Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Barnes and Noble Incident(s)

Dustin and I have found ourselves hunkered down at a table full of books and laptops, surrounded by the scent of ground coffee beans for a typical grad-student afternoon of haunting the local coffee shop. The difference is that the local coffee shop we're haunting is a cross between the Barnes and Noble book mogul and their equally megalomaniacal partner Starbucks. Don't misunderstand me, unlike my graduate school colleagues, I actually harbor no real resentment for corporate America. I have definitely seen the self-proclaimed, corporate-hating, hypocritical hipster self-consciously wandering the aisles of Wal-Mart, slipping, eventually, into a state of ease when they have finally convinced themselves they will not run into a colleague that will smirk and mentally call them out on their blasphemy. Then, shiny, Wal-Mart-logo-bearing, stuffed cart will turn a corner only to come face-to-face with me. And I smile, of course, and engage them in slow, steady conversation, watching them wriggle like Prufrock, uncomfortable in the spotlight of their hypocrisy. That's the secret: they subscribe to it whether they want to admit it or not.

However, despite my semi-nefarious satisfaction and indulgence in another's discomfort, I have learned to dislike Barnes and Noble for an entirely different reason than my colleagues, and I actually mean it. A month or so ago, when D and I came in to visit the shiny books and to fan the scent of their nascent pages past our noses, we skipped through the rows and rows of newness, opened and closed literary journals to note the writers we knew, the ones we liked and the ones we hated, turning up our snobbish writer noses at the lack of craft here or the crassness in the voice, a direct attribute of the writer, there, secretly contemplating and scolding myself for my own lack of actually submitting my work anywhere...and then, I came across this:

And stopped in my tracks. Why is James Frey and any of his work in the biography section? This would denote that the accounts in his books were true, an outrage I've managed to cultivate in many students by the mere statistic that 90% or more of A Million Little Pieces was fabricated. Yet, there they were, staring smugly at me as I had done to so many hipsters in Wal-Mart. In disbelief, I backed away from the shelf, trying to convince myself there was no "right" place for A Million Little Pieces, but that certainly, Barnes and Noble was not the high court judge in position to make that ruling. I made my way uncertainly through the aisles, no longer sure of what they held, in search of Dustin. It was time, I thought, to leave this place.

As I wandered past the massive, catch-all "Literature" section, bleary-eyed, I found focus again on the placard that read "Teen Non-Fiction," a welcoming, familiar word: Non-Fiction, and breath found its way back through my lungs. Until, again, I was struck in horror, frozen and mortified to see this:

Look closely. Do you see it? Wicked. The Clique. Love Bites. These are the titles listed under "Teen Non-Fiction." These vampire love sagas and Gossip Girl-mimicking novels have been placed under a section that claims to be full of truth, and all its many definitions and facets.

It was there that Dustin found me, statue-still, mouth agape in disbelief.

We left after that fateful day in late August and haven't returned again until today, almost two full months later. Since then, Dustin has informed me of the bookstore's surprise announcement of putting themselves up for sale. We've discussed the fall of the printed word and I have managed to conjure up a sense of sympathy for the chain store, one that really stems from my love for the heft of a book in my hand, the sheen of its glossy cover and creak of its ream of pages when opened for the first time. It's taken some time and distance for me to begin to forgive and forget Barnes and Noble's indiscretions, though, to move beyond what it has done, to redefine my expectations of the corporate bookstore, and that's ok. I've accepted it for what it is now and have not yet wandered through its aisles or diverted my pregnant path from our table in the Starbucks area to the bathroom a mere fifteen second walk away. The joy I felt in fanning pages of untouched books and scanning the table of contents for familiarity in journals is still feasible, as long as I confine my attention to the books at hand and not the section labels they fall beneath. Barnes and Noble and I have an understanding.

Today I have found a different bone to pick during my experience here. An entirely unexpected qualm with space-invasion that, actually, has more to do with social norms of people and respect for comfort zones than anything boostore or corporate-related. On my first trip to the bathroom, I followed a direct path to the ladies room, opened the door and found four empty stalls to choose from. Despite having learned from a pop-up-video of Jewel's song "Who Will Save Your Soul" that the first stall is the most underused, I chose the second stall. It was early, the stalls still reeked of disinfectant, so I felt secure in my choice. No sooner do I get ready to actually "go" to the bathroom, then the door opens and another occupant enters, choosing the stall directly beside me. Stage fright ensues and, annoyed, I pull my clothes back in order and leave the restroom in a huff thinking back on an essay Dustin once wrote about "liking his space" and choosing the handicap stall as a result...and, of course, the hilarity that occurred after that fateful choice was made in Italy.

"I get your essay now. About wanting your space in the bathroom and choosing the handi-stall," I breathe at him while noting he is still in the exact spot in line to order coffee as he was when I left.
"Why? What do you mean?"
I relay the tale of the six (four) stalls all being open and how the lady chooses the one open stall (two) directly beside me to use instead of any of the five (three) vacant ones that were available. I press him for more thought on why I feel so violated; he shrugs, orders us coffee and we sit.
"I couldn't even go because she was there. Right next to me. It was like we were in the same stall or something. She had her pick and yet she had to be right next to me? What is that? I bet guys don't do that with urinals, right?"
"No," he says. "It's guy code."
I raise my eyes in question.
"Guy code, like..." His eyes search around for something to write on before removing the sleeve from his cup of coffee and pulling a pen from his pocket, then he draws five small rectangles. "These are urinals." He places a stick figure on every-other one, leaving two vacant. "If you come in and there's a guy here, here and here, then you wait, even though these two are empty. So everyone has their space."
"How do you know to do that?"
"Maxim," he says. "But, they just put it in print. We all just know and do that anyway." He traces over the stick figures again with his pen, his face focused in concentration. "But when we're drunk and there's a line, it's like you just do whatever. It's like, Fuck. I gotta go. I'm not gonna look at your dick, man. And you just go."

I beeline to the bathroom again when baby has been using my bladder as a trampoline for so long I just can't hold it anymore, only this time it's not vacant and there's a woman in the handi stall. It's quiet, so I have a good feeling I know what she's doing down there. I choose the very first stall, the polar opposite of the one she's in, leaving two empty stalls between us and pee like I'm being timed for a world record. Halfway through my rush, I hear her pulling at the toilet paper, an attempt I recognize as one to mask sound, so I do the same. I don't want her to feel rushed or self-conscious because I'm in there and she can no longer have her privacy. I make a loud show of flushing the toilet and snapping the metal lock open, turning the water on high so it's loud, and unrolling the handpaper at the same time so I cut down the time she has to "hold back" whatever noises she's trying not to make. I finish up quickly and bolt out the door, knowing that, whether she realizes it or not, my sensitivity to her predicament has left her with a sense of relief from embarrassment. A sense of relief she can now enjoy in the privacy of an empty bathroom for however long it takes.

"How was it?" D asks as I return to the table feeling like I'd performed the act of a samaritan.
"Better," I say. "But I have to admit...between the poor section titles and the bathroom situation, if I were Barnes and Noble, I'd probably put myself up for sale, too."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Evening Conversations

A brief interaction or two to demonstrate the dynamic between me and the best husband ever.

"Sometimes it feels as though my legs don't know how to work anymore. They don't feel like anything and it freaks me out." Pause. I wait.
"Mhmm." Dustin responds.
"Does that ever happen to you?" I ask, wanting to confirm that this unfamiliar and strange feeling is not, in fact, strange.

We're hanging out in the new homestead with some Vivaldi playing on our Christmas-present-cable which presents us with a Classical Music-station, among several others, not least of which includes a score of Mexican music stations, some techno and, of course, the ever-necessary indecipherable rap. I realize we've lived in this home for going on a month and a half, but since we only just got rid of the end of the boxed stuff on the bottom two floors of the house, it feels brand new all over again (unboxed, that is). D is reading Plato's "Republic" on his Kindle and occasionally goading me into conjuring up my previous philosophy-major self (who read it twice for school and once more for fun before reading it yet another time for comps a year ago) and would've been glad to expound on it for hours. When he's not goading me, he's reading passages aloud that demonstrate Plato's sexism or other odd argument Dustin finds sort of appalling and humorous, at the least, dogmatic and outdated to our liberal mindsets.

When he finishes a particularly female-bashing passage, I comment:
"It was different back then, though. I mean, he liked men."
"That's obvious," D says reading more examples of Plato's hatred for women from the book.
"No. I mean. He liked men. The Greek philosophers, a lot of them, were gay. They liked men and some of them thought it was unnatural to be with a woman."
Dustin turns this over, trying to decide whether I'm lying or not, then gestures toward the laptop on my lap, "Google "Plato" and "gay."
I do. He reads the support to my claim.
"Ok. Now google "Aristotle" and "gay."..."Socrates..."
Again and again the proof is evident.
Google headlines regarding "Leonidas" and "gay" yield the following results:
               A Facebook Fan Page titled: "I'd go gay for King Leonidas" and
               "A gay day in Thermopylae."

