Friday, June 29, 2007

False History

A while ago I mentioned that a movie was being shot in my neighborhood, and that the movie people had converted an empty store into a very convincing hardware store for the shooting. Well, the movie folks are long gone, but the hardware store isn't--or rather, the contents of the store are gone but the storefront is still there.

This bothers me. Not just that the signs are still there, but that they're deliberately designed to look old--one of them even since "est. 1957." I don't feel any particular nostalgia for the actual old store. It was a liquor store with these ridiculous, semi-phallic bottles painted over the front glass. But still, it was really there; I'd been to that liquor store, it was real. This 1950s hardware store never existed. And yet the sign still hangs over the sidewalk, and the plate-glass window announces a totally fictional sale.

It's just not...real. It creates a false sense of what this neighborhood was, and has been; even if it's creating the image of a nicer, more charming and homey neighborhood than this actually is, it still isn't what existed, what was. And I've started to resent it. And to resent the Bigshot Hollywood People who didn't see fit to remove the sign they'd put up in my own neighborhood.

Okay, that last sentence was overstated, but after all hyperbole is a rhetorical tool. Effects are created. Just like 1950s hardware stores can evidently come into being ex nihilo in 2007.

Why is this bugging me?

(It's not bugging me a lot, or anything. It just feels weird to walk past this manufactured bit of "history." Someone moving into the neighborhood would believe that Hal's Hardware, A Good Place For Tools, had in fact been there in the 1950s and had maybe only recently closed. It's easy to imagine that story eventually coming to replace the real, if totally uninteresting, story of that particular shop.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The promised cheese blogging!

Epoisses de Bourgogne is an unpasteurized cow's-milk cheese from France. It comes in a little round wooden container like a camembert. It is creamy and soft, with a fine orangey rind.

It's described as a "pungent" cheese, but I don't think it quite fits with the stinky-cheese variety. The smell to me is vaguely ammoniac, but in a pleasant way. The taste is kind of dark and musky. It's mild but full; it's hard for me to describe what it tastes like, exactly, but it's feeling in the mouth is really wonderful--so cool and creamy and big, somehow. It tends to coat the tongue and teeth.

I've eaten about 1/4 of it one round should yield a full week of cheesy enjoyment!

I cannot be satisfied

I've been in the library for 2 hours (2 to go!), and I am freezing. Freezing! The brassy 92-degree heat outside is looking kind of appealing....

Oh, and do people not keep their voices down in libraries anymore? I just had to listen to a woman pace around the stacks talking on her cell phone for the last 15 minutes. And now I hear some other, rather shrill voice--although judging by the level of shrillness, it might be that of a small child. Still. As a small child, I was told to shut up in libraries. Or is it because it's the summer and no one thinks that anyone else is around?

--Okay, I just spotted the child, and she's like 7. Unacceptable!

A List

Okay, I seriously need to get some stuff done today. Here is my list:
  • mail recent ebay sales (I $15 on this batch! Whooo!)
  • spend AT LEAST 4 hours at the library. I need to get started thinking about this conference paper I have to write, and look into some more texts for one of my courses. The annoying thing is that I'll have to go home for lunch--or perhaps I should bite the bullet and pack a lunch? Or a snack, minimum? Then I can really hole up in there. Luckily it's going to be oppressively hot again today, and the library is air conditioned (unlike my apartment), so perhaps I'll feel less of an incentive to leave than I usually do.
  • wash my breakfast dishes
  • download "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Come on Eileen" and maybe have a little dance party in my living room
  • make a pile of stuff to sell/give away via the grad student listserv
  • blog about that cheese I bought yesterday--Sisyphys and Hilaire demand a description! Which is forthcoming, I promise!
Okay. It's so, so hot already. Living on the top floor of a well-insulated house with small windows does have its disadvantages....

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The current state of affairs

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday was that I wrote my Highly Successful Toast in the car between the wedding and the reception. No one can accuse me of over-preparing! Even if I am already thinking through my lectures for the fall!

