Archive for the ‘academic’ Category

day 30: at last

I realized tonight that it’s probably been ten years since I decorated a Christmas tree. I have the most ridiculous ornaments, amassed over the last four years from the post-season sales at Anthropologie and Pottery Barn. Like almost all of the art on my walls, most of my ornaments represent some type of animal. A lot could be said, perhaps, about that animal-collecting impulse of mine—I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s so deeply rooted that I have a hard time even imagining why I would buy landscapes to hang on my walls or stars and snowflakes to hang on my tree. Do the the tiny mushrooms or the pom-pom Santa do anything to mitigate the level of crazy? Perhaps not enough, but my tree definitely looks like an explosion of crafty things. Perfect! I’m terrified for the fate of these crunchable ornaments. I have the most wonderful gray wool goat wearing a tiny fringed wool scarf—I took it out of the box and all of cats went crazy. I put it back. Maybe someday.

I spent all day writing—and some of the evening patching more concrete with my dad (or holding the flashlight while he patched). I’m starting to like the vegetable lamb thing again (more animals), which is good since we’ll be spending a lot more time together in the next few days. I’m having a hard time telling how and if this will actually turn out to be any good, but at least I’m working. It took me five hours to write one paragraph—the first one. When I closed my computer to go home and realized how few words I’d actually written—even if they did finally feel like the right words—I thought of one of my more disastrous sections last year, when I tried to get my students to discuss the first line of Mrs. Dalloway. They were unmoved, arguing that the one line didn’t matter any more than the rest of them, and that the story could have started off some other way. But it doesn’t. And those first lines are hard.

And with that, here is my last line of (unofficial, kind of failed) NaBloWriMo.

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day 20: classes were taught

What about wearing things that are the same color as your t.v. cabinet? and your walls? and just about everything else in your house? I’ve had this sweater longer than I’ve had this house. Maybe this was beginning.

Friday is a long day. I go to class in the morning—today, a lecture on waistcoats, cotton dresses, and fabric albums kept in Victorian foundling hospitals—and then I have about an hour before I teach. I sat in Starbucks and tried to avoid making eye contact with a nearby forty-something, philosophical-hermeneutics-reading man who really seemed to want me to look up from my Pauline Hopkins. And then I taught—and taught—and taught. I still find it strange to rehearse the same lesson plan three times in a row. I have a sore throat from explaining the passive voice over and over again. I’m always amazed, though, at how students take to discussing the things that you can get away with by using passive voice, and the ways that it changes the meaning of what you’re trying to say. It’s a pretty fascinating thing. People are fascinated by it. Or maybe I just get so excited about it that they can’t help but get just a little bit excited, too. Or laughing at me. I’m fine with that.

After some suburban errands and a little bit of happy-birthdaying for a friend, I’m listening to some new-to-me music and just enjoying being at home. I brought an antique rocking chair—from a long-ago estate sale in St. Louis–up from the basement. Is there anything more homey than a rocking chair?

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day 17: clouds and columns

After lecture this morning, I walked up State Street to meet some lovely women for crepes. Then I snapped some pictures of clouds and columns and spent the afternoon working on a revision in the shadow of the Capitol. I came home and made soup for dinner. This recipe comes highly recommended from my friend skaalastic. I was a little hesitant to try it out since it relies so much on vegetable broth (the heavy, salty taste of which I usually don’t care for), but I bought the brand of bouillon cubes recommended in the recipe and it was wonderful. I went the almost “instant” route and just poured about two cups of boiling water over a scaled-back portion of the ingredients, covered the bowl, and let it sit for five minutes. Even though I was missing three of the ingredients in this very simple recipe—no sun-dried tomatoes, scallions, or goat cheese—I liked the basic idea so much that I’ve made it twice this week, once with some cooked and sliced Quorn added in at the end. I think that the pared-down version is probably more to my taste, actually. And now I will eat some more pie.

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“Working” from home—it’s one of the pitfalls of academia. It’s just so easy to come home after a morning in class—to feel justified in doing so, and to end up spending the afternoon on the couch watching Law and Order reruns.

Now, there are times when I absolutely cannot work at home—times when the thought of being contained in my dollhouse for one minute longer than the time it takes to throw my books and laptop into a tote bag will reduce me to a puddle of weepy mush on the kitchen floor. And then there are those times when I say I’m going to work at home but really have no intention of doing so.

But sometimes I really mean it. Sometimes I really do come home to my office instead of my couch. Sometimes I can only really think when I’m alone, putting away dishes while I work through sentences, dancing to loud country music when I hit a wall—moving, singing, talking, cleaning, baking, folding, reorganizing my way through my house and my writing.

So I made muffins today—from a recipe that always reminds me of my dear friend’s dear mother, of their house on Cape Cod and how they made me feel so at home there during times in my life when I felt like I didn’t know where home was. But I also finally made some progress on my work—finally, at home.

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I don’t know why I started painting my bedroom today. Objectively, it’s a pretty terrible idea. I’m exhausted. I have to be on campus all day tomorrow.  I have an exam on Friday, and then I have to teach for three hours, and then I’m driving to St. Louis for my high school reunion.