"Soulmates came from Plato, but there's a reason he chose the "bellybutton" as where the two parts to a soulmate split rather than, well, the more obvious separation a man and woman would have. He was thinking of two men as soulmates, not two people of the opposite sex."
Silence as he absorbs these new revelations.
"You know...Plato's discussion on soulmates. The "Symposium?"
He explains that, clearly, he's familiar with this concept, but wasn't aware it came from Plato. Understandable since not all people spent their early tween years wandering the local library's stacks in search of the logic to support what I cynically and innocently believed were irrational claims of being "in love" and having a "soulmate." In my search, I found the philosophers, since I couldn't imagine anything going further back to the beginning of those concepts than them. Now, though, I can see Dustin storing up these pieces of information on Plato, the Greek philosophers, "The Republic," rethinking and revisiting movies he's seen or books he's read, all in the flash of a moment. Sheer enlightenment comes over him.
"So ancient Greece was pretty much the gayest place ever." He states, picking his Kindle back up and seeing Plato more clearly now.

We both go back to our individual reading and writing. Vivaldi serenades in sweeping strings and staccato plucks. The soft chirps of our parakeets who have been covered up for the night peek out from behind their transparent sheet. The German shepherd's deep, sleepy sigh escapes at my feet.

"He's describing a pretty Fascist state," Dustin remarks, "And he's going to bang all these guys."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Our Baby: First Glimpse

Maybe now is also a good time to mention that this blog might see even less postings from Dustin since some of his friends and I have coaxed him into beginning his own blog. It's in the works, and he's not ready to unveil it yet, but it allows him to make whatever changes and calls he wants on it. I think we all need our own blog every once in a while :) Plus, this one doesn't really have a goal or voice yet, and the one he's putting together is going to have both, so once he's ready, I will unveil it to you, silent world.

Since you probably miss Dustin as much as I do when I'm only at work for eight hours or he's at work for five, let me tell you a quick "Dustin Realization" story.

Around week 16 of our pregnancy (we're about to end our 21st week on Monday, so come Tuesday we'll be 21 weeks and a day), we went to the doctor for a regular check-up and ultrasound. The ultrasound tech had me lay down, hike up my dress then SPLAT (think Juno-style) she squirts stuff on my belly and starts running it around. Dustin sits down in a chair to my left, the tech is to my right and a good-sized, elevated television is rigged up on the wall in front of me.

"So we're going to be able to see it this time, right?" he asks.
"You got it." The tech responds, moving the device on my belly around.
"Where will we be able to see it...over there?" He starts to stand up, preparing to go around me to the tech's side where he can see the baby on her monitor.
"No, no. You can see it from there."
Dustin sits back down. "Where?"
"Right up there," she gestures to the wall I'm facing and we both look up to see it:
"Oh, my God," he says, leaping out of the seat and walking closer. "That's our baby? Oh, my God. Neesh, are you seeing this? It looks like a baby now. Oh, my God."

It might've been the greatest reaction I've ever seen. As I lay there, his back to me in a silhouette against the light shining out from the screen showing us our baby, I kept thinking about how moments before we came into the ultrasound room, I'd tried to remind Dustin that the baby no longer looked like a tiny grain of rice, the way it had when we went for our first ultrasound during our very first visit to the doctor. I knew this because I was reading baby books to keep up with how our baby was growing and what parts of it had taken shape. I expected the baby to look something like a baby and knew that D was still envisioning a mass of cells or that early grain of rice, despite my reading aloud to the book about what was happening with the baby during week (fill in the blank with any number up to 16), but I never could've imagined the reaction he displayed. It couldn't have been more perfect. Watching him stand there in amazement, I felt my face widen in a smile.

Finally, he tore his eyes away from the baby, who was now amazing us with its dexterity as it performed flips and turns, stretched its legs up, putting its feet on my uterus and bending its knees before putting its arms up for us as if to let us know it had two and was developing just fine. "That's our baby," D said, stumbling back to me, groping for my hands and nearly grabbing the goo on my belly. "That's our baby."

When we heard the heart beat for the first time that day, as well, the reaction was similar and I felt lucky, all over again, for having married such a wonderful, expressive, genuine man and soon-to-be proud father.


Back and Better than Ever!

...When we last left off, Dustin and I were going into the witness protection program. Mainly this was to keep my life a little private while the job market took hold, but in the meantime, I was offered a wonderful job near my family in the south, which Dustin and I decided would be a wonderful new adventure and opportunity. Not too long after that, we found out we were expecting our first baby on January 3rd (we know, at least, three amazing people born on that day!). Then D had his amazing essay published in Rick Magazine. You'd be doing yourself a huge injustice if you failed to read it, so to better your life and health, I'm posting the link here. Honestly, it gives me chills and brings me nearly to tears each time I read the end.

It took some time once we got to Savannah to find an actual place to live...we looked everywhere, literally from places like this:

To places that had Dustin literally picking fleas off his legs when he left. All in all, it took an entire month with, perhaps, a week or so change on top of it, to find a place to live...but, we found one. A 1920's house with wooden floors, three stories, three bedrooms, beautiful french doors from the dining room to the living room and more french doors from the living room to the front hallway. It has a few decorative coal fireplaces (one in our bedroom!) and the third floor totally fits my ginormous kidney bean shaped desk.

You might be wondering why it took so long to find such a place and what the hold up was. Why we couldn't just move into an apartment somewhere and whether Dustin brought the fleas home to our new home. The problem, in part, was due to having dogs (though Savannah is a super-pet friendly city from what we see), and due to my inability to study, do a room that is cramped with books and desks (example: our study in Columbia where we couldn't see the walls because there were so many books). After 26 years of school each, D and I have too many books to live in a normal room. They require a space of library-proportions. Seriously. D used to study in that room and always wanted me to be in there, too, but I just couldn't do it. I felt so overwhelmed by all the books and stuff in that tiny cramped room.

Then there's the matter of the desk. My desk is not your ordinary desk. It's a mammoth desk. A life of its own, really. I can't explain it better than this picture can do it justice:
See what I'm talking about? It's so large in needs a room or a house of its own, practically. It was, honestly, the bane of our existence when it came to finding a temporary home to live in...and finally, lo and behold, after the fleas and the too-small apartments, the narrow stairways I couldn't possibly climb at nine months pregnant and the perfect places in the horrible locations, we found it! Our home for the year, the place our new baby will first live in:

Pretty, huh?

It has its issues, don't misunderstand. Plenty of 'em and I am going to go on record as saying that we might have the WORST rental company in all the land (Judge Realty) or maybe just the worst realtor (Tripp, who never returns phone calls or fixes any issues). The owners of the house clearly did not maintain the house as much as they should have (knobs in doors fall right off in our hands, not all the phone jacks work which hurts our DSL usage, no one has ever dusted that place until the day we moved in and I did it with my mom and sister, all the crispers and drawers are broken in the fridge AND the fridge had dead bugs in it. Really.), but it has a luxurious backyard that the dogs can play in and we can bbq in (on the giant grill the owners left) and a patio we can eat out on and a sunroom off the side of the house, a white picket fence and gardens, a porch we can sit out on in chairs or a swing...a whole third floor where the kidney bean desk and all of our books can live without feeling cramped or overwhelmed. There's so much space up there, D even had the movers put one of our couches up there (the one I studied for comps on for half a year--the same one I wrote my comps answers on and most of my dissertation) for me to read and work on so when he's studying, I can be close by.

D could now get his degree in historic preservation without ever having taken a class, and maybe a bit of freelance repair work if he advertised himself as such. And we're happy. Together and settled with a few boxes that still need unpacking and a few purchases that need to be made (I haven't even started talking about the three 2x2 closets and how that's the only closet space for our clothes in the entire 2000+ square foot house!), but we're doing pretty great so far.

Stick around. We've been documenting our adventures and our baby's adventures (in utero, of course) since arriving, taking suggestions from friends who are afar for places to go, restaurants to eat in and things to do...we've had visitors and taken small usual, we're having an incredible time of it. Now that we're settled, we're back in action on this blog, sharing it all with you!

Stay tuned for recaps and KEEP IN TOUCH. Out of sight, but not out of mind, and D's been working at the airport so you can be even more exciting tales are ahead.


Sunday, May 9, 2010


Hello, world!

