Pish Tosh

Tuesday, December 28

CV's Accidental Poem

Goal Setting Worksheet, Altville Loony Bin Hospital

Write your goal:
Marry B.

Write one thing you can do to reach this goal:
Learn math.

Sunday, December 26

Loony Bin, Baby-eating

Merry Christmas, blogland!

I have not blogged lately. Nor will I probably do regular posts for a few more days.

Here are some things that happened today (or yesterday because, whatever, it's after midnight now):

1. CV and I got engaged.

2. While we were sitting in the cafeteria of the loony bin.

3. Where CV had himself committed Friday.

Also, there is a bunch of snow.

CV is not permanently committed. Only temporary, I think. He succumbed to stress and sadness and some increasingly erratic thinking.

Which doesn't appear to be quite gone yet. Since after he told me he wanted to get married, he told me that he is now (overnight?) a Republican. Who wants me to go to church. Also something about suspecting there really are aliens.

But this has to be the meds talking. Right?

Fortunately for my mood, my brother is here.

After I got him at the airport I was supposed to drive him to our parents' house. Instead, my parents came here. They were supposed to take my brother away with them but I teared up and asked if he could stay with me.

My mom offered to stay with me but I said no, I'm sorry, it will only work if it's my brother.

My brother is much funnier than my mother. Also, he's gay.

Which means I get to make terribly, terribly funny jokes about how of course he doesn't say/do/like such-and-such because he is one of the Baby-eating Homosexuals.

Which is an actual term from an actual Martha Nussbaum book.*

Which makes both my brother and I giggle fairly alarmingly.

We watched The Saddest Music in the World, in which a legless Isabella Rosallini is given the gift of glass legs filled with beer.

And in which she also says something like "If you're sad, and if you like beer, then...." Only now I forget what the punch line is.

I am sad. Also, usually I like beer. Anyway, it is a very strange movie. We loved it.

My family is very loud. This is actually refreshing for me. This is because I am sometimes told that I am loud. I am also conscious that when there's something I really want to say but someone else seems like they are about to start saying something that will probably change or redirect the subject, I almost can't help myself from just sort of talking louder and faster to get what I want to say said.

But my brother, my mother and I are all this way so the afternoon was a chaos of wrapping paper we left all over the floor (it's still there, actually) and all of us talking all over each other and only half listening to what everyone else was saying.

So today I was loud with absolutely no scruples or self-consciousness. At least there's a reason for it, the way my brother and I will both talk UNBEARABLY LOUD when we are really excited or really invested in the subject. To get heard over my mother, we had to learn to just start talking and to talk loudly and not stop until we are done, whether anyone appears to be listening or not.

It is funny. I thought this was going to be a very short post. I also thought I'd manage not to mention some of the paranoid things CV has believed lately. (Though trust me, I am keeping secret the really good ones.) But this rambling is what has come out. One of the things CV and I talked about today (in the mental-hospital cafeteria over trays of actually-fairly-decent food and among the other visiting people and of course behind locked doors as if we were in a prison) was how I, unlike he, have always kept a journal, even if sometimes sporadically, and have for that reason a process for blurting, for writing without editing beforehand. I write whatever the hell occurs to me, in my journal especially. Then I go back later and can ignore the tedious or stupid parts but can also find the few insights or gems. Also I can discover patterns I couldn't otherwise percieve. This is the way I, for example, discovered that the Friday before my period I ALWAYS believe that the world is a mess.

Knowing this, if I start to feel really upset, but then realize that it's the Friday prior, I miraculously settle down, and decide to give the world a few more days.

So I am good at constant self-discovery, self-interrogation.

But CV is doing "soul-searching," and it is really throwing him. Because he doesn't have the record of his mean or crazy or angry or worried thoughts, and doesn't have a long relationship with seeing that these thoughts can go away or change or be consciously changed, he feels very nervous about self-interrogation, as if questioning himself and his motivations or influences has the power to MAKE HIM DISAPPEAR.

I said that just because he is questioning some things doesn't mean he must now be a Republican. I told him that I thought the wrong way to think of it is that he has always been mistaken or duped. That what he is in danger of doing is merely flip-flopping: trading one set of unsatisfactory beliefs for another. But that he was leaping to belief in just as blind a way. That writing can be edited AFTER, not before, and so can thinking. That writing in a messy way -- tolerating messiness -- and then rereading can be the way of discovering the good parts of a belief. That editing later -- editing after but not before -- can let the best parts of the writing and knowing remain, the parts that couldn't have come through a tidy process.

That confusion is painful, but that the answer is not necessarily to rid yourself of confusion by adopting the easiest new conviction. That I think it's a better idea to learn to tolerate confusion, like an athlete adjusting to the pain of lactic acid.
That tolerating confusion, in order to allow to occur the process of blurting and thinking and investigating and revisiting and revising, will lead to better beliefs, better convictions. "Better" in being more true to the complicated topography of the world or reality, but also "better" in being made up more of flashes of insight, blossoming out of the empty husk of what you think you know about how to do things, to something unimaginable and better.

I was as gentle as I could be, because he is sad and fragile. But I was firm, and this is probably a character failing in a way. What I mean is, I couldn't let the Repbulican thing and the church thing drop.

Because I don't want to find that after living with a militant vegetarian athiest radical, I am to be married to a church-going Republican. ++

But what I said seemed to resonate with CV. And it resonated with me, too. And it's why I am going to publish this post even though I am far too tired to edit it and even though it reveals some uncomfortable things.

Because I don't know how not to be honest. To blurt. To say what seems pressing in me to be said.

Or I do. But it involves not saying anything and not writing. And talking to CV today has made me think that not-saying and not-writing are even worse dangers than the danger of saying too much.

One other scruple. I am not the one in what I so charmingly keep calling the loony bin, so it has of course occured to me not to tell about it, not to talk about it.

But I do not believe in not talking about things.

Because there is nothing embarrassing or weak about CV being depressed and so worried that he talks a little crazy.

Because this is an anxious-making world, and an anxious-making profession.

And I am very proud of him for being able to admit that he needs help, that his fragile human parts need protection. (It's partly why I was able to ask my brother please to stay with me because yeah, he was supposed to spend time with my parents and I don't like to impose as if my whims are most important but I really needed him.)

And all my favorite people are a little crazy.

And if I don't show to the world what the world creates in us, in me, then I am not allowing myself to experience messiness and confusion in the hope of making it through to a better clarity. If I am cowed by the Proper and the Polite, or by the possibility of going too far and making a mistake, then I have no hope of really changing anything, for me or anyone else.

And if you think less of CV for his sadness and his confusion, or me for my honesty, then I think less of you.

And someday, world, you will hire us. Craziness, sadness, blurtiness and all: you will hire us.

*It's not Nussbaum's term. She's quoting it from actual pamphlets distributed by actual anti-gay-marriage "activists." Honestly, these pamphlets also allege that homosexuals eat feces. This is the world we live in, people. Really it's dogs that eat feces, but I notice that we welcome them into our homes anyway.

++I want to point out that "Republican" here shouldn't be construed as simply a political leaning. I'm using the term, unfairly probably but this unfairness doesn't particularly bother me, to denote a set of characteristics not entirely congruent with the actual politcal doctrine. The repressive, paternalistic, smug and most of all complacent model is what I have in mind.

Tuesday, December 21

Some things you might not know about prisoners.

First of all, they can get college degrees, through programs very like the one I'm currently becoming uninvolved in.

Supposedly, someone knows someone who grades through my program whose students once included The Menendez Brothers.

However, most of the time prisoners can't have computers, so they have to do everything by hand. Which makes it harder to do, and also harder to grade.

Another thing is that sometimes prisoners have to be enrolled in some kind of course in order to have access to research materials that might, for example, help them to pursue an appeal. But if there are no classes, there is no access.

The final thing is this. I worked at a radio station which was within broadcast distance of a big prison. The inmates loved the radio station, especially the late night heavy metal shows. They'd spend hours drawing these crazy, elaborate drawings or plans for tattoos incorporating the names of popular radio djs, and sending the drawings in. When I worked in the office, I was required to open all prisoner fan mail, make a copy of it for the files, and make sure it wasn't threatening or whatever before I forwarded it on the radio personalities.

But it wasn't until after I'd been a dj for awhile that I discovered how prisoners, at least at this institution, made requests.

To understand, you have to think again about what prisoners don't have, which is a way to make long distance phone calls. Unless they call collect. Which, of course: the radio station couldn't accept collect calls.

I was introduced to the solution one night, only at first I thought it was someone playing a prank. (What was playing in the background? I do not know, but it might have been the Pixies, Bowie, Ash, the Coyote Shivers...) The phone rang; I answered.

"Would you accept a collect call from" (pause... then a new voice) "Rage Against the Machine."

I hung up going Yeah Right! Someone pretending to be Rage Against the Machine, how funny.

But then I remembered the prisoners who mailed all those yellow envelopes to the office. And that the seconds designated for giving their name were seconds during which the prisoners could communicate with the dj's for free.

And then I called a friend to bring over some Rage Against the Machine, because the station didn't actually have any.

In homage


Soon to stop darkening my mailbox: the dreaded envelopes!