So of course I moved everything out of my bedroom, taped the baseboards, and started to paint. I’m not even sure that repainting was a good idea. I liked the old color. It’s fine. Now I have to sleep downstairs to avoid the fumes. I have to try to locate the perfect outfit in the mess that I’ve created, the one that says to all the people I haven’t seen in a decade: “Yes, I’m still in school. No, I’m not married. Yes, I talk to my cats. But it’s fine.” And today I only finished the priming. I still have to do the actual painting before I can sleep in my bedroom again. And I don’t even know if I like this color any better than the last one.

The more that I have going on, the more that I take on. I’m really not sure about this pale shade of grayish-lavender that I’ve chosen. I wanted something different from the deep aqua that I had–something brighter–something that would make me feel unstuck, and unstressed. And for a while, cutting in the corners and rolling primer carefully around the ceiling fan, I did. I stopped thinking about all of the things that I’m not doing, that I should be doing, that I could be doing, and I just did something. It wasn’t the most productive thing that I could have done with my afternoon, but it was the thing that kept me from screaming. I didn’t need to do it, and I guess that’s why I really needed to do it.

Chipping off the lumps of plaster left behind by my insane and sloppy plasterer— the one who sued me— patching up holes from the many, many times I’ve changed my mind about what should hang where— erasing a dark shade with a clean, pale coat— it feels like starting over, like righting some very small wrongs. The kind of wrongs that aren’t big enough to bother with unless you need something to feel right again, even in a very small way.

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dinner? progress? both?


I’m making progress towards cooking again, and cooking more regularly. I may have undermined some of that progress by buying a box of frozen bean burritos at Costco. But I did make this salad, too–kind of from this recipe but obviously tuna-less–and I was pretty proud since it involved the steaming of not one, but two kinds of vegetables. It also allowed me to make use of the largest jar of capers EVER, also from Costco. Most of the ingredients, though, are from the farmers’ market. It makes me much happier to eat eggs that come from farmers who post pictures of their children hugging their laying hens, and it makes me even happier when those eggs are so much better to eat than grocery store eggs that they don’t even taste like the same thing at all.

Although I haven’t been writing about it as much, I’m making progress, too, in the room downstairs. My mom came last week and we went on a totally crazy Ikea mission. I meant to take a picture of her two-door Civic with SIX bookshelves bungee-corded into the trunk. It hasn’t rained here in weeks, but of course it POURED that day. The bookshelves survived, though, and I finally finished assembling them last night. Here’s a picture from a few days ago:


Things are coming together (there are even books on the shelves now) but I’m not sure when I’ll really be “done” with the room–I still need some baskets or boxes or something to stow some clutter, and the curtains need to be hemmed.  It’s so much better already, though–I’ve even been spending time down there, which has pretty much never happened before this week.

I really wanted to pull all of this together in order to have a space for sewing, but I don’t see much sewing in my immediate future. I didn’t expect this semester to be so busy–I guess that I never really do–but I feel like I’m in class all the time. Beyond salad and bookshelves, I’m not getting anything done. I’m going to try to fix that this weekend. I know that I didn’t need to get into these crazy redecorating and reorganizing projects immediately after prelims, but it actually feels like a pretty good time to try to sort some things out. I work better when I really feel like my house is a calm and clean space, so that’s actually kind of an important goal for my general sanity…which has seen better days. Things seem really hard this semester–even little things, like cooking–and I’m tired far too much of the time. I don’t know if it’s just post-prelims burnout or my inability to adjust to a morning class schedule. My car randomly decided not to start this week and I wanted to push it into the lake. I’d probably be buried up to my neck in dirty laundry if my mom hadn’t decided to do some of it for me. I don’t know that things ever really feel easy, but I’d like them to be better than this. It’s a goal, at least. Like hemming the curtains. Maybe someday.

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My heart leaps up

I’m home again. It’s quiet here, and a little bit chilly. I can tell that fall is really coming, even though it still seems unreal that I have a class at 9:30 on Wednesday morning, and will be teaching on Friday. I have a touch of that early-autumn exhilaration, when the turn towards cold is somehow thrilling rather than foreboding. After three winters here, I should know better than to be impatient for falling leaves and frosty nights, but I love the shifting of seasons.

I canceled my cable package. Now I only get a few channels, none of which I find very tempting. I did watch about twenty minutes of Antiques Roadshow and part of a creepy episode of Law and Order while I was eating dinner, but I’ve reached a point where I no longer want to have the TV on to break the silence of my house. I used to find the quiet of living alone–or mostly alone, as is the case in my mom’s enormous suburban house–disconcerting. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was–and how utterly alone I felt–when I first moved into this house. Lying in bed at night, I heard every creak, every rustle in the mostly-empty rooms. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Perhaps it’s because everything about this house is more familiar, and more cushioned now–I know the rattle of the furnace and the rushing sound that the water softener makes early in the morning, and sound no longer echoes in the way that it did before I filled these rooms. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

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