running as avoidance

June 5, 2008

When I was finishing up the last chapter of my master thesis, I ran a lot—just over six miles a day, five or six days per week.**  The exercise was great for my body, of course, but what I really ran for was my mind.  At the time I was writing a chapter about evolutionary theory, deevolution, pessimism, and Jude the Obscure, arguably one of the most depressing novels ever written.  That was spring of 2000 and I can still remember escaping my apartment into the warmth of the sun and feeling an enormous weight lift from my mind. 

As coincidence would have it, I’ve been revising a chapter on eugenic sterilization this week, arguably one of the most depressing subjects in the history of science.  (Why do I choose such topics?  I don’t know.  A subject for another post, I guess.)  It’s 90 and extremely humid today in Cincinnati—I’ve been on a diet of iced coffee and ice water since 10:00 am—however, I can barely wait to take a run.  At this point, anything is better than writing another word about sterilization… 

**I know there are folk out there who would sneeze at 30-35 miles per week, but for me it’s “a lot.”

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watching life go by…from a window in the library

May 27, 2008

In Writing toward Home, Georgia Heard addresses the many challenges a writer faces when drafting/composing a large work.  A chapter entitled “Doing What I Have To” takes up the (sometimes commingled) subjects of discipline and “letting it go” entailed in the writing process.  She explains:

“While writing this book I didn’t vacuum my house for four months.  The spiders were ecstatic.  They wove their sticky webs over everything, connecting chair to couch to table.  Each time I passed I would look the other way, pretending not to notice that they had moved in, this time for good.  Dust balls roamed freely.  I temporarily lost some of my friends.  They began to leave messages on my answering machine: ‘I hope you’re okay.  I haven’t heard from you in months.  Call me back.’  I was obsessed.”

I don’t have spiders, but I’m with her on the dust balls problem.  And truth be told, it’s almost killing me.  I’ve never been the kind of writer who gets lost in her writing.  I mean, yeah, I get into the zone for hours here and there, emerging for a dose of sunshine or a glass or wine or a some human contact.  But I have never been one to ignore my domestic duties (self-imposed) or my friends.

Until now.

Not doing my “chores” is difficult—I find it nearly impossible to simply “look the other way.”  Dishes in the sink, laundry in the hamper, visible dust on a surface—it’s enough to make me crazy.  However, I’ve been working really hard to follow Heard’s dictate on that score.  She writes that it’s an “important decision—momentarily to give [one’s] heart and time over to [one’s] writing.”  And I agree.  I’ve got the messy home to prove it.

What I can’t let go of is the “temporarily losing the friends” part.  I feel so awful!  Even as I type this post, I feel that I should be replying to an email or returning a phone call.  I realized today that I missed a friend’s birthday!

I’ve always prided myself on leading a balanced life when it comes to my work. Until now, I’ve operated under the assumption that if the writing didn’t come out between, say, 9:00 and 5:00, then it wasn’t meant to be. I try to treat writing/scholarship like any other job. Lately, though, I’ve been writing to the detriment of almost everything else in my life.

I know I have to get the work done, and I know that means sacrifices, but I continually come back to this feeling that I’m missing out on life as I log hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours at the library. Is it worth it? I wonder.

In other news: what gives people the idea that it’s “okay” to speak above the faintest whisper at the library? If you have to talk to someone at a library, make it quick and quiet—or take it outside! Sheesh.

(I know I’m getting old, but seriously. Shut up!)

Also, I couldn’t resist writing the first two paragraphs in “academic-speak” as it’s all I’ve been writing lately…

a little faith, please?

May 18, 2008

So, I’m writing the introductory chapter to my dissertation (paradoxically the last part to be drafted) and I’ve been struggling mightily.  It’s not so much that I don’t know what I want to say—although that’s always part of it—it’s that I’m having trouble putting into words all of the “big” ideas I have about my project as a whole.

(Meanwhile, said difficulty is with me as I type this post as well.  Ugh.)

For a while there, my inability to state clearly even the most basic reasons for writing was pretty severe.  Even my usual tricks of the trade—write letter to friend using everyday language, fire off series of sentences restating the same idea in different words, talk it out and then write it down—were useless against this writer’s block.  At one point I said to myself (and then to Russell, and then to a comrade in the field) “I think I’m in over my head here” and I really worried that it was true.

In a moment of desperation, I pulled out a series of folders with titles like:  “Introduction notes,” “Rhetoric of Science—Introduction,” “Language and Ideology: For Introduction” from my files.  I had been avoiding these files for the simple reason that it had been nearly a year since I’d even touched them.  As anyone who does any writing at all (or, really, enters any creative process, I think) knows, the place you begin seldom matches the place you finish.  I figured that the notes in the folders would be worthless because so much had changed since I began this project and, rather than lose an hour or seventeen mooning over dropped threads and withered ideas, I planned to vett the folders when I was done.

