Saturday, January 24, 2009


From the Royal Holloway English Department website:

Professor Sally Ledger

It is with enormous regret that we must announce the sudden and tragically early death of Professor Sally Ledger. Sally joined the Department of English in Autumn 2008 as Hildred Carlile Professor in English and Director of the Centre for Victorian Studies.

Even in this short time she had established herself as an indispensable presence in the life of the Department. This was not only because of her outstanding scholarly distinction ─ exemplified in her recent book on Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination as well as preceding studies of Ibsen, the New Woman, and the cultural politics of the late nineteenth century ─ but also, and at least as importantly, because of her vibrant personal qualities: her warmth, her infectious sense of humour, great good sense, and sheer intellectual energy. Under her leadership, the College had already taken important steps towards becoming the leading centre for Victorian Studies in the country.

Before joining us here, Sally was Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, where she had worked in the School of English and Humanities since 1995. As a PhD supervisor and mentor of junior colleagues, Sally was second to none. A rising generation of scholars will be for ever indebted to her for showing how exemplary interdisciplinary scholarship, collegiality and sense of the value of sociability and family life could be combined.

Her colleagues past and present, and indeed the world-wide community of nineteenth-century scholars, will be as shocked and saddened as we are by this news, and will join us in sending our most heartfelt condolences to her husband, Jim Porteous, and son, Richard. There will be a further announcement in respect of the funeral arrangements and a memorial service for her.

Edited to add: A beautiful remembrance from Birkbeck.

I can't call Sally a mentor. Even friend might stretch the point. But she was an amazing professor, always enthusiastic about her work and the work you brought to her office hours. She helped give shape to my dissertation, listening patiently while I tried to explain just what the hell I was trying to do with H.G. Wells. I still remember running into my first day of class at Birkbeck late (thanks Circle Line!) and her welcoming face. She was the model of what I thought an academic should be - cogent, energetic, dedicated, insightful, and with a remarkable ability to be so human and so real. I regret not keeping up with her or anyone else at Birkbeck really, for slinking away without my Distinction. I regret never telling her what I've just typed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Windy City

It's not even ten p.m. yet (as I start to type) and I'm exhausted. The wind has been raging outside my apartment all day, shaking the windows and whistling through the trees. This morning I managed on a longish run/walk with a good friend. The mile warm-up was brutal. My feet were heavy, my lungs on fire. The wind was cold and tenacious, not quite pushing me off track, but not exactly at my back speeding me along. But the next few miles were easier. My legs and spleen relaxed, my lungs adjusted to the cool air, and I eventually found myself cruising along as if I was still on my 15-20 mile a week training cycle.

The first mile and a half of any run is the worst. All I want to do is slow down and walk, just for a minute, and then I'll totally start back up again. If I stop in that first mile, it's over. I'll get a nice long walk in, but not a run. But if I can break through it, if I can convince my body to hold out for the sign that marks the I can go for as long as I want. I'm still not sure what it takes to get through, to get over the hump. Knowing that would make my training so easy - I would just do "X" and find myself an Olympic Marathon contender. A year after I started running for real (as supposed to a random mile here and there marked "cross-training"), I'm still at a loss.

Work, schoolwork in particular, requires a similar sort of mental bolstering. Certain assignments and topics are instantly attractive. These are the classes where the recommended reading is always done and my papers are masterpieces in attention and scope. But the rest sort of lingers in the background. My overachieving ways used to be the spark - I have to do this assignment because it's part of being excellent and a nerd, but I will wait for the very last moment, because I am either not interested or (more likely) terrified of beginning something I don't understand or something beyond my perceived capabilities.

Too much of my life has been governed by fear - fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of being alone. The only way to get over all this is to face it head on. And I have, after a fashion. I have not left anything till the last minute for this degree. I actively email professors or fellow students. I have a fancy agenda where everything gets scribbled down. And yet here I sit, with plenty to do and no motivation to start. Part of it is sleepiness (long run, little food, too much work). Part of it is a fear to start because nothing will be as good as the grades I got last term. Part of it is just pure laziness. I know I sometimes come across as that hardworking, organized girl (at least this is what people tell me), but I don't feel all that dedicated. I have a lot I want to do and would like to do, and then I find myself in bed with a novel or writing a pointless blog entry about how I feel I'm not getting enough work done.

Taking a quick look through my LJ indicates that some things never change.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Boxes upon boxes

I'm in the process of sending my old notes from VC into the big dumpster next to the club. It's a fair amount of stuff because I apparently kept everything with the thought that this accumulated knowledge, this tangible wisdom, would be useful one day. It's not, of course, and my handwriting is only part of the problem. I pulled out graded essays (not many of them left actually) and one or two notebooks that seemed worth keeping (Darlington, Dickens...). The rest is either pitched or awaiting another trip to the dumpster. I did the same to my Birkbeck box. I kept the beautiful color-coded dissertation notes (too pretty to let go of yet) and the expensive roll of photocopies from the Newspaper Reading Room and the small notebooks from my electives. That's it. All together in a small box that once housed just part of my music and history notes.

I don't think I'm going to wake up tomorrow and regret this decision. Honestly, the notes were packed up individually after the courses were over and transferred to a desk drawer. They were then boxed up when I left VC and that box sat in a basement for a year, traveled across the country, were placed in a closet, and have sat there ever since. There's a larger box beneath the small academic box and the small box of childhood items my parents mailed to me several months ago (all the newspaper clippings of me being a "gifted" child, my high school diploma etc.). It's filled with high school and middle school notes and letters, the bits from the writing courses I took at CTY. I can't quite bring myself to sort through those boxes or the trunk in my closet in the bedroom that holds every journal I've ever touched. Mementos are harder to part with than notes scrawled in a class. They're too much like flesh. But what I've done is a big chunk gone, a heavy burden lifted. I still couldn't read the undergraduate thesis again - to think I put nearly 17000 words together in three weeks! I can't read the graduate thesis either. So much effort into researching and such a painful stalling with the writing!

