Why does it seem as if my days are more miscellaneous than usual lately? I suppose one cause is the relative lack of routine that comes with being on sabbatical. This week was also another busy one in the kitchen make-over that we began in April: we finally got the countertop installed on Monday, which meant that the final plumbing and electrical work could get done on Tuesday. Hooray for having a proper sink again! All that remains to be done is the wall tile and then some touch-up painting, so I’ve been moving our plates and cups and pots and pans into the cabinets and getting back to cooking regular meals. The whole project was a lot of work, especially for my husband (who basically did all the work of a general contractor, plus a remarkable amount of research into fixtures and appliances), and also quite a bit of disruption, but we managed better than we’d feared with our temporary kitchen set-up and somewhat ad hoc menus including several casseroles that I made and froze ahead of time. It is nice to be putting things to rights again — and especially to have everything in the kitchen all shiny and new and in perfect working order!
I didn’t get a lot of really focused work done this week as a result of the commotion and distractions. But I did finish up and submit one writing project, and that means I’ve cleared the deck for another one with an early June deadline. (As that’s a book review for a book I haven’t actually received yet, I’m getting a bit anxious about the timing — I read (and reread, and write) pretty slowly when I’m doing a formal review. On the other hand, there’s nothing more motivating than a looming due date!) I had a work-related meeting to go to on Thursday and used the rest of my time on campus to do some administrative chores, like completing my Annual Report. This is actually a good stock-taking exercise, and it’s interesting to look back at earlier ones to see not just what I’ve accomplished but how the nature of my accomplishments has changed over time. I’m an examiner for a PhD comprehensive exam that’s taking place next week, so the committee has also been finalizing exam questions.
As for my reading, well, it has mostly been quite desultory since I finished Unbroken. I started Aislinn Hunter’s The World Before Us and was liking it fine until it turned out to be inhabited by some kind of ghosts or spirits — I guess by the time I finish it I will be better able to grasp why they seemed like something the novel needed, but at this point they just seem a rather twee distraction.
I put that book aside to concentrate on my book club reading for Monday, Conrad’s The Secret Agent (which we chose as a good follow-up to Lessing’s The Good Terrorist. It’s funny: there are markings in my copy that suggest I read it once before (presumably for an undergraduate course, as it has my unmarried name on the flyleaf and) but I have absolutely no recollection of doing so, or of any of its details. Once I got going I found it quite engrossing. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Conrad’s style, which struck me as conspicuously Dickensian here, in its flourishes and its imagery as well as in its evocation of London’s crowded streets and peculiar characters. It seems much clearer here than in Lessing that there’s no sympathy to be had for those who plot destruction. I found myself wondering if it would even be possible to write a novel that takes the other point of view. Generalizing about “the novel” is always risky, of course, and I’m sure someone will set me straight (Tom, probably) with examples that make nonsense of this suggestion, but the novel seems so directed towards individuals — and certainly both Lessing and Conrad emphasize that terrorism requires thinking instead about abstractions. The same is true (isn’t it?) about war: its requirements are dehumanizing, which is precisely the tendency great war novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front resist. I can imagine a novel that makes a much stronger case for political revolution or violence than either The Good Terrorist or The Secret Agent, but it certainly would need radicals who don’t speak in empty slogans, or appear either ridiculous (as both Michaelis or Ossipon, in their own ways, do) or flat out terrifying, like the Professor.
Finally, I’ve been giving Buffy the Vampire Slayer another try, as I needed another TV show to distract me on the treadmill. (As it has warmed up — somewhat, some days — I’m almost ready to start running outside again, though I’m a bit wary because I’m still struggling with leg and foot pain, diagnosed in the fall as a variety of tendinitis, and the switch to running on pavement last summer seems to have been one cause.) This is my third attempt at Buffy, and it’s motivated by knowing how many of my friends think the show is just great. I’m about 5 episodes into Season 1, which is three further than I’ve ever made it before, but I’m still really turned off by how cheesy the vampires (and other supernatural beings) are, by the hokey melodramatic plots about them, by the cliched dialogue (I realize some of it is tongue-in-cheek), and by the rest of the show basically seeming like a low-grade teen drama. I guess my question for Buffy fans is: does it change? or is this what it’s like, and I either have to get in the groove or go back to watching The West Wing for the fourth time? Maybe I’m just too earnest for its arch style, or too literal for its blood-sucking, shape-shifting gimmickry.