Monday, December 14, 2009

3am Rambling

It's nearing 3am and I just can't find a pathway to sleep this evening. D and I spent most of the day watching season five of The Office and had some wonderful stop-in visitors earlier in the day, as well. Who knew Sunday would be so lively at our house? Mainly, we wanted to stay in and have a lazy Sunday to recuperate from the crazy high we've been on all week long! Let me recap...

Monday: First round of oral comps from 2-4pm straight: passed!!!!!
Tuesday: Last official day of class with my students, Christmas shopping, dissertation reading of our darling friend A. who is hopefully reading this and feeling incredibly wonderful about his fabulous manuscript! Great job, A! Followed by a celebratory drink with the chair of my committee.
Wednesday: Coldest day that ever existed, D's last day of class...I attended and helped out a bit/
Thursday: Non-mandatory meet-up/critique with one class, conferences with students, second round of comps (nope, this is not the norm. One of my committee members was sick on Monday so we--the chair of my committee and the sick committee member--sat down and did an hour long Q&A which I passed, thank God).
Friday: More conferences with students, Christmas party, one of my best friend's here came home from the hospital (woohooo!!!)....and we got the incredible news that my SISTER GOT ENGAGED at dinner that night to her sweet boyfriend of three years, Anthony. Congrats to them!
Saturday: Em's birthday celebration, thank you cards from our wedding (we waited for wallet sized pics and started writing them asap when we got them last week, finally!) and Christmas cards mostly finished up, then even MORE good news that D's cousin Rachel got into Mizzou Law School (early admission) and will be joining us up here in Columbia next school year!

Can you see why we needed a bit of a rest come Sunday? Not to mention, I've been sick all week (longer than a week now) and it sucks. After a full day today, we had one more wonderful surprise: a call from D's best friend Andy who is working in a military base somewhere abroad. He left two months ago and will be back for a brief visit in early 2010, but we miss him and were very happy to get word straight from him that all's well.

Usually I survey a year near the end and think, "Man, I hope next year's better than this shit." But, honestly, this is one year that is going to be nearly impossible to top. Two of my happiest moments ever have occurred this year: marrying D and passing my comps. How can any other year top that???

Except, I can't sleep at the moment, with all the thoughts of having free time again to write and read at my leisure and take more classes for fun (yeah, I said that..."for fun"). I'm just so excited I don't want to waste my time sleeping, I guess. So, instead, I'm wasting it writing a crappy blog that you will now be subject to reading. Sorry. I'm going to try this sleep thing again. I've heard if you lay there long enough it eventually comes...eventually.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Outcome

"There's this memory I have of being twelve-ish and believing that one day soon, I'd be a ballerina. So I stood in the kitchen on the wooden floor and practiced tour jetes while my Mom cooked dinner. More than likely, she had her back to me, tired of watching me attempt to beat the height of my last backward, twirling kick leap. I tour jeted back and forth on the kitchen floor, occasionally saying "Did you see that? How high I got?" Thinking that the higher and I leapt, the better dancer I had become. Mom finally turned to watch me when I kicked and twirled, landing on my right foot, extending my left back and upward just as my eldest brother walked into the kitchen. "You nearly kicked me in the balls, Neesha! Watch it!" he shouted. I don't remember what happened after this, but my brother tells the story differently. Instead of leaping and landing gracefully, he contends that he came into the room and bore the brunt of that last leg extension. He swears my left leg came up steadily and kicked him straight in the balls. For years we told this story differently--he with the injured groin, me with the near-catastrophic kick. For him, it perpetuated the stereotype that I was a klutz, that bad luck followed me and reigned down on anyone who had the misfortune of standing or being too close to me; for me, it was the difference between truth and embellishment. Finally, a year ago, I asked my mother if she remembered the incident. If I did, in fact, kick my brother in the groin. I needed to know what the truth of the matter really was...whether I could've altered my recollection of the experience so greatly that I'd forgotten I endangered my brother's ability to have children. "No. I don't recall you kicking him," she admitted. "I remember him being indignant because you could have. But I don't remember it actually happening," she concluded without hesitation or second-guessing. This is the fault of memory," I explained to my doctoral committee Monday afternoon in an attempt to further support my discussion on the faultiness, yet validity of memory.

Incase you were wondering, I passed my comprehensive oral examination. I am humbled by being able to admit that and as proud as my modesty can permit. I cannot believe I've accomplished this feat. I cannot believe I have somehow been able to have a prosperous life on top of accomplishing this feat. I am in a state of constant awe and gratitude. I don't know how to begin to express how happy and relieved I feel or how grateful I am to all those who have helped me get to this place, who have supported me and believed in me. So, please accept my thanks and appreciation for sticking with our blog in its poor state. It might take a new direction, but will, hopefully, house more actual writing now that this process is ended for me. We do have Dustin in the lineup to consider, though, so all the prayers and thoughts can be redirected his way.

Thanks for your thoughts and keep checking back for more blogs!


Sunday, December 6, 2009


Today I find myself on the cusp of the most important exam of my life. In some ways, it literally feels like I'm standing at the top of a rocky cliff, about to step out. At best, the ground appears beneath me, invisible until I step like in that Indiana Jones movie where he has to have faith that he'll step out and something will be there. I think he tosses some dust, perhaps, to make that faith visible. I don't have that luxury. At worst, I step out and tumble, landing alive, but visibly shaken and dejected at the bottom with nothing but the cliff still there for me to climb just one more time.

