Friday, December 31, 2010

Media Mixer from 2010

2010 articles (courtesy David Brooks' The Sidney Awards):

Favorite Books Read in 2010
  • Octavia Butler, Kindred - An author who reminded me it's possible to write good novels that end in action, not despair.
  • J.M. Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K - Restrained, subtle, and filled with beautiful writing you have to stop and savor.
  • Jacques Derrida, Demeure - Yes, it's theory, but one of my favorite pieces so far.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated - A whirlwind of humor stopped in its tracks by poignant descriptions of tragedy.
  • ---. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - A quieter, rambling novel with similar poignancy.
  • Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants - Brilliant character development; also a great audio book.
  • Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev - Art and faith treated sensitively, without losing character in this k├╝nstlerroman.
  • Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge - Short stories that are brief and precise circle around the main character, but in doing so give her depth and spirit.
  • Markus Zusak, The Book Thief - Alternately whimsical and heartbreaking, the author has a perfect touch for young adult tragedy.
To Read in 2011
  • Yiyun Li, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl - Loved The Vagrants, looking forward to these short stories.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Tree of Codes - A little skeptical about this latest book-art project, I'll have to check it out none the less.
  • Christopher Paolini - The Inheritance Cycle, book 4 - Grudgingly need to finish the series, if the book comes out this year.
  • Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken - I enjoyed Seabiscuit, so this interests me.
  • Jonathan Franzen, Freedom - Reviews caught my attention, so I'll give it a shot.
  • David Grossman, To the End of the Land - Highly ranked on Amazon, and looks worth reading.

Notable 2010 Movies

Movies in 2011
  • Contagion - The action-thriller plot doesn't sound terribly interesting, but Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law? Umm, yes...
  • Thor - Skeptical, but interested. He has a hammer. Kenneth Branagh directing, well (thinking Hamlet), but Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman have signed on.
  • The Tree of Life - Interesting premise, and I like Sean Penn. Preview looks awesome.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part II - Duh.
  • Water for Elephants - Love the book. A bit nervous about dear Robert, but I think Reese will fit the role pretty well. I'm hoping the director brings a bit more I am Legend, a bit less Britney Spears music video.
  • The Giver - Amazing book. Hoping the film can do it justice.
  • Another Year
  • I Am
  • White Material

Still Need to See...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Breaking with Breaking

The end of Christmas break always hits like a ton of bricks.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

After-Christmas Eye Strain

One word: SNOW!!!!

Eleven words: I have not watched this many movies in a long time.

White Christmas (check!)
Miracle on 34th Street
It's a Wonderful Life
A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sims)
A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stuart)
Prince Caspian
Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Ben-Hur

Whew.

I'm still not sure how Star Wars qualifies as Christmassy. Perhaps the abominable snowman in Ep. 5? It's a stretch, George, it's a stretch.

Then again, I did spend part of Christmas Day reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I guess we're even.

Now tackling writer's block with Return of the King, ginger peach tea, and turkey pie. And apple cake.

This is going to require a lot of frisbee and dancing next week...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

Hope, by Martin Gommel
Hope, by Martin Gommel
Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Veni, veni, O Oriens;
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.

Veni, Clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude caelica;
Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum.

Veni, veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai,
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Driving Christmas...Somewhere

A few nights ago, I drove around town with a friend to look at all the Christmas lights.

Lots of elegant white lights, some half-lit reindeer, wreaths galore, get-the-party-started multicolored lights, Santa on a motorcycle, baby light-up geese beneath a light-up palm tree, and party-foul excessive neon blue lights later, I'd say it was a success.

Today, I took a drive in the country. Sometimes I forget the culture shift that happens a few miles outside of the town limits.

For example...

A store called "Gobble and Grunt."

An in-house shop called "Vestal Sock Outlet."

And my favorite, "Take Two Movies and Tanning."

The name pretty much says it all...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Media Blitz Break

Christmas break is not just about eating a lot of good food and spending time with family and friends. For me, it's also about reading all the books and watching all the movies I don't have time to read/watch during the semester.

Top of the list: How to Train Your Dragon has to be one of my new favorite animated movies. Gorgeous music by John Powell (Bourne trilogy, Shrek, I Am Sam), adorable dragons, and none-too-shabby writing.

Also watched or re-watched:

A Few Good Men
Cinderella
Half-Nelson

And watching or re-watching

Nine
Arsenic and Old Lace
Rachel Getting Married
Black Swan

Also reading or re-reading

Grapes of Wrath
Mrs. Dalloway
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Eurydice
Our Town
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Unaccustomed Earth

And somewhere in there, I'll be celebrating Christmas and writing a thesis prospectus.

Details...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Done!

Done with 3/4 of the M.A.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grass Two-Con: productivity starts now

Just when you thought computer filters had jumped the shark, made like a flip phone, and gone the way of the penny gumball, a new development in Internet Addiction Management proves they're still in it to win it.

Announcing the unveiling of Grass Two-Con, the revolutionary new version of Parental Controls developed uniquely for graduate students.

Fully customizable on a variety of levels, the GTC maneuvers users along a continuum of access based on school calendar, proximity of project due dates, and stress level (as measured by a new super-sensitive keyboard that records fingertip perspiration and pulse).

Websites can be unconditionally blocked, placed on a time limit, or limited to a set number of visits per hour.

Academic job outlook sites are strictly off-limits.

The lowest level of security is the Iwoc level (initial week of classes--not to be confused with ewok). Most websites are permitted, but a time limit is applied to the Facebook pages of new classmates.

The middle range places increasing restrictions on sites including but not limited to:

Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Etsy
LiveJournal
Blogger
Wordpress
ICanHasCheezburger
IMDB
PhD Comics
____________ (fully customizable)

Auditory sensors can also be added to filter out babies, cute animals, or wedding photos that elicit an "awww" response in the upper register of the voice.

Discipline-specific filters may permit additional access to news media for students in communication studies and political science. English grads have the option to add a time-sensitive neon flashing pop-up instructing them to "Go Read a Book Already!" if they linger on one page for longer than 30 seconds.

At the upper end of the spectrum is the Osafsotiabohaw Level (one step away from shutting off the Internet and banging one's head against walls). In this mode, Internet access is restricted to the library's website, peer-reviewed databases, and mental health care provider sites.

All other sites are








[GTC Error Message: We're sorry. This page has been added to the proprietor's list of restricted sites. Limited access will be restored after finals week is over.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Refrain of the Week

This week, I'm thinking about taking a page from Melville's book and adopting a new refrain from Bartleby the Scrivener.

Thesis prospectus? I would prefer not to.

Please notify the department of your final thesis committee: I would prefer not to.

Final papers? I would prefer not to.

Off-month budgeting? I would prefer not to.

Planning for next year? I would prefer not to.

Making decisions? I would prefer not to.

It worked for Bartleby, right?

Well...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Epic Thanksgiving in Two Parts

Thanksgiving is like a giant "Don't Panic" sign in the midst of a galaxy full of exam- and school-related Vogons.

Thanksgiving in the South, I might add, is a cultural experience unlike any other.

You Might Be at a Southern Potluck If...

...you ask, "was that pimento cheese in my corn casserole?"
...walking by another woman carrying the same dessert is a travesty akin to seeing another woman in the same Dior dress.
...to keep the peace, you must take a spoonful of each homemade applesauce. The respective owners will have a running tally of whose dish is emptier, and it might come to blows.
...watching what you eat means you forgo thirds and skip straight to dessert.
...the vegetarian option is to eat around the ham in the green bean casserole.
...normal laws of fractions don't apply when you eat "just a sliver" of multiple kinds of pie.
...cooking, eating, hospitality, and complimenting the cook are 100% still art forms.

Beyond the Bounty

(...the quilted quicker picker-upper)

Thanksgiving is definitely about more than the food, however. This year, I've managed to renew my fear and utter, complete, total, infinite loathing of the sound of styrofoam squeaking against itself. It brings back memories of easing frosted china figurines out of a thick shell of styrofoam for the family snow village. Fingernails on a chalkboard x 10 to the power of 10. Shiver.

What being the resident English grad student means is that I can't escape the Shakespeare recitation after Thanksgiving dinner, with its panicked mid-Julius Caesar memory check to make sure there are no sexual innuendos in the piece I've started declaiming.

