Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Love and Relativism

(slightly amended)

I just got back from an impromptu lunch date with my grandma, during which, among other things, I assured her that I think my 13-year-old sister will "turn out okay." And I do. Funny, though: I felt like I was lying. Because I suspect that, by Grandma's standards, my sister's approach to life will never quite be okay. But by Grandma's standards, I'm not really okay either. (There's a lot my grandma doesn't know about me, and at least one sin she can't ignore.)

But the judgmentalism implicit in my grandma's concerns doesn't bother me as much as might be expected. Because how can I scorn concerns - even close-minded ones - that are obvious extensions of love? We all worry about my sister, and we would even if she wore floral sundresses instead of black Nirvana t-shirts. Grandma's afraid she'll get into "the occult." Her dad's afraid she'll get into drugs. I hope she never has to be a victim - of a car accident, of an abusive relationship, of addiction, of prejudice. (She's probably already experienced the last, but who doesn't in junior high?)

We all want to protect her because we love her. The things we want to protect her from just happen to be tangled up with our own values. But what about her values? We can try to guide her, but she gets to make the final decisions. And here's the thought that scares me: when the results are all in, when my sister has "turned out" (as if she's a batch of pancakes), will all of our family still hold her as close as they do now?

(I know I will.)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

We Went Skiing Today

It was this beautiful.

The trail we followed runs right alongside Turtle River. I'd forgotten how much I love the trickling, gurgling sound of running water.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


So I've already graded papers, done the dishes, cooked and eaten a delicious vegetable stir fry with rice, and watched the first twenty-one minutes of Grumpier Old Men. Eric will be gone for another few hours; the cats are asleep; the soft white plow-formed snowbank outside the only window in this room reaches, up - up - up, two-thirds of the way up the window now, insulating me against the dark outdoors. All of this can mean only one thing: it's time to turn off every light except the blue glow of the computer screen and draft my thesis in bursts of reckless keystrokes. Tonight, language is not beautiful. It is messy, halting, ugly, and nothing more than an ox cart for ideas.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Oh. Shit.

This is apparently the part of my day when I unleash a string of curses about the state of everyone's rights in the republican theocracy we now live in and direct you to this piece of news.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Grading Break

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Fruit of Sunday's Labor

Notes encompassing eight novels and some historical background. Putting it all in one place was the only way I could wrap my head around it. It's also color-coded, but that's not visible in the picture.
And to put the size of this thing into perspective:

Monday, February 20, 2006

Suggestions, Please

The next paper my class will write is going to be an interpretation of a film. Last year, when my class was food themed, we watched Chocolat. That worked well, but I'd rather not use it again (partly because I showed a different Johnny Depp movie last semester). I was thinking of using Pleasantville, but I just finished rewatching it and, while there are subtleties in it that could make for interesting and unique interpretations, it clubs you so hard over the head with its main thesis that I don't think many students would look past that. So I'm in the market for a sort of literary movie - one that's rich in imagery, symbolism, and lends itself to multiple interpretations. Any suggestions?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Opposite of a Tantrum

In mood, anyway. Eric went to play poker tonight, and left me here to outline the most complicated paper I've ever worked on. And he left behind a gift in a shiny red bag that glinted at me from the kitchen counter all day, to be opened after I had finished my outline. And when I finished, I was drained but excited to open my gift. So I put away my outlining supplies (No shit; I had supplies: books, notebooks, a pencil, a black magic marker, crayons, and a giant piece of cardboard.) and sat on the couch with the gift bag on my lap.

Just a warning: this story will now disappoint you. But I need to share my pleasure, even at the risk that no one else will understand.

My gift was Garden State on DVD. And that's perfect. Because I loved that movie, and all I want to do now is lie on the couch and be passively entertained. So I said, "Yes! Thank you!" loudly into the empty house, giggled uncontrollably, and jumped up and down with joy. If anyone had been watching, they probably would have thought I was insane. But it was joy. I swear.

I'm going to watch my movie now.


  • Yoga (done)
  • Shower/shave (done)
  • Eat breakfast (done)
  • Go to office, plan tomorrow's class (done, 10:10)
  • Clean house (done, 3:05)
  • Outline thesis (done!, 10:26)

The sun is just now crawling past the line of clouds over the horizon and refracting through the condensation on the window. I feel good, with only tiny twinges of fear beneath my confidence. I will be productive today.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Remember how good I felt this morning? Scrap that. And this has nothing to do with alcohol. This is more like a literary criticism hangover combined with a sense of general worthlessness. Today, Eric was at work for over eight hours, and I planned to get things done. Not lots of things, but important things. I'd spend a few hours finishing my lit crit reading, then outline my thesis. I thought I might even have some time to write a page or so.