Tomorrow is the oral part of my comprehensive exam. While I've passed the written part unanimously, I still have to find the words to articulate my thoughts gracefully to an audience of five, learned, intellectual committee members, each with their own questions and specialities in tact and sharpened, ready for discussion. In my heart, I know they want me to pass. I believe this. But in my mind, I am intensely aware of the fact that any one of them could trip me up unintentionally, causing me to stumble off that cliff instead of find solid grounding.

For weeks, years, really, I have been preparing for this day, this exam. It's the culmination of my academic life. Just mention "comprehensive exams" and typically stern and stubborn forces part ways, make exceptions, extend deadlines, knowingly. I can almost see the sympathy and feel the gentle pats on my hand from faculty members when I tell them, via email, I cannot produce a syllabus for next semester yet because my oral exam is on Monday. "I understand the anxiety that can come from this exam," they say. "Just get it to me when you can," they allot. "Let me know if there's anything we can do to make this easier." They, too, have been here. Their own recollections of the difficulty before me overwhelm them, I imagine, and they wish me luck, tell me not to worry about the syllabus and send no more emails to distract me from the task.

To this, I thank them all. Thank the teachers that have come before them and the ones before that. Thank my husband who has graciously taken on the upkeep of our lives. Who has patiently remained a true partner even when I was lost, before he married me and after. Thank, even, my pets for seeming to know and lying at my feet as warmers or company. Bust, mostly, I thank my parents and siblings who don't quite understand what this means or what it's like. Who have, certainly, felt frustration at the years spent moving from place to place, ever further from home. Who have remained, a constant nucleus of love and regenerative strength. Who have tried to understand the processes and tests, papers and explanations, meaningless to them, of "comprehensive exams" and "dissertation," the weight of the words falling on them, the reality of them still elusive. It is with great patience they have followed me on this path, supporting me without fully knowing what it all means. Joining me in wondering, when my sanity was tested, whether it was really going to be worth it, after all. Whether I'd make it out, in the most literal sense, alive. They have accepted what they could not understand through trusting that I was doing what I needed to do. They believed in this and me with blind faith.

Tomorrow, when it's all over, I will either be walking high above the cliff I've conquered or standing at the bottom, contemplating a new way to reach the top. Either way, I will be a stronger, better version of myself for taking that step with only my good strength and sense to guide me and the support of all those who will stick with me whether I rise or fall. I cannot consider myself anything other than the most blessed person I know.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I Remember

In my MFA program back in Pittsburgh we read a lot of books and essays that mentioned or talked about Pittsburgh in a class I took. At the moment, I can't remember the class or what it's real focus was, but I do remember looking for Pittsburgh in the strangest of places. Tonight, while rereading Li-Young Lee's incredibly poetic memoir The Winged Seed, I was reminded of that search in various texts when I turned from page 77 to 78 and saw, in a black marker-like ink I have since abandoned in favor of a fine-pointed black ink, "Finally!" scrawled into the margin with an arrow pointing to the phrase "East Liberty." At the time, I must have been searching for Pittsburgh amidst the symbols of "seed" "R" "winter" "ash" but now, four years removed from my last reading of the text, what I remember most is a scene where the author describes removing excrement from his father's bowels because his body will no longer purge itself of it without aid.

For years, when someone sharing a table with me ordered salad at a restaurant, I have waited for the image of a man lifting limp leaf after limp leaf of lettuce from his plate, depositing it into his mouth while spouting poetic brilliance or dropping socially awkward conversation between leaves without remembering precisely where the notion of such a thing came from. A story someone told me? A memory from my past? Until I stumbled across the description in Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar this afternoon. This was her memory, her reality or fantasy and I felt such relief at having discovered the source of this expectation, the reason for why a plate of greenery triggered this hope.

These are some of the moments from literature that have remained with me like a sticker on an old notebook whose image was once complete but now remains only a probed, scratched, faded fragment of the whole. Part of it remains, unremovable, though much of it is gone and its true form is entirely obliterated.

As a child, I could read countless books and recite in great detail precisely what happened complete with character descriptions, thoughts, authors, and, often, page numbers. My mother likened me to a sponge, constantly absorbing whatever I came into contact with, often unconsciously remembering. If you gave me a title, I could respond with a complete encyclopedic, Cliffs Notes knowledge without thinking. This was a time time of untainted recollection, too soon in years for me to confuse experience with a story I'd read. I filled my mental library, devouring books alongside my dinner at the crowded table each night, and stayed up late to know the ending, guided only by the moonlight streaming in from my bedroom window. I simply had to know what happened to these characters, these lives so different and more fascinating than my own. And I remembered every detail as if it were my life.

In the last year, I have read over 150 books in an attempt to study for my comprehensive exams. The list should have ranged from about 110-125, but in the course of revamping it, many books I'd read were abandoned and new books I hadn't read filled their void. These titles are piled in towers on my desk, precariously shifting with the vaguest hint of breeze. I have sorted and separated them into categories according to subject, resorted them by theme, stacked them according to which of my four questions they applied to and started over in favor of how they related to one another, what theories they exemplified, which ones directly alluded to others and so on. Many have come to feel like limp leaves in my hands, my recollection of them like irretrievable waste from my insides, though I have known them all intimately, but cannot call them to mind the way I once did as a child on a whim or as a game.

When I go to bed at night, the last image I have is of those towers of books across the room, stacked high, waiting to be reorganized and remembered when the time comes for me to call upon them when asked. My fear is that when that time comes, they will only come back to me in flashes of lettuce leaves and stubborn bowels, just a single, blank remnant rather than a complete symbol or whole. Already I have forgotten entire plots, authors, characters. Already, life has filled me with memories competing for space, making themselves comfortable in the minute spaces of the card catalog compartment of my mind.