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"
-"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.


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.