Saturday, October 31, 2009

We Have a Cat

Our next door neighbor had been renting her house from our former and favorite neighbors, Don and Bill.

She was a volunteer for Stray Rescue and had three indoor cats and she adopted a pug dog named Minnie who was sweet and cute except she unfortunately had horrible stretched out and saggy nipples from when she was kept in a cage and forced to breed litter after litter of pug puppies in a puppy mill. Sometime our neighbor would try to tell me other stories about rescued animals and I would say ANYTHING to get out of the conversation because I cannot read the inserts in the letters the Humane Society sends me and I actually still get teary over the commercials that show the dogs in cages and have that Sarah McLachlan song playing (something about "arms of an angel...").

Anyway, that neighbor was feeding a stray cat but the cat is so timid it won't let anyone get close enough to touch it. She had told me that she was trying to get the kitty to go in a carrier but had no luck. So when she moved she told Don and Bill that she couldn't take the cat (because she couldn't catch it) and it would have to fend for itself.

It is a beautiful black and white kitty. Cooper goes ballistic when it is in our yard. But he will have to get used to it because I am now going to start feeding it.

We now have an outdoor cat!

When I go to Target tomorrow, I will buy cat food and leftover Halloween candy. I'm going to feed the kitty off to the side of the house near Don and Bill's house to keep Cooper from flipping out as he would if he saw her on the front porch. I will worry about her out in the cold this winter but I'm thinking that with some careful coaxing maybe she could learn to sleep in our garage?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Lesson Learned; or, Suppositories Go Where?

The holiday season is approaching with a rapidity that I find positively frightening. Not because I don't love the holidays (I do! I do!) but because there is so much to be done between now and winter break. Like, you know, FINISH MY DISSERTATION.


Anyway, as I think about the holidays and our travel plans and such, I wanted to share with you a lesson I learned on Christmas Day (or maybe the day after) a few years ago:

I learned what a suppository is.

I didn't know! I was out of college and a PhD program and I had no idea what a suppository was. Is that really my fault? My parents later insinuated that someone "as well read" as myself should probably know what a suppository is.

Well, believe me, Charles Dickens isn't doing a whole lot of writing about suppositories in his novels so it wasn't like I'd read about them in school. I personally had never needed one or known someone who had. Who was willing or able to talk about it, anyway.

I had heard the word, I'm sure. It wasn't like a completely foreign term. I knew it was some sort of "pill" that you would take to "feel better" so I just assumed it was synonymous with a "supplement." Aiding in nutrition and all that.

So anyway, I am at my in-laws' for Christmas. David had gone somewhere with his dad and grandpa, and his mom and I were watching a Law and Order marathon. You know, because it was Christmas. (Or probably the day after.)

And his mom started telling me about these stomach issues she'd been experiencing and this new suppository she had to have.

That was quite large.

Large enough that David's dad had to help her with it.

Of course, at this point I am staring at her, rather dumbfounded, because I don't understand how David's dad could help her swallow a really big pill or why she doesn't just take it with yogurt or something.

So I say (in my most helpful voice), "Have you tried taking it with a spoonful of ice cream? Or maybe applesauce?"

*long pause*

Obviously, my comment left her a bit dumbfounded. But she decided to overlook my weird remark and went on to explain that the suppository had ultimately helped her stomach issues. And then we returned to Law and Order.

Which meant that we never resolved the issue.

I STILL didn't know what a suppository was and --most crucially--I didn't know that I didn't know.

So later that night as we were getting ready for bed, I casually asked David if he knew his mom had to take these "huge suppository pills" and how was it possible that his dad was helping her with them?

Well, one of us knew what "suppository" meant.

David's eyes got huge and he was all "WHAT? Why is my mom talking to you about her SUPPOSITORIES?"

And I was all nonchalant, "Well, I don't know, but evidently the pills are huge and your dad has to help her with it. How would he do that?"

David stared at me for a long moment like he was waiting for the punchline of my joke.

Then he said, "Um, do you know what a suppository is?"

Me (as though slightly offended): "Um, yeah! Isn't it like a vitamin?"

And then, much to the mortification of both of us, David kindly explained what a suppository actually is. And how one takes it.

And then I screamed, "Oh my GOD! I told your mom she should take it with a spoonful of ICE CREAM!"

The End.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Agonizing Demise of Mr. Jack O'Lantern

Hey there, Mr. Jack O'Lantern. You were a big-ass pumpkin. You're looking pretty confident and self-assured, sitting on our front porch like you don't have a care in the world. I might even say that your jagged teeth are kinda fierce.