This blog is headed for the witness protection program for a short period (we hope!) of time. If you wish to continue reading it in its privatized mode (even if you've never commented before and are a "secret" reader), leave a comment or "anonymous" comment in our comment space with your email address and we will gladly add you to the VIP list. We're closing 'er down in about 48 hours (aka-heading to the privacy setting) so don't dilly dally!

Thanks for reading and, if you don't leave your email address, don't forget about us! We'll be back!


N and D

PS-S and MB, we've already got your emails and your invites are "pending." As soon as we go "off" again, you should receive an email if you haven't already! Thanks for your loyalty!

Monday, May 3, 2010


Today when I get home and grade the papers I've been thinking about grading, finish the cleaning I need to do and make the phone calls that always need making, I'm going to take our tomato plants outside and plant them in the ground behind the fence with stakes and cages near the strawberries.

This has been a decision I've put off for weeks because 1-it's been sort of cold and 2-I wasn't sure if we were staying very long or not. I'm still not sure, really, but a week has gone by since my campus-interview with no word from anyone at the campus I interviewed on. It's not that I don't believe I might get a job offer, I made it this far so, at the least, I'm hoping for a very kind rejection, it's just that the plants are growing now. They're getting so big they can barely stand on their own anymore. They're falling over on the window sill and in the chair beside it that I've been keeping them on.

It broke my heart a little to imagine I'd plant them, then we'd up and move with no one to tend to their needs, but I've been thinking a lot about roots--where we grow and how we grow and why. Mom says her vegetables aren't doing so well--it's been cold in the south, colder than the vegetables prefer. If we move, that's where we'll be, but my vegetables seem to like it here. They reach and stretch toward the window, the outside world, where I believe they want to be planted. I can take them in pots out of Missouri to wherever we might go, even though this is where they were bred, just like I've been transplanted from place to place even though my family is where my origins reside. But, like the plants, I sort of like it here, enough to put down roots, even if they're just those of my tomato plants, so some part stays when all the rest goes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Closing Time

There's been talk of moving in our home, as the job market becomes more a part of our lives...and interviews and dossiers and the like. I didn't expect it, but I'm saddened by that likelihood. When I first moved to Columbia, people weren't nice to me. Immediately. I mean, strangers were, but people in my department, colleagues and the like, weren't. They made plans to have drinks after class and wouldn't invite me. If I suggested it to them during a break from an evening class, they'd say they had too much work to do after class and just couldn't swing it. As I walked to my car after class in the dark, I'd consider that the Ph.D. required a lot of work and that they were probably right: I should get home and study hard. But then, I'd reach my car and start driving home through the city streets only to see those same classmates who thwarted my efforts at socializing walking into a bar, laughing and joking around together. It was crushing.

Honestly, it took a few years for me to really just accept that my colleagues didn't like me for whatever skew of reasons they might have. It took time for me to realize that some people don't formulate their own opinions, they just adopt the opinions of others. The hardest part for me was understanding that I hadn't actually done anything to these colleagues; they didn't even really know me and had never actually had a conversation with me. It's hard to believe, when a group of people around you don't like you, that in rare instances it really isn't your fault, you really haven't done anything, they're just close-minded and sort of mean.

I took a little time off from school when it all became too much. There were other forces at play, even bigger ones, but they're not blog-ready. When I came back from my semester off, I dove headfirst into my work, my relationships (with Dustin, that is, which was quite new at that time) and my other interests. I didn't allow myself to lament the outcast position I'd been cast into. And my life got so much better.

When Dustin joined our local community's cast of Communicating Doors, I thought it was great for him to be getting out there, doing something outside of our field and having a hobby that removed him from the stifling atmosphere we'd been living in. I remembered loving the theatre my whole life, seeing my first Broadway show at the age of 9, then dozens and dozens of others in following years. I remembered how much I, too, had once loved being on stage until one day, in a production at the age of 17 years old--after having been on stage for the better part of my life, I noticed the audience and got really scared. Let's just say I never got up on a stage to perform again--crippled by sudden stage fright.

But the friends we made during Communicating Doors were incredible. They were supportive and came to our readings. They were always willing to make time if something came up and we needed support--both emotional and otherwise. And our relationships kept growing, our circle of friends expanded and when Rory asked us to be in the IAT's short Women's Play Festival, I responded with: "Do I have any lines?" Remembered how wonderful these friends had been to us and before he could answer the question, revised my response to: "Who am I kidding? If you and Kir (the director) need me, I'm happy to help. Just tell me what you want me to do."

I didn't know then that I didn't have some lines, I had many--all crammed eloquently into a nine minute scene, but I did know that these friends had been here for us when Dustin was attacked back in September, showing up at our door to check in on us, taking time out of their lives to come lighten up his spirits. I knew they had come to our house for various get-togethers and had invited us to theirs. Some of them had been to our wedding! I knew them before, during and after they found "the one!" and got married, the heartbreaks they'd been through and the relationships that thrived, how they sang karaoke and what they liked to drink, their favorite restaurants and football teams...I knew that they were our friends and if they needed something, even for me to overcome the knowledge that an audience would be watching my every move for ten minutes, I was going to do it.

This weekend has reminded me why I liked being in productions so much. It's the coming together of a cast of sordid individuals and characters to create a unified existence that's more than just the self, but a community creation. Together, we have created something bigger than any of us individually; we have made an audience laugh and cry and think. It's the perfect metaphor for what this group of friends we've found has done for our lives: gave us experiences that are fulfilling and thought-provoking and meaningful when I, for one, had started to doubt that such things still existed.

Last night, after our performance, we went to dinner with some castmates we didn't know very well, and the dinner lasted for two hours, each of us talking passionately and excitedly, finding more and more things we had in common or respected, learning and sharing and enjoying each other so profoundly that, even then, we had a hard time walking out and leaving.

So it saddens me to think that, at some point, Dustin and I will be leaving Columbia and this phenomenal group of people we know here. Friendships last, I know, but the distance can be far and sometimes crippling. Time passes and life happens and we miss each other. Many of these friends have planned and considered leaving, are actively looking for jobs or opportunities elsewhere, so we're not alone in our departure from Columbia. But, this push toward departure is like being at a party with all the people you love and care most about while knowing that, eventually, everyone is going to leave, but just not wanting to be the first to go...pushing out those last few hours and minutes, collecting and lingering by the door just a little bit longer, not wanting to walk out into the darkness, into a world that's not always so nurturing, unsure of what you'll find, just knowing you don't really want to go.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Playin Around

Husband and I have been cast in two awesome plays being showcased in the short Women's Play Festival here in town. The Festival begins a week from today and runs through the weekend. Both  plays are, as the title of the festival suggests, short. Maybe fifteen pages a piece which would be roughly 20 minutes, at most. The playwright who is responsible for the short that I'm in is Carey Crim, who it seems is off to a stellar writing career (based on the link you see there and some reviews of productions of her plays). I couldn't find much info on Ms. Crim when I was given the script a few weeks ago, but felt a sincere draw to the complexity of what goes on in the play and have been thoroughly enjoying our rehearsals.

It doesn't hurt that my thespian-guitar-teacher-fence-building good friend Rory is the only other character in the play which is directed by yet another dear friend, Kirsten. Truth be told, I haven't actually been in a play in, oh...well...perhaps we shouldn't go there (12 years) and I fear I'm more than rusty in my portrayal of this, what I see as, very complex character, but working with Rory and Kirsten has just been amazing. They're both so helpful and patient.

What I've been realizing, more than anything else, is just how much energy is devoted to acting. When husband was in plays over the last few years, he came home from rehearsal rather exhausted. While I was sympathetic, I couldn't really relate to what he was going through. Now, though, now I get it. Picture this: you work a full day at your regular-paying job. If you're a teacher, you go home for a few hours and prep for your teaching the next day, maybe grab something to eat, then head off to rehearsal. At rehearsal, you transform into another person. This person has her own job and her own life and worries. In my case, she's a maid at a sort of rundown motel and happens in on a set of tragic circumstances, but she's also sort of young and innocent--a student at the nearby university who works this job just to pay her way through school. Before she knows it, she's launched into a series of emotions: shock, rationality, sadness, surprise, disgust, pride, disbelief, then curiosity...and all that within the first three minutes. She keeps going through these cycles of emotions, no one emotion ever taking over for too long. She works through various scenarios and, eventually, has to accept what actually is the truth: that something has happened and no matter how many scenarios she tries out, she can't change the fact of what really is...but she doesn't get there until she restarts the scene various times, tries out various reactions and emotions, and, eventually, accepts it. All in fifteen minutes. (Do you see what I mean about Carey Crim being an amazing playwright?)