Saturday, December 18


Just now I got my first-ever Google hit (that I could track).

What was that lucky Googler searching for?

"muck boots"

Pretty Tense

I guess I'd say things are pretty tense around our house.

You wouldn't know it to look at us. CV and I don't don't look jittery: in fact, we barely move. In fact, if you set up a time lapse camera in our house, the shot you'd get back would show us both hunched over our computers all the damn day.

And even though we both have desks, we've set up camp in the living areas. CV has the couch, with the coffee table in front of it. (Another thing about CV: he built all our furniture. Well, he built two chairs, three tables, and a bookshelf. Which is nearly all the furniture in our living room.) His books are stacked in three stacks at strategic spots around his fort on the couch.

On CV's stacks, the edges of the book line up. They are architectural columns of educational materials.

Periodically, CV lies down on the couch and takes a nap. Then he gets back up and hunches over his computer again.

I've set up camp at the kitchen table. I sit like a complete freak with my legs all twisted up like a pretzel. Around me are my wallet, a beer cap, my Ibook (ON a stand and WITH an extra keyboard parked in front, because I am that accessorised and also because I am convinced that the second I start to type in earnest on a project of significance I will be zapped with carpal tunnel so bad I will never be able to use my hands again, and I will have to learn to type with a stylus held between my teeth and it will NEVER BE FAST ENOUGH AND I WILL DIE WITHOUT EXPRESSING). There's also a PETA envelope with some really important notes on it so I have to remember not to throw it away, some doggie antibiotics, the title to my car, a few books, and a lottery ticket because THAT'S JUST HOW TENSE we feel. The kind of desparation where you're there filling your gas tank, no sweat, and then you go to pay and OH SHIT, OH MY GOD, LOTTERY TICKETS. IF I WIN THE LOTTERY THAT WOULD SO SOLVE EVERYTHING. I'm practically ready to start shopping at Wal-mart.

My stacks do not line up, and are not composed of educational materials. Frankly, my stacks are a total mess.

What are we doing at our "desk" areas? Hell if I know. We're fretting. We're obsessing. I recently installed a site meter, and I can't stop looking at it AND I DON'T KNOW WHY. Honestly, I think it's because it's easier than dealing with this HUGE pile of correspondence papers I still have to grade. And they don't stop coming! Every damn day in the mailbox the envelopes stuffed with papers. OKAY, PEOPLE, I'VE MADE CLEAR TO EVERYONE I'M HAVING A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, HOW IS IT I STILL HAVE THESE PAPERS TO GRADE.

Thinking about all this makes me realize that THERE IS NO GOD. And what I mean is, there is no one in charge of processing all my forms. There is no power of attorney! This call is not monitored for quality control.

I guess I mean that no one is weighing all the factors and making sure everything works out. There's no giant headquarters, making sure my transition from Indentured Student Labor to Self Contained Wage Earner goes smoothly. There is no master plan at work.

And about that job search.

We're getting envelopes full of shit for me to grade, but what we aren't getting is official rejections from schools.

But we are having nervous breakdowns because we do not have work.

It's funny, because we have no less work than we knew it was possible to have. We knew that CV could easily get no interviews, especially because his diss. isn't done. We knew that he'd probably only get to teach one section in the spring. We knew that I might not get to teach at all.

And yet we'd started to hope otherwise.

Hope is a bomb with feathers.

To be fair, the reason we hoped CV would get a second section to teach -- financial bonanza! -- was that BMU assigned CV a second section to teach. With a section number, a full enrollment, and everything.

The reason we started hoping CV would get interviews is because... we hadn't heard otherwise. And CV got good reviews at a mock interview that made him suddenly realize how much he had to offer. And because the places we hadn't heard from already have all CV's materials, so there'd be no intermediate request for writing sample. And because those places were all good fits for CV's strengths. And also because we really, really wanted to move to those places, which made us raving optimists.

The reason we were hoping I would get to teach in the spring is that we weren't. We were hoping that I would be able not to teach, because I am clearly a crazy person. And crazy people maybe should not teach.

But nobody ever said a crazy person shouldn't do a Ph.D. exam. Or write a book. So I thought I had lots of options.

We abandoned all hope at roughly 5 p.m. Friday, the end of the business week. Now it's late: we haven't heard: we won't hear. To make things crummier, I was supposed to hook up with this nanny gig but THE PARENTS DID NOT CALL ME ON FRIDAY WHEN THEY SAID THEY WOULD. And even though I routinely don't call people back (or get things graded or, like, post recipes) when I say I will, I am totally convinced that these parents discovered my infamous puke-in-ear comment and deemed me unfit for caring for their progeny. Which, re-reading this paragraph, I'm seeing their point. But really, I've done nanny gigs lots of times and I like them and I am good at them and THEY PAY CASH MONEY. Which I like to have.

Because when I'm tense I need to buy many, many California-style steamed burritos. Also, I have to buy a pleated skirt: just one. (After all, it's pretty tense.) Also some Thai food. And Crazy Person Pills, which when I don't have health insurance anymore in two weeks are going to cost as much per day as a California-style steamed burrito with tofu.

Let's all now note and appreciate the irony, because I have a job. Namely, I am (still) the official grader for a correspondence course.

Which pays a generous sum per paper graded. So it's a totally good job. Which I got because I knew someone who worked in the office -- so it's even nepotism. (Actually, not really: nearly everyone in my department grades for this program, because there's a high turnover rate because the THE PROGRAM IS SO POORLY DESIGNED. And because none of us make enough money to live on through our teaching stipend.)

So I have a job. In fact, you add up how many papers I have piled up in my inbox, it's probably $300 that I'd get in February.

BUT $300 DOES NOT SEEM LIKE ENOUGH. Given the emotional labor of the job. And the fact that I already quit.

Nope, this job is officially the lightning rod of my current nervous breakdown, so it's gotta go.

Unofficially, of course, my nervous breakdown has to do with CV. I'm having sympathy-pains, sympathy job-search-pains. CV's breakdown, on the other hand, has gotten displaced onto a situation I wish I could tell you more about. Let's call it "professional."

I try to tell him that he's feeling the same kind of pain I felt last year. You lost the job you didn't have, but hoped to have. You lost part of the job you BELIEVED you had. And part of what's left, you feel like you're doing it completely wrong. So of course you feel bad.

I also try to tell him that what is going on is called "exchange of ideas," "field research," "pushing the envelope," "staking your territory," "inviting collaboration," "being rigorous," "the profession," but he's convinced that NOT ONLY HAS HE ENSURED HE'LL GET NO INTERVIEWS THIS YEAR, BUT THAT NO ONE WILL EVER WRITE HIM ANOTHER RECOMMENDATION LETTER, EVER. AND THAT HIS HARD DRIVE WILL CRASH AND I WILL DUMP HIM AND THAT HIS DOG WILL RUN AWAY.

In other words, CV has become a crazy person.

Which, as you've probably guessed, I AM ALREADY A CRAZY PERSON. But I am clearly less crazy right now than CV, so it's this weird reversal of rolls. Suddenly, these non-crazy-person tasks fall to me:

1. remembering to buy the tag for recycling.
2. doing the dishes.
3. parallel parking.

Also, I have to say out loud the crazy thing CV is thinking -- like, you think someone is calling your advisor right now, on the secret line -- so he can act like he's all annoyed because of course he would never be thinking that.

He's also losing weight.

The weird thing is, today I finally sold the damn car.


We here at Pish Tosh hope you have enjoyed the link-essays, or essay-ettes, of the past couple of days.

We don't promise not to do it again.

You may also notice that we did not, in fact, post last night a recipe for a delicious meal. We have this explanation: oops! But we don't feel guilty about it. Because you are not our student.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled ranting and raving.

P.S. About that recipe: check back. We still plan to do it, you know. And trust us: you don't want to miss it.

I am everything wrong with the left.

Instead of surfing, I should just go to bed.

Discarded Lies: Blogging from Academia

Friday, December 17

Wanna Be on My Blogroll?

I haven't updated my blogroll lately but I plan to in the next few days. If you're not linked from my site but you want to be, let me know. (P.S. If you don't let me know but I know about and like your site anyway, I'll add you anyway.)



Friday Culinary Links II

Baking with Sylvia Edition

In 1963 Sylvia Plath wrote:

What a thrill --
My thumb instead of an onion.

Apparently, Sylvia was more of a baker.

Like many intellectual women, Sylvia complemented her fierce writing endeavors with tangible domestic items: roses, pies, time in the kitchen. Once she planned a short story called Day of the Twenty Four Cakes, in which a young wife who has fought with her husband bakes a cake an hour for an entire day. This strange and interesting essay, about a woman baking obsessively while also writing a book about Plath, offers other fascinating pictures of obsession, writing, and the kitchen.

I have work to do. But I plan to publish a fabulous dinner recipe later today!

Friday Culinary Links

Nice Sharp Knives and What To Do With Them Edition

Knives are on my wishlist, but I probably won't get any this year. Good knives are pricey. Currently I use an $11 knife I got an Amazon. For an $11 knife, it's the most amazing thing ever. (Actually, the $11 was the Gold Box price. Remember the Gold Box? I also got my Oxo Salad Spinner through the Gold Box.) It's an eight-inch Calphalon chef's knife, and you can see it in the (blurry) picture I posted here. (Not my most impressive cut job, though.)

