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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Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Haircuts and Hurricanes
I took ST to get his hair cut this morning -- he was starting to look a little shaggy. So, off we trudged to Cost Cutters, where his pal Kristy snipped off his pale blond locks and gave him a pencil pouch with fish on it as a prize for being good. As he sat in the chair, wearing his red polo shirt and jeans, and grinning up at me cheesily, I giggled a little when I realized who he looked like. Not his dad, not me, not anyone in our families... no, my son is literally the spitting image of Calvin. ThisCalvin:
Honestly, this is an accurate a portrait as any taken by my digital camera. When I told Kristy this, she burst out laughing. "Oh my God!" she cried, "He IS Calvin!" Funny thing is, when his hair is a little long it sticks up all over the place, just like Calvin's does in the majority of Watterson's comics. And dare I say that my son also has Calvin's mischievous streak?
Silliness aside, I was impressed this morning when, while we were driving to the mall to buy a new garment bag for my trip tomorrow, ST asked, "Mom, what's 'Mississippi?'" We were listening to NPR's coverage of the hurricane damage. I explained to him that Mississippi was a place far away, and that there were a lot of people hurt there because of a hurricane. "What's a hurricane?" he asked. I explained that it was a big storm with a lot of wind and rain, and that sometimes the rain came into people's houses so that there was water all over the floor. "Like a big bathtub?" he asked. "Yes," I responded, "like a big bathtub."
"Water on the floor is not good," he said, recalling the many times I've chastised him for dumping water from his bath on our bathroom floor. I told him that people in Mississippi had water all over their houses.
"Mississippi is a big mess," he said. How true, I thought. How true.
I am getting ready to leave for my discipline's National Conference, and I am truly dreading it. I have never liked conferences very much -- mostly, I just hate the idea of going. When I get there, I usually end up meeting some great people and having a good time, but preparations for going to the conference always make me feel like throwing in the towel and not going at all. I am such a creature of habit, and going to a conference for a few days just messes everything up for me.
I wonder if all academic conferences are pretty much the same. We have a million different conferences in my discipline, and three of those are what I'd consider to be major conferences. I've attended and presented at all three at various times in my career as a graduate student; this will be my second time presenting at our National Conference (the biggest and most annoying, since there are too many people and too many panels), I've presented at the International Conference twice (the best conference, in my opinion, because you get actual feedback on research -- very well-organized conference and always in neat cities), and four or five times at the Midwestern Conference (which is getting to be almost as unmanageable as the National Conference). Participants present papers in panels with four or five other papers, there's a chair to run the session, and a discussant to critique the papers as a group. Alternatively, participants can present research designs or beginning phases of research in poster sessions, where posters are grouped thematically and conference attendees can look at the various projects and talk one-on-one to the researcher.
These different types of presentations can be very useful or completely futile. At the International Conference, for example, I received a LOT of great feedback on the paper I presented. The discussant was amazing, the audience was engaged, and there was ample time allotted for questions at the end. At my last Midwestern Conference presentation, the experience was awful: there were six papers to be delivered in less than two hours, the discussant didn't show up, the chair hadn't read the papers and did not keep track of the time, and so after all the papers were presented there was no chance for the audience to ask questions. It was basically like presenting a paper to a brick wall.
At this upcoming conference, I am participating in the poster session, as I'm presenting an underdeveloped offshoot of my dissertation topic. I HATE poster presentations, and if I had any sense at all I would have declined to present. I've given only one other poster presentation, and it was not at all a useful experience. The only reason I agreed to do it this year is that I wasn't sure if I'd have interviews, and I needed a "reason" to attend the National Conference. Now, I'm stuck with having to do the pointless poster presentation AND four interviews, and both things are happening Friday afternoon! My poster session technically runs from 4:00-6:00pm, and my interviews start at 2:00pm and end at 5:30pm. Hmmm.
Anyway, I'm not excited about the poster, but I am excited about the interviews. These are preliminary interviews, a place to make good first impressions so that when you make your "official" application for a faculty position later, someone might say, "Oh, hey, I remember this girl from the National Conference, and she was really cool." My first official job packet won't go out until mid-September (to the university with a very early deadline of 9/20), and then hopefully I'll secure some phone interviews or even on-campus interviews. Hopefully!
Does my conference experience and interview process sound familiar? I would enjoy hearing about other conference/interview experiences.
Before I leave on Thursday, there is much to be done. A list:
Finish poster presentation materials Grocery shopping for T and ST Prepare one meal in advance for T and ST Wash ST's clothes Run (Tuesday and Wednesday evening) Buy new garment bag because ours is falling apart Buy that cool shirt I saw at Kohl's to wear for sightseeing on Saturday*!Didn't buy it. Not as cute as I remembered. Pack Finalize CV and make copies Redraft teaching and research statements and email to HWC Send card for dear friend's birthday on 9/2 Finalize Berlin apartment details (I got the apartment! 350 Euros! Hurray!)
Better get busy.
* The real upside to attending this conference is that I get to stay with J, one of my dearest friends who recently started his first tenure-track job. Haven't seen him since May! We're having a fun day together on Saturday and I am really looking forward to it. Fortunately, all of my interviews were scheduled for Friday.
A - Accent: standard Midwestern English, with some Scandinavian sounds tossed in B - Breast size: 36C (what a bizarre meme subject) C - Chore you hate: mopping the floor, especially in the bathrooms D - Dad's name: Louis E - Essential make-up: lipstick F - Favourite perfume/cologne: Jessica McClintock's Jess has been my standby, but my new favorite is Kenneth Cole Black, which I hope to buy soon. G - Gold or Silver: silver! H - Hometown: somewhere in the Upper Midwest. I - Insomnia: yes, quite often. J - Job title: Graduate College Fellow (i.e., glorified grad student) K - Kids: one, the SuperToddler L - Living arrangements: 3BR, 2.5 BA house M - Mom's birthplace: somewhere in the Upper Midwest N - Favourite Noldo: I hate science fiction. Truly I do. O - Overnight hospital stay: after giving birth in 2003 P - Phobia: claustrophobia Q - Favorite Quote: "To understand Europe, you have to be a genius... or French." Madeleine Albright R - Religious affiliation: Roman Catholic S - Siblings: sister three years younger, brother nine years younger T - Time I get up: 7:00am U - Unnatural hair colors: none. My natural hair color is one of my favorite things about my appearance. V - Vegetable you refuse to eat: okra. W - Worst habit: Procrastination! X - X-rays you've had: Dental. Y - Yummy foods you make: lots! I love to cook, especially dessert. My homemade ice cream cakes are pretty wonderful, as is my oatmeal cake. Z - Zodiac sign: Sagittarius
I was going to do the music meme (the one where you find the songs popular the year you graduated and highlight those you liked/hated), but I discovered that I didn't know the vast majority of the songs. Just more evidence of my un-hipness.
For the past three years, I've worked as a writing instructor for the University's Department of Rhetoric, holding this appointment in addition to my appoinment in my own department. It was wonderful to read student work, especially work from outside of my field, and to guide students all levels through the writing process. I especially enjoyed working with those students who were already good writers but who needed some encouragement and some tactics to motivate them to write. These students needed only a persistent, gentle nudge from me to turn out beautiful work. Working with these students always energized me, because I could see, on paper, the result of my guidance: a good paper became a great one; a hesitant writer became a confident one.
This year, because of the restrictions of my fellowship, I am unable to teach at all, in Rhetoric or even in my own department. It's been difficult for me to adjust to this, since I've spent every semester since Fall 2001 in the classroom or the writing center, interacting with students. I also miss the structure teaching provided -- I liked having to break up my day into large chunks of time, because I work more efficiently in shorter spurts. Now, long days of unscheduled nothingness stretch out before me, and while I am grateful for this time, I can already feel myself sliding toward procrastination, and the semester is only one week old. This must stop. I took some action to stop it last week, when I signed myself up as a student in our University writing center, the very same center at which I used to work. I had an informal meeting with my writing tutor last week, and our first official meeting was today at 11:30am.
My writing tutor is a man from my department. In fact, I was the one who encouraged him to work in the Rhetoric writing center after telling him what a great experience it had been for me. I am so glad that he's working there -- he is a gifted writer himself, but more importantly he knows me, my style, and how to criticize a text honestly. Today we sat down with my research and teaching statements, which HWC (Helpful Writing Critic, as he will henceforth be known) had read over the weekend.
In short, he didn't like them at all. He didn't think that they sounded like me, didn't think that they exploited my talents enough, and didn't think that they were particularly interesting. He wants me to rewrite them.
At first, I was a bit taken aback. I didn't "love" the statements as I'd written them. They are utilitarian pieces -- they're not particularly stylish, but they're serviceable. They're well-written. But HWC saw through all of that. "You told me you wanted them to be different, to be unique," HWC said emphatically. "These statements could be anyone's. Tell me a story. Make me remember you."