But as the person acting this out, you adapt this new, temporary persona, run through the 15-20 minute play, then start again and again to try and get it right every time, tweak moments that are weaker or unconvincing, find something to do with your dust cloth and innocence. It's challenging. You're going through all these emotions and subjecting yourself to them over and over until 2-2.5 hours has gone by and you're off to resume your own grade the papers and prep the class and make up a quiz and feed your family. How could my husband have not been exhausted when you did that times five (his plays in the past have been full-length, 2 hour shows!)?

I've always really appreciated and loved theatre, but I think I haven't fully understood just how amazing these actors are that get out there and do it all the time--that maintain their own lives and identities while consistently costuming themselves up in other lives and identities. It's not hard to get entangled--I know where I start and she ends or where she starts and I end...I know to leave the papers and the grading and the quiz grades at the door when I enter the "theatre" and, even, that this girl and her tragedy stays in the theatre when I go home--but I can imagine that for some people, it can't be as easy. Especially for actors that really feel like they have to be the character they're playing in order to perform that part. And no matter how much we separate these lives out and understand the difference between an individual life and a character's life, at the end of the day, there's no leaving behind the exhaustion of the emotional toil I've lived through and exerted. That's the part of it all that's very real.

Photo taken from MOVE Magazine, Columbia, MO. Original caption below!
Rory O'Carroll, playing a returned soldier, and Neesha Navare argue during the play "Knives and Spoons Go on the Left," part of the Short Women's Play Festival on Thursday at Ragtag Cinema. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Comps Round Two

Dustin asked me today how much someone would have to pay me to answer my comps questions all over again. I told him I couldn't estimate how much; it was just too high a price. He said, "Were there moments where you felt like you just wanted to die instead?" I told him, "Every moment. Daily, I asked myself why in the world I was doing this. I couldn't even remember after a while." "Yes," he said. "That's exactly how this feels."

What he doesn't realize is that, he's a swan: kicking like mad beneath the surface while gliding along atop the water: smooth and graceful.

I, for my part, flailed the whole way like a drowning child: panicked and unable to swim.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Missouri has these giant gashes in its flesh. Literally, the ground does. Like an earthquake rippled through beneath my grass and cracked the ground in pieces of dry skin.

I have finally found a navy blue cardigan I can love again. I had one once. 3/4 length sleeves from J. Crew and I adored it. Then it grew holes and Mom tossed it out with the trash. It has taken me a year to find a new one. I love it so much I'm afraid to wear it into a state of holes like the last. It still has the tags on.

The strawberries I planted a year ago are alive. They made it through the winter and even through the neglect I offered instead of keeping the ground around it cleared and weeded. As if to spite me, it has blossoms, but I don't know what that means yet. Are white blossoms on a strawberry plant good?

Bogey puts his paws together, as a human might put their fists together, tightly waded, the laces of fingers facing and pressing against one another. I imagine he does this in prayer or meditation.

My writing ability

has been 



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Overheard at School Today

I was standing in line for some overpriced coffee at the cafe in our library this morning when two button-down-shirt-type gentlemen in khakis (one in pants, the other in khaki shorts) and flip flops got in line behind me. The following conversation ensued.

Khaki Shorts: I stayed home all night trying to get the reading done for his class, but 200 pages is just ridiculous. I couldn't do it. I'm not even sure if I'm ready for mock trial today.
Khaki Pants: Are you defense or prosecution?
Shorts: Prosecution.
Pants: Yeah, I heard he was pissed off about none of us coming to class that Thursday so he assigned a ton of reading.
Shorts: When I was an undergrad here, I took this 17th or 18th century American lit. class and our professor did the weirdest shit. Once he didn't give us our tests back because his Siamese cat took a piss all over them. Another time, he walked into class, looked at all of us and said No, man, I can't do this. I'm too high. Class is canceled. He's that guy over there. (We all look, though I am more subtle in my gaze and find that, despite also being in the English department, I do not know the man he's referring to, strangely enough.)
Pants laughs and says: That's awesome.
Shorts: So when they kick me out of law school, which they will inevitably do, I'm just heading over to the English department.

Aaah, the future of the English department. God help us.

If you're curious, the man he pointed at bore a strange resemblance to this familiar face:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Good Teacher

Last week, before class, a student of mine asked me what I thought made a good teacher. I didn't have a lot of time to explain, and he didn't seem to be asking me because he thought I wasn't a good teacher, so I rambled off some half-baked thoughts on teachers having individual expectations, goals and philosophies, but the question stayed with me well after the class ended.

I've been teaching for four full years now and have been evaluated by faculty members, at least, four times. Each time, my evaluations have come back with sparkling reviews, much to my satisfaction. But the reviews always read as though the evaluator is a little surprised, as if they didn't expect the kind of teaching-style I have. Sometimes my students seem surprised, as well.

My best teachers were the ones who challenged me individually. The ones who recognized that each student had a different skill level of ability and who taught to that individual, to that level. "You always want to teach to the smartest kid in the class," I've heard, and I think there's something to that, but there's also something inherently significant about teaching to every student, challenging them and making them think about the more difficult questions and issues in a way that allows them to connect to it and make the information not just relevant, but resonant.

Every time I go into a classroom, I have a set of notes that I want to address to the class. These notes touch on aspects of what was required of them in preparation for the class, but they go a few steps further and ask questions that get the students involved. Student involvement in my classroom is essential. I attempt to provide them with the tools they need (background info, definitions...etc.) in order for them to answer the questions thoughtfully. My lectures begin with the information, often I ask someone to talk a little about what the piece we read for class was about and as they summarize, I either add in moments that are important to what we've read or I ask other students to chime in if they think a detail or piece of the story is relevant, but unmentioned by the summarizer. Once we're done summarizing, I pose questions, point out analyses and points I'm not sure they would have recognized on a first read (and most students do not read a text more than one time before class) and guide them toward interpreting and analyzing the points in the piece. I encourage them to give their opinions, even though there's always one who totally misses the boat, but is incredibly devoted to his/her opinion on it--as uninformed and illogical as it might be--and encourage them to engage one another, respond to different opinions and use examples from the text.

In short, I don't overteach to them. I don't tell them what I think they should believe about the text, I just help them get there on their own and, when they stumble, I offer some guidance. Inevitably, the class becomes a lot about discussion, using the texts to support their opinions and relating relevant personal tales or examples from society to the text in order to gage a fuller understanding. In short, my classes teach and, ultimately, learn from themselves and I, as their teacher, act as a guide. My goal as a teacher is to help teach them how to fish instead of slapping that slippery, hooked sucker down before them while saying, "Here is the fish and this is what you should think and know about how we got to this fish."

It seems to be working so far. A good teacher, in my mind, is one who sharpens thinking skills, provides students with the ability to figure things out for themselves, encourages them to look closer if they only see the surface and to push their thinking beyond what seems obvious to the more complex thoughts and themes that lie beneath the surface. Some students get this early on and excel, often pushing the envelope even farther because they've perfected the pattern of thinking until there's nothing left to think about, but only a greater truth that feels present. Until there's really no other way they can see the text but as a representation of women's lib or historical documentation...etc. I push them to keep thinking until they've concluded something that is completely plausible, but, perhaps not always, the only possibility. My goal is to not only make them think well, but to accept that there are other possible answers to some situations and many ways of reaching those answers. My favorite is when a student says, "This might be really stretching it or reaching for straws, but..." and then they go on to say precisely what it is they were supposed to get out of the text. Their disclaimer is really a demonstration of them having leapt past some of the steps it took to get to the overall understanding while still reaching it. Eventually, they go back and take the time to go through all the steps to get there.

I'm not above relaying to my students a personal anecdote that can contribute to their understanding of a text. At times, when they look most confused, I launch into a tale about my own family or life, an opening that will allow them to understand the point of the text, then I liken that moral or purpose to the actual text. The conclusion and lesson is usually evident in my personal story, which allows them to see the point of the text more clearly. Sometimes it's about connecting the dots in a text, recognizing that all the words are there for a good reason, but they aren't all working toward the same goal all the time. Some points are aimed toward women's lib while others are geared toward justifying one's own life choices (in the text) and in even more cases, those points of reference overlap and do double the work.

Usually students take some time to get that they're expected to talk a lot in my classes, to understand that I'm not just going to give them the right answers, but expect them to figure stuff out on their own or with some help. We are four weeks or so into the semester and my students are growing more confident, asking more questions of the text (questions that are sometimes posed to the class or questions of clarity that only I, most likely, will know the answers to, given my close analysis, research and preparation before the lecture). They are starting to engage with one another, push one another's opinions and conclusions on the work and even choose patterns of logic from the pool amongst their peers that appeals and makes more sense to them than others. This is where it gets fun.

