Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Memory: Clueless, Even in a Foreign Country

In summer '08, Brad and I spent a month in Montpellier, a charming city in the south of France, about 6 or 7 miles from the Mediterranean. We speak no French, I am an incredibly picky eater, and it averaged about 89 degrees during our stay (if you are familiar with the majority of European countries, you know that electricity is at a premium - thus, we had no fan and certainly no air conditioning); still, we managed to enjoy ourselves, even on a limited budget. 

We rented our apartment - two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and a sort-of terrace - from a good friend who'd spent the year teaching English at Universite Monpellier 1. At the beginning of June, she headed back to the States to spend the summer at her parents' house in Illinois before returning in the fall to the university where we were both completing our master's degrees. Brad and I capitalized on the vacant apartment; at $600 for the whole month, it was a deal we could not pass up. 

Since we were linguistically limited, we didn't meet too many people, but we did befriend (or rather, he befriended us) a young guy who lived with his mother and sister in an apartment across the terrace from us. Iris - pronounced "ear-ISS" - was 22, well-traveled, tall and thin, half Spanish, half French. And he spoke great English. If not for the thickness of his accent, I probably would've been able to understand him perfectly. 

Sometimes Brad and I sat on lounge chairs and chatted with him; sometimes while I laid out (with sunscreen on!) and Brad read inside, I listened to him play guitar (I remember the sounds of Oasis). On this particular day, Iris had a friend over, and he invited us to his side of the terrace, to sit with them around the patio table. 

The two friends were laughy, enjoying themselves, passing a cigarette back and forth b/t each other. The friend, I believe his name was Roman, rolled another cigarette while explaining something or other about the differences b/t the French and American public education systems. It was a good time, and what I could understand of their conversation (I am really so bad with accents) was quite pleasant. 

After a time, Iris asks us, "Do you want to smoke?" 

Brad looks to me. I shake my head without a second of hesitation and, smiling, say, "No thanks, we don't smoke." 

Iris says something funny in response to me, something about Americans and smoking that I can't remember (but sure wish I could). He and Roman get funnier and funnier, the four of us continue to have a good time, and eventually they go out on the town and we go back to the 964-degree apartment. Once inside, Brad says, "I'm surprised you didn't even think about doing it. I mean, since we're in a foreign country." 

"I hate cigarette smoke. So do you. It's gross. Why would being in a foreign country make it any less nasty?" 

This is where his eyes grow wide. And where my true naivete is revealed for what it is. "That was pot, hon. They were smoking a joint," my loved one says to me. "Did you not know that?!?! Did you really think he was rolling a cigarette?!" 

Indeed, I did. And so passed that opportunity. 

Would I have been adventurous if I'd known what it really was? Would the teetotaling goody-goody that I am have grabbed the chance to expand my senses without fear of reprisal from American law personnel. (Yes, this is really the kind of stuff I think about.) Who can really say? But as a consolation, Iris, Brad, and a French friend we knew from back home did get me to drink (read:  gulp in five seconds, yum yum) a glass of peach champagne at a wine bar. That's got to count for something, no?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I'm going in . . .

I'm about to tackle the powder room. While Brad prepares and cooks yummy dinner (we're actually have vegetables as part of a meal!), I'm getting out the big guns. Known as DIF wallpaper remover, a PaperTiger, and a putty knife. 

You've heard tell of this nightmare zone. The basics: yellow sink with exposed pipes; no toilet paper holder (the existing one was ridiculous and I took it off); a floor made of one of FIVE varieties of linoleum that are in this house; and a horribly crappy silver faucet paired with a bronze/copper/? mirror and towel bar (I actually like the latter two things). 

But if this little space was iffy when we moved it, its badness increased 20 fold when Brad and I started - but failed to finish - removing the wallpaper this past summer. In the midst of the project we got distracted by eleven days of hardwood floor refininishing in 80+ degrees. Afterward, just couldn't do anymore physical labor. For weeks. Then months. And now it's February. 


So, it's spring break, and even though I've got a lot lot lot of school stuff on my to-do list, I also have house stuff on my list b/c it makes me happy to work on the house. And Brad and I have big plans for this little space, including, but not necessarily limited to:  

1.  a pedestal sink (adore them) that matches the toilet (and we'll replace that, too, if we can't find a sink that matches); 

2.  a lovely faucet that matches the mirror, etc.;

3.  tile. This might not even be possible on our budget. Our house was built in 1968, before everyone got wise about asbestos; if this linoleum has asbestos in it, a professional would have to remove it. And that is just too darn pricey; 

4.  and for the love of everything lovely, some different paint! 

The lesson to this powder room project might go something like, Don't start something if you're not going to finish it. Well, I'm finishing it. No one said anything about finishing in the same calender year. 

They're not all cute

Meet Jack. 

He's ten months old, a crawling fiend, a major drooler. And he's obviously cute. Just look at those gigantic baby blues and chubby cheeks. 

Jack's cute. This is a function of good genes. It is not a function of all babies being cute. B/c they're not. I'm sorry to say it, and I know many people will balk, but babies are not cute simply by virtue of being babies. 