It's a step up from the really sad knife I used before I moved in with CV and started teaching myself to cook. But it ain't a great knife, and it's also getting dull. So I am fantasizing.

*The New York Times dallies with different styles, including vintage.

*The LA Times staff guy favors Japanese knives.

*Then, you need to know the ins and outs of sharpening knives.

(The above links require registration. If you don't have an account try Bugmenot.)

What do I want?

This book says some flattering things about Global.

I like this one too.

I actually learned to dice onions by watching The Food Network, but you can learn here. (Also covers julienne and brunoise.)

V-Edge? Double-beveled Edge? Chisel Edge? Learn everything about giving knives custom cutting surfaces here. (And if anyone wants to sharpen my knife for me? I'll let you.)

Now: let the chiffonade commence!

Yes, Virginia, There is a Biological Clock

I like this site.

Thursday, December 16

Screw You, BlurtHouse!

A Comedy In Four Acts


[Blurt crouches on her desk chair, hunched like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. She is rattling papers like mad. Steam lofts from her ears. The fingers of the left hand of the actress playing Blurt should be in or near her mouth at all times.]

BLURT: shitfuck shitfuck shitfuck shitfuck shitfuck. Whyhaven'tIfinishedgradingthispaperIamtheworstpersonever. My poor correspondence student has called about this paper seventeen times! He keeps asking, why haven't you finished my paper, you unprofessional wreck? And he's right, he's totally right. I suck. Okay, grade. Let's see. Wow. Good introduction! Wait, let me write that...

[typing as she talks]

...like so, okay. Hunh! That's a really terrific sentence! What'd I write on his card last time. Oh yeah. Here. "Doesn't develop argument." Hunh! Well he's certainly developed his ideas this time! I bet it was all my inspiring comments! Lots of improvement here... (suddenly getting it) Shit. Wait a second.

[types some more.]

GOOGLE: (bleep! bleep! blurp!) The-sentences-you-have-requested-appear-on-websites-here,-here,-and-here.

BLURT: (reaches offscreen, grabs phone. pushes random buttons.) Yo, Correspondence Coordinator? Remember that student who's been calling to harrass you about me grading his paper?


BLURT: Well guess where his paper came from.

CORRESPONDENCE COORDINATOR: I'm guessing it's not his pretty little head!

[cue Laughtrack.]

[Fade to black.]


Mystical smoke swirling. Smells like incense in here.

[Blurt sits center stage in the lotus position. Middle fingers and thumbs on each hand meet.

On her face is a grimace.

[Time passes.]

[Some more time.]

[Blurt leaps up and runs offstage. Runs back on with a gigantic piece of cardboard. On the cardboard is written in block letters large enough for the audience to read: CONTRACT. BLURT WILL GRADE FOR ALL THESE COURSES. SIGNED, BLURT.]


[Rips gigcantic piece of cardboard into tiny little shreds. With her teeth.]

[Fade to black.]


[On the table sit Lamp and BlurtHouse Phone.]


[Conspicuously not ringing to offer well-deserved and lucrative jobs to CV and Blurt.]

[Fade to black.]


[ Camera rushes out from space in on the blue marble in on the world map in on the continent in on the heartland in on the skyscrapers in on the street grid in on the trees in over to the window of the tiny little house with no garage through the window in toward the laptop and focuses up close on the screen.

Presently, the audience can read the screen. It appears to display an email.


BODY: blah blah my most sincere blah blah blah the secretary that quit last week implication snork. What I am trying to say is that the second course we just gave you, we will now have to take away because we accidentally had already promised it to someone else. Conspicuously, however, not to your girlfriend, Blurt, to whom we have promised nothing. Because she has not passed her exams.

Once again my sincere sincerely blah blah blah because words cost us nothing so we may as well apologize. We didn't design the profession either, you know,


P.S. We hope you guys like ramen!

[Fade to Black]


[standing ovation]

Gabriel Gudding has a Blog

Which is interesting because Gabriel Gudding wrote "A Defense of Poetry" (reprinted in this great anthology), in which Gabriel Gudding writes:

16. For you are a buttock.

Indeed, you are the balls of the bullock and the calls of the peacock; you are the pony in the paddock near the bullock and the peacock; you are the futtock on the keel and the fetlock (or the heel) of the pony in the paddock:

17. Indeed you are the burdock on the fetlock and the beetle on the burdock and the mite on the beetle on the burdock on the fetlock of the pony in the paddock and the padlock of the gate of the paddock of the bullock and the peacock.

18. Thus with you I am fed-up. For you are Prufrock and I am Wild Bill Hickock...


In which he also refers to the Dingleberry of Reason.

The reading aloud of which led to one of the most entertaining evenings hanging out with my poet friends ever, and the assigning to students of which made me so pleased to be a teacher of English.

Blogging Ethics

If you Google "pish tosh," my blog is now the first thing that comes up.

My blog didn't use to show up on Google at all.

I have also just discoverd that if you Google "narrative blogging," the first thing that comes up is this entry from jill/txt.

And the second and third things that come up are two sites linking back to my own post on narrative, blogging, and reality.

I'm thinking about these "milestones" alongside thinking about the "ethics" of blogging. I have noticed that bloggers (I read) are often vigilant about responding to comments. Especially to new commenters.

And I was thinking that I was feeling guilty about not yet responding individually, even if only briefly, to the thoughtful comments on my post about being divided .

And I was thinking that I resented feeling guilty. Because feeling guilty is my whole problem right now.

And blogging is in some ways a "for me" venture, and as such is, I thought as I got into it, something that would free me from obligations, rather than entangle me in additional obligations.

However, at the same time, I love receiving comments, and I love commenting on other's blogs. And I like it when my comments are acknowledged by the blog author. Because one of the best things about blogging, to me, is the evidence that others are engaging with my ideas, thoughts, my narrative spin.

So I value the social and community aspect of blogging. I like participating in the community. But I don't like feeling guilty, or feeling that if I'm not up to responding I may offend or put off those who stop by... or that I will risk losing readers, because I confess I want some readers.

So, some meta-questions for the blog world:

1) At what point does my participation in and enjoyment of the benefits of the community of bloggers entail my responsibility to that community, over and above my personal desires and idiosyncrasies?

2) Or does the unformulatedness (to coin a word) of blogging mean that I can use it as I want to, dipping into the benefits, yet escaping obligatedness when I need to?

Into this mix come the comments on a whole other different kind of site which I was reading. The thread in these comments pursues a different set of concerns than those I'm discussing here, yet tucked into one of the comments is this sentence:

Or, as with so many Confessional Blogs of Anonymous Young Faculty (you know the genre), are commentary spaces only for therapeutic conversations?

While I think this commenter raises fascinating questions about responsility in blogging, I choke on that word, "only."

3) What's going on when people write sympathetic comments on each other's posts? Is it required, necessary, community building? Is it "mere" participation in a support group?

4) If you're in the group, are you required to signal your continued presence by commenting on each post?

5) Can "therapy" also be "scholarly"?

I know that for me the writing of rants does stand in for therapy, since I'm still looking for a therapist and still figuring out if I can pay for one. But because many of my posts are "confessional," does that make mine a "confessional blog"? Why not a "scholarly blog" or a "meta-blog," since I also write posts like this one?

I think I've mixed together a bunch of questions right now. But I guess I'm interested in 6) whether blogs are in fact divided into implicitly codified genres, recapitulating the "divides" between "disciplines" that give so many of us trouble?

7) And if blog "genres" exist, do the genres come with distinct sets of expectations?

8) And can/should we actively work against those expectations?

(And remember this post about who blogs what and why? Long-ass comment string but it would be interesting to see it worked up in chart form or something. )


I think there's an article in this stuff, people. Wait: maybe I'll write it myself.

Thursday Pop Links

1. A Visual History of My Little Pony. If you open the page for 1983, you can guess which two I owned and loved as a young Blurtina.

2. This is just awesome. Cartoon character skeletons. When CV and I wandered around Target last night we kept encountering Hello Kitty and knew that under that adorable unblinking stare was a REALLY WEIRD SKULL.

(both via Cup of Chicha. Scroll down through the
Cupboard, which is frequently updated.)

3. Another shoe blog. (It's not The Manolo.) (Update: Check out the vegan boots! I'm stoked! CV, if you get a job will you buy me stiletto vegan boots?)

(via Fimoculous.)

Tuesday, December 14

Last December

A rant, a cautionary tale.

I got my job at Tiny Greek University because of an earlier act of sheer bravado. The semester before The Job, I taught two classes for TGU. Twice a week, I commuted an hour, taught back-to-back two-hour classes from eight until noon, held an hour of office hours, and commuted back to Altville just in time to attend classes in the final seminar required for my Ph.D. coursework.

Apparently my performance was good enough -- or was at least enough competent -- that when someone vacated a term position (to take a t-t job) they thought of me. At the time it was mid July. And I was teaching at BMU in an intensive summer program when I got the call. Obviously, I accepted The Job. (How could I not?) The upshot was I had to prepare my courses in about three weeks while also teaching in this summer "boot camp," and I also had to extricate myself from my fall commitments to BMU. Everybody was really nice about it, but it was still an awkward thing to have to do.