I do want them to be unique. I have read dozens of teaching statements over the past few months, and they are all incredibly boring because they all say the same thing: "I strive to create an active learning environment. I want my students to think critically. I want them to be engaged in the material." Well, duh! What teacher doesn't automatically want those things? If you, as a teacher, are not already accomplishing those things to a certain degree, what are you accomplishing? For me, active learning, critical thinking and engagement are the bare minimum. A great teacher goes beyond that, and I can honestly say that I strive to be a great teacher. But what does that mean in practice?
It's difficult to put into words, but HWC gave me some excellent ideas today. He said that, too many times in the statements, I'm hesitant to make a declarative statement about my teaching or research. "What do you REALLY believe here?" he asked. "What motivates your teaching? Why do you care so much?" They're basic questions, but questions I've been reluctant to put into definitive statements. This all stems, I think, from my inability to feel wholly confident about what I do, about always feeling that I'm somehow unqualified. "You need to remember," HWC said seriously, "that you've been in school this long for a reason. You know things. I think people in our position [HWC is also a doctoral student] need to assert the fact that, in some things, we ARE smarter than other people. And there's nothing wrong with that."
It is really quite wonderful to have someone be so honest with me about my writing. Sure, my advisors are honest, but they are honest in a different way. They want my hypotheses to be sound, my argument to be logical. HWC has a different set of concerns -- he wants me to be me, to be honest with myself on paper, to be gutsy and confident. It feels good to have someone speak to the very personal side of writing, and to talk it out with me. It's nice to have someone engage in a critical discussion of who I am as a writer, as a teacher, as a researcher. Mostly, however, it's just nice to be the student again, if only for an hour a week.
Yes, I know I should be working and not blogging. Yes, the now-unstinky sink is still awaiting another pass with Lysol. But anyway:
Whenever I need to chuckle, I read this essay. It literally makes me laugh out loud, and I thought I'd pass the link along. I think I read this about once a week, and you know, it makes me laugh every time.
OK, back to work. Gotta get something done before the departmental shindig this evening -- a Hawaiian-themed get together at a pool where the department is providing free alcohol. This is not going to end well.
The One Where I Realize That There Are Some Jobs I Am Not Qualified To Do
Earlier this morning I received an email from a superstar University, asking me if I would like to interview for their Assistant Professor position at our big conference next week. I eagerly replied with a "YES!" since this job would be amazingly cool. I looked again at the departmental website and saw all of the big names there, and I thought, am I really qualified to work here? Could I live up to their expectations? That prompted me to think about what graduate school and my three "qualifying" exams have really qualifed me to do. The big thing I came up with is this: graduate school teaches you how to find information. You must teach yourself how to use it.
I think back to my seminars and my qualifying (comprehensive exams). What did I learn? I learned a lot of theories, read a lot of empirical tests of theories, learned how the literature fit together and flowed, read complicated statistical results I didn't fully understand and didn't necessarily want to understand, learned who the big names were and who the up-and-comers were, learned how a professional article should look, and discovered what kinds of questions I was interested in answering in my own future work. I used all of this information to construct a "big picture" of my discipline and to pass my qualifying exams and write my seminar papers. Do I remember everything? Not by a longshot. I remember names and dates simply because I'm good with names and dates, and I remember pieces of theories. But a lot of the stuff I "learned" for my seminars and studied for my qualifying exams is simply not relevant to me anymore. After I started writing my prospectus and then my dissertation, the parts of my brain that knew the "big picture" started to get dusty. Really dusty.
But, in my experience, graduate school makes the "big picture" such a part of your life (especially in those first few years) that even though you may forget the pieces of it, you still know that it's there, buried under years and years of other things. And coming up on the job market, I feel that I am forced to cut through the layers of accumulated dust and rediscover that big picture down there, lurking. I will need to convince potential colleagues that I can teach the big picture, that I can speak competently about theories and methods. I need to show them that, despite a year focused solely on my dissertation topic, I still know this stuff. And most importantly, I know where to find the things that I should know -- I know what's important. I think I also know how to use the information that was presented to me years ago.
I imagine that, as a first-time faculty member, you spend a lot of time re-reading and re-learning things that you used to know by heart.
So, I will go into these interviews with the confidence that, even though a lot of material is no longer at the tip of my tongue, graduate school has given me the tools to find that material easily and to know how it fits into the big picture of the discipline. I don't have a lot of experience, but I am qualified to begin the real work of an academic. After all, if I'm not qualified for that, what am I qualified for?
One thing I know for certain: I am NOT qualified to be a plumber. On this morning's "to-do" list was "clean the bathroom." This is the bathroom we use most frequently, just a tiny little bathroom attached to our bedroom. The other bathroom is always clean, because we only use it for guests and to give ST his bath. Anyway, as I was scrubbing the sink, I noticed that it smelled kind of funny and that the water wasn't going down the drain very quickly. No problem, I thought. Nothing a little vinegar and baking soda can't fix. So, I poured a pile of baking soda down the drain and followed it with a large shot of vinegar. Bubble, bubble. Lots of bubbles, but the smell and the slow drain remained. Time for tools.
I got out a pair of pliers, an ancient bottle brush, and a coat hanger. I unscrewed the plug from underneath the sink and popped it out. G R O S S. It was full of mildew, black and slimey. I peered down the drain hole -- more sludge. More stink. Using my MacGyver-esque coathanger contraption, I fished down the hole and brought up a huge, stinking wad of black, oozing, toothpaste-and-spit-encrusted hair. I gagged and tossed it into the garbage can. Then I held my breath and shoved the bottle brush into the hole and swished it around. As I pulled it out, more sludge emerged, only this time it was spattering all over me. Ugh!
I had to leave the bathroom at that point. The bottle brush is still sitting in my now-dirty-again sink, there are black flecks of crud on my once-shiny mirror, and the vinegar and baking soda cocktail is still hissing and bubbling in the drain. I cannot face it just yet, and certainly not again before I eat lunch.
I am qualified to work in academia. My weak stomach, however, has eliminated me from considering work in the plumbing sector.
I love it when a plan starts to come together, and when I get even small pieces of good news that give me that small adrenaline rush that feels like there are butterflies in my stomach.
1.) I think I actually will have an apartment in Berlin within the next few days. A retired teacher is looking for a flatmate for a few months at the end of this year; she wants academics only. That's me! And only 300 Euros/month, AND she has DSL -- huge bonus.
2.) Just received an email from a small liberal arts college that said that, while they have decided not to interview at our major conference, they "eagerly await" my full application for the Assistant Professor position and they are "very much interested" in me based on my CV. Maybe they say that to everyone, but it sure made me feel good.
3.) My second advisor, Prof. C., just finished my re-revised chapters and said, "I just read your chapters. Good work! This is really shaping up nicely now." That is a HUGE compliment coming from him. Every time I receive an email from him, I get all panicky before I open it, expecting the worst. He usually sends incredibly vague emails that go something like this: "I just read your chapters, and I've put them in your mailbox. Stop by and see me when you can." No indication of whether or not he liked what I wrote, just a message that makes me all flustered until I can chat with him in his office. I much prefer the direct "good work" email that he sent me yesterday.
That's all for today, so far. Time to get back to reading more documents. (They're actually pretty interesting, but they make my brain hurt. Or maybe my head hurts because I've worn my hair in a ponytail for five straight days? Hmmm. At any rate: ouch.)
1.) I think I might have a lead on an apartment in Berlin this November! Hurray! This is something that's been hanging over my head for weeks, and I've been delaying doing anything about it because I just hated thinking about working through the details. But, I emailed a place called Room With a Loo (clever name, eh?), and a nice woman emailed me back with some leads. If I can get an apartment secured in the next week or two, I'll be one happy camper (who will not have to camp in Berlin). If I can get it for under 500 Euros, I'll be even happier.
2.) My passport. Grr. This has been an exercise in frustration for me, and is connected to my apartment search. I sent my renewal form in a few weeks ago (passport expired last year, and this Berlin trip didn't seem like a possibility until July of this year, so I've been delinquent in renewing the passport), and I've now discovered that in order to get an apartment, a lot of services want a copy of your passport. I have the passport number, but the actual document won't be in my hands again until late September. Hopefully, this Room with a Loo place will only need the number. If they need anything else, I suppose the University would intervene on my behalf. (They've gotten me out of many a mess.)
3.) ST is such an awesome kid. I've been reading the discipline book I bought last week, and you know -- it's actually working! I don't think ST fits precisely into the category of "strong-willed," but he definitely is responding to my new discipline techniques. For example, I used to do the whole, "OK, I'm counting to three and you better stop doing X or you'll have a timeout" thing, and it just wasn't working. ST would simply wait until I reached three to even begin listening to me. Or I'd say, "If you do X one more time, you'll have a timeout." ST would then interpret this as a free pass to do X one more time. Now, I'm just very clear about what I expect from him and what the consequences will be, simple as that. "ST, do not blow bubbles in your milk. If you do, I will take your cup away." I'm following through with what I say, I'm not giving warnings, and he's really getting it. I think I was just trying to reason with him too much before: "ST, blowing bubbles in your milk can make a really big mess. Mom does not like to clean up messes, so please don't do that again." To a toddler, that's a whole lot of gibberish.
