If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, March 30, 2009

First Step

The first step in creating the tenure packet is done. The section that describes my entire research life is being sent out for external review this week. My chair has roped 6 professors from across the nation to provide a written review. At the moment I'm just happy it is off my desk.

And although I'm still crazy busy with the Challenge grant I've had to go on to Step 2. Pumpkin nominated me for our school's Outstanding Teacher Award. If I want my nomination to be considered I need to put together an award application. Basically it is everything I will need to have in the teaching section of my tenure packet. So its really a win-win situation. Best-case scenario is my teaching section is completed early AND I get the award--worst case scenario is my teaching section is completed early.

Did I mention I despise writing my teaching philosophy? I can talk about my teaching until the cows come home but if you ask me to describe my philosophy I look like a deer caught in the headlights. Truth be told I'm not too keen on describing my research philosophy either.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If I Had Time To Blog....

If I had time to blog I would tell you about my awesome students.

I have two gem classes this semester and they keep me sane and grounded. For the last two weeks I've cancelled 1 full group session in each course so I could meet with each student individually and give them feedback on their papers. Both classes had to hand in complete first drafts before Spring Break. For each student I wrote a letter (about a page or two) giving detailed feedback and encouragement as necessary. When they came to my office I gave them time to read the letter and then we discussed it. I love this process. I especially love it because these students are awesome and have come up with such interesting ideas. They have also really struggled with figuring out how to write these complex ideas into a strong argument. I enjoy reading drafts and trying to figure out exactly what the author is trying to do and then finding ways to help hir do it. But even more fun is sitting down one-on-one with a student and trying to unscramble their thought processes into a coherent argument. Over the past two weeks I've had more than a few "a-ha" moments with my students, and that, my friends, is really why I teach.

If I had time to blog I would bring you up to speed on my "healthy lifestyle" plan.

I went completely vegetarian in January. By February I had added fish back into the diet but I try to keep it to a few times a month. Mostly it comes in handy when eating out. Since January b and I have been on a diet and have been trying to eat out as little as possible. In January I stopped all alcoholic beverages. By February I had added my Guinness back in to my diet. At first I tried to keep it to once or twice a month but that has definitely fallen by the wayside. I've lost around 10-12 pounds. I fit into my clothes and, more importantly, my workouts are more comfortable and I can run without killing my knees. I look fine. I'm healthy. My goal was 5-7 additional pounds. Part of me wants to keep going but honestly I know it is just vanity. I think I'm getting too old for that kind of vanity. Now I am working hard to maintain this weight. Part of my healthy lifestyle plan was also to read literature more often. I bought 2 books at the beginning of the month and I'm only halfway through the first one.

If I had time to blog I would tell you that I went 2 straight weeks without talking to Angel and it actually felt good.

Angel went camping with his fraternity brothers over Spring Break. While he was gone I turned off my iChat, because really I only chat with him and b and b is usually right next to me. By the time he was back I forgot to turn it on and was crazy busy with this grant that I'm writing. It took me until the end of the 2nd week to figure it out. On Saturday he asked b to ask me to turn my iChat on so he could talk to me. He wanted help with a paper. I helped him and then turned it off. Through most of this empty nest process I've been keeping the phrase "a mother has to be there to be left" in my mind and I've been trying to do my part. Lately I've been thinking this is more of the motherhood=sacrifice myth. I'm finding this myth less and less appealing.

If I had time to blog I would tell you about b's boat.

b ordered a new kayak. It is something he has wanted for a very long time. He's been saving for it for months now and he ordered it 2 weeks ago. They built it for him in Canada and it has been en route for almost a week. He's been tracking it daily (really he checks several times a day but it doesn't usually move more than once a day). He likes to update his FaceBook page with its current location. Today it is in the same city as Angel's college and it should be to SouthLite tomorrow. My husband can be very silly but he is also very excited and that makes me happy.

If I had time to blog I would tell you about this big-league grant that I'm writing.

I believe I've mentioned that I use to write grants all the time. It was a major part of my job. I'm talking about big league grants that you worked on for months and then the entire office stays up all night before a deadline (for one really really big league grant the entire staff stayed awake, in the office and working nonstop for a full weekend). They were a major pain but also really exciting in a nerdy masochistic kind of way. I haven't written one of these since I came to SouthLite. I've written some small internal grants and helped with some small external grants but mostly I felt burnt from the big league. Then this grant announcement was released with an impossible deadline and everyone in the country seems to be writing for it. For reasons completely unbeknownst to me I got it in my head to write one. I've been working on it for about 2 weeks now and have been feeling the old glory and the old pain. It is definitely a love-hate relationship but it is oddly comforting to actually want to be doing this again. Of course if I weren't writing this grant I'd have time to blog.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

