Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Next Time You See Me, I'll Have a Car

I'm leaving tomorrow for an epic tour of the East Coast/Midwest, culminating in my triumphant return with my very own car.

Returning a week from Tuesday.

Maybe I'll have some medieval--or even just thinly academic?--content once I'm back into the groove.

Bye, y'all.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Oh, Marcel

I've been reading In Search of Lost Time for eight or nine years, and I'm now within shouting distance of the end--about a third of the way through Time Regained. (I'm reading it in English, I admit. Although I did read most of Du Cote de chez Swann and Albertine disparue for a seminar in grad school. Not that that matters; I'm just boasting over my admittedly very modest accomplishment.) Anyway, when I try to summarize the book--insofar as it can be summarized, of course of course--I find myself talking a lot about Marcel/Proust's seeming obsession with homosexuality. I mean really. Basically all of the last 1200 or so pages (of my 2400-page edition) is about whether a) Albertine is sleeping with other women; b) if so, who might those other women be (everyone, in his imagination); c) how one can tell whether a woman is a lesbian (basically he thinks they all are); d) how Paris is overrun with lesbians engaging in an orgy of secret rendezvous; e) the gestures, tones, actions, etc etc common to homosexual men; and f) how it should have been obvious all along that Saint-Loup was "of that inclination" because of a certain minute resemblance to the Baron de Charlus.

It's weird.

(I was describing this to the Minister the other day and he said, "So, basically, could you say that this is the first major treatise on gaydar?")

Now I remark upon this because it seems to me that anytime anyone talks about Proust, they talk about the madelaine incident, the art criticism, the reflections on beauty and aesthetics and memory and all that other lovely abstract stuff. They don't talk about the scene where Marcel stumbles upon the Baron de Charlus chained to a bed in a hotel room where one Maurice is flogging him with a nail-studded cat-o-nine-tails. I mean, I'm sure that some people talk about these scenes--and I know that there are critical works out there on homosexuality in Proust, of course there are--but really, when I came upon that scene I wondered how anyone could be distracted by the musings on the Combray cathedral when the entire second half of the novel is just peppered with such salacious (and weirdly paranoid) detail.

So why doesn't this ever come up when people are casually referencing Proust?

Is it because--as I suspect--most of those who are making such casual references haven't read very much of the novel?

It's like this dream I had when I was a teenager: There was a famous 17th-century thinker who'd written an encyclopedic work spanning many volumes, and everyone loved it and spoke highly of it although it was supposed to be immensely difficult. Well, one day I (in my dream, still, of course) got a hold of a copy of this work and started leafing through it. Imagine my surprise when I found nothing but blank page after blank page until I got to the end, when there was a single line in the middle of a page, saying:

"I have had carnal relations with your sheep."

I awoke giggling. I now believe that dream to have been a foreshadowing of my encounter with Proust.

[CAVEAT: I am not, of course, wholly serious in this post, and I am also very much not a Proust scholar. As I say, I know that there's some scholarship (at least) on sexuality in Proust, and for all I know there's a cubic ton of it, and everyone in Proustian circles talks about nothing but his weird obsession with other people's sex lives. All I'm saying is that, when the non-Proustian come across the casual reference to Proust and the supposedly obvious themes of his work, you never see anything about, for example, his conviction that Paris is nothing but a clandestine network of promiscuous lesbians.]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Current Summer Music meme

Hilaire has tagged me for the music meme, and it seems appropriately summery and light-hearted. Here's the rules:

  • List seven songs you are into right now.
  • No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring/summer.
  • Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs.
  • Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to.
So okay. My seven songs? Hm:
  1. "Only Skin," Joanna Newsom. (This is just an amazing song and everyone should listen to it, closely, preferably with headphones. Yes, it's 16 minutes long. Just do it.)
  2. "On the Radio," Regina Spektor.
  3. "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," David Bowie.
  4. "I Have Forgiven Jesus," Morrissey. (All right, so I always love this song.)
  5. Track 10 of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610. (It makes my heart hurt, it's so beautiful. And I don't know what the track is called.)
  6. "Quelqu'un m'a dit," Carla Bruni.
  7. "Elle m'a dit," Cali. (Two French songs about someone telling someone something. It seems like that should have some kind of significance?)
The sad thing is that I think I've been "into" all of these songs--except for 6 and 7--for about two years already. I probably ought to start thinking about exploring some of the other eight billion tracks on my ipod, oughtn't I?