In other ST news, he seriously gets cuter by the day. Last night he kept telling me, "Mom, I'm a responsible big boy." I asked him why he thought so, and he said, "I will set the table for you. Watch me!" And he proceeded to put the glasses, napkins and forks on the table. "And now I will pick up my toys all by myself!" he added. He loves the word "responsible" and tries to slip it into virtually every conversation he has. Very funny.
He also can now recognize some letters! Before, he could only pick out A, B, and C. Now he knows so many more, and is learning the sounds, too (courtesy of LeapFrog's Fridge Phonics, his new favorite toy). "M says 'mmmmm' and that's like 'mmmmooooommmm!'"
4.) I ran two miles yesterday. New interval was 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking. I discovered that I run MUCH better in the early evening, so am doing it that way from now on. I had fun. It's strange how the right equipment can make such a difference -- before, whenever I'd tried anything remotely athletic, I'd try to skim by on make-shift apparel and gear. This time, I have the right shoes, the right shorts, an actual sports bra that's comfortable, etc. I don't feel so self-conscious -- I feel like no one can tell I'm a total rookie, and that's nice.
5.) T has hurt his calf, and that has prevented him from running for the last four days. I feel really bad for him, since he's coming to the end of his marathon training. (Marathon is in about a month.) He thinks it's improving, but I'm still concerned for him. It's pretty sad when, so far, I've put more miles in than he has (he usually goes about 30 miles/week... I do about 6!).
Better finish putting away the groceries before ST wakes up from his nap. I love Wednesdays -- I'm at home with ST all day long. After he wakes up, we're going to the park to feed the ducks and play on the big slides. Life is good.
Almost a decade ago I lived in Austria for seven months, and I clearly remember the day I boarded the plane to return home. It was such a bittersweet day -- I said goodbye to the amazing family I'd lived with for over half a year, goodbye to the country I'd always loved, even in my imaginations of it. As tears of sadness streamed down my face in the plane, my heart was leaping for joy at the thought that I'd see my friends and family again in just a short while. I thought of seeing my dad standing at the gate, smelling my mom's perfume as I hugged her, driving my old car. I didn't want to leave but I couldn't wait to be home.
As the plane neared my home airport, the pilot announced that we'd not been cleared to land. We had to circle the airport for over an hour, waiting for a spot to open up on that July day. I thought I was going to go insane as we hovered around in that holding pattern -- caught in nothingness, neither here nor there.
That holding pattern, the feeling of being between two great places, is what I feel like now. On the "Here" side stand my graduate school friends and professors, our nice house, the friends ST has had all his life, T's great job he loves, and the secure feeling of being HERE. On the "There" side, many things await us: a new "real" job for me (God willing), a new job for T, new friends and opportunities for ST, a different house in a different city full of things to explore. Both Here and There are wonderful places to be. But now, I'm neither fully Here nor There: I work every day for more opportunities to get out of Here, praying that someone There wants to take me in. It's an awkward position. It's a holding pattern -- I'm just waiting for clearance to land.
I went for a run last night, and I am happy to report that it was actually quite pleasant. Two miles in the early evening, along the bike trail that runs through our town. The entire trail was shaded, it was cool and not very humid, and "90's Flashback" was on the radio. I've discovered that my running pace is roughly similar to Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" or Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge;" I own neither album, but my very hip ex-roommates from college did and so I know the lyrics by heart. (Actually, I know Sheryl Crow's lyrics from sitting in a bar in Austria with eight other Americans drinking Gösser beer, but that's another story, and I'll have it be known that I don't even like beer and that I lost respect for Sheryl Crow when she started dating Lance Armstrong, and that I lost respect for Lance Armstrong when he ditched his wife and kids.) Anyway, I felt really good during the entire run. Two miles took me 27 minutes to do, and my intervals were two minutes running and one minute walking with a one minute stop at a park bench at the top of a long incline for a rest. Weight after the run: 148lbs. My new shoes are fantastic: for the first time in my life, I can run for more than a few minutes without searing pain in my ankles. The shoes were expensive (to someone who loves to buy cheap shoes at Target), but they were worth every penny.
Today is the opening of classes at the University, and it feels really strange not to be a part of it. I have a fellowship so I don't have to teach -- my only "duty" at the University this entire year is to write my dissertation and look for a job. That is very nice, but the pressure is not. I feel like I should be working on the dissertation ALL THE TIME -- I have no excuses. No lectures to write, no students to keep track of, no exams to grade. Just me and my carrel in the library or my desk at home, (theoretically) typing away or reading. Blah. I sometimes wish I had chosen to write a very quantitative dissertation, a straightforward piece of research using an existing dataset where I could just formulate a theory, run some tests, and interpret the results. (Yes, I know, not all quantitative studies are so straightforward, but I had originally thought of proposing a dissertation that was.) Instead, I opted for a convoluted topic that interests me immensely, but that calls for detailed case study work using the legalese in a foreign language. These blasted case studies are going to take me F O R E V E R to complete. But they're so doggone interesting.
Moving on yet again...
Whoever the blogger is that turned me on to SilverJewelryClub.com -- curses on you! I am now checking that site a million times a day -- it is so cool. I just ordered a mother of pearl ID bracelet and am now obessively watching for a neat mother of pearl necklace to go with it. I need to find out what my ring size is! I'm not a big jewelry person -- I only wear my very simple wedding ring (essentially an anniversary band) and my Mom's old mother's ring -- but I have always loved sterling silver jewelry but never wanted to spend a lot to get it. According to several sources, the jewelry here is great quality and the service is excellent. I will give a full report once my bracelet arrives.
Now off to tidy up the kitchen and then move on to some exciting legal documents in a foreign language. Does life get any better than this?
I love going into our departmental main office. The administrative staff (an undergraduate secretary, a graduate secretary, and an office adminstrator) are wonderful people, always ready to help and always genuinely curious about what's going on in everyone's lives. Two of them have grandchildren, and so whenever I'm in the office we end up talking about children so they can get the latest ST update. Our administrator's daughter is pregnant and due in December, and so our administrator and I were talking about strollers and carseats.
The undergraduate secretary piped up, "It's so hard to buy anything for new moms these days, because they research every detail! I bought a carseat at a garage sale and my son and daughter-in-law looked at me like I was crazy!"
The office administrator and I laughed. "Even I know that you're not supposed to buy a second-hand carseat," the administrator said. "But you're right -- it is hard to buy for these academic geekmoms like this one here." She pointed to me and grinned.
Geekmom. I like it. I think.
I suppose a term like "geekmom" would specifically refer to a mother who is a fan of the latest technology. A mom who is also a computer programmer, perhaps, or one who has a strong affinity for gadgets. But I think the term could be used more generically, to refer to mothers and mothers-to-be who are obsessive about researching every product that comes into contact with their baby while in utero or out, who turn to the latest research for problems they might encounter with their children, who seek out expert advice wherever possible. Thus, a broader definition of a Geekmom would encompass mothers who not only embrace new technologies, but who research every possibility to decide on the best one for their children.
I suppose I was and am a Geekmom in many respects. I am a minimalist, and so I wanted to buy only those things I really needed for a new baby, and not have a baby's room cluttered with junk from the aisles of Babies R Us. I researched cribs, travel systems, breast pumps, and baby toys. I researched bottles, just in case breastfeeding didn't work out, as well as formula and formula companies. After a lot of searching online, I decided to cloth diaper because I felt it was best for my baby, my conscience, and the environment, and I bought cloth diapers only after months of careful consideration. I decided to make my own baby food (best move ever, and so easy) because I researched the additives sometimes included in prepared food, and I even taste-tested commercial baby food and discovered that it's mostly unpalatable. Even now, I try to keep ST away from a lot of packaged/convenience foods (and I am greatly assisted in that by ST, who literally eats anything you put in front of him aside from black beans and mangoes), I try to buy toys that have been favorably reviewed on amazon.com, and I buy him clothes (but not very many, and none that are impractical) that will last. And now, while my husband and I are trying to figure out appropriate discipline, I went straight for the bookshelves of amazon.com to glean some insight into my ST's crazy behavior issues.
I wonder if being a Geekmom is a problem. Am I (and fellow Geekmoms -- I'm sure you're out there, and I suspect academia is a veritable breeding ground for them) missing out on something valuable by just going with the flow? Am I losing a connection with mothers around the world, such as my own mother, who followed their intuition instead of reading stacks of information on child products and child-rearing? Are Geekmoms in general isolating themselves by insisting on their own personal standards from everyone when it comes to their children? Is it sad that new grandmothers of Geekmom children are reluctant to make an excited purchase at the babystore in the anticipation of Geekmom's disapproval? And is a second-hand carseat really a problem, anyway?