I have returned to my apartment, and the subletter left it in...okay condition. It's tidy, and he washed the sheets and stuff, but the bathroom was not in very good shape. In the last 2.5 hours, however, I have cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed, washed the bathmat, made the bed, unpacked, put away groceries, and straightened up all the things that were slightly misplaced in the last two weeks (yes, I'm very uptight about my living space. That's just one of the things that makes me such a pleasure to live with).

It's extremely hot. My apartment is roasting. Once my laundry is done, I'm seriously considering stripping down to underwear.

Not sure I feel like cooking, either. It might be a beer and cheese and fruit kind of night. Beer, cheese, fruit, and TV.

Speaking of which, I bought an $18 piece of cheese today. It's an Epossies. Anyone who likes cheese must eat this cheese! It is delicious. So very delicious. I had it last week at a beer and cheese tasting I got to attend for free, and it was splendiferous. So when I was in the grocery store today, I considered buying it, rejected the notion, and then thought: Hey! My dad just gave me some money for my birthday. All of that money is going to go into necessities. But perhaps $18 of it should go into a piece of cheese?

And yes! It did!

Of course, because it was so expensive, I might postpone eating it. Which will eventually mean that I will have spent $18 for a piece of cheese that I never got around to eating.

Or perhaps I will eat some of it tonight?

Monday, June 25, 2007

My Brother's Fabulous Wedding

I'm back! And my brother's wedding was, indeed, fabulous. As this was the first time that I myself was actually in a wedding (I'm 31 and no bridesmaid's dresses--surely this is some kind of record?), I'm pleased to add that I didn't screw anything up, either. No small feat, given that it was a Catholic service and my family is not Catholic. As the maid of honor, I had a lot of sitting, standing, walking this way, standing here, facing that way, holding hands with the priest, embracing the best man, etc. etc. to do, and I spent fully half the ceremony worrying that I would forget when I needed to re-collect the bouquets. Fortunately the priest, who is naturally rather experienced with such ceremonies, muttered stage directions to us pretty much the whole time. So it went off without a hitch, and my little brother is married! And I have a splendid sister-in-law!

But, as is usually the case, it was the reception that truly made the wedding. First of all, the weather was perfect. Low seventies, sunny, very little wind, and clear clear clear. The reception was outdoors, in a beautiful spot on a hill beside a river, and behind the river were low mountains; the setting was glorious and the climate cooperative. It was a biggish wedding, with about 180 people in attendance (most of them on the bride's side), but (wisely) the couple had decided to dispense with most of the Traditional Reception Activities in favor of something much more their style. So, after the (brief) introduction of the wedding party, the bride and groom danced their first dance to a song performed by my dad and stepmother, who are excellent musicians and sounded great. Then there was an open dance party and much drinking and eating before the toasts--one of which I made. Yes, almost as big a milestone as my brother's getting married was this, My First Toast. People laughed when I wanted them to, so I was pleased. And here's a picture of me giving my toast (it's silhouetted, so I can post it). Note the admonishing finger:

The truly fabulous part was the second half of the reception, though. My brother in particular is very musical, and so are a lot of their friends, so they basically opened up the microphone and dance floor to various performances for the rest of the night. There was Irish step-dancing, an African dance, some kind of Irish fertility play (or something), and folk/rock numbers, including covers of a Tom Waits song and James' "Laid". My brother and his wife also performed a bit, since Brother plays guitar (among other things) and SIL sings. And, for the grand finale, my dad and my mom's cousin played some music the Mustang Sally genre, finally joined by my step-mother on vocals and my brother on guitar. Here's a picture of them playing (faces blacked out;* from left to right, we've got my cousin, my brother, my dad, and my stepmom).

Oh, and they served a huge stack of pizzas a couple of hours after the real dinner.

