New Year’s Goals 2017

I find goal setting useful, and doing so in a somewhat public way even better for self-accountability. I have found that setting goals for different things regularly actually helps me get more realistic about it, especially in how to build in flexibility. So on that note, here’s my Goals for 2017:

Teaching

I’m going to be able to teach a course in my specialty area over the summer, assuming it meets registration minimums that is. I want to be careful to write this one well, and plan ahead to make sure I don’t over-do it. It’s totally true of first time teachers, both in the sense of being new to the classroom (which I am not) and in terms of building a new course from scratch (which I am), that the temptation is to be too ambitious. I’m going to follow the general technique I used last summer of building the course thematically, because that worked out very well (see my earlier post “English Renaissance Lit: The 5 Week Edition” for details).  The difference though is that this upcoming class isn’t quite as period centered like last year (Literature of the English Renaissance); it’s Middle English Language and Culture. I haven’t taught a full-scale language course in a few years, so this will be a welcome but challenging return and review. It’s also going to be a challenge to combine grammar and vocabulary building with literature and material culture, all in a 6 week hybrid course. I’m looking forward to this.

I also want to plan to re-focus the writing 101 course that I’ll likely teach in the fall to center more on the actual craft of writing. I’m considering using the trivium to help do that, and I also want to find a reader that students might actually read. I’ve finally found a handbook I like and a way to get students to actually use it, but I still need that reader and possibly something on the trivium itself.

I also want to work on the research components of all writing and literature classes to develop a basic guide/review to use in all levels of both composition and literature courses. I have such a set of notes for basic composition, but I am realizing the need for one concerning research and citation as well. I was grading the first set of homework in a sophomore level literature course yesterday afternoon and I found myself thinking “We’re going to have to go over in-text citation”. I then had almost the exact same thought going through the homework for a section of composition 102 (intro to lit).

Scholarship

Once I again, I resolve to post once a month, or 12 posts this year. I may not be exactly on time each month, but I found last year that making myself come up with something each month, even though sometimes thinking of a topic was hard, was good way to keep myself reminded of the need to make time for non-teaching related work.

On that note, I am setting myself a schedule for scholarly time. This practice is recommended in “how to survive academia” articles all the time, and it’s a good point.  I’m undecided whether it’s better to do 1 hour a day or 1 day a week. I’m leaning towards the former as more productive, especially since I think the best writing advice I’ve heard from an author (Joann Fluke writes fiction but her advice is still applicable) was to always stop before you’re fully done with a thought, so you have a place to go when you pick up again.  I’ve tried the one day a week, and I’m not sure that way was as productive as it could have been for me. I’m going to try the one hour a day most days, and see how that goes for a while.

As of now, I have 2 things to work on. First, I am starting to get into new project. I presented the first part at a conference last summer (NCS 2016), and I’m going to present the second part at a conference this coming summer (Gower Society 2017).  As I do the research for this second part, I need to keep developing and writing the first part while also keeping an eye on an outline for the article version.

My second project is to go back to my dissertation to see what I might do about converting it into a book. This year I think it’ll be a do-able goal to set up a plan for what to fix, remove, and add to turn it into a book manuscript. I haven’t really looked at it in almost 2 years, and I think the time away will be good for a change in perspective.

Personal

If someone told me a few years ago that I would have to make an active effort to do fun, non-work reading, I’d have thought they were crazy. Then, candidacy and dissertating happened. I built up quite a pile of future personal reading over the two years it took to complete my dissertation, and I’m still working on it, although admittedly I also keep adding to it. Something I’ve found motivating, helpful, and just fun is that I’ve joined a book review blog group; this will be my 3rd year there. The basic premise of Cannonball Reads is to read and review 52 books per year; that’s called a Cannonball. The first and second year I thought it would be more realistic to do a half-Cannonball (i.e. 26 read and reviews). This was manageable the first time, but last year (2016) I actually managed a full 52. This year, I plan to repeat that effort. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s less the reading time than the reviewing time that causes more time management problems. I’ve noticed that the reviewing really forces me to evaluate why I react to a book the way I did, and that’s useful, since part of my job is to help my students figure out how express such things. I also like the social, community aspect of the whole thing, and it raises money for cancer research.