1.5 weeks after the summer thing was over I reported for duty at TGU. And everything was sunshine and light. I replaced my falling-apart car that occasionally wouldn't start with a shiny new hatchback. I bought a few new clothes. I attended orientation in a kind of blissful excitement, knowing it would be hard, but so pleased that for once in my entire life I DIDN'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT MONEY. This was literally the first time in my life I had ever felt like that.

And things were better and better. For some months, let's call them September through November, the faculty at TGU were super welcoming and helpful. The chair of the department called me in one day and asked if I'd be interested in continuing to work next year. (That is, the year that has become this one.) Enrollment was high and they would definitely need more bodies to cover the classes. And I have (as I have mentioned) oodles of experience in all kinds of classes. NO GUARANTEES, of course, he hastened to add, but he'd certainly like to take advantage of my experience! Altogether, I was still feeling good.

Now we arrive at last December. Three things happened:

One: The chair stopped returning my e-mails as promptly and stopped meeting my eyes. Finally at the December faculty meeting he admitted to all and sundry: the dean of finance says no more adjuncts. Which is a good thing in a general way, but a bad thing when it means that class sizes will go up because there aren't enough tenured faculty to cover all the slots.

I started to notice, then, how fractured the department actually was. Between the "old" people who'd been there 20 years and the "new." Between the "creative writers" and the "lit professors." Suspicion, gossip behind backs, and everyone tired, tired, tired because the teaching and committee load at TGU is heavy and students expect in addition a lot of faculty face time.

Okay, fine, no more teaching next year. Which is good because I'm already getting kind of tired with this commuting every single day and I need to get back to the Ph.D. I was more uneasy, but I still felt okay.

Two: Except then I got a call from Accounting. Could I come in to the office? To talk about an issue with my paycheck? I could, because the alternative was grading.

You know it's bad when the first thing the woman you're meeting with says is, "Okay, don't cry."

(About which: I get, lady, that you felt bad for me. And that you realized that your office had REALLY FUCKED ME OVER in a way that might upset a reasonable person. But the "don't cry"? That was just selfish. Dude, think about what you were telling me. Although I didn't feel like crying. I felt like making sarcastic bitter comments and maybe throwing a stapler but I didn't do that either. Because when all is said and done I felt bad for YOU for having to tell me this news and when it comes down to it I AM A THOUGHTFUL PERSON WHO RESPONDS TO THE DISCOMFORT OF OTHERS.)

The issue was that, oops! They accidentally were paying me too much. It seems I was entered into the system as a student, and that this means that they weren't removing FICA. (FICA? What the hell is FICA? Apparently it's some kind of EXTRA, ADDITIONAL tax that students don't have to pay but that real adults do.) So I owed them $300/each for all the paychecks I'd already gotten. How embarassing! And we could take care of this issue if I could just forfeit my December paycheck?

Uhm, I have rent to pay? Also bills? So no I can't. Okay, then, she said. Here's what we can do for you! I've arranged it so that we can give you a loan for your December paycheck. Then next semester, you can pay us back for the loan, and also we will start taking out the FICA.

The upshot of all this, she told me, is that from now on my paychecks would be $600 smaller.

In my world, $600 is HUGE. It's, like, rent plus half a car payment. And, whether the money was "mine" to begin with or not, I had made a budget for the year based on the paychecks I was getting. So yeah, I maybe bought a coat or some velvet trousers that I wouldn't have bought if I'd known.

But the thing about the timing of these events was that they became a one-two punch, a double whammy. One, you won't be hired back next year. Two, you won't be getting as much money next semester, and so while you will obviously still be able HANDILY to cover your bills for now, you won't be able to put money into savings, meaning you won't leave this year with that nice financial cushion your little heart had so desired.

Three: So here I was, at semester's end, with no future job, no ability to save against a rainy day, and miles and miles and miles of papers to grade. Because I was teaching not one or two but THREE writing intensive classes, and like a fool I'd assigned four papers in each -- because I thought that was a good, effective course design. And obviously by the time Thanksgiving rolled around the drafts were coming in hot and heavy and I was starting to feel like a fool for having given myself all that grading.

It's around this time that something went ~pop!~ Something grading related. Because it TOTALLY DIDN'T MATTER what I did at my job, as long as I showed up and went through the motions. I could do the worst job in the world and it wouldn't matter, because I already had been given a termination date. I could kill myself doing the best job in the world and it totally wouldn't matter, because I had already been given a termination date. (Also, my paychecks were shrinking so why the hell would I bother?)

Nihilism ensued. Also a round of crying on my floor and an intense episode of gastritis that finally sent me scurrying to the phone to line up some meds and a therapist. At which point I encountered totally frustrating thing # 1,347 which is that my health insurance, which bragged on its nationwide network, featured nearly no providers in Altville: something to do with Altville providers banding together against the Big Bad Network. When I finally located a therapist who would take my insurance, he was a dear calm man who taught me a lot about breathing and who reminded me a tiny bit of my father, only older. There was no way I could confess to him all that was up, all the murderous laziness and the agonized rebellion and flat-out refusal to grade anything except for EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE.

Now, a few words. Obviously my performance on the job mattered somewhat, because I cared about my students, and because I still needed to milk the place for rec letters and student evaluations. But I already knew from whom I could get decent rec letters, and while my student evaluations are rarely stellar they're usually decent and in this case I had a couple of courses that scored pretty high. Or at least high enough to include in my teaching portfolio. So that didn't matter. The other thing was that Tiny Greek University DID end up having to open a new adjunct line of funding, but because it was a new line they had to run a national search, blah blah blah, and while I applied and while I made the "semifinal round" I didn't get invited for a "campus interview" because I don't actually have a Ph.D. Nor have I actually done my exams. I've been too busy, you know, trying to do my civic duties like teaching and attending committee meetings. AND DROPPING MY PH.D. PROGRESS TO COME BAIL YOUR SORRY ASSES OUT WHEN YOU NEEDED HELP AT THE LAST MINUTE, YOU HEARTLESS FUCKS.

And all of it was totally unrelated to my performance. But of course it FELT like it was. LIke, if only I'd been BETTER during that first semester, they would have had to hire me back!

I'm pretty sure this is wrong because, first of all, I did the job to the best of my ability (up until the end when I gave up in defeat and cancelled the final in my class just so I wouldn't have to grade it). Second, unlike the new t-t hire, I got no course release, I was commuting, and other teachers knowing that I was teaching THREE intensive writing classes said to me I-don't-know-how-you-do-it.

But I still felt bad about it.

My last semester there, I got a sweet course load. I got to teach creative writing. (I heard there was snark among the creative writing faculty until a champion of mine pulled them aside and said SHE HAS AN MFA. AND SHE IS A TERRIFIC WRITER. SO SHUT UP ABOUT IT -- they apparently thought I was just some lit hack.) I got to design a cool topics course. And yet I still couldn't muster the excitement about it I would have liked. Oh, I loved designing and teaching those courses. But I was already weary and around the bend and let class prep slide. And my grading ability had gone ~pop!~ I made it to school, taught my classes, med with students. In the evenings, I wanted nothing but to watch Law and Order for hours and hours. Which worked out, because one of the local networks ran Law and Order for hours and hours.

Is it possible for a job to really fuck you up? Because I think mine did.

And now it is December again. Business Model University has no teaching for me next semester and I hate my correspondence classes. They are "easy money" but they are maybe killing me. (UPDATE: Except -- yay! I think I'll just get rid of them.) Would it be really stupid to just have a part time non-academic gig (I have one lined up, about which more later!) and take out yet again a bit of student loans to get me by? While I maybe actually write my exam proposal and read my books that I've been avoiding while I've been preoccupied by not grading?

The more I do it, blogging's really fun.

Everything is Illuminable

Today is a good day. It turns out if you wrap it all up in a ball and hurl it out there then many good things will come of it.

1. Strangers will write to you and you will feel better.

2. Someone will call you interested in buying your car even though there hasn't been an ad in the paper for WEEKS and the car's just been sitting there on the curb with the "For Sale" sign on it and the tags expiring.

3. You will be able to admit to the correspondence coordinators that you are maybe a little depressed they will say We Thought It Might Be Something Like That and they will not try to make you feel bad and they will furthermore offer to take away all your grading.

4. Which will be financially feasible because your boyfriend will pick up a second class at his fancy Almost Graduated salary which means he will finally be making more money than you and it will be enough to buy all the groceries if necessary though hopefully it won't be.

5. Your dog, who has been sick with a wound and has been to the vet, will be feeling better and she will finally eat her dinner, though only if your boyfriend throws it to her kibble by kibble, which he will do, which will amuse you highly.

6. All your students will turn in their final projects. On time.

7. You will get a picture in the mail, with a Christmas card, from your boyfriend's sister. And it will be a picture of you and your boyfriend on the day of the sister's wedding, the day that ended with you drunkenly passing out and then becoming a Buddhist (a hungover Buddhist). Only in this picture, you and your boyfriend will both look TOTALLY BEAUTIFUL. It will be years since you saw a picture of yourself this good.

You will be wearing a pink strapless dress, with butterflies. In the picture you will appear to have cleavage.