What's that? You look scared rather than scary! You're not afraid of the dark are you, Mr. O'Lantern? Surely ghosts and goblins don't scare you! Oh really? You're afraid of squirrels? Now that just seems silly. They're so small and skittish. I don't think you have anything to worry about.

Oh NO! Attack of the killer mutant SQUIRRELS!!! They've EATEN your FACE! And your jaggedy teeth! Now you have a creepy screaming mouth that extends all the way into your nasal cavity. Look at the dried up brown leaf blown inside your mouth by an ominous wind. That bodes no good. You're totally creeping me out, man. And I'm afraid you might scare trick-or-treaters. Maybe we'd better move you to the backyard....

Where the Jack-O-Lantern-flesh-eating squirrels can eat your eyes and make your skull cave in.

Halloween is a tough season for the pumpkins. Better luck next year, Jack.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Whenever I talk about my brother, I have a tendency to infantalize him. I don't think I do this when I am talking to him, but I realized this yesterday when someone mentioned the date and I gushed, "Oooooh, it's my little brother's birthday!" as though he were at home having a Lego-themed birthday party instead of commemorating the occasion by drinking beer and eating fried chicken in Korea.

The advantage (and potential disadvantage) of having a sibling is that they have truly known you from the beginning and therefore have seen all the sides of your personality. Even the ones you claim to have outgrown. I have this photo framed and on the wall in my hallway because it makes me smile. Most people probably don't imagine my brother as being particularly giggly. But I know better.

Hope you found some good stuff to laugh about on your birthday, Bubs.

Also: Wow, how about that chub in the Mickey Mouse shirt?

Thursday, October 22, 2009 just changed my life

So I have been pretty vigilant about backing up my dissertation. Save it to the laptop, save it to the jumpdrive, transfer it to the desktop, and back the whole thing up on an external harddrive that I keep in a fireproof box in my closet.

Not that I am paranoid or anything.

I have also uploaded chapters periodically to googledocs, which screws with the formatting but saves the precious precious content (ha). I figure it might be necessary in case of desktop computer meltdown followed by stolen laptop followed by loss of jumpdrive followed by tornado that lifts up fireproof box and deposits it in Oz.

Due to a random series of comments on Facebook, I discovered It is a free way to link to files from any computer online, but unlike googledocs it keeps everything in Word and can move from Mac to PC or PC to Mac and back. It is a beautiful thing.

So I can save my dissertation in my dropbox on my desktop and when I open the dissertation in my dropbox folder on my laptop, it is automatically saved and updated just like the file on my desktop computer. If I am on campus and on a computer in the lab OR all of my computers and drives have been destroyed by a series of freaks of nature and I have to get a new computer, I can go to their website and link to my files from there with my e-mail and password. Amazing.

I am not sure if I am the last person in the world to discover this or what, but I am definitely stoked about it. And not just for a worst-case scenario with the dissertation--I love the idea of easily accessing pictures on my laptop and my desktop without having to e-mail or upload all of them.

BTW, I am not a paid sponsor for and no one is giving me anything free (except the service already available for free to everyone at Just wanted to share the love...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

At the end of the day, it's another day over. And that's all you can say for the life of the poor [graduate student].

It's a struggle, it's a war, and there's nothing that anyone's giving. One more day standing about what is it for? One day less to be living...

You know that when you start commiserating with Fantine's plight in Les Miserables, you need to quit listening to show tunes and get back to work on the dissertation.

One of the myriad of reasons academia makes me crazy is that it is a constant battle of time spent teaching and time spent researching. Whichever you choose, the other is neglected and I'm not sure anyone has found the perfect balance. You just choose whichever is more pressing at that precise moment and wait for crisis-time on the other one to pop up later. This problem escalates because nobody turns out the lights and locks the door to your office at 5pm. So if you have neglected your teaching to read journal articles all afternoon, you can spend a few hours that evening (or all night long) grading papers and preparing for class.

I completely empathized with a friend of mine who recently confessed that she was dreaming about the day her dissertation would be finished, the library books would be returned, the notes would be recycled, and the mess of books and papers on her desk would be transformed to a tidy stack of neatly-bound copies of her dissertation.

At the moment we were both smiling wistfully and thinking about how wonderfully liberating that would feel, someone else interjected that such a day would never come because then she'd be started on an article or culling a conference paper from her work and such is the life of an academic.