In addition, I intend to be more active on Goodreads. I’ve been pretty good about updating what I read, but not much in the way of reviews. I don’t think I’ll be able to present full reviews of everything I read, but I plan to at least comment briefly on most things I read and rate this upcoming year.

 

Medieval with Social Media

I’m a little late with my December post, but better late than never. I decided to look back at the past year and consider what kind of social media and digital things have been most useful to me during 2016.

There are certainly plenty of specialized academic and popular subject websites and pages, but finding the right ones for a given purpose is hit or miss. Many of the best are sponsored by academics via universities or libraries (eChaucer, DIMEV, Fordham Sourcebooks, etc) but even so, you need to get lucky with the right search at the right time to find them. Increasingly, it seems that web searching may not always be the best way to keep track of useful sources. Instead, using other digital resources like social media are becoming more useful for finding and following academic and popular resources.

Twitter is very useful for finding out about academic sources and news. I’ve found more CFPs and useful sites here than any other social media or list-serve. I came to Twitter late. I was at a conference over the summer (NCS July 2016) and ran into someone I knew from graduate school who told me that I should be on Twitter because he’d found some good professional opportunities there. I sign up and within a few weeks I find a promising CFP and a few websites I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (an open access edition of Chaucer for example). Following academic specialist publishers is also quite handy for keeping up with new publications but not getting stuck with a disorganized and overloaded email or mail inbox. I don’t feel at all bad about checking my Twitter account at work, as I use it mostly for professional, academic purposes, although I do follow some entertainment and non-medieval or literary sorts of things.

Facebook is less useful for professional news, but is good for keeping in touch with specific people, and for posing questions-problems to a specific group without the hassle of putting together an email group. I admit I use this more for personal and entertainment purposes than anything else.

Blogs {Blogspot, WordPress, etc} are also proving useful for following the state of the field. A lot of academics are blogging about project ideas or progress, and these are often posted by or re-posted by professional organizations like the Medieval Academy of America or the British Library.

Youtube is useful for in-class demo stuff, but not as much for academic sources. Movie clips and recitations are useful tools, but I haven’t found a good use for the informational videos that are there (and some of them look pretty good).

Google+: I haven’t checked this in a long time, and I don’t know anyone who really uses it for anything other than personal social media interests. Does anyone use Google+ for scholarly or educational networking or resources?

I don’t do Instagram or Pinterest, but I would imagine that these have some limited uses for a medieval literary scholar, particularly for images, and material culture and/or reproduction.

I also am not on Reddit. I suspect it is the least useful for specialist interests, as it relies on user feedback to drive what stories and discussions show up more or less prominently.

Tumblr is also not a site I use. As a multi-media blog site, I suspect this one might be the one that has the most potential of the sites I don’t use. I follow some authors (fiction) through other sites (Twitter and Goodreads mostly) who use Tumblr, but I don’t know of much of an academic presence on this one.

The last 3 social media/ web tools seem to have a greater focus on networking and professional uses.

Skype/Snapchat: I’ve only used Skype twice, and those for professional purposes. Once was during my dissertation defense when one of my committee members was in Norway on a Fulbright that semester, and the other was a first round job interview for the position that I now have. I’ve heard the Skype interview is becoming more the norm, at least for first round interviews as it gives the hiring committee a chance to see the person and interact/react a bit more directly. I also read that when technology problems arise (and they will-there were all sorts of techy issues during my interview) it gives the hiring committee a chance to see the candidate react under pressure. I’ve also seen Skype used during a conference presentation when, due to special circumstances, a presenter was allowed to give her paper via Skype. I was told by an advisor that one of the keys to presenting yourself well in one of these interviews (since first impressions can be important) is to be sure that you are not looking at the screen straight one, because this means that given the likely placement of the camera, that you will be seen as actually looking down at the hiring committee, which is not a flattering angle and also has some associations a candidate would want to avoid. Instead, you want to have the computer or camera above your head a little so it looks like you’re looking at or up to the people you’re talking to.  I’ve never used Snapchat, but I suspect it does not have the same professional type uses. It strikes me as more of an IM or texting app.

