Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dead Beat

We were driving through Iowa. D and I were going to visit my Grandpa and we were on one of those seemingly endless two-lane highways that wind leisurely through the state. I was gazing out the window, watching the cornfields go by, when I spotted a large hand-painted sign on the side of the road. It was white with red letters, all in caps. It read:


I got a phone call from a friend today that reminded me it's for deadbeat dads too.

I have a hunch that, in his self-reflective moments of quiet contemplation, her dad is already living in it. But I know that doesn't make her feel any better.

Perhaps I should paint a sign of my own and strategically place it between Nevada and Ft. Scott.

VM: Update

I watched the last of Season III.

It ended without the producers knowing whether they would get to shoot a fourth season, but hoping that they would. To that end, it is sort of deliciously unresolved.

I hate when shows do a cheesy flash-forward so you know how all the characters end up. I like a resolution with lots of things left unresolved (maybe that is why I loved the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona so much). I think the best season finales just give a hint of what is to come but leave the rest up to your imagination (and in case you're interested, in my imagination, Veronica's FBI career leaves just enough time for the occasionally canoodling with Logan, who, by the way, officially beat out the un-dead [sorry, Spike] as my most intense TV character crush EVER when he stormed into that radio booth in the final episode... what exactly that says about me and my choice in TV characters I am not sure, but I think Pam summed it up in her "so troubled but so yummy" comment.). So even though Veronica went out on a melancholy and unresolved note, I like not knowing what might have been, at the same time I am able to make as much as I want to out of that final look she gave Logan. It totally deserved four more seasons, but whatever.

I'm going to give it some time, but I really think I could watch the whole thing again and like it just as much.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I'd Rather Be Watching Veronica Mars

I have been a fan of girl-detective-fiction since I first started to read. I devoured The Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden and (albeit less enthusiastically) vintage Nancy Drew (not the paperbacks with the romance-novel illustration on the front, but old-school hardcover ones that smelled faintly like mildew, pilfered from my Nana's den). I was all about the mystery-solving. I also liked books by Mary Downing Hahn, Willow Davis Roberts, and Lois Lowry. Even if their books weren't exact fits in the detective-fiction genre, there was always some kind of puzzle, some kind of mystery that a smart and perceptive girl between the ages of 12 and 18 would inevitably solve.

I always liked a strong female protagonist and far more memorable than the girls of the mystery novels were Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Sarah the Story Girl, Jo March, little Mary of The Secret Garden, the poor Little Princess, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and various other heroines of less note-worthy young adult novels. Hermione Granger would definitely have been my hero(ine) had Harry Potter been written a decade or two earlier.

My delight in (and of course, identification with) a smart and funny leading lady and a plot with unexpected twists is not necessarily limited to novels but, I find that it has rarely been satisfied on television. [Insert tirade on pop culture media, depictions of women on television, blah blah blah.] Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an obvious exception and one of my all-time favorites (not least because the fashion is as fun as the dialogue). I didn't think there was another show out there that could match Buffy... until I met Veronica.

Veronica Mars ran a tragically short three seasons, but they are three seasons of INTENSE VIEWING PLEASURE. I was addicted from episode one. I love that while all the episodes usually have self-contained plots that get resolved in an hour, but they also feed into a larger narrative that runs the entire season. Even episodes that aren't blatant cliff-hangers sort of are because the greater mystery is unsolved until the final scene. The characters are funny and witty and smart and flawed and accessible. It is unpredictable without be totally beyond the realm of belief and Veronica works things out on her own and often with a little help from her friends.* Suffice it to say that when I am not watching the show, I would like to be watching the show.

I am going to wrap up season three before too long and even though I want to watch all eight of the remaining episodes in one sitting (seriously -- it's that good), I find myself delaying the gratification, enjoying the anticipation, and not ready to be finished with show.

Which is so lame and yet it is so true.

Thankfully the shows that consume my life like this are few and far between. In fact, those are the only two shows that I have ever watched completely from beginning to end. Ever.

So if you are looking for something to fill those summer evenings when no new TV shows are on and you just don't want to read another novel or go to another free outdoor concert or watch another baseball game or be productive or do anything but sit in the air conditioned comfort of your living room and veg out, I wholeheartedly endorse Veronica Mars.

*In the interest of full disclosure: the gianormous crush I have on Logan Echolls is rivaled only by my equally gianormous crush on Spike. Oh, and the crush I still have on that guy I'm married to. Obviously.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


It occurs to me that if we want to promote a cat-friendly lifestyle in the future, we might need to re-think our choice of chew-toys:
It's a squeaky yellow kitty!

Nom nom nom. Delicious.

Thanks to those of you who have assured me that I did the right thing in surrendering kitty over to the vet. I'm sure it was best for kitty, and Cooper was definitely glad to have my lap back to himself last night.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Bittersweet Goodbye: The Kitten Saga Concludes

Do not be fooled; Cooper's interest is not benevolent.

[Cooper: This treat looks delicious!]

It became painfully clear we could not keep the kitten when he and Little Mac had an ugly altercation on Saturday (we have no pictures, thank goodness). In brief: We decided to do introductions one dog at a time. I was nervous, David was sure it would be fine. The kitten purred and rubbed up against Mac's legs. Mac suddenly and without warning picked the kitten up between her teeth and flung him across the room. Kitten somersaulted through the air, I screamed and then burst into tears. David yelled at Little Mac, retrieved kitten. I transferred my anger from Little Mac to David because it had been his stupid idea anyway and stomped off to take a shower because I couldn't deal with his freaking crazy ass dog.

Kitty shook the whole thing off much better than I did. Mac is obviously a psychotic demon and I must accept this because I love her and she is 9 years old and obviously never going to change. And Cooper is honestly not much better -- he literally drools and licks his chops when he sees the kitten and has lunged for her twice. If the kitten were big enough to defend herself (eg. claw Mac's googly eyes out or scratch Cooper's nose) it would be one thing. But as she is about the size of a squeaky toy and makes the same delicious noise as a squeaky toy, it is clear that kitten would be fighting a losing battle. And stressing over dog/cat relations in this house is enough to drive me to drink.

So after a loooong holiday weekend with the kitty, I called this morning to make an appointment to take him to vet (yes, so much for Daisy. Kitty is a boy. I like to call him Pip.).

Thinking the humane society would be the least expensive place to take Pip, I called to make an appointment. Exams there cost $45 (!) and that doesn't include any shots or treatments. Yeah, we take our dogs to a country vet in Nevada when we're visiting my parents because we cannot handle paying that kind of vet bill.

But I wanted to make sure the kitty was healthy and I figured that a clean bill of health from the vet would make him more attractive to someone looking to adopt a kitten. So I was ready to pay the $45+ even if I wasn't excited about it.

Anyway, the humane society veterinarian office by my house had no appointments available today. They were two doctors short so they were pushing appointments over into tomorrow and didn't have anything available at the location near my house then either. I ended up making an appointment for tomorrow morning, but at at another location way out in the county, which was annoying.

After scheduling that, I went Jazzercise and on my way home I drove by the Cat Clinic on Hampton. I remember my friend Beth had mentioned once that she took her cat there when she lived in this area so I decided to call and ask what they would charge to examine a stray kitten.