I'm not sure if I'm a good teacher or whether, at the end of the semester, my students feel like they know so much more than they did. But I think my goals in a classroom might be different than that. Sure I want them to remember the texts and the authors and the work we've read. Sure I want them to understand what issues from the texts are significant or why we keep reading the same texts over and understand that there are layers of reading and analysis...etc. The thing is, I don't want to give them everything, especially not mine or other scholars' conclusions about texts. I want to teach them how to wear down a path of logic to get to those conclusions themselves. I want to teach them to think.

I hope I'm a good teacher. I'm trying to emulate what I think a good teacher should be and do, but I guess I'll never really know. I do all the other things: the grading, the office hours, the emails and looking at continuous drafts. I make myself as available, helpful and understanding as I can without compromising my syllabus or expectations, like all my best, most memorable teachers did for me (Mr. Lyons, Mrs. Hickey, Dr. McGuiness, Dr. Leonard...) In the end, I think the best teachers are the ones that teach students how to fish...and that's the kind of teacher I try to be.

I just hope it works.

What traits and teaching styles did your best teachers have?


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Living Dead

This week has been "Doppelganger Week" over on the book of faces and you're supposed to upload a picture of a celebrity you've been told you look like to stand in as your profile pic all week. When I first saw this trend, I didn't think much of it. Like most facebook trends, I sort of just ignore them unless I feel as though the status-changing or something really matters. Around the election, for example, I was for it, even though I usually don't display my political leanings for the world (I grew up in a house where it was talked about constantly, but Mom taught us that it was sort of a private thing--who you were going to vote for--and didn't need to be displayed for the world). It's funny how these status changes are starting to become like forwarded emails. You get one saying "Here's a funny story. Now you have to send this along, too, to prove that you believe in the moral of this story and, if you don't, you'll die or have terrible luck...etc" or something to that extent. Now, it's more like "I love (fill in the blank) and I'm not afraid to say so. If you love (blank), as well, post this as your status for (x) amount of days!"...etc. You get my drift.

Last night, the question of doppelgangers came up at a get together Megan and I were at (pics to come). I hadn't thought too much of it until the conversation shifted in that direction, then I racked my memory for comments that began with "You look like..." For years, I didn't look like anyone and, in my childhood dreaminess, I believed that meant I might be meant for stardom: a unique face to light up the stage...or something like that, but then, around college, the comments started rolling in.

"Ya know. You look like that girl from that thriller, mystery movie. You know who I'm talking about...that girl?" I didn't typically know who they were talking about given that description, but eventually I came to learn it was none other than Ms. Ashley Judd. Not so bad, right? She's pretty beautiful and, while I don't see any resemblance, really, I'm happy to accept that I might have some similarity to her that I don't recognize. Our cheeks are different. Don't get me wrong, I have pretty enormous cheeks, but the bulk in Ashley's cheeks is set much higher than mine. Mine make my whole face round. Plus, her eyes are totally different. Not big and round, but narrower in shape. She has eyebrows and mine are barely noticeable. We've got similar colored hair, I suppose, but, for me, that's where the similarities end.

Most recently, a colleague of mine has been obsessed with calling me "Karen" after a character this actress played...

This would be Rashida Jones and the character would be Karen Filippelli from The Office. I'm not sure I really see that exactly either. We have similar hair/cuts and similar skin tone, but her nose is way better than mine (mine's a bit on the chunky side) and my face is definitely rounder while hers is more oval. I did start watching The Office to see what he was talking about, though, and have since had others make similar comments. I attribute the likeness to our clothes style--Karen Filippelli's and mine, that is. My husband has since agreed that it's not exactly Rashida Jones that I resemble, but Karen Filippelli.

But when the conversation turned to doppelgangers last night, it was inevitable that the person I've been likened to the most would come up. And she did, but in whispers and awkward asides to each other rather than aloud to me. I understood why no one wanted to state the obvious out loud, and at one point Megan cupped her hand over her mouth and said, "They think you look like that Brittany..."
Yes. This Brittany girl, God rest her soul. This, I can believe. We have a similar wideness at the end of our noses, like a triangle (only, in all fairness, mine is much fatter than hers). Our eyes are about the same shape and size, darker in the way hers are in this photo. We both smile...widely. A smile that takes up the better part of the southerly region of our faces. There are definite similarities and people used to say this all the time. Last night, however, no one really wanted to say it. At least not to my face.

When I posted the three above photos on Facebook today, the comments rolled in and the consensus was, in fact, that I looked most like Brittany Murphy. "Oh my gosh. You really do. You have similar eyes or smile or something..." "The healthy looking Brittany, not the coked up Brittany..." "I totally see it!" "It's true!"...and the comments poured in. I know. It's true. I've had students and friends claiming this about me for years, but now that Brittany is no longer alive, no one wants to say it out loud, as if I'm a walking apparition of the deceased and it might bode badly for me if they express our likenesses. Just think what it must be like for women who look even more like her than my vague likeness!?!

When I mentioned this eerie silence and awkward shifting that accompanied the conversation last night to Dustin, explained to him why no one wanted to say it out loud, he thought for a moment and finally said, "But what if someone looks like Marilyn Monroe? Or another long dead celebrity? Like Abe Lincoln or something? They're dead and people seem to be ok with that?"

While this is true, these specific celebrities died a long time ago. Their expiration dates have long since passed, whereas Brittany Murphy's is still so recent that, like two-days-past-the-expiration-day-milk, you can't really tell if it's ok to have or not...or, in this case, whether it's ok to liken a living person to a person that just died.

I say, why not? I looked like Brittany Murphy before she died and now I look like Brittany Murphy, who died. Just because she is no longer with us, it doesn't mean that an impending expiration date has been branded onto me. It's sad that she died, but even though I might share some similar physical traits that make us resemble one another, I'm not dead and I'm not Brittany Murphy. It's ok to say "Hey, you look like that Brittany girl..." but just keep in mind, you can say this out loud, to my face, because even if I do look a little bit like her, I'm not really her and our likeness won't jinx me.

I still think she was a beautiful girl and like to imagine our real likeness lies in the laughter and happiness we both seem to feel or share (though I hear at the end of her life, she wasn't quite as happy, but most people who worked with her claimed she was infectiously happy!). But, hey, I'll take Brittany Murphy as a doppelganger any day.

Rest in peace, Brit!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Putting Out the Alarm

It's like a cricket chirping every twenty-five seconds. After I've counted, I begin to question how quickly I counted. I recently learned that when administering CPR, the counting should be done at a fairly fast pace: thousandone, thousandtwo, thousandthree, thousandfour...but when I count the seconds between the dying smoke alarm's insistent beep, I find myself fluctuating between the thousand count and the "Mississippi" count. Which is more accurate? By my count, the smoke alarm chirps every twenty-five-Mississippi seconds. My husband has done battle with the smoke alarm three times this week, plugging and unplugging it. Ordinarily, I'd say "Let's just change the batteries," but our smoke alarms don't have batteries. They're wired like the rest of the house is wired.

Our 9-year-old American Eskimo barks, every twenty-five seconds, too, while standing in front of my husband, impatiently asking him to do something about the alarm. Make it stop! He barks, his little pointy ears raised high, his squeaky voice whining. He began his complaints by standing in front of me first, quickly realized I knew nothing about smoke alarms, and altered his attention to Huz.

I have unintentionally tested our smoke alarm once every year since I've lived here. I believe that might be what they say the standard is, though I haven't looked that bit of information up yet and I think the test is supposed to be intentional.

My most recent foray into testing the alarm happened last summer, just as the school year was ending. I was standing in the kitchen, browning some garlic in a small puddle of oil on our electric stove when my dad called. I'd been waiting for his call all day and the stove was on medium, the garlic just added. When he asked me to go seek a piece of information from my desk in the room at the other end of the house, I placed my wooden spoon on the counter and padded down the hall with the dogs in tow. Out the window, the lawnmower rumbled and the scent of fresh cut grass glided in through the open window. After sifting through some folders and papers, I found the article my father wanted and nestled back into the chair to read off the information...slowly, so he could write it down, repeating myself when he asked, tucking the paper back into the files in my desk and shutting the drawer behind it. When I approached the kitchen again, my father was saying his good-byes and billows of smoke rushed toward me in the open living room-dining room-kitchen space I'd departed only minutes earlier. Before my father finished, I hit the "End Call" button, tossed the phone into the folds of the couch and started toward the stove that suddenly emitted a burst of flames from the pot. Electric fire...what's the rule for electric fire? I panicked, stepping back from the stove. Dustin! I decided, was my best solution.