Academia.edu: I heard someone describe this as Facebook for academics. I only half agree with that. It’s accurate in that you post your thoughts and ideas, although in this platform they’re articles, publications, teaching ideas, etc, and people can see and comment, or download what you post. This site can be a good way to see what people are up to in terms of publishing and also to get yourself out in public, but then there’s the risk of if you put it on Academia, you may not be able to submit it for publication with a journal. Most journals have pretty strict rules about not taking previously published work. Where I disagree with the Facebook comparison is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion or sharing surrounding posts. It’s possible to comment, but seems to be rarely done. The most interesting feature is that Academia alerts you when someone searches you name on Google. This becomes a little annoying around registration time when students try to research possible instructors using Google.

LinkedIn: I think this site has more use for someone not interesting in pursuing an academic career. I only found one academic posting that I could go for, and most everyone else I know on this site is through non-academic affiliations (family, and some friends who are not looking to be university teachers/scholars). It looks like a good tool for pursuing connections in the professional world, but not as useful for a scholar or post-secondary teacher. The application-profile site that seems to be more popular in academic job searching would be Interfolio which is a for-profit service.

A Return to Medieval Composition Basics

I was reminded recently of something most teachers know but easily forget: when you draft assignments, you need to have outcomes in mind first. Setting the goal and ideal result first allows you to target the assignment better to specific learning outcomes.

As I consider how to revise and strengthen my composition courses for the spring semester and beyond, I am deciding on an experiment. But first, here’s the background. My composition 101 classes are currently in the middle of a research project. This time around I decided to split the assignment in half: part 1 is a report on a subject chosen by the student, and part 2 is an interpretive argument concerning the best possible position or solution. With the first part, students struggled with 3 things overall: distinguishing primary and secondary sources, keeping their own interpretive opinions out, and citation. Part 2 is currently in progress.

The last issue concerning citation was the least surprising, but in observing student putting together potential bibliographies, I noticed something striking. When putting together a bibliography entry, many students automatically go to the citation generators (not the surprise), which are not especially accurate (also unsurprising). The surprise came when I insisted on annotations including rhetorical situation, students could not locate basic information like the date of publication, the organization or publication names, and in some cases the author. I think I’m really going to have to refocus my composition-based courses on writing techniques, including fundamentals of grammar, structure, and citation. I’m not really looking forward to the worksheets and technical exercises but if that’s what I have to do to get students to write, then I will. I’m really starting to think, as a practicing composition teacher, that students don’t need all the emphasis on critical thinking; they need help with expressing the ideas they have more effectively.

All of this is by way of saying that I am going to be writing a draft of the research essay assignment myself this weekend. I don’t think it will take more than a few hours, because I’m not planning on revising it. Instead, I’m giving it to students to critique. Normally, I don’t like giving students models because then they just follow that blueprint, instead of creating their own argument structures. Again, I believe that students can think on their own just fine; they just can’t write according to traditional academic standards. This is not an especially new idea, but I want to use this as an experiment to see if students target technical errors, or argumentative-content-based ones. If I’m right, students are going to find more fault with the argumentation and ideas, than with technical flaws.

I wonder if the reason my students had so much trouble with the report section of the research assignment was because they have become so used to critical thinking and analysis requirements, that they can’t just report and record information on a focused subject. I’m not saying that the focus on critical thinking skills is bad; I am saying that maybe we also need to spend more time on the basics. That’s my new outcome of focus.