There's also the glorious experience of sitting in Denny's and drinking enormous whipped-cream topped coffees with my sis and brother-to-be because nothing else is open on Thanksgiving evening. Let's not forget the small child in the restroom who looks through the crack in the stall door and asks "Who's that?"

On the way home, there's that magical moment of turning on Christmas music for the drive and singing along, loudly. With it comes the overnight multiplication of bundled up Christmas trees on other cars' roof racks. And knowing that I'm enjoying the warmth of bed while the madness of Black Friday shopping goes on without me.

The Don't Panic sign starts to blink feebly on Friday, and by Saturday, it's needing new batteries desperately. But after all, panic is the best motivation, and I can always justify the time off from schoolwork by saying confidently, "Imagine the time I'll save on eating during finals week because I'm still stuffed from Thanksgiving dinner(s)!"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful

Today, I'm thankful for a lot of things.

.A family that cares deeply.
.Friends, old and new, in abundance.
.Music.
.Dancing.
.November sunshine after clouds.
.Autumn colors and the ability to see them.
.Four seasons.
.Good food, and plenty.
.The ability to notice beauty.
.Laughter.
.Conversations, the deep and the light.

Too many to list, really.

What about you? What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Pal Potter


Not gonna lie, I'm a little excited about this. Just a little.

TOMORROW!!!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not Just Me Anymore

Well, it's happened. After twenty-plus years of questions about "anyone special?", I've finally found myself in a relationship.**

Sad to say, it's not been a healthy one. In fact, it's decidedly problematic.

But at least I've reached the point when I can finally admit it.

I, Jen, am in a very unhealthy relationship with this fellow called Time. You could call it co-dependent. Obsessive wouldn't be off the mark. Over-protective? Yep. Controlling? Oh yes.

See, My Time is not only the name of a racehorse in Walter Farley's Black Stallion series; it's also the most common way in which I approach time. As a result, I've developed a rather irritating refrain this year: I don't have time. I need more time.

This semester, in the midst of reading British novels like Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, I've noticed that one of the motifs I pick out is what I usually notate as "the tyranny of time." The characters in these novels structure their stories within a framework of time: they apologize for the passage of time unmarked; they initiate and conclude events by referencing the time of day; their subjectivity is closely linked to their appropriation of time.

If these literary characters are subject to the tyranny of time, I haven't got a prayer. Busy-ness is part of the contract in graduate school, and in one respect, it's non-negotiable. But I'm starting to think that there's a difference between treating time as something to be wrung, manipulated, fractured, and hoarded; and as something to be mindful of and to preserve wisely in order to be generous with.

When I'm sitting in my tiny metal cubicle at 3 a.m., I think about these things. But it's one thing to wax poetic about the tyranny of time and yet another to translate thought into action. How to make that distinction in a day-to-day life that flees past me from job to job and assignment to procrastination technique (i.e. blogging) is another matter all together.

...

...

Well, call me a geek, but what would it look like if, "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you"?

Given to, not owned by. Maybe that's a starting point.

Switching off the Internet might not be a bad idea either.

**Made you look. ;-)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time is leaving us behind

The magic of Standard Time is that my body doesn't know about it.

Ergo, although it takes a little more effort to stay up at night, I'm now waking up (thank you internal alarm clock) a full hour earlier!

P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-V-I-T-Y!!!

(theoretically, that is.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gap-toothed Smiles

It's funny to me that before I "officially" made the decision not to apply to PhD programs, I was very comfortable with that choice. As soon as I decided, though, all the doubts and fears began to crop up in my mind. Now, I'm trying to do a bit of processing.

In 2008, I wrote about the scads of commentaries available from people weighing in on the pros and cons of taking a year off before grad school (Good gap, bad gap). In another post (To fill in the Gap), I called this blog "an exploration and a promise" of my personal plan to return to graduate school. I suppose I still see it that way.

On one hand, it's reassuring to look back at the post and affirm: yes, I did successfully begin graduate school in 2009 (even if I never made it through that beginning Italian book...).

On the other hand, a year can be a long time, and I remember how much I missed school during the last working year. There's a part of me that feels as if I've gone in a small circle, and come May, will be right back where I was in 2008.

Well, today, I think that part of me needs a good talking to.

Okay, self. Let's get a few things straight. Number 1: This is a choice, not a failure. The reason I decided not to apply was, in part, to preserve my freedom to choose. I didn't want to go on just because I was accepted somewhere, and I didn't want take a year off just because no one accepted me.

Number 2: This is neither a roadblock, a detour, nor a dead end. It is a part of the route. Without the pressing deadlines of course work, I will make time to visit schools, get in touch with relevant scholars (whose names I'm just starting to learn), and put together a killer writing sample and essays. I'll refresh my French and keep working on Latin, maybe even add Italian. If I need to, I'll re-take tests. I'll read more theory. I'll get familiar with more primary texts in my field. I might go to conferences or go to the Folger Library.

Number 3: I'm not just a scholar. I still want to dance, play sports, and get back into theater. I want to travel, take road trips, and do more creative writing. I'd like to tutor more and maybe get some teaching experience. These aren't just coping strategies: they're important pieces of who I am.

Number 4: I haven't just gone in a circle. I've improved immensely as a writer, a reader, and a researcher. My sense of my own scholarly identity has grown just as much. What is more, I successfully applied for, received, and completed a research grant; I attended two more grad conferences; and I will have written and defended a thesis. That's not nothing.

Number 5: Part of the anxiety I feel comes from believing I lack the perseverance to reach my goals if once I pause to consider. However, if I am honest, not just in the pessimistic sense, my track record shows I am capable of persistence. If this continues to be my goal, and I think it will, I will continue to work toward it.

Telling myself these things doesn't eradicate the fears completely, but it's helpful to rehash the things I don't always quite believe. Sometimes truth bears repeating.

Now in the meantime, self, you have a thesis to plan...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The decision is in. I'm not applying to Ph.D. programs this fall; instead, I'm going to take a year off and apply next fall.

Yikes.

(More thoughts on this to follow after I finish paper/presentation for class tomorrow...)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Literary Language in Politics

So, (procrastinator alert!) according to Speech Wars, the word "literature" has been used 15 times in State of the Union addresses since 1790. (It only made it into inaugural addresses twice: Hoover, 1929, and Reagan, 1985.) Most of the references, oddly enough, are related to 1) the need to teach literature in military schools, in order to keep students on par with other educated individuals; and 2) the need to teach literature in schools on reservations.

The humor award goes to Grover Cleveland's 6th State of the Union in 1894, when he says in reference to abuses of the postal system, "Paper-covered literature, consisting mainly of trashy novels, to the extent of many thousands of tons is sent through the mails at 1 cent per pound, while the publishers of standard works are required to pay eight times that amount in sending their publications." Tsk, tsk. Precursors to Twilight, no doubt. He mentions it again in 1896.

Most serious goes to Calvin Coolidge, who, in 1925, cites the "appreciation of the arts of music and literature" is part of "attempting to strengthen the spiritual life of the Nation."

Finally, the most poetic award goes to Ronald Reagan in 1986, when he says, "The American Dream is a song of hope that rings through night winter air. Vivid, tender music that warms our hearts when the least among us aspire to the greatest things--to venture a daring enterprises; to unearth new beauty in music, literature, and art; to discover a new universe inside a tiny silicon chip or a single human cell."

Notably, Reagan is also the only president to use the word "poetry" in an inaugural address; the word has never been mentioned in a State of the Union address.

As for what it all means, that's a subject for another post entirely, and my procrastination limit has reached its daily maximum...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall is in the Air

Whether fall break means a week of sleeping until noon or one afternoon of not working and only writing two pages on an imminently due paper, it's that time of year for [graduate] students.

Fall break starts with a great word: fall. I tend to repeat myself to the point of excess when I start to talk about how much I love autumn, especially October, so bullet points are in order...

  • Leaves - so many colors! the shushing sound of scuffing your shoes through them! drifting lazily down into piles! floating along creeks!
  • Cool air - blue-tinted wood in the morning! seeing your breath in the air! wearing jeans and sweaters! sitting outside in the sun at noon!
  • Sky - clouds and contrast and blue and gold and breezes!
  • Food - pies and cranberry sauce and pumpkins and apple-picking season and pecans and walnuts and hot apple cider and mulled wine!