I love babies. I desperately want to have one (and then another and then another). If you've been reading this blog for five seconds, you have probably gathered that. I've cradled (tortured?) the cats innumerable times, cooing at them as if they are cuddly human beings (and then snarling in frustration that they are not). So this is anything but anti-baby sentiment. I mean, does anyone believe that a baby has to be cute to be an absolute blessing and joy? I sure hope we don't judge babies on that basis anymore than we do people above the age of 3. 

And for those who would accuse me of callousness resulting from the fact that I am not yet a mother, I offer this: both my own mother and Amanda - mother of sweetie Jack and my "date" from many posts ago - are in total agreement with me. (Let it be noted that so are Brad, Shannon, and Butcher, but as far as I can tell, none of them is a mother either.) 

Maybe it's true that every parent thinks his or her own child is cute. And if you buy that "cuteness" is simply a matter of personal taste - that if someone thinks any given baby is cute, that's enough to make her cute - then my assertion can never be right. And that's fine. But, I don't buy it. I subscribe to the view that there are at least some basic standards for cuteness (a la Edmund Burke on beauty) that we all recognize, whether instinctually or b/c of conditioning or whatever (I ain't a psychologist, people). And so it must be said that this whole "every baby's cute" baloney is, well, baloney.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The State of the Language, Part 1

I know what you're expecting. You think I'm about to go on some English teacher/writer/lit. student diatribe about how text messaging and the crappy writing on the internet (like this blog!) are killing the youth's ability to speak and write. You're picturing me in a high-buttoned shirt, hair pulled into a severe bun, shaking my finger, pursing my lips. Please wipe the image of those horrible old-lady high heels out of your mind; stop seeing a mean librarian. I have impeccable taste in shoes. 

Got these sweet Steve Madden puppies for $4
on Sat. at the thrift store (oh yes, I did put
a pic of shoes in a post about language) 

Regardless of my fashion sense, a diatribe is not imminent. But it is gonna be a long post, so, for the health and mental well-being of all involved, I'm breaking it into 2 parts. 

Part 1: 
I must begin by being honest:  I love language. Even more than shoes and deals. (Yikes!) Sunday night via text, Butcher and I debated the similarity of/difference b/t "obligated" and "obliged" (and I'm obliged to say he was not wrong). This effort may or may not have involved the Oxford English Dictionary. I thrill at explaining to my students on a bi-weekly basis why active verbs trump "to be" verbs. (How 'bout the active verbs in that sentence? Oh yeah, you know you love it.) The things I most love to read - Lorrie Moore, Tim O'Brien, Hemingway - have got a major love affair with language going on; a beautiful, sometimes sensual, evocative love affair. It's enough to make me shiver! 

I love language, so when assaults on English occur daily (hourly, minute-ly), does it hurt me? Of course it does. Just yesterday I asked a particularly delightful student (she really is) why she insists on terrorizing our lovely language (she really does). Said student chuckled and rolled her eyes. I mock-wept. 

What has motivated this post, however, is not a recent personal event or irritation; it's actually a recent - and, I might add, articulate and astute - City Journal article that Brad sent me. In "What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness," Clark Whelton (former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani) laments the ways in which, during the mid-1980s, "Ambiguity, evasion, and body language, such as air quotes . . . transform[ed] college English into a coded sign language in which speakers worked hard to avoid saying anything definite." 

Ouch. Double ouch. But he's right. And I'm guilty of not a few of the offenses Whelton details (see the explanation of "playback" in his article; it's like my lifeline). 

You'll note that Whelton's assertion is not the usual complaint about slang/text speak/our-language-is-dying-and-the-youth-is-so-dumb. (How fitting is it that not 10 hours after I started drafting the present post - yes, it's taken me a day and a half to get this into a feasible form - Pepe would have this post over on his blog? You see, I'm on the pulse of America here, people. Except I'm a day behind.) Instead, Whelton's addressing people's refusal to commit in their use of language. 

While he poses a number of very plausible explanations for linguistic vagueness, and lots of people will say we're all just getting stupider (we've been getting stupider and stupider since we were smarter, so that's kind of old news, if you ask me), I've been thinking on this issue since Wednesday, and I have to venture my own account of this phenomenon. 

And so, to close part 1 of this address:  persistent vagueness is a symptom of OverlyFragileEgo-itis. It's a nasty symptom of a very nasty, very communicable disease. And a lotta people (myself not entirely excluded) got it.

The Friday 4: Worst Purchases

In honor of my blog's just passed 1-month birthday, I'm instituting a new post, the Friday 4: the top four of any topic of my choosing. It was gonna be the Friday 5, but 5 just seemed like a little too much. And, really, this has nothing to do with my blog's birthday and everything to do with me making an excuse to talk about what I want to talk about. But since it's my blog, I guess I didn't need an excuse, but I like to make the effort. 

