Friday, August 7, 2009

"Some days you feel like a chair...

...other days you feel like a stool." So spaketh one of my colleagues, chair of one of the largest departments in the School of Arts and Sciences.

I'm not sure whether, in his quote, "stool" is intended to mean "a less elegant form of seating" or if the intended meaning was "an essential, multi-purpose piece of furniture." Already I have had days when I felt like a prop holding open doors (or opportunities), and also days when it feels like I am the glue holding the department together. Although people who are not in academia may not be able to relate to that, I think everyone will understand what I mean when I say that I am supposed to be on vacation this week and have spent three days at the University. But...on the first of those three days, I filled my third faculty position for the coming year, so I count that day well spent.

So far, the two worst things about being chair are: (1) trying to match faculty members and courses for the fall semester (a headache I am still trying to resolve) and (2) faculty colleagues (and/or their spouses), who know that my original plans for the summer included writing the middle half of my current WIP, coming up to me at social events and asking, "How is your summer going?" or "How is the writing going?"

There is no easy answer to the first question, except to say that my summer has been very different than I expected. In early May, I had no idea that my father was going to require open heart surgery or that my department chair was going to resign and that the dean would choose me as the new chair. Those two key events have shaped my summer in ways that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. They have also, inevitably, affected my writing, or rather, the time I have to write.

For the first three weeks of the summer my writing was going very well. With two years of research behind me, I was writing a chapter a week, sometimes a bit more. But that progress came to a screeching halt when, within four days, my department chair announced his resignation and my dad underwent open heart surgery. The fact that, six weeks later, my dad still requires in-patient care and rehabilitation therapy has effected the course of my days. The fact that I was named the new chair has determined what I do with my time between 8am and 5pm. At 5 o'clock, I drive the 50 miles from work down to see my mom and have dinner with her, then I go to see my dad. After visiting him, I drive the 30 miles back home, rarely arriving before 9pm.

Next week I will be on vacation (I hope!), and writing is one of my big goals. I hope to write at least one more chapter. Until then, I will share with you two caricatures I found in my research. The first (at right) is Parisienne, the second (below) is British, but both mock the fashions of 1810.

The French caricaturist is unknown, but the caricature is titled "Les Modernes Incroyables"; the British caricaturist is Henry Humphrey, who was better known as a print seller (he and his relatives published the caricatures of James Gillray and George Cruikshank, among others), but he also engraved and published a number of caricatures. This caricature, titled "Les Invisibles," brings to mind a number of caricatures in which Gillray satirized the fashionable. It also, undoubtedly, served as a model---or at least an inspiration---for some of George Cruikshank's later works, such as "Monstrosities of 1818" (or 1821, 1822, or whatever year).