The medieval theory of the seven liberal arts may be a good place to start looking for solutions. I’m thinking that I’m going to want to base future composition classes on the trivium: grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Granted, I’ll be using the terms in more modern senses, but it might just be useful. Instead of Donatus and Priscian, the grammar lessons will probably come from a hand book and I might also include a grammar book (The Deluxe Transitive Vampire is one of my favorites) as required reading. This part will work especially well in an intro to literature class, as the medieval discussions of grammatica tend to focus a lot of figures of speech and poetry.  Rhetoric may include some Aristotle and Cicero, but will likely be more based on a reader. I still haven’t found a favorite yet.  For dialectic, I’m working on that still. I’m not an expert on formal logic, and I don’t think the conventions of disputation would work well. Students can pull up supporting ideas and references easily enough thanks to Internet search engines; it’s the explanations and reasoning that tend to be the problem, and medieval disputation might be too complex on those levels for general, introductory courses.

So, returning to the original thought, I am working on a new set of outcomes in mind for introductory courses in writing and literature (which are labeled as composition courses at my institution). I need to codify them in some more detail, but they will be based on the medieval principles of the artes liberales.

Updates, or why books are better

Technology and software updates are now a fact of life. But they are still a supreme annoyance when major changes are made. For example, I have an I-Pad and an OS update was recently issued for it that made some major changes in both the user interface and in some of the permanent apps. I hate the new way News is set up, and it’s so much less customizable and user friendly. The worst part though is that if you go into the app store, there’s no option to review it. It’s like Apple did this on purpose, knowing it would upset people but not caring. There was no need for such extensive revisions; I liked the app. But now I can’t see everything list chronologically the way I could before, and if I want to see all the listings from a favorite publication, I can’t just look for that; I have to look through all of the articles for the general subject category, and they’re no longer in clear chronological order.

I understand the need to update things, and I know change can be irritating. With the same system update I also had to relearn how to convert a Pages file, but it was easy enough to figure out. Pages itself remains much the same in terms of function and interface. This kind of thing I am accepting of. Complete overhauls that change things for the worse and that give no outlet for venting, not so much.

I do have a relevant point here, not just a rant against the new I-Pad OS. With technology, these problems are inevitable; the case as much with innovations in actual books is different. As funny as it is, I doubt here is much realism in the following link to a video concerning medieval tech support: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ

When new structures were added to books, they did not change the entire interface or functionality of the object. Instead, often “updates” were added to help with use, including indices, TOC, text titles, glosses, or accesus (a technical term that basically means an abstract). The following images are from British Library Additional MS 11859, a 15th century book containing the Gospels:

marginal-notes

The penciled-in addition in the upper margin and the note on the outer R margin do not alter the main interface, but adds further information.

Similarly,

toc

This table of contents was added much later (you can tell by the handwriting as well as the fact that it’s in pencil), but does not interfere with the original function or user interface. Instead it provides optional extra information.

You had the option of customizing a book as you chose. For example, BL Add. MS 22283 (possibly my favorite book in the BL):

283

Not only does this book have decoration, it also has some added notes (you can see in the upper R corner of this page).

Another adaptation was to have the original text surrounded by professional scholarly commentary as in Add MS 11727, Thucydides’ Historiae with scholia by Marcellinus:

scolia-added

You could even leave feedback for posterity concerning something that happened to the page, for good or bad. For example, in Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249:

Caption: Cursed be this cat for peeing over my book! (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)

The finger pointing to the smudge and the note explain what happened, are a fifteenth century version of a feedback comment (namely the monk/scribe’s annoyance at how a cat had altered his work in progress).

Such innovations were usually added alongside what was already present.  Major changes, such as from scroll to codex, or from parchment to paper, happened gradually, and rarely were total. An exception could be when the printing press was introduced, as to my knowledge there would not be a good way to reproduce a scroll-style text using the mechanism, although you probably could print a series of pages and the attach them in scroll form?

Whether or not the technology would make scrolls possible, the codex represents an improved interface simply because it makes for more convenient back and forth between locations in the text. Even if you preferred the scroll form, the change from scroll to codex was gradual, like the change-over from VCR to DVDs. VCRs were still being made until 2016, decades after the introduction of the DVD, so if you had a preference for the older technology, you had a long while to make the change. It wasn’t forced upon you suddenly.

A note on the images: I have included the links to the original sources, though not always the exact page, all of which all publicly available online.