$46. (!) But they could fit me in this afternoon at 2:30pm.

So I put Pip in Little Mac's carrier and we headed to the vet. Once we got in the exam room I took him out to hold him so he would stop meowing. He was very active -- climbing and walking all over me, purring the whole time. He kept trying to bite my fingers so I wadded up a receipt from my purse and made that into a toy to keep him entertained. I am amazed at how much more active he has gotten everyday. At first he just curled up in one spot in the garage and waited for us to come over and pick him up. The last couple days he would come running over to us when the door opened and start purring immediately as he rubbed against our feet.

So we're hanging out chasing a wad of paper when the veterinarian enters. I should say that I'm used to the country vet in Nevada, who hauls our dogs up on the table and calmly and efficiently checks them over with no fuss whatsoever. He's friendly, and he'll scratch Cooper behind his ears, but he talks to us -- not to the dog -- and his philosophy is obviously that pets are pets.

This veterinarian seems to have a slightly different philosophy. My first clue was the series of questions at the bottom of their information form. The first question asks you to check whether you feel:
(a) My cat is a member of my family
(b) I want the best care at a reasonable cost.
(c) Pets are pets.

Is it just me or are these answers clearly (a) right, (b) less right, and (c) totally WRONG you unfeeling jackass?

So this Cat Clinic veterinarian comes in and picks up the kitten. And she snuggles him up against her face. And she pets him and nuzzles him. And she baby talks to him. Which is fine, I mean, it's normal for like a pet owner, but maybe a little weird for a vet, right? But just when I thought that was weird, she kisses the kitten. Three times. On his head. Then pauses, says "You are so cute," and kisses him again.

[Kitten: Don't you want to kiss me?]

I just stand there awkwardly while she makes out with my stray kitten, trying to imagine our vet in Nevada kissing a cat or dog. And I cannot. Clearly this lady is a cat lover. I realize my mouth is hanging open and I hope that she did not notice I was staring at her in mild disbelief. I mean I think this is great and really nice, but just... strange.

So once the make-out session is over, she actually gets started with the exam and says that he is definitely a boy, that he weighs 1 pound and 1 ounce, and that she estimates he is just 5 weeks old.

I tell her the whole story about finding him under the shed and not being able to keep him because of the dogs and explain that I'm in the process of sending out mass e-mails to see if I can find him a good home because I don't want to take him to a shelter and I ask if I can post a flier in her office. She says yes.

Then she pauses for a minute, still snuggling the kitten, who is purring audibly. (He seriously is so irresistible that I am kind of jealous that she is making out with him.)

So then she tells me that they sometimes take kittens and care for them and adopt them out to their clients (only those clients who select option A on their information sheet, I'm sure).

The deal is that if I want to surrender the kitten to them, I just sign a form giving them ownership and when he gets a little older they will make him available for adoption by one of their clients. And until he is adopted, he will be fostered at the home of one of her employees who already has a kitten.

It seemed like the right thing to do -- and kind of like it was meant to be. I mean, I never would have ended up there if the Humane Society had been able to fit me in today. And if I have to give up the kitten at leastI can feel good about leaving him with a vet who loves him enough to engage in PDA on the first meeting.

So I agreed and signed the paper surrendering ownership of Pip to the Cat Clinic.

They didn't charge me for the visit, so I gave them a $25 donation. I watched the kitten scamper around the desk while the girl ran my debit card. She must have noticed me looking a little sad because she assured me that he would be in good hands.

I kept telling myself that this was a relief that it all worked out so well.

And then I got in my car and sat in the parking lot and cried.

I had told them that I'd donate the kitten chow and litter I had already purchased, so I drove home to get it. I went to the garage to grab the stuff and when no little orange kitten came running to greet me, I cried again. (I am obviously far more traumatized over all this than the kitten is.)

I can't believe how attached I got to that little thing in just a few days. And David wasn't any better -- he wanted to keep the kitten more than I did! He sounded so sad when I told him what happened over the phone, even though he agreed it was the right thing to do.I do believe that things worked our for the best this way and I am confident that our tiny little kitten will become a fat and sassy and spoiled cat in a good and loving home. It is better than having him live in our garage or foisting him out on Max and Jamie who were really not excited about welcoming a kitten into their pet-free home. But it still feels a little empty knowing that he isn't out there, waiting for David to come home and snuggle with him on the couch (while the dogs drool and stare as though David were cuddling with a chicken strip).

So this little incident has shown me that we are definitely not ready to adopt a kitten, but that someday (perhaps in a post-Little Mac world) we will be. It turns out we are dog-and-cat-people after all.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

A day to remember men and women in the armed services and also a couple of my favorite people ever...Of course, when I knew them they looked more like this:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Just when I thought I was a dog person...

We discovered this little munchkin under our shed.

I had noticed Cooper barking at the shed a few times yesterday afternoon but barely paid attention because I knew we'd had baby bunnies back there and I figured he had just seen another one. But then last night our neighbor's shih tzu was going crazy digging at the fence behind our shed and she went back to check it out. She came over and asked David if he knew there was a cat under our shed.

I was in the bedroom sorting and folding laundry and watching Gossip Girl -- er, I mean, an educational program on PBS -- when David came in and told me there was a "baby cat" under the shed. I said "You mean a kitten?"

So, armed with a flashlight we decided to go check it out, thinking that maybe there was a mama cat and a bunch of kittens back there.

But no. There was just one little, scrawny, dirty kitten all by itself. I tried to lure it out playing with a piece of grass but it was too cautious. David was convinced that it was feral and would shred his hand if he reached under the shed to grab it. I thought that was stupid but he was inside the fence and I was outside the fence in the neighbor's yard where I couldn't really reach the kitten. Plus I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. So I went inside, put on a long-sleeved shirt, and decided to bust out a can of wild salmon to lure the kitten from its hiding place.

Just as I was grabbing the can opener, David came up on the deck with the tiny kitten in his hand -- he had reached under the deck and although it hissed at him, it was basically too terrified and maybe too weak to move. I scooped it up in a handtowel and it just cowered in my arms. It wasn't crying or mewing or anything. It just sat there and stared. David went up to the grocery store and came back with canned food and the kitten ate a little bit and then I held her some more and finally she mewed one tiny little meow and then started purring.

I grew up with cats and I used to be a cat person. My favorite cat was Frances, who was a stray from across the street I named after reading the entire Baby Name Book and discovering that Frances meant "free." Frances had kittens in our garage and we returned her and all the kittens to the neighbor across the street. But Frances kept coming back even when my mom tossed water in her face to make her go home. Then she had kittens in our laundry room and after that my mom got her fixed and Frances was ours for good. She was not the prettiest cat. She was black but not especially sleek or shiny. She had a small head and a big lumpy body. She wasn't especially snuggly and she didn't have a loud purr or any other particularly endearing characteristics. She slept with me but often liked to sleep in awkward places -- like on my neck -- or do weird things like lick my hair. She also liked to lick sweaty feet. But she was my cat and I really loved her.

