Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thank you, Nirvana...

For not including a rendition of "Jingle Bells" on Nevermind.

(Because I've heard eighty hours of Christmas music since November 10th, and I just want to think about guns and depression for a while.)

Friday, November 24, 2006


I'm no ascetic. I enjoy Christmas for lots of reasons, including the family and the food and the pretty twinkly lights. But I'll readily admit that the smell of scotch tape and evergreen fill my belly with the excitement of unwrapping little morsels of materialistic joy.

In the next month, millions of people will spend, on average, more than seven hundred dollars on gifts--that is, more than I will spend to live in my apartment. And I promise not to turn this into a rant on how ridiculous that is, and how we've all lost track of the most important reasons for celebrating during the holidays, because I'm sure we're all bored with that argument.

But, since we do happen to live in a dangerously materialistic society, I would like to understand why so many people decline to share a little piece of their store-bought happiness with those who can't afford to buy it for themselves. For the past week, I've spent hours a day asking customers at the cash register whether they want to donate a children's book to the local public library system. We make it incredibly easy to do--and cheap, too, for those who can't afford to spend much. A lot of people choose to donate, and a lot of people choose not to. I don't usually judge the customers who decline, but I make certain exceptions. For instance, a woman with a two-carat diamond ring on her finger and a Coach handbag can probably afford to support literacy in her community. And today I felt sick at the selfishness of the man buying $75 worth of books for his own three kids, when he tersely said "no" to the option of spending an extra $3.50 for the benefit of several hundred children who aren't so lucky.

Some people make me sad.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Two pigeons, enormous compared with the mourning doves I was used to seeing in Bemidji, just landed in my back yard and began gulping down the kernels of corn Eric scattered for the squirrels. As they landed, they cast impressive shadows in the beam of sunlight bathing the kitchen wall. One white, one dark grey, both have necks wrapped with rainbows of tiny iridescent feathers. And I wonder: Do the world's most famously hated birds find solace in the fact that they're beautiful?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I'm Wiped Out, Man

Last night I dreamed about work (gift wrapping, complicated returns, impossible-to-locate books, dozens of customers who aren't interested in purchasing a children's book to donate to the St. Paul Public Libraries today) so vividly that when a hungry cat woke me at 6:30 A.M., I was surprised to discover I'd actually been sleeping.

And all day, despite a big morning cup of English breakfast tea, I've felt deliriously tired. Tired in a way that makes my eyes and throat sting, makes the words of sentences I've spoken hundreds of times tumble over each other on my tongue and pop out of my mouth in nonsensical order. I drove home from work in a daze, fantasizing about naps I can't indulge in. I'll be back at work in less than four hours for a late-night staff meeting, and in the meantime there are litter boxes to clean, beds to make, dinners to eat, dishes to wash, and curriculum vitae to write. And more tea to be made.

I think I'm on the verge of a cold.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Very Academic To-Do List

  • Write curriculum vita
  • Write cover letter to go with curriculum vita
  • Deliver curriculum vitae and cover letters to community colleges in the area (in hopes of an adjunct teaching position, so that I can get pissed on professionally, but in a way that looks great on resumes)
  • Request letters of recommendation (for PhD applications)
  • Decide where I'll actually be applying for PhD programs
  • PhD applications
  • Send my mom a Christmas list, like I said I would do "tomorrow," about a week ago

I have no momentum for academic tasks right now, and the thought of trying to do any of these things (even the Christmas list) paralyzes me. I get home after eight hours of dealing with cranky shopping people and just want to stare at a book, or the TV, or nothing at all. Whenever I think about the fact that my future hinges on a bunch of things I don't feel motivated to do, I get panicked. But I don't get things done in panic mode. Mostly I just talk to myself a lot.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Smells Like Murphy's Oil Soap

For the first time in many weeks, my house is clean clean clean. And I finally feel physically comfortable here again. Except for the sore back and the exhaustion. But pish posh...duty calls.

I have to go help Natasha get publicly drunk for her 21st birthday.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Today, the shelver at work who was planning to put in an appearance as Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit during Saturday Storyhour discovered that his head was too big to fit inside the rabbit head. The shelver whose head was small enough didn't think the gig sounded like fun. So someone filled in for me at the cash registers, and I became Peter Rabbit for a little while. Asthmatic, claustrophobic me. I was inside the head (with the conveniently broken fan) for under fifteen minutes, but I was breathing like Darth Vader before it was over.

I wouldn't have missed the experience, though. It was fun to have tiny little kids hug me and proudly show me the pictures of me they'd just colored, or stare at me in awe from a safe distance. One little girl was so afraid, she screamed when her mom carried her too close to me. Another girl couldn't be taken in: she took one look at me and said, "You're acting. Rabbits aren't that big." I crouched down to make myself shorter, and she got the joke. She was proud of herself for being clever enough to figure me out, but I was a little sad for her. One of the things I miss most about childhood is believing in things that can't be real. I grew up to be a skeptic, a pragmatist. But sometimes I wish one of my favorite storybook characters would come to life and give out free hugs.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doin' the Procrastination Boogie

I just looked up application deadlines for all the PhD programs I intend to apply to. The soonest two are in a little over a month. I feel like I'm hyperventilating a little, in large part because my current choice of programs is based on geography alone, which doesn't feel very intelligent, and I'm not sure how to go about researching the merit of these programs. Their websites are a place to start, but I want something more objective, and I want a chance to find good programs I'm not aware of now. I suppose I can browse grad school guides at a bookstore...just not the one I work at, since I was desperate for a job when they interviewed me and would've said almost anything, so they think I'm interested in advancement within the company. Guess I'll take a drive later this week. Does anyone have other suggestions?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

About a Test, and then Some Pleasant Things

I didn't mean to let my last post hang for as long as I have. After the GRE, I didn't feel up to writing. In fact, what I gave you came about as close to a coherent thought as I could get. And then life (and, well, Robert B. Parker) came along and took away my writing time for the next couple of days.