8. In the same card you will find (from the same occasion) another picture of yourself, in which you appear to be smoking a cigarette. Which is funny. Because you're pretty sure you don't smoke.

9. Also, yesterday it will have snowed.

10. And melted.

But I am going to post the post I wrote last night anyway. It's good backstory.

Good Things

We've been using coffee that you buy from the store already-ground. Because we like to get the Organic Equal Exchange kind. And if we discover IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT that we're out of coffee (sending me into a minor panic, because how could one teach without two cups of coffee beforehand?) then the bulk food store where we buy whole beans is closed, and we have to go to Big Chain Store where they only sell Equal Exchange in the already-ground form.

But today I got to make the coffee with whole beans. And this is a messy process because when I open the coffee grinder I inevitably spill ground coffee on the counter and IT SMELLS SO GOOD AND I LOVE IT. And this -- grinding my own coffee, and making a mess -- is a Good Thing.

And also thanks, you guys, for responding to my earlier post with such thoughtful and sympathetic comments. I want to comment on these comments in more depth -- perhaps in another post a bit later. In the mean time, I've been working on (another) longish post I wrote most of last night at 4 a.m. when I should have been sleeping. It's kind of funny. There's some strategic swearing. I'll post it later today, probably.

For now I want to thank you -- it's cathartic, I guess, to get to tell your story, unvarnished, but in your own words. And to have other thoughtful creatures read your story. And respond to it.

That, too, is a Good Thing.

Also, I've already graded two of the dreaded correspondence papers in the hour I've been up. :)

In Which I Am the Potatoes

WARNING: Long post follows.

I suppose it is time to write a post about something that has literally been on my mind every day this semester.

I am also thinking about it right now after reading Dr. B’s recent post – particularly, the comments on her post. Oddly (to my way of thinking), no one suggested that she just get the hell out while there’s still time.

The question for me, and it’s not a compelling one, I grant you, is: should I get a Ph.D.?

A corollary to that question is: should I, in pursuing the Ph.D., quit the correspondence grading that is literally making me alternately pissed and a nervous wreck, and working on which I’ve now managed not to do for nearly a week?

The answers to these questions are not simple. I remember when I was coming to grad school in the first place, I read all the “Should I Get An MFA?” articles that get published from time to time. THOSE THINGS DON’T DETER YOU AT ALL. My guess is because it’s so easy to assume that, unlike the person writing the article and philosophizing about the aphorism “An MFA and a buck fifty will get you on the subway?”, I am not a loser. When in fact I am.

I have even scouted the web for articles about Should I get a Ph.D.?

None of this answers my question.


*I’ve put 7 yrs of my life into this project and have taken on a significant amount of debt. Need return on investment.

*Because of the really outrageous number and astounding variety of writing classes I’ve taught, I have a vast knowledge of which textbooks to use when, strategies for explaining aspects of writing, pilfered worksheets, stolen exercises, and other totally useful paraphernalia. I have the somewhat unique perspective of having seriously studied pedagogical overlaps between the teaching of creative and expository writings. THIS CONCORDANCE OF PAINFULLY ACQUIRED KNOWLEDGE SHOULD NOT GO TO WASTE.

*Sometimes, I love teaching. I love it. I love it. I especially love it when I can get students to go along with something that at first they believe is TOTALLY WACKED OUT but then they get into it and they realize that I have magically prompted them to rethink their entire way of composing sentences and in fact thinking about the world. THAT ROCKS.

*I love it when I have a really good writer in the class and that really good writer totally digs me and I dig her/him and furthermore I KNOW HOW TO HELP THEM. They’re really good, yeah, but I can give them some tips on drawing it all together. And then they make this beautiful thing, this coherent thing. This way of looking at the world, brought to clarity. And I helped to bring that into the world. AND THAT ROCKS TOO.

*I have seven million ideas for classes that would be really, really good.

*I love the books on the list for my exams.

*Critical theory makes me kind of hot.

*I have a Prospective Director who is caring, thoughtful, and brilliant. Plus, bonus: a vegetarian. (Yes, I am an English major, and yes, my project is about the politics of food. Go figure.)


>Prospective Director is not in my specialty. Problems ensue.

>I’m sick of hoop jumping and red tape rigamarole. I remember literally bursting into tears in the bookbindery when I was trying to drop off my MFA thesis. Some stupid hangup caused by Totally Not My Fault.

>I AM TIRED. I’ve been doing this for 7.5 years, something like 30 classes and counting. I started teaching a month after I turned 21. I have not slowed down since. In my entire twenties, I have done nothing so steadily as teach.

>When I started, I was very shy and very underauthoritative. And it took a long, long time for me to get over the pain I felt those first couple of years, before I was at least older than most of my students. Some of that pain still lingers. I never feel like what I am doing is good enough. And I am also mad. I came to graduate school to write. I was led to believe that teaching would be a minor time commitment and would not distract me from writing. THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE.

>I have had a full time job. It was a term position. Non-renewable. Also, I didn’t actually have to apply for it. Or interview (don’t hate me). But by god, I held the post. And I showed up each and every day. Except for once. So I have nothing to prove, really. I already won: got to be the young one with a job.

>I’m sick of the administrative bullshit. I’m sick of living on tenterhooks about whether the department will be able to continue to fund me. I’m sick of having to feel grateful when it turns out – days before the semester starts – that they will. I’m sick of not having dental insurance. I’m sick of periodically losing my health insurance. I’m sick about all the bellyaching about the State of the Profession.

>I’m sick, I think, of feeling so powerless. How I am financially obligated to beg for scraps. To keep myself going. So that I can get the Ph.D. That no one is pretending will get me a job.

>I have given up grading. I almost literally feel like I can’t do it, can’t face the angry e-mails from correspondence students screwed once by the ridiculously designed system and twice by me, the Nervous Breakdown Queen, who lately views it as a full day’s work to have had one hour-long interview and one half-hour-long meeting with students. Plus I had to buy a new printer cartridge. ALL ON THE SAME DAY. There’s no time for grading in a day like that.

>Reading the books for my exam research makes me want to write: 1) personal essays. 2) prose poems. 3) fiction incorporating frameworks from my research, and/or historical figures (Fanny Farmer, Julia Child) and 4) sociology. I AM NOT A SOCIOLOGIST. I AM AN ENGLISH MAJOR. I don’t get paid to write sociology, or prose poems. (Though I did once: get paid to write a prose poem.)

>The exam books also make me want to cook. And go to Culinary School. And watch the Food Network all day. (Good thing I don’t have cable.) And travel to foreign countries. And eat an oyster, which I never have. (I am a vegetarian, not a pescatarian. But I would make an exception.) They don’t really make me want to write a marginally interesting dissertation about How An English Lit Major Justifies Thinking About Food. Plus who would hire me? No one advertises for positions in 20th Century Food Writing Analysis.

>I am irresponsible, and I know this. “Colleague” from Dr B’s comments (this person made my blood boil) would so totally be all up in my shit. And it is bullshit, a lot of it – the way I’ll avoid my e-mail if I feel overwhelmed, or will shut down and refuse to grade. And I don’t know how to stop it. (But I have a complicated relationship toward this con. Because there are two or three courses in the world that I could teach better than anyone else. And this is partly because of the same “irresponsibility,” which does have certain benefits in flexibility and innovation.)

>I think I am depressed. Seriously.

>And so much of my adult identity has been bound up in teaching that it feels like a certain amount of the weight of this depression gets funneled through teaching. Teaching has replaced my mother as the major source of guilt in my life. And even though I’m so obviously supercompetent compared to how I have been in the past, I do not know if it will be possible ever to separate teaching from guilt. Or guilt from depression.

>Also, I could totally be a housewife. I could cook fabulous dinners and I would probably even vacuum now and then. (Honey, are you interested? Anytime you want to start paying me to stay home…) Seriously. I was reading Dooce the other day. (You should too. Though I blame her for the spate of capitalizations in this post.) And she is just about my age. And yet I neither own a house nor have manufactured a baby. But that’s not it – it’s that she has a LIFE whereas I still have A LONG PATH INTO THE UNKNOWN. I mean, I have a life – I have an awesome partner, and we have a really great community. But we’re still in this sort of adolescent phase of owning almost nothing of value and having no idea or little say in where we’ll move or when. DADDY STILL GETS TO TELL US WHERE TO GO AND STILL INSISTS WE MAKE CURFEW, if in this case Daddy is the profession.

A Final Thought:

At the Farmer’s Market this summer a totally cute young farmer was selling colored potatoes. I like colored potatoes: you know, yellow ones, blue ones, ones that are sort of reddy-purple. And many of the potatoes were weirdly shaped. With bulges, or sort of V-looking configurations.

I asked the cute farmer why.

He said his soil was really heavy soil: it had a lot of clay in it. And this heavy soil affected the shape of the potatoes. And so I said, oh, is clay good for potatoes? Thinking that the twisted shapes were a side effect of some kind of nutritious additive good for potato meat. But the cute farmer made half a smile. And said, Not really.

I don’t want to grow myself up in toxic soil. I want to see my proper shape! And I can’t tell, can’t tell what’s the clay in the soil, in my case. Is teaching and guilt helping me grow? Or stunting me?