RBOC: Rainy Day Edition

  • Its a rainy chilly Saturday here at SouthLite and b has to work. I'm wearing old sweatpants, a fleece and some flipflops (soon to be replaced with socks). I'm planning a full day of writing and grading papers with a big pot of coffee by my side.
  • I'm such a nerd that the above bullet sounds exciting to me. I don't know why I love my work so much but I often plan whole days with it the way others might plan to slip away with a lover.
  • NIH has issued "challenge grants" as part of the economic stimulus package. Last week I decided I'd write one. They are due on April 27th. I may be insane.
  • I've pulled a great team together for the grant. This was actually pretty easy since everyone knew they should be writing one but no one wanted to take the lead.
  • Writing NIH grants was a huge part of my life for many years but I've yet to do one in SouthLite. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with them.
  • Camping was great. We went right after I decided to write the grant and that gave me some quiet time to collect my thoughts on it.
  • This was my first kayak camping expedition. We only went for one night but are planning a longer trip after the semester. We paddled to an island in the middle of a lake. No one was there but a mess of deer.
  • I really prefer the ocean.
  • Angel spent the week on his first backpacking trip. He's not back yet so I don't know how it went but I remember my backpacking days in my late teens. It was my first experience of truly getting away to nature and I loved it. I loved hefting a weight on my back. I loved making it to the top of a climb; taking it off and enjoying the view. I loved having to be efficient with all that you do. I hope he loved it too.
  • b has slowly been getting bad news about his brother. We found out he has colon cancer a few weeks ago. Surgery was successful but now tumors have been found in his brain. Information is still coming out piecemeal and he appears to be refusing any aggressive treatment. b is being a wonderful brother and son (I do feel the worst for his mother) but would like to be able to do something. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that all you can really do is be there when someone needs you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Influential Writers

As seen over at Dr. Crazy's.

As my regular readers know, I love me some writers. Other than individuals I know personally, I would say writers have had the largest influence on my life, so I was quite happy to see this meme.

According to the rules you are supposed to list the 25 most influential writers in your life. As others have pointed out, influential writers are not necessarily the ones who you enjoy the most nor is this a list of my top 25 most important writers. Rather it is a list of people who have influenced me over the years. I will admit, however, that I am predominately influenced by those I like. If I don't like a writer, I stop reading. Life is too short and there are far too many books to be reading something I don't enjoy.

Some are doing this in chronological order but I don't think I will be able to do so. Some writers have influenced me greatly but differently at different eras in my life. You are also supposed to tag 25 people to do this, but that is too tall of a task. Instead I will invite you all to play along.
  1. Octavia Butler
  2. Ursula K LeGuin
  3. Virginia Woolf
  4. Toni Morrison
  5. Doris Lessing
  6. T.S. Eliot
  7. Anne Carson
  8. Carol Gilligan
  9. A.A. Milne
  10. Grace Paley
  11. Maxine Hong Kingston
  12. Jane Austin
  13. George Eliot
  14. Leo Tolstoy
  15. Dr. Seuss
  16. Tillie Olson
  17. bell hooks
  18. Sara Ruddick
  19. Carolyn Heilbrun
  20. Adrienne Rich
  21. Mary Oliver
  22. Nikki Giovanni
  23. Mary Shelley
  24. E.B. White
  25. Henry James
It is also very interesting to follow the links back to see other people's choices. It makes me want to start following new blogs. I suppose it is similar to the saying "a friend of X's is a friend of mine."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Growing Pains

Angel came home for the weekend. It is Spring Break for both of us. Originally he was going to be home for the entire break so he could work but there is no work. So he decided to go backpacking with his fraternity brothers for the rest of the week. He came home to hang out, eat, and borrow gear. Boredom has always been Angel's nemesis. Just the thought that he may end up bored strikes terror in his heart. There is no way he felt he could survive a week home without friends or work to occupy him. But a weekend appears to be doable.

Friday night we all went to the dojo together. During the workout he appeared unmotivated and not very social. As soon as we left he became highly critical of everything taught or not taught in the dojo. I held my tongue. Much of Saturday was similar. We had to run errands as a family and went out for lunch. His comments seemed harsh and rigid to me. He seemed defensive and I, in particular, seemed to be doing nothing right in his eyes--from my feminism to my dieting to my career choice.

I tried hard to let things roll off my back and not take them personally. Earlier in the week a colleague mentioned his family expecting him to go home for regular visits but how being with family can push your buttons. I know this myself only too well. I don't want to push Angel's buttons or allow him to push mine. I want an adult relationship with him; I don't want him to feel that he is being pushed back into a box every time he visits. I want to be able to enjoy the man he is becoming without missing the boy each time I see him.

