a long book, but I enjoyed the writing, and the story was good. It seems to have quite a number of ties to Marx’s Capital, or at least I thought so. I’m still struggling through the first volume of that, and I wonder if socialism and political economy was something that writers in Gaskell’s period were quite familiar with? Maybe?
I was reading a Penguin Classics edition, and sadly missed the tiny warning at the start of the footnotes that cautioned ‘new readers’ and then promptly went on to spoil the story. While I fully appreciate that people might be using the book for papers, I think it’s tantamount to a crime when you give away a crucial plot point that’s yet to come in a footnote. Still, though, the footnotes were good, and the glossary at the back of the book was pretty helpful (‘clemming’ is something I learned about – it means starving or to suffer from hunger).
It’s an excellent novel – a story of independence and courage, but also of hard times and deprivation. It wasn’t especially light-hearted and the love story was a bit rushed at the end, but I thought it was worth the time I spent reading it. I think I might read To Kill a Mockingbird next. I’ve got an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel out from the library but I left it at work, so I’ll pick up what’s close at hand for tomorrow’s bus stop reading.
It’s been a long, stressful week; terribly busy at work with a lot of things for me to do. It’s not lost on me – last year, I was brand new, watching everything and wondering how on earth I would learn everything. And a year later, I’m in charge of the stuff I was trying to figure out. It’s quite something.
So after the day I had today, I decided that I’d go home by way of Kensington to buy myself a bookmark at Pages. And perhaps a book to go with it. I’ve been buying up some books for spring reading this week; I’ve ended up with a happy little stack: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The City of Yes by Peter Oliva, Snowball’s Chance by John Reed, henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars by Maurice Dekobra, and Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. Quite a hefty stack, actually. I’m reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South right now (this was the book that demanded the bookmark in the first place; three of the books were found on a trip to the campus bookstore, and the rest this evening).
It was a nice trip down. I met Jocelyn – sent her a text and we decided to have dinner instead of just having coffee.
I had a lovely whole trout. It came lying on green beans (early beans, I think) and with a bowl of fries that had been fried in duck fat.
And since dinner was so good, we stayed for dessert.
Fancy donuts – also done in duck fat – with cinnamon and sugar, served with some honey and fruit.
It was a lovely visit, and a nice way to slow down and bring a hectic week to an end. I’m going to spend this rainy weekend reading North and South, breaking in that new bookmark.