It was great--entertaining and moving and just plain fun. SIL's family rocks, too, so it was nice to hang out with them a bit. And now I'm back in BoyfriendCity, waiting for my subletter to leave my apartment (tomorrow!), and recovering from the excitement--as well as a cold I seem to have picked up along the way. Luckily it didn't hit me full-force until yesterday, when all of the work was done. Or most of it; we still had to clean up from Friday's rehearsal dinner. But now that's done, too, and I'm so so tired...with so much Homer left to read....

*I mention this just in case you thought they naturally had big rectangles for heads. Oh, unnecessary verbiage!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gone for a bit

I'm off to my mom's for all the Brother's Wedding Hoopla. Probably won't blog until next week as I won't have my laptop with me and am loath to blog on my mom's computer--you know, for security reasons. Right?

Plus I'm going to be pulling weeds for the next 72 hours in preparation for the rehearsal dinner, and I expect my hands to be a withered mass of blisters. So, no typing.

See you next week!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Reading

Ah, summer. I feel like it's almost over already...which it isn't...but there's so much to do and so little that I've DONE....

For the last few days, I've been reading like crazy (by which I mean, about 3 hours a day--but sometimes 4! I swear!) for this one class I have to teach in the fall. Now I'm a medievalist, as you know, and I've been hired pretty much as a generalist (I'm the new "British Literature" person at VerySLAC). But this one course doesn't even fit into BritLit. Now I figure I can describe it, because it's a pretty common course--it covers things like, oh, Virgil and Homer and Dante. Dante, yes, he's medieval (if not British). But Homer? Virgil? Oh, and Ovid? Sophocles? Those guys? Not so much.

And this is SO not my field. I had to read The Odyssey in the ninth grade, and I've read Oedipus Rex and Antigone at various points in my education, but that's it. So this month I read The Aeneid, and I'm currently working my way through The Iliad.

While I'm finding this material a little on the overwhelming side, I'm actually glad that I'm going to be teaching it. This is the kind of stuff that I have long felt I ought to read and know well, but that I never had the incentive to read and know well. And having to teach something? It kinda forces you to be on at least speaking terms with a text, right? So this is all a very good thing for me.

On the other hand, I can't come up with a syllabus that doesn't have us reading just a ridiculous amount of stuff every week, and that's kind of scary. In the process of reading the first 14 books of The Iliad, however, I've become convinced that certain sections of the text can be, er, skimmed. I'm not skimming now, because I need to ascertain what does and does not require one's full attention, but I might use the skimming policy as a means of packing the whole poem into like 2 weeks. (You know, assign books 1-6 but tell them to just "skim" 2 and 5, or whatever.) It's just...well, there's an awful lot of battle scenes, you know? My apologies to any classicists out there, but I find that my mind sort of wanders when confronted with stanza after stanza of "X hurled his spear at Y, son of Z, riveting his bosom through the nipple, and the blood poured out, red Trojan blood to water the battlefield. And M slew H, son of K, tearing neatly through both his nipples, and F saw this, and wept, crying out...." Etc.

(Okay I made that example up, obviously, but have you noticed how many references there are to (male) nipples in this book? At least, in Fagles' translation? It's kind of weird. And yes, that's pretty much all I'm getting out of the battle scenes: Nipples!)

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Way Out

So I've reached a kind of a decision.

The decision is this. If, in two or three years or so (see, it's only "kind of" a decision at this point), the academic profession is not permitting me to live the kind of life that I want to live, I am allowed to leave it and pursue something else. And not--importantly--to feel like I have failed.

Sometimes I simply marvel at people who get to live wherever they want (with their partners, near their families and/or friends) and find work. I'm not desperate yet, and I can wait a couple more years to live with my boyfriend and maybe start a family. But the thought of doing the wandering-scholar thing for more than a few years, and always struggling with visits and the question of when we'll finally be able to be together--well, that thought is discouraging. So I need to decide now that there is a way out, that I can get another job and still have a good life, even if I never end up taking that route.