I really feel that in this program I am so much more invested in my work. I'm proud of my work. I've stopped worrying that everyone in the course can see what I've created because now I actually put the time and the care into crafting something great. I do have a handful of what I consider excellent papers from VC and from Birkbeck. I just had problems finishing up. I left everything to the last minute. It's not been that way at UW at all. I'm on top of things and finding I'm actually retaining items. The drive to hold onto the manifestations of knowledge isn't so great when I feel that I've actually retained most of what I'll need.

I have a number of empty binders that can take on the notes I create in this program (makes sense to keep them now since I'm already seeing overlap between core courses). In due time they'll see the bottom of a dumpster. But I don't think it will be that bad.


Residency for my second quarter of grad school was amazing. I managed to get a room in a inn/hostel right near campus - I cannot express how fantastic it was to wake up in the morning, grab a free breakfast, and then leisure stride to class instead of fighting commuters on the buses. The PDX crowd was out in full force and it was just so much fun. Lots of talking and getting to know better people who I typically just spoke to on message boards and Facebook. There's a disscussion on how to revamp the residencies. The horried weather that necessaitated flying to Seattle also meant that the iSchool tried out some sychronous broadcasting techniques so the people who were stuck weren't at a disadvantage. While I wasn't pleased to shell out money for a flight, I wanted to be with my classmates. I wanted to be with people and to talk and connect with them. I chose my program because there is a residency component and I knew that meant I wouldn't ever just be staring at a screen wondering who was on the other side. Money and time are such a consideration, especially in this economic climate, but I would hate to see the residencies go.

Courses for this term look good. Research Methods seems incredibly useful and not terribly challenging in format - essentially if I keep up on readings and lectures and carefully follow instructions, I should be fine. I'm a little worried because it is math, but it's math happening behind the scenes in Excel. Collections et. al is rather dreamy. Book reviews, and collection discussion, history of the book, fantastic! I really came to love my IB course, but at the time it was so incredibly frustrating and stressful (but absolutely worth it). Maybe I feel more relaxed and excited this time around because I've already figured out how a quarter works, how to use the technology, and how to slip back into the groove of academics At least, I hope that's the case.

The husband remains in SD/Vegas and I'm quite ready to see him after three weeks apart. For now the history of the book and research ethics calls to me...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Big Blue

In 1988/1989 (I was very little so I don't quite recall), my father was working for Grumman Aerospace on Long Island. He started to see the writing on the wall (the end of the great defense contracts) and since he had two small children he began looking for a new job. In June 1989 he gained a job at IBM in upstate New York (or what passes for upstate for Islanders/City folk). We moved from his hometown to the town where my parents live now. After many years that were quite difficult at times, my parents bought a house, and saw their two eldest graduate from high school, college, and post-graduate degrees. My little sister is now in the same high school, taking the same accelerated courses I trudged through nearly ten years ago. Things weren't perfect, but stable with the addition of a second job my father has been working for nearly 15 years.

This afternoon at work the campus gathered for the annual Christmas luncheon, postponed till the new year due to the unusual wintry weather the descended upon the Pacific Northwest. The President spoke, sharing with us all how great the university is doing in terms of enrollment and funding, that we could take comfort in these tough times in knowing that we are cared for and that the university is well positioned for whatever is thrown at us in the coming year.

The red light was lit on my phone when I got back to my desk following lunch. It was my sister. She had that quality to her voice, that slight tremble that instantly set my heart racing.

After nearly 19 years, my father's job at IBM has been outsourced. Once he has trained his replacement, he has the option of trying to find another job in the company (competing with the 5000 others who have been let go as well) or he's out. He just started nursing school in an attempt to get out of the sinking ship with something (I can remember layoff threats back in elementary school).

My sister, the nurse, is planning on helping out the parents and taking on overtime. I'm a wage slave with all my free time focused on grad school. The husband and I are getting by, but we haven't much to share. I feel useless and helpless, as the family of 4999 IBMers already do.

Keep my family in your thoughts.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New York State of Mind

I'm typing this from my parents' couch in New York. It's been absolutely freezing here the past few days, the sort of cold where the snow creaks under your shoes and you not so silently curse the dog who has dragged you out and can't quite make up her mind if she wants to go left or right.

I've read a lot of Dickens, spent quality time with the Little One, knitted nearly half a dozen dish cloths, and spent too few hours in front of the fireplace. I'm slowly falling in love with Mavis Gallant and itching to get to my copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Looking back at my Goodreads, it doesn't seem like I'll be getting too much reading in next quarter - at least not novels. Short Story collections seem to be the way to go or re-reading old favorites or new favorites.

2008 has turned out to be one of the better years of my life, a distinct turn around from the past few years which weren't exactly terrible - I've always had food, shelter, money, and awesome people around me. 2003 onwards seemed to be one long period of growth and stumbling and picking myself back up. When I ran into a professor of mine following a bad break up in college, she remarked that her 20s were difficult, her 30s calmer but still difficult, and her 40s rather excellent and chill. I'm hoping that I'm trending towards stability. This past year I've just felt more together, more whole, more calm than ever before. While the impending recession could make things difficult, I'm remaining hopeful.

Here's to a safe and prosperous 2009 for you all.