Friday, December 30, 2005

My Sun-Eyed Girl

Nina thinks the laser pointer dot is under the socks. Silly Bean.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Is This a Real Reason for Not Writing?

I'm sick. Probably picked something up from the family over Christmas. Everyone knows kids are germy. This morning, I opted to sleep until ten to allow my immune system to charge, but I know that a truly determined writer would refuse to be impeded by a sore throat and what feels like full-body congestion. When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I went shopping. Because there's nothing quite so heartwarming as sharing a disease with an entire town. I went to Maurice's, the only tolerable clothing store in town, and quickly realized that I'm becoming too old for most of the things there; must be time to move. I also went to B. Dalton, where I was assisted by a former student who probably found it fitting, since the writing class he took with me was food-themed (no one but me appreciated the fact that food connects with everything in life), that I bought a cookbook. Tyler Florence's Eat This Book. Tyler Florence is hot. He has a show, on which he uses knives so deftly it's sexy. Also, his food looks good. Although...I probably won't be making any of the recipes whose accompanying photos include tentacles and suckers. Or the one where the shrimp are looking at me through the breading. Since shopping, I've spent most of the day rereading A Brief History of the Flood, which is productive, because I plan to reference it in my thesis. In fact, I should get back to that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

Winter break was supposed to be a time for me to concentrate on my thesis. There would be no other commitments to break up my days and nothing else for me to read. Last Monday, we got back from my mom's house and I intended to wake up early Tuesday morning and write for an hour or two, then read. I didn't. My excuse: I just got back home from out of town, I'm tired, I want to sleep in, I'll start tomorrow. I can't remember what happened on Wednesday, but I didn't write then either. Thursday was my birthday, so I didn't work even though I woke up kind of wanting to. Friday was a total loss, too. Saturday and Sunday were Christmas Eve and Day, and we were out of town again until yesterday evening. So this morning I had the same excuse that I had last Tuesday.

Honestly, I'm getting sick of my own cop-outs and excuses.

My favorite one, lately, has been that I have no space of my own. We live in a teensy five-room apartment, and the only door that actually latches is the bathroom door. Eric and I share every inch of space. I do yoga in the bedroom every morning, usually with him sleeping a foot away. There is a very small room that, with some major rearranging and the sacrifice of one couch, could become a computer workspace instead of a TV room. But it hardly seems worth the effort, considering that we'll only live here for another six months or so. Also, it wouldn't exactly be a room of my own in the sense that Virginia Woolf intended, since to get to the bathroom, Eric would have to walk through it.

He's offered to help. He talks about making his coffee and then walking over to the neighbor's house every morning to give me an hour or two of solitude. He talks about helping me create a space in the bedroom where I could work with my laptop while he got out of bed earlier to free up the space for me. But I say, "No, no, no," because part of the problem I have with trying to write in the living room is that I think it puts him out and I hate that. After all, if I'm writing in the living room, he can't make breakfast in the adjacent kitchen, or listen to MPR or a CD, without being a distraction. And because the door doesn't latch, it barely helps if he's in the den watching PBS (our one channel) or a movie or playing a video game. And what if he doesn't want to do one of those three things? What then? What if he wants to use the computer that I'm hogging?

Whatever. Even if he is in the other room, even if he's reading, he's a distraction. We don't have that much time to spend together because of our work schedules, and when he's home and awake, I want to take advantage of that time and spend it with him, not in my own fictional world.

If I felt like I could write well in the evening, while Eric works, the problem would be largely solved. But to write fiction, I need more than diligence. I need the clarity of a barely-awake brain. Without that, I have trouble focusing and becoming fully engaged in the world I'm creating. Get up earlier, you say? Yeah, that's where the excuses get weak. My only response is that when the work is optional, it's hard to get out of bed for it. I'm not proud of this fact. I draw attention to it because I'm aware of my weaknesses, and two of them are the shallow dreamworld of early morning and the pure sensory pleasure of waking tired and then closing my eyes again.