At this point, half-way through the semester, with two stacks of essays to grade, I am frantically scrambling to finish my dissertation and when I am not working on it, I am dealing with students who have H1N1, mono, grand mal seizures (none during class, thank goodness), and an incurable disease that causes frequent urination. These in addition to those who have a wide range of "personal problems," and those who just don't bother to show up for class all that often. Teaching this semester has not just meant wearing high heels and doing a dog-and-pony show in the classrom three days a week, but it has also meant one-on-one conferences with students, extensive comments on essays, and e-mails exchanged with students, librarians, administrators, department chairs, students' advisers, and academic resource centers.

It is strange to work in a profession in which my own research (representations of empiricism and intuition in Victorian novels) is so far removed from the teaching I do in the classroom and outside the classroom. Even when I am teaching Victorian novels, the real work of it is less about a discussion of significant themes or provocative cultural issues, and more about explaining the structure of a literary analysis essay or the basic work of close-reading. And a lot of it is about understanding that students have part-time jobs and religious observances and social lives and misplaced priorities and an infuritating sense of entitlement and a stunning lack of tact and somehow believing that it is still meaningful and worthwhile to show up three days a week and ask them to talk about books that were written a hundred and fifty years ago.

I believe that studying literature makes us better people. I believe that literature is an extension of all that makes our lives meaningful and purposeful--creativity, compassion, fearlessness, curiosity, fellow-feeling, a desire to understand why the world works the way that it does and how we can make it better.

But the idealism of the study of literature can sure get lost in the details of the everyday practice of doing it and teaching it.

But at least I'm not prostituting myself to save the life of my daughter on the cusp of the French revolution. I mean, those are real problems, man.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Habanero Hottie

David made fajitas last night.

I'd been at school for a meeting. By late afternoon, the campus was pretty deserted (fall break started today) so I decided to hole up in my office and get some work done since the halls were quiet. I ended up staying later than I'd intended, so David told me to text him on my way to the metro and he would get dinner started.

By the time I arrived home, he had met with a bit of a disaster.

He was using CSA veggies to make the fajitas--green peppers and onions we'd gotten from last week's share. We had also gotten some habanero peppers, which I had thought would be perfect for spicing up a pot of chili or a batch of soup.

But David was not familiar with the heat of the habanero and he assumed these peppers were similar to jalapeno or banana peppers. Seeing as we both like spicy foods, he thought he'd toss one in with the fajita mixings.

Oh, no.

Once he started cutting into it and pulling out the seeds over the sink, the juice from the peppers started making his hands burn. Then the fumes from this little pepper were so intense that he started coughing and choking. Realizing this pepper had no place in the fajitas and seemed by most standards to be inedible, David ended up throwing it in the compost and washing his hands twice to make them stop burning.

He continued prepping for dinner.

And then he took a bathroom break.

Suffice it to say that the handwashing had evidently not removed all traces of the pepper. He was now experiencing a serious burning sensation. Below the belt.

By the time I got home, fajita-fixing was undergoing a slight delay as David was awkwardly adjusting his pants in the kitchen and looking rather uncomfortable when I walked in the door. When I asked him what the heck was going on (what with the pained expression and the crotch-grabbing) he explained the whole story and then finally headed to the bathroom to take a shower and try to wash away the, um, peppery discomfort.

I don't know what kind of a batch of uber-hot habaneros we got, but evidently they should have come with a warning label!

[Edited to add:] A brief internet search on habanero recipes got me to a page where someone was asking for advice about what to make with the habaneros they'd grown in their garden. One wise reader replied: "I know one thing. Don't cut them up with bare hands and then touch private parts." Touche.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Twirly Skirt

It has been a rainy, gloomy week.

I am battling the hump day blues by wearing a twirly skirt. But since it is rainy, I am wearing it with tall brown boots.

The skirt hits mid-calf so you don't see the tops of my boots, which is good because my skinny little calves rattle around in them a bit. The fact that my skirt covers the tops of my boots also makes me feel a bit like a cowgirl. Perhaps because the last time I wore a skirt long enough to cover the tops of my boots I was playing Kate in Wild Oats my senior year of high school.

It was a funny sort of western melodramedy which had its dramedy heightened even more by all of the nerdy sexual tension among cast members (imagine Glee only without singing). The plot included me getting tied to railroad tracks, four of us acting out a scene from Taming of the Shrew, the discovery of unknown relations, and a kissing scene with a guy who bit me on the nose during dress rehearsal to "relieve the tension." The tension was also relieved unintentionally when my friend Erin's Shakespearean dress ripped at the bust during dress rehearsal. Also Monica was in it and she had painted-on dark eyebrows and an foreign accent of dubious origins. I should really locate pictures of this...

Anyway, the skirt reminds me of that and it also reminds me of this outfit my mom made for me that I wore in my third grade program when I was the narrator.