I like to think that, in spite of my research-driven tendencies, I'm a pretty laid-back Mom who appreciates a lot of input from a variety of sources, and who is grateful when grandmothers or great-grandmothers do or buy something special for ST. I don't think there's a right way to raise children, or that the products I choose for my child will make him any better than a child with a different assortment of things. And while I rely on "experts" for advice a lot of time, in the end my husband and I go with what we feel is best. I suppose being a Geekmom is really about having all the information, and about making the best decision for a family when faced with a dizzying array of choices. It's not all about making the "rational" choice, but about making the choices you can feel good about for a long time to come.
All that said, my stroller really sucks. Despite all that research, Geekmom does not always win. And Geekmom could not foresee a very tall, 38 lb. two-and-a-half year old who is literally giving said stroller a run for the money.
I was on campus for most of the day yesterday, since I had to drop the car off at the dealer to get my whistling windshield fixed. I did some reading on interviewing techniques (yes, it IS as exciting as it sounds) and had a nice meeting with one of my advisors, Prof. G. Since we have our official TA training session today, there were a lot of people on campus yesterday who I hadn't seen since the beginning of May. After talking with them, I found myself depressed and relieved all at the same time.
One of my colleagues has had a rough go of it. We have to take three comprehensive exams before defending a prospectus, and for the third exam we can choose to either take an actual, written exam or produce a publication-quality paper. (I chose the exam, incidentally. No sense writing an involved paper on a topic I'm only marginally interested in.) Anyway, my colleague chose the paper, and his review committee failed him on it. He has to make revisions in the next week or so, and if he fails those revisions, he has to choose another exam field. In addition, this poor guy hasn't been allowed to defend his prospectus, which he claims he's already written and can defend "standing on his head." (I don't totally believe him on that; actually, I don't totally believe that he's written the prospectus, but that's another story.) Another blow is that he has been told that he will NOT have any funding next year, and that this year his teaching appointment has been reduced to the status of "grader." That means no in-classroom teaching at all, just mindless grading of exams and compiling stats. Finally, he was hired as an RA over the summer, and hasn't completed even half of the projects he was assigned to do during that time. Not a good situation.
Hearing his tales of woe is what made me -- selfishly -- think about my own progress. And I suppose I feel pretty good about it. I feel relieved that I'm not in my friend's shoes, although his nasty world is of his own making. I'm glad that my dissertation is almost at the halfway point, that I'm going on the job market, and that I'm undertaking my own research and not worrying about the administrivia of the department. I'm relieved that my funding is secure until June 2006, and that my dissertation will be defended by then. In short, my life is pretty OK right now.
Except for one thing, I guess: everyone I really love is gone. All of my good friends, the people I hung out with since I started graduate school, people who were a year or two ahead of me, are all starting tenure-track jobs this month. These are the people who made coming to campus really worthwhile, and they're the reason I always looked forward to these inane TA training sessions in late August. There is quite frankly NO ONE I'm looking forward to seeing today. No one. It is a lonely academic time for me, and that's what really stinks. I am very happy for my friends, and I still keep in contact, but it's just not the same. That comfortable graduate school cameraderie has vanished. I mourn for it a little every time I open my office door and see my one of my dearest friend's desk, empty, and look on my desk to see the silly framed photo of Ira Glass he gave me for my birthday. Sigh.
In other news, however, I ran a mile and a half today, running two minutes and walking one. I didn't go as far as I would have liked, simply because I was so hot I started to feel like I was going to throw up. I literally started to dry retch, and I figured that wasn't a good sign so I stopped. Weighed myself, and now I'm 150lbs. Hmmm. Either that's solid running muscle (doubtful) or funnel cake weight (more likely). At any rate, I ran today (didn't go yesterday because T got home too late and I had no one to watch ST), and I'm proud of that.
To do today:
1.) Clean up the house after a whirlwind morning.
2.) Take a shower after vomit-inducing run (yes, I'm blogging with sweaty, stinky hands).
3.) Get passport photo taken.
4.) Mail passport renewal application before it's too late and the fee goes up.
5.) Speak at dull TA meeting.
6.) Pick up ST (my favorite time of day, since he runs to me and nearly knocks me over with his hugs, usually shouting something like "I missed you today, Mom!" or "I drew a new picture for you today, Mom!" or "Let's go get a snack, Mom!"
You know you're at a good old-fashioned state fair when, upon exiting your vehicle in the morning, you are greeted by an old man wearing a seed cap on a John Deere tractor who hollers to you, "Howdy folks! Welcome to the State Fair!" How cute is that?
A great time and a lot of good fair food was had by all. Corn dogs, horse shows, funnel cake, brochures describing pig farrowing, pork chop on-a-stick, tractor pulls, ice cream cones -- it was all there, and I loved every second of it. I've been to state fairs in several states, and this one is by far my favorite because it is so much like I imagine state fairs used to be. At this state fair, you actually hear farmers talking about agricultural techniques, using terms you've never heard unless you have farm experience, and see people get really excited when their horse wins the "country horse/leisure" category. Farmers still come to this state fair to compare notes, and I think that's wonderful.
I'm just a sucker for old-fashioned community get-togethers, I guess. I love a good parade, the ones with all of the fire trucks and police cars, and the Shriners riding their small bikes in formation. I love waving to the Cub Scouts, standing when the Color Guard passes with the flag. I love church bazaars and church dinners, where everyone contributes a cake, a pie or a crock pot and everyone helps to wash the dishes afterward. My Grandpa used to love to go to random small town festivals, and I always liked going with him. Bologna Days. Lutefisk Days. Festivals held in honor of people you've never heard of. Bake sales? Count me in. Neighborhood block parties? I'll bring the brownies.
I had the song from the musical State Fairin my head all day today: "Our state fair is a great state fair / Don't miss it, don't even be late / Our state fair is a great state fair / It's the greatest state fair in our state." If you haven't seen that very corny musical, do see it. You'll see precisely what my day was like today (sans the falling in love bit, since I'm already in love and not pining for some boy I met at the fair).
We are having some difficulties with ST at the moment. Although we're fairly sure that his behavior of the past few weeks is part of one of many passing toddler phases, T and I are both feeling a bit deflated about it, so much so that we've had little mini-conferences about it every night after ST goes to bed.
I suppose you could call ST a "strong-willed" child. For about 90% of the time, he's the sweetest, most affectionate, and chattiest little 2.5 year old on the block. But for that other 10%, you have to watch him like a hawk or suffer the consequences (or, more accurately, watch as other kids suffer the consequences).
A bit of background:
We live in a very family-friendly area, and all the houses around us are homes to small children, right around ST's age. To the left of our house lives a little 3-year-old boy, who I'll call "Jack," and to the right of our house lives an almost-3-year-old girl who I'll call "Jill." ST is bigger than both of them -- he's always been tall for his age, and when all the neighborhood kids stand together, ST always looks like he's one of the oldest when in fact he's one of the youngest. ST, Jack, and Jill play together in the evenings, usually riding their Big Wheels, running through the sprinklers, or racing Matchbox cars down our sloping driveway. Sometimes other kids in the neighborhood come over to play, too, but generally it's just these three.
ST is a very physical child -- loves to be held, cuddled, loves to give hugs and to touch people. When he's talking to me, for example, he likes to have his hand on my arm or my leg (if I'm standing up). When T comes home from work, ST literally leaps into his arms and hugs him relentlessly. ST loves to hug other kids, too, and every day when I pick him up from daycare he has to hug all of his friends goodbye. He's just a very social child, and loves the company of adults or children. For ST, the ultimate punishment is being isolated, away from where other people are.
In the past few weeks, we've noticed some bizarre, uncontrollable aggression in ST. What's strange is that the aggression is not motivated by anger -- ST is rarely angry -- but it happens for some other reason we just can't pinpoint. It's like he suddenly becomes a raw bundle of emotion, and he can't get it out any other way than by being aggressive and hiting, chasing, or pushing. Jack and Jill are his usual victims, simply because he plays with them so often. Jack and Jill are very passive, quiet, compliant children -- basically at the opposite end of the temperment spectrum from ST.
I think the fact that Jack and Jill are so non-confrontational and quiet drives ST crazy. He wants someone to chase him, and they won't. He wants to hug them, but they cry and turn away from him. He wants to roll around in the grass, but Jack and Jill don't like to do that. He wants to show Jack and Jill a cricket, a ladybug, a beetle (things he finds fascinating), but Jack and Jill are afraid of bugs and won't go near them. He wants to practice his dinosaur roars, but Jack and Jill cry when he growls, pretending to be a T. Rex. When Jack and Jill refuse him or cry, ST gets frustrated. He hits them on the arm, chases them, or pushes them over (which is not difficult to do because ST is so big and Jack and Jill are quite small for their ages).
