T: Amazing Husband ST: Three-year-old Wonder Prof. G: Advisor I Prof. C: Advisor II Julie: Stylish Sister Rob: Awesome Brother Belle: Our Cat Bill: Grumbling BIL Rita: Uncomplicated SIL SMU: Smallish Midwestern University Doctoral University: where I got my Ph.D.
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Friday, September 30, 2005
The State of Things
I have spent the morning assessing the State of the Dissertation. It is freaking me out.
I have quite a bit done, almost half, but there’s still so much to do. I’m currently working on two of my case study chapters – I was working on the first case rather diligently until I thought that a different case would make for a more interesting job talk (it concerns events that people are more likely to know something about, which means I won’t have to give so much background information). The work is kind of fun, but I need to be working a bit faster. I’d like to have two cases well in hand before I leave for Berlin in a month. (Yikes.)
So, here’s the new plan: 1.) finish interesting case first in the event I need it for a job talk; 2.) finish slightly-less-interesting case just to get it over with; 3.) go to Berlin, work like mad collecting interview and archival data; 4.) return home and finish final case study by end of January. Totally do-able, but #1 is the most difficult. The rest of the academic year can be spent polishing and writing the ultra-dull-but-necessary statistical chapter (Chapter 4; I’ve already run the numbers, but haven’t written about them). Then I should be set to turn a draft of the complete dissertation in April and graduate in May. (Although I do have the luxury of graduating in August if things don’t go according to this plan, I really do want to finish up in May.)
I’m feeling a whole lot better about the job situation, after speaking with some friends who got good jobs last year and reading advice like this. My best friend, now in his first year as an Assistant Professor, put it this way: “I thought that the first year of graduate school was the worst year of my life. Then I went on the job market. The job market sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks. The worst part about it is that while it seems like it’s a linear process, in the end it’s totally random.” It is out of my hands. I have sent in applications, and I completed them to the best of my ability. I know my recommendations are good, and they’re from top scholars in my field. I know what’s on my CV, and there’s nothing I can do to change it now, even if I wanted to (which I don’t). I like my dissertation topic, and I’m doing it in a way that makes sense to me. The pieces of the job puzzle that I can control are under control, for the most party. All I can do now is wait.
It feels pretty good, actually, to relinquish control – to really let it go. I’ve been telling myself all along not to get worked up about it, but I worked myself up anyway. After thinking long and hard these past few days, I’m just letting it go. There’s no use in worrying or planning or even thinking about something that I can’t control – it’s just a waste of my energy, energy that could be better poured in my dissertation, my relationships, my life.
We’re leaving later this afternoon for the trip to Marathon City. I need to finish washing ST’s clothes, print off a few more German documents to read in the car (long trip for us), and get the vehicle gassed up and ready to go. Lots to do before T comes home from work.
Side Note: very proud to say that I ran two whole miles yesterday, with only one 30 second break at the top of the hill. It was T’s final jog before the marathon, and so it was nice to run with him. He hardly even broke a sweat after two miles – I was a sweaty mess. I think he was pretty impressed that I made it two miles… I was, too!
I finally did it. I bought an iPod today. A little black nano all for myself. Should arrive next week. I have wanted one for a long time, and the student pricing on this little gadget couldn't be beat -- T agreed. (Or maybe he just agreed because he wants new golf clubs?)
I haven't been this excited about a "thing" for ages!
I received an email from Small Dream College today, informing me that my application was complete and that they would start reviewing applications next week. As I was about to delete the message, I noticed that the administrative assistant had included the names of every applicant at the top of the email – all of the email addresses (and, hence, the institutions) of my competitors. I then did something I should never have done: I picked out a few and looked them up, just to see what they were working on. What a stupid thing to do.
I looked at a few that were outsiders – people who applied for this job, but whose expertise was only tangentially related to the posting. I am not worried about those people so much, because I know that this particular department has a specific type of person in mind – namely, someone who does something like what I do. But then I glanced through the websites of a few others and… wow. There are some extremely intelligent people working in my field and sub-field. People who are highly decorated and published. People who are a million times more qualified than I am.
Ever since I did that, I’ve been feeling pretty low. I’m having a crisis of confidence of epic proportions. Today was my day home with ST (he’s not in daycare on Wednesdays), and I was literally fighting back tears while I was making his lunch. I just looked at him and thought to myself, “Look at this brilliant little child, born to an ignorant mother.” Ugh. I hate these days, because they are the kind of day where I feel like throwing in the towel – giving up. I have felt this way before. In fact, I think graduate school is really about moving from one crisis of confidence to another, and making it out alive at the end.
My first crisis came at the beginning of my first year, when I was completely overwhelmed by the demands of my program and feeling like the stupidest person in every class. Another crisis came when I was pregnant and coping with the first of my comprehensive exams, trying desperately to remember details from classes I’d had three years before. Yet another crisis: the prospectus. My prospectus took me a LONG time to write – partially because my advisor made me write a zillion drafts, and partially because, at one point, I tossed my dissertation topic out and was searching in vain for another. (I eventually went back to the first one, with some methodological alterations.) The most recent crisis was when I turned in my third chapter to my advisors and neither of them liked it, but that was short-lived because I was able to turn in another draft in just a few days, which both advisors liked a lot. That brings me to the present crisis: feeling like, in all of my years in graduate school, I haven’t done anything spectacular. Nothing that makes me stand out from a horde of other candidates.
I’m not sure what will bring me out of this crisis. What is the worst about this is that yesterday, when I mailed off four job applications, I was feeling very positive about myself and my work. Now I just feel inadequate. And I don’t like it.
Once our job files are complete, our Placement Director reads through everything to make sure it all sounds good: teaching and research statements, sample cover letters, teaching evaluation summaries, letters of recommendation, and CV. He is a harsh critic, and has been known to make candidates and recommenders rewrite letters and statements. He read through my file today and said, "I wouldn't change a thing." Hurray! At least someone thinks I look good on paper -- if only he could offer me a job, I'd be set.
Our Placement Director is seriously one of the coolest academics I've ever met (and not just because he approved my job file!). He's a great scholar who doesn't take himself too seriously, who laughs a lot, and who is dedicated to his family. He's published a few times in our big journals and has written a few books but now prefers to publish quirky articles in quirky little outlets, and he loves to co-author with both graduate students and undergraduate students alike. I was his TA for a semester, and it was incredible: his energy in the classroom was palpable, his jokes were actually funny, and the students adored him*. Basically, I think he's the kind of academic a lot of people hope they will someday be, myself included.
I always thought that I'd want to be like Prof. G, who is an amazing scholar and mentor in every sense of the word, but I realize now that I will never be like him: Prof. G. does work in the discipline for fun. He reads biographies of famous people relevant to the discipline for fun. He writes articles and analyzes data for fun. He attends conferences and chairs panels because -- you guessed it -- he thinks it's fun. I don't do any of these things for fun. I do them to make a living so that I can do other things for fun. Don't get me wrong -- I like what I do. But it's not fun in the same way that baking cupcakes or reading Curious George books to ST is.
