Monday, January 30, 2006


Too tired to think straight, but I realize that it's been a very long time since I've posted. School's back in session and I'm back to teaching a "full load" (4 courses here). My department's hiring two new members, there's a ton of meetings to
attend in getting the new Center off the ground, and just a hellish amount of work considering that I haven't graded
any papers at all yet. Kid was sick (vomiting, fever) over the weekend, including up all one night, so my recuperative
time that I count on to catch up on sleep and get housework back under control didn't happen this week. And today
was the long teaching day. I basically have been lying prone for the last two hours reading blogs and doing class
prep, knowing all the while that I should get up enough gumption to turn off the lights and call it a night.

I promise. More exciting things to come. Just not tonight.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Always Christmas in my room...

I recently installed two strings of white Christmas lights in my room. Kid is currently in the midst of a long
pretend in which we are both poor orphans living in an open-air market in Marseilles. The lights were
my playful attempt to establish some atmosphere by putting up cafe-esque lighting. I like the soft
indirect glow and don't mind that it makes my bedroom look like the inside of a single-wide
trailer minus the deer head (cue Gretchen Wilson). In fact, I like the indirect lighting so much
and it is just bright enough to keep me alert but dim enough to make me feel relaxed that
I DON'T SEEM TO BE CAPABLE OF GOING TO SLEEP. Four nights in a row, much later
than I usually would be up. When I get up at 4 to finish my class prep, I plug them in and
I'm good to go, alert and productive even if I went to bed after midnight. Have I found
the secret to derailing the mid-winter blues?

Poetry for Saturday

Jo(e)'s doing poetry on Fridays, but typically, I'm a day late...

Aunt B. over at Tiny Cat Pants pointed this out to me a couple of months ago and it's kind of stuck in my mind/
Marvelling at the sky is something I've been known to do. Happy stargazing, whereever you are.

I got out twice,
leaned back against the car
and stared up at our windy, untidy loft
where old people had flung up old junk
they'd thought might come in handy,
ploughs, ladles, bears, lions, a clatter of heros,
a few heroines, a path for the white cow, a swan
and, low down, almost within reach,
Venus, completely unfazed by the frost.

(except from Moya Cannon's work, Night)

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Fucking rain. Fucking roof. Fucking leaks.

Fucking leaking old fucking rundown fucking house.

Carry on.

Another reason to love Iowa

I love Iowa. I lived there for the best decade of my life. I enjoy the small towns, the patient landscape, the quiet commitment to education access, the niceness and common sense of the place. I would move back in a heartbeat and have more than idly considered moving out of college teaching and into secondary ed or some related field so that I could live there again. It a soul-place, if you know what I mean, somewhere that clicked with me so deeply that I feel somewhat amputated living in the Northeast again.

One of the best parts of living there is the reasonableness of local and state government. Oh sure, there are boneheads. There are entire sets of policy to which I object. Mainly, however, I experienced the bureaucracy as an efficient and minimalist aid to my daily life, something I could not say about my current state. Trips to the DMV were quick, and often
a hoot. Getting involved in political life was easy and since one could meet and talk to all the presidential candidates
personally (trust me, sometimes they are desperate in the early running to talk to anyone at that chili-fest),
I felt myself able to evaluate these people personally. It made me a corny and passionate patriot, happily walking
uptown to the July 4th parade, eager to caucus. It's the only time in my adult life that I felt like I really was a citizen.
The distance between those days and these (no, I'm not going to drop into a disaffected and draining rant) is
pretty huge.

I just had another interaction with Iowa bureaucrats that made me so homesick I could die. (Yes, read that again.)
Iowa has a Public Employees Retirement System, same as most states. I was, for about half a year, a public
employee. I had a pittance in my account and because I wasn't vested nor did I have an IRA to roll this money
into, I just let it ride. Well, now that I'm a professor-type and am doing the TIAA-CREF thing, I decided to
investigate how to get this couple hundred bucks back. The automated voice system informed me that I no
longer had money in the account. Prepared to be assertive and if need be aggressive, I got a IPERS phone rep
on the line. She informed me that the state had changed the law so that anyone who had been out of public
service for 5 years and had a small investment (I'm guessing under $1000) was going to be sent an automatic
refund. I'll be receiving my check next week.

Damn, I love Iowa.


I just lost a huge post. It boiled down to:

1) walking to school in the sleet sucked for everyone, but helped me segue into teaching about pre-Columbian societies (how climate, geography, etc influence culture/economics);

2) the encounter with "that student" -- you know, the person who pumps your e-mail box full with double-copied messages (which I really will have to blog about more at length);

3) the encounter with Hotwheels, a student with spinocerebellar ataxia/rigidity who initially thought she was in my class but was misdirected by Student Disabiltiy Services. They assumed that because I'm known around campus as an academic advocate for such students, she must be in my class. Yes, they really are that bad and yes, this campus really is
that unenlightened. We're working on it. Unfortunately, I'll have to catch her and her excellent sassy notetaker, Shyanne, on the flip side, since she's going to be taking British history this term;

4) My ode to coffee, my drug of choice. That boiled down to a pathetic demonstration of what an addict I am, although
I also gently slagged off on my Ghanian colleague's skills as a barista;

5) Various department and faculty meetings, and my gratitude at having these to go to warring with my ire that
I have to go to these.