I could go on, but enough already.

In academia, it's also a time of decision making. What will my thesis be about? What courses will I take in the spring? Can I survive another semester working this many hours? Do I need to take a language course? Should I apply to PhD programs? Am I going to apply to jobs? What about AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or Teach for America?

(and underneath it all, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?)

And of course, all of this existential angst comes right in the middle of midterm papers and exams. Talk about a stacked deck.

But then fall break arrives. I stop. I take a walk outside. I bake something. I talk to friends. I read a book for fun. I stand in the sun with my eyes closed. And time slows down.

I know that Monday morning I'll be stressed to the max again, trying to make all of those grand decisions and parse out my time to that last nanosecond. I know that I have papers to write and presentations to prepare and hours to clock. But every now and then it helps to pause--breathe--and get a bit of perspective.

So thanks, fall break. You're an okay kind of holiday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Procrastination

This morning I came across a fascinating article about procrastination, something with which I think every graduate student is on first-name basis.

It's called Later: What We Can Learn from Procrastination, by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, and as a four-page article, it's also a great procrastination tool.

Check it out!

My favorite line: "Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing."

Oh Victor.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fighting Words

Along with Speech Wars, this new NPR project, Fighting Words, might have to become one of my new favorite procrastination tools.

According to the website, "NPR is following key politicians on Facebook, Twitter and their websites to see what terms are gaining or losing traction on the campaign trail."

Big ones this week? Jobs. "Over the past several weeks, "jobs" been mentioned about 1,500 times by those we're tracking. " Also popular in the last 7 days among...

Democrats: Afghanistan

Republicans: Obama

Candidates: change

Influencers: Pelosi


This is going to be fun!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I, the Optimist

There's something to be said for the intense optimism that follows sickness:

Why yes, I can read three books in a day and a half. It only takes me 4 minutes to read a page: (4 x 450 pages = 1800 minutes = 30 hours). That's 6 leftover hours!

Why no, computer, I'm not offended that you just ATE the thirty pages I spent an hour scanning. And then ate the 10 pages I spent another 20 minutes re-scanning.

You see, I can breathe through both my nostrils at the same time, and I can chuckle--without having a coughing fit--at the chipmunk frolicking outside my window and eating my basil plants. I can walk up the stairs twice in a row without breaking into a sweat, and I can taste the food I made for dinner.

So go ahead, technology. Plot your worst. Go ahead, workload, be your...normal self. I'm not afraid of you. I can do anything.

...

...

...

So maybe, in retrospect, I'm still a trifle feverish.

C'est la vie.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

My dear germ friends...

You germs always have the worst timing. I mean really. Is it too much to ask that you would check Google Calendar before you move in?

Don't tell me Germ Central doesn't have high speed internet yet. I know you viruses share passwords. That's right. Busted.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Staircase Strategems

**All new, behind-the-scenes look at the world of dramatized sports that is Jen versus the Stairs.**

Stairman of the Ratings Advisory Board: All right folks, listen up. We've seen a pretty substantial drop in our ratings this month, something about football season - what's up with that? - so it's time for a serious comeback, and I want everyone on board. Alistair, wow me.

(Recently hired) Tread Coach: Well Casey, the plan is to inaugurate the 2010-2011 season with a bang. Something to make them hearken back to the days before WWF stood for World Wildlife Fund. I'm picturing a bold ankle-roll-and-full-face-plant-on-the-back-stairs-of-the-library extravaganza.

(Long Silence)

Stairman: I think I'm going to like you...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Starting Monday Off Right

What better way to get your Monday off to a great start than by...?

...feeling like a fashion guru because, if nothing else, you know that your pockets should probably not be longer than your shorts.

...chuckling with the triumph of waking up before the alarm clock can have the last word.

...getting Trogdor the Burninator's theme song stuck in your head for no reason..."burninating the country-side..."

...walking into the bathroom, snapping your fingers, and having the lights turn on in response to your command. Anyone who says they are operated by a motion detector and would have turned on anyway is just a Monday Marplot.

So there.

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tonight's Epic Question

Why are conclusions so ridiculously hard to write?

One would think it would be easy to summarize three weeks' experience into 4 pages, right?*

I think my ability to summarize decreases exponentially after midnight. I'm fading fast.

One more paragraph.

One more.

*Please note the thinly disguised irony in this statement.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Re(ally)(im)port(ant)s(tuff)

The fun (term used loosely) part of going on research trips is writing the reports afterward. Friday being my deadline, today is the day of writing.

It's amazing how quickly the first excited rush of ideas and inspiration gets buried under the quotidian workload. Time to unearth it, dust it off, and redact three weeks into five pages, one paragraph, and three sentences of interesting material by this afternoon.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

I took a lot of pictures.

Ergo...

*slaps hand* Bad student. Very bad student. Stop procrastinating. Since I'm currently running on five hours of sleep, there's only one important question: Got coffee?

Yes. Yes I do.

I am invincible.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Look is Changing

As you may have noticed, the look of my blog is changing. It's a work in progress, so if you have comments or suggestions, please let me know! Thanks for stopping by...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sorry Feet

Lesson of the day:

Asphalt absorbs sunlight.

When asphalt absorbs sunlight, it converts it to heat.

Apparently, asphalt can reach 140 degrees on a hot summer day.

Even if maximum heat is not reached, it's fairly safe to say asphalt gets hot.

Bare feet do not appreciate those levels of heat.

Even very cooperative feet that usually do well without shoes.

Walking faster doesn't quite do the trick.

Ergo, crossing asphalt parking lots in direct sunlight in the late afternoon in August barefoot...

Ouch.

Sorry feet.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Admission of Geekiness

The paradox of graduate school: with probably 30 books on my reading lists for classes, four jobs to juggle, and research reports to complete, I'm having a hard time putting down a book that was (before this morning) on none of my reading lists, and that I merely saw while scanning the shelves of the library.

Go figure.

Unfortunately, for now the preface to Spivak's A Critique of Postcolonial Reason will have to remain in abeyance.

"...Thus the reader's place is as unsecured as the writer's. But is that not the status of all texts, resisted in the writing and the reading?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Year Two Resolutions

Well, it's happening again. Year two of my M.A. in English has officially begun. I celebrated by discovering that I now associate the smell of the library, especially the study rooms, with David Lynch. When that happened, I have no idea.

As befits another school year, I have immediately commenced making long-winded and ridiculous resolutions that will be broken .2 seconds after I receive my first assignment. Nonetheless, for your reading pleasure, I present,

Resolutions to which Every Studious Overachieving Learner Under Thirty Is Obliged to Nominally Subscribe*

1) I will not, will not give in to the lure of Starbucks before every 3 p.m., 2.5 hour class.

2) Projects will not, will not be completed the night before they are due.**

3) I will bring an umbrella to school on rainy days.***

4) I will not, will not use Facebook as a reward for every sentence I type.

5) I will not, will not allow the stairs to have the last word.****

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? I can do this. I can. Really. Go. Done.

...

Right.


*Did you notice that amazing split infinitive? Mwahahaha
**Notice the lovely ambiguity that allows projects to be still incomplete the night (and morning) before they are due...
***But may leave it in the car.
****Even if all I get to add is "ouch."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's Back to Business

Someone should mass-produce sunsets, cooler mornings, gardens, bare feet, "Is it really midnight already?" conversations, and coloring books. It would make a great recipe for an energy drink. Grad student demand would be through the roof.

Classes start back tomorrow. I went to campus yesterday and re-immersed myself in the smell of freshly cut grass, dusty books, and very well-dressed students. (For the last, hearing faint strains of Finals will overcome [you]; finals will overcome playing in my head.)

Nostalgia for crowded parking lots and the "wedding march" stairs vanished even more quickly.

But hey, it's grad school. Welcome back!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When This All Began...

(*Jekyll & Hyde moment!)

With just under a week of homecoming under my belt, I guess it's that time to look back, have an "aha!" moment, and otherwise generally reflect on my trip. (Oh, PDP, you have me well-trained, don't you?)

Well, here goes.

On July 5, I wrote,

I think today for the first time, it hit me that I'll be traveling to New Zealand on a research grant in just over two weeks.