Compiling job applications is certainly not fun. I have four that are going out tomorrow, including one to my new favorite job at Expensive Private College. They are looking for someone just like me (I think that about every job... according to me, I'm in demand!) and, after reading their website in some detail, I'm looking for a place just like them. Seriously, I read a lot of information about Expensive Private College and I was amazed at how all of my top priorities were theirs as well. It made the cover letter very easy to write, that's for sure. Two of the other letters are going to research institutions, and the last is going to Small Urban College. Fingers crossed, prayers directed upward.
* I neglected to mention that our Placement Director is incredibly handsome. Really. Movie star handsome, even, according to some undergrads.
I ride the city bus to campus on Mondays. Idiotic conversations abound on the bus.
The scene: a girl with mousy, straggly brown hair and glasses sits at the front of the bus, her yellowed and crooked teeth showing as she smiles at anyone and everyone. She is wearing a coral-and-white striped t-shirt and coral capri pants. Coral is not her color, and the horizontal stripes are accenting all the wrong things. The bus is filled to capacity. It is quiet.
CoralGirl (loudly, to no one in particular):I got stung by a bee today, and it hurts! (She laughs a little, looking around. Her voice is annoying and it carries well.)
No one laughs. No one acknowledges her, but she still smiles. I feel kind of bad for not saying anything, but I'm seated too far away from her.
Bus stop. A young man enters wearing athletic clothes and a jacket with our University's team name across the front. He is clearly an athlete himself, and probably one of the cool kids. The bus is packed, so he stands in the front next to CoralGirl.
CoralGirl:I hope they win this weekend!
CoralGirl (gesturing toward his jacket): I hope they win. I know a lot of the players.
AthleticGuy (clearly not interested): Really? Like who?
CoralGirl:I know BigNameFootballer, and his friend BigNameFootballer2. And I used to work with BigNameFootballer's brother, Nick. BigNameFootballer was so nice. Once, at the checkout, I gave him his change and he said, "Have a nice day," and I was like, "Hey, you too." What a great guy!
AthleticGuy:Good to hear.
CoralGirl:I'm going to be a sports broadcaster one day. That's why I'm going to LocalCommunityCollege. I love sports. I know some football players in the pros, too.
(It is pretty obvious that CoralGirl does not really know any of these people.)
AthleticGuy (realizing he's trapped): Cool.
CoralGirl:Yeah, it's really cool. I know FootballName and FootballName. They're nice.
CoralGirl:Do you play golf? You look like you play golf. I have a lot of friends who play golf. I hang out with them a lot.
AthleticGuy waves a little as he gets off the bus. The other passengers in the front of the bus are visibly bracing themselves, thinking they'll be the next victim of CoralGirl's inane conversation. CoralGirl looks around and says, feigning exasperation, "I can't wait to be a sports broadcaster! I'll be so good at it!"
Bus stop. CoralGirl gets off the bus. A pretty woman near the front bows her head into her newspaper and starts laughing to herself. She glances up at me and I giggle a little, too.
After ST was born in 2003, I stayed home with him for five months. It was a glorious time: I played with my adorable child, I studied a little for my last comprehensive exam, I did a little RA work on the side (toting adorable child to the library, nursing in the stacks), and I silently dreaded going back to school full-time and having to leave ST at daycare. I researched various daycares for several months, and finally decided to send him to an in-home daycare just a block away from our house. Overall, it has been a good decision.
I have become good friends with ST's carers, "Robin" and "Luann." Robin and Luann are mother and daughter, funny ladies who truly do love the children in their care. Robin (the daughter, about 35) is a driven, silly lady who keeps a very clean house and is a fairly strict disciplinarian. Luann (the mother, about 60) is a big softie who, despite numerous health issues, is quite active with the children. Robin has two daughters who are delightful; both girls help with the daycare during the summer months. We also know Robin's husband quite well, and have in fact done business with him on more than one occasion. Overall, they are a lovely family and we are lucky to have them in our lives. ST adores them all; sometimes, he insists on going to visit Robin and Luann on our walks around the neighborhood, and he asks about what they're doing every day, even if he's not going there.
ST is in daycare four days a week, from about 8:30am-4:30pm, which allows me time to work on the dissertation, attend meetings on campus, go to the library, etc. Robin and Luann have been very flexible with my schedule -- in the past two years I've switched from having ST in daycare two days a week, to three days, back to two days, and then to four days. Robin and Luann have never had a problem with this, and they've also been very supportive of my upcoming trip to Berlin, when ST will be in daycare five days a week (just for November). They have also been supportive of my parenting decisions -- they've willingly used cloth diapers on ST when I asked, dealt with breastfeeding issues with me, separation issues, etc. On the whole, I have very few complaints.
Lately, however, I've been sensing that 1.) Robin and Luann have accepted too many kids at the daycare, almost more than they can comfortably attend to; 2.) because of this, the kids aren't doing as much there as they used to. During the summer, Robin and Luann had only 5 kids there, total. One toddler under one year old and four older toddlers ranging in age from 2-4. Now they have eight kids there, two babies, a toddler under one, and five older toddlers. This is still a decent carer-child ratio, but to be honest Robin and Luann don't seem happy with the arrangement and neither am I. They are always busy with "administrative" issues instead of playing with the kids like they used to -- washing bottles, changing diapers, feeding babies, etc. As a result, I think the kids are watching far more TV than they used to, are playing as an organized group less often, are outside less regularly, and are a bit less well-disciplined. Last week, for example, when I asked what the kids did outside that day (it had been a gorgeous pre-fall day), Robin told me that they didn't go outside all day because "there were too many kids to keep track of." She said it in a funny, off-hand manner, but it really bothered me.
I know that having babies around is difficult. I know that it's hard to send the kids outside when you have to attend to the littlest ones. I understand that. But somehow, I don't think that my very outdoors-oriented toddler should be stuck inside all day because of it. And I don't think my toddler, who watches maybe 15 minutes of TV per day (if that), should have to resort to watching PBS cartoons because his carers are busy taking care of babies.
No, I can't prove that he watches a lot of TV, or that they don't do stuff during the day. I'm not there. But I do know that ST suddenly knows A LOT of characters from daytime PBS shows (I looked them up because I had no idea what ST was talking about!) and that he doesn't bring home as many crazy drawings and paintings as he used to. He also tells me when they don't go outside, and he doesn't like it.