English Renaissance Lit: The 5 Week Edition

This summer was a busy one. There were 2 main highlights: a trip/conference to London ( for details, see last month’s entries), and teaching a major-level English class. This class was a first for me on several levels. Never before have I taught an upper level class, a hybrid class, or an evening class. The kicker was that this class only ran for 5 weeks with 3 meetings per week, each 3 hours long. I have to say, it went so much better than I could have expected. Here’s how:

Much of the credit goes to the students. This was a small group of about 10 students, many of whom knew each other from other classes. This made discussion much easier, and given that they were mostly English majors, everyone was confident enough in their ideas to speak up.

As a class that had a condensed schedule, the thing that I spent the most time on was figuring out to cover the English Renaissance minus Shakespeare in 5 weeks. In the end I am pleased with the decision I made to use daily genres. Each period had one or two representative works in a given genre, unless it was some type of lyric poem (in that case, I used a few representative authors). I think that in addition to building in a focus each class period, this allowed for some surprises. I doubt students were surprised to see sonnets and drama (one day on comedy, and one on revenge tragedy) on the reading calendar, but I don’t think many of them had looked at Renaissance letters or thought about Renaissance prose fiction before. The day we spent on correspondence was a favorite, especially thanks to a letter from Henry VII to Anne Boleyn in which he expresses his wish “my self (specially an Evening) in my Sweethearts Armes whose pritty Duckys I trust shortly to kysse“. The ensuing discussion about “he’s the king; he’s supposed to sound formal” vs “he’s a man; this is about right” was both in-depth consideration of gender as well as entertaining.

This was a class that covered a lot of poetry, and I think what made it more interesting for students was to give them some new techniques to consider. Early on we spent some time with meter and formal components of poetry, and I think that also is an area that doesn’t get taught as much as it should. I think this made it easier to distinguish between some of the different types and schools of lyric poetry that we looked at.

Students also seemed to like looking at some of the technical elements of epic poetry as well. I was surprised at how much the class seemed to enjoy Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and I think part of it was that we’d done enough technical work that they were able to appreciate and understand some of the intricacies of structure. Admittedly, the fantasy element probably helped too, as over half the class were self-proclaimed geeks who got into a discussion the first day of class concerning the benefits of DC versus Marvel.

I was also a little nervous about the 3 hour class meetings and the online component but those went well too. Part of using daily genres meant that we could and did spend at least a half hour looking at definitive features, and identifying them in the texts, which lead into the more expected discussions of theme, style, etc. Add in historical context, and there were quite a few days where we either went slightly over time, or had to cut off to end on time. Again, much credit to the students, but I think I will definitely be using these design techniques again.

I scheduled the online time as one of our three weekly meetings each week. This put the class at 4 online days (5 weeks minus 1 Monday off for Memorial Day). I don’t think this would work as well for a longer or lower level class, but I decided to have each online session include a discussion prompt (you had to present your own ideas and respond to at least one of your classmates) and a brief response essay on a more open assigned prompt. I intentionally tried to make these days things students would have some interest or familiarity with already to make up for the lack of background lecture- info like women’s writings and long prose fiction. Students were largely positive about this set-up on a final class evaluation I asked them to fill out concerning the class. I find creating my own surveys helps me find out more about student responses to the class than the institutional ones which look largely at teaching instead of class structure or content. The one change to the class based on these surveys I think I would make is that for prose fiction, instead of excerpts from 2 texts (Sydney’s Old Arcadia and More’s Utopia) I’d focus on one, probably Arcadia since it’s the lesser known and more focused on fiction, as opposed to the satire driven Utopia based on politics and cultural observation. Alternatively, I might keep both but use a different way of connecting the two, maybe focusing on the fantasy elements.

I think the biggest compliment I got about the class was at one of the last sessions when one student commented, “This old stuff is actually pretty interesting. I might have to look at more of it.”

London: The Conference Part

Some things about academic conferences never change, including:

The age old conference problem: the struggle and irritation that comes with trying to choose which sessions to attend when several that run at the same time look equally interesting/valuable.

The eternal temptation: the discounted books at the publisher displays, many of which are fairly new publications.

