Monday, August 27, 2007

thinking in the garden

One of my daughters phoned to chat a bit today and mentioned that altho' she'd seen my latest post, she couldn't find anything to comment on. No worries, she said, it was interesting enough, plus she knew I was writing for a variety of readers (not to mention myself), but, especially without pictures, she didn't find it as engaging. This is something I'm going to be grappling with because sometimes I do want to write just to think something through or to record a response to a book I've read, and at the same time, I can't help compulsively regularly checking my StatCounter. I notice when I do that there are folks who've stopped by for the first time, and I worry that the top post they see should be more lively. I suspect my daughter's right -- photos and shorter paragraphs work better to engage! So I'm going to intersperse this entry with photos from today's garden -- above is one of my favourite grasses, a fall-flowering Miscanthus sinensis 'gracillimus' (maidenhair grass). This is the season when grasses really come into their own in the garden and they'll get even better over the next few weeks as their foliage reddens up.

Another question raised in my chat with my daughter is how often I should be putting up new posts and whether, once the new one is up, the old one ever gets read. Not that I think any of them are particularly fine pieces of writing, but I guess I do imagine them as part of a dialogue and I feel a little sad that the dialogue should end so quickly. Any bloggers reading this, I'd love to hear if you share my concerns and if you've found any pleasing solutions. Meanwhile, check out this hydrangea aspera. I love its fuzzy leaves and the way it brightens up this shady corner.

I'm glad I have the garden for distraction 'cause I've found it harder to write in the last day or two. That surprises me because up 'til now, the blogging has been so joyful and I've had to select from many possible daily projects rather than try to drum up ideas. Of course as I get back into teaching, the problem will be finding time, rather than motivation, to write, but for now, I'm wondering what's with the switch. I suspect it's all of a piece with the obliterating fatigue I've been feeling over the weekend and today. Partly, this day-long desire to nap is a reasonable consequence of adding mileage to my running -- I remember this from last year when I was training for the half-marathons and I'm sure that once my body adjusts, I'll have more energy again. But again, I got some wisdom from my daughter--she's been tired as well and thinks that we're both foot-dragging against the end of summer. She's starting a new job with bigger responsibilities and I'm heading back to the front of the classroom.

Funny that I titled yesterday's post "Transitions" but really avoided talking about the obvious one -- I talked seasons, but what's really the difficult borderline here is the one from civilian to academic life. I know this is an odd way to put it, but I have to say I'm defensive about leisure pursuits in a way I'm not sure is common to other careers. Indeed, one of my colleagues was once angrily scolded by a former supervisor for wasting her time jewelry-making when she'd shown such promise as a scholar (she and her partner make beautiful jewelry which they sell to raise funds for student scholarships!). Maybe it's just a leftover from the dissertation years -- so many of us survivors will testify to the guilt that pervades any activity other than writing during that stage. Partly it's a personality thing as well, of course. But whatever the root cause, I know that I'm burning up huge amounts of psychic and emotional energy being defiantly unproductive right now while simultaneously worrying about the academic work I could be doing! Not efficient at all. So here's a welcome distraction -- the caryopteris in full bloom.
The predecessor to this shrub was a freebie from my mom's garden, but fell victim to Skeena's puppy antics -- she either dug or chewed it into oblivion, so we bought a replacement and fenced it off 'til it grew into this. I love its delicate blue at the end of August.

Back from the garden, I did read the intro to a very interesting book today, Daniel Coleman's White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada, and I've almost finished the course outlines I have to hand out next week. I've written up the first few assignments and I'll send those off to the printshop tomorrow. When I'm immersed in the reading or the class prep, I'm generally engaged and even excited, but where I balk, I guess, is that none of this really "counts" academically, if I don't write up and publish. And since no one is actually a superman and there are finite hours to our days, and the teaching load at my college is 4 and 4 (4 courses in the fall and 4 in the spring), writing to publish would mean, realistically, giving up many of the activities I really enjoy.
My dilemma isn't so much whether or not to write to build an academic reputation/career. As a late entrant to this field (I finished my B.A. post-40 and my PhD after 50), I'm thrilled to have a position at a small university-college where I teach mainly 1st and 2nd-year courses but with a leavening of 4th-year ones as well. I have no interest in chasing more prestigious positions across the country, preferring to save my energy for relationships with my husband, my four grown children and my friends. But I want to give my best to my students, and I work hard to keep up with the scholarship in my field, to try to keep my course outlines current and interesting. With the emphasis placed in academe on publishing, I wonder, though, if this is enough. Should I, in fairness to my students, be trying to publish as well? So often, though, I read or hear of researchers who are impatient with the teaching they have to do and the time it takes away from their research. I love the teaching and I like to think that my many connections with various aspects of life--through relationships, passions, hobbies, etc.--help motivate and enliven the scholarship I bring to that teaching. Any thoughts? This one last picture is of a clematis tangutica which appears to be as confused about transitions as I am -- see that the new blossoms it's sporting are accompanied by the seeds it has already formed -- is it coming or going? or does it think, like me, that you can do more than one thing at a time?