I don’t often like myself.  I barely ever congratulate myself on anything.  But today I would like to go back in time and kiss the me of a year ago for being astute enough to create, organize, and lovingly file so much TOTALLY USEFUL information.  Nearly every single document in the files supports or clarifies my project as a whole. 

(I’m fighting the urge to delete this post lest I irritate whatever arbiter of luck/small god of writing I owe for this breakthrough.  But at the same time, I really wanted to record this moment so that I don’t forget that my system works.  Ah, existential crises…)

a word about march…before april is over

April 15, 2008

While I’m disappointed with myself for not writing during March, I’m letting myself off the hook because March was decidedly less than inspiring.  I overheard a young woman bemoaning the month as a whole, stating that “March tried to be too much like February, so I ignored it.”

(Meanwhile, it’s supposed to freeze here in Cincinnati tonight, so April’s not blazing any paths to originality, either.)

However, several events are bringing much joy in April.  A short list below, complete with photos:

This jade plant dropped the leaf to the left a year or so ago.  I noticed after a few days that the leaf had sprouted the tiniest root from its base so I shoved it in the soil and ignored it.  Now there’s a little plant growing from the leaf.  Yea!!

smallest jade

In other plant related news, my christmas cactus bloomed a second time in March.  The plant thought it was still winter, too.  It was gorgeous!

I’m working on a new shawl:

another shawl

I finished my hourglass sweater:

better color

However, I HATE the neck.  It’s way, way too big.  Rip it, rip it out.

(The Swingin’ Neckbreakers‘ cover of “Rip it Rip it Up” always runs through my head when I have to rip.)

The spate of news stories on the push-up as a benchmark of overall health freaked me out.  I’ve been doing push-ups almost daily in an effort to repress my first attempt, which put me at “poor.”  Not even “fair,” mind you.  “Poor.”  Ouch.

Since then, I’ve been a push-up machine.  I wish I could say I was above jokes about going to the “gun show”…

And finally, because it’s been such a long time between drafting and posting, here’s another photo of my jade. Another little shoot!

bonus bud

And that’s all I got.

 

be careful what you wish for

February 27, 2008

I’ve always been an avid reader.  I guess most English studies-type people are.  As a result, I’ve often thought the perfect life would involve mostly reading and thinking, with some good food, good wine, and baseball thrown in for good measure.  In fact, my response to the familiar conversation question, “If money was no object, what would you do with your life/time?” has always been: build a huge, beautiful, accessible library, fill it with books, invite others to enter, sit around and read.

***

I’m working on the last chapter of my dissertation right now, but I’ve been lately frustrated by my inability to articulate my ideas.  I have a tidy, somewhat clever framework, about seven pages of rambling introduction, and a burning desire to say something, but I find this week that I don’t have enough to say.  Which means only one thing:  time for more reading.

This realization brought with it an enormous, shuddering sigh, the kind that admits defeat so thoroughly, so palpably, that it nearly forces one to sit down.  After years of reading for classes, reading for comprehensive exams, reading to put together a prospectus, reading to write each chapter of my diss… well, for a moment there I was a bit put out by the likelihood of an additional two weeks of reading.

***

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the fact that I’ve chosen this life and worked hard to achieve it. The pressure and the deadlines get in the way of the pleasure and the gratitude. But not today. Today, I’m going to savor the fact that part of my job description, my “duties” if you will, includes reading and thinking.

***

In other news, I’m having a near-perfect hair day.  Why can’t these things occur on days I actually interact with other people?  I will probably not speak to or even lay eyes on another human being today, yet my hair is so right I’m tempted to grab someone off the street to say “Hey!  Check this out!  It’s my hair, and it’s beautiful.”  Ah, well.

small hilarity. but also? alarming!

February 25, 2008

I keep a teaching journal that, for the most part, I use to write about sundry classroom experiences.  Most entries deal with my mistakes (um, because that’s usually what’s going on), a few herald my accomplishments (or at least try to catch that lightning in a proverbial bottle), others offer a glimmer of hope or a moment of utter frustration and anger.  Fairly benign, all told, though my language maybe leaves a bit to be desire in the decorum department.  Nothing scandalous, or even interesting for that matter, and certainly nothing to think twice about.

Or so I thought.

Today, while waiting for an appointment, I pulled out my journal to record a few thoughts about some planning I did today for the remainder of the semester and I noticed some unfamiliar handwriting at the bottom of my most recent entry.  Um, let me state that again:  some handwriting in my journal THAT WAS NOT MINE.

My first thought? 

BREACH!

I mean, really, that was the word that crowded my mind.  Breach.  Not as strong as “penetrate,” not as simple as “trespass,”  but definitely a transgression.  Another person had been “in” my journal, had pulled back the little elastic strap and put pen to paper.  And while I’m sure it was out in plain view—DAMN.

I’m certain the party who wrote me a note in my journal simply saw it as a way to communicate with me because the message inside was encouraging and interested and kind.  But I ain’t lyin’ when I say that seeing that writing there really startled me.