My problem is this: how could I possibly broach this topic with Robin and Luann? I don't want to offend them, but yet I am paying for a service they provide. I am a friend and a customer*. How can I tell them that I'm concerned about television, and that I really think ST needs to be stimulated with activities like drawing, playing outside, playing games, dancing, singing, etc.? I don't want them to feel bad, but I hate feeling like I do today -- silently resentful, and very guilty for spending the day on the computer at home when I could be spending it with my delightful, smart little boy. Any advice?
*And please, don't tell me to never do business with friends. It's impossible NOT to become friends with people who love your child, and who you see nearly every day.
Stuff I'm supposed to like, but don't: Brie, the work of Mark Twain and John Steinbeck, C-SPAN (unless Tony Blair or Gerhard Schroeder are speaking, in which case I am fascinated), the Wall Street Journal, merlot and chardonnay, Apple computers (just the actual computers, not the iPods), running regressions on SPSS, talking endlessly about methodology, Elmo's voice (ST loves it, but it drives me nuts), babysitting other people's kids.
Stuff I like, but I'm not supposed to: Movies with talking animals (e.g., Dr. Doolittle), strawberry- and grape-flavored sodas, Windows, late-night infomercials about miraculous kitchen appliances, teaching undergrads in small liberal arts colleges (see previous post), writing narratives and constructivist arguments (not in this department!), the Wiggles (there's something about Anthony -- can anyone with a toddler back me up on this?!).
I've been organizing the materials for all of the jobs I'm applying for with October deadlines. It's a real mix, according to Carnegie classifications: a few R1s, a few a notch below that (are those called "R2"s?), one Master's-level university, and a slew of liberal arts colleges. I've noted before that I'm not sure where I really belong. Jobs in all of the categories are obviously appealing to me, but I do know that if I was offered a position at an R1, I'd have to think long and hard before accepting it. It would be a life I'm not sure I want to live.
I attend an R1, so I know what I'd be getting myself into if I worked for one. I am getting pretty annoyed, however, by the fact that a lot of my colleagues who are also on the job market turn their noses up when they realize that I'm applying to a lot of liberal arts colleges. "Oh, you just want a teaching school?" they ask, incredulous. "Won't you be bored?"
Quite the opposite. From the very beginning of graduate school, I have loved to teach. I feel very comfortable in the classroom, I enjoy advising students and getting to know them, and I really like involving them in whatever research I'm doing. I put a lot of effort into my teaching, too much sometimes, and I like feeling like I'm making a difference in someone's life. Honestly, I get a little bored doing research all the time (this entire year is nothing but research for me and I already want to scream) -- the students make my research mean something to me. (Of course, the type of research I'm working on matters, too -- if I'm doing theoretical work that's difficult to explain to a layperson, I feel like a useless, high-falutin academic. If I'm doing practical, policy-relevant research, I'm thrilled and I feel like I'm contributing to society and I don't "need" the students as much. If I'm tweaking variables to make a regression come out the way I want it to, I want to leave the discipline.)
"Just a teaching school." I think I could actually be pretty happy at "just" a small liberal arts college, provided that I had a handful of vibrant colleagues to bounce ideas off and a little time to work on projects that mean something to me. Small Dream College would be just that environment, as would Small Urban College. I'm applying to some very small liberal arts colleges, too -- 5-7 faculty members in the department, 3-3 teaching loads. That could be fun, I think. Sure, I'd never be a big name in my field, but that's not what I want or what I have ever wanted: I want to turn out some solid work, live in a nice town where my child(ren) can go to school and my husband can build a practice, and have a place we can call "home" for many, many years.
Perhaps the entire blogosphere has done this one already, but I've seen it a few places now and thought it was interesting. Plus, I've had a less-than-awe-inspiring day filled with writing more cover letters and organizing job application materials, and so I thought this meme would be more interesting than anything else I could write today.
Seven Things I Plan to do Before I Die:
Live for an extended period of time in Europe (preferably Germany or Austria)
Have another child (or two?)
Finish this dissertation (unless it kills me first)
Get involved in a volunteer organization to help the poor or to help educate people (especially children) about nutrition and health
Raise my child(ren) to be thoughtful, courteous, informed members of society
Visit Australia and New Zealand
Help my husband to realize his dream of opening his own practice
Seven Things I Can Do:
Speak, write, and read German
Cook and bake well
Keep myself positive no matter what the circumstances
Offer practical solutions to problems and give advice
Play the flute reasonably well
Gather research on even the smallest of topics and organize it for others
Multitask effectively (most days)
Seven Things I Cannot Do:
Be sad or depressed for long periods of time
Really understand people who are sad/depressed for long periods of time*
Catch a ball in a mitt
Turn the ends of my hair under with a round brush and a hair dryer
Keep my opinions to myself
Seven Things That Attract Me to the Opposite Sex:
Sense of humor
Seven Things I Say Most Often:
"Are you listening to me?"
"Stay in your bed!" (To ST, who never stays in his bed.)
"That's the way it is."
"We'll just wait and see what happens."
"It will all work out in the end."
Seven Celebrity Crushes:
Quite honestly, I cannot think of one! There are people I enjoy watching on film (e.g., Steve Martin, Anthony Hopkins), but they are certainly not "crushes!" Maybe we should adapt this meme for the academic world and have it be "Seven People You Admire Most In Your Field," but then some anonymity would be lost. (Is it sad that I can readily think of seven scholars, but not seven celebrities?!)
* I am struggling with this right now with my brother. It really bothers me that I can't "fix" things for him, and that I can't truly understand why he feels like he does. I'm no good with sympathy, either, unfortunately. I do try, but I just am not good at it.
T and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary this June, but since we'd just returned from a vacation on our actual anniversary, we decided to postpone our night out. It kept getting pushed further and further back until finally we decided we would go out together this weekend. We dropped ST off at a neighbor's house Saturday afternoon.
A movie, dinner, dessert. A nice long walk. A deep conversation.
I met T during a club meeting on campus when we were both undergrads, and after the second meeting he offered to drive me home. (It was winter and we had several, several chilly nights.) I remember getting into his car for the first time: an old but very clean Buick Skyhawk, near spotless interior, a blanket and a pair of Eddie Bauer snowboots on the backseat. I was impressed that it was so clean in the inside, everything organized. I was also impressed that, unlike so many of the other men I'd dated, he didn't have a radar detector or massive stereo in his car. He was respectful, driving me up to my house and then walking me in. For a few months, that was it.
