Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fort Walton Beach post

We are in Florida.  I love Florida.  My spouse, who graduated from high school in Jacksonville after having moved there his junior year, is less fond of it, but I've never lived here, just borrowed it as the location of some of the best vacations of my life. Every other year, my younger sister--who is so good at organizing people that she could be an army general with absolutely no transition and they would eat well, too-- finds us a condo or a house in the Destin area, and we descend en masse.  My mom, my older sister and her spouse and six kids (oldest is 12), me and my comparatively small crew, and my younger sister and her spouse and four kids--nineteen of us altogether.  This year we have an extra girlfriend courtesy of my 18-year-old nephew, and we're minus my oldest niece, but otherwise it is the usual suspects.  We have a blast.  We are in Fort Walton Beach this time, which I actually like better-- slightly less expensive, slightly less developed, and considerably less crowded, even if you do have to drive 20 minutes to get to the movie theater (and for the record, we went to Tangled the first night and all of us, even the dads, enjoyed it thoroughly). 

One of my favorite things is our proximity to the naval base.  I have a lifelong fascination with military aircraft.  Not as obsessive as some of the guys I know who know model numbers and size and how much they can carry, etc etc etc, but just a general fascination.  About six or seven years ago, the Blue Angels came to our small town and I spent four days hanging out at the airport and watching them map out their show.  It was so amazing.  Our neighborhood is slightly elevated from the surrounding area, and we are five-ish miles from the airport, so when they flew by our house, we could sometimes see the guys in the cockpit--one even spotted us and waved.  I pulled over to the side of the road to watch so many times that my son, who was about six at the time and should have been equally fascinated, started getting bored.  "Mom, we watched them yesterday.  Could we just go?"

So when we were here at the beach four years ago, we got to watch the Angels practice every morning at about 9 a.m.  It was great.  But for some reason it hasn't happened the last two times we've been here, which is disappointing.  But there is still an odd assortment of helicopters, fighter jets, and darkly painted fat-bellied planes that fly so low and slow that you can't figure out how in the world they are staying aloft.  So that is one of the cool things.

And then there are the birds.  Mostly gulls, of course, but also pelicans.  I told you I don't like nature writing, so I will not wax eloquent.  But I love watching them. 

And the waves.  It's the Gulf, so they're not spectacular--in fact, when it's still, it's practically like a bathtub out there.  But still they are cool.  The water is so perfectly clear, and it's the light green color of that recycled Mexican glass.  Sandwiched between blue blue sky and white white sand, you can just sit and be mesmerized all day long.

But, lest you feel jealous, I will add that the temperatures were in the 40s the first day, and up to the 50s the last few days but with a stiff breeze that still makes it uncomfortable to be outside unless you are well-jacketed.  Doesn't matter to us, since back at home they've received another 6 inches of snow in our absence and the temperature hasn't come above the mid-twenties, but the rest of the fam, who are from Texas and Louisiana, are bundled and scarved and hatted and still chilly.

The condos have the usual haphazardly stocked kitchens, make cooking a challenge, but one that we seem to have no problem conquering.  The food has been great--my Louisiana sister made gumbo Sunday, the next night we had a smoked turkey.  My contribution last night was based on a Rachel Ray recipe I found in the random collection of magazines that are always hanging out in rental condos.  It's modified since we didn't have many of the ingredients, but it was surprisingly good, so I'm passing it along.  First time ever (I think) for a recipe in this blog.  Nell and I had to make do with an 11" skillet and a 6 qt pot, but it still only took about 40 minutes to put together.  I'm giving you the feed-a-crowd version but you could halve it easily.  Since we have 5 or 6 little ones who hardly eat a thing, realistically this serves 10-12.

Fort Walton Beach Pasta
2 lbs penne pasta (I cooked 3 lbs and it was too much)
1 onion, chopped
2 fat cloves garlic (or 4 skinny ones)
2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 lb mild Italian sausage (remove casings)
1 t oregano
1/2 t cinnamon (I didn't measure this or the red pepper, so "to taste")
1/2 t red pepper
1/2 C chopped kalamata olives
1 C water or white wine
2 C whole milk
2 small cans tomato paste
2 cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes (well drained)
8 oz feta, crumbled

Soften onions in oil--six or seven minutes.  Turn down heat and add garlic, saute for about a minute, then add beef and sausage, cook until meat is no longer pink.  Drain excess grease.  Add spices, olives, water, milk, tomatoes and paste.  Keep at a bare simmer for about 15-20 minutes while you cook the pasta, heat up some garlic bread and open a couple of bag salads.  Stir about half of the feta into the sauce right before serving, and pass the rest as a topping.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

this post is the equivalent of a test pattern

I thought when I finally got done with this semester I would be euphoric--like I was last week when I finished papers #1 and #2.  But instead, I am so exhausted I'm just numb.  I took my Shakespeare exam on thurs morning (it was fine), turned in my third paper later that afternoon, and drove home in a daze.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't safe.  I wasn't dopey-sleepy (that almost never happens, to my surprise), I was just out of it.  There are two stretches along the highway I drive (which is 70 mph most of the way) where you have to slow down to 45 for about half a mile or so as you drive through tiny towns.  For the first time, when I got to the north end of the lake, I couldn't remember if I slowed down.  I might have, out of habit.  I just don't remember.  which is a little scary.

But anyway.  Today I'm leaving to drive to Seattle and pick up dear daughter, who is also done with her semester (except hers is a quarter), and who did pass Physics, even though she swore she wasn't going to in several phone calls that bordered on ... hysterical.  She has this blog address and if she reads that, she may dispute the term, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  I'll be back on Tuesday, and then have three days to finish prep for Christmas, and then we're leaving for a week in Florida, where it may not be particularly warm or sunny, but it doesn't matter because the point is to see my mom, my sisters and their families, who are all much beloved.  So I'm not sure how much I'll be around, after several weeks of already not being around. 

Wishing you and yours a lovely, relaxing, regenerating holiday season, whichever variety of it you celebrate.

Friday, December 10, 2010

writing papers

Having written two papers in the past week, both of them 15 or more pages, and having experienced it as something like a trip to the 9th circle of hell, I thought I would write down some of what worked and didn't work and how I want to do this next one (due on Friday, but I want to turn it in on Wednesday so I don't have to drive to UTown again).  Then I was so happy to be done with the second one this afternoon that I forgot about it.  But fortunately there was a link on Nathan Bransford's blog today to a discussion about editing tricks in his forums this week, and it reminded me, so here goes.  Editing is an entirely personal thing, so this may not work for anybody else, but it will help me to type it out.  If you have any great suggestions based on the way you do it, let me know, I'd love to hear it.  Of course, academic writing is different than writing fiction, but some of it will apply.

Anyway.  As I'm doing my research, I type stuff into a Word document called "Notes" using a table with two columns.  I drag the column over so that the one on the left is only about half an inch wide, and the one on the right takes up the rest of the page.  Then--did you guess-- the page number goes in the left column, and notes in the right.  If it's an exact quote, I type it exactly the way it will go in the paper including the quotation marks, because then I can just cut & paste it when the time comes.  There's a new table for each source, although they're all in the same file.  And I put the complete bibliographic reference above the table, so if I end up using it, I can just cut and paste into the Works Cited page.  Something I haven't done before that I want to do this time is to summarize each source in addition to the page-by-page notes.  With these longer papers, I've read so much stuff while researching that when I come back to it, I can't remember what the article was about.  If I only have a couple of quotes in the Notes file, I have to drag the article back out to get the big picture.

The other thing I do while researching is keep another Word document open that's called "Ideas."  I type stuff that is either a direct paraphrase or a direct quote into the "Notes" file, and type ideas for what I want to say in my paper in the "Ideas" file.  I used to just scribble this stuff on the back of pieces of paper, but it became so useful that now I type it.  The "ideas" file is the one that is the life saver when the paper is due in 24 hours because you had another one due the day before, and you've done all the research but you can't remember exactly what you were going to write about.  I can't tell you how many times I was able to just cut and paste stuff out of the "Ideas" file into my paper and make it work with just a little bit of editing.  Saved my butt last night, for example.

Then when I start writing, I just go.  I try not to worry too much about word choice or phrasing things exactly right, but just get the general flow of the argument.  Word choice is easy to fix later, and fleshing out an argument is easy to fix later, but the thing that makes me practically insane is trying to get that flow, that line of movement, that goes through the text and gets you from one end to the other.  And obviously I do a lot of cutting and pasting here from my two other documents into this one (which is called "Draft," in case you're wondering).  This is the stage that takes the longest--it can take a day or two to get through this for a 15 page paper, maybe 12 hrs or so.  So while I'm doing this, I have three files open.  It gets a little complicated sometimes, but for the most part, it works pretty well.

Then, when the draft is done, I do "Save As" and make a new copy called "Final," and edit it--usually from a printed out copy of the draft, but not always.  Preferably this is done after a good night's sleep so that I'm looking at it fresh.  That takes an hour or two, and then it's done.