(Caveat: This doesn't mean that I'm buying into the notion that I, The Woman in our couple, is the only one who might have to compromise. I am fortunate to have a partner who feels pretty much the same way about his career; he actually (partially) left academia in order to have more control over his professional future. He's still somewhat limited in where he'll be able to live, but basically he just needs to be in or very close to some kind of major urban center. And I know that he's willing to move for me. So it's not that I'm coming to terms with the idea that I might have to abandon my career for his, but rather that there's something comforting in remembering that there are other things I might like to do, and that it is not worth sacrificing the goodness in my life in order to VAP around the country indefinitely.)

I'm not in a pessimistic mood, or anything. I actually feel good about my chances on the market over the next few years, and I believe that I will get a decent job in a liveable location before too long. (Delusion? Hope is necessary.) But it's important for me to remember that this career is a choice, and that that choice can be unmade if I want it to be. It makes me happy. It reminds me that my life is chosen, and that it's mine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reflections on a Favorite Book, or, The Dangerous Lives of Poets

I leave in a few minutes for the boyfriend's city, and my house is ready(ish) for my sublettor (I accidentally used the clean towel I'd left him, but Oh Well; I was clean at the time). I've been accomplishing many small tasks this week, and am feeling good about that:
  • I have selected an apartment
  • I have read the first in the long list of books I need to teach this fall
  • I have finished revising my article, and resubmitted it
  • I have vacuumed and done the laundry.

This morning I finished rereading a book that I really loved when I first read it 10 years ago, and am happy to report that I still really love it. It's a little known, out-of-print novel by James Ramsey Ullman called The Day on Fire. You should read this book. It's long, but since when has that been a deterrent?

In brief, The Day on Fire is a fictionalized biography of the poet Rimbaud. From what I've been able to gather, not much is known of Rimbaud's life, but what we do know is pretty interesting: he wrote all of his poetry between the ages of about 15 and 19, he was Verlaine's lover for a time, and he travelled widely through Europe and Africa, mostly on foot. There's good material in there for a novel, and Ullman does a great job with it. I won't go heavily into the plot here. But one of the things I really like the most about the novel is how Ullman uses bits of Rimbaud's poetry to unify the whole story--which is, as I say, long, and involves a lot of different "sections" (e.g. Morel [the Rimbaud-figure] living with Druard [the Verlaine-figure]; Morel teaching in Switzerland; Morel the African gun-runner). The different segments of the story threaten to become disconnected, but Ullman invokes scraps of Rimbaud's own writings as refrains throughout the novel. So, for example, the lines, "The night alone, and the day on fire" are used to at various points to invoke literal heat (in Africa), the torture of Morel's hashish addiction, or the more figurative fire of his drive to write poetry.* These images accrue more and more meanings as the novel progresses, so that when they're used, a whole network of associations comes forward and reminds the reader of all the stages of the character's life.

[*That sounds rather lame as I've described it, but that' s only because I've got to go in a minute and don't have time to think of a better example.]

More personally, I find this book exciting. Not so much because of the story's action--though that's exciting, too, in its own way--but because Morel-Rimbaud is himself so rich and fascinating. The novel is long, and that's good. There's a lot to excavate. He's not a...nice person, to put it mildly, but in a strange way I find myself wanting to be him, as I read; through his poetry and his strange life he created a sort of otherworld, a bizarre and disturbing world of intense symbolic power. I'm glad that I've finally finished reading this book, because there are other things that I have to read, but I regret leaving that world behind.

Rimbaud, like so many poets, died young. He was 37, I think. Byron was 36, and the Scandinavian poet Edith Sodergran was 31. Why have so many poets died at such young ages? It's dangerous, to be a poet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Starting tomorrow, I'll be subletting my apartment for 7-10 days to a grad student I've never met before. It's funny how the mere fact that he's a grad student at my university means that he's somehow not crazy, and that it's okay for him to stay unsupervised in my apartment with all of my stuff.

Yeah, I'm a little nervous about it. But not too. And he did pay in advance.