Once out the screen door, I flailed my arms as he pushed the mower in my direction. "Dustin! Hurry! Come quick!" I shouted, moving my arms in fast beckoning motions, as if my sign language might provoke a greater sense of urgency than yelling, "FIRE!" The door slammed behind me when I was certain he was coming. He took his time and smoke alarms all over the house rang out in chorus just as he entered the front door. Dustin's face dropped from expectant amusement to shock as he ran into action, grabbing the cover of the pot, squelching the fire and turning off the heat in two swift motions. The smoke alarm continued and we sent the dogs out into the yard, opened the windows and screen doors before stationing ourselves with fanning materials beneath the two raging alarms. It must've taken five minutes for us to calm the alarms and longer than an hour for the smoke to evacuate the house.

If it hadn't been for my husband, who knows what I would've done. The fire extinguisher, though only two feet away from the stove in the pantry, was a forgotten memory when the flames licked the sides of the pot. It's a wonder nothing...including the walls, cabinets and countertop, was scorched...but at least we knew the smoke alarms worked.

Now, as Dustin stands on a chair and fiddles with the wires under the close supervision of Bogey, I find myself hoping he knows as much about smoke alarms as he does about how to quelch a fire. If not, my next unintentional test may not go off as successfully.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rest in Peace, JD.

We all knew Holden Caulfield, that quirky, brilliant kid with the dumb clothes and the incessant lies; the one that came out of nowhere and only said things we never expected. His was a dangerous charm. The kind that could hurt you with its meaningless, and break your heart with its observance. He was the one we all expected to die after we loved him but before we understood.

I read J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year of high school. Something in the jaded, critical, realist view of Holden held me captive, as if he shared insight I might never be able to put into words. The uncertainty, the moving away from innocence, the progression of loneliness, loss, alienation, the complexity of human relationships that Holden moved in and out of felt familiar to me, an adolescent acutely aware of the quickly shifting gears from carefree youth to complicated adulthood. Change was inevitable, but I didn't have to like or approve of it anymore than Holden Caulfield. And when I wanted, in following years, to revisit that stubborn disapproval of phony adulthood, I could always go back to Holden and Salinger and know that somewhere, Salinger was still capturing these words I admired, still needed and still felt incapable of capturing myself. Somewhere, Holden was standing out on the edge of some crazy cliff watching everybody run, not looking where they were going...still coming out and catching them before they went over the cliff...the catcher in the rye.

When I learned J.D. Salinger died today, I thought of the works of his I've read and taught. How desperate and greedy in my youth I had been for more of his work to be published, for him to trust in humanity as an audience again. It is only in his death that I will be able to add to my small collection of Salinger texts and this would have made my younger self happy--the self that didn't realize that the birth of new work meant the death of that person out there, standing at the edge, waiting to catch us before we went over.

I will miss knowing you were out there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From Caviar to Moon Pies

I've got to be perfectly honest with you here. I'm not a fan of sweets (I'm the girl you can leave alone in  a dessert shop for hours and just know she won't touch a thing while you're gone) and, typically, I have fairly refined and somewhat sophisticated taste in food. You might even call me a food snob, if you were feeling kind of snippy. I like caviar with my pasta, but not just any caviar, Beluga caviar from Russia. My uncle used to get it from a friend when I was a little girl and one day, when I was about five, he put it in my spaghetti. Mom told him I wouldn't like it, but I was the only one of my three siblings who felt okay about having black fish eggs dumped into my meal. Much to Mom's dismay, I didn't like it; I adored it. And so began the corruption of my tastebuds.

At the opening of his and my father's new office down the street from our house, they had lots of gifted Beluga caviar and I stationed myself at the hors d'oevres table, stuffing my face with it. There's a photo floating around somewhere of my sister and I with my dad, celebrating the opening in matching floral dresses. My glasses are bigger than ever, sliding down my nose, but my usual smile does not join my father's and sister's. Instead, my lips are closed, my cheeks are full and I am holding a napkin with caviar-drenched crackers in my hands. It's obvious to me why I'm not smiling. I can still taste the crush of salt in my mouth lapping itself over my tongue, coating the insides of my cheeks. I can still remember how thrilled I was to have a huge, barely touched supply of black fish eggs at my disposal.

Not much changed as I got older, except my uncle somehow lost his caviar connection and over $800 a can is a bit pricey, even for the most refined caviar connoisseur. I've tried the $5 or more kind at the grocery store, but it just doesn't have the same taste. Too salty, really. Sometimes I splurge on a caviar that's pretty tasty, but it's so rare. I've come to accept that my love affair with caviar must be put on hold until I find a reliable, affordable kind.

Aside from my uncle introducing me to foods way beyond my maturity level, my mother cooked. When I say she "cooked" I mean to say that I never tasted much that came from a box, had artificial ingredients or was processed in any way. Not to mention, Mom really encouraged healthy eating choices, or at least the healthiest kinds when we weren't at home. A few years ago, Huz and my bf Megan were talking about foods on sticks when I remarked that I hadn't, in fact, ever had such a thing before. Needless to say, they were quietly, but obviously shocked.

"Haven't you ever been to a fair before?" They asked.
"Sure, but we always had Italian sausage and peppers at the fair. Maybe we'd share some cotton candy," I put in for good measure. "Does cotton candy count?"
"No. That's a cone and it's just not the same."

They threw out every possible stick food they could think of: corndogs, chicken-on-a-stick, pancakes on a stick, fried cheese on a stick, kettle corn on a stick...etc. We ruled out shishkababs, since they typically get pulled off of the stick before being consumed and, plus, those are really skewers, not so much sticks. Never mind the fact that I'd never had deep fried oreos, Snickers or any other candy or cookie or the fact that I hate--and I do mean hate--fried dough (which I tried once as a child and once more to appease Huz this past summer. Still hate it). The mission began and before the last few years fully passed...I can proudly say I've finally tried a corndog (blech), a pancake on a stick (even grosser), chicken on a stick (disappointing) and frozen Snickers, deep fried and on a stick (fascinating-how do they do that!?!).

After we were married, when Huz first said he'd like to have mac and cheese one night for dinner, I went out to the store, bought a block of cheese and some elbow macaronis, and marched back home to make dinner. He came into the kitchen just in time to see me dumping the last of the cheese I'd shredded up into the cooked macaroni with milk, butter, salt and pepper.

"Oh, honey, I didn't mean for you to...I just meant, like, Easy Mac." He looked alarmed, though the process had only taken fifteen minutes up to that point.
"Easy Mac?" I asked not fully understanding.
"Yeah...the kind in a box. You add water and heat?"
I just shook my head at him in baffled disbelief why would anyone would want to eat this Easy Mac he spoke of when what I was making was infinitely better and, probably, better for us, too.

The same happened with mashed potatoes. He meant: dump the contents of the box, add water, heat and I meant, boil the potatoes, add butter/margarine, milk and mash.

When our friend Beth went to dinner at a place called Fazoli's with us one night, I casually mentioned it was my first Fazoli's experience and had been looking forward to it. Beth was shocked, to say the least. "Where did you grow up?" She asked, confused as to how this was possible.
Huz leaned toward her before I could say a word and explained: "Her mother cooked."
"Aaaah," she said. "That does explain it."

While a lot can be said about what this discrepancy between my food-relationship and how it was fostered and my husband's and how it was fostered (about parents, society, how family is or isn't developing, value system, most obviously-this generation's emphasis on a 'faster' paced life with less time and attention and care put into the food-making process) means, it's really all just leading up to a fuller understanding of how I typically eat and why. And while I do think my philosophy, relationship and care with food is a good one, I did miss out on one crucial food that I might never have tried if my brother had not been here in November. And if Huz hadn't suggested we go to Bass Pro Shop. And if I hadn't, somehow, gone through nearly thirty years of life without ever liking sweets enough to eat many of them.

Moon Pies.

I don't know if you've had a Moon Pie before, dear reader, but I do know I am properly obsessed with them. My brother insisted that I have one when we saw them at Bass Pro. They were only fifty-cents a piece, which worried me (if they were good, wouldn't they be more than fifty-cents?). He was appalled that I'd never had this "Great American Classic" and I began to question whether I remembered our healthy-eating childhood accurately or whether I had been the only one who truly ate healthy as a child (I do remember he and my sister eating lots of Chef Boyardee and microwavable snacks after school while I usually gravitated toward cheese and crackers or half a turkey sandwich). He handed the small plastic bag to me as we ran to the jeep in the rain. Once in the back seat, he waited while I unwrapped the Moon Pie and examined it. My other brother started the car.

"Just do it. Eat it."
"What if I don't like it?" I asked, looking over the smooth, chocolate exterior of the rounded pie.
"Then don't eat the rest."
I closed my eyes, clenched my teeth over the exterior of the Moon Pie and.....bit.

My life has never been the same.