This week, the four worst things I have ever spent my (well, actually, "our") hard-earned moola on: 

4.  A trip to Orange, VA 

"Where?" you say. My point exactly. This two-day snoozer set Brad and me back about $600 or $700. My mom, who came to the B&B with us and stayed down the hall, said, "There's not even a tv in my room." That was the least of the problems with this "trip." (The nights at the B&B were "won" through eBay; read on to learn of a much, much worse eBay purchase.) 

3.  A 2000 Chevy Blazer 

Not ours, but might as well be 
That is, Brad's current vehicle. I'm saying it, and I don't care who disagrees:  I love the way Blazers look. When Chevy stopped making them, I was saddened. They're old school, solid-looking SUVs. But they are pieces of crap. I could ennumerate the problems we've had in a year and a half, but that seems like fodder for another top 4. Mostly, I miss my $6500. Next time, we'll buy the Hyundai. 

2.  Olive, our one-time lab/collie mix puppy 

Brad looking happy b/c this is Olive on her first day 
at her new new home (that is, not our house) 
While cute in theory, in practice the experience was a nightmare. We had her for three weeks this past Nov./Dec. and managed to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 (Brad will weep when he sees that figure in writing). These weeks rank as some of the most taxing, draining, and miserable of recent history. Do you know what it's like to write two final papers for graduate courses with an insanely frenetic, intense, destructive, un-potty-trained, and unsleepy 4-month-old dog? For your sake, I hope the answer is no. Originally a shelter pup, the little terror now lives, thankfully, with a friend who is a true dog person - she's got two others whom Olive just adores. 

1.  A 1990 white Jeep Cherokee from eBay  
I hardly need to say anything about this; it speaks for itself. In almost any situation I can imagine, Car + eBay (+ 1990 when it's 2006?) = trouble. I hardly need to, but I will say something about this giant (read:  $3000) screw-up. In fact, I will say three things. 

First: it was my stupid idea to buy a car sight-unseen. You don't even need to comment. I know. I was 24, so that should explain some of it. Second:  it was Brad's fault for handing over the check when he and my dad went to pick it up. I was sick, so they went without me. But once they realized what they were paying for, they could have done any number of things. Instead, they gave away the money. Three: it was a flood car. Oh, yes, it was. You never smelled mildew like that. Not even in the garage of our last apartment. Needless to say, this hunk of junk got driven by Brad only once more: to the car dealership where it got taken on trade. 

Take that front thing and the scenery away, and you've got a
good idea of the pile of poop Brad brought back from the WV hinterland 

I can't possibly be the only person with a few (albeit major) flub-ups on her buying record . . . can I?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Thought on Birth; or, Wow, that must hurt like hell

No, I'm not talking about giving birth - though don't doubt for one second I'll be shouting at the top of everyone's lungs for an epidural (or 18) if I ever get pregnant. I'm talking about being birthed. 

While laying (or is it lying? I know, Pepe, I should know this) in bed last night, the beginning of the snore-a-thon starting up beside me (okay, Brad's not that bad, but he does snore off and on), I started to ponder how a baby must feel during the whole process. This is most likely on my mind b/c my cousin's wife had their first child yesterday - a little boy, as-yet unnamed, 4 weeks early (he's totally fine!), 5 lbs. 15 oz., 18" long - and of course one of my first questions to my mother was, "Was she in terrible pain?" 

But what about the poor little person who squeezed through an impossibly small space, his head doubtlessly being smashed on the way? Ow. And if his arm or leg got stuck here or there? That must hurt like a mother. I don't know much about the process of birth (read:  really anything at all about it) except that it's gooey, intense, and painful for the mom-to-be. I'm guessing, as well, that it's not super pleasant for the little one either. 

I posed this to my mother this morning. Her response:  "Well, we don't remember the pain, so . . . . " My response:  "Yeah, and when a two year old falls and hits her head, she doesn't remember it either. But she cries b/c it hurts pretty bad." There Mom had to agree. 

Another thing I don't know about is the whole why-babies-cry-when-they're-born thing. A few ideas come to mind: 
     - crying is what babies do 
     - the world is awfully cold/loud/bright (can they even see when they're first born?) 
     - they're hungry 
     - they miss their warm, snug womb 
     - they're already lamenting the fact that you can't pick your family 
I could go on and on, as I am wont to do. BUT, I'd like to suggest that maybe they're crying b/c they hurt! 

I'm sure countless people out there who are more informed than I on this topic (this is likely about 89% of the population) can explain to me all the ways in which I am wrong. That's par for the course. But since no one can prove my hypothesis wrong (I believe my theory professor called this nondisconfirmability), I'm sticking with it. 

And I just have to say, it's a sucky thought that we enter the world in pain. But - and to think that Brad calls me a pessimist! - if things start out that lousy, at least there's a good chance they're going to improve.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Decorating the Weird Spaces

If yesterday was Thrift Shopping Saturday (I just made that name up), then I guess the day before was JoAnn Fabrics Friday. (How very alliterative of me, I know, I know.) While the former hurt the wallet less, the latter proved more successful. Regardless, both helped us get a little closer to "completing" what I'll call the "weird spaces" of our house. 