All of a sudden, "plenty of time" means very little. The stack of books I was supposed to have read seems very large. And my relative ability to speak coherently to individuals in an informal interview setting seems extraordinarily low.

Nonetheless, I will be departing in 15 days. Ergo, the map-examining, timetable-plotting, and various document-copying becomes as rampant as slouching teenagers in the mall in July.

Unfortunately for my sanity, the map-examining, timetable-plotting, and various document-copying actually hit fifth gear not on July 5, but on July 19. However, by July 20 I was packed and "ready" to go.

Over the course of the next three weeks, I traveled, visited museums, talked to professors, watched performances, and looked at diaries from 1880, director's notes from 1940, and handwritten lists of theatre performances seen over a twenty-year period in the late 1800s, among dozens of other things.

Highlights of the trip:

-Walking all over Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, (Picton, Christchurch) and Dunedin. The occasional chocolate boutique or bakery didn't hurt.
-Seeing Romeo & Juliet twice in Auckland.
-Good conversations with my roommates in hostels and other people I met through my research and wanderings.
-Botanic gardens: Hamilton and Dunedin.
-Waterfronts: Auckland and Wellington.
-Favorite archives: a man's painstaking records of his every theatrical experience in handwriting that would make Thumbelina proud; an honorary scroll presented to Allan Wilkie after one of his tours in Dunedin.
-Gradually getting a better sense of my research interests through successive attempts to explain them to other people.

And yes, coming home and seeing friends and family(!!!!), dancing again(!!), playing frisbee, not living out of a suitcase, and having free Internet.

It was good. :-) Thanks for following along.

Cheers!

Friday, August 13, 2010

In Transit

"There and back again"

Not just a hobbit's tale.*

Well folks, after a long-and-short three weeks, I'm back in the U.S. and feeling more than a little jet-lagged and woozy after right about 30 hours in transit.

Operation stay-awake-until-a-normal-bedtime is now in effect.

But along the way, I've made some interesting discoveries about the wandering life, including, not least, some words that take on a very particular meaning in the context of international travel.

With no (t much) further ado, I give you,

The Travel(l)er's Abridged Dictionary

Foreboding: (c.f. urgency). Polishing off a second cup of water, so you can hand the plastic cup to the flight attendant along with your empty coffee cup, at the precise instant that the captain turns on the seat belt sign and the PA system crackles on: "The captain has announced that we may be experiencing some pockets of turbulence for the next hour, so we request all passengers to remain in your seats, with your seat belts securely fastened, until the captain signals that it is safe to move about the cabin."

Willpower: (c.f. foreboding, with the addition of turbulence.)

Urgency: A repeated craning of the neck at an angle so as to see around or between the adjacent seats with the purpose of monitoring the progress of a food or beverage cart which, escorted by flight attendants, is moving at a dilatory pace down the aisle, effectively barring passage to the small neon sign at the other end of the cabin. (Closely related to foreboding, but without the seat belt sign or turbulence).

Disgruntlement: Opening the in-flight magazine to page 64 and seeing the tell-tale blue ink marks signifying that half of the Sudoku puzzle has already been completed--in pen--with an obvious logical error in the first box alone, because the former tenant of the seat mistakenly placed a 2 in the same row as a helpfully placed, pre-printed 2.

Obsolete: Reading in the in-flight magazine that the colors Mulberry and Yellow Green have long since been retired from Crayola crayons, and having a vivid memory of the triumphant discovery that what distinguished Yellow Green from Green Yellow was that Y-G was predominantly green, whereas G-Y was fundamentally yellow, based on the grammatical proposition that the first term in each example serves an adjectival (i.e. supplemental or secondary) function, which could be verified by adding the suffix "ish" to the first term. (Closely linked to trivial.)

Asymmetry: A specific physical condition applicable to a) the ratio of elongation and compression of the left and right sides of the neck, resulting from an attempt to fill in the space between the left (or right) ear and the shoulder with an insufficiently stuffed piece of scratchy fabric; and b) the degree of compression in the left or right shoulder and the muscles of the neck that occurs during an attempt to share evenly four armrests between six arms.

...and the additional possibilities are endless. What am I forgetting?



*Couldn't resist. :-P

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hostile Ferries and (F)ery Good Hostels

So last time I rode the ferry from Wellington to Picton, and vice versa, picture pristine, rippling water. Slightly hazy blue sky. A hilly harbor with small houses ranged over the slopes and a small, sheltered town with tall sail boats all along the forest-edged waterfront.

Today was a little bit different.

2:05 p.m.
Ferry exits dock at Wellington Harbour. Sailboats. Crisp, clean wind. Rippling water. Salt spray. Check.

2:20 p.m.
Ferry exits Wellington Harbour to cross the Strait. Wind picks up. Waves pick up boat. Jen's stomach registers protest. Onset of seasickness.

2:30 p.m.
Attendant from Interislander: "Ma'am? Are you all right? You should probably move to the back of the craft. You'll feel it less."
Jen: mute, green-faced, climbs to her feet and half-walks to the back lounge, breaking into a run to counteract the sudden vanishing of floor beneath her feet when the boat rolls.

Two hours of status quo with varying levels of misery. Note to self, trying to breathe with the waves (up--in, down--out) is only marginally and psychologically helpful.

4:20 p.m.
Jen realizes that she can now sit up without concentrating on not vomiting. Boat has entered the Marlborough Sounds and is now predominantly vertical. So is Jen. Fresh air on upper decks, green hue begins to fade. Commence appreciation of the aforementioned beautiful sights of the ferry trip.

5:15 p.m.
Disembark in Picton, shiftily avoiding sympathetic looks from the several passengers who witnessed ignominious flight from the front lounge.

The end. Of ferry rides. For Jen. Or other activities on open water. Without Dramamine. For a long time. Probably.

Haha.

(Made up for largely by a lovely, cozy, carpeted hostel in Picton, with a fire. And tea. And free chocolate pudding. Which my stomach might actually accept.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Heading South

Well, I have to say this is the first--and probably the last--time I'll have had seven different men in my bedroom over a period of seven nights. Ah, hostels, how do I love thee? =P

Research "finished." Museum...museumed. Rugby match cheered. And down to the wire for my trip. In some ways it's gone by very quickly, but at moments it has moved quite slowly. Although it confirms my geekiness beyond the shadow of a doubt, I've really enjoyed browsing the archives more than I thought I would. However...

I'm excited to see some old haunts on the South Island. Getting ready to freeze also. Yay!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Windy Welly

Wind.


Cold rain.

More wind.


Yep, welcome to Wellington. They don't call it the Windy City for nothing.


After a lazy weekend of reading, sitting and watching the rain, and watching new friends dance tango at a local pub, I started my research at the national library today.

I was prepared for a new round of getting lost in the city, trying to maneuver through library registrations and request forms, and making plans for the next (and final) few rounds of interviews. Despite my fears, though, the research librarians were very helpful, and I spent a long afternoon in a gorgeous, airy reading room browsing through 19th century diaries and handwritten drafts of lectures on New Zealand theatre in the 1940s.

Let's face it: I have no idea what the collective state of this project will be when I finally get around to sorting and typing up my handwritten (gulp!) notes. Lots of fascinating moments and sketches, but not looking much like a five-act play at this point; however, for the moment, I'm just enjoying the process.

Cheers to a non-rainy day, although spending it inside felt a little bit like cheating.

More tomorrow!

Goodbye, Auckland (take 2)

To my dear (now-ex) roommates,

Thank you for apologizing when you turned on the lights at midnight and entered en masse. No thanks for subsequently continuing to party for another hour.

Thank you for not "waking me up" to show me the pictures in your porn magazine. No thanks for narrating the pictures in a loud voice.

Thank you for not spilling vodka on my bag and leaving the room before lighting your cigarettes. No thanks for sitting on my weet-bix (cereal) box.

I'm honored that you think of me as a "whole/old" person. On the whole, shall we say, it was a pleasure knowing you.

Cheers,

Jen

Friday, July 30, 2010

Goodbye, Auckland

After a great two and a half days in Hamilton visiting classes and talking to professors, students, and tutors at Waikato, I'm back in Auckland for one more night (in a definite partyers hostel) before heading south.