I really loved all the cats we had when I was a kid -- Ebenezer was there when I was a baby and was always a grouch to me but I loved him anyway. Posey a barnyard calico rescued from the farm. She had a bald spot on her back, a cute yellow stripe on her nose, and a weird attitude -- she would purr while you petted her and then suddenly without warning turn around and bite your hand.

Frances and Posey were around the longest, but over the years we also had Felix, a beautiful black cat, Chuck, a big orange and white cat, and Oliver, a sweet gray and white kitten.

My junior year of college Frances died and Chuck died and then my mom got two new cats who were siblings from the same litter and both weird as hell. Burt and Ernie. It was about this same time that I realized that growing up with cats had sort of made me immune to them but now that I didn't live with them, I had mad allergies whenever I visited my parents. Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing. It was a total bummer. Also, I was devastated to lose Frances and after that, Bert and Ernie didn't do much to win my favor. I try to like them, but they are needy and neurotic cats with a destructive streak in regard to furniture and flip flops. Ernie in particular seems to have a compulsion with kneading and clawing flip flops until he completely destroys them which seriously pisses me off (I have lost 2 pairs of flip flops to that freak). In FACT I discovered some claw marks in the inside soles of my patent leather flats from the last time I was home. I attribute this habit to his sexual frustration but that doesn't make it any less infuriating. Honestly (and no offense, Mom) Ernie and Bert kind of got me over my love for cats. I mean, I appreciate cats in general. I think they're pretty. I think they should be treated kindly. And I realize that certain cats are definitely more likeable than others -- for example, Keya's cat Caliban, totally delightful and so is Amanda and Dan's kitten Jinx.

So it's not to say that I don't like cats. But I was content not to have one. Cooper and Mac had pretty much won me over to the dogs. Until this poor, starving, exhausted little kitten ate a few bites of cat food and then curled up on my lap and started purring. I had really almost forgotten how sweet that is and I don't know why more animals don't close their eyes and vibrate gently when they are content. It is so charming.
[kitty next to cell phone for size comparison]

I don't know what we're going to do with her -- I haven't named her yet because I don't think keeping her is a possibility. We have a small house, two obnoxious dogs, and no place to put a litter box. But she is the sweetest thing so I have to figure something out.

Now that she has eaten, she has more energy and after breakfast this morning when I put her back in the laundry basket she slept in all night she climbed right out. All she wants to do is be held and her purr gets louder and louder. We are keeping her out in the garage -- I'm not sure how to do the litter box thing... I just put one out there and I keep putting her in there periodically thinking she'll figure it out. I've made her a little bed out of towels and she was stilled curled up on it the last time we checked on her.

So... I'm starting to remember why I used to love cats and this little one is really winning me over. Cat lovers -- If you know anyone who can provide a loving home for a sweet little kitten, PLEASE let me know. I wish we could keep her and I keep imagining ways we might make it work... but I just don't think it will be feasible. So I will be VERY particular about her placement. But I am open to interviewing candidates.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Eternal Internal Conflict

I am feeling conflicted about academia. With the department's budget problems, it is now clear that I will not get post-doc funding (meaning a bigger salary with benefits starting the semester after I defend my dissertation). I will still be able to get teaching gigs, but basically on a part-time basis.

This makes me think long and hard* about what I want to do with my degree, what it will mean to be on the job market this fall, and where I might end up a year from now.

(*thinking long and hard = fretting)

Hence the conflict. I’m not sure a tenure-track professorship is a career that I truly want to pursue (were it even a viable career option, which, given the state of the job market, is decidedly uncertain). If I don't get a job like this, my other options include adjunct part-time work (which can be rewarding in theory although the pay is horrible and the benefits usually nonexistent) and leaving academia entirely (which might be fine, but isn't a halfway thing. You can't leave academia and then come back -- it just doesn't happen.) I am not entirely opposed to doing something else -- leaving academia is starting to sound more and more appealing. But if I decide to do that, I want walking away from it to be MY decision. Not a fail-out, but an opt-out. I want to make up my own mind and feel confident in my decision.

I wonder if I would feel different if I felt that the department was giving me their full support with a huge fat post-doc appointment. Without it, it's hard to feel like the department has confidence in me, but the truth is, I don’t have that much confidence in myself in terms of pursuing a high profile career in this discipline. With all of my own misgivings and reservations about whether I am right for this and this is right for me, I certainly can’t expect them to just pat me on the back and say “We know you can do it!” (I want them to do this, of course, but I realize that I can’t expect it.)

I went to Blue Hill last night with other people from the department people. It was good. It was good to sit and commiserate and sympathize over pitchers of PBR. Hanging out with them, joking about how society should be an intellectual aristocracy (ok, not joking, deadly serious about that), I felt like we were in this together. This crazy academic pursuit, this bleak job market, this strange position of brilliant* and admittedly privileged people who want to do something intellectually and culturally significant, who aren’t sure what the future will hold, who have come too far to go back now, who are both confident in their abilities and uncertain about what the hell comes next. (*which is not to say that I am brilliant but that many of my colleagues are. They are also weird as hell, which seems par for the course in higher learning.)

I have thought for so long that being a professor is what I want to do. The teaching part of it, the reading and talking about novels part of it, the flexible hours, the casual dress code, the opportunity to delve deeply into topics that I find intellectually challenging and enriching and fascinating, that all sounds great. I just thought I would finish school, get tenure, publish a book. But the reality of it? The conference papers? The articles for publication? That no one reads? The petty department politics? The undying sexism that still manages to cling to academia? Balancing my own work and teaching a 4-4 or 5-5 load (srsly)? I think that sounds horrible.

This year on the DF (writing and not teaching) has taught me that I can manage my time. That I am self-motivated. That I enjoy writing a blog and that I enjoy writing about Victorian novels. That I am at my best when I work out every morning. That I actually like to cook. That I like to set my own schedule. That I get a lot of pleasure from things that are unrelated to my work but that I need to have a sense of purpose to my day.

Don't get me wrong. I am ridiculously interested in my dissertation. I’m interested in the research that I’m doing. I LIKE reading this stuff. I like teaching it. But the competitiveness of it, the antagonistic questions, the uber-specific interests that the general public and even most of my students could not care less about, the idea of dedicating my entire career to such an isolating and peculiar task… I'm just not sure it's what I want anymore.

Which is ridiculous and embarrassing because MY GOD you have been in school for this for SEVEN FREAKING YEARS and maybe you should have figured it out by now you ridiculous ASSHAT.

The truth is I might want to be more of a dilettante than an expert. I want to have lots of free time that I can structure as I please. I want to spend lots of time at home with my kids when I have them. I want to read for fun. I want to write things that lots of people will read, not boring articles in dusty academic journals. So it seems more and more obvious that I don't really want to do the tenure track thing. The problem is that NOT doing, that NOT trying somehow feels like admitting defeat.

And with all the things I'm not sure I want, there are some things I'm sure I don't. I don’t want to live apart from David for a year or two to do a post-doc somewhere else. I don’t want us to be nomadic, moving every two or three years from post-doc appointment to visiting professorships at various universities. I don’t want to become weird and boring. I don't want my job to be stressful to the point of knots in my stomach and sleepless nights.