Sunday, December 12

Note to Self

Tequila is seductive. And "Claus"-mopolitans with rum and orange curacao and Hot Damn! are festive.

But beer is safer.

Q: When you showered just now, did you remove a glob of puke from your ear with a Q-tip?

A: A small glob. Yes.

There were teachers at the party. The best overheard line of the night:
"This week I had occasion to write on a student's paper, what if twenty black lesbians were reading your paper? How would your argument change then?"

Saturday, December 11

Heard In and Around the Blurt Household

"Stop making horny noises. I have work to do." "Well then stop spanking me."

. . .

"Is it a cowlick if it's on her butt?"

. . .

"I got gravy on the sheets. Oh. There's also some on the little lacy pillow here. Oh. There's also a bunch on the wall."

. . .

"Would you give me one of your kidneys?" "Probably."

Year End List

Every year since I've joined grad school, I've recorded in my journal at year's end a numbered list of the major things that happened to me that year, the "firsts" that showed that I was getting on in life, progressing.

For example, looking back on 1998, I find these accomplishments listed in my journal: 1. Cut my hair. 2. Taught 5 college classes. 3. Bought first car. (Ed: it was an old one, and I'm now trying to sell it. Anyone want a sweet deal on an old Camry?) 4. Bought laptop. (Ed: Before the laptop, I wrote everything on a Brother word processor.) ... 8. First long solo drive, to NYC and back. 9. Planned Parenthood visit in NYC for emergency morning after pills. 10. Feather boa: bought and wore... 17. Secret Illicit Love Affair: begun. ... 29. Sex in bar bathroom. (You can see what counts as accomplishment when you're barely 22.)

Last year's list (2003 in review) was dense with accomplishment: 1. MFA and MA degrees, granted 2. story contest sponsored by tiny but national journal, won 3. first teeny publications 4.first full time job and first "real title": Asssistant Professor of English. 5. My credit, for the first time ever, was such that it was possible for me to walk onto the lot of a new car dealer. And to buy a new car. Just like that.

This year I turned 28. My fertility levels are already dropping. Among graduate students, I'm no longer young. I've published no novels and have had no stories accepted by The New Yorker. Thus I have failed to become a wunderkind on the order of John Updike, Nicholson Baker, or Carson McCullers. I am hesitating about my degree and I am barely employed. I have never left school.

But I am happier than I was in 1998.

There have been firsts in 2004. First therapist, first diagnosis (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), first prescription for said diagnosis. First time I stopped dithering and started a blog.

But 2004 is notable for its long sleeps, its long drives, its long silences. 2004 has been a year of reconsidering, of paring down. Of taking away, not adding. For the best.

Thus my list for 2004 is not limited to accomplishments or firsts.:

1. My life is not the story of a zippy rise to fame or a snappy rise to academic success, and this is perfectly fine. My life is a story of cats petted, books loved, runs coaxed from reluctant muscles, soups made from scratch, of accompanying friends to confrontations with landlords or on thrift store/diner crawls around cities. My life is a story of collisions that happen in my mind, even if no one else can see these collisions but me.

2. My life need not be defined by grading, or even by teaching. Yes I am in some cases rather good at it. Yes it is a skill, even if sometimes it doesn't feel that way. Yes I have acquired the skill, spent years doing so in fact. But none of these things mean that I have to do this. I have the option, if I want to, to do something else.

3. I am no longer willing to give up sleep for work that I am not passionate about. The second half of this year has been a year of sleep. Ten or eleven hours a night if I can get away with it.

4. I am not willing to forfeit my life -- my life, the time I have to perceive and think about things, to meet and interact with people -- to the mold imposed by a profession about which I have serious reservations. If I can coordinate my life with the profession, fine. If I can't, my life should win.

5. Blogging and reading blogs is not by definition wasting time.

6. I am getting to know my mind. This requires a lot of time. I enjoy it.

I will probably revise or add to this list as changes occur to me.


Originally uploaded by Blurt.
I take a lot of self-portraits. And this is because I'm usually the only person around when I'm taking pictures.

Most of the pictures I take are blurry. This is because I like natural light and hate the flash. And I've never really gotten into actually bringing in light sources to wherever I'm taking pictures. What, you think I know how to do that kind of stuff?

I don't. So I just take many, many pictures. And hope.

Friday, December 10

Testing Flickr

Originally uploaded by Blurt.
This entry is an unsubtle attempt to try out new technology. It's the end of the semester and I'm fresh out of ideas about cooking, though designing dinner has, no joke, become one of my hobbies. Anyway. I took this pic of vegetables the other day. It was a day I had no idea what to make for dinner but came across some dehydrated veggie chili mix we had around. I decided to throw in some of every old vegetable in the fridge, including that zucchini leftover from Thanksgiving.

I called it Wack Chili. Continuing the trend, last night we had Wack Curry, which was curry paste + coconut milk + assorted stuff from the fridge (frozen peas, old squash, a wizened bell pepper. Plus some tofu. Plus some basil. Plus some sugar. And salt.

Not my finest, but it was okay. And didn't require going to the store.

A blog about a superhero named Tony

Tony is an old pal of mine and his blog so far is witty. I love the mix of literalism and seeming-surrealism. (If I've started my blog in a literal vein, am I allowed to turn it surreal if I want to? I've been to too many writing workshops and have imbibed too much about how you have to "prepare the reader" for what comes & etc, you know, if you're making a good little capitalist product that the people will know how to take.) Anyway, I hope Tony keeps it up.

Wednesday, December 8

I quit something today.

It was one of my jobs. Actually, it was one of my classes. I gave up one of my correspondence classes.

I was nervous before I went in to quit. But I thought of the calm you intuit sometimes, especially if you have been practicing meditation specifically to cultivate the intuition. At the advice of many random self-help readings, I visualized getting what I want, having the affect that I wanted. And at the advice of me to my tech-writing students, I thought of the meeting as a transaction, not a place to air grievances. I do not want to cause pain or inconvenience. I simply want to extricate myself from a situation that I'm taking far too hard.

And the meeting went okay.

The amount of papers is so much more than I bargained for when I agreed to take on the extra class. I was flattered by the idea that I could be someone who could casually take on that responsibility. I was attracted by the prospect of the money. I felt obligated, since teaching availability's so up in the air and we can't positively plan on CV getting a job. And because of money guilt. Left over from childhood. Also greed.

It's been obvious for weeks that I'm having a really hard time getting and keeping the new classes caught up. Last week it came to a head. A student wrote me, distraught, over not having back enough of his papers to allow him to finish the course in the (absurdly short) length of time allotted to students in this program. (Note to the program: snail mail is slow.)

I was checking back through my records, sick with guilt but of course rebellious about feeling that way, when the mail came. And with it, one of the inevitable large envelopes from the correspondence office. And in it were the students' lessons. Arriving at my door. Two days after I probably should have been able to have them back to him.

My procrastination and guilt complexes + overworked and/or incompetent staff = far too much expenditure of emotional labor. (This is a reference, though I'm too tired to look it up.)

It was nice after I quit. But now I am feeling a little bit guilty again and a little bit resentful.

Because I still have to do the last few papers.

Bad Cat Mama

My baby weighs 19 pounds.

My baby is a six year old mackerel tabby, and so this is on the large side. Of course, he's tall for a cat, with long bones. But still. A lot of that poundage is belly.

I feed the cat the lite form of this schmancy stuff. He's been on the lite stuff for like four years.

He has a lot working against him: he's neutered, declawed (I got him from the pound that way!), and not allowed to go outside. (They actually make you sign a form promising you'll keep the cat indoors, when you adopt a declawed cat.) For the first coupla years, he lived with me in a studio-cum-one-bedroom that opened onto a concrete balcony over busy street. Even now, when we live in a teeny house in a nice quiet neighborhood full of squirrels, the cat can't go outside. What, he's gonna be able to catch a squirrel? Have you seen his belly swing when he runs? No, but seriously, the neighborhood cats sometimes sneak up outside the screen door and yowl at the cat. The cat yowls back. He buffs up all manly and growls. It's clear that he's quite sure he can take these cats: just let him at it.

Which we and the neighborhood cats know otherwise. Tabby Cat doesn't have claws, and if in a playful mood he jumps OFF-the-bed-and-runs-to-the-couch-and-leaps-and-runs-back-to-the-bed, then he has to collapse for a while upside down on his back, paws splayed like a manatee, and wheeze.

Which brings me back to the fat. Three years ago, the vet said, if the lite stuff doesn't work, bring him back in and we'll put him on a science diet.

But I never did. And in fact, I shamelessly bribe the cat with food each and every 4 am he hefts himself onto my chest and purrs intently into my face. (He supplements the purring with nips. This is what usually gets him knocked onto the floor.) I bribe the cat with a little dry food in his empty bowl anytime he knocks stuff off the table, attacks one of our books, shreds important papers with his teeth. (This is one of his very favorite diversions. Also, it's hopelessly cute. He sort of plants his little clawless paws on the paper, fetches some into his mouth, then shakes his head back and forth really fast, spewing shreds like confetti.)