I think my public transportation usage is permanently cursed.

Allow me to explain.

At least one sick person within a 3-seat radius on all flights and buses since arrival. At least one crying child within a similar, if not smaller radius. And as of today, welcome to the GGSGG zone, also known as the gum-popping, giggling, shrieking, gossiping girls region of the bus. We are talking about some serious vocal chord endurance on their part.

Nonetheless.

Auckland, congratulations on (excepting tonight) redeeming yourself substantially. You and your rainy-misty-cloudy-hot-sunny-cold-windy-ness are all right in my book.

Cheers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Romeo & Juliet, NZ-style

Yesterday's lesson: If I ever propose visiting New Zealand without an umbrella again, someone stop me. (Sub-lesson: puddles form in low places on the street. Sub-sub-lesson: puddles are bodies of water that, when stepped in, cause dampness in denim and canvas. Sub-to-the-third-power-lesson: jeans take a lot longer to dry in cold weather.)

After a full day's research at the library, I saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet last night. Lots of cool thoughts to sort through, including why there had to be large men in gold short-shorts and a night club scene, but overall, an interesting show.


Friar Lawrence was by far my favorite character, with a much stronger emotional draw than I've seen before, which in part made up for Romeo's excessively arm-y acting and consequentially weak emotional connection.


Wandered around the city today, as the weather was gorgeous. Lots of pictures, museums, friendly research librarians, a chocolate boutique, and 4 hours of walking later, and I'm about ready to crash.

Cheers!

P.S. Mission "find a good fish 'n' chips spot" still incomplete.
P.P.S. Mission "redeem Auckland" a success thus far!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 1

Spending large amounts of time on an airplane is...fun. It also means that your sense of time becomes completely skewed. Today, after arriving, my body is convinced it is in Los Angeles, North Carolina, and New Zealand, all at the same time. Besides that, no confusion whatsoever.

Today's highlights:

Walking around the park where I once slept under a highway overpass, and noting the new wall now separating said overpass from said park.

Exploring the university campus and getting completely and utterly lost. Then getting un-lost. Taking comfort in the similarity of library catalogs worldwide.

Discovering that the window in my hostel room does not shut, and enjoying the mildly wintery gusts of wind sneaking in through the 4-inch (9-centimeter?) gap, plus the beak of the inquisitive sparrow perched on the ledge.

Mince pie from a small coffee shop called Seattle Espresso, where I met a man whose brother is currently doing research in North Carolina (related to me with no prior mention of my homeplace).

New Zealand accents. And attractive New Zealand men in line at customs.

Good stuff, all. Research proper to commence tomorrow. I forgot that everything closes at 5 p.m....

Monday, July 19, 2010

1 day to Aotearoa

Today is packing day. After submitting my work project at 1:15 this morning, everything is a bit fuzzy on the uptake, but things are going in my bag, and they're probably things I need.

Probably.

Thoughts of the morning

It feels strange to be digging out my polypro and wool socks and gloves while it's a steamy 95+ degrees outside.

I am going to New Zealand tomorrow.

Very glad I realized the passport I had copied for my parents was the (expired) temporary one, not the one that's current. Would have been bad to get to the airport and realize I had the wrong passport. *shudders*

I am going to New Zealand tomorrow.

There are a thousand and one things I "should have" read to prepare for my research. And have not read. And I'm still going to New Zealand tomorrow.

I know I will forget things. And I'm still going to be in New Zealand.

Aahh!!

Yay!!!

Aahh!

And there you have it. Pre-trip mental state 101. Gotta love it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Life in 10 seconds

New Zealand: Tuesday! Still haven't packed. Spent 11 hours in the same chair yesterday, working. Switching it up to work at the winery today. Might not get to the last 20 pages of Ah, Wilderness! before I leave. Heat! Sleep! Coffee!

Haha.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today, in a Nutshell

Want to play frisbee.

Need to work.

Need a time-turner.

Very aware of New Zealand, T-minus 6 days.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Sporting Question

Freakonomics: Why Doesn't ESPN Cover Women?

Ermphsh. I'm so torn on what I think, and the comments really play that out (c.f. #4, 11, 18, 21, 25), even if some of them are frustrating...

Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Words, words, words

I love words. So just for a moment, I want to exercise my geekiness rights and point out something fascinating.

Reading an article for my NZ research today, I stumbled across a new word I didn't know: pleonasm.

It refers to an excess of words used to express a sentiment, sometimes as a rhetorical device, other times evidence of prolixity (tee hee).

At first I thought I was confusing it with another word I did know: neoplasm.

Neoplasm is another word for a tumor, an excess of cells, sometimes benign, sometimes malignant.

Both words are of Greek origin, but not the same Greek origin, pleonasm stemming from pleon (more/enough, from ple-, a similar prefix to poly-), and neoplasm from neo (new) + plasma (formation).

My observation of these two words is completely irrelevant both to what I was reading and to any other functions in my life; however, it is exceptionally fascinating. N'est-ce-pas?

Only...now it's really bothering me that I don't know a term for the relationship between those two words. It's not homophone...what is it???

You are failing me, Google. You are failing me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Research - T minus 15 days

I think today for the first time, it hit me that I'll be traveling to New Zealand on a research grant in just over two weeks.

Yikes.

Can I say that again?

Yikes.

Thanks.

All of a sudden, "plenty of time" means very little. The stack of books I was supposed to have read seems very large. And my relative ability to speak coherently to individuals in an informal interview setting seems extraordinarily low.

Nonetheless, I will be departing in 15 days. Ergo, the map-examining, timetable-plotting, and various document-copying becomes as rampant as slouching teenagers in the mall in July. Ergo, the reading list is undergoing a transformation. No more of this science fiction business.

-Said, On Exile
-Shakespeare's Drama of Exile
-New Zealand Drama
-A Theatre in the House
-Post-colonial Drama

The list goes on. And archives. Lots and lots of archives. Stay tuned for more information. Aaaaand....Go.

zzzz...

Huh?

You mean these things don't absorb into my brain while I sleep and produce a fascinating and brilliant commentary that is pre-packaged in a thesis-sized envelope?

Dang it.



I think I'd better think it out again...
I am reeeeviewing...duhdle duhdle duh...the situation...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dancing with Cinderella

For ten seconds of the wedding I attended this weekend, I was jealous of the wedding photographer. It was late, the dance floor was emptying out, and the bride and groom were beginning to say their goodbyes.

On one corner of the floor, in perfect tableau, were three dads dancing with their little girls.

One was just a baby, swaying and rocking in her father's arms as her eyelids began to droop. One, maybe three years old, was doing a quiet two-step, holding her father's hands and bouncing a little when the mood hit her, content to keep her feet on the ground. The other, maybe five or six, was leaping into the air on the strength of her father's arms, twirling and spinning with pure abandon.

This took place just a few hours after a beautiful father-daughter dance to Steven Curtis Chapman's "Cinderella." The whole thing was like a time-lapse photography sequence of dads and their little girls.

It was exquisite.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Broken Glass and Knobby Cloth

"My shop burned down this week. But..."

This from an elderly man who had just shown me a black-and-white photograph in a frame with cracked glass, displaying an old-fashioned weaver's loom that had belonged to his mother, and on which he had learned to weave as a boy.

I was at a local farmer's market and had stopped to run a finger over the assortment of brightly colored woven rugs which, he told me, were made from rejected drapery/other material ("seconds").

Unless I can afford to buy, I tend not to linger for long at any one booth. Mainly because I get the uncomfortable feeling that I'm raising the seller's expectations of a sale. But this time I was curious.

He showed me the little knobs on some of the rugs from the sewn toes of woolen socks. He pulled out a few rugs to show how a flaw in the colors of the original fabric had turned into a beautiful pattern in his rugs. He told me about the woodworking he did on the side, and showed me the woven-wood seat of the chair he'd been sitting on.

He told me that he'd been weaving for 30 years, since his retirement. That he'd first learned from his mother. That there were so many unhappy people, and this was what he wanted to do. He took a craftsman's pride in the array of colors and patterns he had designed.

And then he said, "My shop burned down this week. But..."

But he was still there. Still expressing a love for what he did. A joy in what he had created and what he could share with passersby, like me, who took a moment to stop and listen.