6) Happily looking forward to picking up tickets to go see Marshall Crenshaw and recalling his and other great
live shows that I saw during my heavy concert-going days. (With special reference to Elvis Costello, Oingo
Boingo, etc.) Motherhood pretty much dinged that, which is ok. MC is going to appear in an auditorium,
though, so I can take Kid.

Anyhow, that was the gist of it. I'm still alive. What's up with you all?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Clean-up Time

Those of you who know me in real life know that I have a love-hate relationship with order in my
personal space. When things are super piggy (like when I found kitchen grease in the upstairs of
our new home...and there hadn't been a stove in the room for at least five years!!!! Eeeeuwww!!!),
I am a dervish with the scrub-brush. On the other hand, I have a very high tolerance for ordinary
academic clutter -- piles of papers, towers of books, and stacks of opened advertisements for desk
copies I might want to order can lay on the dining room table (or the latest crap-stacker, the
old chapel bench that runs against the south wall) for weeks without acknowledgement. To give you an
idea of the magnitude of the order-problem here, this is what's currently on that bench:

A stereo, seven CDS, a Yahtzee game, a Spanish dictionary (brushing up...dreaming about
Barcelona again), a box of thank-you cards and 7 .37 cent Santa stamps from a couple of years
ago, a chalkboard, chalk, and eraser, 64 colored pencils, one fleece sock, a pair of child's leggings,
outerwear from an earlier snowball fight (as in, two weeks earlier), a fleece reading wrap in a rainbow
cheetah print (kid's craft project before she started quilting), a detachable bicycle basket for a
bicycle that no longer exists (used by kid to periodically to haul folded laundry up the stairs...), a
yellow plastic grocery bag filled with folders of research, a hundred or so blue books that I can't throw
away but that no one will ever retrieve, a 15-inch vertical stack of lecture folders, and a fake-flower
wedding bouquet that kid caught at a wedding on December 28th, a box of white Christmas lights,
some Christmas paper, a child's necklace made of yarn, drinking straws, and colored paper in the
shape of the flags of Kenya, Mozambique, Cote d"Ivoire, and Ghana, a chalice, two maps of Africa (political, physical),
a map-sized sheet magnifier (also useful for microfilm reading), some construction paper,
a five-pound box of air-drying white clay, two spiral-bound notebooks (labeled Haiku and Spelling),
a bag of marbles, five Hal Leonard Level II piano books, a dance bag full of tap and jazz shoes,
a globe, a pint-sized pottery wheel, a bag of calico, some foam packing noodles stuck to a cardboard
tube, a headless Barbie, two plastic light sabers (one with Yoda voice, one without),
an X-wing fighter, a old Star Trek figure (Checkov, I
think) and maybe 50 78 records from dance bands of the 1940s (part of a much
larger collections of 78s of music between 1918-1953 that resides under the bench.

I live in a small house made smaller by the vast amount of crap stuffed in it. So, repeating
the cycle that I always start in January, it's clean-up time. Earlier, I did closets. Now it's the
living room/dining room that is getting the purge treatment. I Freecycle a lot of things (kid
is like living with Scrooge McDuck -- it's very hard to convince her to just throw something
away even if it is broken and beyond repair. It has been tempting at points to Freecycle the
kid herself, but I've managed to resist.) Other items are taken to the local charity
where they will be redistributed to those who actually need it. This ritual always reminds me, especially
at a point of the year when I'm prone to poopiness, that I am already in that place
of abundance that I worry I'm never going to reach. It also uses up some sad energy
that otherwise would brood about my spouse's departure this morning -- he's
gone for another semester-long chunk, with some time back during spring break.

Next week, when I get the house just as clean as it can be (a relative state, since
kid is just another word for entropy) and everything smells like orange oil, I'll sit up
late one night and light a candle just to see the gleam reflected in the wood.
Sometimes you have to prepare for change by letting go of the old.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good things about today.

As the four of you regular readers know, I've been sort of struggling lately emotionally and professionally.
I'm in that hateful stage of my life where I'm trying to figure out who I am now that I've grown up -- or
maybe it's just the big blah that comes after completing a big project like a dissertation. Or dealing
with my own mortality in the wake of my father's death. Or the periodic and painful absences of
my spouse, necessitated by our precarious financial situation. Whatevs. I got my reasons.