However, I am (naturally) clearing out all of the stuff that I wouldn't want a stranger to rummage through whilst I'm away. Specifically, my diaries and sketchbooks and other writings. And, good lord, I've accumulated a lot of that kind of thing.

Seriously! I filled three boxes. And I left the scrapbooks and photo albums and whatnot, because those aren't so private (although I do have a penchant for rather elaborate, very text-oriented albums (I hate the word "scrapbook" now that it's become a verb) chronicling my various trips). I actually counted recently and discovered that I have 32 diaries. Thirty-two. Four of those, I think, are dream diaries, from a brief period in my late twenties during which I wrote down every single dream I had. The thing about writing down your dreams, though, is that the practice improves your recall, so after a while the dream-recording was eating up pretty much my entire morning, every day. Faced with this tedious and really quite ridiculous time-suck, I finally stopped. But still, that's 28 proper diaries, and the dream diaries are equally private, of course.

I also tend to write fiction longhand, at least for the first draft. In 1999, when I was somewhat underemployed, I wrote a 200,000-word novel--by hand. (Typing it, a few years later, was a real bitch.) So that's about four very densely filled notebooks right there.

Then there are the notebooks full of terrible poetry from grades 7 through 12. I keep these, of course, even if None Shall Read Them, Ever.

And what else? Oh yes, binders full of creative writing spanning the years 1988-1997. And binders full of letters and emails and that sort of thing from about the same period. And a big envelope full of letters that I didn't put in binders (having decided sometime in 1997ish that I didn't like punching holes in such things).

There are also all the books I've bound myself, of course. Some of these are, um, "artistic" creations of my earlier days. Others are carefully bound "editions" of actual (unpublished) text: for example, the satirical romance novel that my friends and I wrote in high school. (It's hilarious.) Or a collection of emails sent between me and a friend prior to our Epic Journey of 1999. The latter actually look pretty nice, since my binding skills improved greatly once I'd taken a class.

I remember when I was a lot younger, imagining the pleasure I would feel at having an entire bookshelf filled with nothing but my own writings. Well, I've long since surpassed that goal. Before long, I'll have stocked an entire bookcase.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Good and the Bad

The tension is mounting! The blogosphere demands to know: What did I do on my birthday????

Well, really nothing much. My SignifO sent me flowers, which was lovely, and we'll have dinner when I'm in his neck of the woods next week. I went to a nearby riverfront park that I hadn't been to in a while; that was kind of a mistake, because there's heavy construction going on right next to it, and the new highway seems to have consumed about a third of the (already very small) park. That was kind of sad.

Then, after kicking around for a while wondering what to do with myself, I called up my friend H and we had a grand old evening of indolence and indulgence: a couple of beers at the ONLY (well, almost the only) outdoor waterfront bar around, then carryout Thai food and a romantic comedy of sorts. That was fun.

Also my brother and his fiancee sang me Happy Birthday, complete with musical accompaniment, over the phone. See? His fiancee is awesome.

So 31 was ushered in without much fanfare. Of course, as my mom reminded me when we spoke yesterday, there WILL BE a "party" when I go out to visit the family next week. My family makes a bit of a fuss around birthdays: there's always a Special Dinner of some kind, and presents, and usually (now that we're all of age) a bottle of champagne. But seeing as I'm going out there for my brother's wedding, I'm not sure how much time/attention I can expect to get. Not that I really want/need any. And as for the presents, well, I'm currently feeling that I shouldn't be allowed to have any possessions, at all, so I'm not sure that I need any gifts. But on the other hand: I love presents!

On an entirely different note....

One of my mom's cats had to be put to sleep this morning. He died of that scourge of older felines: kidney failure. He was a very sweet cat and will be missed.