It was a February President's Day program so we sang patriotic songs and while I cannot remember my lines, I do remember the outfit. It was a skirt and matching shirt, sort of western style, made from blue fabric with a small, off-white flower pattern. The skirt hit mid-calf and had an off-white lace inset at the waist to make that pointy western-style waistband. Matching insets on the shoulders of the shirt too. Little pearly white buttons going down the front. I thought it was so cute. I wore boots with that too, little gray suede booties that I loved. And which are totally back in style, come to think of it.

Anyway, I'm not wearing cowboy boots today and my outfit does not include any western or lacy accessories, but wearing a twirly skirt still cheers me up on a dark and dreary day. Any other suggestions for getting through a dreary Wednesday?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One of those days...

* In which I discover that I have been slightly misusing the word "metempirical" in my dissertation chapter during a meeting with my adviser. A chapter about metempiricism in George Eliot's novel. It was the quintessential "oh shit" moment except it happened during a meeting and not during my defense.

* In which Cooper is currently fighting a visiting dog through the chainlink fence. The high school age neighbor kid next door is yelling at them and I am sitting here typing this hoping he cannot see me through the window because I am not interested in intervening even though it is totally my dog being the aggressive barking jerk and that is embarrassing and I am sorry. But not sorry enough to go outside and pick up all 33 pounds of him and carry him inside. Because, people, I have been totally wrong about how George Eliot is using metempiricism in Daniel Deronda. Don't I have enough to deal with already?

* In which the universe smiles on my in spite of gray spitty weather (maybe this is the Northwest's version of a beautiful fall day, but I like my fall days cool and crisp with a big slice of blue sky). Even though I was running late for my appointment with my adviser and parked in the first meter available only to discover I had exactly two nickels and six pennies in my wallet which bought me all of six minutes on the parking meter (evidently since the university's endowment is running dry they are now making up for it by upping the parking meter rate) and my meeting with my adviser was an hour and a half (because that is how long we had to talk about philosophy before I realized I was wrong wrong wrong), I still did not get a ticket.

* In which I think, maybe I'm having a crappy day, but at least I have not mailed all my worldly possessions to an empty apartment in Korea that I apparently have no hope of locating.

* In which I wish Giada De Laurentiis was my friend and would make me a grilled cheese with giardiniera on it.

* In which I started to do the 30 Day Shred and then quit. Because, people, that shit is like hard to do. And it hurts. And I'm having a bad day, remember?

* In which I need to stop blogging and start revising this chapter. What's that they say about a dissertation? The fastest way out is through it...

* In which I find myself insensibily annoyed by all uplifting witticisms about the dissertation.

I guess it's just one of those days.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

No Rest for the Weary; or, A Day in the Life of the Overworked and Underpaid

Last night I hung out with one of my BFFs. David was at the Cardinals' game and I was looking forward to a girlie night of talking and hair dying and wine drinking and Veronica Mars watching. And that all happened. But I also fell asleep on the couch during the said Veronica Mars watching. At approximately 9:30pm.


The problem is that my MWF schedule just wears me out. It feels hard to justify because I think people are going to look at me skeptically and say "Seriously? Are you complaining about working two hours a day three days a week?"

Well I'm not really complaining about my teaching schedule. But it is not quite that simple. It's the whole thing taken together: the teaching, the commuting, the feeling like I want to be a good instructor but I also have to be selfish with my time so I can do my own work so I have to get as much done on those three days as possible so I can totally dedicate Tuesday and Thursdays only to my dissertation, which never happens entirely. And also I'd like to find time to hang out with my husband and watch the three episodes of Glee that are waiting for me in my DVR, thank you very much.

On MWF I teach from 11-12 and from 2-3. On two different campuses. So while the spread out schedule makes sense in terms of getting from one place to another without losing my mind or skipping lunch (which would result in me losing my mind). But it also forces me to be really organized so I don't grab the wrong folder or forget to bring the right books. It means I have to carry a really heavy bag around with me everywhere I go. And it means that I have to make the most of small chunks of time because I don't have a nice big block (like, say, all morning or all afternoon, in which to do my planning). And on MWF, my own work on the dissertation is simply impossible but that doesn't keep me from feeling guilty about not working on it. So a typical teaching day goes something like this...

Get up at 7:30. Brush teeth, feed dog, eat breakfast, check e-mail, read NYT headlines. Last-minute plans for class, if necessary.

8:30. Walk dog while listening to NPR on mp3 player/radio.

9:00. Shower, make lunch, get dressed, get ready, check e-mail once more.

10:20. Leave for first class, carrying heavy bag with books and notebooks, lunch bag, water bottle, smaller bag with library books and extra pair of comfortable walking shoes.

