Acade(me)

The dissertation was only the beginning.

People & Places
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.
Technical
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Quote of the Day
Sunday, July 31, 2005
My SuperToddler
N is cracking me up today (he does every day, but today was especially funny):

At Mass, he decided he wanted to go up to the front of the church with me for Communion. I received my host and popped it in my mouth, and he stared up at me and said, very sweetly, "Mom, I want an onion, too!" I don't know where he got the idea that we went up to the front of the church to get onions, but I laughed so hard I almost spit the host out right on the altar. That would not have been good form!

We just bought him the LeapFrog "Fridge Phonics" set, which is a magnetic alphabet toy. You put a magnetic letter into this little reader, and the reader tells you what the letter is and sings a song about it. N has been putting letters in all day, and then prancing around making the sounds and singing the alphabet. When he did "N," I told him that his name starts with an "nnnnn" sound, and that other words did, too. The word "nincompoop" (or however you spell it) was one of my words, and now N is saying it CONSTANTLY and cracking up each time he does. "Dad, you're a nincompoop. I'm a nincompoop! Mom's a nincompoop!"

Whenever he's had a dirty diaper today and I ask him if he wants to be changed, he says, "No, Mom. Don't smell me! Don't smell me! I'm stinky -- go away!" This morning he ventured onto his potty chair telling me he had to poop. He sat down, let out a little gas, checked to see if he'd left anything in the potty, let out more gas, checked, more gas, checked... it was funny. Then he gave up and walked out of the bathroom, naked, and was tooting as he walked to his bedroom. Each time he tooted, he'd touch his butt with his hands to make sure he wasn't pooping as he walked. I was literally on the floor laughing. Who knew potty training would be this entertaining?

He has now just come into my office saying, "Mom, I need the computer. I have to check my email." Oh, the sponge that is my two-year old. Amazing how much that child retains!
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/31/2005 07:15:00 PM   0 comments
On Being Unreachable
My BIL called this morning, furious with us because nearly every time he tries to call us, he gets our voicemail. He can’t understand why we’re not at home when he calls, or why we don’t have cell phones turned on so that we can be connected with the rest of the world all the time.

Being unreachable is a conscious choice that T and I have made: we could have cell phones, but we don’t. We could have call waiting, but we don’t. We could have pagers or wireless PDAs, but we don’t. Sometimes, this makes our lives difficult. For example, when I was getting our car fixed last week (and it still isn’t fixed, but such is life) I used the dealer’s shuttle service to get to campus. The shuttle driver asked me for my cell phone number so he could call me when he was about to arrive to pick me up, and he was genuinely shocked when I told him that I’d be unreachable all day (except via email), and that I didn’t have a cell phone. In the end, he didn’t need to reach me all day, and the pick up happened as discussed that morning. Sure, it would have been nice to give the shuttle driver the peace of mind that he could depart from our agreed-upon schedule by giving me a call, but to me, carrying a cell phone is just not worth it.

I can’t think of a time when I have needed a cell phone, but I can think of many times where I’ve been really glad that I don’t have one. In seminars, in restaurants, in the car, in the check-out lane at the supermarket, on the bus… these are all places where, in my mind, cell phones have no place. I certainly do not enjoy hearing everyone’s conversations while I wait to buy my groceries, and I have learned some rather private things about people just by listening (not eavesdropping, because eavesdropping implies that I’m being sneaky about it) to one side of their cell phone conversations. There is a man who rides the same bus I do, and every afternoon without fail he calls someone on the bus just to chat. The other person, I’ve gathered from his conversations, is at work, and he just calls her (I know it’s a woman) every day to chat for 20 minutes while he rides the bus. This seems wrong to me – I should not have to share my boredom with someone at the expense of their job. Too often, I think, cell phones are used to cure boredom instead of for relaying important information.

I like being unreachable, quite frankly. Every time I miss a call, it means that I was out doing something in the world instead of being at someone else’s beck and call. Our telephone exists for my convenience, not for my BIL’s or anyone else’s. That’s why I really enjoy email – I can check it or not, it doesn’t ring for me and demand my immediate attention, and I can reply when I want to, if I want to. I know that others are unhappy that we, as a family, are sometimes difficult to get a hold of, but that’s really fine with me. I think I actually get a sort of sick, twisted pleasure out of it (especially when BIL is on the other end, because his calls are usually pointless anyway), to be completely honest. It’s just a technological version of playing hard to get.

Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/31/2005 04:25:00 PM   0 comments
Friday, July 29, 2005
Ugly Days
I am having an ugly day. You know, the kind of day where no matter what you do, you feel homely and gross. These kind of days really make me mad, because they stifle my productivity, especially when I'm working from my home office. Everytime I pass the bathroom, I take a look in the mirror and think, "Man, what a trainwreck!"

Admittedly, I haven't done much to make myself more attractive today. I showered, let my hair air-dry, threw on a pair of shorts and a shirt that will (after today) be dropped in my "to donate to Goodwill" box, put on a little lipstick (the only makeup I wear), and then arranged my too-long head full of split-ends into a ponytail. I hope my sister can come down soon; she's a stylist for Aveda, and she promised to give me a full makeover before my conference. I need a haircut. Badly. I was trying to grow my hair out a little longer, and now that it's past my shoulders I know that I am not a long hair person. I am a medium-length hair person who secretly hopes someday she'll be brave enough to be a short hair person.

I also feel ugly when N and I get off to a bad start. Everything is usually fine when both T and I are at home with N, but when T leaves for work in the morning, N has a fit. "I want Dad! I want to go with you, Dad!" he screams, huge tears rolling down his face as T hugs him goodbye. While I'm thrilled that N and T have such a fantastic relationship (and they really do), and while I know that N loves me just as much, it still stings a little when N hangs at the window to watch his father leave, and screeches at the thought of coming with me. This morning was a bad one. N cried and cried after T left, threw his breakfast on the floor and started spitting when I asked him to stop, refused to let me brush his teeth, and whined all the way to daycare. I, of course, was frustrated and felt like all I did was yell at him all morning long. Such is life with a 2.5 year old, I guess.

Of course, I'm already off the schedule I set for myself yesterday, because I'm writing this and not doing my dissertation work, and that makes me feel worse. Time to head that feeling off at the pass, though, and get to work. The day is still recoverable.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/29/2005 10:19:00 AM   0 comments
Thursday, July 28, 2005
On Weddings and More Important Days

First of all let me note that I do not watch much television, because I can't sit still very long. But when I do watch television and I'm all by myself, I definitely tend toward trashy, stupid, mindless shows. Tonight, after everyone was asleep and I was in the family room finishing my ice cream, I tuned into the WE Network's positively brainless show "Bridezillas." Good Lord.

Those who know me know that weddings are one of my pet peeves. I hate hearing about them, I hate receiving invitations, I hate looking at bridal registries, I hate talking to frazzled brides, and most of all, I hate going to weddings. This hatred for all things wedding-related started before my own wedding, and has only deepened since then. I hate how fake weddings are, how ridiculous everyone acts at a wedding, how needlessly expensive they are, and how so many couples neglect preparing for the marriage in favor of preparing for the reception. I also think the sense that "this is the most important day of my life" is so misguided -- no, it's not the BEST day of your life, it's just one of many really good days. I can think of scores of days I've had since my wedding that were far superior to that one day in June, nice though it was. The sense of entitlement brides have the closer their wedding day comes is also annoying -- there is nothing worse than a bride who thinks that the world revolves around her and her "perfect day." And there's nothing less attractive in the whole world than seeing perfectly rational people getting frazzled over the color of the napkins at the reception. The absurdity of it all blows the mind.

So, as you can imagine, "Bridezillas" was one of the most painful shows I've ever had the displeasure to watch. My blood is still boiling after watching idiot "Magdalena" spend $69,000 on her wedding, leaving a swath of bad relationships and huge bills in her wake. If I saw a friend self-destructing like that over one day, I would have to lead an intervention. Actually, I'd probably just have to avoid that friend until after the wedding. I will not be in any weddings, bar that of my sister, if she wants me. Weddings make me crabby.

And there are days that are so much more important. Today, for example, was a pretty good day because Prof. C was really excited about my chapters and we had a great, dynamic discussion about how they could flow better, about what comes next, etc. For the first time in a long while, I was having fun with my dissertation topic. That is a milestone just as important as any Saturday in June ever will be.