But the other thing that's worth noting is the process.  Always, always, always at some point I become convinced that I'm not going to be able to do it.  It's too hard.  In spite of the fact that I've always finished every paper I've ever started in my life, I become convinced that this time it's not going to work.  Actually, this usually hits twice--the first time, toward the beginning, is more about feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to do.  the second one, around the late-middle, is because I'm convinced that it's the worst paper anyone has ever written.  It depends on the paper which one of these is worse-- with the paper I wrote on Romeo and Juliet this past week, the second one was worse.  About halfway through, it was the dumbest, most obvious, least interesting paper anyone had ever written.  But with the Kafka paper, the one I turned in today, the first crisis was worst.  I couldn't get started because I was so overwhelmed by how complex the ideas were and how hard it was going to be to figure out what I wanted to say (and I was right, but procrastinating didn't help any at all).

Hmmm.  Seems like there's something else I was going to add here, but I can't remember what it was.  I may come back and edit this later (speaking of editing).  But I wanted to write this out so I could come back and refer to it when I hit the crisis moments because the next paper starts tomorrow.  (Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow-- we finished with MacBeth yesterday.  Classes are now officially over.)

Monday, December 06, 2010

brief missive from the front lines

well, it is not going all that well in some ways, but in other ways, it's fine.  It is the night before the first paper is due, and that one--although it won't be a work of art-- is going to get done.  I project that by about 1:00 a.m. I will have something that is good enough so that I can go to bed, do some last minute editing tomorrow, and turn in on time.  But the next one, which is due on Thursday, a mere forty-eight hours after I turn the first one in, is a disaster.  But that's not why I thought I would check in briefly.  You already knew I would be panicking at this point, and I knew it, too.  But what is surprising me is this:  the paper I am writing, I like.  The reason why it has been so hard to make myself sit down and do this, to just get it done, is because I was so sure I was going to write a bad paper.  I was so sure it would be awful.  But it's not.  I can't guarantee I'll make a good grade on it, of course, no one can do anything about the grade they're going to receive.  But I can tell that I will be satisfied with the result.  Not as satisfied as I would be if I had given myself more time, but still.  This is OK.  So if I can dig myself out of the mess I'm in right now, it bodes well for next time.  Next time, if I have a little bit of confidence that I can write a good paper, maybe I won't put it off until the last possible second, and I'll have at least a small chance of coming through it with my sanity in better shape. 

so.  that's all.  Don't have time for anything more, honestly.  Just thought I'd poke my head up for a minute.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

November reading report

The only book I finished in November that was not required reading for school:  Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  Loved it.  The main characters are two angels-- Crowley, who was the snake in the original garden scene, and Aziraphale, from the other side, the angel with the flaming sword who guarded the gates of said garden.  They've been hanging out on earth ever since, and they've become a little attached to it.  So when the apocalypse approaches, they start having second thoughts.  As you might expect if you've read any other Pratchett or Gaiman, it is laugh out loud funny at the same time that it is warmly human.

In academic reading, if you're up for it, check out The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, for an interesting take on ecological theory.  He has his moments of being a little too Euell Gibbons like (remember "Many parts of the pine tree are edible"?)-- there's one bit where he describes the strange looks his neighbors gave him when he returned from his travels and was chattering with the squirrels in his yard that really made me cringe.  But on the whole, he does a really good job of mixing science, theory, and a kind of wonder at the web of life in which we are immersed, however much we might try to disconnect ourselves from it.  I've said before that I'm not a big fan of nature writing, but although he occasionally edges over into lala land, for the most part he stays more in the realm of educating than pontificating.  For example, when he talks about a (Malaysian?) woman who is honoring/feeding the spirits of the land by daily refilling small dishes of rice at the corners of the house, he is very careful to maintain respect for the idea behind the tradition as he explains how the local ant population carries off the rice every day.  It's not that she is naive and ignorant and therefore creating supernatural beings out of natural events, Abrams' point is that the ants are the spirits of the land, or part of them.  It's not either science or belief--both are true.  You know I love that.

It's a fascinating book and well worth reading.  I've always been a dedicated recycler, and I try to remember to take my reusable bags into the grocery store with me (have about a 50% success rate), but I confess I've become discouraged over the years about anything I can do as an individual to divert global warming or whatever ecological disaster is your choice.  Abrams renewed my interest in the efforts for their own sake.  (and btw, he doesn't say anything about that, it's just my own response to his ideas.)  I am re-inspired.  For me, the issue isn't looming ecological disaster (too easy to get off on an argument about what and when if you take that route), it's that living in a way that is conscious of the natural world of which we are a part is worth doing for its own sake.  Good read, though difficult at times.

and if you like nature writing, try Mary Austin.  Stories from the Country of Lost Borders and Cactus Thorn.  She wrote around the turn of the last century.  Beautiful stuff about the high desert in California.

Monday, November 29, 2010

the not-exactly-freaking-out post

A week from tomorrow, I have two 15-20 pages papers due.  I have written exactly zero words of these papers.  I have a rough outline for both of them, and I've done more than half the research, and I wish I had something else productive to add to this list because I am in a near panic.  I say "near" only because I know it will get worse six or seven days from now, so I don't want to overstate my case just yet.  Last fall I wrote a 13 page paper in 2 days (and got an A!), so I know this can be done-- but it was an undergrad class, and I was younger and stupider then.

Then six days after that, I have another one due.  and then the day after that, an exam.  And THEN, I will be done.  For almost six weeks.  You should see the stack of (fun) books I have waiting to be read.  I will sink into them like falling into marshmallow fluff. or jumping into a huge pile of (dry) autumn leaves. or diving into orange jello.  or maybe I will just sleep for a week. except wait-- then I'll have to cram all my Christmas preparations into ten days.  But at least that will be FUN.

But this next stretch won't be.  I'll try not to subject you to too many panicked posts.  Maybe I will learn something really interesting to share along the way, but otherwise I doubt you'll hear from me much until the semester is over.

And since I'm on the whine train anyway, could this damn cold just please go away?  I've had it since last Tuesday.  If I take a Nyquil, I can sleep, but then I'm too groggy to get anything done the next day.  If I don't take a Nyquil, I can't sleep.  #viciouscycle #ohwaitthisisn'ttwitter

Thursday, November 25, 2010

so today you get the smarmy post

It's Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful.  I've got both my kids home, and they are so amazing.  Every once in awhile I'm just dumbstruck that I get to be their mom.  And dh.  For every minute that he drives me crazy, there are two minutes where he is a far better spouse than I deserve.  And we're all healthy, even though two of us have colds at the moment.  And our house is warm, even though it was below zero last night.  And the dog is as dumb as a stump, but so sweet.  And our cat is elderly, but now that her joints hurt, she likes to snuggle up for warmth and it is pretty nice to have a warm cat in your lap on a cold night.  And later today, we're going to have dinner with a bunch of great friends and have more food than we could possibly consume, which means we will also have fabulous leftovers tomorrow.  And the pies are turning out well-- even the cherry, which is always the trickiest one.

It's a great life, and I'm lucky to be in it.  I'm thankful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

stochastic thoughts

So.  Two websites that I found this week which are now on my favorites list: from Alastair via Bona Fide Betty, OneWord, which is like doing NaNo in 60 seconds (except you only write about 100 words, and it's not a whole novel, and you don't lose any sleep, and it's only 60 seconds, but other than that, it's just like NaNo).  And the other, which I found on the weekly roundup of writer posts here, is the visual thesaurus at Visuwords, which is utterly cool.  Try a word, any word, like dry or ugly, and it will create a branching web of synonyms. You can drag it around if it doesn't all fit in your window.  It's how I came up with today's title, since I know we're not using "random" anymore but I couldn't think of anything else to call it.

And snow.  We've got it.  It's too early.  In the past week, we've gotten somewhere around 6 inches of snow, which we usually don't get until after Christmas.  You wouldn't believe the number of brown Christmases we've had in the 18 years we've lived here.  Usually this time of year we get sleet and slush and freezing fog and rain mixed with snow, but nothing that actually collects on the ground and looks white.  We've got it now.  It even enabled me to skip classes today, since as bad as it is here, it was much worse in UTown.  They were supposed to get 6-10 inches of snow today, compared to our measly 1-2" (the rest of ours came last week, when UTown got only rain).  And tonight our low is supposed to be 17 below.  That's not wind chill, that's the actual temperature.  Am even more thankful than usual for a warm house.

And Bookstores.  I live in a small town.  Not teeny, but small--about 20,000.  Not only is it small, it's rural--it's the largest town in a 100-mile radius, by a considerable amount.   if you drive two+ hours, you can get to a town of about 100,000, if you drive five hours, you can get to a "city" of 500,000, but you've got to drive eight hours or more to get to a real city.  And I am a book addict.  This is a problem.  The library is small, the bookstores are limited.  Bookstores are part of my lifeblood.  I love independent booksellers and I understand how important they are, but sometimes you just want to walk into a vast space filled with books, where you know that you could browse for hours and not see everything there is to see.  So you will understand why, when our Borders opened about three years ago, I felt like a little piece of heaven had come right here.  When I get twitchy and shrewish, my spouse will say, as tactfully as he possibly can under the circumstances, "Why don't you go hang out at Borders for awhile?"  And I will go, order a decaf latte' at the coffee counter, wander around for an hour and a half or so, and come home happy and peaceful.  Tonight, I had a 33% off coupon and $10 in "Borders Bucks" and I got exactly the three paperbacks I wanted, $7.99 each, for $11 and change total.  I am so happy.  It just makes my cheap little book-loving heart sing.