The not-totally professorial one-liners: “Showing the contents of your flash-drive {on the big lecture hall screen} is like showing your underwear”, “sexy pictures of text pages”, “The Aeneid is equivalent to flatulence”, and “he’s either a bad poet or the Stephen Hawking of meter”.

Most importantly, the one thing that doesn’t change is coming home with all kinds of new ideas to research-write about-work into current projects, things to look up, and teaching possibilities. I had never thought of using gender and queer theory to analyze manuscript layouts before, had never heard or seen the term ‘mise en page’ before, and never thought of marginal manuscript illustrations as “click-bait” (image of women with mirror = selfie, monkey riding goat = Youtube hits, cats = cats, etc.). I also got some useful information about a manuscript I’m working on and some good ideas about how the written manuscripts might relate to some early printed editions. And as usual, I also have a long list of books that might be useful to try to find which may or may not be useful.

Some things are unique to a given conference and venue, like the lecture hall right on top of a Tube line, so you could hear the periodic rumble-rush of trains throughout the panel. I can only imagine having to teach in that hall. Others have to do with the nature of the conference itself. Only at a focused gathering like the New Chaucer Society might the following be funny: you are out for a walking tour of Chaucer’s London with a group of experts, mostly PhDs, and run into a basic question like “who was St Botolf”? That’s relevant because there was a parish church in London, St Botolf’s Without Aldgate, that Chaucer may have attended. This church still exists, although not exactly in the same form as the original. None of the dozen or so medieval specialists knew the answer (including the walk leaders, eminent historian and literary scholar though they were), so Professor Google was consulted by one of the younger scholars present (me). It turns out St Botolf was a 7th century English abbot and saint (not martyr) who watches over travelers and some elements of farming. His feat day differs depending on whether you’re English or Scottish (it’s in June either way- 17th or 25th).

There will always be technology problems. We were on a campus that used PCs and it seems like most of the scholars were used to Macs. I personally am a PC person, so it didn’t bother me as much, but I was a little surprised at the degree of struggle some people were having. The more standard problem was when one scholar had to give her paper via Skype, and there were issues getting that set up, and once she was up onscreen, someone from the next room came over to see if we could turn the volume down.

Technology also factored into the conference in ways that are becoming the norm. I allowed myself to get a little distracted at one panel watching the graduate student in front of me Tweet the whole panel. The closing keynote also included a few references to contemporary digital culture, including a Youtube video “Chaucerian Pubbe Joke” (I looked it up; it’s funny for about a minute then gets irritating) and the original LOL Cat “I can haz cheeseburger?”. The talk itself was actually a textual analysis of Chaucer’s use of “the speaking face” trope, particularly in Troilus and Criseyde and Book of the Duchess. On a side note, I found it interesting that people who were taking notes during this final lecture were almost exclusively younger, probably students.

Lastly, there is the blessing/curse of GoogleMaps. We were in a part of London not included on a lot of published maps, so I (and a lot of others) needed a way to figure out getting around. It makes sense on the level that QMUL is not in a touristy part of the city’s East End. Even in more tourist parts of the city, I ended up relying on my phone which can be really frustrating when it doesn’t want to work. I spent a good half hour around Tower Bridge panicking over my phone telling me it had no GPS signal while trying to find a specific pub meeting point. Because of a lot of construction on one end of the bridge and some not well posted signs, I had gotten lost, and the area was not mapped in the level of detail I needed on the map I had with me. After 2 restarts and almost running out of battery, I eventually did get the app working and find the place I needed. The route was not very straightforward, but I got where I needed to be just about on time.

London: The Tourist Part

This month will be a 2-parter. Today will be tourist; next time will be professional. The situation that merits both of these possibilities at the same time is an international conference, in particular the Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society 2016 in London, England.

I have been to London before, but it’s always fun to come back and see old favorites and find new ones. I am glad that I kept good notes from last time, otherwise I never would have figured out that my favorite bubble tea place (Up-T) in Chinatown was gone, and in its place was fried chicken fast food type place. The other bubble tea place (a small chain) I know of at least still had my favorite (rose-milk) so it evens out. Thank you, Bubbleology.