First, the dining room cabinets/counter. Our little dining room has some really cool cabinets - top and bottom, with a counter in b/t - but the space from the counter to the top set is about 20-24 inches and really hard to decorate. I think, however, that I'm getting there. This pretty lady from JoAnn’s set me back about $11 (on sale from $19.99 to $13.99 plus a 20% off coupon), but she's worth every penny: 

We found a sister (well, this might be a brother - ?) for the vase (is it a vase?) at the thrift store. She/he cost $10, which is a ton for the thrift store (everything was half-off except white tags; guess what color everything I wanted was), but I saw jugs that looked exactly the same at the antique store last weekend, and they cost $18-$35+. 

Now look at the fun way one side of the counter is shaping up (please ignore the color-less walls – everything in its time, everything in its time): 

The makings of a dining room counter 

Next, the living room window/windowseat. This puppy is smack up against a not-actually-built-in-built-in. So close, in fact, that we had to place the curtain rod holders in such a way that we couldn't actually make curtains work with the rod if we tried. (It is, as you'll see, gone.) As for the windowseat - which P.J. the girl kitty loves - it still wears the cover the former owners made/had made for it. That's all well and good, except it doesn't match our furniture. At all. (And it's gross.)  

The sweet beasts pretending to be friends . . . 
(P.J. on the left; her brother Fuzzy on the right) 

I've searched and searched for drapes for this window (the back living room windows are curtain-less by our design), planning to buy an extra one to turn into a cover for the windowseat. The problem, however, is that not a whole lot coordinates with our plaid chair/ottoman and the green couch and loveseat and the goldy-toned walls. Let's just say it ain't been easy. And then . . . 

I found this amazing Ralph Lauren fabric at JoAnn's: 

Eleanor Floral - Khaki, Lauren Ralph Lauren 
I think it's love!  

Or at least adoration. The fabric's pricey - $34.99 in store, $39.99 online – but, like most fabrics at JoAnn’s, it’s 50% off this weekend for President’s Day; add that to another 20% off coupon, and we’re talking $14 a yard for some lovely, high-quality upholstery fabric! Now that's a good deal and a price I can live with. 

Next task: convincing my mom that she can sew drapes (b/c I sure can’t). 

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to be Happy in Grad School

That title is misleading. It suggests I'm about to offer advice, words of wisdom, a mantra, something. But I'm not. (Coincidentally, I first typed "Grade School"; I probably could offer a bit of advice about being happy in grade school, since that time was, all things considered, a reasonably happy period in my life.) 

More appropriate titles and/or responses might be: 
1.  Can someone tell me how to be happy in grad school? 
2.  Is it possible to be happy in grad school? 
3.  How do you define "happy"? 
4.  When you say "happy in grad school," do you mean during the moments you are physically in the physical buildings in which your graduate education occurs? or while you are in the ontological state of "in grad school," as opposed to "in the workforce"? 
5.  And then of course there's the epistemological issue of "Would you even know if you were happy? How?" 

(Impt. note:  such terms as "ontological" and "epistemological" are used purely for mockery of grad school. I don't actually talk like this. Ever.) 

Joking aside, I'd sure like to know if anyone's got a winner of an answer. I'm not, by any means, saying I'm unhappy. But I don't think I can say I've met one person (myself included) in a long time who, when asked about grad school, would respond, "Yeah, I'm happy." And it's not just people in English departments; history, French, and philosophy grad students aren't any different. For my part, I've had a headache for three days straight.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

If sh*t pops off, who's the bigger threat: Zombies or Vampires?

To translate:  if the world starts going to hell in a handbasket, which form of the undead is more likely to be the culprit? 

Smokin' hot vampire Kate Beckinsale 

Some zombie guy 

I feel like the answer to this question is obvious. So does Brad. ZOMBIES. 

But, somehow, Shannon has managed to argue that werewolves are "just as likely as vampires" (and by this she means "not likely"). And while I've shot this down with a semi-logical argument (that she thinks is bunk), she has caught my attention with, "What about robots?" Her attempt to introduce aliens into the conversation, however, has been vetoed. As Butcher so eloquently put it, Aliens are a trump card. Therefore, they don't even count. More specifically, the rules for fighting aliens are simply too uncertain and preparation for an alien invasion is nearly impossible. (Though I'm open to hearing arguments on this.) 

My claim for zombies as opposed to vampires (and yes, I am actually having this conversation with people in an English department over the course of several days) goes like this. If vampires exist, they have - according to vampire lore - existed for hundreds of years. There's nothing to suggest that they would all of a sudden show an interest in taking over the world when, by my estimation, the forces/weapons/technology that are available to fight them grow daily. Basically, if they were gonna kick some hiney, I believe they'd have already done so. Probably a long time ago. 

Zombies, on the other hand, are a modern invention. They'd be coming about now and spreading like a plague now b/c they just started existing whenever things went wrong in the lab. Or whatever. (I confess I am not a zombie buff, nor am I a vampire buff. But we did watch two of the Underworld movies again the other day. That served as a nice refresher.) 