  1. wow! What a change eh. Remember when you used to call me in Montreal and bug me to get posting? Now I am Helping you?! The garden looks great, green and glorious.
    I love you, and think that you are the most fantastic mom ever.
    Smart funny and celver.
    love ya

  2. yes, well, you have way more blogging experience than I do, and your fans are still waiting for you to get going again (just try not to get fired!)
    Thanks for the compliments -- but can I be "clever," not "celver"? (correcting the spelling, that never changes!) Smart, funny, and clever -- it seems to run in the family, girlcook!

  3. Your garden looks just lovely. I'm envious of anyone who lives where there are actual seasons, though your winters sound a bit rough.

    I'm finding that blogging is a perfect writing outlet for me with such limited time and my short attention span. Because of said SAS, I tend to be drawn to blog posts with shorter paragraphs and some visual elements. And usually when I'm doing my blog reading I also have my son periodically tugging on my arm to re-start the Thomas video or get him a glass of water, so it's tough for me to really concentrate. But I'm probably your lowest common denominator reader ;-) so take with a grain of salt.

  4. thanks for the feedback, femme -- I think you're probably fairly typical (and do kids now have blogging-mom radar like mine used to have mom's-on-the-phone radar?) and I'm going to have to work to find a balance -- maybe I'll learn to limber up on the blog and then continue that writing offsite. At any rate, it's all a great learning process!

  5. Hi,
    I feel your unease about the changing of the seasons. I have always felt a little anxiety around the arrival of September and going back to school, but this year I'm not going back to school; and rather than giving me a hightened sence of relief, I feel the opposite. I thought graduation would be celebratory; however, I tend to feel an unwelcome loss. To counter this I'm jumping on the graduate bandwagon, trying to apply for the masters I want and then the thoughts of inadequacy start to flow. Malaspina is, in my experience, a non-competitive, small university... so will I have what it takes to study Political Theory with thoes "big" "published" academic names or have I already began to dicated my future as something to be feared, rather than enjoyed? Thanks for getting me thinking!

  6. I am heartened to hear you finished your PhD past 50. Every now and then I think of going back, then say, nah. But just nice to have a reminder that it can be done. Stressful for me this coming school year, because my husband left his last teaching job and hasn't yet found another. sigh.

  7. I, for one, love your posts, in part because you seem so often to voice the ruminations and conflicts that follow me--and which I am too often fearful of voicing myself on my own blog (somehow, I picked up some local readers, and I fear colleagues knowing how I really feel about some of these subjects, coward that I am). Like any piece of literature, your blog resonates with me because it pushes me closer to things I'm on the edge of discovering.

    And while I, too, (naturally) wonder about how to blog well, I also think that what makes each blog valuable is its singularity, in that each author is discovering the way in which her world is meaningful to her as an individual while, at the same time, trying to mediate that meaning for audience and connecting to a larger community.

    As we often do when we teach, non?

    Oops--my two cents turned into a buck ten. Just keep making meaning, and I'll keep reading.

    (Though the pictures are rather pretty!)

  8. thanks for the feedback, caitlin (I think), marylou, and puttermeister
    Caitlin: as many Malaspina students before you, myself and Bronwen included, your concerns are natural but will be dispelled within the first few weeks of class, I'm quite confident. Be sure, though, that you're not entering grad school for some kind of external validation of your own worth--altho' I suspect so many of us do that. It can become such a trap, always putting your sense of self in someone else's hands, says me, speaking from experience. Go in already celebrating some of your own strength -- you have lots, you know!

    Marylou: Yes, the post-50 thing. Well, see my response to Caitlin, above -- at least by 50 I could look at some of my other life accomplishments and put the academic world in perspective. And I certainly had discipline, work habits, etc. by then. Good luck with your husband's teaching thing -- that's got to make September especially stressful.

    Puttermeister: I've e-mailed you rather than write another tome here--thanks for the encouragement and the patient reading!

  9. I have to comment about the old blog posts not getting read. Megs
    was my first intro to blogs. I would miss reading for a couple of days then read all the postings and make comments on each. Erica saw me posting a comment on a week old entry and brought me up to speed "Mom no one reads the old postings and you don't comment on them!". I guess I thought it was like conversations in our family that can go on continually and flow from room to room.

  10. Hey Hil, These young'uns and their superior experience, eh? See what mine says up above?!
    Anyway, have to disagree a bit with Erica (and say hi, too, it's been a while!) -- my comments are set up to come to me by e-mail as well as appear here, so I can see when they appear on old posts and I'm delighted to have someone bring that conversation up again--I guess it's that big family vibe with the ongoing conversation, like you say. Lots of blogs don't have such a set-up (Meg says she started that way, but then stopped the e-mail notification), so that comments on old posts would tend to get lost, just as Erica suggests, but not on mine -- so speak up whenever -- love to hear from you.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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