His rugs were lovely, and I'm hoping to get one eventually, but even more than that, listening to his story reminded me how many times fear of what people will think or assume causes me to miss out on something precious or fail to honor something beautiful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's the Little Things

Sometimes all it takes is the successful prevention of a ginormous black snake from eating an adorable tiny bunny.

Allow me to illustrate.

1.
(bunny) [BUSH] (snake)


(Jen)

2.
(bunny)[BUSH](snake)

o-pebble
(Jen)

3.
(bunny) <------- [B0USH] ->(snake)
|
|
v
(Jen)

(Also known as the expansion and transformation of an isosceles triangle into a scalene triangle.)

(Better known as) Not on my watch, Mr. Racer. Not on my watch.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Use Your Words, New England

Although the precise moment at which one leaves "the south" and enters "the north" is far from definitive, one thing is certain: it's a long drive getting there.

Road trips are always an adventure, and spending more than 10 hours in the car in a single day is bound to add humor to otherwise mundane elements of life. For example, road signs in New England are a fascinating study.

As I road-tripped (not to be confused with the act of stumbling over uneven pavement, a verb which I have never personally enacted) to Boston last weekend, we stopped for gas somewhere in western New York. The Food/Gas/Lodging signs did not indicate, until you had merged onto a concrete-bordered, no-turns-for-three miles side road, that the gas station indicated on the sign was, in fact, three miles off the interstate.

In the meantime, we wound through a wooded, quaint community with a church and a hodge podge of businesses. Standard fare. What was not so typical were the back-to-back yellow warning signs proclaiming, "Falling Rocks Zone" and "Deaf Children Area."

First thought: the community did an incredibly poor job surveying the road-crossing area before building a school for the deaf.

Lest this be seen as an anomaly, Boston took the signage to a whole new level with:

Caution
Seniors

and

Slow
Deaf Children

And we say grammar, punctuation, and enunciation don't matter...

But Boston was quick to redeem itself for its grammatical ambiguities via another set of signs found at the Haymarket farmers' market: strawberries, 2 quarts/$1; peaches, 8/$1. Just around the corner at a small festival, the plethora of signs reading Free Samples didn't hurt either.

Good job, Boston.

If all signage fails, like the long stretches of roads in Pennsylvania that detail excessive speeding penalties without ever telling the speed limit, the clouds can always be counted on to provide distraction, interpretive material, and the laughter which, when combined with coffee, makes road trips so much fun.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review

The Book Thief (Zusak): beautiful, brilliant book. Read it.

:-)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Be a Woman

Ever since I watched Nine a few weeks ago (and aided and abetted by the fact that I've been periodically listening to the soundtrack since then), several of the songs have taken turns getting stuck in my head: Fergie's 'Be Italian' and Nicole Kidman's 'A Very Unusual Way' are vying for top pick.

And in a very unusual way, thoughts of this movie, with its complex commentary on the roles defined for women, keep intersecting with thoughts of Ultimate Frisbee.

I told you, it's unusual.

Being a woman who enjoys playing sports and is competitive comes with a few complications. I enjoy being a respected part of a co-rec team and treated as an equal when my performance merits. I also appreciate recognition that I am a woman (*news flash!*).

This is where it gets tricky. To play sports well does not make one masculine, and, no matter how socially accepted the phrase has become, it is not a compliment to say, "You don't play like a girl," or "We don't think of you as a girl."

Here's the thing: "You play well" or "you're more aggressive than most girls who play recreational sports" delivers a similar message, but leaves out the association that feminine = 'not good at sports' and masculine = 'good at sports.' The same statement could apply to any number of other designations limited in popular imagination to either men or women.

Drat. Now I'm sounding like a feminist, aren't I? Well, maybe I am. With qualification.

"Feminist" is a word that has taken on epic and negative connotations, some deserved, some not. I like to think that it is possible to be a respecter of persons--seeking equality, not a flip-flop that places women on top, and encouraging mindfulness with the words and phrases that reinforce stereotypes and create unnecessary contradictions like,
  • I am a woman.
  • I am competitive/brainy/independent.
  • Women are not competitive/brainy/independent;
  • therefore, I must choose one part of my identity and discard the other.
To be honest, I think more people would acknowledge this syllogism to be false than take the effort to avoid language that reinforces it. It's a challenge for women as well as men.

To be fair, it is also a challenge to cultivate both an independent, tough, competitive (fine, aggressive) side and a relational, gentle, refined side, and I have a tendency to neglect one or the other; however, it's a challenge, not an impossibility, and I hope one day the most natural words of commendation on a sports field, or in other settings now dubbed "masculine" or "feminine", will reflect this fact.

Go team!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life in 10 seconds

Now reading The Book Thief, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and getting ready to start Drood (Simmons), There a Petal Silently Falls (a collection of Korean short stories), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer), and Foe (Coetzee).

Recently watched La Vie En Rose, Empire of the Sun, Maria Full of Grace, and Across the Universe for the first time.

Working. Planning summer travel. Gardening. Dancing. Movies. Not a bad life, overall, with the exception of arctic air conditioning over the only library desks near windows...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blind Luck

Today, I read this article on human trafficking in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, reminding me that there are a lot of things we Americans, myself included, don't like to think or talk about.

Sometimes it's easier to be blind.

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping, and as I waited to cross a line of traffic in the parking lot, I saw a near-collision between a couple heading into the store and a long line of carts a store employee was returning to the building.

The couple reacted angrily, spinning around to glare at the employee, and one yelled loud enough for all passersby to hear, "Why don't you just go back to India where you belong?"

I was not the only bystander who was taken aback. In the first place, the employee did not appear to be Indian. The accusation was full of layers: you are not like us. you do not belong here. we don't want you here. It had very little to do with the accidental collision of several carts in a crowded space.

Perhaps the speaker had recently lost a job and was looking for someone to blame. Maybe. I don't know. It wouldn't excuse their behavior, but it made me stop and think. Whatever caused that anger and aggression caused the shopper to disregard the employee as an individual with a complex story of her own.

Sometimes it's easier to be blind.

But then some unrelated incident, like a crowded parking lot or rush hour traffic or a willful child or an imperfect friendship forces the anger to the surface and causes the ugliness of our thoughts to be displayed before our own eyes.

It's easier to get upset about social injustice or the injustice others display than it is to recognize the angry thoughts I am careful to suppress or the damaging words I rehearse but tell myself I'll never use.

All of these are ugly. All are evidence of brokenness. All, I think rightly, provoke a sense of anger and indignation and a desire for change.

The problem comes when I imagine that it's possible to repair the external manifestations without dealing with the internal causes.

Sometimes it's easier to be blind.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Things that make me happy

It's the little things...
  • The soundtrack of Nine, especially Marion Cotillard
  • The Preakness tomorrow
  • The soundtrack of Next to Normal
  • The premiere of So You Think You Can Dance (season 7) in 2 weeks
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler
  • Functional computers
  • Having jobs
  • Planting tomatoes, peppers, and basil in my garden

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'm done! Linus celebrates by...

Well, I survived year one of graduate school. Halfway to the masters! Woohoo!!!

Now on to a summer full of research, reading, working, sunbathing, traveling, dancing, and...dead computers. Huh. I don't remember that on the "I can't wait until I can--" list.

The laptop I was given by the graduate school (Linus) has always had a strange fondness for power outlets. I get that. Not everyone feels confident trusting a battery for life and automatic updates. It's okay, Linus, really. There is no judgment here.

But this week, the handy-dandy AC adapter given to me by the graduate school has also gone kafritz. And by that I mean dead. Linus lasted about 6 minutes (his average), and then went into power cord withdrawal and promptly shut down.

*cue ominous music*
*cue epic battle footage*
*cue Darth Vader breathing*
*cue Ian McKellen voice-over*

"...the battle for Helm's Deep is over. the battle for Middle Earth..."

Okay, so maybe that was more epic than I intended. Point is, the I.T. center can't give me a new one; I would have to buy it for a substantial amount of money. Point is, the graduate school says they won't replace it because it counts as an extraneous part. Point is, I'm not buying either the new adapter or that explanation.

