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Sprezzatura is "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".
~Wiki


The head of our Plasma Physics department at college, Dr K., was, and is, because he still occupies the same position, a wonderful man, who helped create a good working atmosphere among his students and staff. He also seemed to me a being from some higher circles when I was his student, not only because he was the busy head, whose duties sometimes made him miss the class he taught us, but also because the subject he taught, "The theory and technique of fusion experiment" was as a matter of fact a collection of sightly adapted "real" research results and descriptions of methods compiled from scientific articles, without so much as a textbook.

He also knows, remembers and values his students to a degree that greatly surprised me to learn. You see, while I will soon have been working in the field of plasma physics for 15 years, since before graduation, my career, if you can call it that, has been completely lackluster. I keep the fire going, so to speak, but catch no stars from the sky. I consider myself forgettable, my good grades and the then-rejected offer to enter a PhD program immediately after graduation notwithstanding.

And yet here he is, greeting me at the very few conferences where our paths have crossed, approaching to express condolences at the funeral of a colleague, jumping at the chance to give me some translation work when he learned that I'd branched out there, and recognizing my voice immediately that time I had to call him in my role of the Science Secretary to ask for the phone number of a professor from his department whose Dr. Sci. thesis was being reviewed by our organization.

I like him a lot. I—love him. And yet, I can now also formulate the je-ne-sais-quoi, I don't know what, which, while it was not the decisive factor, influenced my decision to not enter that long ago offered PhD program, and which is also the reason why I wouldn't want to work with him permanently at my alma mater.

He is not a young man, in fact, he is exactly my parents' age, and all the time I have known him, he has exuded unwellness. It is a horrible thing to say, and it is also nothing concrete: he had never missed a single class for being sick, but it is there all the time in the tone of his voice, and in his demeanour, and in the air about him. Health is not a subject easily, if at all, broached in professional context, and his leaves me wanting to ask, unable to help, and overall greatly uncomfortable.

And then there is my current chief and department head, Dr I. He is also good at upkeeping a good, if somewhat stagnant, working atmosphere, and while I have never truly had a chance to observe Dr K. in the role of the head, Dr I. is the perfectly clever know-your-way-in-and-out, keep-yourself-in-the-good-esteem-of-the-right-people, know-how-to-act-politically Slytherin's Slytherin, and judging from the stories he tells, he always has been.

He keeps most of "his" people on the not-very straight and narrow, knows how to protect them, is not very fussed about the occasional lecture from the higher-ups (his favourite way of describing the constantly happening and often not very favourable changes is "this [news] is scary, but not very much"), and is also mostly fair, a very important quality in the head.

His one failure is a very Jane Austinesque long memory of perceived personal offences, whether intentionally or accidentally offered, and Mr Darcy's "My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever" attitude. I would not say "forever" truly applies to the lost good opinion of Dr I., but "a very long time" certainly does.

Despite these infrequent (and mostly at least somewhat justified) flares of temper, his general attitude to life is that of studied and content calm, which is good for someone who is in the middle of often competing requirements of a diverse group of people that comprise any larger working collective (our department is one of the largest in our scientific institute), is one of its main paper-pushers and often a shield between them and the unreasonable demands of the administration institute.

The first small episode when I observed him in this element happened before I started working so closely with him as the Science Secretary. Our department organizes an annual conference on Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. Conferences always generate a lot of paperwork, a lot of which requires the signatures of the chairman of the local organizing committee and of the accountant. The time I am speaking about he had maybe 300 papers to sign, which he did casually, conversing pleasantly with the other members of the Organizing committee, and his signature never veered toward the illegible chicken scratch of those who resent the signing chore.

I cherish the memory of the seeming ease he did it with, and use it as inspiration in my own increasingly frequent battles with paperwork.

Another much more important manifestation of this attitude is the way he does not allow his health troubles to disrupt the working process any more than they have to. While more than a decade younger than Dr K., he is also not a young man. In fact, he falls ill with with the year's strain of the flu almost every time during our conference, which is held in the Moscow region, and drives back to Moscow to recover in comfort at home instead of at the conference hotel. It is an inside "joke" in the committee on the second and third day of the conference: "Where is Dr I., where is our chairman?" – "He is home sick again." – "Oh. He will do whatever it is on Thursday or Friday then."