When we move, we will have a two-bedroom apartment. One of the bedrooms will become a computer room. It will be a room with a door, a room that does not lead into any other rooms. But that doesn't help me now, it doesn't help me with my thesis. Some of my reasons for not committing to the creative portion of this project are valid; some are empty excuses. Either way, they are something to overcome. I chose to combine the academic and creative theses because I wanted to prove to myself that I still could write fiction. And it worked, sort of. Now I remember that I have a talent for it. But I have also proven that I'm lazy about it. And that's not okay. Talent means absolutely zip lying dormant inside my head.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Merry!

Our one Christmas decoration.
She dances and sings "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

The Bounty

Shhhh, It's Christmas

When I was young, before my dad moved to Oregon, I spent every other Christmas at his house. Early in my adolescence, he began a tradition of reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud, in its entirety, on Christmas Eve. My then-stepmom chose not to participate (which was fine by me), so my dad and I took turns reading alone on the living room couch near the all-red Christmas tree, drinking egg nog the whole time so that our tongues stuck to the roofs of our mouths as we read. On years when I was with my mom, I guess they listened to Patrick Stewart reading it on tape. My dad moved when I was fifteen, so I think we only actually read it together twice. In fact, I can only remember one time clearly, but if there were two times, they would look the same in my memory, so I may have compounded them into one.

I was just sitting in the dying light in my living room, listening to Diana Krall's homesick Christmas music and rolling yarn into a ball so that I'll be able to crochet cozily at Eric's parents' house this weekend. And I suddenly felt sick with wanting to reclaim my dad's short-lived tradition. Christmas will be fun this year, but loud and busy. I love Eric's family, but it's incredibly different from my own small, still family. There are so many people with such raucous senses of humor that I'm afraid it will be impossible to cultivate the quiet warmth that is my feeling of Christmas spirit. I think most of the family is showing up tomorrow, but we'll be leaving presently. So tonight maybe I can convince Eric to rent a version of A Christmas Carol (or find one on his parents' zillion satellite channels) and find a quiet enough corner to snuggle and watch it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Happy birthday to me.

Tonight I will go out with friends, but Eric went to work early today, so since early this afternoon I have been alone, floating around my house, trying not to do any work because it's my birthday. (I did the dishes, but otherwise I've refrained admirably.) I played The Sims, played with the electronic 20Q game my dad sent me for my birthday (which is, darn it, kind of amazing), lay on the couch covered in cats and drowsily read Housekeeping. I left the house only to retrieve the mail. I received two birthday cards: one from Pop (my grandpa) and one from the car dealer who sold us our Jeep. The latter was addressed to me, but with Eric's last name, which was startling. It's a little confusing, actually, since my name on the title is my name. Maybe since we fibbed and told him we were engaged (to better our chances of qualifying for a loan), he assumed that by now my name would have changed.

But while avoiding purpose, I have found myself reflecting on things that might not have occurred to me with a head full of Spanish and critical essays. For instance, this is the first birthday on which I have felt kind of old. Maybe it's because I'm just now developing health problems, or because my mom reminded me that 25 years is a quarter of a century. Or maybe it's just because the years have been going by so quickly; I feel like I've suddenly become 25. Will I become 30, 50, 70 so unexpectedly?

Hmmm. I had more to say, but I got a couple of phone calls and it threw me off; I'm not even sure where else I was going with all of this melancholy rambling.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Deadline (Super Anxiety) Day

It's December 20. Today, all of my Ph.D. application materials are due. Already this morning, I've had a conversation with the GRE people about why I still have not received my scores. They assured me that the scores were mailed last week, to me, to the graduate school, and to the English department. Then I called the English department hoping to find out that they had already received my scores, but learned instead that a great many applications are still in boxes there, waiting to be sorted. "When we get everything together," she told me, "We'll email you to let you know what's missing." Whew. My thesis advisor was right; they play hardass with the deadline ("All application materials must arrive by December 20. We cannot consider incomplete applications.") and then give you a chance to fill in the blanks if there are any. Good to know.