10:40. Arrive on campus, park in parking garage, grab the heavy bag and water bottle, leave everything else. Walk down four flights of stairs and across campus to English dept. office, chat with office adminstrator, check mailbox, make photocopies. Walk to class.

11:00. Teach History of the English Novel (thank the Lord we are through with Pamela and have moved into the 19th century. I heart you, Jane Austen.)

12:00. Class is over. Walk back to parking garage. Take elevator or stairs depending on practicality of footwear. Drive from parking garage to closest Metro stop. Drag all bags with me up to platform to wait for train.

12:22. Metro train arrives. Find seat, switch to comfortable shoes.

12:26. Metro train leaves station. Read Northanger Abbey or whatever novel I'm currently teaching.

12:39. Metro train arrives at other college campus. Get off metro, walk a long way across campus to English department and downstairs to my windowless office.

12:55. Walk upstairs to main department office. Make photocopies, fill water bottle, microwave leftovers for lunch.

1:00. Eat lunch at desk in my office. Chat with colleagues. Go over lesson plans for next class. Read novel for novels class. Check e-mail. Change back into cute shoes before going to teach.

2:00. Teach composition course to freshmen who are rather endearing but require excessive handholding. Find myself saying things like, "If you don't own a stapler, you need to borrow or purchase one."

3:00. Class is over. Return to office. Meet with neurotic freshman who claims to be "confused" about assignment even though I have gone over it so many times in class I could recite the damn thing backwards. In pig Latin. Explain it calmly and in a friendly but professional tone of voice even though I want to roll my eyes and smack him upside the head.

3:30. Check homework that I collected from composition class. Go to library, return books, and check out new books. Return to office and work on lesson plans for next class. E-mail adviser. E-mail colleagues about workshopping job search material. E-mail professors about job search. E-mail students who have swine flu. E-mail librarian who will be meeting with my class. E-mail office administrator about funding question. E-mail self notes/assignments/handouts that I've created while class planning.

5:15. Look at watch. Wonder where time went and what the weather is like outside. Wish for an office with windows. Finish up final tasks.

5:30. Change back to comfortable shoes. Gather up heavy bag of books and notebooks. Wish the composition text book did not weigh five pounds. Walk back to Metro station carrying big bag, bag of library books and shoes, lunch bag, and water bottle. Feel like pack mule.

5:38. Arrive at Metro station, having missed train by three minutes.

5:49. Next train arrives. Read novel for class the next day and/or review planner for what I need to get done the next day.

6:05. Arrive at Metro stop where car is parked. Walk to car. Drive home. Eat dinner. Drink glass of wine. Collapse.

Schedule varies depending on whether I have additional meetings on campus, lengthier papers to grade, or coffee dates with friends. All of which put me home closer to 7:30pm. And even the coffee dates with friends used to be way more fun before we all got serious about the job market stuff and started making everything a "working date." I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant with friends this week and we spent the hour reading and critiquing each others' CVs with only the briefest conversation about the upcoming Twilight movie and the almost as exciting Sherlock Holmes movie that reportedly has some homoerotic undertones! As exciting as these topics were, we quickly put ourselves back on task. Oh how I miss the carefree days of yore.

So anyway, Friday I followed this schedule pretty much to the T, and by the time I got home and made dinner and cleaned up dinner and worked on my CV and job letter and dyed Jamie's hair and sat down to watch Veronica, I was done for. Fell dead asleep on the couch and woke up to Jamie patting my hair and telling me she was going to head home. What an awesome hostess I am.

Anyway, that's my tiring life at the moment. But I'm having a nice weekend to help make up for it. Hope you find your weekend relaxing and rejuvenating!

[And also: if you feel compelled to remark that my bag might be lighter if I simply wore comfortable shoes instead of carrying an extra pair around with me, to you I say: Shut It. Life is not really worth living if I have to wear ugly shoes. This is one of key the reasons I didn't go into health care or cosmetology, people.]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thunder! Lightning! Blankie!

I've mentioned before that Cooper is afraid of storms. I try not to encourage his fears by not making a big deal of him when it storms, even though he follows me from room to room, cowering up against my legs and trembling at the thunder. Instead of moving to the sofa and letting him crawl under a blanket and snuggle up next to me (which is always so inviting, particularly on a cold and rainy autumn day like today), I am continuing to work at my desk and Cooper is hiding underneath it.

But just now, in between thunder claps, he darted out from under the desk, went into his crate and got his blanket, and dragged it back under the desk with him.

Poor little guy. I hate that he is scared but I'm glad he has his security blanket. It's so ridiculously cute.