Note the tense here, "will". He is always there when he is needed. In case of the conference, always in time for the conference dinner habitually held on Thursday night, and on the last day and departure that happen on Friday. At work in general, he is also there when needed, and does not unnecessarily pressure people, whether with his own or work-related issues, which is why when some action is required from the workers, especially for the common good of the department, he has a good solid measure of trust.

Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
tonithegreat
Dec. 10th, 2018 11:53 pm (UTC)
I am delighted that you used Harry Potter house shorthand for social traits here! But the funny thing is, when you pick apart sprezzatura itself (which I know wasn’t what you were doing), it seems to me that it may be more of a Gryffindor trait than anything, which is funny to me. I heard an interesting news story this weekend about alleged unfairness in academic recruitment for Ivy League colleges that basically posited that in seeking out gryffindor type recruits, the colleges may also be discriminating against more qualified Asian students. Digression aside, this was a very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing!
kehlen
Dec. 11th, 2018 04:05 am (UTC)
No, I wasn't picking it apart, but now that I think about it, I don't see it as particularly Gryffindor. Effortlessly savvy appears the epitome of Slytherin to me, especially in the original meaning, applied to court affairs.

But then Gryffindor and Slytherin are very close in some aspects, because Slytherin would also go places angels fear to tread to achieve their goals. It is only that as described in the books, the way they do is often dishonourable-From the Gryffindor viewpoint :D.

I wouldn't know whom Ivy League are recruiting, but focusing on one trait only is of course excluding others. Yet, how are Asian students less Gryffindor?

bellatrix
Dec. 12th, 2018 10:52 pm (UTC)
But then Gryffindor and Slytherin are very close in some aspects, because Slytherin would also go places angels fear to tread to achieve their goals. It is only that as described in the books, the way they do is often dishonourable-From the Gryffindor viewpoint :D

YES! I've noticed both from people I've seen commenting in sorting communitiess and also when I've discussed the sorting system with people is that a lot of them think the houses are completely opposite from one another in all aspects, but I have always seen them as having some very similar aspects. For me the biggest difference I see is that Gryffindor in general tends to have very black and white ways of thinking, whereas as Slytherin sees things in shades of grey, which is why the Gryffindors often describe Slytherin as being dishonourable etc.

To me there is definitely the Gryffindor bias in the books also to be honest...



Edited at 2018-12-12 10:52 pm (UTC)
kehlen
Dec. 13th, 2018 12:12 am (UTC)
There totally is! They first several at least are written from Harry-the-kid's point of view, which very biased.

(I once wrote out every single Snape moment in books 1-4,looking for the words he actually says himself, and was that an eye-opener!)
bellatrix
Dec. 18th, 2018 06:35 am (UTC)
Yes! I feel like book 6 and book 7 have a little less of this bias, but it definitely is still there. Based on quotes from JK Rowling too, she seems to place bravery as the most important trait a person can have and I definitely think it colours the books and how she writes about the Slytherins from Harry's pov to be honest!

Ooh did you write that out online or by hand? Because I'd be interested in reading it! I do think the perspective we get of him, as well as Draco is also very biased because we see through Harry's eyes. Same for characters such as Lavender Brown and Marietta Edgecombe (I never really thought it was fair how the characters and some people in the fandom behave like she's on par with Peter Pettigrew!)

Edited at 2018-12-18 06:35 am (UTC)
kehlen
Dec. 19th, 2018 03:57 am (UTC)
It was online, a looong time ago:
https://kehlen.livejournal.com/tag/snapedom
eternal_ot
Dec. 11th, 2018 01:22 pm (UTC)
Oh! This took me back to my college days and we sure had professors who were favorites of many student because of their unique way of teaching. And Dr. I reminded me of my anatomy professor who had a vast knowledge of the subject but his temper was legendary even among the teaching staff.