Rest in peace, little friend.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


  • My digital camera is officially, entirely broken. But it was almost 5 years old. But still, this could cause more inconvenience than I would've thought. I'm trying to sell some stuff on ebay and, while most of it's been photographed, this might inhibit my ability to sell more stuff. (That might be for the best, really--given the type of stuff I usually try to sell, posting on ebay is usually more trouble than it's worth. E.g. I just sold a board game for $3, which means I have to walk all the way to the post office and mail it. Is 30 minutes of my time (round trip to the PO) worth more than $3 (actually about $2.50, when you subtract listing fees)? Survey says: Yes.)
  • I've been working on the syllabus for my upper-level course for the fall, and frankly I'm afraid of it at this point. We need to cover a certain range of texts most of which fall pretty far outside of my field, and which aren't particularly easy. Looking online, I've found that other people have packed well more than I have into similar courses, but I can't imagine reading that much in such a short period of time. Or maybe I've grown lazy in the Fellowship Years? Maybe undergraduates are happy to read a difficult book every week? I don't know. Of course, I still haven't read most of the texts that I'm putting on the syllabus, so they might be shorter than I think they are. This is all part of the summer-of-preparations.
  • I've decided to make a blank scrapbook/album for my brother and his fiancee's wedding present. I genuinely believe that I enjoy bookmaking. But every time I make a book, I suspect--at least, I experienced it this time, and it had a certain familiar air--there's an awful lot of cursing. My back hurts from bending over the table to cut each sheet of paper into exactly the right size, things don't stick together when they're supposed to, and there is glue everywhere. Everywhere. I do, however, make pretty nice-looking books, if I may say so myself. --I was going to add that I'll post some pictures of them, but I can't! Oh well. At least that's one task off the table.
  • I am becoming increasingly anxious about my move. There are now two different ways for it to go down. The first involves hiring movers and then renting a car. The movers would take my stuff to a storage unit in GradCity, and then I would drive the necessities out to VSLACtown. (I haven't driven, by the way, in 5 years, so this alone is a source of stress.) The second involves hiring movers, renting a truck, and THEN renting a car. In this scenario, the movers will move my furniture and things into a rented truck (this is only if a moving company agrees to do this, by the way), which I will then drive to a storage facility in MomCity, and then I'll drive a rental car out to VSLACtown. The advantage here is that my stored items will be a lot more accessible than if they were to remain in GradCity, to which I will have no reason to return except to get my stuff. And my mom's place is sort of on the way to VSLACtown. But the disadvantage is that my first driving experience in five years will then be with a truck instead of the somewhat friendlier car. Oh god I just don't want to think about it.
  • Tomorrow is my birthday. What will I do?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Playing to My Weaknesses

I'm working on an article that I submitted to a journal a while back, and that came back with a "revise and resubmit" verdict (the best I was hoping for, actually, so I'm pleased).

My big obstacle du jour is that one reviewer suggested breaking the article up into sections with individual headings. And I am total crap at coming up with titles. I have three subsections, all with unbearably old-fashioned and clunky headings. The third is the worst--it's the "synthetic" part of the article, where I draw together the primary subject, another set of texts I'm connecting it to, and then the overall "theme" (that's not the right word, but I don't want to waste time on this) of the article. I'm playing around with things like, "[Subject], [Set of Texts], and [Theme]." Yuck. Yuck! I hate this part.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

One Pile in Particular

Okay. Here's something that you guys might be able to help me out with. I've begun plowing through the mountains of papers, notebooks, and so forth, and I'm facing several conundra. Some of this stuff I've moved from place to place for, well, ten years at least, and it's dawning on me that I might not need it. Some is more recent and more obviously related to My Field. So here's the question.