Final thought here, and perhaps a question. 

First, when I write in my journal, in any journal-type space, I try to imagine that I’m writing to/for someone.  Even if that someone is a future me.*  But seldom have I entertained the possibility that anyone might actually read my words.  Especially in the realm of the print journal.**  Again, let me be clear.  I’m not upset per se—there’s nothing particularly incriminating in my teaching journal—but when I went back to read some of my entries, I felt… well… I wished for context, I suppose.  I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in there or not.

My question?  Has anyone else had a journal breached?  What did you think?  As noted in my title, I am at once amused and aware.  It seems both funny and scary that someone out there knows I’m bad at teaching and stupid at the same time!

*I don’t care what you say, you diligent journal writers, you.  You’re editing as you go—maybe because you think you’ll be immortalized as a famous writer someday, but mostly because you can’t bear to read your old shit and think: was I ever that naive and/or self-absorbed?  Projection?  I have no idea what you mean….

**Writing for a blog is entirely different.  I know anyone can read this stuff and it’s presented accordingly.  It’s still vapid, but it’s a special brand of vapid just for you.

what is wrong with me?

February 21, 2008

This morning I grabbed a coffee before driving to work.  Instead of my usual—small soy latte with two shots of espresso—I ordered a medium.  I was “hungry” and I knew I would probably have a late lunch.  When I received my drink, it was a large instead of a medium, and I was disappointed.  What is my problem??

Remember when we were young and getting an “extra” was awesome?  When an incorrect drive-thru order that netted some bonus fries was a monumentally happy event?  As I was driving away with my vat of soy and espresso I wondered if the near-constant offers to upgrade, supersize, “add value” have spoiled me for the occasional happy accident.  (With apologies to Bob Ross.)

I couldn’t drink the whole thing, even though I really wanted to so that I could have the foam.  I was overwhelmed at the half-way point…

analog weekend

February 19, 2008

I didn’t set out to avoid everything digital this past weekend, but avoid it I did. No phone calls, no email, barely any web surfing—I checked the weather a few times, and clicked through the Times, but otherwise not much in the way of computer interaction.  And though we did watch a couple episodes of The Wire (Season Four), those hours were the only two we spent watching the tube between Friday night and Monday night. Instead, we spent our weekend unpacking (we’re finally out of boxes!!), walking (we walked to Oakley Square one day, up to Hyde Park Square the next), visiting the museum (exhibition of quilts at the Cincinnati Art Museum), reading (I began and finished a novel on Sunday in two two-hour sittings) and eating.

Also, I did a good bit of knitting, and my sweater is almost finished:

hourglass v.2

The best part, honestly, was the reading, even though I did not enjoy the book (Atonement).  I had not immersed myself in a book for a long, long time—I almost forgot how it felt to churn through a novel.  Anyway, I know it’s probably next to impossible, but I’d like to try to have at least two “analog” weekends per month going forward.  My soul felt rested, if that makes any sense.  Truth be told, it was exactly what I needed, even though I’m not sure I would have been able to identify those needs on Friday before I tuned out.

Today, I’ve been thinking not so much about how great my weekend was (though it truly was a spectacular weekend for me) but rather how I managed to get to a point in my life where not working, not checking emails, not dealing with the phone, not reading online became the exception not the rule…

muscle memory: or, we’re here, but i’m still there

February 12, 2008

Yesterday, Monday, marked two weeks in our new apartment, though in truth the total number of hours we’ve spent here (awake) is relatively low. A combination of weekend trips home and late hours at work for both of us means that we’re still unpacking.

The funny thing about this move that sets it apart from other moves I’ve endured is that I have not adjusted to my space. I can’t seem to acknowledge? accept? the fact that I don’t live in my old apartment. On a conscious level, I know where I live, but somewhere in my subconscious, the connection fails.

For example, I cannot seem to grasp the location of light switches in this apartment. I’ll enter our bathroom and try to turn on an invisible switch above the sink. I’ve dropped the soap on the floor after washing my hands (old school soap receptacle was lower and to the side of the sink in old place). I continually try to step on the pedal to open the trash lid only to discover that the can is no longer to the left of the sink.  I’ve tried on several occasions to pull silverware from a place where it does not reside, and I’ve twice found myself in the wrong room, searching for an item that would have been oriented in that space in the old place. 

Last night, Russell picked me up from the airport late. Granted, I was tired and a bit out of it (frayed nerves from landing in snow), but when he turned away from 75 and headed up toward 71, I snapped “Where are you going?”

He looked at me and said, “Home?” with a bit of a question.

Yep. I forgot where we live.

Anyway, this whole transition has been strange.

also, to the powers that be…

February 9, 2008

Would you please make finding radiatore less difficult?  Even the super-stocked Kroger in these parts (has no fewer than 11 brands of pasta) doesn’t carry it.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

A girl who enjoys a high sauce to pasta ratio.