You give me a computer to use for two years - it's already two years old, and the battery is shot. You won't replace the battery, fine, but without an adapter OR a battery, it's useless. If I'm paying to go to your graduate school, and one of the perks is a free computer, then the logical assumption is that--sans abuse or mistreatment or extreme circumstances--said computer should be usable for two years. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Grrr...

Fight face on.

This is a matter of principle.

...to be continued...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Today's Recipe

Recipe for today's goal:

Ingredients
William Shakespeare's Macbeth
Bill Cain's Equivocation
Pandora's Broadway musicals
Very quiet campus

Directions
Stir
Bake for 11 hours

Makes (I hope!)
1 topic
1 thesis
8 or more pages of writing

Outcome to be determined. Not a family favorite at this point...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"If" - graduate student edition

If - for Grad Students*

If you can keep your mind when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust your laptop with the I.T.,
But make allowance for a virus too;
If you can live sans sleep and keep your eyes from drooping,
Or, after three espresso, write your name,
Or, asked "how goes it?", don't give way to weeping,
And yet don't look too crazed, nor talk too wild;

If you can chat - and not make Google master;
If you can think - and not make sense your aim;
If you can meet with "perfect" and "nice effort"
And treat the "but" that follows just the same;
If you can bear to read the words you'd written
After the three Red Bulls first hit your brain,
Or watch the drafts you gave your life to vanish,
And scream and hit restart and write again;

If you can make one heap of all your savings
And risk it on another stretch of school,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and hand and brain cells
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Deadline saying: "Git 'er done";

If you can talk with crowds whose grammar pains you,
Or read Bhabha - nor lose the common speech;
If neither B's nor minuses can hurt you;
If all steps count for you in metered rhyth'm;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of papers writ -
Yours is the book and everything that's in it,
And - no more - you'll be a graduate my friend!

*Props to Rudyard Kipling for the original.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

He Thought It Was Worth It

Hope!!

From entrepreneur to college lecturer: Ditching a $500,000 salary to teach lit. (CNN Money)

Now I just have to figure out the $500,000 salary part.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Finals Countdown Has Begun

The Finals Countdown Has Begun

...and is so extreme that it requires caps to describe...

Remaining classes: 4
Class days left: 3
Writing Center hours to go:
5
Final exams: 1
Pages due: 52
Days until the end: 17

Let's do this.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Paperwork Potpourri

Getting ready for international travel (this summer!) is akin to climbing a hill of sand trying to reach a beautiful scenic view, except that in this case, the sand is paperwork.

Have I mentioned that I don't like forms?
Have I mentioned that this is not paperwork-filling-out weather?

Keeping the end goal in sight can be kind of difficult at times. And then I feel like an ungrateful wretch. You can't win. Haha.

In the meantime, reading some one-act plays from New Zealand for fun, re-reading Macbeth, writing papers about women's on-stage violence in the seventeenth century, memorizing lines from Dryden's All for Love, and doing unpaid product tests on over-the-counter allergy medicines.

3 weeks and counting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Novels' Dangerous Truths

This article presents an interesting perspective on Christianity and literature--not really new thoughts, for me, but worth considering nonetheless: Dangerous Truths and True Dangers: Can - and Should - Christians Read Novels?

The author ends with a list of novels that have informed her search for Truth through both positive and negative models. Here are a few of the books that would fall on my list:

-Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
-Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers
-Woman at Point Zero, Nawal el Saadawi
-A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
-Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
-In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
-The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
-Macbeth, Shakespeare
-The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare

What about yours?

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's Raining Pollen

Welcome weird spring/summer weather. Please stop raining pollen on everything. I need to be able to see to write papers, and Kleenex is pricey stuff.

The drug companies that make allergy medicines can't be paying you that big of a bribe, can they? I'm sure I could match them if I took up a collection. (...beyond the obvious problem that letters addressed to the weather probably end up in Santa's mailbag and merely give the postal workers a good laugh.)

If you keep this up, I will have to become smarter, as in remembering to roll up my car windows overnight to keep the pollen limited to the outside of the car.

That is all.

Monday, April 5, 2010

McDonalds March

I think (?) every graduate student has a "McDonalds month" now and then. March was mine. (Substitute your favorite stress-antidote, if you like.)

In a very sneaky, very perceptive advertising strategy, our favorite golden arches sent out a book of really good coupons in January ... starting off with a no-strings-attached free frappe and going downhill into French fry land.

Before you know it, that side trip on the way home or "no time for dinner" run gets easier and easier.

In the midst of midterms, papers, and presentations, and faced with the impossibility of stretching time, my defenses were down.

Oh, McDonalds. Oh, comfort food. Oh, stress.

But that month is over. Your coupons have expired, Ronald; your time is up.

...

...

Chocolate, anyone?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He is Risen

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
-Mark 16:1-8
He is risen indeed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Throwing (Out) the Towel

There are very few positive things about a stomach virus. In fact, I'm having trouble thinking of one. Nor do I intend to waste time trying to gross you out.

But last week, as I was recovering from one, I started to think about the defining post-virus moment, and how difficult it can be to go back to normal. It's hard to say, "I'm better now." It's easier to stay in the house and leave the trash can close beside the bed. After all...

What if I'm not better?
Does it do any harm to be prepared?

Two harmless questions, right? and in this context, probably wise. On the other hand, when I practice the same mindset in other situations, they're not so innocuous.

It feels safer to hang on to a few old markers of success and validation, to keep some of the old grudges around for ammunition in future conflicts. On a deeper level, it's tempting to "be good" not out of freedom, but out of a fear that I might need that last bargaining chip to eke my way into heaven.

Not to forgive wholly, not to trust wholly, not to accept grace wholly. Just in case. Those three little words can be so insidious, and so destructive.

Just in case I'm not fully forgiven.
Just in case I'm not fully loved.
Just in case I'm not fully healed.

Why is it so hard to return the trash can to its place? Why is it so hard to believe that the virus is really gone?

Because there is another set of three words, one far more difficult to believe and, believing, far more difficult to stand on as I try to live freely and fully:

"It is finished."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

8 Ways to Tell...

Warning: dealing with sleep-deprived graduate students can be dangerous to your health, mental stability, and ability to get your morning coffee in a timely fashion. But not all individuals fitting this description wear a convenient neon sign. So how do you pick one from the crowd?

Eight Ways to Tell if You're Looking at a Sleep-Deprived Graduate Student
(EWTYLSDG): In its acronymic form, sounds akin to "Eat With Y'all's Dog."

Which brings me to method number 1:

1. Internet Lucidity
If the general intelligibility of all electronic communication has disintegrated to the point that A) it resembles one of the popular internet tests demonstrating the unimportance of letter order for reading comprehension, or B) it is written in German, Swahili, and Russian, quotes Shakespeare, incorporates chemical symbols, and concludes with a promise never to do (X) (at the last minute) again.

2. Debris Perimeter
A minimum of four coffee cups, including at least one from Starbucks, either cookie crumbs or candy wrappers, two or more crumpled sticky notes, a pen cap with tooth marks around the edges, several napkins soggy with spilled coffee, a box of Kleenex, at least two books, a computer, and a pair of headphones within a four foot radius of the suspect. The presence of a blanket, pillow, or alarm clock is sufficient proof in and of itself.

3. Musical Selection
If the average country music star's post-breakup album has fewer songs about death and misery; if the presence of percussion, trumpets, and other generally-accepted signifiers of judgment day and/or alarm clocks gradually increases; or, if the playlist itself is more than eight hours in length...and is set to "repeat all."

4. Non-Verbal Noises
Moans, groans, and under-the-breath mumbling could be linked to a number of stress-induced conditions; however, only rarely will a non-SDG be heard to hum a song from the David Lynch film Blue Velvet or whimper in dactyllic hexameter.

5. Accessories
If the individual carries a backpack, strike one. If the individual's backpack is bulging at the seams, strike two. If the individual's backpack has already begun to rip along the seams and a book is protruding, back away slowly.

6. Walk
Being passed by the average turtle, punctuating each step on the stairs with a despairing sigh, or bending the upper body at a 33.2 degree angle even when NOT carrying a book bag are all strong indicators that you are looking at an SDG.