But I do want us to be financially comfortable, so that is definitely something that David and I will have to figure out. Teaching 2 sections of comp a semester is a great idea if you need institutional affiliation and ou expect a bigger pay off by way of a real job somewhere else. How will it work if we decide to stay here, meaning I decide not to pursue a tenure track position elsewhere?

David has been 100% supportive through all of my freaking out and keeps assuring me "It will all work out." (which is comforting to a certain extent but I am also like GOOD GOD MAN FREAK OUT WITH ME MY FUTURE IS A COMPLETE QUESTION MARK HOW CAN YOU REMAIN CALM AT A MOMENT LIKE THIS!?!?). I feel good about us being on the same team and making big decisions together. At the same time, I don’t want to let him down. He's essentially supported me through years and years of grad school... shouldn't he get something out of this? Shouldn't we both feel like it has been worth it?

At this point, I no longer think that my resistance to the pursuit of a tenure track job is just a crisis of confidence, although honestly that still might be a part of it. I do know that there are many people, including my advisor, who think I can and should do this. And I appreciate their faith in me. I want to have that kind of faith in me. It all goes back to wanting to make a conscious choice. I don’t want to fail out. I want to make a deliberate decison to pursue other interests, other venues, other priorities.

With what might have been the most helpful piece of advice I’ve gotten in a long time, Monica pointed out bluntly but in the kindest possible way that nobody really cares what I do.

And she is absolutely right. My parents won’t care – they will probably just like it if they eventually get some grandkids. David’s family won’t care – they don’t even really get what I’m doing now and are simply impressed that I teach at the college level. David won’t care – he thinks I’m smart anyway. My friends won't care – they want me to be happy and to have time to go to happy hour. My advisor won't care, the department won’t care, even my English department friends and colleagues won’t care. No one will be grievously disappointed or distraught if I change my mind.

I need to remember that nobody is judging me for what I choose to do with my life. That there is more to life than the narrow world of academics. That it’s none of my business what other people think of me anyway. I just need to choose what I want. And that choice should be based on what makes me happy and personally fulfilled, not based on some arbitrary and self-imposed standard of what it means to be successful.

I believe that with all my heart. But it doesn’t make it any easier when I look to the future and don't know where I'll be a year from now. (I've never been in that situation before! I've always known that a year from now I'd be somwhere familiar -- school!). This is a whole new ballgame and I feel all kinds of pressure to get it right. Even though I think the only person putting that pressure on me is myself.

So now. At this point. I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm just trying to finish. So I don’t know about having it all, but I think I can have exactly what I want.

I just need to figure out exactly what that is...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life In Plastic, It's Fantastic

I returned to Barnes for my third visit yesterday. I saw the same very nice nurse practitioner as I did previously and she recommended a visit to plastics.

She scheduled me an appointment with Dr. Tung. A quick google search tells me that he was charged with violating medical ethics by a woman who is a survivor of silicone poisoning. I can't find any details about the outcome of the suit, but here's the story: she got implants in 1987, she felt one explode in 2003, she went to the ER and was referred to several doctors -- one of whom was Dr. Tung -- and they all said silicone doesn't leak and ignored her complaints. A doctor in Atlanta, Georgia did emergency surgery on her on Christmas Eve and saved her life. This is detailed in her letter which is available online.

But I have been told by some reliable sources that you can't believe everything you read on the internet. And regardless, I am not letting this prejudice me against Dr. Tung, who I'm sure is a very good doctor. Plus, he's doing my arm, not my boobs. And google also tells me that Dr. Tung "recently led a 22-hour, 2-day nerve transplant and muscle transfer surgery on a 21-year-old man who was paralyzed in the mid-upper right arm after a motorcycle accident."

Great. So he's got upper-arm experience.

Anyway, I got home and was talking to my friend J about how I got referred to plastics and he's going to do this procedure that the doctor kept calling an injection but then she said it didn't require a needle it was some sort of air thing. J kept asking me questions I couldn't answer and I realized that I had asked the nurse practioner lots of questions but she had not clearly answered them and she definitely made me feel rushed. Even though she was very nice and friendly. And then J kindly pointed out that I was yet another ignorant victim of the medical establishment or at least completely clueless about what was going to happen to my arm.

So she suggested I call plastics and ask what the procedure is and what I should expect.

So I did.

The nice receptionist says I'm just scheduled for a consultation with Dr. Tung.

Which makes sense because wouldn't he want to look at my arm before he decides what he's going to do with it? But that is so not the story I got from the surgical care unit. This annoys me.

So then I called the surgical care unit and spoke with Laurel the nurse practioner who was very nice (again) and who told me that it is a consultation in that Dr. Tung will look at my arm and determine what he's going to do. She thinks that he will likely opt to inject kenalog (google tells me this is a topical steroid) in my arm to soften and flatten the scarring. Or some other option that would work similarly. He may reschedule me, or he may offer to do it then and there.

So I just need to know if there are GOING TO BE NEEDLES INVOLVED.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with my needle phobia, let me briefly explain:

When I had to get shots for college, I fainted at the health clinic. Needles had never bothered me that much before and I showed up at the clinic before lunch. So I hadn't eaten that recently and when I could feel the tetanus shot oozing into my arm, it just did me in. I woke up on the floor of the clinic with the nurse offering me a can of coke.

In college when I had attacks of hives due to my food allergies and ended up in the ER, the epi shot they gave me hurt like a bitch and the second time I ended up in the ER with hives, I spent an unreasonable amount of time pleading with the cute male nurse to put the epi in my IV where it wouldn't hurt. Perhaps freaked out by the enormous size of my swollen face, he kept trying to explain that he couldn't do that and then he just loaded me up with so much Benadryl I was barely conscious.

Ever since then, needles have gone from a minor annoyance to a full-blown phobia. Just thinking about them can make my heart race and make me feel light-headed.

When I went to get my wisdom teeth taken out, I had to sign all that paperwork about how I realize that the anasthesia could very well kill me and there were going to be needles. I asked if David could come back in the room with me and they said no. So I went by myself and I looked over and saw somewhere between 5 and 10 loooooong and huge needles lined up on the counter. I must have looked weird because a nurse quickly covered them with a paper towel, but it was too late. By the time she started talking about dry sockets, I was gone. I fainted while reclined in the chair and woke up with an oxygen mask on my face, wet paper towels on my foreheard, and David standing over me looking completely freaked out.

I had to reschedule my appointment. The next time they let David come in the room with me and hold my hand. Also they gave me a prescription for Valium and told me to eat sugary snacks before bed (it was all I could do not to make Valium + frozen custard a daily ritual, really). And the next appointment went fine, largely thanks to the Valium, until a freak summer storm blew through town, took out our electricity, and left me with my face triple its normal size and no ice and no air conditioning. We fled to Branson where I thought I was feeling better, ate a huge Frosty from Wendy's, bowled my highest score ever (a 139 -- I usually don't break 100), and then puked everywhere and spent the next three days recovering on David's g-rents' sofa.

Since then, the needle phobia has only gotten worse, although I have managed not to faint the last few times I have seen needles. I now know that I can insist that David accompany me and that I should tell the health care provider I need to lie down for any bloodwork/needle stuff.