I want to write something intelligent and insightful about the GRE Lit Test, to unload it from my mind and help out my friends who will be taking it in the future. But I've had this rattling around in the back of my head for a few days now, and I've got almost nothing to show for it. Immediately after the test, I was struck with the impulse to get really, really drunk. (I did housework instead. Then I went to a poetry reading. Then I got slightly drunk.) Because my theory was wrong: The Princeton Review's practice test was not designed to be much harder than the actual GRE, or if it was, its designers failed. The real test may not have been harder than The Princeton Review's test, but for me it was much closer in difficulty to that one than to the "official" practice test ETS sent me. This scares me because my score on the TPR test, as I've said, sucked.

The GRE subject tests are done the old-fashioned way--with a No. 2 pencil and a bubble sheet--and I won't know my score for about six weeks. So I've been trying not to think about it too much. When I have thought about it, I've done a pretty commendable job of convincing myself that (a) it probably wasn't actually as bad as I thought, since parts of it were easy for me and even a little bit fun, and (b) if it was really that hard, it must have been that hard for other people, so my percentile ranking might actually be fairly high. And in less optimistic moments, (c) if I really screwed the test up, I'll still have a shot at being admitted to a school that doesn't ask to see subject test scores. Those are not the least desirable schools on my list, anyway.

For those of you who will take the test, here's my sage advice: don't worry about trying to read every book on some list from a test prep company. I knew the answers to a lot of questions just because I studied literary terms and character/place names associated with important books. The Princeton Review book is really helpful in that it gives hints for identifying some authors' styles and reminded me of things I had learned (once upon a time) but probably wouldn't have recalled on my own. (That part--realizing how much I actually know about literature--was fun, too.) What I didn't do, but wish I'd had time for, was read the introductions in the Norton Anthology for authors (and critics) I don't know much about. It might have helped. After all, the test is much more about recognizing literary things than actually having read and understood literature (the important part, if you ask anyone who cares). Also, and I don't know what to suggest as far as preparing for this, there are a lot of reading comprehension questions based on passages that are absolutely brain-numbingly convoluted. Read fast, but only if your head can keep up. Mine sometimes couldn't, and I ended up reading certain passages more than once, which is a waste of time.

I'd like to write more here, about my knees back and butt, which are sore from putting together a whole table of hardcover books, and our new computer and how I'm torn between playing The Sims 2 at the speed god intended for the first time and starting in on the brand new Isabel Allende book, which will be my very first Isabel Allende, but this post is long enough and I'm excited to play with my new toys. Tonight, we will sneak in to vote, for democrats like the rest of our hippy neighbors, just before the polls close. It's good to have a full day, with just enough time for a tiny bit of quiet and bliss.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Friday, November 03, 2006


Today I called in sick to work, the result not of illness but of an emotional breakdown two nights ago, when I suddenly felt the full force of the realization that I actually didn't have enough free time remaining to properly study for tomorrow's early-morning GRE literature test. This is my fault, because I tried to squeeze too much studying into too few weeks. But I'm not used to having so much of my time eaten up by inflexible commitments like work. Since I started college (seven years ago), my schedule has been fairly malleable: if I desperately needed to get something important done, it was always possible to ignore or put off something else. That doesn't work with retail, where I pretty much get paid just to be there 40 hours a week. As a result, I've been forcing myself to ignore some things, like cleaning, but that doesn't normally take up enough of my time to make an appreciable difference in this situation. Also, the fact that I always have to move something over to write a check on the coffee table or make a sandwich on the kitchen counter is making me crazy. (Eric has been helping a lot, but I'm a little OCD, and have been known to wash a load of about six dishes, just because they were there. He doesn't do that.)

So today I've been studying. And for this thing, I'm finding out, a little studying goes a long way. I took my second practice test yesterday, and my score was far better than the first one--respectable, even. I think this is partly due to the practice test in the Princeton Review book being extra hard so that you think their techniques really worked when you get a much higher score on the ETS practice test and the actual test, but I also noticed while I was taking it that I knew a lot of the answers because of things I'd committed to memory over my lunch breaks earlier this week.

So today I'm cramming my brain full of names, dates, and famous lines. And the guilt of calling in sick when I'm actually perfectly healthy is basically gone. I've never called in sick before, except for a couple of times when I was actually too sick to work. I can usually guilt myself into going because I hate to inconvenience my coworkers and because I'm dirt poor and need every dollar of my paycheck. It took a lot of pep talks for me to decide that the money I would've made today is a teensy-tiny concern in relation to the extra points I'll be earning on a test with such powerful implications.

So tomorrow I'm going to do well on the GRE. That's my promise to me.