I was fairly certain in those beginning months that if I did end up dating him, it would only be for the short term. I had recently returned from a year in Europe when we met, and I was planning to head back to Europe the following summer. I was not interested in a long-term relationship, particularly with this man who was so different from me. I was a studious girl who had never attended a party, who didn't listen to pop music, who didn't even own a CD player. A girl who came from a staunchly conservative, Catholic family and who still attended Mass every Sunday. A girl who was opinionated and saw the world in black and white. A girl who had had only one long relationship (2 years) and several week-long flings, a girl who was a virgin in so many senses of the word. From what friends told me about T, he dated a lot, was smart but preferred sports, wasn't active in a church, was really easy-going and was generally a popular guy in certain college circles. All of my friends universally agreed that he was one of the most attractive men on campus. By comparison, I felt a little dowdy and sheltered. At that time, I'd never even been to a college party. Heck, I'd never even gone to Prom.*
During college I worked at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore (which I believe I will always count as one of my favorite jobs), the Queen of the Reference Section. One night T came in and we started chatting -- it was just before Christmas, and he wanted to buy a book for his Mom. I recommended a book; he bought it. Before he left, he asked me if I liked pie. I said that, of course, I did, and he asked me to meet him at a Perkins after I was done working. When I explained that I wouldn't be done with work until after midnight, he smiled and said that, if I was interested, he'd be waiting for me at Perkins. At 12:20am, there he was, sitting in a booth looking at the dessert menu.
We talked until almost 4:00am. It was wonderful. As it turned out, our families were very similar, we had similar plans for our lives, and although our political views were (at that time) very different, we had fun, respectful conversations. When we walked outside into the frigid night, he put his hand on the small of my back as we headed for our cars. He opened my car door for me and said goodnight.
It wasn't until several weeks later that he actually kissed me, or that we talked about having a "real" relationship. But somehow, gradually, our relationship reached a point where we could not imagine ourselves without the other. Engagement. Law school for him. Marriage. Graduate school for me. A house. A baby together. Six years.
I look at T now and I see a compassionate, intelligent man, an excellent father, a true north. A man who has never once discouraged me from doing something I thought was right. A man who has always been a friend and a lover, someone honest and loyal. I look at him and I realize that there is nothing -- nothing -- of which I am surer in this world than him, his love and support. And as I look to the future and see a lot of uncertainty ahead, I know that if he is there with me, we will make a home wherever we are.
Happy belated anniversary, T. Here's to dozens more.
* Not because I wasn't asked, mind you! (Insecurities rear their ugly heads.) I was definitely a non-conformist in high school, and going to Prom for me would have been like selling out. Also, during my last year of high school I was dating a man who was already in college, and he certainly wasn't interested in attending a high school prom.
I am pleased to report that I have now sent in two job applications -- one to Research University and one to Small Dream College. I think both applications looked pretty good, although as I've said before I'm not terribly interested in the job at Research University. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I don't want to be at a research institution at all, but I've decided to apply anyway and see what happens. What I really want is a small-ish university that places slightly more value on teaching than on research, and with no book requirement for tenure. It's not that I don't think I could write a book, it's just that I don't really want to, or at least I don't want that pressure while I am also raising my child/ren.
The cover letter for Small Dream College took me a g e s to write. I stayed up until 2:00am Thursday working on it, then awoke again at 7:00am to drop ST off at daycare, and then worked on the letter until about 2:00pm, when I finally finished it and dropped my applications off at the post office. I am so interested in this job, so impressed by SDC's resources, and so sure that I'd fit in there that I was paralyzing my writing process by wanting the letter to be perfect. I know it's not perfect, but I think it gives them a good sense of who I am and what I could provide for their department.
When the job process started, I kept telling myself to keep an open mind and not to get too excited about particular jobs. That's tremendously difficult to do, and I'm failing miserably. There are three jobs posted right now that I feel like I'm jealously guarding, and I know I'll be upset if I don't get a telephone or on-campus interview at these places. Small Urban College, Small Dream College, and Mid-Sized Midwestern University all have jobs posted that would be perfect for me. Totally perfect. They are looking for someone who does EXACTLY what I do. I had preliminary interviews with Small Urban College and Small Dream College at our National Conference, and those were the interviews where I really felt like I connected with the interviewer. Ugh -- I just wish I knew what the future holds.
T is also getting excited about the possibility of moving somewhere. Yesterday was really the first time he talked about it without lamenting the fact that we'll have to sell our house, find a new daycare, move further away from family, etc. He said that he'd talked to one of the secretaries at his firm and she mentioned that she used to live near Urban Area, which is where Small Urban College is located. Her description of the place made him happy, and he said that he's looking a bit more favorably at that job prospect than before. That makes me feel good; even though he knew that our life together was going to be a little crazy before I settled in as faculty somewhere, and even though he knew that he had to be the one with the "portable" career, I know he still wishes that we could just stay here. If we did, his career would be exploding (and our income would probably double in two or three years) -- when we move, he'll have to start all over again. But, God willing, the next place we land will be the place we'll stay for a very long time.
Things to Accomplish Today:
1.) Tidy up house and finish laundry after spending all day yesterday holed up in my office with my cover letter.
2.) Lunch meeting with Director of Graduate Studies.
3.) Afternoon meeting with Director of Placement.
4.) Library to print off some additional materials for Chapter Five.
5.) Grocery store to pick up two things I forgot while shopping on Wednesday.
6.) Reorganize my office -- it is a pit of despair after yesterday. 7.) Clean bathrooms. Why, oh why can't bathrooms clean themselves?
ST re-discovered his Fisher-Price Little People Noah's Ark this afternoon. (I packed it away last year because he wasn't playing with it and pulled it out again today -- he was thrilled.) As I made supper, I overheard him playing with the two toucans, making them talk to each other.
Toucan 1: Hi, Mama! Toucan 2: You're a good baby toucan! Toucan 1: I smell something. Toucan 2: I think it's you.
Many years ago, before I met T, I developed an intense friendship with someone I'll call "Jim." Jim and I met in high school when he was a junior and I was a senior. Our friendship was unconventional in that, in the early months of it, we rarely spoke to one another even though we saw each other every day. We communicated by letter -- long, lovely letters that were sometimes stuck in one another's lockers, sometimes delivered by other friends, sometimes sent via the USPS. These letters were the sort that you keep forever, that capture a part of life that you can never recreate, that, when reread, instantly transport you back to your old self. I still have them all -- an entire crate full of them, spanning several years -- and in fact I actually jumped into a dumpster to retrieve them once after my Dad unknowingly threw them out. They are a vital part of my past; in fact, one of my favorite parts.
To say that Jim and I loved each other was an understatement. We tried to date for a few weeks, but found that our relationship was so powerful that dating seemed to cheapen it. I loved him because he was quirky, smart, a gentleman, and because he seemed to flourish when I was with him. I really feel that I helped him come into his own, to realize that he was a vibrant person capable of anything. I know without a doubt that he would, to this day, say that I was an absolute necessity in his life at one point. And he was a necessity in mine. And I suppose that's why my relationship with him was never destined for any sort of permanency.
We had an unspoken falling out several years ago. I met him for breakfast after not seeing or corresponding with him for a long time, and the intensity of feeling (not even love -- I'm not sure what it was) I once had for him was simply gone. Gone. In fact, I found him to be exactly the kind of person I didn't ever think he would be: arrogant, over-confident, annoying. All he wanted to talk about was himself and his accomplishments, and how he was smarter than the woman he was dating at the time. He never once asked about my life, my marriage, my accomplishments, and I didn't feel like sharing them with him.