I don't know whom to tag because I think that most of the people I know have been tagged. And for you others, I'm very shy about tagging. So, um, seven of you! Go do the meme! (Besides, seven is a lot of people to tag.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Serenity Now

That's a slightly but not entirely misleading title. This week has been a bizarre series of spikes and lulls in stress (especially bizarre given that it's June and there is NOTHING going on around here).

First, there was the gas bill debacle earlier this week. I kind of flipped out about that. But it turns out that now I only owe $30.39; the woman I spoke to today tried to explain about transposed numbers and misrecorded data, but her explanation didn't at all account for the crazy bill. Whatever. I don't owe $400. I'm happy.

Then, I thought I lost my flash drive. This wouldn't be a real disaster or anything, but on Wednesday I wrote three or four really good (or so I thought at the time; we'll see) pages of a transitional section between chapters and, since I was in my office, just saved them onto the flash drive. I was in a bit of despair...and then I found it tangled up in the cord of my fan near the desk. I don't know how it got there.

There was something else. Oh yes. My insurance company told me that my financial institution doesn't exist. That was alarming. But it turns out that I just copied down the zip code wrong when I gave the insurance company the address. No problem.

(I know that there was a fourth thing, too, but I seem to have blocked it.)

So everything is okay--except for a very small medical-type thing that WebMD assures me will most likely go away on its own, but I really hate this kind of thing and it alarms and discomfits me. But I just need to not do any more Google image searches of this particular thing, because it (predictably) provides some pretty horrifying worst case scenarios. I've been down that road before, with all kinds of ailments that I had or didn't have, and I really don't need to do it again.

In retrospect, none of these items seems particularly alarming. At all. Perhaps it's because it's June and there's nothing going on that I'm totally blowing them out of proportion? D'you think?

But in the meantime I have had some pretty nice moments. Just last night, for instance, I got the sprinkler working on my garden and lawn (both are, if not thriving, at least surviving, and may actually do what I want them to do) and finally fulfilled my dream: I lay in my cheap lawn recliner (bought, I am ashamed to say, at CVS) and drank a leisurely beer while reading a Margaret Drabble novel. In the meantime some of the many many neighbor children* frolicked in my drive and, somewhere behind me, the high school band struck up its summertime practicing. I have also learned that a very small bunny lives in my yard; I've now seen it three or four times, and I can get a good look because it's always too scared to run away. (My garden has been fenced in with chicken wire, so I'm hoping that we can cohabit in peace.)

Work has been sporadic, but this week I worked (some) on a couple of chapters and figured out the sequence of primary texts for my upper-level seminar. Pretty much just plugging away. It's nice to read freely these days; summer is good for that.

*Okay. Seriously. I live in Reproductive Ground Zero. Next door: three girls (under 12). Other next door: three girls (under 12). In the Big House where my new landlords live, and on whose property my house stands: FIVE children under 15.** Behind me: at least one child; I haven't quite figured them out. So, for those of you who are counting, that is a minimum of 12 children within a one-house radius.

**The four-year-old boy seems to have taken an interest in me; yesterday, for instance, when I stepped outside to ask his mom something, he charged at me and flung his arms around my legs in this truly adorable hug. It almost made me reconsider the witch persona I'd been thinking about cultivating, here in my storybook cottage, surrounded by tempting (and yet noisy) children.... But not entirely.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jobs I Have Had