What should I do with the following things?
  1. Old issues of professional journals, such as Speculum and PMLA. On the one hand I think that I should keep these. I want to keep them. They make me feel like a scholar, they're nicely bound, they're somewhat expensive, and they might (might) come in handy some day. On the other hand, they take up a ridiculous amount of space. I can see keeping them all very happily if I could store them in, say, an office which I planned to use for the next 30 years or so, but at this point--? What do you do with these things?
  2. Notebooks from grad school. Specifically, notebooks with teaching notes from courses I've TA'd, as I've essentially decided to scrap my course notes unless they're directly in my area of specialization (Marxist Theory, for example, while interesting, is unlikely to be noticeable in its absence. And were my notes really that good?). But there might be a chance I'll teach, I dunno, Ibsen again, and maybe the stuff I came up with the night before section back in 2001 was really profound? Maybe? Any chance, any chance at all?
  3. Notebooks from college. I actually only have one of these still kicking around, but it contains all of my notes from my senior year, somehow (I apparently didn't take many notes). Its potential value, however, is not scholarly so much as sentimental. It's full of drawings and doodles and sarcastic comments and fragments of fiction, as well as quotes that I liked. So...I might keep this, even though I'm unlikely to look at it again. Well, I do look at it every time I move, but that's about it. Oh well. It's one notebook, after all.
  4. Notebooks from (yes, I admit it) high school. In my high school English classes--which were excellent; it was one of the best HS English departments in the nation--we kept these elaborate reading journals in which we responded to discussion questions, did close readings of passages, and the like. I think I only have two of these (both composition books, so fairly small). I'm not sure why I'm keeping them, other than that it never occurred to me until tonight that I could throw them away. The scholarly value, again, is pretty much nonexistent. But might they help me to think about how to teach close reading and composition? I kind of wish I'd kept the assignments, too, but that would have been pretty weird. Anyway. Value or no value?
So what say you? The pile of Paper To Recycle grows higher, and higher still. Ever higher, I say! Higher and higher, onward and upward! Et cetera!

The glory!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Last night I realized that I'm moving in two months. And since I'll be spending approximately half of that time in my boyfriend's city, that means that I have something like 5 weeks left in which I'll need to sort through the accumulated detritus of 3 years in the same apartment, sell or otherwise dispose of a great deal of stuff (I hope), and figure out what needs to go into storage and what's coming with me. And, oh yeah, pack.

So I've kind of started. When I move, I take a long time: I'll go through every file and folder, throwing away duplicate copies of papers and old bills and whatnot, and it takes me a couple of runs through my bookshelves and closets to decide what I really can't stand to get rid of. The system, so far, is a piling system. I have piles for

a) recycling (paper)
b) paper to shred
c) things to "donate" to my department (which means, basically, abandoning them in the TA office--hey, it's just books and the odd New Yorker; people will use them)
d) things to sell on ebay
e) things to sell on
f) things to sell to other grad students
g) things to donate to the Salvation Army
h) things to leave curbside.

Of course, some of these piles are not discrete, but in fact filter into one another. So, something that I can't sell on ebay might end up being advertised to the grad student community and then wind up at Salvie's. You get the idea.

I don't like disarray in my house. I'm very neat. So the prospect of filling my apartment with piles is disturbing: however, I am lucky enough to have a big walk-in closet that I don't actually use for clothes. (Clothes are confined to the very small closet. I have my reasons for this.) So the piles are being stored in there.

Yes, it's fascinating times. Stay tuned for more posts on such exciting subjects as, Where did all my silverware go? and How badly I need new socks.

Monday, June 4, 2007

On Grad School, or, Somehow this turned into a substantive post

[Note: Because this ended up being a rather long post about grad school and Its Effects, I'm linking to Horace's Call For Posts on the subject.]

[ETA: I've edited and added a bit below, because I realized that what I wrote originally about grad school may have been overstated, and didn't exactly express what I was trying to say.]

All right, I don't really have much to say, because I haven't actually been doing much of, well, anything. But my readership has dropped precipitously this week, so I do feel a certain obligation to at least say Hello and that I do plan to write something in here again someday. Something that may be amusing, perhaps, or that may simply satisfy whatever voyeuristic urge it is that leads us (and I may only be speaking for myself here) to read other people's blogs.