So I'll spend the rest of today trying to be normal for the first time in weeks. I'll do yoga, finally eat breakfast, take a shower, take out the recycling, clean out the fridge (We have leftover pumpkin pie in there - from Thanksgiving. Eric lifted the corner of the tinfoil last night and said it was scary.), wash the dishes, work on Spanish, read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (Small-town literature recommended by my thesis advisor. I'm on Chapter 2, and love it.), maybe start to read some scholarly stuff for my thesis. I also need to call the Ground Round and find out if they have vegetarian options other than salad. If they don't, I'll have to choose another restaurant for my birthday party.

This is my life, uncomplicated. I love being busy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cat-like Reflexes

I was driving in the dark just outside of Brainerd, on a divided four-lane stretch of 371. Eric was with me, in the passenger seat. We were in the far right lane when a pickup truck crossed over the other side of the road about a quarter of a mile ahead of us and paused in the space between the two sides of the highway. It began to pull out and I assumed that it was making a left turn into the near lane, so I maintained my speed: 70 miles per hour. Moments later, I realized that actually...well, you know how sometimes deer wander stupidly across the road in front of cars? I think a deer might have been driving that truck. I hit the brakes, hard, squealingly hard when I realized that the truck was now in my lane, not turning left but crossing the highway. I gasped and gripped the steering wheel as my car, slowing but destined not to stop in time, glided toward the back end of the blue truck. For the second time in my life, I was certain that I was about to be badly hurt, maybe killed. (The first time was the summer after high school graduation: I thought I was about to miss my turn, and tried to take it at 60 miles per hour. I went into the ditch instead, which I was luckily able to just drive out of. It wasn't actually my turn.) But just as I was bracing myself for the crash, I saw that the truck was mostly out of the left lane. I jerked the steering wheel to the left, swerving half onto the shoulder and then squarely into the left lane. Four Twin Cities apartment guides and a copy of Conservation Volunteer magazine flew across the dashboard, off the dashboard, against my right thigh.

We didn't hit the truck.

But it was close. I kept driving, shaking, sucking air in and huffing it out. I heard Eric say, "Good driving," and I moved back into the right lane, where I drove only 50 miles per hour, allowing the two cars that had been behind me to pass. The magazines stayed on my lap until Eric moved them a few minutes later.

Earlier in the drive, a semi truck had nearly changed lanes on top of us. Later, on a two-lane stretch of the highway, two other semis were in our lane, going the wrong direction. So I'm happy to be home, and be alive.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Don't Drink the Blueberry Soda

It all started with a puffy lower eyelid. I looked disfigured and weird, but it wasn't a problem because I was about to go to bed. But between 1:00 and 3:00 this morning, I only half-slept, and kept emerging from half-sleep to scratch at my wrists until they felt so raw I thought I might bleed. By 3, I was conscious enough to realize that wrists this itchy are not normal, so I wrapped myself in a bathrobe and went to the bathroom, where there is light.

Hives. All up my forearms, the backs of my hands. I threw off my robe and twisted around, peering at myself in the mirror. A hive here, there, on my spine, on my leg. A small patch on my left shoulder blade. Ick. Hate rashes. I dug out the cortisone cream and smeared it everywhere I could see a bump. Then I went back to bed and suffered, didn't sleep. Tried to figure out what the hell I'm allergic to. I hadn't accidentally ingested any amoxicillin, of that I was certain. By 4:30 I could feel that the hives had multiplied, and since I had nothing better to do, I got out of bed again and inspected myself in the mirror. A column of hives up both of my sides. I went back to bed, lay flat on my back with my arms along my sides and tried not to move. Finally, the itching eased up and I slept. When I awoke at 9:00, I was having the worst asthma attack I've had since I was diagnosed. The itching started again, mostly on my head where I can't put cortisone.

The only thing different about yesterday was the blueberry soda. Eric went to Hibbing a couple of weeks ago and brought back this soda, Ely Elixir. Made in Ely. Blueberry flavor. Awful unnatural blue color. We finally drank it last night. Yummy, but it must be the thing I'm allergic to.

Ugh. I'm going to take a shower. Wonder if that will make me itch less, or more?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ever Feel Like Dancing?