On to tchotchkes.  When we were first married, when we went on trips, I would buy a souvenir mug.  But before long, the mug cabinet was full to the bursting point.  So I started to collect keychains.  There are rules. They have to have the name of the place on them.  They have to cost less than $8 (it used to be $5, until inflation made it impossible to get a good keychain within the rules).  I have to buy it while we are at the place (under duress I occasionally have allowed myself to buy it at the airport, but usually, it has to come from a tacky souvenir store).  I have a great collection.  At some point, while browsing the tacky souvenir shops, I branched out into tchotchkes (yes, I googled that to figure out how to spell it).  I don't always buy one.  It has to be something that especially strikes my fancy.  I have a snow globe from Seattle, a ceramic mug with the handle in the shape of an alligator's tail from Florida, etc.  So you will understand how thrilled I was to find a bobble-head Statue of Liberty while we were in NYC last week.  O. M. G.  The guy at the counter must have understood, because he very carefully wrapped it in one brown paper bag, taped it shut, wrapped it in another brown paper bag, taped it shut, and then put the whole thing in a small plastic shopping bag, which I reverently stowed in between several layers of dirty clothes in my suitcase.  (It's all of about 4" tall.)  Fab-u-lous.

And New York.  It was amazing.  The last time I was there I was pregnant with Nell, so it was more than twenty years ago.  We went to Wicked.  (I tried, I really did, to get tickets to see Pacino as Shylock in Merchant of Venice, but apparently everyone else wanted to see it just as badly as I did.).  We went to the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and South Street Seaport and Times Square and kicked through the leaves in Central Park and had a drink at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott and just about all the tourist-y things that you could possibly do in three days.  The weather wasn't great, but it was a hell of a lot better than the weather we came home to.  ('scuse dangling preposition)

Anything else?  Can't think of anything at the moment.  Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.  Tomorrow is pie baking day.  I think I'm doing five, maybe six.  Fortunately my friend the amazing cook is doing the turkey and trimmings.  I'm thankful.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I sat down to write a really whiny post about how insecure I feel right now and how I don't think I can do this and what was I thinking... you're bored already, right?  But thankfully before I started I clicked around on other people's blogs and decided to try a different spin.  Why not think about what I'm grateful for instead?  It's Thanksgiving week, it's appropriate.  I'll spare you the sweet post about my health and my kids and my staunchly loyal underappreciated spouse and having a roof over my head on a night when a blizzard (literally, according to the National Weather Service) is blowing through town.  Even though I am unspeakably grateful for all those things.  Nope, I feel tonight that what I need is to be grateful for exactly the things that are making me whine.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to be pushed past my perceived limitations.  I'm grateful that I've told so many people that I'm doing this that there's no way I can back out now, because if it were just between me and the registrar at UTown, I probably would.  I'm grateful that I'm not bored.  I'm grateful that there are always mind-blowing things out there to learn, and I get to find out about a few of them.  I'm grateful for the frustration that I feel with myself and with my professors when we don't value the same things, because I'm learning how to shut up, get over myself and do what I need to do.  I'm grateful that I get to find out (not for the first time, but when you're a perfectionist/control freak like me, it's always new) what it's like not to be particularly good at something, and yet still need to do it.  And if you're reading this, I'm grateful for you, too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

dealing with today's demons

The post from Saturday (which actually was written earlier last week, but I didn't get around to editing it and posting it until this weekend) talked about giving up expectations.  Well, actually, what I was talking about was being opposed to society's expectations, but the immediate problem for me this morning is dealing with my own expectations of myself.  Oddly, and as is often the case, Lucy March's post touched on this topic today, too.  Which I suppose is good because otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here typing this out.

So... a lot of my expectations for how this grad school thing was going to play out have turned out to be ... incorrect?  unsupportable?  wrong?  yeah, wrong.  that's it.  This is not going to be what I thought it would be.  I knew it would be hard, it wasn't that I was thinking I would cruise through it.  I know myself well enough to know how I react to deadlines and writing papers, etc.  I did enough of it last year to know what I was getting into.  But it's hard, really hard, in ways I hadn't expected, and in directions I don't really want to go.  And it's not going to end up with me having found my people, the place where I finally fit in.  Which is making me question the whole reason I'm doing this.  Not helped any by the fact that my 3rd prospectus in ten days is due tomorrow and with about 24 hours to go, I don't even have a topic at the moment.  I know I'm writing about Kafka's Metamorphosis, but that's as far as I've come. 

You know, the one thing I can't seem to get past after nearly 30 years of working on it is this damned obsession with whether or not people are going to like me.  It's the dumbest thing.  Because a large part of my resistance to grad school at the moment is knowing that I'm not going to be able to do this ("this" being both the papers I'm writing right now and also just the whole damn thing) the way I feel like they want/expect me to do it, which will result in me passing the classes but not really doing well.  Not measuring up.  Them being disappointed in me.  And a tiny little miserable part of me is thinking, "They won't like me."  Which is just plain old silly, but there it is. It results in me acting out of fear.

OK.  that's why I type this stuff out.  Because I know this one.  I've been here before.  Trying to chase that elusive goal of people liking me is exactly the way to ensure a fail.  If you're trying too hard, you're not being yourself.  and then neither you nor the people around you know who you are or what to do with you.  The key is to be yourself, to be yourself thoroughly, and then even if the situation doesn't work out, at least you know it's for the right reasons.  And you might just happen along the way to find people who really like you as you are.  Should not be phrasing this in 2nd person.  I need to relax about this and just do my thing.  Getting all knotted up in anxiousness is not helping in any possible way.  There's no point in approaching life like a clenched fist, dreading what might happen, anticipating the worst. 

*deep cleansing breath* :-)  OK.  I'm OK.  I'm going to just dig in and get it done.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

GS: last one for awhile

Since I'm boring myself to death with the grad school posts, I'm sure it can't be too much fun for anyone else, either.  Fortunately, we are done with the theory portion of my Intro to Graduate Studies class, so there will be less to think about.  The rest of the semester is about research methods, getting published (not one of my goals), and getting into a PhD program (also prob not in my future, esp since the school I'm attending doesn't have a PhD program in English).

Yesterday we went to the university library and visited the archives.  I could never devote my life to archival research, but in the short run, it might serve a useful purpose for me.  The archivist was ... oh, the term is demeaning, but still... he was adorable.  We were all politely yawning behind our hands at the tedious boredom of it all (only one box on the table at a time, only one folder out of the box at a time, ask for permission, ask for permission, ask for permission, etc). But the archivist was practically dancing around in his excitement about his special collections.  I find human beings endlessly fascinating.  And btw, the latest way of taking notes:  instead of copying or typing while you're examining the materials, you bring your digital camera and take a picture.  No lie.  How cool is that?  After you ask permission, of course.

Anyway.  A few observations before I leave theory behind-- I wish I could say forever, but I fear it will be with me for at least the next couple of years till I'm done with school.  I'm still thinking about feminism, of course, and it occurred to me that what I'm arguing with myself about isn't whether or not feminism is valid (because it is), but how it should be practiced.  I was reminded of something that happened in the first theory class I took, which was back in June.  Of course I'd heard about the biological vs. cultural definition of gender, I'd even had arguments about it, but it was the first time I'd studied it as an academic discipline.  The professor was going on, for about the third class period in a row, about how there is no significance to our cultural definitions of what gender should be, it is all just a construction.  And I had another one of those little moments, where the fog lifts and you get it.  Geeze, this is two posts in a row about something like that, which will lead you to think I have these moments all the time, which is not true-- this was six months ago.  Anyway.  For a moment, it was like this huge weight lifted off my shoulders.  All those expectations of what women should be like-- chatty, maternal, good cook, homemaker, endlessly involved in their friends lives, interested in clothes and makeup and jewelry -- and which I am manifestly not, disappeared.  It was like floating.


So it's not that I don't get it. I do.  But it was followed almost immediately by a feeling of betrayal-- that if I leave cultural femininity behind, I am betraying my sisters.  this is difficult to explain.  bear with me here for a minute.  Because feminine values are not valued in our culture-- the ones I listed, and a lot more (vulnerability, interdependence, cooperation, to name a few).  So while I completely support the banishing of cultural expectations that are imposed on anyone about almost anything, I can't support the denigration of feminine values.  I'm learning to separate those two out.  In fact, that's what this post is about.  Me trying to figure out how to let go of all those years of feeling like a failure, while at the same time not devaluing the feminine.

Because feminism often feels to me not like male-bashing but like female-bashing.  Broadly speaking, it often feels like we feminists want men to be feminine and women to be masculine.  And to an extent, I agree-- to the extent that each of us needs to balance out within ourselves our own unique mix of masculine and feminine aspects. And given the nature of our culture, that sometimes means that women need to over-emphasize masculine traits (like valuing the individual over community (to be blunt: acting out of self-interest), or being strong and opinionated) and vice versa in order to compensate for cultural programming.