I also had to go back to Brixton, even though I prefer the markets at Camden, because Brixton has 2 things Camden doesn’t: Ms Cupcake and market kitties. There’s a lot of grocery vendors, butchers, and fishmongers in the Brixton market, and last time and now there’s a few friendly resident presumably stray kitties hanging out. Ms Cupcake is a vegan cake shop (apparently the first vegan bakery in London) and while I’m not fully vegan myself, I do like that kind of baking. Plus, who doesn’t like a cupcake? I was a little disappointed that the day I went, they didn’t have my favorite flavor (Jaffa cake) but that just means I had to find a new favorite (strawberries and creme). I was a little disappointed in the Bounty-inspired cupcake though; there was as much frosting as cake, and the chocolate cake was a little dry.

If you have a smart phone, I would strongly recommend getting a UK SIM card so you can use your phone; it’s particularly handy for data. At least on my plan, it’s cheaper than using international rates with the original (US) SIM. Google to find addresses and Google maps to get to them are great tools to have. The only down side is that it’s a little more expensive now than it was almost 3 years ago. Then again, the pound was much stronger last time I was here, so maybe the additional 5 is not all that much more. Either way, 1 month’s worth of data, text, and phone is worth it, although this time I won’t be using anywhere close to all of it, and the calling capacity is only local (beyond can be added but of course that’s extra).

Last time I was here, I was staying for 5 weeks, so I decided it would be worth it to rent a small studio. This time, I’m only staying 11 days. The conference location is a university which opens up the dorms during the summer, but the few days I’m in town before that, I’m at a hostel. It’s been a while since I’ve done that. Thankfully, the one I’m at seems to be a good one (clean, reasonably quiet, people who know the etiquette). There’s always a few things without which a hostel stay is not complete, including walking in on or being walked in on by a roommate of the opposite sex, waking up in a room with more people than when you went to sleep, bad techno pop playing in the lounge, a room about the size of my office that’s supposed to fit up to 5 people and their belongings).

Since I was here for a while last time, and I planned on visiting some old favorites, I decided to see how well I remembered how to get around. The route I traveled the most was walking from the British Library back to where I was staying. I was able to use the same path this trip because the hostel I’m at this time is on the way to the flat I had last time. It’s about a 4 mile hike, but since I don’t have a gym here, the exercise is necessary. Also, on my first full day in town, exercise is also a known help with jet lag. I recommend it. It’s nice too to be able to to check out the local shops and scenery. I only got lost/turned around once, and even then I was able to figure my way back pretty quickly. I also remembered enough to be able to give directions off the top of my head to Harrods. I was kind of proud of myself for that. Then I got to the grocery store I’d been heading to, only to find it overrun with what I’m guessing was a school trip. The students were loading up on soda, chips, cookies, and candy. Not that I was much better, being there to stock up on trifle mixes.

In addition to at least seeing Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and the British Museum, the other thing one must do when in London is visit the Globe Theatre and see a play. Even if you’re not a literature person, everyone should see live Shakespeare at least once, and why not do it in the original style? Especially since Macbeth is on right now. I have to admit I’ve never considered that play as a horror story but that’s how it was presented. On one hand, it was genius because so much of that play is psychological (lots of soliloquies) and the horror-suspense genre works very well in presenting that in a non-boring way. On the other, the way it was done obscured the best parts, i.e. the wyrd sisters. On the plus side again was that during one of the comic interludes with the porters, they worked in a Trump knock-knock joke.

The other cool thing about the Globe is that it’s near some some neat places to explore, including an open air market. After the show, there’s a branch of one of my favorite UK chains nearby for dinner. I double checked the Wagamama website to remind myself exactly where the place was in relation to the theatre, and it looks like they’ve changed some of my favorite menu items. I was a little nervous about that, and rightly so. It wasn’t that the food was bad, but it was not what I remembered, and I really liked what I remembered. The Boroughs Market though was just as I remembered it with all sorts of tempting yummies (it’s mostly food vendors), and a great place to go for lunch before the show. In the other direction, towards the Tate Art Museum, there were 2 young men with typewriters set up as “Poet for hire”, “Poetry, short stories, suicide notes, whatever you want, while you wait”, “Pay whatever you g*dd**n please”.