Instead, I fell asleep on the couch several times. The first time, I was desperately tired and needed a nap. But after that, sleep was an escape from what I was reading - and the realization that I wasn't reading it fast enough to keep ahead of the feelings of inadequacy that were relentlessly chasing me. But I paid for my laziness in nightmares: I was building a new house in the country with my boyfriend (Not Eric, but Matthew McConaughey. I can't be held responsible for what I dream.), and a photographer who had been hired to take pictures of the house became obsessed with me. When I wouldn't pose for some bizarre pictures, he tried to kill everyone.

I finally finished my lit crit reading at about 10:30, but now I feel gritty and tired, and I'm not sure I can make myself work anymore. More likely, I'll be seeing the sunrise tomorrow.

No More Wine

Gin creates a much smoother kind of intoxication, and an almost negligible hangover. For possibly the first time, I feel good about having drunk too much.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Because I rarely get up as early as I'd like to, I haven't been outside yet today. So my only clues to the extremity of the cold have been the little red "-18" in the bottom right hand corner of my computer screen and the hats and thickly knotted scarves of the people walking by on Central Ave. Also, a student emailed me to ask whether I was canceling our class this afternoon due to the cold. And to be honest, I considered it. But I think I'll still hold class. I mean, aren't we Minnesotans after all? Where's the adventure in staying inside on the coldest day of the year?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Just One of Those "Holy Shit" Moments

During my office hours this afternoon, a student called. This student seems intelligent enough, but comes to class only when he feels like it - which, incidentally, has been about four times so far this semester. He had a few questions, he explained, about the current essay assignment. He would have known the answer to all of the questions if he had been in class during the past two weeks, but I answered them without comment. Then he got to this one: "It says on the assignment sheet that we need to use three sources, but only one of them can be an online source. So...what do you want us to use for sources?"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Out of the Trance

The first draft of my story is finished. There wasn't any fanfare or fireworks or parades. It's just finished. I think I need a drink.

Today was otherwise uneventful. I had my first cup of rose petal tea, and it's good. Roses, it turns out, taste much like they smell. So now if anyone ever buys me a bouquet of roses, I'll probably salivate.

I also drugged a friend of mine. She was having an allergic reaction, and the mystery medicine in my purse that I could have sworn was benadryl turned out to be something else, ergo unhelpful. I think it actually made it worse, since it made her feel "funny" in addition to itchy.

And I'm still a big ball of stress. My wholehearted attempt to progress through the paper trail leading up to my graduation turned up a temporary dead end and a lot of frustration. I think this might be the least cohesive English department in the world. As one professor aptly put it, "Every professor is a law unto himself." Which is probably cool if you're a professor. But for a student trying to coordinate comprehensive exams that ultimately involve four professors, it's confusing as hell.

I'm hoping that tomorrow the fact that I actually wrote a 34-page short story will seem real and make me more chipper. For now I'm just dazed.

That's Romance

Last night, Valentine's Day, Eric had to work until 10:00. But after he got home and showered, I dragged myself out of my writer's trance so we could exchange gifts. (I got him a new pillow, which he was much more excited about than you would probably imagine. He got me a box of yummies from Chocolates Plus and flowers - in the form of full-leaf rose petal tea. It's actually quite pretty.) Then we had cheesecake and beer (him) or red wine (me) and watched an episode of The Sopranos on DVD.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Update: What's Stressing Amber Out Today?

  • I still need to buy Eric's Valentine's Day present. What it will be is a secret, even to me.
  • In the space between right now and tomorrow night, I must finish the story I'm working on.
  • A reminder came via email today. It said that I have to turn in my application for graduation (along with a curriculum vita and $10 fee) "immediately."
  • By the end of the week, I should have the academic part of my thesis roughly outlined. Ideally, I will write 10 pages of the essay this weekend. I want to have the first draft finished at the end of the month.
  • Next Friday is the application deadline for the summer job I want. I've spoken to only one of my three references, and I'm unsure about the identity of one of the others. Also, the disk that my resume is on died some time ago. And I dread writing cover letters.
  • Sometime soon, I should file my taxes.
  • Starting early next month, I need to start preparing for my comprehensive exams. I have a vague idea of what one of the three will be on.

...I think that's it for now. Actually, I hope so.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

What's That Sound?

Oh. It's just the sound of a deadline whooshing by. Today was my self-inflicted deadline for having my story finished. I knew already that that wasn't going to happen, but I intended to make considerable headway this afternoon. But it's Eric's day off, so instead of locking myself away from him in the office, I went skiing with him in Hobson Forest just before sunset. Then we had coffee at Dunn Bros. Now, I'm going to make stir fry. And we've been invited to go play some kind of newfangled electronic poker at a friend's house.

So real life turned out to be more important than fiction today. Is that a bad thing?

28, 32

That's what I have written: 28 polished pages of my story. I've drafted out to page 32. And I'm very nervous about the whole thing. Not because I'm afraid it's crap - although I am, a little. And not because I'm shy about actually letting people read it, which will have to happen next week. The feeling I have is more slippery than either of those things, harder to pin down. But I think it's mostly a fear that I won't finish, now that I'm within ten pages of the end.