Last night, for example, ST was playing with Jack. Everything was fine until ST wanted to hit the baseball off of the tee, and Jack didn't want to do that. ST hit the baseball anyway, and Jack started to cry. ST laughed -- he laughs all the time, this crazy, funny cackle -- and then chased Jack with the oversized plastic baseball bat, and hit Jack over the head with it. Jack was stunned (as was I), but I think ST thought he was being funny. It's like he didn't understand that hitting someone on the head might hurt. When Jack told me and his mother what happened, ST felt bad and pushed Jack to the ground, which made Jack cry again. I made ST apologize, and then immediately sent him inside and put him to bed about a half an hour earlier than normal, and without a bedtime story.
I'm really not sure why he does things like this. We aren't aggressive with him at all, and we don't watch television very much. The only programs he watches are The Wiggles, Sesame Street, and Caillou, and not on a regular basis. He adores his friends, talks about them all the time, and knows that hitting and pushing is wrong. But when we get outside and we reach some unknown toddler threshold, all hell breaks loose and ST becomes the bully on the block. But he's NOT bullying the kids -- he's not angry with them. I think he just craves some physical attention, physical contact with them, and he knows that he has to initiate it because they won't. Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to do it gently. ST is an all-or-nothing kind of child.
T and are are sort of at wit's end with this, because now almost every evening ends up with Jack or Jill in tears and ST in a long timeout. After his timeouts, he's genuinely remorseful. Last night, for example, after the baseball bat incident, I made ST tell T what happened. ST started to sob uncontrollably, and said, "No, Mom, let's not talk about it." He was obviously sorry for what he had done, and was embarrassed having to tell his father (his favorite person in the world) about it. T was gentle to him, and held ST and told him it was OK and that he could try again tomorrow. ST recovered and fell asleep. This morning, after ST woke up, he came to me and said, "Mom, Jack's my friend. I like him."
Nothing would make me more sad than having to isolate ST from his friends. But I don't want him to hurt other children, even if he's doing it with the best intentions. I don't want other parents to worry about leaving their child with ST. I don't want other parents to think that ST is a wild child, or to think that we don't discipline him.
I found a book an Amazon last night, and I bought it. I hope that it will help me to discipline ST in an effective way that doesn't make him feel bad about himself. I think ST is just continually testing the boundaries to see if they're fixed, and he's so smart that he can find ways around them. Some days I feel like all I do is set boundaries. Some days I wonder what it would be like to have a child like Jack or Jill -- complacent, quiet, obedient. I'm not sure I would like that, though. I like that ST is fiery, that he always has an opinion ("Hey Mom! I have a GREAT idea!"), that he's never quiet (and I mean never - if he's not chatting he's singing), and that he does everything with a gusto for life that I've never witnessed in any other human. I like that he loves to dig in the dirt looking for bugs and worms (even if it's dirt from a houseplant), loves to roll on the grass and look at the clouds, and loves to run as fast as he can to beat me to the park. Everything ST does, he does with passion. I just wish that sometimes I knew how to keep that passion in check.
I ran again this morning, and I thought I'd start posting my progress in terms of how far I ran, at what intervals, and what my weight is. I calculated my ideal weight here, and it looks like I'm just a pound above it. I weigh 148 lbs. right now (I'm 5'8"), and my ideal weight is 147 (love that internet honesty, huh?). I would like to be about 140 and lose the weight in my stomach (slightly flabby baby weight), but I'm not sure running will help with that. And no, I will NOT do sit-ups!
Anyway, this morning I walked 1 mile and ran/walked (at intervals) two miles. My intervals were 1.5 minutes running and 1 minute walking, although toward the end I had to do a few intervals of 1 minute running and 1.5 minutes walking because I was getting too hot. Most of the run was in the sun, and that didn't help -- I get hot very easily, and so if I can find a place to run in the shade, I'll do better. T suggested that I drive to the trail, which is almost all shaded, and run there. Then I'd have the added benefit of seeing cardinals and goldfinches, which is a definite plus.
I felt good; my ankles weren't sore at all, and my breathing wasn't painfully labored. I did have a little sideache. I came home and had some water and a cool shower and am now feeling energized. Next run will be Thursday night (I would do it Thursday morning but have to take the car in for a repair early that day). I've decided my running schedule will be Monday, Thursday, Saturday.
Now, on to Chapter Three revisions. Will update later.
On Saturday, I am proud to say that I ran, as promised in a previous post , for 35 minutes through our small town, alternating one minute running with one minute walking. And it was kind of fun. I got to wear my super-fancy new running shoes, my ultra-light running shorts, and my very first sports bra. I woke up this morning with pleasantly painful calves and a husband who was very proud of my little accomplishment.
I'm going to do it again tomorrow morning; I might even try to run for two minutes and walk for one, since the running for one minute wasn't very difficult. (Quite the athlete, I know.)
T is so incredibly impressed and happy that I'm doing this -- he speaks with glee when he talks about running and all of the running-related things we can do and talk about. It's pretty cute. He's so worried that I might not like it and want to stop, though, and I'm trying to convince him that, for now, I'm doing it for him. Later, I'll do it for me.
He's been trying to make the intro to running so comfortable that he's actually thought of surprising me with something I want more than anything: an iPod mini. I've wanted one for ages, but have never been able to justify spending the money on one. He knows that the biggest impediment to running for me is me getting bored while hitting the trails, and that I'll need a distraction. An iPod would certainly provide that, but so would a cheap little radio headset so I could listen to NPR as I jog. To get an iPod when I'm just starting out seems fraudulent, in a way, like giving T what he wants just so I can get what I want. So, the iPod is still out there on my wishlist. And that's where it should be, I suppose.
I am significantly stressed -- so much so that I cannot sleep, and am having a lot of problems with heartburn and headaches. I can't remember feeling this unsettled in a very long time.
I thought I would write the individual sources of stress here, so that I could rationally tackle them one by one. I used to do this a lot before I had Nathan (back in the days when I had time to write everything -- and I mean everything -- down to reflect upon when more rational). So, here it is:
Short List of Things That Are Causing Me to Lose Sleep
(and Have Heartburn and a Headache):
1.) Job Market: thinking about this makes me want to vomit, quite frankly. It's not because I don't think I'm a strong candidate for academic jobs -- no, I think my record serves me well here, and my dissertation topic is interesting and timely. The problem is the fact that I am going to spend the month of November abroad (in Berlin) and November is a big month for interviews. I recently told our placement director that I was going abroad, and his response was, "Wow, that's really great. I guess if you get an interview you'll just have to fly back, or they might pass on you." WHAT? Pass on me because I'm doing research in the field? Pass on me because I'm doing something that a person in my field SHOULD do? Pass on me because I'm actively engaged in my own research, traveling on a grant I won? It just doesn't make sense. I mean, I understand that departments want to move the hiring process along rather quickly in some cases, but to say that I could potentially be out of the running because I'm doing my research is just insane.
And there's the related thought of, "What if I don't get a job at all?" That's a real concern, I suppose, for everyone, because the market is fickle and there isn't a lot of demand right now for my specialty. Fine. But what will I do if I don't get a job? We can rely on T's salary, but I truly, truly do not want to have to do the whole academic job market thing again next year. It's only just begun, and I'm already sick of it. (On a positive note, I already have an interview set up at our discipline's major conference in September, so that makes me happy.)
2.) Research: I really love my research, but I feel as though I'm not progressing as quickly as I should be. This is partially because I have very caring perfectionists as my co-chairs, and they demand several drafts and outlines for everything. That's good in the long run, because they will not allow substandard work, but it really slows me down. Fortunately, Chapter Two is finally done, and I will finish revising Chapter Three tonight and tomorrow. Chapter Three is a lot shorter than Chapter Two, so hopefully it will be easier to do. (Famous last words, I know.)
3.) Berlin: this trip is one I've waited so long to do, and now the time is finally right. I couldn't do it last November because I had a full teaching load and was in the throes of prospectus writing, I couldn't do it this summer because the legislature was not in session, and I can't do it in September or October because of the German election. November is the right time. I am excited to do my work there, excited to live abroad again. But the thought of leaving T and ST makes my stomach turn. It's not that I think T can't handle it alone -- on the contrary, I think he'll do brilliantly. I am worried about me, worried about living alone for four weeks, worried that something will go wrong. But I must go -- personally and professionally, this is something I have to do.
4.) Another child: as I've mentioned before, T and I would like to try for another baby, and preferably in the next two months. But then I think, "What if I DON'T get a job... then we'll have two kids and one paycheck." This is something where I truly have to keep my faith strong. I suppose it will all work out for the best no matter what.
Those are the major things at the moment. I just wish that this academic year was over already and I knew something with certainty. I crave stability, I suppose, and so this year will be a real challenge.