I am a bad, bad mama. Oh sure, the cat gets food and love, and playing (or at least harassment) each and every day. But the cat still has his belly. I haven't regimented his food or put him on a vigorous diet. I don't even trim his back claws, and his little back feet click click click on the linoleum.

I know that obesity in cats can, as in humans, cause problems. I know that the weight pulls on his spine, making his form not what it should be.

But I think the cat is happy. Most of the time. And I'm happy -- he's a purring machine -- and entertained, since pets are funny. Or at least ours are. (Sometimes when Cat is being rowdy late at night, we tell the dog to get him, and the dog, I swear to god, makes this groan that sounds like gimmeabreak!)

It just feels too much like guilt, too much like being controlled. I must be healthy and fit, and so must my cat, is the message I get. Along with all the other Musts and Shoulds my therapist told me I should question.*

So that's it. Sticking it to the Man. Just me and my fat cat.

*Which isn't to say that I don't hope we can all stay healthy and fit. Healthy and fit is great.


I got really shit-faced at CV's sister's wedding this summer. This is partly because my first year as an Assistant Professor, commuting multiple hours a day and also trying to keep my PhD project afloat, not to mention the grading as well as the not grading -- well, my teaching year left me with a habit. Of getting home around six and slamming a bourbon.

By summer I was well aware that liquor, while perhaps not an ideal solution for dealing with stress, was at least a solution. What's stressful about CV's sister's wedding? Well, aside from the normal social phobias that an introvert feels in unfamiliar situations, I'm a little stressed out by his family. I feel at odds with what they might expect of me. You know: I don't answer his mom's e-mail, and sometimes don't even open it; I fail entirely to mail Christmas or birthday cards; I don't eat meat and his sister farms pigs. Ex-girlfriends would be around; the many fine young nieces would also be in play, encouraging everyone to hang out by the pool. In, of course, their bathing suits. Plus, weddings. Anyway, suffice it to say, drunkenness occurred, and drunken revelry ensued.

Apparently at some point in the night CV and I had a disagreement. Words were exchanged. What I remember is storming off toward our hotel room, falling off the backs of my fancy shoes, insisting I didn't need to be escorted. Upon arrival in the hotel room, I dropped my dress to the floor in a puddle, ate half a (cold) veggie dog (the other half of which I left on the sink, by my toothbrush), and promptly fell asleep.

I slept deeply and failed to hear CV knocking later, when he came to check on me. I had taken his key when I came storming back to the room (obviously, I lost mine), and he couldn't, until he fetched a hotel staff person, get in. And, because he loves me, he was really worried.

When I came to the next day, then, the first thing I noticed about CV was that he was pissed. At me. About acting all crazy and making him worried at his sister's wedding. Which made me kinda pissed, at first, since I was trying to be social, have a good time, etc. Which we discussed calmly and respectfully -- our grievances with one another. We met the family for the final family goodbyes -- I was of course horribly hungover and everyone was, rather than being shocked, making gentle fun of me, which made me like them better -- and then CV and I piled back into the car and drove home.

On the way home, we saw a turkey at a rest stop. It had apparently tumbled out of a truck on its way to be slaughtered. It was opening its mouth and making its CAW! but no turkeys were responding. It rattled its wings but couldn't fly even a little bit. It had a big red mark on its chest from the cage bars. The thing looked really freaked out. The other people there were making fun of it, calling it ugly, and tossing their keys at it. CV and I, on the other hand, looked at each other horrified and tried to figure out how to get hold of the local animal shelter.

We tried to give the turkey some water in tupperware, as if it were Coy Dog. The turkey edged toward us until distracted and frightened by a nearby father of small children. The small children were not threatening the poor distressed bird: their daddy was.

After this, I decided to become a Buddhist.

Actually, I don't really mean "become a Buddhist." I mean I decided to meditate, to practice zazen. To read books about Buddhism. I don't know exactly why. I felt that my body was craving something and trying to tell me, as it's supposed to be doing when you feel the need to eat mud or chew a pencil.

I read Mindfulness in Plain English first, because it was conveniently located on CV's shelf next to his other Buddhist books (which I did not read). This is a terrific book, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in meditating, finding out more about meditating, or anyone who needs to calm down a little, to learn to recognize your mental states, to deal with, understand, and accept them, and to learn to allow them to disintegrate. (A couple other books I read are memoirs, this and this. The first one's better than the second.)

I also made a special trip to Borders for the purpose of buying Writing Down the Bones, a famous text often recommended to writers but which I had never read because I am (or used to be) 1) resistant to reading books that tell me about how to write and 2) resistant to finding motivation in anything favored by the former Problematic Roommate #1l, as this book was favored.

But I bought the book, and read it in the early summer sitting on our porch. It was just what I needed. I've since passed the book on to my father so I can't quote from it, and I don't know if I would anyway. Basically, though, in this book Natalie Goldberg presents writing as a practice, in the same way that sitting zazen is a practice. When you do writing practice, you sit for a specified length of time and you just write. When you practice zazen, you sit and concentrate on the breath. You try not to think: you try to notice thinking, and then you return your attention to the breath. When you practice writing, you don't think, you write, and you keep writing. You stay with the action and the act -- the process. Not with what's on the paper.

This was useful for me at the time because while I did sporadically journal (mostly about how stressed out I was and how much I wished that I didn't suck), I didn't have an official repertoire of informal writing. It had gotten to be that even non-PhD-related, or "fun," writing was also full of pressure. I had very little time to give to writing, and I felt like any time so given thus had to "count." That is, no playing around, unless you know what product you're trying to get out of it.

Which is no fun at all.

The Goldberg book loosened me up, reminded me that writing is process. Even when I could only give it 10 minutes, I could give it 10 minutes. 10 minutes isn't much. And nothing much was required from the 10 minutes. All that was required was that for that small period of time I keep my fingers typing.

That was it. Nothing else. Do that, type for 10 minutes, and there you were: sucess.

(Of course, I'm wordy, so most of my 10 minute freeform sessions turned in to 30, 40 minute riffs. But never fiction, and never pressure. Just words. Remembering. Explaining.)

In a later post I may try to say more about my relationship with Buddhism -- with the difficult idea of thinking below concepts. Academics deal in concepts... the idea of seeing reality separate from them is oddly hard to parse. I want to explain about slowing down, about trying to get off any and all fast tracks. To be unresponsible. To practice writing all day long without any "product" to show for it.

But now I want to talk about stories. Buddhism has its share of parables: micro-narratives, little object lessons. But while one could easily work with this if one wrote didactic fiction*, it's difficult to reconcile the processes of fiction with the processes of zazen.

It's easy enough to see that these two are oriented fundamentally differently. In meditation (at least the Vipassana or "insight" meditation described in Mindfulness in Plain English), you want, ultimately, to see beyond self. You want to see beyond everyones' selves. You want to cultivate loving friendliness. You want to stop interpreting or judging and stop imposing your connections on the dots:

"It is pyschologically impossible for us to objectively observe what is going on within us if we do not at the same time accept the occurence of our various states of mind. This is especially true with unpleasant states of mind. In order to observe our own fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can't examine our own depression without accepting it fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration, and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can't examine something fully if you are busy rejecting its existence. Whatever experience we may be having, mindfulness just accepts it. It is simply another of life's occurrences, just another thing to be aware of. Now pride, no shame, nothing personal at stake--what is there is there. Mindfulness is an impartial watchfulness. It does not take sides. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just percieves..."

But stories -- hell, sentences -- are all about connecting dots. This is sort of getting into the territory of my earlier post about narrative. Narrative excludes things. And that can be good: removing all the clutter can reveal a pattern underneath, something you wouldn't have noticed any other way.

One conundrum, then, is moving from the writing process to the fiction. I can see an essay here or there. Prose poems. But I don't understand (yet) how the products of the process can become more like, products. (Or maybe I'm in the wrong genre.)

More perplexing is reconciling the academic part of my brain -- which also thinks it has been trained to percieve things more like how they are -- to the narrative of non-progress. I may be simplifying this (another side effect of storytelling?), but the meditation path -- the path approaching peace and fulfillment -- process over product -- keeps seeming like it's ... lazy, or at least unavailable. The academic part of my brain says: What, you want to meditate? You want to write stories? You want no money? They kick you out on the street? Then you and your ibook can hang out all you want. But you can't have velvet slacks then and you can't have dinner. And I don't think you'd like it all that much.

My academic brain also says any philosophy that allows you not to grade and lets you get out of doing things just because you don't like them... is kind of forgoing agency, no? Which is a fancy way of saying lazy. And abusive of my power.

(I lost half this post and I want to say that it was more well reasoned at the end before, though I don't know for sure that it was. At any rate, it was different, though I'm tired and can't remember how. If it doesn't make sense, then, that's why.

*Actually, I believe all narrative is, like grammar, didactic. But another topic for another time.

Tuesday, December 7

Biting, also Scratching

Waiting to hear back from job applications is like waiting to hear back from graduate schools was in college. Everyone you knew had also applied to grad school, and they were waiting, too. And everyone knew when the range for possibly hearing back was. And there was a time of densest probability of hearing back. And that time was still a little bit away in the future.