This is not a new question for me - Brad and I began discussing this during the summer when, on our walks around the neighborhood, we noticed quite a few squirrel and bird carcasses. The work of zombies? Who can say. But this is obviously a legit question (and funny as hell to argue about). And we're not the only people who are interested; there's even a book about surviving run-ins with zombies

Perhaps the best addition to this ongoing conversation was contributed by a professor in my dept. I asked her, "So, if stuff starts popping off, do you think it will be vampires or zombies?" Her response: "Well, vampires don't disintegrate. Their body parts don't really come off." No, that's not what we meant by "popping off" . . . .

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Random Memory: Not being asked out on a first date

We met:  during the second week of classes my second semester at college; he was a junior, tall, charismatic, and (looking back, I realize) moderately full of himself (haha); we'd been smiling at each other for a few days across the room; I wore a tight shirt and a skirt, black clunky heels and tights; it was an upper level lit. course on James Joyce; our professor had just played the film version of "The Dead," and, as class let out, I wiggled quickly past people to be leaving the room at the same time as him: 

     Me:  "That movie was terrible." 
     Brad:  "I thought it was pretty good." 
     Me:  "Oh." 

I'm nothing if not sauve. 

He asks me out:  After class now, standing outside in the mid-January cold; laughing and leaning into each other; he offers to read my fiction some time, I decline vehemently due to embarrassment; then, 

     Brad:  "There's a reading tonight, in Bloomfield, some poets, a bunch of us are going." 
     Me:  "Oh, that sounds awesome, but I'm going home tonight - I have an appt. for a haircut." 

A month later:  Now we've been dating for, well, a month; we're cuddling at his apt., fully absorbed in beginning-relationship-bliss, that amazing species of feelings; we're trading compliments, probably of the "I loved it when you" variety: 

     Brad:  "I loved that you didn't change your plans that day we met, like, that you didn't cancel your hair appt. just to hang out with me." 
     Me:  "I guess it didn't even occur to me - it's not like I was being all kick-butt independent or something. I obviously would've really loved to go with you though." 
     Brad:  "Go with me?" 
     Me:  "To the reading. You know, like to go on the date with you." 
     Brad (laughing, shocked):  "I wasn't asking you to go with me! I was telling you about it so you could like, take the bus over, and then I would see you there. I wouldn't have wanted to get stuck being there with you the whole night if I didn't like you." 

Ahh, now that information will put a damper on the romantic story you tell your grandchildren about how you and Grandpa met.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On waiting (in the academic world)

In early November (of 2010), I submitted an article to a journal for consideration for publication. And by "article" I mean a completely unrevised paper from a seminar that I took last spring. I did this on a whim (literally, I was bored and Brad was napping on the couch diagonal to me), fully believing the paper would be rejected quite quickly, but maintaing a glimmer of hope that it would be, if nothing else, at least sent by the editor to reviewers and maybe I would get some feedback about how to improve it. 

(You might well ask why I didn't, before sending, use my teacher's feedback to improve, and you would be right to ask this. I could, however, only respond with a very unsatisfactory answer: laziness. That is, if it turned out the paper was too terrible to even be sent to reviewers, I didn't want to bother spending any time at all on it.) 

I guess before coming to my point (which is always a long and digressive task with me), it would help to explain the process of publication (or not-publication) in a peer-reviewed journal. Although journals vary, the basic rigamaroll looks something like this: 
    1.  you submit an unsolicited article (either via an online system, e-mail, or snail mail); 
    2.  an editor of one form or another makes an initial judgement (reject it or send it to reviewer/s); 
    3.  reviewers, who are experts in the particular area of your article, are invited to read and "score" your article; and 
    4.  based on the reviewers/ scores, the editor makes a decision about your article (reject/accept/accept with revisions/revise and resubmit). 

This process can take anywhere from 5 days to maybe 6 months. (The first place I ever submitted an article to took three months to reject it without even having sent it to reviewers. That same article was then accepted by a different journal in five days - of course, I had to stop wallowing and send it out again first, which took me a few weeks to do.) 

The waiting room at a doctor's office:  a fitting metaphor for 
the academic world, ugly decor and all. 

The present article/paper/potential piece of nonsense, is at a journal that has a typical 6-8 week response period, a factoid I got courtesy of the MLA Directory of Periodicals, that dear dear database. For some reason, I was expecting 8-10 weeks. But yesterday marked week 14. And since about week 8, I've been checking the status an unhealthy (obsessive?) 2-3 times a day. 

Currently (and for the last week and a half), my diamond-in-the-potentially-really-rough is in the reviwer's hands (or, rather, his/her inbox) and my online status on the journal's site is "awaiting reviewer scores." And although I probably shouldn't, I'm taking it as an encouraging sign that the editor sent it to a reviewer in the first place. I mean, with the other one, I got rejected at the first journal with as little fanfare as possible. Except for the whole THREE MONTHS thing (yes, I'm still seething just a tad two years later), which in my waiting-to-hear-from-PhD-programs-and-therefore-going-insane-and-hating-the-world mind, was all kinds of fanfare. 