These transition visits are difficult for both of us. It is hard to find comfortable ground between who he was and who he is. Young adults often assert their adult status by rejecting beliefs and values of their parents; by taking a strong stance and defending it. I imagine this is particularly hard when you (a) mostly agree with your parents and (b) have very laid-back parents. So sometimes the arguments/discussions get very lame and far-fetched. However it is mostly the hostile tone and attitude that bothers me. I think I'm pretty good at not taking it personally; at seeing it as an internal struggle and feeling sympathy for him. However it is hard to go long stretches of time in his presence without feeling the love. I think it is the absence of warmth that bothers me the most.

Saturday night Pumpkin and her friend/my student came over for dinner. The weather had been gorgeous all day so b grilled and we all hung out in the backyard eating dinner by candlelight and then sitting around the firepit. Angel joined in but was rather quiet and kept disappearing to work on a fraternity project. The fraternity is pretty much his world now. After the girls left, he came into our room and snuggled on the bed--working--while b and I watched TV. Then this morning he called me into his room for a snuggle and we spent a pleasant day together--no real deep conversations but no defensiveness or hostility either. At the end of the day we all had a nice dinner and then off he went.

I know one day visits will be happy occasions, I just don't know when.

Monday, March 2, 2009

RBOC: Snow Day

  • Yes, as it is everywhere else on the East Coast, today is a snow day here in SouthLite. It has actually felt more like a snow weekend for me. We had endless rain for two days and b has been home sick in bed. This means I have been working nonstop.
  • One more snow day and I could actually be ahead--yeah, that's so not going to happen.
  • The Brute seems to be mostly over his cold (the violent sneezing from last week's post). For about 2 days all seemed good with him. He was no longer scratching, obsessively licking, feeling scabby or sneezing. Last night however we discovered a small bald patch on his left shoulder and the scratching appears to be back.
  • b, although sick, did manage to get a reprieve from 2 of his wisdom teeth being pulled. However the one that's in sideways--that needs to come out and it will be surgical.
  • Angel is still not employed and is still bored. He's coming home next week for Spring Break and not looking forward to it. This, of course, makes me feel extra-special wonderful.
  • Friday Pumpkin came over for lunch and we ended up in a discussion where I had to give her constructive criticism. She took it well...I felt lousy.
  • Even though my students continue to impress and delight me I am still counting the days until summer.
  • Our Women and Gender Studies program hosted a fabulous discussion on feminist pedagogy for faculty and students.
  • I have very few absolute lifetime rules that I have imposed upon Angel. They can probably be summed up with: you can never join any branch of the military; you should always drink responsibly and never drink and drive; if you father a child you have to take responsibility for said child; and you can never own a motorcycle. He's fine with most of them except for the last. Here's a picture from his adventures in Costa Rica:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

No Worries...

...I'm not about to stop blogging just yet. I didn't really mean to give that impression as much as explore what blogging does and doesn't do and what it is still doing for me personally and for others who choose to continue in spite of FaceBook and Twitter. I guess seeing so many sign off or fade away made me realize that I may do the same some day. But I'm not about to do it yet.

But thank you for the lovely comments. They made me think about several additional issues. One is the issue of Unbloggability--issues that occur in our lives that we cannot blog about due to personal and/or professional obligations, yet they often take up a lot of our mental space. The Unbloggable makes the distinction between a blog and a journal perfectly clear. But what do we do on our blogs while in the midst of the Unbloggable? It often seems false and/or unsatisfying to write posts on other topics, especially since they often end up being fluff. So perhaps we just blog less.

Are we going through a time when many of us have the Unbloggables? Is it a cohort effect? Is it tied to the economy and changing national mood? Do we need a space where we can blog our Unbloggables anonymously? Ms. Prufrock tried setting that up for us at Swallow The Key, but that site has been quiet since November.

Then there is the issue of identity, which I think is Profgrrrrl is referring to in her comment and she has mentioned previously on her blog. If we start out as an academic blog and circumstances in our lives change so that our daily concerns and thoughts are on non-academic issues, do we go with it? Will we lose/disappoint our original readers? Do we have an obligation to them? Do we want to see ourselves as something other than an academic (or literary or what-have-you) blog? I felt this way when going through some of the worst of Angel's leaving. Some of it seemed unbloggable because I became aware just how easy it was for people IRL to find my blog and there were aspects I didn't want to share with some people. I also felt too much would alter my identity as an academic blogger to an empty nest blogger (a category I don't even think exists--yet) and I wasn't sure that was something I wanted.

However if I look past my own identity concerns and think about bloggers I have been following for a while, whether they were academic bloggers, literary bloggers, or feminist mother bloggers to start, who have changed the tone and content of their blog due to changes in their lives, I realize I not only don't stop reading or get disappointed, but often enjoy them more. I think what turns me off a blog is inauthenticity. Following life's twists and turns and how people reconcile their roles and identities is fascinating to me. So perhaps we all need to be kinder to ourselves and give ourselves the same leeway we give our friends.

FYI...I played around with Twitter last night, figuring I should give it a try before stating it doesn't work for me. So far its not doing too much but I'll give it a week or so before I make an official ruling.