Neither celebration nor tears

Cancer update: I had my appointment with the oncologist last week, which confirmed the news I already posted two weeks back. The chemo has largely worked: it is holding the cancer where it is, though it is not notably diminishing it. As I’m no longer having any problematic side-effects, it seems sensible to carry on with ‘maintenance’ chemo (with two of the three chemo drugs that I was taking) for the indefinite future. So this is my new treatment regime.

I’m off the critical list, but continue on twice-daily morphine (to hold stomach pain at bay), and shouldn’t expect energy levels to rise (I’m sleeping a lot, and returning to bed after any activity). So – cause neither for celebration, nor for tears. Until the cancer bites back (which I should expect in the next year to two) this is my life.

I’m not working much, and am far from bedbound, so that leaves me with the usual question that people face on retirement: what do I do, day to day?

One answer I’m exploring is househusband. Gill works, we still have three children living at home (ages 22, 18, 9) so I can do more of the cooking, cleaning, washing, washing up, getting Raffie (the little one) ready for school, getting cups of tea for people in the morning, even sewing buttons on shirts (which I just did! Feeling so pleased with myself! Even if it did take an hour and was my own shirt so scarcely selfless.) Doing all those jobs that the good Mum does to keep the household rolling along happily.

(I hear Gill (my wife) scoff in mocking disbelief. Her view is that she continues to do, say, 90% of the tasks, whereas mine is that I’m now up to around half. It seems that this is just an Irreconcilable Difference of Perception (as nicely explained as the availability heuristic by Daniel Kahneman is his great book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’). Also I’d better acknowledge, we do have a cleaner coming in once a week as well. And I should also apologise for nesting my brackets, which comes as second nature to mathematicians and logicians but is not permitted in the grammar of written English (see Nunberg’s The Linguistics of Punctuation). It is a pity it is not allowed, but it is not.)

The househusband role is puzzling me. I’m used to seeing my work as contributing to knowledge, in the noble academic sense, or to company profit, as hallowed by economic theory. Both of these are quantities where ‘more is better’, where time is a limited resource, where one dreams or more time to make more knowledge/profit. Househusbandry isn’t like that: it neither has a theory to give it grand status (as feminists have long been saying) nor is there more to do once the house is clean etc. (OK, you can always find more jobs, but once the house is cleanish and tidyish, I say enough!)

Time … as Larkin put it “What are days for?” (Days). Now that I’m (semi-) retired, knowledge and profit are no longer answers. With that, I head off for my birdsong walk

[[Interlude as I walk]]

The birdsong is at its most wonderful just now, outside our front door between 4 and 5 a.m. on a March morning, before the seagulls start drowning out the songbirds. It is a daily treat, with visual delights for most of the last week too as we have had clear skies and a full moon.

Househusbandry, and birdsong walks, and talking with friends through this blog and via other means (more on that in a future blog) – not such bad answers to Larkin’s question.

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Adam Kilgarriff

I'm a scientist who has set up and runs a small company. I'm married (to Gill Lamden) with three children, Boris (22), Maddie (18) and Raffie (9) (as at today, 28 January 2015, in case I forget to update!) We live in Brighton, UK. Last November (2014) I found I had bowel cancer (stage 5; not curable; only 'manageable'). We've been adjusting to that since (and it is what provoked me to start the blog) My scientific area is linguistics, with my specialisms being corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and lexicography - or, best of all, the intersection of all three. Since 2004, my company, Lexical Computing Ltd., has been providing a web service, the Sketch Engine, to linguists and lexicographers wanting to find out about words, using corpus-driven methods. Customers include Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Collins, Macmillan, Le Robert, Dictionary.com and around a hundred universities worldwide.

17 thoughts on “Neither celebration nor tears”

  1. Brackets are preferable to commas. Working with written French most days, I am constantly reminded that French is stuck in the 17th century, when they loved commas (as did we). Tracking through clauses within clauses can be tricky, and the resulting translation, if undoctored, reads like Dr Johnson. While being trained to write patent specifications I was encouraged to eschew the comma to avoid the risk of ambiguity. Brackets are unambiguous, hence their use in maths and logic.

  2. Congratulations Adam! You say you have reached the philosophical phase of examining ‘What are days for’. That’s great as I think many people do not manage to reach this phase at all. Beautiful birdsong walks and all, it is surely very fitting to be there at some point or other in life.

    On another note – how pleasing that you have highlighted the phrase ‘Irreconcilable Difference of Perception’ – in relation to the eternal Mars-Venus axis of existence! I look forward to using it in my own household soon!
    Lots of love, Kate x(xx(x)xx)x

  3. Good to hear from you, Adam.
    Funny that … John and I have just the same ‘irreconcilable difference of perception’!
    He joins me in sending you love and best wishes.