So as I persist in my questioning about needles and what exactly this procedure will be, the nurse practitioner at surgical care explains that kenalog is not injected with a needle but with a sort of stream of air that comes out like a shot (I guess this is used in some immunizations).

I guess this makes me feel better?

So now it seems that I am going to plastics for a consultation that will not involve needles but may or may not include the injection of steroids into my arm. Yes, D will be taking the afternoon off work to accompany me.

Also, I might consider writing "NOPE! HERE FOR MY ARM" in marker across my boobs. Just in case.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Update on Cooper's Ass Smell

After receiving countless* e-mails and comments asking for an update on Cooper's ass smell, I realized that it was time to let the public know. Clearly you have all been waiting breathlessly for this.

The last time I dropped off Mac to be groomed, I delicately inquired about whether there was a "process" that could perhaps rid Cooper's "glands" of whatever "stinkiness" it is that smells like an animal died in his butt.

(I know - how could a dog so cute smell so bad?)

After asking me some not-so-delicate questions about whether I have noticed him "licking or scooting" excessively (uh, negative and negative), Miss Felicia cheerfully assured me that she would "take a look!" when I brought Cooper in later for his toenail trim.

We dutifully returned that afternoon and she took him into the back room -- "I have to do this in the tub." I waited somewhat nervously, heard no strange noises, and they emerged a few minutes later -- neither one looking the least bit embarrassed. I thought maybe I was crazy but then Miss Felicia walked him back around the desk to meet me and loudly announced to the benefit of the two other groomers and several other dogs in the shop, "Wow! His glands were really full!"


And then she told me with a big smile to bring him on back the next time he "gets stinky."

I honestly don't know what she even charged for that because I was sort of mortified as I found myself automatically but unwillingly trying and failing to imagine what sort of process they had just gone through in the back room.

I think Little Mac was also grossed out but Cooper was not flustered in the least.

Anyway, his ass has not smelled like dead animal since. So I guess we're on to something.

*where "countless" = zero

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Narcissistic Indulgence, Part Infinity

No, you like it.

1) What is your salad dressing of choice?
I'm a big fan of this creamy Italian but I also like to dip my pizza in ranch.

2) What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
Zia's in the winter, Pueblo Solis in the summer

3) What food could you eat for 2 weeks straight and not get sick of it?

4) What are your pizza toppings of choice?

5) What do you like to put on your toast?
Butter and jelly

6) How many televisions are in your house?
three. Why more TVs than people? One is for the dogs, of course. So Mac can watch "Family Guy."

7) What color cell phone do you have?

8) Are you right-handed or left-handed?

9) Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
my adenoids and my wisdom teeth

10) What is the last heavy item you lifted?
Monica's 3-piece casserole dish set

11) Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
By the force of my own panic in the face of needles, yes. On more than one occasion.

12) If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
I don't think so. Morbid.

13) If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
Hmm. I think we've been over this... And I wouldn't change my first name either. But if I did, I would choose something with a V sound. Evelyn. Violet. Vivienne. I like all those.

14) Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
Probably. And then I'd buy a new laptop.

15) How many pairs of flip flops do you own?
close to 20

16) What’s your goal for the year?
finish the PhD

17) Last person you talked to?

18) Last person you hugged?
also Der-veed when I got home and discovered that he bought me flowers last night.

19) Favorite Season?

20) Favorite Holiday?

21) Favorite day of the week?
Sunday = Funday at our house. Why? Because we do a lot of nothing and then have happy hour for dinner (you know, drinks and appetizers, my favorite!).

22) Favorite Month?

23) First place you went this morning?
Jazzercise. Where I had a kickass awesome circuit training workout. You should see my gun show.

24) What's the last movie you saw?
In the theaters it was Duplicity. I liked it a lot. On TV it was Forgetting Sarah Marshall which made me laugh. Rather a lot, actually. And later I kept trying to reference it but David didn't watch it with me so he didn't get my hilarious jokes. Annoying.

25) Do you smile often?
I think so. But once when we were building the garage and all the siding was wrong and the people at a certain home improvement store were unhelpful and it was horrible horrible horrible and I left David standing at the customer service center and walked out to the parking lot and sat on the curb and cried and a man said to me "Smile, it's not that bad" I did NOT smile and I wanted to punch him in the face.

26) Do you always answer your phone?
Almost always. Except when it is accidentally on silent. Or dead in my purse for two days. Or left in my car. Or I heard it ring but thought it was David's phone even though we have different rings. So maybe not that often, actually.

27) It's four in the morning and you get a text message, who is it?
A drunk friend. Which leaves about four possibilities since all the rest of my friends are pregnant.

28) If you could change your eye color what would it be?
Violet, like Elizabeth Taylor. Of course. This one's a no-brainer.

29) What flavor drink do you get at Sonic?
Strawberry limeade or coke with lime.

30) Have you ever had a pet fish?
Yes. Oscar was our awesome fish and Little Mac's friend/sparring partner and when he died we buried him in the backyard by the shed and I was sad.

31) Favorite Christmas song?
"War is Over" (you know, the John Lennon one that goes, "And so this is Christmas...")

32) What's on your wish list for your birthday?
laptop, new handbag, little ipod

33) Can you do push ups?
Yes, but I hate it. And I can't do very many.

34) Can you do a chin up?
I'm not sure. I can rock the bent-arm-hang though. (My mom held the Webster City junior high record for the bent-arm hang for ever -- in fact, she may still hold it. Must be genetic.)

35) Does the future make you more nervous or excited?
Excited. I'm so OVER being anxious and freaked out.

36) Do you have any saved texts?
yes I am too lazy to delete.

37) Ever been in a car wreck?
Just a little fender-bender. Or two.

38) Do you have an accent?
Sometimes I have a St. Louis accent and sometimes I have an Ozarks accent. Most of the time I try to avoid either one.

39) What is the last song to make you cry?
"Those You've Known" from the Spring Awakening soundtrack

40) Plans tonight?
dinner on the deck!

41) Have you ever felt like you hit rock bottom?
Nope. Even when things totally sucked I always knew it could be worse. Is that the same thing as being an optimist? I don't think so.

42) Name 3 things you bought yesterday?
lunch special #6 at Mi Ranchito for $4.99; gas for $2.17/gallon; I think that's all. Only bought 2 things.

43) Have you ever been given roses?
oh yes. by many many adoring fans.

44) Current hate right now?

45) Met someone who changed your life?

46) How did you bring in the New Year?
with MoJo in Nevamo.

47) What song represents you?
I don't know about this but I can't stop listening to Rocky Votolato these days: "She Was Only In It For The Rain."

48) Name three people who might complete this?
Poop. Your. Butt.

49) What were you doing at 12 AM last night?
Waking up to nature's fury and a frightened puggle.

50) What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up?
omg my alarm didn't go off.

Lightning! Thunder! Doggy freak out!

You would never know it judging by the sun shining and the birds singing this morning, but last night we had one of the loudest thunder storms I have ever experienced.