To distract myself from my hideous gas bill problem, I'm going to follow Belle's recent example and list all the jobs I've had. (Belle's list is far more impressive, though.) For context, I'm 32 and worked for 3 years before grad school. Oh, and I'm leaving off the high school babysitting gigs and various paid house-/pet-sitting that I did after college, because those weren't real jobs.
  • library page in the children's section of the public library (filing hundreds of teeny tiny books! I was 14; I hated it. Lasted 2 months)
  • mucking out stalls in the neighbor's barn (she had somewhere between 4 and 6 horses; I can't remember the exact number)
  • cashier/watiress at a pizza place (almost 2 years, in high school)
  • temp, which led to a sort of data-entry position at a company that burned data to CDs (back in the very early days of CD-ROMs)
  • salad bar tender in the college cafeteria (I only lasted 3 weeks; I used to go into the walk-in cooler and cry. I have no idea what my problem was that semester. Eighteen-year-old self-absorption, perhaps?)
  • receptionist at a software development company (one summer)
  • cashier at college pizza joint
  • receptionist at some kind of telecommunications company that received, in the summer that I worked there, no more than 5 business-related calls; I apparently spent most of the summer keeping my bosses guessing about my sexual orientation (not deliberately--on my last day I learned that that had been a major preoccupation)
  • pizza chef at same college pizza joint--this was a major promotion from the previous year's cashiering (with a tiny raise, as I recall)
  • low-paid intern at a nonprofit specializing in establishing connections between environmentally and economically sustainable businesses
  • barista at a coffee shop
  • shift leader at said coffee shop
  • manager at still the same coffee shop (six months after starting, baby--how's that for career mobility?)
  • artist's model (did this in addition to other jobs for about two years)
  • occasional worker for a sort of catering company--I arranged flowers for a drag show once, and one time had to be a "bouncer" (best way to describe it) at some yuppie's afternoon birthday party
  • assistant editor for a publisher specializing in trade journals for the pharmaceutical industry: I copy-edited an annual reference guide to drugs in development, and it was hideous
    • after 10 months, my hatred for this job led me to quit and go to Europe
  • worked in the hip-hop/Christmas music section of a Borders bookstore
  • faculty assistant at a business school
And then we're in grad school! Where I: TA'd, was an editorial assistant for a journal, and adjuncted once. Then the VAP and now the tenure-track job.

So there you go. That was kind of fun.

Anyone else up?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

?!?!?!? This HAS to be wrong

I just got a gas bill for more than $350.

For two weeks.

Now, it's true that I didn't pay for gas in my old place--so I haven't paid it in the last year--but this has to be wrong. There's no fucking way. Right? Right??? I know that gas prices have been going up and all, but....

(Oh, and it's summer, so I'm not even heating the joint. Not that this would be acceptable if I were. But even more reason for this to be wrong. Right?)

How I wish the utilities company were still open--I don't think that I can live with this outrage until morning. GOD I hate shit like this. Because of course this is my first bill in this new place, so who knows? There could be like a leak or something and maybe I did use that much gas, however inadvertently, and how am I going to get the New Landlords to pay for it? Argh. I need reassuring, and there's no one around to do it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Progress?

Not much to report, actually, but I feel the inclination--the need, even--to report something, however lame it may be. So. What's the word from Field Town, then?

Weather's been pretty nice. A couple of storms, but no flooding.

Um.

I've been reading a collection of essays that I should've read years ago, I'm sure--in fact, I think that I checked it out on more than one occasion in grad school--and it's really good: highly readable as well as intellectually engaging. I'm sure that the reason I didn't read it back in the day was that I was so heavily involved in Dissertation Shopping Mode--you know, when you're looking for support for one very specific idea/fact/theory and basically can only stand to read things that directly bear on that particular point. What I hated (but did a lot) was when I already knew what I wanted to say about a text, but I knew that someone out there must have said something similar, and would go trolling through books for a citation ("As XX has argued..."). It felt intellectually dishonest. But, well, it did the job, and I don't think that it was intellectually dishonest, exactly--just efficient. I remember doing this particularly for the brief section in chapter 5 (now chapter 2) on The Divine Comedy. Treating Dante in 10 pages meant a lot of cursoriness. And I never pretended that I was making a highly original argument; I was basically using the DC to illustrate a point, so I needed to show that I didn't think that I was the first person ever to talk about the differences between Virgil and Beatrice. Oh how I hated slogging through all the tomes of Dante research in order to find reiterations of my own fairly trivial remarks. Yech. The point is, though, that I'm not doing that right now--being done with the dissertation and all, and not really working on any major new projects (something that surely has to change before too long, but not this week), so I can read a little more broadly without worrying about how exactly such-and-such argument fits into my chapter. It's nice.

Reread chapter 5. It's not bad.

Started rereading chapter 7. I may have lost all critical faculties, but I think that it's really not bad. Like, I'm impressed as I read it. Perhaps because in my imagination this is the nightmare chapter (think of the most complicated and weirdo absurdly long 14th-c. English dream vision you know about--the pretty canonical one--the one that's in 3+ versions--yep, that's the object of study), so I'm just delighted to find that it makes a certain amount of sense. I also dedicated a whole semester to the writing of it, which might be paying off. I even have some nice sentences like, "The problem of A can be reframed as a problem of how the faculties lead--or fail to lead--X to Y." I like using the word "reframed." Ahh. Tidy prose! How I love it.