I have not spoken with him since 2001. We didn't have an argument or anything -- I just stopped returning his emails and letters. He doesn't even know I have a son.
However, the past few nights have been filled with horrible dreams about him. In the dreams I know he is suffering but I don't know why. In my dreams he is asking me for help, and I am unable to help him for some reason. The dreams are vivid and stay with me for the rest of the day. I'm not one to put much stock in dreams, but these are the most intense dreams I have ever had and I'm not sure why I'm having them. I haven't given Jim so much as a passing thought for several, several years. (And when I have thought of him, my thoughts are of the disappointment I feel that he has turned into such a jerk.)
I'm not sure where he lives. I know he's a doctor somewhere. I have no information about his life. And yet I feel compelled by these dreams to contact him, to make sure he's OK. Part of me wants to do it, and yet a larger part of me wants to let it go -- I would rather hold on to the sweet memories I have of him than stir up the bad ones and add to them. Very frustrating.
I am ashamed to admit that I missed two weeks of running. Two weeks ago I was frantically preparing for and attending the National Conference, last week I was preparing for job applications. Add that to the fact that I usually run in the evenings and T was working late so I had no one to watch ST. Anyway, I was feeling pretty bad about it.
But, today I ran two miles and it felt great. I am pleased to say that I ran almost 10 minutes without stopping to walk! TEN minutes! Just a month ago I could barely go 90 seconds without feeling like I was going to die, so this is big for me. After my initial ten minute stint, I continued the run with four minute run, one minute walk intervals. I ran two miles in 23 minutes.
The bad thing is that my stupid little Sony armband Walkman is dead. T used to use it when he was at the gym and said that it kept fading in and out, so he eventually just stopped taking it. When I started running, I popped in new batteries and it was working fine. Until today. It died about 1/4 mile into my run, and so I spent the rest of the time listening to my own breathing, which was not very motivational. Maybe now is the time to spring for this. (Even T admits that this is the absolute peak of coolness.)
So the first of my applications is finished and en route to its destination. That makes me happy. When I included my writing sample, teaching evaluations, teaching and research statements, key to interpreting teaching evaluations, and cover letter, there were more than 130 pages to the application! Sheesh! I am definitely going to have to buy more printer paper.
As I was compiling my teaching evaluations, I noticed a strange (but, I think, explainable) disconnect between my evaluations and my teaching statement. In the statement, I note that I spend a lot of time on developing students' writing skills, both in the discipline and beyond. I make a big deal out of it, describing some of the strategies I use in the classroom, some of the activities I've had students do, and my work in the University Writing Center. As I look at my teaching evaluations, however, helping students with their writing is the lowest score, without exception.
My university uses a standard evaluation form for everyone, professor or TA. The students are asked to indicate the extent of their agreement or disagreement with a series of 18 statements, and a score of "6" is always the best and "1" is always the worst. One of the statements is "This course has improved my writing skills." While my scores on virtually all of the remaining 17 statements are between 5.5 and 6.0, my scores for this writing statement hover between 4.0 and 5.0. It's disappointing, since teaching writing skills is one of the things I really work hard at with my students, and it's an area where I know other TAs in my department don't work hard enough. After seeing these results all together on one spreadsheet, I feel like I'm talking the talk but not walking the walk.
I think there's an explanation, though. I think students give me a lower score on this because I do pay attention to their writing, and because I harp on it all the time. In my experience, students generally don't want to improve their writing because they don't think it matters that much. Science majors, especially, seem reluctant to work on their writing because they figure that they won't be writing much in the future. I try all semester to convince them to care about it, but they don't. Then they're angry with me when I give their papers low grades because the sentences are incomprehensible, and attempt to convince me that I should grade them only on their knowledge of the material, not on the way they present it.
But the truth is, the display of knowledge in a paper or on an exam is inextricably linked to how the knowledge is conveyed. There have been several instances in my semesters teaching where a student has written one thing but meant something entirely different. If a student chooses the wrong word because he or she is too lazy to look it up, punctuates a sentence incorrectly, has multiple spelling errors, writes in fragments, lacks subject-verb agreement, or writes in text-messaging lingo, the message is affected. (I about died when I had a student use "gr8" in a paper instead of "great." How in the world did she think that was acceptable in an academic term paper? Boggles the mind.) Obviously, I'm not getting through to my students on this as well as I thought I was.
Maybe it's an issue of making it fun. Writing isn't always fun -- it's hard work. And having to concentrate on it as well as on new material is difficult. If you are reading this blog and you are a composition teacher or someone who attempts, like I do, to incorporate mini-writing lessons in your classes in other disciplines, what works for you? How do you convince students that their writing lives will not end after they graduate? How do you make working on writing fun and interesting?
Everyone's asleep, my cover letters are written, my evaluations are summarized, and my writing samples are almost ready to go. I have a handle on things. The moon is shining brightly, the house still smells a little of chicken enchiladas and ST's Bedtime Bath. The dryer is humming downstairs, and I just polished off half a glass of chocolate milk. Aside from the enormous housefly that is buzzing around my head, life is good tonight.