Everyone in my family is a pretty heavy sleeper. We have been known to sleep through thunder storms and tornado warnings (yes it is a great idea to sleep through tornado sirens and leave your children snoozing peacefully on the second floor of your home). Growing up in the midwest, storms are just a part of springtime and I have always found them entertaining rather than scary. I can remember as a little girl in Independence standing at our front door and watching a storm with my dad and feeling perfectly safe and excited to watch the lightning as the weather raged outside. I also remember thinking another little girl at church was so silly for being afraid of thunder (Chandra).

I'm still not afraid of storms and I still often sleep through them. I love snuggling under the covers and listening to it rain at night. Little Mac is totally unfazed by thunder and lightning, although if a clap of thunder is especially loud, it will prompt her to bark and chase her tail (any loud noise seems to make her neurons misfire, thus provoking this behavior). But poor Cooper is terrified of storms. He will follow me around the house and anytime I pause, he will lean his trembling little body against my legs. If I am putting away laundry or doing something that causes me to go from room to room, he will just wait in the bathroom away from all the windows.

Last night, it was windy but not raining when we went to bed. Then there was a clap of thunder so loud it woke all of us around midnight and a second later it was followed by a LOUDER clap of thunder and blinding flash of lightning that was so close I wondered briefly if the neighbor's house had exploded. David and I both jumped about a mile and Cooper started shaking so hard the entire bed was vibrating. Little Mac (of course) barked and chased her ass. But she was already settled back in her bed while D and I were still trying to calm Cooper and ourselves after that panicky rush of adrenaline. I got up and shut all the windows and David ran out and folded up our deck umbrella and then we headed back to bed to fall asleep listening to the storm.

But Cooper was having none of it. He would not settle down, he would not stop shaking. Finally, after a more muted, but still close, rumble of thunder, the dog who usually wants to be under the covers and in between us in bed instead wriggled his pudgy little body all the way under our bed and slept there until morning. Such a big baby.

So we all lost a little sleep last night, but today the sun shines and he and Mac are sunning themselves on the deck. I think G. H. Lewes and I will join them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring has Sprung

After a rainy (and even snowy) month of April, Spring seems to have arrived in St. Louis while I was in Nevada.

It is beautiful here and my yard is abloom and I just want to sit on my deck and soak up all the bad UV rays while snacking on strawberries on chardonnay.

Instead, I dutifully apply sunscreen and put on a hat, then sit on my deck drinking coffee and reading G. H. Lewes: An Unconventional Victorian. Because scholarly biographies are FUN! (Actually G. H. Lewes is really awesome and he was with George Eliot in an open but monogamous relationship while his legal wife was living with his best friend and Lewes and Eliot were both brilliant and fascinating people so it is not like reading his biography is a hardship.)

Anyway, when I'm not reading, I'm gazing around my yard and looking at all these lovelies:

I am not sure what this little tree is, but I think its little button flowers are adorable.

I have an awful time with begonias but these were too pretty to pass up.

This is technically in the neighbor's yard, but whatever.

My friend Keya helped me select these petunias and little white flowers for the window boxes on the garage.

As a puppy, Cooper chewed up our rose bushes but they seem to have made a full recovery.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bars & Barley

I spent the weekend in Nevada.

It was... eventful.

In 48 hours, I managed to spend 9 of those hours in the car and still find time to:
* hang out with my parents & their weird friends
* hang out with Monica's parents
* hang out with Monica's parents and my parents simultaneously
* allow Monica's dad to convince us that we should drink the wine that Monica had told Johnny she would save for the two of them after they got married
* watch Monica get showered with gifts, including no less than six (6) casserole dishes
* two-step with cowboy(s)
* dance the cotton-eyed-Joe with Jamie (she loves it)
* give my mom the necklace charm as well as other choice Mother's Day gifts that sealed my role as Most Favorite Child well above A Certain Wandering Street Urchin Who Never Remembers Birthdays or Holidays Unless Reminded and Wears One Pair of Dirty Pants and Is Likely to Get Arrested By Russian Police.

Now it is back to real life. I have to say that I find real life quite stressful. I was kind of enjoying hosting bridal showers and dancing at Amvets. Why can't that be my job? Because I could probably get really good at it.

D picked up our CSA share while I was gone. Week One delivered us:
* half a dozen eggs
* homemade noodles
* organic barley
* asparagus

Kinda early for most veggies I guess. I am looking forward to heirloom tomatoes...

Anyway, tonight we made burgers (beef & veggie) and asparagus with carmelized onions. D had a baked potato and I had these amazing honey dijon potato chips because why would you want a baked potato when you could have it processed and fried and pre-packaged with delicious seasoning that may or may not include the ingredient Yellow No. 4?

My next project is to cook barley. Google tells me that it can be made like rice. Only it takes like an hour instead of 5 minutes. All I can say is that if it takes that long to cook, it better not suck. I found a recipe for Barley & Sun-dried tomatoes. The recipe creator claims, "This method treats barley like rice, toasted in butter, then cooked with flavorful sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and scallions." Sounds promising but an hour of simmering is an awful lot of time in which I could completely screw something up.

So that is on the menu for Tuesday or Thursday. Whenever I am feeling adventurous. And by "adventurous," I mean "eager to be tied to the stove for an hour while barley simmers."

I guess I can practice two-stepping while barley simmers.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Filthy Beasts

The thing is, my dogs shed.

(I know! As if ass-stinking and occasionally-biting were not vice enough for two dogs!)

To combat this problem, along with the general dirt, filth, and sloughed-off skin cells (ew) that collect in our carpet, we bought a Dyson.


Of course, we didn't "just buy" this Dyson. D decided that we HAD to have one while we were on vacation in Portland AND that we HAD to buy it IN Portland to avoid sales tax and because they were on sale at Target FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY. So we bought it, wrapped it in garbage bags, checked it with our luggage, and flew it home to St. Louis, where my Target credit card people had left 3 messages for us asking if it was a fraudulent use of my card because who in their right mind flies to Oregon and buys a $400 vacuum?

Oh, right. That would be my husband.

This version is called "The Animal" as it is specifically made to suck up pet hair and dander and make your carpet and furniture and air and soul cleaner. Really I think it just came with a specific attachment for sucking pet hair off of furniture, but yay! because we use that attachment all. the. time.

I vacuum a lot. I try to vacuum every other day. It doesn't take that long because (1) my house is small and (2) I don't usually move furniture around to vacuum under things (unless D's g-rents are coming to visit). So seriously, it only takes about 10 minutes to vacuum my entire house. It is still one more annoying chore, but I do it faithfully because each time I run the Dyson through the bedroom, guest room, living room, dining room, and back room, it fills up with this:

Isn't that horrifying?

I have not dissected the vacuum pick-up under a microscope, but I estimate that it is 50% Cooper hair/dirt, 40% Little Mac hair/dirt, and 10% hair/dirt from the humans in the house.

Our house sure would be a lot cleaner without those filthy beasts. But it would be a lot emptier too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Time-Sucking Trivialities

So my hairdryer broke.

Sunday morning I am blow-drying my hair as I normally do. Cooper loves the blow-dryer so as soon as I turn it on he comes running to stand on my feet and get some blasts of hot air when I turn my head upside down (you know for the extra volume and all that blah blah blah).