Today good things happened in a cluster. There was sunshine and warmer temperatures. There was
wine. There was music and gladness. Things got cleaned. I got an exceptionally good haircut that
makes me look my age rather than like some pedantic demented grannywoman. (Hope I can style
it in this cutey way -- I'm not so good with hair.) Perhaps most encouraging of all, however, is that
I won a huge grant for my department to start a Center for Important Social Issues In My Area of
Research. Like, more than my yearly salary huge, which I realize is not like B1 Bomber money, but
still. I wrote it. I presented the proposal to the committee. And it was fully funded for multiple
years with very encouraging remarks from the funding agency. (This is on top of -- yeah, I
didn't blog about this -- the more modest but still substantial grant I won to support my research this upcoming
year that will allow me to hire another research assistant. For a school that is firmly and
unapologetically a small teaching-intensive school, I'm doing fairly well at funding my own
work. I just wish I had more time to do it.) The best part about this all is that I wrote in
multiple funding opportunities for our grad students, who really need to get some support
to excel. And all those lines will be funded, which will free up other money in other places
that can also be directed to top students. As long as I'm staying here (and Longshot U hasn't
called, so I guess I was right about my poor performance in the interview), why not do something

I also began reading William Germano's From Dissertation to Book -- it's a very helpful, realistic
look at revision. I defended in July and I realized during my interview with Longshot U that
I had no clue about how to describe what I planned to do with my work. That also killed me
in a couple of post-doc interviews last year. If I'm going to actually do this, I'm going to have
to give it thought and make time for it and quit whining about how tough everything is and
how in a better world my genius (gesturing with back of hand swept up to forehead) would be
recognized...shuddup already. I'm getting recognition, a hell of a lot moreso than many of
my equally capable peers. So enough with the self-pity and the wishing things were different.
They are not. So this is me, getting on with it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

7 X 7 (for Rob)

Seven Things to do before I die:

1) Move back to the Midwest;
2) Publish my book manuscript;
3) Visit Barcelona;
4) Establish a scholarship fund for first-generation college students, named for my mother;
5) Wean myself from clutter;
6) Make peace with my own shortcomings; and
7) Accept my own mortality.

Seven Things I cannot do:

1) Put my own needs first;
2) Keep the squirrels from eating my tulip bulbs;
3) Establish a writing routine;
4) Teach without extensive preparation;
5) Get out of debt;
6) Stop worrying about the future;
7) Get the drywall back on my bathroom walls (7 months and counting...this is related to numbers 4, 5 and 6.)

Seven Things that attract me to blogging:

1) I learn new stories;
2) I have a venue for telling my own stories (aid to memory);
3) It's a form that lends itself to the writing blurt, which is about all I have time for these days;
4) I've met (virtually) incredible people that I'd be too shy to meet otherwise;
5) It's the teaching journal I've always thought I should keep;
6) I am astonished by the kindness afloat -- it's a tonic of courage in hard times; and
7) Having my say and listening to you have yours is the most politically radical thing that
I can be doing right now.

Seven Things I say most often:

1) I love you.
2) Enough of that for right now.
3 & 4) Dammit. Shit. (tied)
5) In a minute.
6) Hey, babe, could you....
7) No.

Seven Books That I Love:

1) Refuge (Terry Tempest Williams)
2) If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino)
3) Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
4) A Place on Earth (Wendell Berry)
5) Anything by John McPhee
6) Soul by Soul (Walter Johnson)
7) Vicious (Jon Coleman)
(Ok, so I became a history nerd for the last two...)

Seven Movies That I Watch Over and Over (or would if I had the time):

1) Wings of Desire
2) My Man Godfrey
3) American in Paris
4) Roman Holiday
5) Singles
6) Raiders of the Lost Ark
7) A River Runs Through It

Tag -- you're it. If you haven't done this one and have the time, it's an interesting one. (I found it a lot more difficult
to do than I expected -- I need to actually read more of what I like and less of what I "need to" for my job.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

New lows...Low news...

Ok, long time, no post.

The end of the semester kicked my ass. Then that segued into Christmas, which is always a low season for me despite the obvious delight that my kid takes in the proceedings. I try not to get in the way of the good times of others. Now I'm
in a strange city, sitting in a cold and noisy hotel lobby, trying to survive the experience of my profession's biggest
conference. I have a perfectly good job in a city I don't like, so I thought I'd interview at Longshot U, a huge research
university back in the Midwest. The interview left me feeling inadequate in every way. I wonder how the hell I got
the job I currently have. The committee was palpably uninterested in my research. One of them told me I had sent
the wrong writing sample (how would they know? They hadn't read the rest of the work!) Another, when I described
my next project, said "Well, thanks for sharing that with us." (Clunk.) They tried to be nice, but I
felt like I had interrupted a great conversation that had been taking place shortly before I arrived that they were
eager to resume after I left.

Now I have to go and pick up the pieces of my good enough job, mustering gratitude for having a job even
while struggling with the whole demeaning interview thing.

So if anyone is still out there occasionally checking in, I could stand a little tea and sympathy.