It made for an interesting read overall and how diverse human nature is actually is. A nice job covering that!
kehlen
Dec. 12th, 2018 06:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
rayaso
Dec. 11th, 2018 03:03 pm (UTC)
I always enjoy these looks at your life. You write them so well -- I particularly enjoyed the "Pride and Prejudice" reference, which I am currently re-reading.
kehlen
Dec. 12th, 2018 06:56 pm (UTC)
It sprung to my mind on its own :).

Thank you!
murielle
Dec. 11th, 2018 04:06 pm (UTC)
As always, when you describe your professional life you do it so well and seemingly so effortlessly that you, yourself, might be the embodiment of sprezzatura.

Brava!!! Well done!
kehlen
Dec. 12th, 2018 06:58 pm (UTC)
I am glad it feels this way, because I usually correct what I write at least three times, and some of it does not go down quite so effortlessly... which is, yes, ans aspect of sprezzatura :).

Thank you!
dmousey
Dec. 11th, 2018 09:41 pm (UTC)
There are always those teachers who touch your heart unexpectedly. Cherish the memory. Thanks for sharing this with us. 😊🐭🐀✌
kehlen
Dec. 12th, 2018 07:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, actually, as I wrote all this about Dr K., it struck me how much he did over the years of next to no contact.

Thank you!
ellison
Dec. 12th, 2018 08:15 am (UTC)
This was a very interesting read! Thanks for sharing these folks with us. :)
kehlen
Dec. 12th, 2018 08:12 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. :)
bellatrix
Dec. 12th, 2018 10:44 pm (UTC)
This was so interesting to read and I too love that you referred to Harry Potter sorting system and the Mr.Darcy reference too!

Now I'm curious and just have to ask; what Hogwarts house do you relate to?
kehlen
Dec. 13th, 2018 12:17 am (UTC)
I would have been sorted into Ravenclaw at 11 very quickly, but not anymore. I have many Hufflepuff tendencies, and some Slytherin. I think I relate to Gryffindor the least, because I'm only brave when I really have to be, I don't rush into danger. Ironically, I was sorted Gryffindor at Pottermore :).

What house or houses do you think you are closest to?
bellatrix
Dec. 18th, 2018 07:50 am (UTC)
I actually initially identified with Gryffindor due to a couple of things. One - I'm a really determined and resilient person and I saw these traits in many of the Gryffindor characters. Two - I was late to the fandom and actually started reading and watching for the first time in 2007, as I was exiting a really difficult time in my life. For this reason on my first read I was able to easily connect with Harry and his journey of being free of the Dursleys etc. I could also see myself fitting into Ravenclaw easily and came to identify more with that house.

A couple of years ago I found myself identifying with Slytherin even more than Ravenclaw when re-reading the series in entirety for the third time. (I have been sorted into that house most via LJ sorting communities, with Ravenclaw second. I was sorted three times on Pottermore, once into Slytherin, once into Ravenclaw and another time I was a hatstall between the two and chose Slytherin because it fits better, though I have a lot of Ravenclaw traits and values!)

During this re-read I also saw how in many ways the two houses are very similar and it dawned on me that my initial reason for identifying with Gryffindor were very Slytherin reasons; the determination and resilience aren't mutually exclusive to one house but the reasons whyI related to those traits was about self-preservation and survival, which is definitely more Slytherine than Gryffindor.

I also definitely view sorting differently now than I did initially after reading lots of sorting process analyses and being in sorting communities over the years.

Anddd that was a really convoluted answers, I'm sorry about that (this always happens when I start talking about Harry Potter and/or sorting). Short answer: Slytherin, with a strong side of Ravenclaw for me! <3

How ironic that Pottermore sorted you into the house you feel least connection to though! Have you ever tried the sorting test with all the Pottermore questions? (I tried linking it and lj marked my comment as spam because of it D: but if you'd like the link I will happily message it to you!)

Edited at 2018-12-18 07:50 am (UTC)
kehlen
Dec. 19th, 2018 04:03 am (UTC)
It is interesting how your view of houses also changed over the years.


No, I haven't seen the test, because that one time I was sorted they appeared very strange to me :).

But yes, message me the link, please, I am curious.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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