But even as I say that, I still staunchly stand by the importance of femininity.  Even though I'm not a very feminine person.  You mess with my sisters, you mess with me.  It's a funny mix where we are right now, isn't it?  Because women are still discriminated against in ways that have much to do with the way our culture is organized.  I'll even go along with using the term patriarchy, as long as we're clear that a) patriarchy isn't just about men being in charge, and b) women can (and often are) just as patriarchal as men.  Because how are we going to undermine patriarchy if women are all trying to be patriarchal?  Being a biological female doesn't excuse being ruthless or cruel, or using unethical means to get what you want, or ignoring the importance of people in your push to own power-- all of which are things that I associate with patriarchy (not masculinity), and all are things that I've heard feminists justify as being OK if it's done by a woman with feminist goals. 

I'm boring myself again.  I was going to skip the reading report for October because I hadn't "read anything" until it occurred to me that I could report on some of the academic reading I've had to do.  Because everyone should read House of Mirth and Age of Innocence (both by Edith Wharton).  Oh, lord, should they.  Wharton is such an incredible writer.  HoM is earlier, and the writing is more sort-of in-your-face so you notice it-- wow, that was beautifully written.  And it could be a textbook for teaching structure-- the two halves are perfectly balanced.  AoI is more subtle, and absolutely brilliant.  When I read them in my 20s, I thought HoM was better, and AoI was just the pathetic story of a man who was too weak to go after what he wanted.  At nearly 50, it read entirely differently.  But they are both depressing, so you're forewarned.  And talk about women supporting patriarchy-- read them, and then tell me which gender is oppressing which, because you could sure as hell argue it either way.  Beautifully written, worth reading, but depressing.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Imma Shine

It's the end of my long day (leave the house at 7:45 a.m. and don't get home until 9 p.m.) and I just finished driving, I'm the only one home, and I'm drinking a beer (Pigs Ass Porter, since you asked), so just take this whole thing with a grain of salt.  You've been warned.  And while I'm specifying caveats, please substitute "what I think of as God" for "God" throughout.

So several years ago, I read the first half of one of Brian Greene's books, The Elegant Universe.  (Love beautifully written books about science, but I never seem to get more than halfway through.)  He was explaining, beautifully, the theory of relativity, and it was late at night, and all the sudden I got it.  I had this flash of being able to hold the whole thing in my head-- all this lovely, brilliant pure energy racing around the universe at the speed of light, and then slowing down as it takes on mass and becomes-- well, everything.  Matter.  (That may not have been at all what Mr. Greene was trying to explain, but work with me here.)  Then I woke up the next morning and it was gone.  I can still remember the basic outline, obviously, but that moment where the whole thing existed as a moment of comprehension in my head is gone forever. 

But I can spin that idea out endlessly.  I've thought about it a lot over the intervening years, and moved it into a realm which Mr. Greene would probably be embarrassed to have anything to do with (sorry, Brian).  For example, is this what the Incarnation is a metaphor for?  God, pure energy/light, choosing to take on material form?  Or this:   if you can ascribe volition to pure energy, you could think of that moment, the moment of taking on mass, as a choice, and that choice might be made out of love.  Which gives a whole new meaning to the New Age idea that the fundamental glue of the universe is love.  Pure energy choosing to take on material form, slowing down its headlong flight across the universe, so that the world(s) can exist.  So we can exist. 

And then the corollary, or subset, or next thought, anyway:  and that's all we are, too.  Pure energy, slowed down from light speed, to take on mass and exist.  (cue Twilight Zone music). I should possibly be typing this while unimpaired, but I'd never have the nerve to post this if I wasn't punchy.  Remember, I told you-- half a beer and I am silly as Junie B. Jones.

So tonight while i was endlessly driving back from UTown, it occurred to me in another one of those flashes that what we are is brilliant.  What I am is brilliant.  Not more brilliant than anyone else, but we are each brilliant. Brilliant is our status quo, not something we achieve during certain special moments.  And there's something about recognizing our own brilliance that connects us with God.  If you want to use the language of my youth, we're somehow denigrating God if we deny the way God made us, if we deny that the way God made us is to be brilliant.  If you want it phrased agnostically:  We grow up in a world that layers guilt and obligation and worry and anxiety on top of what is our essential self.

OK, now I'm getting uncomfortable.  But that was my flash of insight on the endless drive today.  oh, good grief, I'm uncomfortable with my own brilliance, right?  so what else is new.  and I can never be anything but silly when typing out this kind of thing because who the hell am I to think I know anything about this?  but it's what I was thinking about, so voila, the post.  and dh and MadMax got home so I'm not even editing it. much.

Monday, November 01, 2010

GS: then and now

There are a lot of things about grad school that are different now than they were in 1985, the last time I did this.  For one thing, it is now a somewhat touchy issue to call a professor by their first name.  Back in the 80s, we were still rebelling against the "old way" of doing things, and professors, almost every single one I had from freshman year up through 2nd year of grad school, wanted to be called by their first name.  Some would even be slightly offended if you called them "Professor Allen" or "Dr. Smith" or whatever.  No more.  As grad students, we are given some leeway, and probably me especially since I'm older than most of my profs, but in general, we are much more formal these days.

And then there's the whole research thing.  "Back in my day" (she says, looking smug and disdainful as she tilts her chair back on two legs and sticks her thumbs in her pockets), we were old school.  We went to the library and pulled books off the shelves, including the "Reader's Guide."  Said guide would allow you to look up scholarly articles that had been published on your subject.  You could look through summary volumes for older stuff that collected several years at once, and for more recent stuff, you pulled each monthly volume individually off the shelf and looked up your topic.  And then you would go and either pull the bound archived journals off the shelf, or (I shiver with horror to remember it) you would go to the microfiche reader and succumb to an instant headache as you watched the pages whizzing past until you found your article.  It sucked.  This is one thing that is clearly, unambiguously better now.  Now, you sit at home and point your browser to the university library website, or the MLA site, or one of several other sites, enter your search terms, and instantly have your list of articles sitting in front of you.  And more often than not, you can click on the article, and the full text of it will pop up right there on the screen in front of you.  No lie.  It is totally, awesomely amazing. 

Which makes me laugh at myself retroactively for last year.  You have to remember that for almost twenty years now I have lived in a small town, which has a great library manned by dedicated, valiant librarians but it is still a small town library.  I.e., the chances of it a) having the book you want and b) having it checked in and on the shelf, are pretty slim.  So the first time I walked into the U library last fall, used one of the computer terminals to check the catalog for the topic of the first paper I needed to research (which was on Dante), descended into the bowels of the library, and stood in front of about eight shelves full of books on the Inferno, I got teary-eyed.  Not kidding.  I also was shocked and a bit smug to see that all the books were still there, even though all 26 of us in the class were writing on the same topic.  I assumed I was the only one who cared enough to investigate critical sources for a paper that -- strictly speaking-- didn't require it.  Finally, a year later, I figured out that no, it wasn't that I cared more, it was just that all the other students were sitting at home in the comfort of their jammies, glass of wine in hand, doing more and better research on their laptop.  Silly me.

But perhaps the biggest difference of all is the entire range and tone of what we're studying.  Back in the 80s, we were reading "literature":  poetry, stories, novels and plays.  There was some ambiguity about what constituted "literature"-- I remember talking about "found" poetry, which is when you find an unexpectedly lovely or resonant use of words in a newspaper article or a subway billboard or wherever-- but for the most part, we were reading works that had "stood the test of time."  One professor defined capital-A Art as anything that is created with the intent of producing art (he was speaking of visual art, but it would apply equally well to literary art). Which would leave out things like advertising copy, newspaper articles, journals and diaries.  Those were things that historians studied, not lit majors. 

But like pretty damn near everything, now we see Art as not its own thing, but as a cultural construct.  Meaning that the way certain objects or texts have come to be considered Art says more about the prejudices of the time than any innate value of the object.  Back in the middle of the twentieth century, The Scarlet Letter was considered to be Art while Uncle Tom's Cabin was considered to be a popular novel of lesser value, in large part because a well-educated white man wrote Scarlet Letter--making it important and weighty-- and a sentimental female wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin --making it negligible and not worth reading (went this type of thinking, I'm not necessarily endorsing it here, just describing).  I know I've used this comparison before, but it's such a good one-- two novels published two years apart, one considered to be one of the most important novels of American literary history, the other--far more influential at the time--deserving maybe a line or two in the history books, but not valued as a work of, ahem, Art.  And full disclosure:  I've read Scarlet Letter--of course, all US English majors have-- but I've never read Uncle Tom's Cabin

The issues are clear, and the point is valid.  Women of the time weren't allowed to have the kind of education that Hawthorne had.  Harriet Beecher Stowe was far from uneducated, but Bowdoin College, Hawthorne's alma mater, didn't accept women until 1971.   Yes, 1971, over a hundred years too late for Harriet to have received the same education.  So, the argument goes, how could she possibly have produced a work that met the same standards for intellectual rigor as Hawthorne's?  And she didn't.  But is it fair to judge her work by the same standards we judge Scarlet Letter?  Of course not, to the historian.  As historical artifacts, signs of their times, they are of equal worth.  It's only when you get into the tricky area of defining what is Art that you get into questions of worth.