Writing isn't a mystical experience, not for me anyway. But sometimes it seems like it must be the result of something more than just determination, just willpower. Writing is always hard, and even when I'm in the mood for it, I have to force myself to sit down and do it. Because there's always something easier that I could be doing, something less dangerous. Writing is a risk: what if I sit here for two hours and write nothing at all? what if I pour myself out on this page and then it's all wrong, no good, hardly worth the effort of revision?

But if I get started, I'm usually afraid to stop. The movie plays itself out in my head, and I transfer it: a flurry of keystrokes, read, tap out changes.... I write like I'm squeezing water out of a dishrag. I might think all the worthwhile writing has been twisted out of me after an hour, but I keep pushing it for another two hours - or three. The quality of what I'm writing suffers with every paragraph. But once I tap into my imaginative energy, I'm afraid to quit until I'm completely drained. When I finally do walk away, I leave behind raw scenes as a warm-up for next time. Because when I sit down again, I won't be faced with a drop-off to climb out of; I'll have a foothold to spring from.

It doesn't really make a difference, though: every time I save my work, I wonder if that was the last time. I've had so many blank days that, even though I know better, I fear Imagination could leave me forever. So today, later, I know I will close the door to this room and try to write. And probably, I will be a few pages closer to done when I open the door again. But what if I'm not?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

This Is All I'll Ever Need

A man who, just before I drift into a drunken slumber at 3:15 a.m., promises to make me french toast in the morning and then actually follows through.

I think I was too drunk last night, but he has reassured me that I should not be embarrassed. Anyway, I think losing myself to too much alcohol was the cure I've been looking for. Because for the first time in weeks, I'm suddenly interested in the story I'm writing. My kinship to the main character has been restored, possibly because when I quit writing her story all those weeks ago, she was waking up hung over. Maybe after I've eaten my late breakfast and no longer feel too ill to make sense of my own sentences, I'll write her back to sober again.

Thanks to everyone who came over last night and helped me get drunk. I hope it was as fun for you as it was for me.

Wine Stain

Under my right breast. Jason said to put salt on it. I doubt that will work, but on Tuesday I will find out.

Mystery Blogger

We are the English nerds. We take immediate lefts at the karate studio. All the houses are white. All the puppies are pretty. We eat cake and walk in without knocking.

Go ahead. Write a thesis.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


On Friday. (Sorry Sean; I hope you'll come by after work.) Festivities will begin around 7:00. We'll provide some snacks, but if you want anything special, you should bring it. I know most of you haven't been to our house before, so I'll give you directions individually - in person, over the phone, or by email.

Oh, and we'll lock the evil cat in the upstairs bedroom.


Eric and I are planning a get-together, and since there's no school on Friday, I thought this weekend would be good for it. So a vote: Natasha and Jonathan, Jessie and Vinny, Tiffany, Erin, Froyd, Aspen; does Thursday or Friday work better for you?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sorry About That

It must have been at least five or six years ago when I first noticed that for one full day just before I get my period, I'm always incredibly irritable. Minor disagreements, tiny inconveniences, bad smells - all things mildly annoying - make me boil. You might expect that after so many months of this, I would come to expect it and sort of schedule it in: "Okay, I'm going to be crabby that day. Better not leave the house." But in fact, it always takes me at least half a day to recognize the underlying reason for my irritability.

That means, for at least the first half of one day every month, I just think everyone is an asshole.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Just a Hunch

Sir Philip Sidney and I would not have gotten along. Verbose bastard.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Holy &#!%

I was looking straight ahead as I walked toward my car on the 1100 block of Birchmont Drive. So when the driver of the blue VW bug about eight feet to my right applied her brakes, I only heard the skidding sound on the pavement. The sound alarmed me, so I glanced up as I stepped to the left, thinking something was wrong with the car. A moment later, a bang like gunfire and the sound of crumpling hoods. I jumped a few inches straight up, and took a few more quick steps to the left as both cars slid to a stop and shrapnel - chunks of bumpers and headlights - flew past my legs. A couple of pieces bounced lightly off my winter coat. I peered through the hissing cloud of steam billowing from both cars' radiators and waited for the drivers to emerge. I checked to make sure everyone was alright - she rubbed her chin and said she thought she was okay, and he just nodded and rubbed his shoulder - and that one of them had a phone to call help. He had a phone, and I didn't want to be a gawker, so I walked the thirty feet to my car and drove home to change my underwear. A couple of minutes later, it occurred to me that maybe I should have stayed, since I was the closest thing to a witness. But I think I would have been a pretty useless witness; I didn't see much, and only became aware that the second car was there after the crash. I did, however, hear the driver of that car - in an unwise attempt to either defend his driving skills or apologize - admit that his windshield wiper was broken and he couldn't see anything. Haha. Oops.