Now we buy Moon Pies by the scores (2 for a dollar!) and store them in our bread box. We have learned that heating them in the microwave for 7-10 seconds makes them taste like self-contained s'mores. I have never felt this way about a sweet of any kind in my life and honestly believe that every bad day could be made better with a Moon Pie. I don't eat them constantly, but savor them for a day like today when it's rainy and cold and my phone is breaking, as did my pen in class today, and I'm just so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Then there's my beloved Moon Pie shared over a paper white plate with my loving, wonderful husband, heated in the microwave for ten seconds, gooey and happy in my mouth...and the whole world seems better.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Messy Tangent in Yellow Stills

It has been a week since my first guitar lesson and I can proudly say that all the chords Rory taught me are learned and I can play a scale fairly seamlessly. Tomorrow, lesson two commences. Speaking of guitar lessons, let me introduce you to Gertie.

Gertie is ten years old, made of wood and owned by my husband. She's never had a name before a week ago, but owns it like a hooker on a street corner, though she's not one. We rock out together to the G, C and D chord every day and, so far, the relationship is coming along nicely. She's got nice, tight strings and a glossy sheen like a well-groomed mare, but she whinnies like the souls of saints. Tomorrow, we hope to learn more chords and more about each other. Thus far, she's in good shape and my fingers are properly callousing, just as Rory suspected they might.

In other news, we had guests in town this weekend, MB and Blake (not to be confused with Amy I'm-A-Crack-House's/Wine-o-House's "Blake" (aka: Winehouse). While they visited for the evening, we experience something called "Ice Fog" together, though none of us could quite put our finger on what made that particular type of fog worthy of a proper name. It was definitely foggy, but not so much icy. We theorized that the ice collects in the lungs and, later, when the person who owns the lung chamber goes inside to warmth, it melts to water, but have no scientific data to back this up, nor were any of our throats or mouths particularly watery the next day as a result of melted ice.
The above photo is of us bracing the ice fog. Dustin, as you can see, is the only one who fears it. The rest of us have made our peace with it.

Blake also introduced us to something called "memes" which, if pressed, I cannot really explain. He showed us these youtube clips of a girl who looked about 14 years old just sort of being silly and devoting her videos as shout outs of love to internet friends of hers and, apparently, it set the internet world on fire. I can't explain it, really, but people sent this kid death threats for doing, virtually, nothing. It was kind of heartbreaking. She was definitely goofy and all over the place, but not death threat worthy by any standard (but, then again, who really is death threat worthy?). Anyhow, I couldn't sleep for thinking about this poor kid who probably went to sleep every night feeling terrified. Eventually, I did some research and learned she's probably ok and living a normal life and that made me feel a lot better and less worried. My future children are DEFINITELY not going to be allowed to post videos after seeing how something so innocent could become so dangerous.

Lastly, I painted our laundry room (with some guidance, patience and help from the spectacular Huz, of course...without him,I would've tried to paint the whole room with nothing but a can and a brush!) Ralph Lauren's kayak yellow this weekend. I started with a small room, thinking it'd be a good first-time-painting-a-room effort. Husband and I use this room to enter the house more than the front entrance since this entrance leads to the garage, where, of course, we park our cars. The room is going to be yellow, black and white since the washer and dryer are white, the walls are yellow, the trim and ceiling are white and some of the fixtures I want/have in there are black. In keeping with this theme, I looked up switchplates and found some that I thought were great, but couldn't bring myself to spend $5 on so, instead, I made some of my own! Here are some photos of the UNfinished project with the finished switchplates:

The flash is ruining the pretty color, but this is the calendar and key holder that was already in there. I had to remove it all to paint (pain in the butt getting everything taped up after I removed pieces from the walls...etc.) All the way to the right you can see ONE of the switchplates. It's black flower silhouettes.

This is a truer photo of the actual color, though still not THAT yellow. It has a warmer feel to if in this pic it's missing a drop of orange or something, but stll...closer. This silhouette is an owl on a branch with a bird cage and birds hanging from the branch.

I imagine I will turn what's left of this room into a wrapping station (can you ever find the wrapping paper, tissue paper, labels, know you have somewhere when you need it? Because I can't!) and mudroom, but haven't gotten all the pieces together just yet. I still need some items before I can post full scale photogs of the whole project. It's nice, though, to be glamouring up the place, even if it is just the laundry/mudroom.

Sorry for the sub-par photos. My camera is out of commission until I find the battery charger for it (it's one of those cameras that has a special battery that needs to be charged...blah!)

Today was the first day of school and, so far, so good. We'll see. I only TA-ed for a very cool Architecture class/professor today--an extra gig I picked up since times are usually pretty slow in the summer and January is a CRAPPY month for Grad student instructors who rely on a stipend (that's a hint to anyone with authority that can change how that goes down). I get to reign over 21 students, thus far, one who poked fun at my bum eye (did I mention I have a wandering eye? It's inconsistent in its wanderings and usually only does so when I'm TIRED or stressed...aka-first day of class and up at 7am), to her friend (girls never stop being mean, do they?), but the rest seem pretty invested and far. Tomorrow, I teach my two classes. Huz and I are going to school early to wake up and make copies and all that fun stuff. Should be a good time ;)  More than likely the copier will be broken because that's just how it rolls. I'll be teaching Intermediate Cr. Nonfiction writing (think memoirs, etc. 15 students) and Intro to Brit Lit (30 students). Hopefully, all will go off without a hitch!

Also, I've been running again. Huz has been, too. We're all caught up on House (cus who doesn't love Hugh Laurie???) I made tasty spinach and black bean empanadas tonight for dinner (Huz just told me AGAIN how much he liked them so it sounds like that recipe is a keeper!) I've been working steadily on my memoir revisions and broke it down to chapters for this revision, so it's less daunting. Somehow revising one twenty-page or so chapter at a time rather than all 200 pages of the memoir at once is just less intimidating, ya know? Here's hoping! I love how busy and full my days have become. It's so nice to be so involved in my life :)

And, hey, a shout out to my lil 'ister who will be gown shopping tomorrow. She's tiny, petite, delicate and those dresses will need quite a bit of cinching to get on her little self, so GOOD LUCK, Sar!!! Send pics!

I realize this post is all over the place. I didn't get much sleep last night. Some nights, I just can't get cozy!
Love to you, though, with promises for a better, more fluid post than this one soon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sacrificing to the Guitar Gods

After my guitar lesson last night, D and I watched a movie and I unceremoniously cut my left hand's fingernails off, collecting the fragments and swiping them into the garbage. My whole life Mom has oohed and aahed over the superhuman strength of my nails. My nailbeds are wide, the nails themselves are hard as rocks, smooth and strong. Unlike my sister and my mother's nails, mine lack any hint of brittleness or frailty; they rarely break and tend to grow to lengths most women pay to have with fake, acrylics covering up their own nails. In fact, my nails even protest cutting and tend to need a few clamps of the nail-cutter before they comply. Mom attributes my nails to her parents genetics and laments that the trait somehow skipped her. She never fails to comment on their progress, often grabbing my hand, examining the nails with one hand and looking at her free hand's shorn ones. When my parents visited last semester, my nails were short, a byproduct of the stress of comprehensive exams and Mom commented, "It's not like you to bite your nails." "They've all just broken," I replied, examining the jagged edges, so abnormal to my hand. At Christmas, they'd grown back to a squared off, manicured-looking length and, again, she noted the change, sighing and saying, "I wish I'd made an appointment for a manicure for you. You just have such lovely nails. I envy your nails."

Women spend tons of money to get their nails pampered every week. In some ways, it's a sign of femininity, one that took years for us notice in my own nails since I played so many sports growing up and my hands were always calloused and dirty, nails kept short for the cause. Today, when I look around at my students and colleagues, I notice the various shades of red, brown, purple on their fingernails, or whatever color happens to be in season at the time. My aunts get their nails done weekly, selecting nail-jewelry when they have fancier occasions or holidays coming up. Many people consider the length, structure and even paint color of nails to be an essential part of their grooming, like I consider flossing my teeth and showering.

I can't count how many times I've heard or read about how revealing hands can be. Some are rougher and coarse from working with them often; good pianists supposedly have long fingers and well-kept nails. Receptionists and secretaries frequently have longer, painted nails and writers, well, we have soft, dexterous hands from all the typing we do.

When I cut those nails off last night and filed down the stubs that remained, I didn't feel like I was losing a part of my femininity or defying my mother's desire to live vicariously through my nails. Instead, a sense of liberation to the stereotype ensued. I am no longer definable by what my hands say, since my right hand nails are still longer. I'm blending together expectations, confusing the ability to determine a precise characteristic with which I can be defined, sacrificing my nails to the guitar gods in exchange for a skill. Already, I find that typing is a tad stranger with one hand's nails shorter than the other, but guitar playing is so much easier and just like learning the guitar, the strange new way of typing will come, too. The skills and work that defines me will recompartmentalize to allot time for practicing where once there none and some other space of wasted time in my day will be given up to learning to play this guitar.