There was a version of this argument going on when I was in grad school before in a somewhat different way.  As US students of English literature, the history of specifically American Lit was obviously of some importance to us.  But the early stuff-- James Fenimore Cooper, for example-- just isn't very good.  As works of art, British lit of the same time period far outshines American lit.  But if you're a student of American lit, that's where you have to start.  You read Cooper because of his importance in the sequence of American literary history, not because of the intrinsic value of The Deerslayer.  

I am so totally boring myself here.  I can't even remember where I was going.  I think it had something to do with how literary studies are getting to the point where they will disappear and become cultural studies, because it is no longer OK to make judgments about what is worth reading and what isn't.  So you end up studying anything and everything that is a part of culture rather than making distinctions about what "deserves" to be studied and what doesn't.  And then I was going to gripe about that, because I like being a literary snob.  I don't want to read Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Or the Deerslayer. (I've made it through all my years without ever having read either one, so that is possibly unfair).  But I've bored myself to death and lost interest.  ADD strikes again.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

meta stuff

So, inspired by Julie, I added a list of the blogs I read regularly over there on the left side.  I know I left some out because only the most recent five of the Betty blogs show up on Lucy March now, and my memory's not that great.  In other words: work in progress.  But, more to the point, some of you are (wisely) protecting your privacy so well that I didn't have any way to e-mail you and ask permission.  So if you'd rather not have your blog listed, let me know and I will remove it pronto.  (Since I have so few readers, my e-mail is in a link on my profile.)

And I can already tell I'm going to love having that list over there.  It makes checking through all "my" blogs easy cheesy.  Great idea, Julie.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

GS: you made me throw up a little

Yes, I do realize there's such a thing as taking a metaphor too far, but I love Happy Bunny, so yes, I did go there.  The last grad school post was about eating crow, this one's about re-thinking that.  So what else could I call it?

So, the idea the last time I posted about my theory class was that I was finally giving in to the pressure, the relentlessness of studying theory.  You get inside the mindset, and suddenly it all makes sense, and you think, "Oh, yeah, this is true."  But within a couple of days of posting that, I started to realize that this feels awfully familiar.  This feeling of "consciousness raising," of having my ideas turned upside down again.  Not to cavil too much (I only threw up a little)(*ducks and runs*), because I really have learned a lot of great new stuff in this class.  Like ecocriticism.  I didn't think I'd be interested in that much when I saw it on the syllabus.  I figured it would about reading Thoreau and Annie Dillard, and I've already confessed to my dislike of that type of writing.  But that's not it-- or at least, that's only a very small part of ecocriticism.  It's actually a broader emphasis on recognizing the way setting and place affect literature, and recognizing the way "nature" is treated in a literary work and how that parallels the way it is treated in our larger society.  (and don't even get an ecocritic started on what the word "nature" means. seriously.)  I've become so interested in it that I may write my final paper in another class on an ecocritical reading of one of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's books.

I'm digressing again.  But there are still a lot of gripes I have with the whole theory mindset.  For one thing, it's practically nihilist.  Hmm.  I just looked that up and it doesn't mean quite what I thought it meant.  What I meant to say is that it leads--if you take it to its more-or-less logical conclusion-- to despair.  I will try to explain.  Is someone out there more of an expert on this than I am?  because you should really weigh in here and either help me out or argue with me.  Three months of studying theory hardly makes me the person to try to explain this.

But when has that ever stopped me?  So, you have all the critique of capitalism, which is pretty interesting and pretty damning for the world we live in.  We immerse ourselves in media/entertainment which makes us convinced we need certain products, or to dress so that we express ourselves (which still involves buying clothes and makeup and accessories, and so supporting somebody's bottom line), and we need certain gadgets (OMG do I want an iPad, not kidding, which would go straight into Steve Jobs pocket).  We are utter slobbering victims of brilliant marketing every minute of our lives practically.  And all of it is going to line the pockets of the people who own the means of production.  We worker bees live in a world of denial, thinking that the harder we work, the more we will get ahead, when really, we're just reinforcing the capitalist juggernaut.  And the things that keep us happy-- buying a new pair of shoes, reading romance novels, going on vacations-- all those things are just part of what's called the "hegemony," the cloud of denial that's created by all sorts of cultural institutions and practices that deludes us into thinking we're doing all this for our own good, while really we're just the victims of capitalism.

Marx started this, of course, and he thought that as soon as the workers began to see how they were being exploited, they would revolt, overturn the capitalists, and bring in a new kind of economy where ownership of the profit-making stuff would be in the hands of the workers rather than in the hands of owners who were completely disconnected from the actual work.  How this ideal society would be constructed is the subject of much debate, of course, and a number of fairly disastrous fascist and/or totalitarian governments resulted.  So you can argue with his ideas of how things "should" be, and I'm happy to chip in.  But that doesn't change the fact that the marxist critique of capitalism is pretty disturbing.  It's just that Marx and others of his generation underestimated what my professor calls the "resiliency" of capitalism-- the ability of capitalism to absorb any and all attacks by convincing all of us that it's in our best interests to support it, even though it may not be.

So of course the first argument I would make is that the whole problem with both systems, marxist and capitalist, is that they both assume that money, profit and the like are the most important things in life.  I don't believe that.  I believe that there are all kinds of things--familial, social and spiritual-- that are more important than profit, than my own economic well-being.  And of course a Marxist would say, that's the hegemony.  Anything that convinces you that something is more important than your economic well-being.  Which is why Marx thought religion was the opiate of the people.  This stuff is just fascinating to me.  (Marx himself never used the word hegemony-- that's a later twist on Marxist thought, I think from Althusser.  Marx called it "ideology," which is along the same lines.)

But I still say:  well, fine, but money and profit will never be my primary goals in life.  I don't want them to be.  I reject your reality and substitute my own, as they say on Mythbusters.  I just don't buy it (yup, that pathetic pun was intentional).

What bugs me about the whole theory mindset, though, is that if you really carry it out to its logical conclusion, then anything you can do that positively participates in culture-- from raising kids to buying groceries to publishing your novel to retail therapy-- in short, anything that contributes to keeping the world going-- is strengthening the hegemony.  and then you keep going through the history of theory and you start to see how the hegemony supports sexism and homophobia and racism and classism and so on. So if you read all this stuff and become truly horrified by it (which is easy to do, because it's pretty scary stuff), pretty soon you are so horrified that you don't want to do anything that involves you in it, your only alternative is to just check out of life.  You can't do anything (except stand on the sidelines and critique), because anything you do will just contribute to the continuation of all this stuff that horrifies you.  Despair.  Despondency.  Nihilism. 

I'm so impressed that you're still reading, because even I lost track of where I was going.  I think there was something else I wanted to say, but it's late and I've lost it.  so this is (possibly) to be continued.

Friday, October 22, 2010

random thoughts: update edition

Hi, y'all.  I have lots of short things to say, most of which are in response to previous posts of mine, at least one of which was a long time ago and no one is likely to remember, but I'm calling them "updates" anyway.

1.  So, the Shakespeare test.  It went pretty well.  We've read four plays and several dozen sonnets so far, and there were ten IDs.  It's harder than you might think to identify 3 or 4 line snippets when you have several thousand lines to choose from.  But I figured if I concentrated on the scenes he had gone over in class, it would work out OK, and it did.  I knew seven of them for sure, and managed to guess correctly on two based on context.  But the reason I'm typing this out is to pass along a strategy he gave us for the essay part, which probably everyone else knows but it was new to me and it worked really well.  You come up with an essay in your head ahead of time.  I didn't write anything down, but as I was reviewing, I kept my eye out for similar themes between the plays and I had something in my head.  Then when you get the essay prompts (there were three, and we had to choose one), even if you don't have *exactly* what you need in terms of a prompt, you can fit what you've got in your head to one of the questions.  It worked great.  Or at least, I hope it did.  I have no idea what he'll think of what I wrote, but there was none of that pit-of-the-stomach panic that I often get when i read the essay prompts and can't think of one dang thing to say.

2.  The four letter word (diet).  I don't diet.  Old post, I won't go over it again here.  But I have let myself get too heavy over the past six months (metabolism slowdown--menopause is a bitch)(have I written that post?  I don't think I have.  But perhaps I will pass, because hello, how to scare off your readers.)  Anyway.  I mentioned my dilemma (too heavy, hate dieting) to a friend who is a health care practitioner and she recommended The Slow Down Diet.  All I've read so far is the first chapter, and I haven't lost any weight yet (I don't think, I don't weigh myself very often, but it doesn't feel like I've lost any), so this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's really interesting.  The first step is to slow down, relax while you're eating, and allow your body to accept nourishment.  Sounds simple, right?  But it has been surprising.  I didn't realize how much of my mental attitude about food is about fighting it off-- sort of willing it not to make a difference, willing it to be about something else besides meeting my body's needs.  I'm not sure I'm describing this very well.  But just the mental act of thinking about my body absorbing nutrients from the food I eat while I'm eating it has been an interesting exercise.  It has been so interesting that I haven't even gone on to the next chapter yet.  Will keep you posted.  ha.