7. Cringe Triggers
-"out of coffee"
-"out of ink"
-"out of paper"
-"malfunctioning"
-"out of order"
-"closing time"
-"temporarily unavailable"
-"failed to save"

...and finally, the last and most fail-proof way to recognize a Sleep-Deprived Graduate Student?

8. Shared Experience
You have been awake as long as they have, because you've been working on the same paper.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Professional Development

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

I'm beginning to think the experience of writing this particular paper should go down on my resume under the category "Professional Development." If this hasn't given me sympathy for the struggling writers I tutor and may someday teach, I don't know what would.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

When it Comes to Papers

Paper, go write yourself.

Somehow I feel very rude saying that. And yet if I were writing it in Latin, I would use the subjunctive in its optative sense: Paper, would that you would write yourself. Not rude at all.

Utinam haec charta se scribeat.

Je voudrais que mon essai s'ecrive.

Or something like that.

Argh. I like graduate school. Really, I do. Just not over spring break. Or on Saturdays.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pre-Forgiven Advertisers

Nationwide Insurance (I would have left off the name, but you would probably feel the need to Google it out of curiosity otherwise) is a very clever advertiser. Especially in the Bible Belt South. :-P

Because despite my dislike of passing along advertisements and thus doing exactly what the advertiser hoped for in using that strategy, I'm going to do it anyway...

Yesterday I received an envelope from said insurance company.


Inside, it said,

If only all of life were like that.

Brilliant. Now all Christian bloggers who have received a copy of said advertisement will feel obliged to write the "But all of life can be like that" post, thus spreading the name of Nationwide far and...wide. Think of the sermon illustrations this will provoke. The billboard and church sign mock-ups. The bumper stickers. The t-shirts.

Brilliant.

And yet it is so profound.

What can you do?

Good job, invisible ghost writing advertiser. Good job.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cheese and High Heels

This week, I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin for a literature conference. In case I hadn't figured this out before, I was reminded, first, that English majors and professionals can turn anything into a verb--and I mean anything. (The buzzword for the weekend was "dissertating": i.e. Are you dissertating yet?)

Second, though, I was reminded that such conferences, and the travel involved, make for some pretty great, albeit quirky, stories. For instance...

Conversations in airports and on airplanes. I had one conversation about mountain biking, small towns in Vermont, the graphic design industry, Macs vs. PCs, beat poets, and werewolves. Another involved Harleys, face masks, and the beach. A third revolved around small businesses, family life, and the oddities of various airports.

The unique characteristics of a town from an outsider's perspective. U.Wis-Mad has 40,000 plus students, and is essentially a college town. Its residents consider 33 degree weather license for shorts and flip-flops, but also gloves and scarves. The lakes on either side of the city were frozen solid, with a thick layer of snow. What else would you do but set up your hut and ice fish (verb?), cross-country ski, or snowmobile? Well in Madison, they would add a Statue of Liberty emerging from the water (ice), placed in close proximity to a sign left over from summer which said, "No Lifeguard On Duty." The idea of liberty drowning near a university is beautifully ironic, non?

I love signs. Especially the one in O'Hare, which helpfully informed the patron of the women's restroom that one of the stalls was "Out of Order: No Door." Oh, the possibilities. First, the need to inform users that there was no door. Second, the fate of said door. Not your usual target of pickpockets...

I've never been one to discount the non sequitur. For example, the combination of classic, even gothic or medieval architecture on the campus with a large number of concrete buildings closely resembling parking decks. Or the fact that all the postcards in novelty stores around the city sell only images of the city in spring and summer. I guess if you're there in winter, they need to convince you to come back.

Perhaps because I hit an unseasonably warm spell (30+ degrees), I really liked the city. It's a university town, with tons of small coffee shops and bookstores with names like "A Room of Her Own." Also a substantial number of specialty popcorn stores (key lime, anyone?), ice cream shops, and, yes, the requisite wine and cheese stores. Local cheeses got an A+ in my book. The main thing I would do differently, in retrospect, is invest in some non-high heel dress shoes. Walking 7 blocks to the conference, 7 back, and numerous in between to sight see, did not make for Happy Feet, despite all the ice.

But I suppose these are the sacrifices we make for professional development. Whatever that's worth. In all honesty, I think most conferences can be summed up in a few choice phrases (not including the word cohort, the other new buzzword I picked up): free breakfast. sly attempts to read name tags. awkward meet 'n' greets. questions unrelated to the speaker's research. one-upmanship. covert admissions that you've never read The Scarlet Letter or Dracula or Virginia Woolf. and so on.

I was in an odd place, not a PhD candidate yet, presenting outside my field, not teaching an undergraduate course. The others on my panel were presenting chapters from their dissertations. I felt a bit like they were speaking a different language. The odd thing is, I picked it up. By the end of the weekend, I could converse (B.S.) as well as the next person--about funding issues, my "specialization," faculty relations, the job market, and even some Marx or "thingness" (or Sherlock Holmes, another popular reference).

Fun? Yes, especially over fish 'n' chips. Honest? Not so much. Did I learn a lot? Yes. Can I see myself jumping through those hoops? Sometimes, yep. Do I want to?

That, dear readers, is indeed the question.

Monday, March 1, 2010

It Might Be Midterms...

...

1) If you begin to compete with the other cars to be the last to leave the commuter parking lot at night, and are irritated because one car beat you out.

2) If your top coffee shop comment card complaint is a shortage of power outlets and the time limit on the free wireless.

3) If your diet suddenly necessitates additional carbohydrates solely to absorb the excess caffeine.

4) If you secretly run laps up and down the library stairs at 11 p.m. in order to stave off the madness of the graduate study room.

5) If you feel under an imperative to update your blog instead of writing a paper, partly because it makes you feel less guilty than being on Facebook.

Three more days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Wonder...

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Jacques Derrida ever met William Strunk and E.B. White?

I don't know, but I imagine it would involve a lot of commas. Angry commas, with French words in italics and long, tangential commentaries on etymology. And parentheses. Livid parentheses, with honest, energetic, colorful words inside. (And perhaps a few lists of the items that make up a garbage heap thrown in for good measure.)

I could see it being jolly good sport, actually...

Perhaps Charlotte could referee. After all, they're all dead as well.

Could someone make that happen? Thanks.

I love Saturdays.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Life in 10 seconds

200 post-iversary!!!!

Now reading Derrida's "Force of Law," Griggs' Imperium in Imperio, Venice Preserv'd, Bain's Best College Teachers, and Austen's Mansfield Park. With a little Loomba's Post-colonial Shakespeares, Sensational Victorian (bio of M.E. Braddon), and Zizek's Monstrosity of Christ for light bedtime reading.

Abstract due tomorrow, conference in 2 weeks, work projects, summer research application due next week, three papers within the next two weeks...

And I don't think the germs got the memo that I didn't want to be sick this week.

Sometimes I think the grocery stores should not be allowed to put lemons on sale. Life has been stocking up on them lately...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Red Leather

I'm starting to have a piece-de-resistance kind of idea in honor of the upcoming Flying Fork Day.

It's Romeo and Juliet. A new film version. Based on the Yankees/Red Socks rivalry. It's called Red Leather. It's directed by David Lynch. And it goes something like this...

---------------------------------------------------------
VOICEOVER (HARRY DEAN STANTON): Two clubs, alike in history...

--Cut to shot of a screaming fan being violently stabbed in the parking lot outside Fenway Park while rap music blares in the background. Cut to black.

VO: ...in fair Boston, where we lay our scene...

--Handheld camera "runs" down Beacon Hill at night, breathing heavily, after a screaming Laura Dern. Fade to a high angle shot of a bouquet of red, red roses against the snow outside a florist shop on Harvard square. Fade to white.

VO: ...a pair of star-crossed lovers take their lives...

--Montage of Nicholas Cage...with Isabel Rosselini at sunset while an umpire in whiteface dances on top of a car waving a baseball bat over their heads and a majestic score borrowed from Gone With the Wind cuts to the violins. Fade to black.

--Scene change: Fenway park, seventh inning stretch. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" plays cheerfully in the background and happy children wave at the camera. Slow pan to the infield.

DAVID ORTIZ: "Do you kick sand in my face, sir?"
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: "No sir, but I do kick sand, sir."

----------------------------------------------------------
It's going to be brilliant.

Or further evidence that bad ideas spring from procrastinating minds.