Now, back to T and ST, who are outside in the glorious evening, watering the lawn and chatting with the neighbors. I need to be outside -- maybe it'll help relieve this headache.
One of the important skills to develop in graduate school (at least for me) would be learning to be kind to yourself when you're feeling extremely inadequate, extremely behind schedule, and completely over your head.
This spoke volumes to me when I read it just a few minutes ago, because I am feeling very inadequate, extremely behind schedule, and completely over my head.
Wanted to finish Chapter Two last night, but didn't because 1.) T and ST came home, incredibly excited, after ST's first real baseball game, and ST wanted to tell me all about it. How can you refuse a 2.5 year old wearing a jersey that goes down to his ankles?; 2.) I was overtired, despite the baking chocolate -- I'd been up till past 2:00am the night before; 3.) I came to a section I thought was going to be easy to revise, and it turned out to be anything but; and 4.) I found a recently published article that I'd never seen before that was just what I needed to round out my argument, and so I spent at least an hour reading that before getting back to writing.
So, I'm behind schedule, for sure. Chapter Two is looking good, though, much better than it was in my second draft. It flows better, it has real momentum, and I think it sets up my argument quite nicely. Chapter Three, however, is another story. I haven't even begun to revise it yet, and although it's a relatively short (15 page) chapter, there's still a lot of work to be done in the justification for my hypotheses. This is where I'm feeling over my head and inadequate. For some reason, I always feel so stupid when I'm writing my hypotheses out, wondering why anyone would believe that I actually know what I'm talking about. Sometimes I feel like, although I'm an "expert" on the topic of my dissertation, there's still someone out there who could trash my ideas in 15 seconds flat. That is very disheartening.
Another night of work for me, I suppose. Chapter Two IS getting close, but it's not as close as I'd like it to be. My husband wants me to take the night off and get it out of my mind since I've been working like a dog on it -- maybe that's part of the "be gentle to yourself" advice 1B* was talking about today. A cuddle with my cute husband certainly sounds like more fun than another long night in front of the computer. We'll see.
And to top it all off, the spacing on this entry is all wonky. Not sure why. Grr.
Still revising. Am making significant progress -- Chapter Two WILL be done tonight (positive thinking). And this is the FINAL revision. Hurray!
BUT, I am desperate for dark chocolate (the only chocolate I eat). I don't know why, but all of a sudden I have this insatiable craving for Lindt Excellence 70%. This is how desperate I am: I just made myself a cup of hot chocolate (yes, it's still 81 degrees, but anyway) using baking chocolate. How lame is that? Baking chocolate. That's like drinking cooking wine.
However, if baking chocolate keeps me writing at a good clip, I will grin and bear it.
I am looking forward to a Chapter Two-Free Day tomorrow. And to buying myself some decent chocolate.
Today's project: continue with the revisions to the two chapters I've been working on all week.
I have discovered that making revisions to a chapter or a paper is almost as bad as sitting down to write a first draft. Although I have a complete draft of two chapters sitting in front of me, an outline of how they should be revised, and comments from my advisors telling me what is good and what should be changed, I still find myself reluctant to work on these chapters again. I had to force myself to face the computer again this morning; after I am done posting here, I should probably tie myself to this chair for the afternoon so I don't wander off and work on something else.
The problem: I'm so tired of these two chapters I could die. They are important chapters, and chapters I've discussed ad nauseum with my advisors and friends. They are the chapters I will send out in my job packets this fall. I know they have to be very, very polished, and they will be -- I just wish I could muster up the gumption to work on them (again). I think a big part of the problem now is that I KNOW how they should look, and I'm so sick of thinking about it that putting it all in writing (again) just seems like a terribly tedious process. And it is.
I'm very much a "multiple drafts" kind of person -- my first draft is usually just to get things out, the second is a polished effort, and the third is the final. I am on the third draft of these chapters, and what's so agonizing is that each draft is essentially a full-scale rewrite. If I look at drafts one and two, they are very, very different. Draft three will be different still. So, for a 25 page chapter, I will essentially write 75 pages of text. Granted, there are certain sections that I can just copy and paste, but for the most part I find that I must rewrite instead of reorganize. It's not that drafts one and two are bad -- it's that by the time I get to draft three my ideas are more precise, and the language of draft two, especially, doesn't seem to fit anymore.
So, that's my plan for the afternoon -- redraft Chapter Two into its final form. Chapter Three, which will be considerably easier, will be the weekend's project.
Miscellaneous Stuff: speaking of revisions, I think I must revise my list from yesterday's post. In the "who do you miss most" category, I now wish to place my friends from graduate school, most of whom were a year or two ahead of me. They are now flung across the United States, starting new tenure-track jobs. I had a call from one of them yesterday, and I realized just what a gaping hole they have all left in my life -- this academic year will be difficult to bear without them. So, if you ever come across this JY, MS, AB, or BJS, I miss you terribly and send you my love.
And another note to Nicole, Shell, Becca, Alice, Leah, Mary and other friends from my online mother's group -- sorry I post so infrequently! I think about you all quite often, and hope you won't forget about me! Forgive me for asking you to read this drivel.
1. First name: _____ _______ _______ 2. Were you named after anyone? No. 3. Do you wish on stars? No. 4. When did you last cry? When ST moved into a big boy bed, in June. 5. Do you like your handwriting? Love it. People call it a "font." 6. What is your favorite lunch meat? Don't like lunch meats, period. 7. What is your most embarrassing CD? Soundtrack to The Sound of Music. And no, I don't know how to solve a problem like Maria. 8. If you were another person, would YOU be friends with you? I think so. 9. Do you have a journal? Yes, but I use this more. The other journal is for ST. 10. Do you use sarcasm a lot? YES. 11. What are your nicknames? T calls me "Chief," which I rather like. 12. Would you bungee jump? Would love to! 13. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? I usually wear slip-ons. 14. Do you think that you are strong? Not in the muscular sense, but in every other way, yes. 15. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Mint chocolate chip (chocolate ice cream with Andes mints crushed in it) or peanut butter cup (preferably when I make it myself) 16. Shoe Size? 8-8 1/2 depending on the brand. 17. Red or pink? Red 18. What is your least favorite thing about yourself? My nose. It's the "family" nose, and it's too big. 19. Who do you miss most? My immediate family, who I only see twice a year. 20. Do you want everyone you send this to, to send it back? Huh? I copied it. 21. What color pants and shoes are you wearing? Khaki shorts, no shoes 22. What are you listening to right now? The air conditioner and my computer fan. 23. Last thing you ate? A salad, Italian Potato Cake, and a slice of Blueberry Buckle. 24. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Dark blue 25. What is the weather like right now? Unbearably hot and humid (91 degrees) 26. Last person you talked to on the phone? My husband 27. The first thing you notice about the opposite sex? Smile 28. Do you like the person who sent this to you? I copied it because I'm a dork. 29. Favorite Drink? Chocolate milk, especially chocolate soy milk. 30. Favorite Sport? If you read Monday's post, it's soon to be running. 31. Hair Color? Auburn 32. Eye Color? Very light blue 33. Do you wear contacts? No 34. Favorite Food? Nectarines and blueberries 35. Last Movie You Watched? Disney's Dinosaurs! with ST 36. Favorite Day Of The Year? Easter 37. Scary Movies Or Happy Endings? Happy endings 38. Summer Or Winter? Winter 39. Hugs OR Kisses? Hugs 40. What Is Your Favorite Dessert? Anything with berries in it, or pudding. 41. Who Is Most Likely To Respond? After I complete this, there will be no one left who hasn't done it. 42. Who Is Least Likely To Respond? Blah. 43. What Books Are You Reading? A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (see my Australian Literature Project in the sidebar) ; some other dissertaton-related stuff. 44. What's On Your Mouse Pad? I have a laptop, so no separate mouse pad 45. What Did You Watch Last night on TV? National Geographic channel while I was ironing 46. Favorite Smells? Ripe nectarines, or ST's Lavender Bedtime Bath 47. Favorite Sounds? ST giggling hysterically, rain on the windows 48. Rolling Stones or Beatles? Beatles 49. What's the furthest you've been from home? Europe 50. Do you have a special talent? I play the flute 51. What is your ring tone? Nearly the last person on earth without a cell phone.
A list of things I must do today, in order to keep on track:
1.) Finish research statement and proof it. (DONE) 2.) Proof CV and upload it (again) to my website. (DONE) 3.) Revise the first half of Chapter 2 (final revision). (Getting There!) 4.) Make grocery list. (DONE) 5.) Get rid of massive, pounding headache. (DONE)
Will update later on progress. Off to take some Aleve, because clearly achieving #5 is essential if I hope to even think about #1-4.
DONE = accomplished as of 12:53pm. DONE = accomplished as of 3:30pm.