Today, when I woke up and practiced my chords and scales with D's guidance, I could hear my mother in the back of my mind when she comes next month to visit saying, "What have you done to your nails?" and envisioned myself whipping out D's wooden guitar and plucking out my chords and scales as an answer. After all, I don't want to wait until I'm dying or sick to realize that there were things I wanted to learn, but never made the time. Shaving down my nails is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

While D's Guitar Gently Weeps or Guitar Lesson #1

When I was five-years-old my mother overheard me picking out a tune on the piano by ear that my brothers' were learning in their weekly lessons and immediately signed me up for lessons with their teacher who thought I might have a knack for it. Unfortunately, my brothers hated practicing and I mimicked everything my brothers did, so the lessons didn't quite go as planned. I learned to read music, but had a hard time matching my fingers to the notes or even deciphering their names without pausing, removing my hand from the keys and spelling out "F-A-C-E" or saying "Every Good Boy Does Fine." Instead, I relied on my ear; sometimes my finger would hover over a key just a millisecond longer than a good pianist would, knowing it was going to be the wrong note and flinching, internally, at the mistake I was about to make. As I got older and Mom gave up on the lessons, I found solace in banging out songs familiar to my fingers after a bad day at school or a frustrating game on the soccer/softball/field hockey field. Over time, I grew to love the piano again, but never quite grasped the translation of note names and their key correspondents. Nowadays, if I sit at the piano for three or four days straight, the sounds re-introduce themselves to my fingers enough for me to temporarily memorize the pattern which they should play to make the song I hear in my head. I read the music s.l.o.w.l.y. those first two days, picking out the tunes and reminding myself what the notes look like and which finger should reach for them; by the third or fourth day, I'm steady until, finally, it comes easily again. I can tell by running my fingers just once across the keys whether it needs to be tuned or not and which notes are off.

In fourth grade, I started the drums and played until I was fourteen. I listened for percussion in songs and was even given the title of "first drummer" in our school band, a role that came with having no sheet music to accompany the rest of the band's song and required me to play by ear, which, of course, I loved. That stopped when I entered high school and singing came to be the popular instrument of choice by my peers. So I took singing lessons for six months, an instrument, it turned out, I was not as naturally talented at.

Now, though, having just turned thirty-years-old, I am surrounded by guitarists. Dustin has two guitars here at our house: one that hangs from a hook in his office and the other that lives in an old black case. I am naturally attracted to the wooden acoustic guitar, with it's sleek glossy body and strong neck. Whenever Dustin or a friend plucks out a tune on the guitar, I immediately think of my mother in her youth who once told me she played the guitar. I knew it was true since the catalyst for me asking if she played the guitar lived in our small, cold computer room tucked, almost forgotten, away on the second floor of our house. The room was built off the staircase to the attic. It was narrow, like the neck of a guitar, and housed an old Mac computer with two games (Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and a WPM typing test). An ancient printer sat to the right of the computer and at least two long-sleeved shirts and a hoodie needed to be worn if one ventured into that part of the house. The only other object in the room was a wooden guitar with a busted string. I want to imagine that I wanted her to teach me, but that may be a fallacy. Somehow, though, the image of my mother with the wooden guitar nestled into her lap stays with me, though I've never seen it, and some part of me wants so badly to learn how to play it, to share this music with my family and my mother.

Sometime after my comprehensive exams last semester, I decided it was time to learn the guitar and I whipped out Dustin's wooden one while he was out of the house, pulled up some online instructions and tried my hardest to understand what all the lines, dots and numbers meant to no avail. This semester, I called upon my guitar-playing friends for advice, help, lessons...anything...and tonight, after a seitan cutlet parmesan dinner with Rory and Dustin at our home, Rory patiently gave me my first guitar lesson.

Dustin retreated to his study to read and kindly tolerated my picking and inquiries and Rory's careful instruction. So far, I've learned that holding the neck of the guitar and pressing down the frets is an abnormal motion for the human hand/wrist to perform. I can't tell the difference between whether a string is out of tune because it's too high or too low and this is going to be a lot harder than skilled guitarists make it look. But now I can tune a guitar and know what the dots and lines mean, learned some scales and chords and will be practicing like crazy until that guitar nestles into my lap and plays for me the way I imagine it did for my mother, until I have callouses on my fingers where the strings have made them stronger. Rory says my ear and my fingers and my wrist will all adjust...I just hope, after I cut my fingernails, that he's right.

Thanks D for letting me use your guitar and for tolerating my picking and prodding while you study. Thanks, Rory, for being a patient, thorough teacher. We're going to have to come up with a better tradeoff than seitan for what you're teaching me.

I'll let the rest of you know how it goes as we progress.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grind, A Confession and Beowulf

Here we are at "It's a Grind," our favorite local cafe. I'd like to pretend it's a dive, but it's really not and, right now, the only "divey" thing about it is the sea of coffee filtering around at my feet, remnants of what once inhabited this bright, beautiful, huge red mug Dustin was drinking coffee out of. That, too, is smashed. Ladies and gentlemen, let me re-introduce myself as one of the world's biggest klutzes. In all fairness, the catastrophic blow to the mug was not entirely my fault, since Dustin placed it directly behind my laptop, out of my line of sight. How could he know I'd turn my computer and send the mug flying? How could I know the mug was even there? Que sera sera.

We've come to this cafe in an attempt to refocus our attentions on schoolwork. For Dustin's part, he has been diligently reading books as if his brain has an unappeasable, ravenous appetite for them. I have been alternating between reading for my first week of teaching next week and revising my memoir. While we've both been rather dedicated, the semester will, no doubt, be hectic and even us studious, academic-types need a break from the same old setting; our home office filled with so many books it makes me dizzy just thinking about them. In fact, just before we left the house, we were fitting a place for a suspended bookshelf to reside in the office since we need space for, you know, more books!

Yesterday I began reading Beowulf which I am teaching the first and second week of the semester for my Intro to Brit Lit class. It was originally written in Old English and when I read the introduction, I found myself trying to memorize the symbols of Old English and what they sounded like so I could teach myself to read in Old English (my bf Megan can do this and I'm totally envious...literary nerds!). In my mind, it should work like those decoder rings from Cracker Jax boxes or those scrambled coded clues they provide on the Geocaching page that look like this. If I keep the symbols and their meanings beside the text, I should be able to translate no problem, right? But this is crazy talk and more introductory reading proves my theory to be impossible. It's a good thing the text I'm teaching has been translated. The big confession here is this (lean in closely because it's a secret)...I've never read Beowulf.

Has the initial shock worn off? I think everyone and their mother has read this text but me. Somehow, in the advanced lit class I took in high school, we skipped this stuff and worked with modern authors and poetry instead. In college, my creative writing major called for craft, workshop and critical courses rather than literature courses and I think my final lit course tally by the end of four years came in at four (two required, two for my film minor). When I divulged this to my husband, his brother admitted that he, too, had never read it. (It can slide with him, though, since he's not an English Lit. professor.) So D launched into a basic summary using the following words, phrases and definitions:

mead hall: place where men drink honey wine (aka-mead) and where they pass out; created by the king for the people (there was a lot more to this, but I'm going for "short" here)
King Hrothgar
Grendel: some sort of fucked up monster whose arms is ripped off by our hero, leading to his eventual death
tears limbs off drunk people: what Grendel does at night by sneaking into the hall when the people are passed out
Grendel's Mom: even more fucked up than Grendel who resides in a cozy cave and is really pissed off when her son dies (bitch should've headed Beowulf's threats...this is my additional commentary, not the husband's)
Beowulf: an arrogant warrior type who eventually becomes king; when he first busts on the scene he brags about swimming for hella long time, like twenty days, and to put his money where his mouth is, he brings down both Grendel and his mom (almost single-handedly). However, he later becomes king, but is more of a fighter than a thinker, the kingdom's not at its peak, a dragon is threatening the well-being of the land and Beowulf takes some guys, fights the dragon, becomes mortally wounded and dies. Oh, and only one guy stays with him to finish off the dragon, but the kingdom benefits from this dragon's death.
The End 

I considered whipping out our mini voice recorder and getting this all on tape to play to my class next week, but thought better of it, not wanting them to think this summary would suffice and they'd no longer have to do the work of reading. Sigh. One thing his summary did accomplish, though, is getting me stoked to read Beowulf. I haven't gotten past the introduction quite yet, but will let you know how it goes. Plus, we have a bottle of mead wine at home that I'm now dying to try out (I've been eyeing it between revisions and home-upkeep).

Have any of you read Beowulf? What'd you think?