3.  Guilt, guilt, guilt.  I was snide on Monday about my past, about the way I used to believe and many people I love still believe.  In hindsight, I should have confined my 'snidery' to the hair splitting attitude, but I didn't.  I made fun of having the joy of the Lord.  I know better.  I knew when I typed it I would regret it later.  But I was going for cynical funny, and later it made me cringe.  I actually had a dream about it that night.  We were at a big, shiny clean roller rink (seriously), and everyone was skating past me on their shiny roller skates singing praise songs and I was not moving.  Just standing there stock still while everyone else whizzed past.  Can you believe it?  OK, then! that is clear enough even for someone as dense as me.  I don't believe in the same thing I meant when I used that phrase twenty-five years ago, but I still do believe in joy that comes from some kind of spiritual wellspring.  (Of course I'm not going to define exactly what that means because that would be against the principles of abeyance, right?)  I shouldn't have been snide about it.  I apologize and humbly repent.  So now I should get a happy dream where I'm flying, too, right?  But it never seems to work that way, damn it.

4.  Twitter. I'm getting hooked.  It took me awhile to get it set up so that I like it, but how else are you going to feel your phone buzz the "incoming text message" buzz and then you look down and you've got a text message from the Dalai Lama?  How cool is that?  I'm so curious whether or not he has anything to do with it or if it's just one of the under-Lamas doing all his techie stuff, but I don't care.  It's still cool.  Except could he lay off that compassion theme?  Because I'm getting really impatient with it.  (that was supposed to make you laugh.)  That and the daily quote from GoogleBooks are the only ones I still have coming to my phone-- I figured out really quickly that you could end up deluged with texts if you turn that feature on for all your tweeps. (For those of you who still haven't taken the plunge, you can read the "tweets" from the people you've chosen to "follow" on the twitter webpage or have them sent to your phone as text messages.)

well, these turned out to be longer than I anticipated, so I'm going to save the fifth one for a separate post because it was going to be the longest one anyway.

TGIF and all that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

random thoughts: iPod edition

OK, so now that I've admitted publicly that a) I have Ke$sha on my iPod, and b) I know how to spell her name (although I did Google it to make sure I had it right), I'm feeling a fair amount of pressure to say something intelligent today.  Which is making it nearly impossible to think of anything intelligent to say.  So maybe I will just ramble on about my iPod, which has become a commodity fetish to me (see, I'm learning something in my theory class.  maybe not what she wants me to learn, but I'm learning.  A commodity fetish is --loosely-- when an object takes on a value that is far beyond its actual worth.  Technically, this would be due to market forces, but when you use it snidely as I am here, it just means that I've become mildly obsessed with it, because it is so cool and fills so many (perceived) needs).

Oh, yeah, I was just going to ramble on today.  So anyway.  I have a purple one.  Dh got it for me for Christmas three years ago, and it has been a lifesaver with all the travelling I've been doing.  It has music and podcasts and audiobooks and Chinese lessons (well, they're not there anymore, but they were when I was taking Chinese), and did I mention audiobooks?  Books for fun, kids' books for family road trips, books I need to read for school so I can get some studying done while I'm driving (right now I'm listening to the House of Mirth, which I'm supposed to have read by 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, so what the heck am I doing sitting here writing a blog post?). 

And playlists.  I have incredible playlists.  70s music, which is divided into two, pop and "real" stuff like Led Zeppelin and the Stones and Cat Stevens; Cooking Music (which is mostly Motown), treadmill music (which is hiphop and the TingTings and oh, OK, I'll admit it since I've alread 'fessed up to Ke$sha, Britney), mad music (start with the Immigrant Song, Black Dog and Slither, move on to more Led and Welcome to the Jungle, until by the end I'm laughing at Magic Bus and Pour Some Sugar on Me), Dinner Music for when we have friends over, and a mix that is constantly in motion that is what I listen to while I'm driving to school ten hours a week.  It's always a mix of old and new stuff.  Right now it has three Sleigh Bells songs (I have yet to meet another adult that likes them, but I love 'em--start with Rill Rill if you want to hear some, it's the least, um, different), a couple each of Stevie Wonder and Clapton, White Stripes, Plain White Ts, G. Love and Special Sauce, Jonathan Coulton (thanks to Lucy!), Queen and about a dozen other songs that interest me at the moment.  There's not much country, but a few-- like Kenny Chesney's duet with Dave Matthews, "I'm Alive" and Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me."

OK, I'm boring you.  See, I told you: mild obsession.  So here's my advice:  about 30 songs in a playlist, because on any given day, you're not going to want to listen to a particular song, so that way you can skip right past three or four and still have plenty to listen to.  Because you clicked on my blog today so that you could learn how I set up playlists, right?  Right.  I knew that.

I do have something more intelligent to say but it's going to have to wait till Friday because that's all I have time for today (Shakespeare test tomorrow!!  House of Mirth!!  Why oh WHY am I sitting here??) and Thursday is the day that I leave the house at 7:45 a.m. and don't get home until 9 p.m.


And I'll just leave you with this:  All we want to do is eat your brains, We're not unreasonable, no one's gonna eat your eyes....  makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

treadmill thoughts

You might think, given my background, that I was raised a teetotaler.  But we most emphatically were not teetoalers.  Teetotalers, we thought, were people who didn't drink alcohol because there was a Rule about it.  They didn't drink because it was Wrong to drink.  They took great pride in the fact that no drop of alcohol had ever passed their lips.  It was a sort of snobbery.

But even though we weren't teetotalers, we didn't drink either.  There was almost never alcohol in our home.  Partly because my father worked for institutions where it could have cost him his job if he had been seen publicly consuming alcohol (they had a Rule about it, you see).  The difference was that there was no rule involved for my parents.  My parents, and therefore we their children, didn't drink because we chose not to drink.  (I hope you know me well enough by now to hear the smirk behind that sentence.)  We didn't need alcohol to be happy or to enjoy a party or to have fun because we had the joy of the Lord. I can even remember saying this to people on occasion once I transferred to a secular school and attended parties where drinking, to put it mildly, abounded. It was a sort of snobbery. 

And although I can smirk about the hair-splitting involved in this attitude, I can't really knock it.  For all the other problems my family has, alcoholism isn't one of them.  I've never wasted a night being wasted.  I've never ended up at 3 a.m. kneeling over a toilet.  (well, actually, I guess I have with migraines, but never from alcohol).  And since not drinking alcohol was such a big deal, experimenting with drugs never even entered my mind.  Other than once or twice at a concert, as far as I know I've never even inhaled. 

Which makes me entirely naive about recreational drug use, and entirely flummoxed by the series of novels (usually by young men) that came out in the latter part of the twentieth century where drug use was so much a part of their experience of growing up that it was hard to separate one from another.

You know what, this is --again-- going off in an entirely different direction than I had planned, and since I'm still supposed to be writing that paper, I'm going to stop and back up to the brief post I was planning to write when I sat down.  snort.  It was going to be two paragraphs.  Put me in front of a keyboard and I can pontificate about anything.  Unless I'm writing a paper, of course, and then it's like pulling your dog into the vet's office, feet splayed, every cell yearning to be anywhere else.

*clears throat*  OK.  What I was going to say is:  Even though I do drink alcohol now-- along the lines of a single drink 2-3 times a week-- I'm not big on it.  So when I'm barreling along on the treadmill and Ke$ha comes on and says "Before I leave brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack / cause when I leave for the night I ain't coming back," I should have no way to relate to the song.  I am, after all, the one who gets giggly silly after four sips of a mojito or half a glass of wine.  I don't "party," at least not in the way she means, not even close.  But by the time there's a dead pause and then she growls slyly, "Now the party don't start till I walk in," I'm glad there's nobody else in the house because I belt it out right along with her.  I've never been to the kind of party she's talking about, but at 49, one of the things I know for sure is that if I don't show up for my own party, for my own life, it doesn't happen.

This was supposed to be short.  :-)  Have a good one.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I went camping with some friends from my old job this weekend.  It was only about 24 hours (I came back early because I'm supposed to be writing a paper), but it was great.  It was the usual magic of camping--lots of good conversation, gorgeous views, away from everything but the elemental stuff--preparing food, figuring out shelter.  I'm not the world's more outdoors-y person, but I make exceptions for stuff like this.  And the weather cooperated, which doesn't always happen.  It couldn't have been a prettier fall weekend.

We worked together for four years in the special ed department at a public school.  I didn't work directly with the kids, I was just the administrative assistant, but it was an amazing experience.  I learned so much about being "differently abled."  And if you want to meet some dedicated people, that's a good place to look.  The job itself ended up not being the right thing for me, but the people and the experience were solid gold.  I love getting together with them (has it really been three years since I quit?), and just sitting and listening to them tell stories about the kids and the hassles and the red tape and the joys.  And, true friends that they are, they seemed to be genuinely interested in trials and tribulations of graduate school, too.  It was a much needed break. 

So why am I sitting here instead of working on my paper?  Excellent question.  Off I go.  Send whatever paper-writing vibes you can muster this way. (topic? why, the ever-fascinating deconstructionist reading of Kafka's Metamorphosis.  Bet you're jealous.)  Hope you're having a nice weekend.  (It has occurred to me that maybe I should do shorter posts more often, so here is one.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

since you asked... oh, wait, you didn't

In one of Martha Beck's books (probably Finding Your Own North Star, since that and the one about her son are the only ones of hers I've read all the way through, but it's been several years so I'm not sure), she talks about two young women, one who had the perfect childhood with parents who showed up for every event, paid for an expensive education, supported her ambitions, etc.  The other whose parents were hyper-critical, demanding, never believed that their daughter measured up, etc.  Then at the end of telling the two stories, she tells you that they are the same person.  It just depends on how you look at it.