First, it is important to note that I am the most unathletic, uncoordinated person to walk (barely, and not very fast!) the face of the earth. Second, I also have terrible feet: when I stand, my feet are so screwed up that it literally looks like I'm standing on my ankles with my feet squashed out to the side, flatter than flat. Third, I hate sweat. Fourth, I have tried various athletic pursuits in the past and I have always gotten so bored with them that I give them up in the first week or two. And finally, although I am not "fit," I am also not overweight. I look normal, even trim at times (e.g., when I'm wearing my miraculous skinny jeans).
Given these five things, what possessed me to agree to start running with my husband? And why in the world did I promise to run a 5K?
Love. Doggone it.
A little background: when we were living out West, just after our wedding (about six years ago), my husband and I had a little argument. He loved to work out, loved to take long hikes, loved to ride his bike on the trails, and I didn't really like to do those things at all. He made some comment that he thought it was wrong that I wasn't physically active, wrong that I didn't like to work out. I was insulted, because I told him that there were plenty of things I liked to do (read classic fiction, bake, garden) that he didn't enjoy, and I was fine with that. He persisted, however, telling me that everyone SHOULD work out, SHOULD be fit, and that it didn't matter if I didn't like it -- he said that being physically active was something that he thought was fundamental to life, unlike my favorite pursuits like classic fiction reading. I was mad, because I felt like was calling me an unhealthy slob. And then I came up with something like this: "I understand that you consider physical fitness an essential part of life," I said, "but I don't. I consider spiritual fitness essential, however, and you refuse to go to church. I think that's bad, yet I don't force you to go to church with me. So you shouldn't force your working out on me."
Fine. He agreed, noting that I have never pushed religion on him, even though I'm a pretty good Catholic. Argument over. Never brought it up again in six years of marriage.
Six years of a great marriage have progressed, six years of maturing with each other have passed. My darling husband, who becomes more of a gem with each passing year, decided that, since ST was baptized Catholic and since he is now over two years old, ST should start going to Mass regularly because it's important to me. So I started to take ST with me on Sundays, and it was a hassle. A HUGE hassle. T then said, around Christmas time in 2004, that he would start coming to Mass with me to help me with ST. Fine. We go faithfully every Sunday until Easter. On Easter Sunday, T loses it after Mass. He said that he had never liked the priest of the Church we were going to, and that we needed to find somewhere else to go. I tell him that if he's going to uproot us from our "home" parish, then he needed to take an active role in finding a new one.
Well, he really has. We now go to a small church that is infinitely better than the one we were attending, and to my great shock, T is enjoying himself at Mass. He doesn't complain about going, he listens to the readings and the homily (things he never used to do), and we actually talk about the Mass afterwards. T even knows almost all of the Catholic responses and prayers, and has some of the songs memorized. ST has become a fairly well-behaved church-goer as well. Quite nice. Happy family.
Which brings me to yesterday. I told T that I really, really appreciated that he goes to Mass with us now, and that I know that he does it because he loves me and wants ST to grow up with a religion. I told him how much it meant to me, and I told him that I wish I could do something similar for him, something that I didn't want to do, but I would do because I loved him.
An idea immediately popped into my head. Running.
T is training for a marathon, so running is his life right now. Before Mass yesterday, actually, he ran 16 miles. He runs a few times during the week, and then does long runs on the weekends. He loves it, and he's good at it.
So I told T that if he helped me, I would start to run. I wouldn't run a marathon, but I'd do whatever I could to get myself to a 5K or even an 8K. He was THRILLED. Beyond thrilled, even. So, we went out and bought some running clothes, and we're going to a specialty running shop this week to get me fitted for shoes appropriate for my horrible feet.
As I was (again) working on my teaching and research statements for the upcoming academic year, I started thinking about who I am as a teacher and scholar, and then started thinking about who I am as a human. In a teaching statement, you have to distill the big elements of your teaching philosophy into a few pages of text; in mine, for example, I isolated three things that are essential to the way I teach and how I feel about learning. What if I had to do that same exercise about my life? What are the big things I care about in the way I live?
Here's what I thought about. I'm leaving out the obvious things. I don't need to tell you or anyone that I care about my family and friends, for example. I'm talking about issues here -- the big things I think are worth my effort. I give just a few examples here.
1.) Nutrition and education about it. I care deeply about this, and not just from a personal or family health standpoint. I get visibly annoyed when I hear reports of Pizza Hut and McDonald's outlets in high schools, about the millions of different, sugar- and salt-laden options that are available to kids wherever they go. It makes me mad to think of parents who are giving their children $30 a week to spend on school lunches, and that money usually goes for a slice of pizza, a Twinkie, and a Coke. It infuriates me that fast food restaurants can get away with selling massively unhealthy food for ridiculously low prices to people who could benefit from a decent meal. And it makes me very unhappy that it's still cheaper to buy a microwave dinner than it is to buy a few fresh vegetables or fruits at the market.
2.) Writing. In my pre-fellowship days (ah, fond memories!) I taught academic writing as well as courses in my discipline. Writing is so vital for success, no matter what field you're in, and we really need to place a greater emphasis on it throughout a high school and university education. It frustrates me that students are expected to take a course in composition only at the beginning of their college careers, for example, but the courses are dull and seem irrelevant by the time the student really needs to start turning out academic papers. It bothers me that a large proportion of students have no idea how to write a thesis, and that these students believe that every paper must follow a standard five paragraph formula (intro, body, body, body, conclusion). I am saddened that text messaging has destroyed proper language use, and that I see "ur" and "gr8" turn up in students' assignments for my classes. Outside of academia, I am not terribly surprised that even major corporations are being forced to hire writing instructors for their employees, since new college graduates have no idea how to write a proper memo, or even a proper email message.
3.) Recycling. The town I live in is great for this, and has really opened my eyes to what even a small community can do for the environment. We recycle everything here; I have maybe one bag of non-recyclable garbage every two weeks. It annoys me, though, that even in a town where recycling is made ridiculously simple, some people still don't do it. Now our trash includes mostly disposable diapers, although we used cloth until very recently (ST got too big for his cloth diapers, and I'm hoping he'll be potty trained VERY soon so I won't have to have those vile paper diapers in my house anymore).
Those are just three things that I feel pretty passionately about; fortunately, T is also pretty passionate about these things (especially #2). The trick about being passionate about things, however, is to do something with that passion. Aside from encouraging everyone I know to learn more about the food they eat (I've convinced my parents and my sister so far -- in fact, my sister's more of a food geek than I am sometimes), working as a writing instructor, and supporting recycling efforts, what more can I do? I am hoping that, when we are someplace truly permanent after I secure a faculty position, I will be able to really build on these passions and work for them in a more concrete way.
What are YOU passionate about? And what are you doing about it?
Blogging Etiquette: Since I am very new to the blogging world, there are a few questions I have for more experienced bloggers and blog readers. Who knows if they'll ever be answered, since according to my little site tracker thingo, only one other person has ventured into my blog thus far. But anyway, here goes:
1.) If you add someone's blog to your links, should you tell them? I see a lot of blogs that have a massive laundry list of other blogs on them, and this list is supposedly other blogs the blogger reads. I read only a few each day, and they are listed on my links. I don't think I could find time to read more, quite frankly. Should I tell those precious few people who are on my links list that I read their blog? Is that the nice thing to do, or just dorky?
2.) How do you get people to read your blog in the first place? I stumbled across the blogs I read -- I don't know any of these people, but for some reason their blogs appealed to me. I read ABDmom's blog because she's living the same type of life I am currently leading, and has roughly the same plans for the future. I read Tertia's "So Close" blog because she's witty and because, especially when she was struggling through IVF, she was so incredibly real. (I sometimes read Julie's "A Little Pregnant" blog, too, via a link from Tertia's site -- Julie is an amazingly talented writer.) I read North Sea Diaries (when it's working!) because I'm interested in EU matters. I recently added Very Mom's blog, too, because I found her terribly funny and she writes a lot like I talk.
There are more questions, but for another time. Now it's time to clean up my kitchen after preparing meals for the neighbor who just had a baby on Monday night. Chicken Tetrazzini and Banana Cream Pie... tempted to keep it for myself, but motivated me already has a chicken with potatoes and carrots bubbling away in the crockpot for this evening's meal.
Dissertation-related: a neat thing happened this morning. T and I were lying in bed, and he started asking me questions about the dissertation. That never happens -- it's not that he's not interested in what I do, but we just never really talk about it. We started chatting about the cases I'm using, how I'm analyzing them, what I'm looking for in my hypotheses, etc. It was kind of fun, and I was particularly impressed that I was able to string together a coherent set of sentences that early in the morning (6:30am -- I am NOT a morning person under any definition of the phrase). Although I think he was hoping that sweet talk about the dissertation would get him something else (!), it was nonetheless a pleasant chat before ST sauntered into the bedroom, half-asleep.