It's the perfect night for the "100 Things About Me" post of the sort I've seen on other blogs and have enjoyed reading immensely. Here is what I have come up with tonight:
1.) I am growing my hair out, but am pining for the day when I can cut it again to mid-length. 2.) The only reason I like having it longer is so that I can throw it back in a ponytail, which is more convenient when one is hunched over a book or at the computer all day. 3.) My husband teases that I would die without my computer. 4.) He's probably right. 5.) Over the years, I've discovered that my husband and I have come to share a lot of the same opinions on things, even on major issues that divided us when we were dating. 6.) I think I have moved my opinions closer to his rather than the other way around, and this is because my husband has always been a compassionate, easy-going individual. 7.) I used to be very rigid in how I thought about the world -- right and wrong, black and white. 8.) Although I think in shades of gray now, black is still my favorite color to wear. 9.) Everyone says that my best color is pale blue, however, since it goes with my eye color. 10.) I have horrible eyesight due to amblyopia and strabismus in my left eye. 11.) My vision problems are not correctable. 12.) Sometimes, after a long night of reading or writing, my eyes ache very badly and when I turn away from my book or my computer, objects look distorted for a few minutes. 13.) This really frightens me, since I cannot imagine anything worse than not being able to see. 14.) But I am also frightened of small spaces, large spiders, driving or walking over bridges at night, and being in deep water because I cannot swim. 15.) When I was very young, my Mom sent me to swimming lessons at the YMCA. 16.) I was too petrified to go in, and so I just stood under the showers so that I would be wet when my lesson time was up and Mom would think I'd been swimming. 17.) I wish I knew how to swim and have seriously considered taking lessons as an adult. 18.) ST and I did take "Parent-Tot" lessons together this summer, and it was a kick. 19.) During these lessons, it was obvious that ST has not inherited his mother's fear of the water, and this was a relief. 20.) I hope ST has inherited some of my more admirable traits. 21.) I am a positive and happy person most of the time. 22.) I have been accused of "smiling too much" and "being too perky." 23.) I do not think these are bad things. 24.) One bad thing about me is that I can be very judgmental and quick to jump to conclusions. 25.) For me, he hardest section of a paper to write is the conclusion. 26.) When I was younger, I used to truly enjoy writing reports and papers, but that enjoyment tapered off in graduate school. 27.) I am very glad that my graduate school career is almost over. 28.) But I am more glad that my career in academia is (God willing) just beginning. 29.) I have wanted to be an academic since I was in high school, although at that time I thought I wanted to earn a Ph.D. in German Literature. 30.) I am glad I didn't do that, because I now can enjoy German literature as a hobby and not as a job. 31.) While I enjoy my discipline, I do not do it for fun most of the time. 32.) For fun, I like to cook and bake, read classic fiction, and play with T and ST. 33.) The best thing about cooking is receiving compliments from T and ST, who always say something nice about everything I make even if it isn't spectacular. 34.) One time I made blueberry pancakes and forgot to put the baking powder in, which resulted in blueberry hockey pucks that were barely edible. 35.) T said that they were the best hockey pucks he'd ever tried, and then proceeded to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 36.) I don't like peanut butter and jelly together in a sandwich. 37.) I do, however, love peanut butter straight out of the jar, preferably with some chocolate chips stuck in it. 38.) I am not a chocoholic, but I do have an intense appreciation for dark chocolate. 39.) This is interesting to me: I love very dark chocolate but I don't like coffee, and the flavors are very similar. 40.) When I was pregnant with ST, the smell of coffee was the only thing that made me feel sick. 41.) Otherwise, I had the textbook pregnancy. 42.) I collect textbooks on various subjects that interest me. 43.) My favorite textbook is one on nutrition I acquired last year. 44.) I have become an informal student of nutrition, and it guides me through my meal planning every week. 45.) I make a list of all the suppers we'll have for seven days before I go shopping so that I can avoid numerous trips to the grocery store during the week. 46.) While I generally enjoy going to the grocery store, I do not enjoy shopping for other things (except books). 47.) It bothers me that, when we get together with T's family over the holidays, our post-Christmas activity is usually to hit the malls for sales. 48.) Christmas is my least favorite holiday because I don't enjoy buying presents or receiving them. 49.) I do, however, enjoy presents from T because he always knows just what to get for me. 50.) One of my favorite presents from T was a bouquet he bought from a greenhouse that specializes in unusual flowers; T picked out every bloom in the bouquet and had reason for picking each one. 51.) I have a small garden and my favorite plants in it are the columbines. 52.) I have red, yellow and purple columbines that bloom in mid-May or early June. 53.) T and I were married in June 1999. 54.) While our day was quite lovely, I can honestly say that I do not like weddings and try to get out of going to them. 55.) I am not a very sentimental person, unless it comes to ST. 56.) For some reason I became very sentimental when ST moved from his crib to his regular bed this June. 57.) I make my bed every morning without fail, as I do not like to sleep in a bed that has been "open" all day. 58.) If I had tons of spare time, I would see to it that I had fresh bed linens and fresh towels every single day, since I love the smell and feel of clean, fluffy fabrics. 59.) Laundry is one chore that I truly do not mind doing. 60.) I do not, however, like to sweep, vacuum, or mop, and also do not like emptying the dishwasher. 61.) When I was growing up, my parents did not have a dishwasher. 62.) We also did not have cable TV, and only had reception for ABC, CBS, and PBS. 63.) I did not see MTV until I was in college -- I wasn't impressed. 64.) I do not listen to popular music in general, but enjoy classical, jazz and our local NPR station. 65.) My favorite composer is George Gershwin. 66.) Gershwin shares a birthday with two of my other favorites: T.S. Eliot and my mom. 67.) I grew up in a wonderful family with two parents who I adore and admire. 68.) I hope that T and I can be even half as good to ST and any subsequent children as my parents were to me and my siblings. 69.) I want to have more children soon, but I do have mixed feelings about it. 70.) It's hard to have a family and be an academic sometimes, but I truly believe that the rewards are greater than any temporary hardships. 71.) Personally, being married and becoming a mother during graduate school has inspired me to work harder toward my goals than ever before. 72.) I often feel sad for people like my sister, who desperately want to have a family but cannot find the right partner. 73.) I have a roller-coaster relationship with my sister because we are very different and sometimes cannot understand each other. 74.) My brother and I, however, have an easy relationship because we are very much alike, despite the fact that he is nine years younger than I am. 75.) I can honestly say that my life keeps getting better as I age. 76.) My birthday is in December, which is my favorite month of the year (Christmas aside). 77.) I enjoy the religious aspects of Christmas, the weather, and the holiday decorations, and some of the old Christmas music. 78.) My favorite Christmas song is "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas" as sung by Bing Crosby. 79.) Bing Crosby is one of my favorite vocalists and I also enjoy watching his films. 80.) I'm not sure that I could pinpoint a favorite film, although "Dial M for Murder," "Rear Window," the musical "Guys and Dolls," and the very silly "High Society" would surely be candidates. 81.) "Guys and Dolls" inspired T and I to change ST's name (months before he was born) from what we originally planned to what it ended up being, and "Guys and Dolls" happened to be on TV when I accidentally switched on the television immediately after delivering ST. 82.) I am proud of the fact that ST can recognize the songs from "Guys and Dolls" and can sing along. 83.) I am prouder of the fact that ST does not recognize McDonald's or any other fast food chain, since we do not eat fast food. 84.) I must admit, however, that on a recent solo trip I ate a McDonald's hot fudge sundae and it was pretty good. 85.) I have a recipe for the best hot fudge sauce of all time. 86.) I cannot make gravy to save my life, which I OK since I do not really like it. 87.) I used to be a very picky eater, but have grown out of that to a large degree. 88.) One combination I really dislike is sweet/savory, which is why I don't care for barbeque sauce on meat or most Asian food (e.g., sweet and sour chicken). 89.) I have never been anywhere in Asia, but would love to visit. 90.) I have been all over Europe, and would love to live there again someday. 91.) There is a long list of things I would love to do, and I am afraid that one lifetime will not be long enough. 92.) I would like to travel to Australia and New Zealand. 93.) I would like to take flute lessons again. 94.) I would like to be a guest on NPR someday because I love talk radio. 95.) Just once, I would like to act in a play to see if I could do it. 96.) I would like to become involved in a city council committee. 97.) I would like to be an expert on something not related to my discipline, something unusual. 98.) I would like to be remembered as a woman who always put her family first. 99.) I would like to learn to make excellent jam. 100.) I will make the best of the life I have.