I just read course evaluations. They get better every semester, and that's so encouraging. I don't mind messing things up (my first semester of teaching) if I can actually manipulate myself into not messing them up in the same way again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Who Knew?

It's gorgeous outside. Snow falling like the inside of a snow globe, and the trees pull white blankets up to their necks. And I'm 18 again now with fluff and sparkles in my hair, transported to another university with a graveyard on my left instead of a lake. First day of finals, exhausted brain after a biology test, chemistry test, calculus review - no, grading papers - warm in the aura of expended energy that fills university halls during finals week.

Now, the world glows in the dark and I am home for the moment, with cats.

Reality: In Piles All Around Me

I've been at school since 10:15. It's now much later. I've read 23 handwritten essays, and graded something like 17 of them. This is usually a highly ritualistic three-day process, and I'm doing it in one. Begging for a headache. And I got one. So I alleviated it by reading blogs, and now by writing one. I'm dying for a window, for cats, for food other than gummy worms. And I will be leaving for a party in just two hours. I should finish this grading, prepare my presentation (for the party; strange party), and try to stop at home at least momentarily. Dare me to grade six essays in the next hour?

I accept.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Now I Remember...

This is what it feels like to be bored. For the first time in what feels like (and might actually be) months, I have very little to do. Relatively speaking. I collected some revised/make-up papers today, but I'm not going to grade those until tomorrow. I could be doing some reading for my thesis, since my goal for winter break is to finish all (most?) of my reading for that. But my only really pressing task is to start catching up on my Spanish, which I've been forced to neglect over the past few weeks. I'll do some of that in a little while, but for now I'm kind of rolling in the luxury of not really needing to do anything. At this point, boredom is a mystifying feeling.

So I officially completed the application process for my Ph.D. program today. (Except that my GRE scores aren't there yet, but that's out of my hands.) Now I just have to sit back and worry.

Also, the professor for my Punk class saw me in the hallway today while he was reading my essay on punk women and feminism, and called me into his office to tell me he liked it. He said it's "cool." Yay!

Today was the last day of my class. I passed out suckers. (Once, Eric's mom was giving a sucker to her grandson and I asked for one because they're the really yummy ones with the white swirls. A couple of months later, when Eric was visiting home, she gave him the entire bag of suckers, saying, "Amber likes these." So then I had about 70 suckers all to myself. That's too many.) Later, when I went back into the classroom to get the attendance sign-up sheet that I'd forgotten, it smelled like suckers in there. Which made me smile almost as much as talking to a whole class of people making sucky noises.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Tragedy and Pinot Grigio

We just watched Dancer in the Dark for the first time. I tried not to cry, I really did.

It didn't work.

Story: When the movie first came out, Eric and I were at our friends Peder and Andrea's house. They had just gone to see Dancer in the Dark. Eric asked them how it was. Andrea said she cried. One of us - me or Eric - said that he laughs at me if I cry during movies. Andrea got this awful look on her face and said, "I think I'd cry more if Peder laughed at me when I cried."

That's why I tried not to cry. But he didn't laugh at me when I did. I think it was different this time. I think he got it.

It was probably the saddest movie I've ever seen, except for the damn musical interludes. Hate musicals. (I get the point: that the music cuts through the sadness. But I'd rather the movie just left me alone in my depression.) At least it was Bjork. I never used to be able to get into that kind of abstract music, but now I realize that there's a special kind of pleasure in it that just isn't available in straightforward music. And her voice is cool. She also reminds me of my old friend Christie. They have the same nose. I miss Christie. I heard she moved to New York.

Hm. My posts really go downhill after a glass of wine.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Afternoon Delight

Several members of my class spontaneously burst into song today. We started oral presentations today, and after the last presentation, while I was getting the graded essays out of my folder to hand back, about five guys in one corner of the room started singing "Afternoon Delight." Loudly.

And while it was a pretty funny incident, it draws attention to some concerns I have. For starters, I've been afraid all semester that this group of people (that same group in the corner) thinks I'm a wimp and a pushover and that they can get away with anything in my class. Which is only true because I don't think anything short of physical violence would keep them quiet during class. I've tried waiting, silently, for them to be quiet so that we can resume class. I've tried lecturing them about the importance of respecting what others have to say by shutting up while they say it. I've tried repeating entire chunks of my lectures because that group was being so noisy that other people actually couldn't hear. Nothing works for long.