I stand back up (at this point my hair is still pretty damp) and the hair dryer suddenly makes this AWFUL racket and starts sort of vibrating in my hand. I felt like I was getting an electronic shock (even though not really).

Still, I screamed and dropped the hairdryer on the sink and then managed to turn it off without it electrocuting me. David came running in from the kitchen to see what was wrong. So I explained that it started shaking and making a terrible grinding noise and I thought I was going to die. He gave me a weird look (...?) and then turned the hairdryer back on.

It worked fine.

He turned it off as I eyed him suspiciously and he headed back to the kitchen. I resume blow-drying and no sooner have I flipped my head upside down to get the roots when


God-awful noise coming from hairdryer. A horrific rattling noise that indicates the hair dryer is about to explode in my hand and scar the small amount of unscarred skin I still have left. I scream AGAIN.

And the conclusion of this incredibly long and rather melodramatic story is that my hair dryer is indeed broken.

So now I need a new hairdryer. And where to begin?

I need a hair dryer that will change my life! One that is a cheerful color, that is very quiet so you can hear the radio even while blow drying. One that is lightweight so that my right arm doesn't get an overdeveloped bicep compared to my left (it could happen!). One that fits nicely in the small bathroom cabinet. Probably one with a retractable cord so as not to get tangled in things. One that is not too big so I can easily pack it up for a weekend.

Also, my hairstylist recommends a hair dryer that is ceramic and ionic. Which is why I originally purchased the now-broken hair dryer. It has "ion technology" and a ceramic core. (It is clearly the sole reason why my hair is so lustrous and shiny, in case you hadn't noticed.)

[Additional side note: The way these hair products get you is that even if you can't tell a huge difference, "I'm not sure my hair looks that much better/different/bouncier/shinier," the comparison is always vague and you find yourself thinking, "But if this is what my hair looks like with a ceramic core and ionic technology, imagine what it would look like without!!!"]

So now that I am on the search for a hair dryer, it feels a little overwhelming. I want to make the right choice, but I also want to get a new one as soon as possible. I know I want it to be ionic and ceramic but then I found the phrase "tourmaline ceramic" describing a very expensive hair dryer so I kind of want that even though I don't know what it means (am innocent victim of marketing ploys). I went to a couple of stores didn't have much of a selection. I went online and at Amazon (which is where I got the now-broken hair dryer) there are a zillion choices. They all have some good reviews, some bad reviews. I cannot decide. Some people say it's too heavy, too loud, etc. There is a brand called T3 that is fancy. Some come with attachments. Some are cute colors. I am excited to try something new and the world of hair dryers is my oyster! But they all seem huge and expensive compared to the one I just had. Should I buy this factory refurbished hairdryer? It is $60. But it was originally $230!!! It must be AWESOME!

I think about my cute little hair dryer and how the cord is retractable and handle folds up so it fits in the drawer in my bathroom and how that was very convenient for storage and travel.

I think about how I dropped it twice last week and at least once before that so maybe it wasn't its fault that its insides fell apart and started rattling.

I think about how it is only $19.99 and if I order it from Amazon that means that I have an excuse to order a book or CD also so as to qualify for free shipping.

I think about how it is ceramic and ionic and even though it got good reviews and bad reviews, I liked it just fine.

I ordered the exact same hair dryer.

This process look four days of research. (By "research" of course, I mean going to Wal-Mart and then googling and searching at Amazon and

And of course I opted for the free shipping so I won't get it until next week and I will be air-drying until then. Maybe I need to invest in a back-up hair dryer...

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Informative Letter

Dear Greenies Smile Competitors,

There are many of you who seem to have entered this contest without reading the rules. Let me refresh you.

It is a SMILE contest.

If your dog is not SMILING, we are not interested in seeing your dog's picture. Even if your dog is otherwise adorable. This is not the "most adorable" contest. This is the smile contest. Sure, all dogs are cute. Mostly. But NOT all dogs are smiling.

Because it is a SMILE contest, certain exclusions apply. Please refer to the following list (which is not complete) for a list of activities/behaviors/poses/expressions that do NOT qualify your (otherwise cute and well-behaved, I'm sure) dog to enter the SMILE contest.

1. Hanging out on the back of the sofa is NOT a smile. Even if you are wearing a dress, Molly. Even if your dress is studded with rhinestones.

2. Sticking your tongue out is NOT a smile.
Although it is possible to smile and stick out your tongue at the same time (see Taffy, below),
a panting tongue ALONE does not count as a smile (I'm talking to you, Helmutt).

3. Looking confused (and sort of pissed off) is NOT a smile, Casper. Even if your teeth ARE showing. Sort of.

4. Barking is not smiling, Jake. Although it might look like very scary laughter. This is not a laughing contest.

5. Holding a stick in your mouth actually prevents you from smiling, Rambo. Also, you look like a tool. Sorry.

6. Sleeping is not smiling. Even if you are a cute little puppy named Nikki and you are snuggled up with your favorite stuffed animal. Still NOT SMILING.

7. Just because you have an underbite does not mean that you smile all the time. Does it, Roc? No. I didn't think so.

8. Being a cute puppy is not smiling. I know this may come as a shock to you, Chance. But even though you are kinda cute, and you have your front legs in some kind of bizarre bowl-supported-by-carved-wooden-elephants, you are not smiling.

9. This one is hard to write, but I have to say it. Standing around in what appears to be a professional photograph on an all-white backdrop, looking pitiful in a back brace (or perhaps an adult diaper?) is not the same thing as smiling. Sorry, Poco, but it's true.

10. A growl is not a smile, Crickett. Believe me, if it were a GROWLING contest, Little Mac would also be an excellent candidate. But it is a Smile Contest. You should be SMILING but instead you look totally pissed off.

11. Pitiful puppy dog eyes does NOT equal smiling. If it were a pitiful puppy dog eyes contest, Cooper would win. But it is not, K.C., so even though you are CUTE, you should be disqualified.

12. Sitting on the couch with your siblings and wearing coordinating bandanas is NOT smiling. And seriously, have you ever seen three more morose looking pugs?

Now that you have read these rules, if you realize that you were mistaken/misguided/misinformed/drunk/stoned/out of your mind when you entered your pet's UNsmiling photograph, kindly remove it from the contest so that Little Mac can be declared the UNANIMOUS AND OFFICIAL WINNER and she can begin her quest for Greenies Sponsorship and World Domination.

Thank you very much for your time,

Postscript: There are almost 400 pages of pet photographs, and I would say it is a safe bet that less than 50% of those pets are ACTUALLY SMILING. I could not even find Little Mac's picture today to vote for her.

I am so officially over Greenies and their smile contest that does not even bother to weed out the riffraff.

But still, if you have 2 hours + to kill, please locate Little Mac and vote for her! Meanwhile, she'll be watching television.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

DUDE! I'm writing a dissertation.

I'm on dissertation leave this year. Which means I don't have to teach and I get funded it sit around and write my dissertation. I've had several people ask me questions ranging from "So, what do you do all day?" to "When will you be finished?" to "How do you like not having a real job?".