Before I get too high up on my high horse, though, I ought to confess that I've accomplished virtually none of the things on my previous to-do list, so I kinda need to get on it. All of it. Yep. Here I go. Watch me--there I am, getting ready.... Yeah, any minute now.....

Friday, June 13, 2008

Birthday's over. Back to work. Seriously.

Thanks for the birthday well-wishing, one and all! It was a good day. The weather was gorgeous (after two days of HOT and one day of rainy, I got lucky). I went to the DMV and am now the proud possessor of a Field State driver's license, with possibly the worst picture of me ever thereupon. Seriously, I look like I just killed three people and I don't care. And also I have this weird kind of hippie thing going on with my fluffy hair and gauzy shirt.* So I'm like a hippie axe-murderer who is resigned to having just been caught. It's awful. Think the lead character from Monster (which I haven't seen, but I have seen the cover in the video store. Yikes).

[*I don't look like a hippie, not normally. I don't know what was going on that morning.]

I also got my license plates! All I need now is the car!

I think that Tuesday was pretty much the first weekday of summer vacation when the DMV was open (it's closed on Mondays), so I got to see lots of kidlets come to take their road tests. It was pretty cute. Even the obviously "cool" kids were pretty subdued and quiet; nerves ran high in the room that day. And they were all there with their mothers (I guess the dads had to work), but even that didn't seem to trigger any evident sarcasm reflexes. No, they were all quiet and solemn, filling out their forms in their enormous tennis shoes, and it was really sort of adorable. Until I thought: Good god, these outrageously young children will now be driving. Yikes. How did I feel so old when I was 16?

That was that for the DMV. Later I had dinner with the Minister, who is an amazingly fantastic cook eager for any opportunity to display his skills. May I just say, strawberry soup?

But now, alas, it is back to the grind. I have to do the following:
  • revise chapter 4 yet again and enter the revisions (this chapter will not die! Why does it suck so much? Why do I repeat myself so often? Why is the topic so boring? What on earth is my point?) (I am, perhaps, exaggerating somewhat; I do in fact have an argument and have cut out some of the redundancies. But the above is how I feel every time I look at these pages);
  • revise chapter 5 (underway, and it's in much better shape than its predecessor);
  • send out proposals to 4 more publishers (= target for this week);
  • write up a short description of my new admin gig so that I can get my contract changed (been due for like a month);
  • order books for my comp classes, for the love of God;
  • buy a plane ticket to go get the car and visit a handful of people;
  • acquire some mulch for the garden;
  • admire the grass that has begun sprouting, thanks to my reseeding (it worked!!);
  • swim;
  • write an article?
In better news, yesterday I moved into the office across the hall from the storage closet to which I was consigned this past year. I now have a window! Clearly, an exponential increase in my productivity will result from this splendid change.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oh, and also, it's my birthday

32, baby. Just one year to go until the real age of perfection.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Trying My Hand at RBOBoring

Yeah, I know. This blog has become rather boring (if it wasn't already). But--from my perspective, at least--it's kind of nice: no job market trauma or student-related drama to report. (I thought about trying to avoid that internal rhyme, but I'm too lethargic to pursue alternate phrasings.)