The British Library has got to be one of my favorite places, and main reasons to visit London. It’s certainly the main reason I flew in almost a week before the conference started. I’ve never been there in the summer though, and this is their busiest season, since most of the researchers are out of school. I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I was worried about getting a seat, as the manuscript reading room is not terribly large (at least compared to some of the other reading rooms). I knew enough to call up the manuscripts I needed in advance, so at least that wasn’t a problem. The first time I was here, during non-peak research season, there was a line to get into the building about a half hour before they opened, and when they did open, everyone ran to the lockers, and then booked it to wherever in the library they were planning to work. I was expecting the same, only ten times worse/busier.

I got there almost 2 hours before the library opened just to see how bad it might be, but at this point they hadn’t even opened the gates into the courtyard. So I went back to a favorite coffee shop nearby to relax a little. When I checked back about an hour before the library opened, the courtyard was now open, but practically empty. The line didn’t really start forming until 20 minutes or so before the building opened. The one part of all of this that I was right about was the length of the line right before opening. It was at least twice as long as I remember it getting. Thankfully, I was near the front. There wasn’t quite the mad rush to the lockers and then onwards that I remembered either. It all worked out in the end. After the conference, instead of going to Canterbury, I went back to the library to go back to 2 of the manuscripts. The biggest difference this time was that I recognized half of the full reading room as conference attendees.

Transitioning to the conference venue went fine although hauling a suitcase through the Tube system is always an adventure. The venue itself (Queen Mary University) was easy to find, and the dorm housing is pretty nice. There’s a good sized desk, and private bathrooms. This was a really nice surprise, coming from the hostel setting. Even though it’s tiny, as in I had to stand in the shower to brush my teeth over the sink, the privacy and convenience is nice. I met my across the hall neighbor when I got in (also here for the conference) and then I realized that I could hear her having a phone conversation while we were in our respective rooms. I’d forgotten how little sound insulation there is in college dorms.

I spent most of Sunday before the conference opens (1pm) exploring the area a bit more. I found 2 promising coffee shops. The closer one has pretty good coffee. I got to The Coffee Room maybe 30 minutes after they opened, and they weren’t too busy. By an hour after opening, it was (busy that is). People watching in places like this is always fun. Two men came in for coffee, one American and one Scandinavian (I think; I couldn’t quite place his accent). They proceeded to have a mock argument in front of the Italian barista on the correct or at least permissible ways to pronounce “croissant”. It was entertaining.

Coffee Shop 2 is Mouse Tail. While not as ideal for hanging out in (due to the general set up), the coffee might actually be a little better than Coffee Room. The problem is that Mouse Tail is about a 15 minute walk vs 5.  Not really a problem, unless you’re in a hurry.

The day after the conference officially ended (Friday) it was back to the BL for some final research and shopping my way back. I returned to the Twinnings shop to buy the teas I was looking at the first time, and some tourist shopping (for myself and friends-family). Once again, I got to the library early, so this time, I spent some time in King’s Cross station where they have an actual Platform 9 3/4 along with a Harry Potter shop. I may have made a small purchase for myself. Somehow on the way back, I convinced myself that it was 2 hours later than it actually was (my watch strap broke the second day of the conference, so I was relying on my phone which never figured out I was in a different time zone), so I was rushing for a while.

Getting back to the airport went well enough even if the first station I was in didn’t specify which trains went to which terminal at Heathrow (it matters), and I had to do an extra switch which wasn’t hard, just a little annoying. The flight itself was all on time, but my entertainment screen was the only one on the full flight that didn’t work, so no movies for me. I had a book that turned out to be pretty good, but since the entertainment panel on this aircraft also controlled the light above you, that was a bit of a struggle too. I made it through customs etc and got to my shuttle home on time, but there was an ugly crash on the freeway, so what should have been just over an hour trip was 3 hours. But I made it back, and I’m pretty sure everything in the suitcase survived.