I've had a great, but busy weekend, and the last hour and a half are going to be a flurry of activity. Since T went to the football game on Saturday, I spent most of the day alone with ST and we had so much fun! We slept in, went shopping, had a treat together at the mall (ST's very first Icee), made lunch together, tried to take a nap together but ended up giggling too much and skipping the nap, and then waited for his best friend (M) to come over, as I was babysitting. M arrived at around 3:30pm and she and ST were hilarious as they played together. They are truly two peas in a pod, and listening to their toddler conversations is quite a treat.
ST: M, where's your Mom?
M: She's at a party with Dad.
ST: Did they drive the red Honda? (We drive the exact same Honda as M's parents. Same model, color, year... and only about 5,000 miles different on mileage.)
ST: Will they eat at the party? (Leave it to ST to ask about food! His favorite subject.)
M: Uh-huh. They'll eat M&Ms and cake.
ST: Do they get presents?
M: Maybe. Maybe a doll. Or some candy! (M is obsessed with M&Ms and colored candy in general)
ST: I like candy! Mom, can we have some candy? (Again with the food!)
Quite amusing, especially considering the fact that M's parents went to a social function for work, and I highly doubt that M&Ms were involved.
Today has been considerably less entertaining. I took ST to Mass with me (always an adventure, but worth it when ST passes a statue of Jesus on the way back from Communion and says, "Hey, Jesus!" and pats the statue's foot!), and when I got home I went straight to work. I had some revisions to do on Chapter Three that I'm still working on, had to cut some now-irrelevant stuff from Chapter One, wrote a cover letter, and finished my teaching evaluation spreadsheet. I'll finish Chapter Three tonight, and hopefully polish off Chapter One as well. The revisions are relatively minor, but they're taking me a long time.
I am so frustrated with myself. Despite the fact that I started compiling information for my job application file months ago, I am still skimming perilously close to a deadline. All the work I did over the summer on the file is now being redone because I don't like it (teaching and research statements have now been written FOUR times each), my teaching evaluations are only half compiled (I'm making a huge Excel spreadsheet and typing out student comments for those institutions that simply want a teaching evaluation precis and not the whole packet of evals), and I'm not satisfied with two of the three dissertation chapers I'm submitting. My CV is finalized (thank God), and my teaching portfolio is almost done and looks pretty good.
How the heck am I supposed to finish a dissertation when there's all this stuff to do? I feel like I've been away from my research for weeks.
Wish me luck. First deadline is next Thursday. I think I'm going to vomit.
Still feeling a bit melancholy, but may I just say how wonderful it is to be living in a wireless world? I'm in the middle of a raging severe thunderstorm, the lights are flickering in the house and the thunder is crashing around me, and I'm still typing away on my laptop, connected to the internet. How awesome is that? Quite cozy blogging by candlelight, actually.
ST came into our room at around 4:00am, tapped me on the shoulder and held his arms up to be pulled into our bed. I pulled him up and kissed him, and then he snuggled up next to me, head sinking into the pillow and thumb firmly in his mouth. Within seconds he was sleeping again. I looked over at T, who awoke when he heard ST come into the room. T was smiling -- he gave ST a kiss on the forehead and then the three of us fell asleep together.
T got up at around 5:30am to go for a run, and so when my eyes fluttered open at 7:00am, it was just me and ST in the bed, ST sprawled across T's side of the bed in his basketball pajamas. I just stared at him, such a gorgeous boy, and thought back to earlier that morning when my little family was soft and warm under the quilt of our bed. What a lovely moment it was -- how lucky I am to have them.
ST was still sleeping soundly when I got up to take a shower and T was getting dressed for work. An immense sadness washed over me as I stood in the shower and thought of the months to come: September would be a flurry of activity preparing cover letters, writing samples, teaching portolio information, and hopefully organizing interviews. October will be a month of preparation for my trip to Berlin and could also potentially be a time for interviews (phone or otherwise). November will be, for me, the cruelest month, since I will spend it in a different country, away from my husband and son, finishing research for the dissertation. It is not until December that there's a chance for some down time this year. So little time for sleeping in, for snuggling in bed with my two favorite people in the world; so little time for thinking uncluttered thoughts.
I expressed my sadness to T, and he just smiled at me. "I know you're worried about being away from us a lot these next few months, but don't be. We want you to do this. You're doing all of this for us." I could not ask for a kinder man for a husband. Still, the thought of being away so much makes my heart ache and sends tears to my already sore eyes.
My melancholy was not aided this morning by my trip to ST's daycare to drop him off. ST walked in, excited to be there, and then suddenly decided that he wanted to stay home with me. "I want to come with you, Mom," he pleaded, crying. I could understand why: his usually calm daycare was a madhouse this morning, with a new baby starting today and a "problem child" sitting in the rocker with ST's favorite carer. ("Problem child" is a six-month-old baby who was rejected by another home day care because he's very, very, very needy and cries all the time; I'm not sure if ST's daycarers will want to keep this baby there, either.) ST didn't get the hug he usually gets from his favorite carer, didn't get the tickles, and didn't get to go pick out his cup for the day. ST is a lot like his mother in that he craves routine, and this morning's madness did not sit well with him (or with me).
And then, of course, there was nothing but sad news on the radio as I drove home from the daycare, tales of hurricane survivors whose livelihood is all but lost, more stories of government ineffectiveness, and details about yet another government investigation into why this is all going so horribly.
I'm headed for campus this morning. I have to return a slew of library books and pick up a bunch more, and I have to finalize my letters of recommendation with Prof. G. (i.e., determine who will write the third letter, unless Prof. G. has already taken care of that, which is very possible). Then I have a meeting with a new faculty member who studies in the same area I do, and by most accounts he is a rather unpleasant man. I will try to keep an open mind. I will try to have a more positive afternoon, and work towards 4:30pm, when I can pick up ST, take him home, and read books about firefighters and police officers while eating our after-daycare snack. Those after-daycare moments are so lovely that they just might carry me through the day; indeed, they might have to carry me through these next few months.
I had another bout with insomnia last night, and went downstairs to the family room to watch some television as I was too bleary-eyed to read. I was flipping through channels when I saw the face of Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor," and I just had to stop and listen -- it's the same thing that happens when I see Mariah Carey or Sandra Bullock on television: all three individuals annoy me to no end, and like stopping to gawk at a car accident, I have to watch.
I thought I could forget his drivel, but it's been gnawing at me all day long. Here's the gist of his "talking points," on the topic of the plight of African-Americans suffering after Hurricane Katrina:
We're not seeing images of just black people being neglected in New Orleans -- they're poor. Thus, this is not about race, it's about class.