I know they all mean well, but the questions are annoying because (1) I don't know how to answer them and (2) Dude! I'm writing a dissertation!

The truth is it is hard to describe the dissertation process -- the drafting, the revising, the re-writing, the reading, the re-reading, the thinking, the pondering, the mulling over, the re-writing, the hair-pulling, the brain-hurting, the re-re-re-revising. It is hard to say "I work on my dissertation X hours a day" because there are times when I feel like I'm "working" only when I'm typing and producing pages. But there is so much intangible, unquantifiable work that goes into it before and after and during that process that it gets hard to keep track of.

Sometimes I feel like I'm working on my dissertation 24 hours a day because it is that knot in between my should blades that never goes away. On better days, I feel like I put in a good 4-6 hours of work -- reading, writing, rereading, and re-writing -- and if I thought about it for another second my brain would start leaking out my ears. Sometimes I'm doing well if I can sit in front of the computer and not think about anything but the damn dissertation for an hour -- and that hour can be more productive than the 6 I put in the day before.

So because it is virtually impossible for me to explain how I write a dissertation (other than slowly and painfully), I thought I would explain what a dissertation is. Or what my dissertation is. In hopes of also answering the unspoken question that most of you who know me have probably wondered but tactfully left unspoken: Why the hell is it taking you so long?

A dissertation is a book-length study. For me, it is a book-length study of literary criticism. In normal person speak:

I am writing somewhere between 200 and 250 pages. Double spaced. 12 point font. (I use Garamond instead of Times New Roman.)

I am writing about four different Victorian novels that range from 437 pages (Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret) to 989 pages (Charles Dickens's Bleak House). Or somewhere in between (George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is 811 pages, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone is 472).

I have one chapter on each of these novels. So far my longest chapter is 60 pages on Daniel Deronda. My shortest chapter is 40 pages on Bleak House. Lady Audley's Secret is 50 pages and I'm still working on The Moonstone, but I am planning on it being about 40 pages. In addition to the 190 pages that will be my chapters, I have to write an introduction (about 20 pages) and a conclusion (who knows? I'm hoping for short -- like 10-15).

Before I write these chapters, I have to read. I've read each of these novels at least 3 times over the course of writing the dissertation. I have to go back to the novels to pull out particular passages and quotes that are relevant and do a close reading and analysis of them, paying attention to the way the storyline and the language, sentence structure, and themes all support my argument.

I also have to read books and articles people have already published about the novels. I have to account for people who write about different aspects of the novel, even if it is not my main interest. So I need to make sure I know what historicists say, what feminists say, what psychoanalytic critics say, etc. I also need to make sure to read people who are talking about the same thing I am and I have to address their arguments in my chapter -- agree, disagree, or (more likely) quibble with something small and attempt to branch off in a new direction with a glimmer of originality.

I also need to read biographies about their authors. Contemporary reviews that were published in 19th-century periodicals. Britain's political and social history, including art and science. And published collections of journals and personal correspondence from the authors.

I am writing about the way science gets imagined in these novels. For my particular topic, this means that I have to read what other scholars have already written about science, about Darwin, about empiricism, and intuition, and the supernatural in the nineteenth-century. I also have to read nineteenth-century thinkers like George Henry Lewes, Matthew Arnold, Cardinal Newman, and John Stuart Mill, and nineteenth-century scientists like William B. Carpenter, John Elliotson, Charles Darwin, and John Tyndall.

Empirical science (meaning that all facts are observable and -- like Newtonian science -- everything in the world can be reduced to its mechanical basis) is the "popular" notion of Victorian science (for humanists like Matthew Arnold and for a lot of modern-day scholars too). That is how most people imagined it and that is the way it usually gets portrayed in Victorian novels. The truth is, though, that most nineteenth-century scientists did not consider themselves empiricists or postivists.

The novelists that I'm writing about use science in their novels as though it is empirical and they typically describe the world as though we can learn all we need to know from historical and material contexts. At the same time, their narratives are often interrupted by moments or events that seem supernatural or at least metaphysical (premonitions, intuition, dreams, etc.)

So in my dissertation, I'm suggesting that because these novelists were writing in the middle of a century of change (legal and political reforms, the industrial revolution, mass literacy, Darwinian biology and scientific progress), their novels try to address these dramatic shifts between traditional authority (church, aristocracy, government) and new authorities (science, the middle-class, industrialism). Using both empirical science and intuition is their way of questioning how we should read the world. Should we read it empirically, assuming that ugly people are bad and pretty people are good? Can we count on eye-witnesses? Does circumstantial evidence always lead to the truth? Or should we trust these shaky moments of insight and intuition that cannot be accounted for empirically? Do dreams tell us the truth ? OR can we devise a system of reading the world that considers both the empirical and the intuitive as legitimate reading methods?

(Little Mac is intrigued. Literature! It's fascinating!)

I use the four novels I'm focusing on to look at the ways different authors -- who were each very popular in their time -- present ideas about reading the world scientifically and intuitively.

So as I begin to actually write, I have to cite what other critics have said and explain how my reading is slightly different. I have to obsessively make sure I am never unintentionally plagiarizing someone else's ideas or phrases. And I have to string it all together in a coherent narrative that doesn't let my own use of certain words get too slippery. Ideally, I refrain from getting too wordy or repetitive. I have to go back and check for the very things I preach to my own students about -- topic sentences and transitions! And mostly I have to make sure I am actually arguing something and try not to come off as an idiot.

My friend Keya says that she thinks completing a PhD is one of the most personally fulfilling things that one can accomplish. I hope that is true because it's sure not looking like it's going to be professionally advantageous! But I do believe it. It's a long a frustrating and confusing process. Sometimes I feel like I am jumping through hoops (footnote: See So&So for further discussion of Such&Such blah blah blah). But I do get to work in the quiet rustle of the library or on the comfort of my futon with my dog snuggled up next to me or in a coffee shop. I do have the luxury of spending time really thinking about ideas and searching for the perfect words to express them (even if I rarely find those words). And there are moments when I find myself totally immersed in the letters that Charles Dickens and G. H. Lewes wrote to each other and I am amazed and delighted to discover that as Dickens was publishing Bleak House serially, it is entirely likely that he actually wrote part of the next chapter that was published as a rebuttal to Lewes in their argument about the scientific plausibility of spontaneous combustion!

So I love novels and I love history; in that sense, I love what I do.

In the sense that I can have totally unproductive days, that I can spend hours and hours writing three pages that I will later cut from chapter, that most people in the world haven't read the novels I'm writing about, that I have less than a 50% chance of landing a tenure-track job, that the world of academic publishing is shrinking and that so much of what gets published is boring; I don't so much love what I do.

But I've come too far to go back now.

(my office)

I'm not sure if it is love for Victorian novels, a desire to finish what I've started, an idealistic notion that the humanities are truly significant, or pure stubbornness that keeps me going (I'd guess 60% stubbornness, 40% the other stuff). But I am going to get this dissertation written, come hell or high water. I can't promise it will be fabulous, but I can promise it will get finished.

And the sense of accomplishment, that moment when I can stand with my finished dissertation in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other... Yeah. It will be totally worth it.