Moving along -- a plan for Friday:

8:00am: drop N off at daycare
8:20-9:00: quick house tidying, load of laundry or two
9:00-12:00pm: work on revised outlines of Chs. 2 and 3 for Prof. C
12:00-1:00pm: lunch break, read mail
1:00-4:00pm: work on teaching and research statements
4:00-4:30pm: prep work for supper
4:30pm: pick up N from daycare
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/28/2005 11:21:00 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Wednesday's Plan of Attack for Thursday

The thing that annoys me the most about being ABD is the lack of a concrete schedule. I have no more classes to work around, no exams to study for, and (now that I'm on a 12-month fellowship) no classes to teach. Big, wide open days where the only constraints are to drop N off at daycare at 8:00am and pick him up again at 4:30pm. I feel like I HAVE to accomplish something in that time, and if I don't, I feel like I've wasted a bunch of money on childcare, wasted time I should've been writing a few pages on the dissertation, and wasted time I should've been spending with my adorable toddler. It's a difficult situation.

This is Wednesday, and I have N home on Wednesdays. It's like our mid-week weekend; we have friends over, we play, we go to swimming lessons. But tomorrow is Thursday again, and I need a plan of attack. So here it is, in writing:

8:00-8:15am: drop N off at daycare.
9:00am: drop off car at dealer to fix the whistling windshield*
10:00am: at the University for a meeting with Prof. C about dissertation chapters
11:00-1:00pm: in the library, working on teaching and research statements
1:00pm: meeting with colleague to proofread an article for him
2:00-3:30pm: periodical search for case study I of Chapter Four
3:30pm: ride to dealership; drive home
4:30pm: pick up N

That's it. That's what I'm doing tomorrow.

*Better be covered under the warranty, or I'll be steamed.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/27/2005 03:19:00 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
On Rain, Blueberries and Sound Advice

RAIN: After countless, miserable days with the heat index above 100 degrees F, my Weather Channel desktop icon reads 65 degrees F. It is raining for the first (measurable) time since July 3, and it has been raining all day long. The radar picture shows a huge green blob over southeastern Iowa, so it looks like we're getting just what we've asked for: a full day of cool, steady rain. You can almost hear the plants and trees slurping up the fresh water, almost hear their collective sighs of relief in the pitter-patter of rain on the street. The Black-eyed Susans that I moved from the side of the house to the back of the house on Saturday actually look as though they might survive. Yesterday, I wasn't so sure!

The only downside to the rain is that poor N cannot play outside yet again. The poor boy wanted to be outside all weekend, but it was too dangerously hot to let him go. Last night, we promised him that he could go to the park today, not anticipating a full day's worth of rain, and so we'll have to break our promise. Maybe tomorrow. It's difficult to explain the intricacies of weather to a toddler.

BLUEBERRIES: My lunch this afternoon is blueberries and Cool Whip Free. (I cannot imagine a world without Cool Whip Free, quite frankly.) Blueberries are in season and are beautiful right now... and on sale for only $1.49/pint! I already have four pints in the freezer, to take out on a chilly winter day and remember the loveliness of our hot summer. If only I had some ripe nectarines, I would be in a state of fruit nirvana.

SOUND ADVICE: I have two dissertation advisors, two men who I respect immensely on both an academic and personal level. Two men who have done great political science, who are fantastic teachers, and who have full, interesting lives outside the walls of the University. They are my own personal Dream Team, Prof. C and Prof. G.

In some ways, the Dream Team are academic parents: they push me and encourage me to do well, they correct me when I'm wrong, they patiently listen to my emotional outburts (I am very prone to this since having N), and -- even though it drives me to the brink of insanity on a weekly basis -- they're critical. They're critical because they want me to be better, because they know I can be better. That's useful. It has been clear to me from the beginning that both of these men want me to to succeed.

Prof. G is a peerless editor, finding inconsistencies in my writing and suggesting new ways to organize my work. He is a treasure trove of sound advice on everything -- literally, everything. When he doesn't like my work, I feel sad, but confident that everything will work out. He's honest with me when my work is unsatisfactory, but doesn't make me feel like the last good idea left my brain in 2003. When he's unhappy with my work, I feel like a child who has disappointed a beloved parent. Children want to make their parents proud.