So what's been happening? Let's see:
  • I'm trying to get my rather raggedy and pathetic little yard into better shape. I have a small garden, although, owing to a) a broken sewer main that brought a backhoe plowing through the yard and b) an onslaught of small nibbly critters [I've resolved this problem with chicken wire], the garden has been christened the Garden of Despair. It is not wholly without hope, however. It looks like a couple of the tomato plants are going to make it, and a bunch of green beans just popped up; I also have chives, lemon mint, and lemon balm (the most useful of all herbs, I know. Why didn't I plant basil or something?). The peppers are clearly dying, though, and the peas have yet to make an appearance. I also planted four strawberry plants but I don't think that I'm going to let them come to fruition; they need to concentrate on getting established and expanding a little bit first.
  • So much for the garden. I've been working on the yard, too. I planted a couple of pussy willow branches, which are growing lots of delightful little leaves. I love plants that just regenerate from their own branches like that! I also spent hours--yes, hours!--on Friday reseeding the lawn, using nothing but a little three-pronged claw and a bag of grass seed. My hands still hurt, but I covered all the major bare patches and, with luck, will soon have something resembling a stable ecosystem rather than the Weirdly Sticky Mud Pit with which I have been contending. I'm also aggressively encouraging the weeds by going out and watering them, too, when I water the rest of the production.
  • Soon, my pretties, I will enjoy cool "weekend beverages" (in the words of one of my freshmen) out in the yard. I also need some outdoor furniture for that purpose, however.
  • And oh yeah, work? Right, because I'm so productive? Like I said in that last post?
  • Right.
  • Okay, but actually I just swapped one of my chapters with the Minister (in exchange for one of his articles), and we might have given one another productive feedback. At any rate it appears that this chapter is less boring and baffling than I thought it was.
  • The chapter is still somewhat boring, though. Perhaps it is simply the case that some things aren't all that interesting? And that that's okay? Perhaps?
  • Oh, and the CAR! Yes indeed, I'm buying my dad's/stepmom's car. So I have done the following Highly Adult things:
    • Got an insurance quote.
    • Took out a modest loan from the bank.
    • Purchased my insurance.
    • Received the title and bill of sale from my folks (which didn't so much involve doing anything, but I did have to wait around one morning for FedEx).
    • Gathered together all of my identification.
    • Planned to go to the DMV today.
    • Discovered that the local DMV is closed on Mondays.
    • Rescheduled my DMV trip for tomorrow.
  • So this way I can have the car registered, with plates and everything, before I pick it up at the end of the month/beginning of July. Huzzah! Another 2-day cross-country drive! With gas prices in excess of $4/gallon! All cry out Hurrah!
  • And finally, I went to church yesterday. Because the Minister, who is not usually a practicing minister but rather is a professor, was preaching. I do not normally go to church. Like, ever. I wasn't raised in a religious family. In fact, I have (what I think is) a rather uncomfortable relationship with religion, which I will not discuss at this time (although perhaps a future post on the issue would be in order, since it relates in weird ways to my intellectual interests and orientations). Anyway I was very self-conscious going in there, since I actually know people who attend this church and therefore felt conspicuous, but another friend of mine turned out to be there out of friendship for the Minister, so it was a less fraught experience than I feared it would be. And he did a great job, saying some pretty interesting and challenging things in a very commanding way, yet not without humor, and, in the end, I enjoyed it.
  • Hm. I'm discussing my garden and going to church. I have been assimilated by the Field. (From East Coast Urban to Rural Midwestern in only 10 months!)
That's it. My boring life. It's largely pleasant, though, when I'm not feeling guilty about the whole Not Working Enough thing.

(Yes, this pretty much negates that last post. Big surprise.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summers are like Dissertating

Only without advisors. Or fixed deadlines. And with an income.*

Truly, so far this month is shaping up to look like a pastiche of (most of) the best parts of grad school. Confession: I complained plenty in grad school, as did we all, but for the most part I really liked it. Especially the last couple of years, when I wasn't teaching and had loads of time to work. The downside, of course, is that when you've got loads of time to work, you feel that you need to work for loads of time, which of course you don't do, and then you feel bad about yourself. Well, I think that this first year of professorship has cured me of that feeling. (At least for now, while the experience is fresh in my bones.) Teaching for 12 hours a week (and prepping, and grading, and meeting with students, and doing whatever the hell else I did all the damn time this past year) taught me to appreciate and enjoy my hours of leisure (on the rare occasions when I could grasp them). So I've been working for the last week or so--revising the MS, mostly--but not too hard. In fact, I'm probably getting about as much done as I usually did during an average week of dissertation-writing, but without knocking myself out about how much more I should be doing. And I took the weekend off. So okay, maybe a slightly below average diss week. But still! Things have been Accomplished, and not only that, but Naps have been Taken, Laps have been Swum, Bike Rides have been Gone On, and Lovely Meals have been Prepared. Also, a Novel was Read.

The challenge, however, will be to keep up this sense of relaxed productivity. Because, see, even as I write this, I know that I've been here before. It's all so familiar. I have a few days of doing some decent work and feeling pretty OK about it, and then I start to get bored, and then the malaise sets in, and before long I'm storming around the house in a fretful state not wanting to work but not able to let myself do anything that isn't work, and then we're back into the truly rotten part of the grad school state of mind once more. Heh. Wish me luck. Just as I wish all of you luck, because I know I'm not alone in this.

*And, unfortunately, with fewer local friends, but so far I've been doing all right. It remains to be seen how the limited social opps will have affected me by the end of the month, though.