But as the time approached, things got wound really, really tight. And like someone you knew would have heard back early. And then someone else you knew would suddenly get a nibble. And you knew that time of densest probability of hearing back about being accepted was still in the future, though by now only barely, and if you hadn't heard back early or semi-early it started to seem like it was already too late and because by now two or three other people of your acquaintance had heard, good news, and you haven't heard and you aren't going to hear because it doesn't just matter about talent the odds are against you too and who are you to think that you can beat the odds and you aren't even that great really, in fact forget that, you totally suck. It's fine: you can move back home with mom. Or scratch that, maybe with your boyfriend's mom, who you don't like much but who is richer.

Anyway it kinda feels like that around here. And I'm not even applying; I'm just really, really rooting for CV to get a job. And as I hear of a nibble here, a nibble there, among colleagues, I get nervous on his behalf. I should admit it's really on my behalf. Winning the bread as a female is awesome and all, but enough. It's my time to eat bon bons.

It doesn't help with the nervous, strained feeling that everyone in the department is applying for the same jobs.*

The other thing that doesn't help is the teaching situation back home. The BMU enrollment was apparently way, way down this year, meaning less kids and less money to fill classes, meaning less classes for the TAs to teach. Sorry TAs. I know you were counting on it but no crap-classes full of freshmen to put bread on your tables.

Hey, I have enough outside gigs to support myself more or less. I'm resourceful. But the whole up-in-the-air state of teaching assignments in these parts certainly adds to the generally strained air around here. I don't know that our department is overly competitive -- normal stuff, but not, like, severe -- but the fact that the pack of us grad students is sometimes like a pack o' hungry jackals tossed just a couple scraps (Anyone want to pick up a last minute Grammar Course that pays $800/semester?, goes one such scrap) certainly fosters the biting-and-scratching brand of collegiality.

*I exagerrate. But it's, you know, some.

Monday, December 6

Narrative, Blogging, and the Truth About Reality

In which Blurt moves from grading to the interesting narrative question of truth in blogging, invokes New Kid, then sidesteps into dragon slaying and kickin' it lazy-style like Zizek. In the name of research, of course.

I am a terrible grader.

When I say this, I don't mean that I am mean (though probably I sometimes am) or that my comments aren't helpful. They are. This is part of the problem: it's tough to prevent myself from getting all into it, writing little essays, rehearsing many formal issues the writer could attend to and explaining just how one might attend to them, asking a gajillion questions aimed at prodding the writer into examining the implications of what she is saying.

Needless to say, it can take me forever to grade a paper. And after two or three, I'm pooped.

The problem with my grading, the thing that makes me terrible, is that I am an avoider. I am slow and overly detailed. My mind is so active that focus is hard for me (and this is even with the drugs and the meditation, which have helped bunches). Thus, I know, when I see a stack of papers, that it's going to take me forever . That while I'm doing them, I'll have to think of nothing else.

So I put off starting.

Usually, I put off starting until about four hours before the class period in which I really, absolutely must return the papers. (And yes, this holds even when the class begins at 8 a.m.) This strategy, I think, is a holdover from early grad school, when I really could grade 20 papers in four hours, mostly because I didn't understand the curriculum myself and had no idea what was going on. I still seem to need the waking-up-to-grading, the absolute cutthroat necessity of grading, for motivation. (And my attempts to psychologize myself into a more healthy relationship to this has resulted in, instead, a laissez faire condition where I can think "oh well, what's three more days?" over and over, until it's been weeks.)

Thus it happens that often, the story I tell myself is that I am a terrible grader. A bad person. Bereft of morality -- after all, everyone else hates grading too, but they approach it in a more sensible and disciplined way than I.* I am a fool and a counterfeit. I allow myself selfishly to continue to occupy the (teaching) position that someone else would operate so much more responsibly, and purely for my own selfish aims. I am a faker and pretender, a little-degree person (MFA) pretending she can hack it in the big-degree pond (PhD) just because she thinks she can handle the scholarly part. There's more to the job than that, little sister, I imagine my readers clucking.+

Other times, the story that I tell myself is different. It goes, Once there was a girl who wanted to be a writer. As is the case in all good tales, this heroine is pure and virtuous and wins out in the end. She slays dragons, in this case, the dragons of losing control of the story.

Because stories are strong. I'm thinking of an entry from New Kid a while back. It's an entry that touched a chord and made me totally crush on New Kid, and I'm going to quote at length:

When did I turn into someone who does nothing but complain about grading and her insecurities? How incredibly boring! And whiny! And yet I will post this anyway...is it because I'm simply sucking for comfort and validation from you, my blog people, and I know that expressing distress brings out the niceness in you people and gets me sympathetic comments? Or because I feel some kind of responsibility or compulsion to present myself honestly in this blog and not just offer some kind of prettied-up smug successful facade? Or just that writing it down helps me see that this isn't as bad as it feels? (Except it's not.) You'll notice I've remained purposefully vague about the actual length of time that I've had these papers...so that I can't face actual REAL disapproval from you. Me saying "I'm handing these back so late" in this case comes across the way my college friends and I talked about grades: "I did SO badly in class X" meant getting a B or B+. In the real universe that's not a bad grade and we probably knew it. So you probably think that when I say I'm handing these papers back SO late, I can't really mean they're that late. I promise you, they are.

The thing I loved here is the insistence on the real dire terribleness behind the narrative. About questioning ones own narrative motives.

I've been thinking about why it is that narrative control implies power. I think it's because a narrative is a kind of equation -- things are set into relationship; cause and effect are implied. And if one understands the causes, and can correlate them with effects, and can furthermore seduce readers somehow into witnessing the transaction -- well, in some sense one has created reality. At least at the level we can percieve it, can hold it in our memories, act on it, respond to it.

By creating a narrative about being behind in grading, a narrative whose causes and effects triggered recognition in readers, New Kid was proving her facility with creating reality. Except that narrative makes this smoothed-over reality, deliberate, reflective of artistic choices. So New Kid's narrative of being behind in grading offered a recognizable and convincing reality to readers, only she herself felt lthe ragged edges that were left out:

No, I really mean it, I suck. If you could see it all you'd have to agree.

Of course, this is my interpretation rather than hers.** And paradoxically, it's the invocation of an extra reality beyond narrative that makes it good narrative. It's what caught me, made me say: finally, this is what I am looking for. Someone else like me, someone else who hides this terrible reality of failure even while trying to make it plain as day. Someone brave.

Narrative hides things. Even, paradoxically, when it tries to reveal them. This is part of narrative's power, I think. And it's part of what makes blogging so interesting. Especially, maybe, when it's anonymous.

Because when one turns anonymous, one reduces reality to concepts. No longer a named subject, I am instead a characteristic action -- blurt -- and my acquaintances are reduced to narrative functions (eg. Exam Director, Writing Friend).

Let's turn it back to today. It's a sunny day, and though it's only 3 my time I'm drinking a beer. The day doesn't feel much like December at all.

The narrative of the afternoon could go like this:

A terrible person, a horrible grader, sat at the table typing. She was typing instead of what she should be doing, which was grading.

But as the writer, I have the power to make it go like this. At least for you, potential readers:

The girl who had always wanted to be a writer sat at the table typing. The girl had been deterred by dragons, dragons who pointed out volubly that the girl already had a profession, which was grading, and that the girl had credit cards, which were clamoring. The girl knew these things already and had bought off the dragons for awhile so that she could see how the other storyline came out. And now she was typing. She was typing what she wanted to type, and she was typing a blog. She was typing and thinking and thinking and typing were physical processes. They were also practice, practice for what she wanted to do, which is to think a novel through her fingers, her typing fingers. The fingers were typing even though there was grading to be done. The fingers knew it was they, and not the grading faculties, who would have to produce the novel. The typing scared the girl because the girl didn't know how the story would turn out. (Would she be punished ? Or would she be rewarded? ) But she kept going, because she didn't have a choice. And because maybe someday her story would lose its guilt and the proccesses would look like happily ever after.

I may have gotten sort of far afield with the dragon slayer thing. But is this the case? Does truthful blogging really just point out the difficulty of telling the (unvarnished, unplotted) truth?

Are bloggers the world's revealers? Or are we the world's mystifiers, cloaking and hiding what we can't omit?

By writing and rewriting every day, by seizing reality and distilling it into the parameters of a narrative -- or of a blog -- can one effect reality? Can I write myself into a happy ending?

*Except that actually, I didn't realize everyone hated grading. I thought that professors must come to like it, since how else to explain their willingness to join the profession? I thought I must be the only professor who couldn't suck it up and stop hating it. I wish I'd read academic blogs at the time.

+Though this entry (titled "Ambition is a poor excuse for not having sense enough to be lazy") quotes from Zizek watch, in which Zizek explodes the hidden agenda of relaxation programs -- "If you look closely at their leaflets... they tell you first that we are hyperactive and should learn to withdraw. But next, the second paragraph, they always say: 'This way you will relax and be even more productive". He also says this of combining professorship with a life devoted to research:

"I don't teach... Why should I teach? I'm not crazy."

**Of course, it made me think she must actually be terrific, since she was like me and I want to be terrific. Actually, I'm convinced all the bloggers I read must be terrific. Why aren't more of the people I know in "my day job" as thoughtful as y'all? Or is it the case that many people are this thoughtful?