So, basically, waiting sucks. And it sucks even more to wait with your hopes up when at least half of your brain is telling you that your writing stinks, your ideas stink, no one wants to publish your stupid paper, and, oh! by the way, you're never gonna get a job if you don't put out at least one more article before graduation (which, admittedly, is a long arse way off). 

And I've come to the conclusion that working in academia is all about waiting:  waiting to get through coursework to do comprehensive exams; waiting to pass comps to get to writing the dissertation; waiting to get through the diss. to find that ever elusive first job in a super crappy market; waiting to make that first job a sure thing by getting tenure . . . and on and on and on . . . .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Second-hand shopping on Saturday = fun

Yesterday Brad and I scored some yummy goods at the flea market/antique store down the road. Nothing too big - we spent a grand total of $27 - but some fun stuff nonetheless. Since I am super thrifty, both as a function of necessity and personality, finding delicious deals is in my top 10 favorite things. Deals on clothes, deals on shoes, deals on food, and definitely deals on stuff for the house - I love them all. 

And I love working on our house. We've got a hundred imagined projects; 30 or 40 we'll get too eventually; and about 10 in the works (like the half de-wallpapered powder room. Now that's an ugly sight). Adding little things here and there, a picture, a vase, some thrift store dishes is a fun way for us to indulge on a budget and a tight schedule. 

But I would be lying if I said I didn't suffer from what Melissa over at The Inspired Room calls "magazine cover-itis" ( (Loving her blog, by the way.) Like, I swear if I start drooling over the most recent Pottery Barn bedroom/bathroom catalog one more time . . . But, I'm trying - I'm trying to live in the moment and enjoy what we can do, and even more so, trying just to enjoy the fun of creating a space we love (and, finally, a space with a window in the bathroom!) 

Above:  my favorite find from yesterday, a bluey-green bowl with speckles inside ($11). We're thinking of this color for the dining room table. Like it?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why I don't hate Valentine's Day

No, it’s not b/c I’m married to a thoughtful romantic (though I am). I'm going against the trendy grain of Valentine's-Day-is-idiotic for an entirely different reason. I like the concept of a day (“holiday” does seem a bit like overkill, I’ll admit) when a lot of people who might not otherwise think about “love” and all it entails, well, think about love and all it entails. It sends a good message. It's nice. 

Is Valentine’s Day commercial? Sure. (Most things are these days.) Is it overdone, overdressed, and otherwise like a Thanksgiving turkey? Definitely. Is it created by Hallmark as a ruthless profit machine? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. But what I want to know is who really cares?! If Feb. 14th gets people doing nice things for their loved ones and spending time with them, then I can’t possibly see the harm. 

And don’t give me, “There shouldn’t have to be a designated day of the year for people to treat their spouse/partner with love; it should happen all the time.” Of course it should. Duh. And double duh. But for lots of people, it doesn’t. And I say 1 out of 365 is better than 0. 

So, all the Valentine's Day haters, hate away. But I'm going to smile and wish everyone a lovely day (even though I'll be sitting on my couch writing a paper). 

Me and my Valentine (on New Year's Eve - a holiday I do hate) 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Failure x 4

That is, I am once again not pregnant. 

On Saturday, we'll start using the ClearBlue Fertility monitor we dropped $150 on a few weeks ago (not to mention the cost of the test sticks; I won't even regale you with that wallet nightmare). You're supposed to start testing on day 5 of your cycle, and as you go through the days, the monitor asks you to test either for 10 or 20 days, depending on what I am not exactly sure. (Perhaps how much it wants to rip you off by forcing you to purchase more test sticks?) 

I feel like a sack of cinder blocks every time I see a woman (or man!) with a baby or small child, and since that's pretty nearly every time I step out my front door, I feel pretty consistently like bulky, porous building materials. Even before we started trying, I was pretty generally convinced that I would be unable to get pregnant, despite having absolutely zero reason for thinking this. Or, no reason other than my supposed pessimism, as Brad calls it. Every time I get my period it's further reinforcement of that fear. I know the average time it takes to get pregnant is (supposedly) a year, but until I do get pregnant, I'm going to be worried beyond belief that I will never. And if I read one more person saying (and I'm doing this in an annoying preschool teacher voice), "Don't think about it so much! It will happen when you're not trying!" I might throw up my Hi-C and peanut butter and jelly sandwich right onto someone's velcro shoes. 

Brad says it will happen soon. Butcher says he's got his fingers crossed. Amanda - with whom I have my second date tomorrow, this time at my house - says she understands how hard it is to not get frustrated but that once it happens I will be so happy and not remember what life is like without a baby. My mom says - and isn't this so my practical mother? - that she wonders if we're timing things right each month. 

I have a response to only one of these thoughts, and this is, "We just dropped $180 to make sure we get the timing right."

Some Final Thoughts on the Super Bowl

"Final?" you might well ask; "but you didn't have any initial thoughts on the Super Bowl . . ." Au contraire, my friend. 