  4. Thank you for the admonishment on nested parentheses. As a one time devotee of Lisp I fear I am sometimes guilty (of many somewhat misguided parenthetical remarks (of which I seem powerless to avoid (what a shame!)))

    March in Northern Minnesota is both bleak and hopeful. We still have snow on the ground, but the temperatures rose above freezing this last weekend for the first time in many many weeks. That means mud, and March and April are muddy months, but we must get through that to reach our very lovely (yet incredibly short) summer.

    I feed the woodpeckers during the winter, and now will start to put out sunflower seeds for the birds that come round starting about now. Of course the deer come round and pilfer quite a lot of the seed, but I don’t mind. We aren’t supposed to feed the deer (or so the Department of Natural Resources tell us (advice I mostly ignore)), so I try to make it slightly harder for them to find by keeping it off the ground, but oh well, sometimes they get a few stray seeds. Or more.

    A few chickadees have recently appeared. And this last weekend I saw an eagle soaring along Lake Superior (which isn’t far, about 100 yards from my bedroom). So, I took those as good signs for the coming weeks.

  5. I like the word “househusbandry”. Google asks me “Did you mean horse husbandry” which in turn gives quite unexpected results in Google Image search. :)

    Keep enjoying the life!

    1. yes. ‘househubandry’ (the word, not the activity) came naturally to me, as ‘husbandry’ is well-established and so is ‘househusband’, so I was surprised the spellchecker underlined it, but then, they are not-so-closely-related meanings of ‘husband’!

      1. Identifying the different birds and their different songs, as well as appreciating them, is a possible spin-off activity if you find the habit of pursuing knowledge is a challenging one to break – it leads almost ineluctably to acquiring binoculars or telescopes with which to do it better, and can then be done from one’s front room. It also provides good opportunities for showing off one’s knowledge to others during walks, by remarking on the first sound of the chiff-chaff, rather than simply observing that a bird is going tweet. But Larkin is a very uncompromising poet for anyone who is not working (he never found a non-depressing answer to his own question about Days – see Toads Revisited); I think your state of mind is closer to W H Davies (“What is this life if, full of care/We have no time to stand and stare?”).

  6. For me “househusbandry” is redundant. The “hus” in “husbundry” means “house” :-)

    Don’t forget to clean under the beds as well. Kittens, cats and children tend to hide there … and eventually come out.

  7. Adam, if you’d like more status as a househusband, what about the phrase ‘domestic engineer’? When I was a full-time one, quite a few years ago, this label was offered to me when I went to have my eyes tested and the optician asked ‘What do you do?’.
    I quite liked the term but never used it.

    Another one could be house-keeper. Why is that ‘lighthouse-keeper’ sounds much more exciting?

    However, I’m sure househusbandry is best for you and I would also guess that somewhere in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management there is a rule that you are allowed to nest your brackets if you want to…

    Robert and I send our love and hope you continue to enjoy the birdsong; you’ll be getting the dawn chorus in a few weeks perhaps.
    Serena x x

  8. Househusbandry is an excellent word – and I prefer the non-hyphenated spelling. It’s not in the OED, which has this as the earliest citation (1858) for househusband: “A crowd of house-husbands—if the term be admissible in default of house-wives—sauntering along among the crockery-stalls in search of pots and pans.” Perhaps you could add that to your list of (occasional) activities. Very best wishes, Liz.

  9. What are days for?
    Days are where we live.
    They come, they wake us
    Time and time over.
    They are to be happy in:
    Where can we live but days?

    Dear Adam: enjoy your days, your househusbandry, you birdsong walks, and talking with friends through this blog…
    and try to be as happy as you can.

    Warmest wishes,
    Julia

  10. Dear Adam, when I was reading this, I was thinking how I used to do the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the washing-up, getting Raffie to school (sometimes)… typical aupairesque tasks you are now accomplishing ;-) Maybe you could stick some vocabulary snippets on the households items and learn another language (let’s say German or to be more challenging Chinese)… Just kidding of course ;-) … For a start, keep writing! I love reading your blog.
    I’m glad you are feeling better and I hope you can fill your days with enjoyment as well as find contentment in the ordinary (washing-cleaing-coooking-washing-cleaning-cooking-…). Lots of love, Bettina.

  11. Knowing you I don’t think you’re going to be retired, either semi- or fully, ever. Your brain doesn’t seem to be in that stage anyway and that’s what counts.

    Take care Adam.

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