My childhood was much like that.  I could tell it to you one way and it would sound like a fairy tale.  I could tell it to you another way, and you wouldn't believe I've survived it.  It just depends on how you look at it.  The way I survived much of the dark side was by building a pretty world in my head.  God, it's sweet in there.  It's one of the reasons I'm so introverted, because when I get into that space, it's so much nicer than what's outside.  But it's not real, and it takes a lot of energy to keep it up.  Every time I let go of a new layer of it, I discover that reality is better.  Grittier, uglier, harsher, but also more true, with a different kind of beauty that is.... well, better.  I'm going to start sounding maudlin about something that is not maudlin at all if I keep going.

But getting there, getting through the letting go part of it, can be ugly.  And frightening.  On the days when I'm dealing with the shit that I've shoved aside, it is practically nauseating.  When i was younger, the world in my head was so disconnected from reality that I had to let it go.  It was either that or go nuts.  (and sometimes it felt like both ways were nuts.)  Now I'm old enough and somewhat wise enough to be a whole lot better connected to reality than I used to be.  And I've also been through it enough times to know that the bad times are often connected to hormones, which takes a way a little bit of their sting.  You can't take it quite so seriously when you know you're going to feel better, no matter what you do or don't do, if you just wait a few days.  But still. ................ yuck.

And that is yet another good thing about being older-- both that I know enough to not take it so seriously, and that I know for sure that if I go through it, if I stick it out, it will be better on the other side.

Gee, get out much, AB?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

GS: in which a quantity of crow is eaten

My understanding of physics is that Newtonian physics covers the vast majority of our everyday experience, but when you get to the outer edges-- say, approaching the speed of light, or temperatures approaching absolute zero-- Newtonian physics cease to apply, and Einsteinian physics comes into play.  (I don't think physicists use the term "Einsteinian" but if I know the right term, I can't remember it.).  But once you understand Einstein's theory of relativity, etc., it changes the underpinnings of how you understand everything, even the apple falling from the tree and conking Newton in the head.

So, that's how I'm coming to understand theory.  99% of life happens just fine without knowing anything about Saussure or Greenblatt or Althusser.  But once you get it, it changes everything.  So I'm there.  I was wrong; or at least I was wrong in the same way that Newton was wrong, which is to say, not exactly wrong in context, but still, wrong, or at least naive, in the larger scheme of things.  (good grief, did I just compare myself to Newton?  *shakes head*)  Well, OK, not anything like Newton, because Newton was beyond brilliant and came up with any number of ideas that changed the world; I'm just making my snide little comments over here from the peanut gallery about the things that I read.  What I mean to say is that some of the things I said were acceptable in their own little context (and some are just plain old wrong), but in the larger scheme of things, to say I was uninformed would be giving me far more credit than I am due.

It does seem, though, that I come down more on the side of the Europeans than the Americans-- French feminism as opposed to the more strident US version; British Green Studies as opposed to US Ecocriticism; Cultural Materialism as opposed to New Historicism.  Lord knows where that comes from because I've spent a grand total of about 3 months in Europe spread out over four different trips.  But I was reading along in Peter Barry's book Beginning Theory (and if you ever get thrown into a theory class with no prior experience, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for explaining the dauntingly obscure minutiae of the topic with blessedly readable clarity), and came across something that provided a clue.  And of course now I can't remember which chapter it was in so I can't quote him directly, but the gist of it was (and I'm mangling this enough with my own opinions that it's entirely possible he would want nothing to do with this distinction):  the Europeans see the a-ha! moments that theory provides as movements toward positive change; i.e., now that we know this, we are better informed as we move forward.  "Political optimism" was the phrase I think Barry used.  The Americans have the a-ha! moment and then react in horror to people who still think the old way. And with good reason-- the way things have been (the ideology, the hegemony) has been used to legitimate slavery and the oppression of women, to rationalize poverty, to marginalize gays-- in fact, without the examination of our biases that theory provides, we tend to suppress any kind of thought that isn't mainstream.  Because that kind of thinking still continues, the American theorists tend to concentrate on identifying it as a way of trying to root it out.

But that continual focus on rooting out every possible occurrence of the old way of thinking is enormously difficult to stomach of you're just Jane Doe from the Northern Rockies.  For one thing, it feels like it's stuck in unending, infinite analysis of the past, without offering anything constructive for either right now or for the future.  For another, it sometimes has a tendency to make those who practice it into unendurable snobs.  We've had to read two articles by this one woman critic that honestly make me feel like I'm a puppy whose nose is being stuck in my own poo.  Bad dog.  I don't often "hate" anything, but last night as I was struggling through yet another dense thicket of jargon and sneer, I thought, "I hate this woman."  Maybe she's "correct" in her ideas, but her attitude, that "I'm Right and you're Wrong" thing she's got going-- she's not convincing me.  I'd argue against her just to play devil's advocate, just to disagree with someone who is so pompously self-righteous.

Well, then.  I guess I didn't do a very good job of humbly eating crow, since I turned it into an opportunity to gripe about the people I'm supposed to be capitulating to.  (and isn't that a glaring dangling preposition, but I'm leaving it there because dang it, this is my blog and I can be bourgeois if I want to.)  You notice I didn't say a "large" quantity of crow, just a quantity.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Uh, everything's under control. Situation normal.

Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

Hey! Maybe we'll have Name That Quote day today. There's a couple of gimmes in here (if you don't know #8, I'm not sure we can be friends), but some more obscure ones, too.

1. Pigs! You're all Pigs!

2. Don't tell me: he sends a check every week to his sweet, grey-haired old mother. 
Actually, she's silver-haired.

3. It's just a flesh wound. 

4. I will take it! Though I do not know the way.

5. Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it's *stupid*, but I'm gonna do it! Okay?

6. I ain't playing with you, K. Did you ever flashy-thing me?

7. Once again, we've saved civilization as we know it.
And the good news is they're not going to prosecute.

8. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

9. I'll tell you what a paramecium is! That's the paramecium! It's a one-celled critter with no brain, that can't fly! Don't mess with me man, I'm a lawyer!

10. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.
[ha, this one cracks me up every time.]

I ended up deleting Wednesday's post because it just pushed my uncomfortable buttons.  Sorry about that, especially to Becky and Lora who had already commented. 

Monday, October 04, 2010

GS: ooooh, shiny

this post bores me silly.  but I wrote it yesterday and I haven't posted anything in several days so I'm sending it through.  Save it for if you're having trouble getting to sleep tonight.

When I went off to college lo, these hundred and fifty years ago as an 18-year-old with a newly minted high school diploma, brimming with naive enthusiasm and fully believing that I would help change the world, I was also a conservative, Evangelical Christian born and bred.  In spite of my firm belief that I was open-minded and sophisticated (because I was, compared to many of the other kids in my senior class), I knew nothing.  Nothing.  I grew up mostly in the South, in East Texas (and if you don't think that's the South, let me just invite you to stand up and say that in a bar in East Texas and see if you make it out alive).  I was so much a product of a particular time and place that it embarrasses me now to think of some of the opinions I held as if they were gospel.

So, as you might expect, much of my undergraduate career was studded with moments of revelation (hell, much of my life has been).  Moments where my brain was turned inside out as I discovered that certain sacred items of my youth were not universally true-- and more than a few of them were not true at all.  Maybe not always in the ways you might expect.  The cliche' among conservative Christians is that their children will go off to college, be exposed to misleading and/or evil ideas, and be lead away from their faith.  But I spent my first two years at a Christian school, and being among Christians 24/7 was what led me to the edge of faith.  Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's at least partly true.  It wasn't that they were so hypocritical (although there was plenty of hypocrisy, my own included), it was that it became clear to me that my own naive ideas of what Christianity was "supposed" to be like (all love, all the time) weren't in any way related to reality.  Also, since the school was well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I started figuring out that at least some of what I was raised to believe was important was a product of living in the South--with little or nothing to do with Christianity.  Which may be why some people don't go very far from home for college-- they don't want anyone messing with their heads.  I am definitely getting off track from what I wanted to write about. 

But it turns out that I loved having my head messed with (so to speak).  Once it had happened a few times, I loved that feeling of WOW, I never thought of it that way.   It happened while I was still at that conservative school when I took a Sociology of Women class from a fairly liberal (considering where we were) woman professor who went through the Bible with us and had us examine exactly what the bible says about women (which is not always exactly what the conservatives would have you think).

It happened with my first contact with gays (well, first that I was aware of), due to a very dear man who lived in the same house I did my junior year and who came out that year.  I was not a very good friend to him, I think, but he was tolerant of me, and I learned a lot.  I hope I've done better since.

As I've said many times, it happened when my daughter was born.  And it's why I love to travel.  You see how other people live, and it challenges your own assumptions--both about them and about yourself.  When we went to China in 2009, I was excited about seeing a new place, but I didn't really think I'd like it.  I had this near-queasy feeling in my gut about Asia, which as far as I can tell was a legacy of the presence of the Vietnam war on the nightly news throughout most of my grade school years.  As it turns out, I was blown away by the warmth and friendliness and ...well, the humanity of the Chinese people.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that (because--duh--the Chinese people are human), but that's the way these brain twists always are-- once you get to the other side, you can't quite believe you ever thought the old way.