SuperToddler-related: two things about my otherwise perfect toddler are driving me insane: teeth brushing and staying in the big bed. Ugh! This morning I tried to brush his teeth and he just screeched and clamped his mouth shut, kicking and screaming the whole time. I've tried everything -- I let him do it (he doesn't want to), I let him brush my teeth (and I end up gagging as he shoves the toothbrush in too far), we make a game of it -- and nothing works. Today I was so frustrated with him I just had to leave the room. And the bedtime bit is getting a little old, too. Last night he got out of his bed no less than 15 times before staying put. Eventually we just had to leave his bedroom light on so he would go to sleep. Drives me nuts. Off to buy a brighter nightlight for him than the one we have now. Gotta love toddlers, though, as he explained to me in a very school-marmish way this morning that there was a difference between a brachiosaurus and a brontosaurus, and it is that the brachiosaurus has big nostrils on its head. Genius boy!
According to this article, there's one new blog created about every second. Every second. That's astounding to me, even more so because this blogging trend is one bandwagon I've jumped on, and that is simply not what I usually would do. So why did I do it? And why should you read my blog?
Here are the reasons I started this blog:
1.) I have always wanted to keep a journal, but every time I started one I would get frustrated because it took me too long to write my thoughts down in a pretty, bound book. Since I can type many times faster than I can write longhand, I started keeping a computerized journal. That, too, fell by the wayside because I quickly lost the incentive to write. A weblog seemd to be a good fit for me, because I could capture my thoughts quickly AND have the incentive of a readership to keep me posting. (Now, if I could just actually find a readership, all would be well!)
2.) My current situation is one that I'm sure several women in my field think about or are also in, namely that of an academic wife and mother faced with difficult choices about her career, having more children, etc. There's a journal in my discipline that publishes articles about working in the profession, and I wanted to someday write an article about what it is like for female graduate students balancing the demands of career and family, and what it's like to write a dissertation while raising a child. I found it difficult to keep track of everything I was feeling, and decided a blog was a nice way to record my thoughts so I could write a coherent article in the future.
3.) Sometimes, when you're living in the very unstructured world of ABD-ness, it's difficult to see if you're making progress. By posting here, I'll be able to "see" my work evolve, remember the frustrations, keep track of the pitfalls and glories. I'll also be able to post goals for myself, and publishing for a wide audience (again, assuming I have an audience at all!) makes me feel accountable to someone. That's beneficial to me.
Here are some reasons you might want to read this blog:
1.) You're in a similar situation, perhaps just starting graduate school and you want to know what the end process is like. Perhaps you're curious about whether or not you can successfully manage a family and graduate school.
2.) You're an academic already, and you enjoy reading about graduate students and dissertation work, and you have advice to give. Perhaps you have a family, too, and have some useful tips.
3.) You want to be a member of the crew that holds me accountable for finishing this doggone dissertation.
4.) You want to hire me as a member of your faculty, and you want to ensure that I'm not going to be ABD forever!
5.) You enjoy reading stories about impossibly cute toddlers and the trials and tribulations of toddler parents.
So if you are reading, leave me a comment. I'd love to hear from you.
Today I am officially banning those behaviors in myself that waste my time or that make me angry at myself. To me, there is nothing worse than having a day like today, where nothing except the grocery shopping was accomplished. These days make me feel bad about my work, and those feelings are productivity-killers in and of themselves. I like the work I do, and I just want to have a lot of days where I can actually DO it without engaging in these self-destructive, annoying behaviors.
List of Self-Destructive Behaviors That Will Be Stopped:
When I start a project that seems small (e.g., proofreading a paper, conducting a search for literature, compiling data in small chunks), I often finish it halfway, thinking that it will be easy to finish later. That is an awful trap: if I put it off, I often don't start the project again until I'm staring a deadline right in the face, and by the time I restart the project I have to re-teach myself how to do it. From here on out, small projects will be finished all the way through.
When I see something small that needs to be accomplished, I don't do it, thinking that I'll do it later. Prime example: putting away the breakfast dishes. I hate doing this -- I have this unnatural aversion to soggy cereal (the smell of soggy cereal makes me gag). From now on, I will do it right away, before the cereal has a chance to go soggy. Dishes in the dishwasher, cereal put away, table and chairs wiped down. The same attitude will be applied to small tasks that I often needlessly put off: writing thank you notes, filing, proofreading short papers, folding laundry, washing dishes, etc. If something can be done in 10-15 minutes, I will henceforth just DO IT so that I don't have to think about it.
I make a "to do" list at the beginning of each week. There is invariably something huge on that list, something that seems very daunting. For example, this week, it is a full revision of Chapters 2 and 3 of the dissertation, a revision that will be the FINAL revision. It seems like a menacing, huge task, and it is. Normally, I would put this kind of task off until the last minute (my deadline for this particular task is August 15), and then scramble to get it done instead of doing it in manageable increments. No more. From here on out, I will tackle large projects starting right after they make an appearance on my "to do" list.
Although I schedule myself a lunch hour, I often don't take it. Instead, I snack through the afternoon, and I end up taking a series of 1/2 hour breaks from my work instead of a relaxing hour to eat. No more. I will start setting aside an entire hour to eat, and I will eat a full lunch instead of little snacks. This will be more productive, and ultimately healthier, too. (Contrary to popular belief, Cool Whip Free is NOT a healthy lunch. Did I mention how much I LOVE Cool Whip Free? And don't even get me started on Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil-flavored Wheat Thins.)
I am traveling to Europe for a month this fall, and I keep telling myself that I need to beef up my language skills in certain subject areas. I have books to help me, but I haven't opened them. From now on, I will practice my vocabulary at least 1/2 hour each day. Every day. That means drilling words into my head like I used to do in eighth grade when I was learning the language for the first time.
I hate to iron, but mostly I just hate the idea of ironing. So, I put it off all week long, until it reaches the point that I have to wake up early in the morning to iron a single shirt for my husband to wear. No more. I will now iron on Monday or Tuesday night. Everything will be done, and I won't have to think about it all week in dread.
That should be a good start toward greater productivity. And now that I'm publishing it for the world to see, I might even stick to it! I like to have other people hold me accountable for things, and this is a perfect way to do it.
In other news, I just finished the first book in my great Australian Literature Project: Tim Winton's The Riders. I undertook this project because I was in a rut of reading only European and Latin American authors, and I didn't really know much about Australian literature, despite having many friends in that area. So, I asked them for recommendations, and I how have an entire list of great books to read before I go to bed. I'll comment more on Winton's novel later -- it was one of the most bizarre books I've ever read (and not in a Garcia Marquez bizarre sense, but in a truly "I'm not sure if I like this" sort of sense). My new book is Nevile Shute's A Town Like Alice.
Off to pick up my SuperToddler. Can't wait to see him!
This September I will officially be "on the market" for academic jobs. I've been looking forward to it for a very long time, imagining what it would be like to give a job talk and to know enough about my discipline to chat with professors I don't know about classes I'd like to teach, research I'd like to conduct, how I would work with students, which committees I'd serve on, etc. Now that interviewing season is almost upon me, however, I am feeling very nervous and underprepared.
First, there's the dissertation. I have three chapters that are in pretty good shape, just needing a little polishing. I like the chapters, my advisors like the chapters, and people I've talked to about the dissertation seem to think it's a neat project. I've never formally presented it before, though, and so I'm terrified of putting new ideas out there. I'm afraid that I will not be able to answer tough questions, despite the fact that I'm the self-proclaimed "expert" on my topic. I'm petrified that someone will say, "Well, haven't you read XYZ?" and I won't know what they're talking about.
Then there's the wait. What it no one wants to interview me in the first place? What if my CV is too dull, too limited? Fortunately, I have big name advisors -- that should help me here. But still, there's that deep-seated fear that I'll be passed over. I remember looking at cover letters and resumes when I was working in Human Resources in college -- there were some that were the immediate tossers, ones that you didn't even have to read all the way through. What if I am a tosser?
There's also the commitment factor. Right now, my husband has a job he loves working for people he really respects, and is building a substantial clientele. We cannot leave for "any" job for me -- it has to be a good job. A really good job, one where I can envision a long career so that T can rebuild a practice. I hate to drag him away from his current job -- but yet I hate to stay stuck in ABD land much longer, or take a year off after earning the doctorate. Complications abound. On the upside, however, it is nice to know that if I don't land a job this year, we'll be OK.
Yet another factor: a second child. We really want one, and don't want N to be much older before we have one. I don't want to be pregnant during my first year on a new job, so the time is now -- a small window for conception that would give us a summer baby. If I am visibly pregnant during interviews, will that affect my chances of landing a job? Is trying for a baby the right thing to do? Do I put my "real" life on hold for academia?
This is really where faith comes in, I guess. I just have to trust that everything will work out as it should, and that my diligent work will take me where I am supposed to go. I have never been good with uncertainty, however, and so I know that this upcoming academic year will be a challenging one for me. It's very difficult to wait for the possibility that your life could change.