Thursday, 16 December 2010

Mind your manners

I'm done!  As of about ten minutes ago, all of my work for the semester is finished!  That includes my seminar paper, one big exam, and a collection of my translations for the ridiculous workshop I have written about here before.  Done, done, done!  And, as usual, the moment of elation at finally being free to take a break has been quickly replaced by a discomfiting sense of aimlessness:  what in the world will I do now?  Well, for starters, I'll update this blog.

I've been thinking lately about manners.  What are they?  Are they a codified set of rules for conduct that remain the same, from the time your mother teaches them to you all the way through adulthood?  Or is it proper that they should degrade as we get older, and that the strict manners that we learn when we are young are simply intended to form our character at an impressionable age -- therefore, we can discard these manners when we become fully-formed adults?  I ask these questions rhetorically; I am staunchly in the conservative camp when it comes to manners, and it bothers me that I feel increasingly in the minority as I notice more and more frequently all sorts of rudeness and vulgarity in my daily life, not to speak of the evanescence of some basic niceties of etiquette.

I spend most of my day at the university, where I've noticed a general flaunting of what I consider to be basic standards of politeness and proper conduct in that environment.  Am I just old-fashioned, or is it in fact incredibly rude and classless to use foul language in front of, or towards, your professor (e.g., responding to a professor's correction of your Latin translation with the d-word)?  Or to leave class in the middle of a lecture to go to the bathroom, walking directly in front of the professor?  Or to eat during class -- whether a muffin, a sandwich, or -- are you kidding me? -- soup?  I observe all of the above on a regular basis.

I find it amusing to imagine what would have happened if I'd try to get away with any one of these offenses, even in its mildest form, as a third-grader, say.  I'd have been dealing with quite the talking-to from my teacher or a heart-to-heart with the principal.  For good reason then, and for good reason now.  Although I realize that I sound like someone's grandmother to say so, the basic principle underlying all of the rules of conduct we obeyed at school was simply respect for our teachers and, secondarily, our fellow students.  I don't think respect is any less essential when you're twenty-five than when you're five.

I'll leave this topic to rest here, because I don't like feeling my crotchety old lady self coming out, even though I know that in this case, she's right.  In any case, the holidays are a good time to make a special effort to be gracious, both in the special rituals of the season and in day-to-day interactions.  Let's all make our mamas proud.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

In the zone

Right now I'm enjoying the last few minutes of a peaceful, relaxing Saturday morning before I get down to business.  I'm sitting in bed with the covers pulled up to my chest, still wearing my flannel Christmas tree-print PJ pants, with a couple of issues of the Economist sitting to my left and a just-emptied coffee cup on my right.  I have a belly full of homemade coffee cake, and I'm looking out my window through the bare tree limbs at the water of Narragansett Bay, shining in the sun.  It's a wonderful Saturday morning indeed.

While I have no plans to divest of the flannel pants or take a shower anytime soon, I do have a firm resolution to be back to work on my seminar paper exactly thirteen minutes from now.  This is the project that has occupied my week, and as during every finals period, it has nearly wholly obsessed my attention.  Which is a bit of a shame, as it has put me a bit behind in observance of the Christmas season.  This week, my major accomplishments in that area have been taking down my Halloween decorations (I did hate to see the string of skull lights go) and attending Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  In this intense period of researching, writing, and generally doing battle with the anxieties imposed by my academic responsibilities, I need to be more careful not to get so far into the "zone" that I lose track of things that are more important (by which I don't mean getting the Christmas decorations up, to clarify).

I'd like to write more, but I am determined to stick to my schedule today, which means that my rear end must be in my office chair exactly three minutes from now.  Toes to the floor!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Thanksgiving redux

Tonight I happily took part in yet another Thanksgiving feast, this one with twenty or so colleagues who also happen to be excellent cooks.  I lustily scarfed down all of the foods the whole family missed out on last week, when, thanks to the stomach flu, chicken soup as about exciting as the menu got.  Between dinner and dessert, we all gathered in a circle in the living room, and each of us in turn shared with the group what he or she was thankful for.  My turn came up quickly, and even though we've technically just finished the Thanksgiving holiday proper and I should still have my list on the tip of my tongue, I got caught off-guard.  By the time we'd gone around the circle, I wished I could have another turn -- so I'm giving myself one now.  Here, then, are a few important things I left out.

1. I'm thankful that I get to spend nearly all day, every day, reading, thinking, and learning about subjects that interest me.  When I really stop to think about what a privilege this is -- people, I actually get paid to do this -- my mind boggles.  It's easy to lose sight of how lucky I am when I get caught up in what I might ungratefully think of as the "daily grind" of academic life, which does, after all, require that I spend a fair number of hours out of the week doing work and attending events that are a real, no-two-ways-about-it waste of time.  But, for the most part, my daily work is all for the benefit of my own intellectual development, in one way or another -- how many people can say that?

2.  I am thankful to be hopeful about the future.  Personally and professionally, I have plenty to look forward to in 2011 and beyond.  While I am frequently amazed by how providentially my last couple of years here have unfolded, sometimes I forget to compare my current state of mind to the one I held not too long ago.  For one thing, I thought it pretty improbable -- not unreasonably, I still maintain -- that I would ever meet someone I would want to spend the rest of my life with.  It is amazing how much difference a hopeful outlook can make on the quality of daily life.

3.  I am thankful to have a wealth of vivid memories of places I've been and people I've known to draw on whenever I like, and sometimes involuntarily.  I've been fortunate to have traveled many places and to have gotten to know a lesser number of places extremely well, and it is an extraordinary gift to be able to return to an old familiar street, to put myself back in the company of an old friend or an interesting acquaintance, or to without even willing it be hurled across the country or across the ocean in my mind at the sight or sniff of an evocative image or smell.  No matter where I go from here, I'll bring all of my experiences with me, and I'm thankful for that.

There are plenty of other things, too, big and little, abstract and concrete.  It would take quite a few Thanksgivings to recognize and meditate fittingly upon all of the things I'm grateful for and should be more grateful for.  Multiple Thanksgivings, hm -- not a bad idea.