Also, I've been following some of the various discussions (on Reassigned Time, and Practica, and Academic Cog) about grad school and what it means; I'm thinking vaguely about writing something about it, but haven't made up my mind. So don't hold me to this vague thought, or anything. I have a lot to say about the good and bad of grad school--but so much of the last few years has been made up of alternately complaining about and celebrating the process, that that particular font of wordiness may be exhausted. I'm not sure. The thing is, grad school seemed better and better to me as I got closer to completing it. And then the job market came along and fucked with my emotions for a while, but I don't really blame grad school itself for that (I mean, the market sucks, but I have no idea how that could be resolved, given the state of the world). So I don't know.

I guess what happened (okay, here I go, but maybe only for a minute) is that the first few years of grad school were psychologically very messy. I had no idea what was going on. I felt that I had to pose and compete and I was still utterly lost--at the time, I blamed this almost entirely on my not having taken any theory courses as an undergrad. But then a few semesters went by, and I got to know some other people from my year in other departments (my department was tiny, and my cohort even more so), and learned that they were all baffled, too. And that many of the people who spoke up a lot in seminars were doing so because they felt an obligation to fill the silence. (This in itself could easily be the topic of another post....) And then I found something that I wanted to work on, and began to specialize. And, in short, I started to feel more like myself--still like something of an impostor, of course, but as though my personality didn't have to be smothered under a big pile of "problematizes" and "liminals" in order for me to take myself seriously.

Here's the thing: For some people, like me, it takes self-confidence to admit that you don't understand something. And I adamantly did not do this until I was maybe in my third year--but good god, it was so refreshing once I did. I should note here, however, that I often voiced things to other grad students that I didn't say in seminar. Basically, what I'm advocating is an easing-up of the anxiety to appear a certain way at all times; one shouldn't just spout off one's opinions and display one's ignorance in class. But, in class, it is okay to ask the occasional thoughtful question--even if that question exposes the fact that you don't know everything that's going on. Maybe this is obvious to other people, but it wasn't obvious to me--not for a long time. It took work for me to get there.

Here's a little illustrative example. In the honors seminar I took as an undergrad, we were asked to write a short response to the question of why we engaged in literary scholarship. The other students, by and large, had big high-falutin' reasons--perfectly good reasons, about effecting social change and understanding our culture and the like. I probably didn't think about the assignment much, to be honest, but I do remember the answer that I came up with: Because we like it. Because we enjoy reading and talking about books.

That sounds kind of faux-naif to me now, but I meant it sincerely. And what I think happened to me when grad school stopped angsting me out was that I remembered that that was what I was there for--to read books and talk about them--and that I fundamentally enjoy doing that. I don't need to be all Marxist or Lacanian or whatever, and Derrida just doesn't do it for me, okay? I want to read cool shit and find interesting angles on it. Again, this isn't the kind of thing I'd say in class, but it was important for me to keep it in mind as I did my own work and wondered what on earth I was going to write my dissertation about.

Remembering that was like coming back to myself, and it meant that I didn't care so much about coming across as the most brilliant and polished and accomplished scholar in the world. As a result, I believe that my work improved: I was more willing to ask questions, say what I thought, and try out different ideas. My dissertation ceased to be terrifying. My life certainly improved. My self-image did, too.

So I don't see grad school as having annihilated my personality, or re-formed me as a different kind of person. Rather, I went through a shift kind of like the shift I went through early in college, when I was intoxicated with my freedom (not to mention all the alcohol and drugs) and found myself trying to be something that I wasn't, quite. I was so concerned with having the biggest, fullest College Experience that I wasn't really doing what I wanted to be doing, and once I stopped worrying so much about being a particular way (I'm not even sure what that "way" was--uberliberal quasihippie experimental supersocial college girl, I guess), I felt this tremendous relief, as though I'd come back to myself. And while the "alternative" self that I was trying on in grad school was different, the experience was in many ways the same--only where in undergrad I worried about missing a party, in grad school I worried about not finishing my reading.

Same basic idea, though.

So okay I wasn't really going to write all of this, but hey! It seems that I had Something To Say.