I've had quite a few thoughts on the Super Bowl, but none in a spirit festive enough to share. But today, thinking about a quip from one of my students (a Pittsburgher and Steelers fan herself, she rooted for Green Bay) - which was an intensified version of a sentiment Brad shared post-loss on game night - I decided that since festivity is not in order, my un-festive thoughts are appropriate. 

This lack of festivity is not due to the obvious - the fact that the Steelers lost (or that they looked simply awful in Texas). Instead, it's due to my lack of, well, giving a crap that the Steelers lost (and that they looked awful in Texas). My student, for her part, is glad the Steelers lost. She feels - and I'm inclined to agree - that some kind of cosmic injustice would have been perpetrated had Roethlisberger gone from behaving badly, getting caught and "punished" for behaving badly, onto winning the Super Bowl the same season and being a major hero. (She wasn't quite as succinct, nor did she use the words "cosmic justice," but as a teacher of English, I make it my duty to find the gems hidden amidst the clunkiness.) Now Brad didn't go so far as to say that he's glad; but for the first time in the decade I've known him, a serious Steelers loss didn't hurt him the way getting a football to the gut hurts (and, believe me, I know - it fricking hurts). 

But I don't want to rehash how Ben is a jerk and deserved to lose, etc. etc. - people are probably doing that all over my great city. Instead I want to talk about how his ridiculousness killed the story of football for me. We want our "heroes" to have a flaw, sure, but not the flaw of being a sexual assaulter. By being someone I would rather forget and quite frankly hate to look at, Ben made me ambivalent about the biggest game in my favorite sport. He's not Hamlet or Oedipus (I'm overlooking the problematics of the whole "murder" thing); he's just a dirtball we pay a lot of money to watch. (Note that this is not coming from some hatred of professional atheletes making a lot of money. I'm a firm believer in if-you-don't-want-them-to-get-paid-obscene-amounts-of-money-then-stop-doing-the-things-that-enable-them-to-make-obscene-amounts-of-money. And I, for one, am not going to stop watching the NFL.) 

Perhaps I've got Clifford Geertz and Claude Levi-Strauss on my mind. If cockfighting is a central component of Balinese culture, then the NFL is a central component of ours. And, being a good structuralist (which I am NOT in reality), I expect my football to have the proper elements; and one of those - a HUGE one of those - is a compelling quarterback/team leader/inspirational figure. Someone to get behind. When that's missing, the story falls apart. None of the other elements - even an "aging star with killer toughness and down-to-earth charm" (read:  Hines Ward) and a "young coach with a feel-good family story" (read:  Mike Tomlin) can relate to each other in a way that makes sense, that coheres, that creates the comprehensible structure that is an NFL team worth cheering for. 

At least not for me. 

Admittedly, my grasp of structuralism sucks. That's me and lit. theory for you. But my contention remains firm:  he killed the Super Bowl by killing the story that structures it. And of course I would think of things in terms of stories. Fiction MFA - duh . . . . 

(It should be mentioned here that I have loathed him for years - long before the scandals, long before the official hate party commenced. He's a crybaby and a drama queen, though in a unique, non-primadonna way. I just want that on the record.) 

As for the post title, these are my final thoughts b/c 1.  I'm sick of talking/hearing about it even though, quite interestingly, I haven't talked/heard much about it at all, and 2.  it's really, truly not worth any further discussion. See the abovementioned reasons.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What has happened to Southland?

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(Spoiler alert:  if you haven't watched episode 4 of the current season of Southland and you plan to, then don't read this.) 

Things should be going well in the Land of South. Sammy's horrible, annoying, nerve-grating wife is finally getting the heave-ho, and, given Sal's lesser role this season, his shrieking daughter Kimmy has been thankfully MIA. (Brad and I have long wished for violence to befall both of these characters). Add that to the infrequent appearance of the idiot Dewey in recent episodes, and season 3 sounds like it's got the makings of magic. 

But it sucks. 

The episodes have lost their tightness, the interconnectedness of the various strands. The gritty violence took a leave of absence, while the surprising humor of episodes like "See the Woman" (John and Ben in the wig shop; the missing Bentley with the Great Dane) can be found only in the occasional side comment by John. One week's action seems pretty interchangeable with the next's. And now, a television travesty has occured:  Det. Nate Moretta has been killed out of nowhere

Not only is actor Kevin Alejandro gorgeously gorgeous, but his character Nate was also likeable, realistic, and interesting. He was someone you actually wanted to watch. And I don't care whether his sudden death was super "real," etc.:  the simple fact is that the show cannot afford to lose him right now. This season, Lydia is the only redeeming aspect of the series. Her new partner Ochoa is irritating and uninteresting; John and Ben have been bickering like old women at a card game; and, as Greg over at says, it was Nate who made Sammy's character work. With Sal and Chickie thrust into "recurring" rather than regular roles, the show doesn't have much to work with. Please don't tell me that Lydia's gonna start hating her job and go to med school; I don't know if I could bear it. 