I love that feeling.  In fact, a few years ago when all of us in my women's group created bucket lists of things we wanted to do before we died, there were no items on my list, just a statement that I wanted to continue to learn and do things that would twist my brain, blow me away, the proverbial fruit basket turnover.  (hmmm, which is maybe why I find it so frustrating to live in a small, rural town....)

But now that I'm back in graduate school, I'm wondering if it's possible to get addicted to that feeling, to the point that you keep seeking it out when it makes no sense.  Because that's what Literary Theory sometimes feels like to me.  The point seems to be to overturn everyone of your unconscious assumptions, every possible thing that you thought you knew.  And with good reason, for the most part.  It's good to examine your biases, and I appreciate the chance to do it. But now we're studying New Historicism, and it seems to have gone beyond examining your assumptions to a desire to turn things inside out just for the experience of looking at a poem (or novel or whatever) in a new way.  Just because.  Ooooh, shiny.  Is it bad? well, no, of course not.  But does it really make you a better reader of the poem?  Sometimes, but sometimes it just seems silly.  I'd give examples here, but I'm already boring myself to death.  enough on this topic.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Aug/Sept Reading Report

Coop- Michael Perry.  I read this one slowly.  I think I might actually have started it back in June.  It's terrific.  Part of the reason I found it so moving is that he is also a former fundamentalist (he was a "real" fundie, though).  So we have a lot in common.  But Coop isn't about his fundamentalist upbringing, although that comes up fairly often.  It's about a year of his life, living on a farm and raising chickens and pigs and a couple of kids, plus various building projects, like the chicken coop of the title.  I'm not normally a fan of nature writing--even though Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been recommended to me at least a dozen times, I've never been able to get past the first chapter because she just seems so smug. Her writing is so beautiful and polished that it seems like showing off.  One suspects that I am jealous, yes?  But every time Perry started to veer in that direction, he'd make some sort of snarky, wiseass comment and pull it back.  I remember at one point thinking it was like reading a teddy bear, albeit a teddy bear with a snide sense of humor. When I finished reading this back in mid-August, I was going to devote an entire post to it, but now I can't remember what it was going to be about.  I think mainly I was impressed at his lack of anger at his upbringing.  I'm not exactly dripping with rage, but I think I'm far more resentful of the ways my religious upbringing warped my brain than he is (it's possible that is because he's male, so it wasn't quite as restrictive for him? although since my upbringing wasn't precisely fundamentalist-- again, this link-- it wasn't anywhere near as strict as his).  There's one moment toward the end where he mentions a rebellious phase he went through in his twenties, so maybe he just doesn't talk about it much.  Anywho.  Highly recommended. 

Turn of the Screw - Henry James.  This is a ghost story in about 115 pages.  You'd think it would have taken me an afternoon to read it.  But I had forgotten what it's like to read James.  It's like trying to walk through jello.  I didn't really get absorbed in it until about the last 20 pages, so it took several weeks to read.  It's a classic, and I think a lot of people read it in high school, but I never had.  If you don't mind lingering over sentences that unfold slowly in your head, almost blooming there, then by all means, read it.  But I think most modern readers (me!) will find themselves impatient with his style.  I wanted to read it because Crusie used it as the basis for her most recent novel........

Maybe This Time - Jennifer Crusie.  This has been out for a month or so, and I've been studiously avoiding reading reviews so I wouldn't read any spoilers.  But I did notice that it hadn't been getting universally glowing reviews.  So finally I sat down to read it last night, finished it today, then went back and read some of the reviews out there.  First of all, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Couldn't put it down.  It's based (see above) on the Turn of the Screw, so it is a ghost story that takes place in a big creepy house with some really creepy demented characters, both human and ghosts.  The setup:  Andie Miller goes to see her ex-husband North one last time before accepting her boyfriend's proposal.  North asks her as a personal favor to spend a month taking care of his wards-- two kids of whom he has guardianship after a cousin died-- and offers to pay her ten thousand dollars to do it.  The kids live in a rotting mansion in southern Ohio that a reclusive millionaire-type had moved over from England.  Andie arrives there to find that the house is haunted and the ghosts are tormenting the children.

The reviews often complain that the romance is neglected for the ghost story, which surprised me.  That would not have occurred to me-- it's clear right from the start that there is still a lot of chemistry between Andie and North and that they are going to end up together at the end.  Although they aren't together for the first half of the book, they think about each other so often and there are so many flashbacks to their brief marriage that it didn't seem to me that that part of the story was being neglected.  I did feel at one point that Crusie was waiting too long to bring North down to the haunted house, but I wasn't by any means disappointed at the lack of romance, as apparently many were.

There were also some complaints that Crusie didn't do the ghosts "right"-- as if there were a right and a wrong way to write about the paranormal.  I'm not a big fan of paranormal anything--I've read a few that were OK, but generally it's a turnoff for me.  So maybe that's why her version of ghosts didn't bother me at all--I haven't read enough other paranormal books to know how you're "supposed" to write a ghost.  I thought she handled that aspect of it pretty well, with a good mix of characters who were believers and skeptics, and a believable amount of wondering, is this really happening?  Even though I'm pretty skeptical about that type of writing, I thought within the context of the story she really made it work.

But there were definitely some problems.  It's fun to see cameos of favorite characters from previous books, but I think you have to make it work in the current book without reference to the other books.  And I don't think she did that.  She brings in Gabe McKenna from Fast Women and (presumably) Simon from Faking It to play fairly minor roles, so their characters aren't fleshed out at all.  I thought in both cases the role would have been better played by one of the many characters who is already in the novel--for example, when Gabe and North are searching the house, even while I was reading it I thought it should have been North's brother Sullivan who was with him.  It would have made much more sense, and would have cut out a superfluous character.

Oddly, the thing that bugged me the most wasn't mentioned by anyone else-- at one point, North gets a concussion, and he is up in the bathroom puking his guts out, while Andie just doesn't seem to care.  She totally ignores him while she wanders around doing other things.  What??  Even if she wasn't in love with him, it's just basic human decency to take care of someone when they're sick.  And it seemed especially harsh since he had just been pretty considerate of her when she was similarly ill.

Which I think ended up being what worked for me the least--Andie.  She was terrific with Alice, the younger of the two children she was trying to help.  But she's rude and dismissive of her mother at the beginning-- which you figure must mean that her mom is horrible, but it turns out that her mom is actually pretty cool.  and she's rude and dismissive to her boyfriend who becomes her ex-boyfriend halfway through-- her breakup with him is so abrupt and unfeeling that I just felt sorry for the guy.  (although I didn't blame her for being mad that he showed up after she asked him not to).  and when Kelly, a reporter, is possessed by a promiscuous ghost and sleeps with half the men in the house, Andie blows it off because she decides Kelly would have slept with them anyway.  and then she leaves North vomiting all alone upstairs after he's been injured.  She just seemed mean-spirited sometimes.

On the other hand, one of the things other reviewers mentioned most often as a bad thing-- Andie's "neglect" of Carter, the older of the two children-- didn't bother me that much.  For one thing, I have a son who is not particularly talkative, and if he wants to withdraw, the worst thing you can do is to try and talk him out of it.  You have to kind of go with it until he's ready to communicate.  Since Carter was actually in danger, maybe that doesn't apply here, but still, I think it made me more sympathetic to how Andie handled him than some others were.  But for another thing, I thought Crusie did a pretty good job of showing that Andie became aware of how wounded Carter is as the story progresses, and that paralleled the way she became aware of how North had been wounded.  It became part of the growth of the heroine. 

Overall, I enjoyed it.  It kept me completely absorbed all the way till the end.  There is plenty of Crusie's trademark humor.  And although Andie will never be my favorite Crusie heroine, she had enough good moments to balance out the bad. It's a good, fun read.  Recommended.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

so many books, so little time

Oh, there are so many things I want to read right now I can hardly stand it.  I was determined not to read Maybe this Time (Crusie's new one) until I finished reading Turn of the Screw, which took forever because I just couldn't get into it.  Had totally forgotten about reading James.  But i did finally finish it a couple of days ago, and now MTT is sitting on my bedside table as my reward for finishing the presentation I have to do this week (Thursday).  Then I just found out that a new Tiffany Aching is coming out!!  (Pratchett's YA series).  Our whole family has enjoyed those-- we listen to them on audiobooks on road trips and they are hilariously lovable.  And since I just discovered Joanna Bourne recently, I have another one of her older ones waiting, plus The Help, and one that is called something like the Guernsey potato peel society or something, and 3 or 4 more just sitting.... and waiting.... for me.... to have time to read them.

On the plus side, the stuff I'm reading for class is actually pretty good.  I adore shakespeare, especially now that we're on our third one and I'm starting to get used to his language and style again.  As You Like It for this week.  And Pauline Hopkins, an African American novelist from the turn of the century (19th/20th), who is entirely new to me and who is the subject of the presentation I have to do on Thurs.  And Kafka's Metamorphosis for tues.  It just makes you wish you were in grad school, doesn't it??

sign me happy happy happy.