Historically, poor people have not been able to rely on government to lift them out of their misery. Poor people today should not expect that the government will help them now.
Poverty is an invitation for danger. If you are poor, there is a high probability that bad things will happen to you.
Poor people usually lack education. If poor people were really interested in breaking out of the cycle of poverty, they would go to school. Once they had an education, bad and dangerous things would stop happening, and less blame would be put on the government for these bad and dangerous things.
The upshot: yes, it's bad that so many poor people are suffering after Katrina, but it's not the government's place to help everyone. (I believe his actual words were "large government bureaucracy.) So, poor people (again, not "black" people), you're on your own.
I know there are people who take Bill O'Reilly very seriously, and that makes me almost physically ill. How long will our country be able to sustain this? We are surely living in a house divided and it cannot stand forever -- especially not when the floor is underwater and sinking into the mud.
I seem to have completely forgotten how to write a cover letter. The application deadline for Small Dream College is September 20, and based on my interview with the department chair last Friday, I feel like I know precisely what they're looking for in their next Assistant Professor. I just cannot seem to capture it tonight.
The cover letter will continue tomorrow. I also have to finish the revisions of my teaching and research statements (which Small Dream College puts a lot of emphasis on), and then figure out who my third letter of recommendation will come from. My problem there is this: I've worked with Prof. G. since the second week of my graduate school career, literally. I've written with him, researched for him, taught for him four semesters. I've also spent a large chunk of time with Prof. C. (co-chair of dissertation), but taught only two semesters under his guidance. Most of my graduate education was under the tutelage of these two men, and so their letters were automatic. But the third letter? I've had a lot of other professors during my time here, but most of them know me only as 1.) a student in one of their graduate seminars; or 2.) a TA. Who should I choose? Prof. G. says that I should go with the professor who is most well-known in the field, thus making the choice obvious. This well-known figure, Prof. M., knows me reasonably well, having taught two seminars I took in my first two years of graduate school. Prof. M. is on my dissertation committee; I'm just not sure he knows me well enough. The other possibility is Prof. T., who I know quite well and for whom I was a TA... but he doesn't know my work at all. Such difficult, important decisions!
Anyway, goals for tomorrow:
Email Prof. G. about recommendation conundrum (DONE)
Inform Prof. G. and Prof. C. about upcoming deadlines (DONE)
Finish cover letter for Small Dream College (1/2 Done)
Rewrite teaching and research statements and send to Helpful Writing Critic (HWC) (Teaching Statement: DONE; Research Statement: 1/2 Done)
Go to local market and buy celery and green onions, which I stupidly forgot to pick up today when shopping with ST (will do on Friday)
Finish the ironing while watching mindless TV before bed (DONE)
Find out if ST's daycare will be closed the week of Thanksgiving; if so, find arrangements for that week since I'll be out of the country (DONE)
That's a lot to accomplish. I am, however, motivated by a deadline, as usual. Prof. G. likes to call me "Last Minute Lucy" because I always work frantically up to a deadline, finishing a project at the last possible moment. Needless to say, Express Mail is my friend. It's not that I don't begin the projects on time, it's just that I am never satisfied with them until I've tinkered, tinkered, tinkered...
As a final note for tonight, some cute moments with ST, age 2.5:
I bought ST a little doctor's set last week at Target ($5.00 for a medical "kit"-- so cheap and very fun), and so he's been attending to patients all weekend long. This afternoon, T and I were laying on the couch because we both had headaches, and ST announced that he was "the big doctor" and was going to "fix" us. He took one look at me, pulled out his fake bottle of medicine and his fake scissors, and said, "Mom, you need medicine AND a haircut." He then proceeded to instruct me to "drink the medicine -- don't chew it!" and began hacking at my ponytail with his plastic scissors.
Later, while I was finishing the dishes after supper, he came up to me and was holding his stomach. He was trying not to smile when he said, "Oh, Mom, I hurt my SPLEEN!" He then laughed hysterically, and when I asked him where his spleen was he said, "I don't know. Ask Dad" and walked down the stairs.
I returned this afternoon from our National Conference, and with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had a chance to explore a city I'd never been to before (and indeed a region of the country I'd never seen) and had the opportunity to interview with some great schools. On the other hand, I realized how little much of the work in my discipline means to me, and how one bad interview can make you stew for days and overlook your good experiences.
I only agreed to do three interviews (the fourth school ended up not sending a representative to the conference), and honestly, that was plenty. Here's brief recap:
1.) Small Urban College: I wasn't nervous at all, which surprised me. The interviewer and I had a lot in common, and it was pretty clear from the start that he liked me and liked my work. I think I wasn't nervous chiefly because I KNEW that I could fill the position they posted. I was very confident, spoke well about my research, and genuinely liked chatting with the interviewer. He told me what it was like to live in the Small Urban College Town, what house prices were like (yikes), what the prospects were for employment for my husband, tenure requirements -- all the typical stuff. Conference interviews are usually capped at 30 minutes/candidate, and this one went 40 minutes. I felt good.
2.) Small Dream College: it became clear from the moment the interview began that this school was precisely the kind of place I wanted to end up at, that perfect blend of teaching and research on a beautiful campus with hordes of eager undergrads. The interview was fun and relaxing, and toward the end I felt like the interviewer was "coaching" me on what I should say in my cover letter. "You have some really distinctive ideas here," he told me, "and I'm anxious to share them with my colleagues." That was a good sign. Everything that happened in this interview was good and solid. When I came home, I told T that if Small Dream College made me an offer, I would accept without hesitation. He agreed.
3.) Large Superstar University: this interview followed Small Dream College, so I was coming out of a situation where I felt very comfortable and entered into a situation where I was perhaps the most UNcomfortable I've ever been in my life. Three interviewers, all stern, no small talk, no talk about teaching AT ALL... just one question after another about my variables, my methods, my dissertation progress, etc. It was so sterile. The interviewers wore their poker faces the entire time, and hardly seemed to react to anything I said. I was so incredibly uncomfortable and nervous that I wanted to throw up. I am NOT a formal person by any stretch of the imagination, and so I did not show my best face at this interview. I think I answered their questions all right, but I still felt so insecure and stupid afterwards, thinking of a million BETTER things I could have said. All of my rehearsals of what I would say about my research were forgotten in an instant, replaced by some stammering, hesitant statements I would never put down on paper. Ugh.
I have to remember that these interviews are VERY preliminary. They might not mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I'm glad I did them, and I look forward to sending my applications out in the next few weeks. It's just very strange to finally BE at this point, to finally be able to say that I work on THESE specific issues, to say that I could comfortably teach THESE types of courses. And it's so, so hard not to think about Small Dream College, to surf its website and learn more about the city it's in; it's equally as hard, however, not to think about Large Superstar University, and wonder if I really sounded as blathering to them as I did to myself.