I can't believe I'm saying it, but I long for the time when, two or three days after watching an episode, we were driving down the highway and in a momentary lull in some unrelated conversation, Brad exclaims, "F***ing Kimmy! Every time she leaves the house she gets in trouble!" The show was that memorable and intense. 

Since I should, instead of watching tv, be doing my loads of work, I ought to take the show's current crappiness as a sign to watch less tv. Instead, I'm thinking Nate's death is just another reason we need to start watching True Blood. I could get used to Kevin Alejandro as a hunky witch.

Friday, February 4, 2011

To quote Borat,

"Great success!" 

In other words, we'll be having a second date.

It's like a first date! only not

That is, I'm going to visit my old high school/early college best friend this afternoon. I haven't seen her in almost five years, nor have I talked to her or texted with her or e-mailed with her or sent telepathic messages with her. In other words, no contact. Brad and I moved away for me to get my MFA in 2006, she got married and bought a house in 2007, and so on and so on - all the while incommunicado. 

Then she e-mailed me out of the blue (well, we do exchange Christmas cards, so not 100% out of the blue) a few weeks ago, and we immediately started chatting it up big time. Like almost daily. And so, here we are, two weeks later, and I'm Google-mapping her address and about to wrap the little bath toys I got for her baby (a completely adorable 9-month old boy. Whose birthday is 2 days before mine. I'm more than a little bit jealous, of course). 

Yesterday, in the absolutely-no-talking-section of the library, Butcher asked me if I was nervous. I responded with a resounding YES. It seriously feels like a first date; or like I told Brad this morning, a try-out. In other words:  like high school all over again. Will she like me?? Will I like her?? Will we laugh?? Will there be things to say?? Can we avoid awkward silences?? 

So, to prepare for this "date" (or, "audition" if you prefer) - which begins around 12 or 12:15 - I'm going to shower and fix my hair. I'm going to wear skinny jeans and a green cowl neck sweater. Yes, I've had the outfit picked out in my mind for days. Unfortunately, all the car drama (I haven't even written about getting rear-ended in my Honda last Sunday - add up the b.s.!) ate up the time I had to get a haircut this week. Which I needed anyway. But really wanted to get before seeing her. 

Is this all absurd? Maybe. But I'm excited. Wish me luck! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Random Memory: Fuzzy and the Closet

(File this under humorous; just desserts; and lackadaisical pet-parenting

This popped into my mind yesterday, and it's too enjoyable not to share. 

Back when Brad and I were first married (fondly, "the olden days"), after I dropped out of law school but before I started grad. school for library science (why oh why did I do either of those?), we both worked at the community college. This was his "real" job at the time - in quotes because it was not paying "real" money, nor was he getting "real" hours - and it was quite possibly the place where I made the most money I have ever made. Which isn't saying a whole lot. But still. 

We lived in the city then, North Oakland to be precise, with our two cats, P.J. (girl cat) and Fuzzy (boy cat). We've had them since they were 8 weeks old - and "we" were five months old (that's another humorous anecdote) - and at the time they were 4 or 5 years. They liked to sit in the many, giant windows looking out onto Craig St. And onto traffic and a Sunoco and PAT buses. Their food/water was in the dining room; their little box in a little space behind the front door. It was cramped, but it was our first apartment all togethe (awwwwwwwww!). 

Anyway, for me and Brad to be at work at 8:00 a.m., we would leave around 7:15. Pet the kitties at the door, tell them lovey things, and then we'd hike however many blocks to where we parked our car (couldn't afford to park in the garage under the building); join the exodus of commuters, curse the traffic, almost be late every day (except for the days when we were late); stay till 4, then drive home in the same sort of traffic. 

One particular Friday, however, we got a little frisky and made a trip to the mall after work. There we raided Macy's sale racks/tables, bought Brad dress shoes for work (they were black, I remember), and otherwise dilly-dallied, buying or not buying. We probably ate food in there somewhere because we like to eat food. 

It was winter, and when we got back to the apartment it was dark out. I'd guess 7:00, 7:15. Could have been 7:30. Any way you slice it, we're talking about 12 hours since departure. 

Wait, what's that I hear? Sounds like scratching at my bedroom (fabulously huge) closet door. Let me open it. Oh! There's a cat. Oh! He's been in there for twelve hours. Poor Fuzzy - oops! We loved and coddled and cuddled and apologized to our little beast (and by "we" I mean "me" since I'm the one who failed to check he wasn't in there before shutting the door). So:  love, coddle, cuddle, apologize, repeat. Then we forgot about him. 

Brad did a fashion show for me, modeling his new kicks in the living room. Then we see sweet little Fuzzy sitting in the shoe box, on top of the gray-black tissue paper, staring out at us with his big, dumb eyes. Aw, how cute - cats just love their boxes! 

Except this wasn't love. This was revenge. He peed right there in the shoe box. Twelve hours of urine, thirty feet from the litter box. And anyone who's had a cat knows there's not many smells worse than the smell of cat pee. I guess it was owed us. Though it would have been more fitting had he peed on something in my closet. Thank goodness he didn't, that's all I'm saying. And it's a good thing Brad liked those shoes.