Prof. C is different. He will criticize my work, reading every sentence a million times, and finding something not-quite-right at every turn. My drafts are covered with questions from him, phrases like "let's talk about this" and "this is not clear" and "where are you going with this?" When Prof. C is unhappy with my work, I feel like a complete idiot. I feel like I cannot write another coherent sentence, and I feel like five years in graduate school have taught me nothing. Although he makes me feel absolutely brainless (and I get flustered when I talk to him because, for some reason, the "stupid-valve" on my mouth is WIDE open when we meet), I can't help but like him. Other colleagues have had similar experiences; our recurrent description of Prof. C is that "he'll make you feel like an idiot, but he'll do it in the nicest possible way."

So, it is to these two men that I submitted drafts of two chapters last week, and I am relieved to say that they both liked the chapters, overall. Prof. C, of course, has a million different suggestions (all of them good, naturally), but this time I DON'T feel like an idiot. I actually feel pretty good. And Prof. G's comments were, on the whole, positive -- just some reorganizational issues to attend to, which is not difficult. After I read their comments (shaking like a leaf the entire time, since I don't respond too well to criticism) I finally felt like this dissertation was going to be good, and most of all, that is was going to get done. That's a feeling I've been waiting for for several, several months.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/26/2005 01:41:00 PM   1 comments
Monday, July 25, 2005
Brief History of A Little Professor

When I was 16, I started working at a bookstore in my hometown called "The Little Professor." It was a tiny bookstore tucked into a tiny space in the mall, jam-packed with magazines, trashy romance novels, books by moderately-famous midwesterners, foreign language dictionaries, and messy tables of bargain books no one really wanted. I remember filling out the application and typing up my resume (including, naturally, all of the courses I'd taken in high school as well as references from families whose kids I'd watched -- very impressive stuff). I remember the interview, when Wayne, the manager, said that my application stood out because it was typed. He wanted someone who could type. I got the job and soon knew everything in that store, top to bottom. I loved that place; I cried when I had to leave.

When I was 19 and in college, I worked at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore. I helped set the new store up before the grand opening, I mastered the art of the staff recommendation, I learned clever ways to help customers search for the latest books featured on "Oprah." I loved working at the store's Information Desk -- I loved having the ability to find whatever people wanted, to be able to deliver something wonderful to them, something they really wanted. I loved being able to tell people, "Well, that book went out of print in 1985... but I know a little place that might be able to find you a copy." Or, "That book was published by a small press in Nova Scotia... let me call them and see if they have any left, OK?" It was a satisfying feeling of power and customer service. I just loved knowing things. I loved having answers and making people happy.

Having answers is what my life has been about.

From the time I was in high school (even before I worked at The Little Professor), I wanted to be a professor. Of something. I remember sitting in Dave LaShomb's AP Comparative Government course in 11th grade, and he was relaying a story about a man who was pursuing his Ph.D. in physics and became so frustrated and depressed that he flung his entire incomplete dissertation off a bridge and quit the university. That appealed to me -- that weird sense that I should try it, that I should drive myself to that brink. At that time, I wasn't even quite sure what getting a Ph.D. entailed, but I was sure that I wanted one. I was sure that I loved to study, loved to read, and mostly loved to write. I wrote all the time, and I was always told that I was good at it. It made sense.

So, I began. I went to college, received my B.A. (double major, of course). Studied abroad in Europe. Moved out west, studied for my Master's degree. Got married to the love of my life. Moved back to the Midwest to begin my Ph.D. Bought a house. Had a baby. The only thing that is missing is the very point of the entire journey: the doctorate, that pinnacle of "knowledge."

I know a lot of things. I can tell you a bunch of things that you might not want to know; I can cite books and articles. I can do some statistics, although I'm very slow at it, even with the computer's help. I can string together coherent sentences that sound beautiful and sometimes even have a point. I can pass any exam you put in front of me. I can even pass an exam in German.

Funny thing is this: despite the fact that I have a million years of education behind me, finishing this dissertation has made me feel like I know nothing.

I have never felt so ignorant in my life.

Now, with three chapters behind me and a fourth coming along, I am approaching the final stretch. In just a year's time, this dissertation will be done, all nine glorious chapters. By then, I should have finally learned something.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/25/2005 05:51:00 PM   3 comments
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