So I'm wondering what purpose, if any, their little serenade had. Was I being tested? If so, I probably failed. I initially looked at them in half-mock, half-real astonishment. Then I returned to what I was doing and said, "Okay, that's enough." When most of them continued singing and I said, "No, seriously, that's enough," several other people in the class laughed. When I was ready to talk again, I looked at them for a few seconds until the last of the singing died off, and then made no references to it for the rest of the hour. What other possible methods of dealing with that are there? It's not exactly something they include in books about teaching.

I want people to be able to have fun in my class, but not if it makes me look like a fool. And I'm troubled by this because I'm not sure whether it made me look like a fool or not. I felt kind of foolish. After all, it's hard to imagine the same thing happening to a tall, middle-aged, male professor.

Monday, December 05, 2005

And the Real Work Begins...

Yesterday I turbodrafted my essay: in my office, with the lights off, I wrote five practically incoherent pages in about an hour and a half. Just to get my ideas down, to feel like I'd made some progress, and to see exactly what kind of information I needed to get out of my research. And today I was so excited because it's the only day I have all week to work only on my paper. But it didn't work out that way. I had to run errands in the morning. Then the reading/research part of working on the paper took several hours. And only now, at 6:30 in the evening, have I been able to sit down in front of the computer and really attack this thing. I think I'm ready. Usually, I dread the tediousness of writing the final draft of a long paper. But while I was reading about feminist theory today (I found a good bibliography, and searched for specific titles. Lo and behold, there are good sources in the library; it's the online catalogue that's inadequate.), I kept seeing how these things related to what the women of the punk movement were doing at roughly the same time, and I felt kind of antsy, like I wanted to get past the reading and into the writing. It's typical that, now that I can actually do the writing, I'm putting it off.

I'm justifying this poor use of time by telling myself that I'm blogging to psych myself up for the real writing. Maybe that's true.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

This Should Not Be So Difficult

Feminism: it's one of the most important and widespread political/ideological movements of the past couple of centuries. Therefore, I expected that it would be easy to find credible sources that would clearly outline the various principles and debates inherent to the movement. I was so wrong. Sources on feminism are so specialized, precisely because the topic has been so widely written about, that it's damn near impossible to find anything (admissable in a graduate-level essay) that will back up my assumptions about some of the most basic tenets of feminist thought.

I want a source that says that one of feminism's many objectives was to secure the same sexual freedom that men had. I also want a source that says that many feminists disagree with this objective, based on the notion that women's sexual liberation is like a gift to chauvinists because it validates and encourages and facilitates their own sexual indiscretions. I want a source that says that physical androgyny - the idea that women should not need to appear pretty and "feminine" to be valued as women - was an aspect of feminism. Can't find any of that in any respectable sources. Oh, I'm sure that I would find clear references to these ideas if I perused the entire body of feminist writings (which would take me the rest of my life and beyond, but I only have until Thursday). But try to find them by searching in a database of scholarly books and articles...forget it. The only book I could find in the on-campus library that was any kind of straightforward overview of feminism was in the K-12 section: What Every Girl Should Know About Women's History or something.

I might be off the hook as far as needing sources, in the sense that a lot of what I plan to say about feminism is probably considered general knowledge. After all, I know about these ideas without looking them up (without being able to look them up), so most other people must know about them too. But I feel awfully uneasy about claiming that a large number of people believe something and make it part of their guiding philosophy, when I can't even quote a single one of those people saying that they believe it.

I have to launch myself headfirst into writing this thing tomorrow morning, and I don't feel like I really know anything about it that I can prove. I've got lots to say, but very few resources to help me say it without sounding like I'm making shit up. Also, not much time to read the resources I do have, especially if I go to watch the live music at the pub tonight, like I thought I'd be able to do with a clear conscience. *Sigh* Sometimes I envy people who can embrace apathy.