the writing on the wall (and not, notably, on my computer screen, alas)

Ok, so I’m really, really ready for this angst to be over.  I feel like I’m trapped in my own special John Hughes film, albeit one where I don’t end up with a new makeover/attitude adjustment/boyfriend (in fact, I’m pretty sure Apparent Dip is happy about the latter).

There are certain elements of my studies/interests that have been haunting me for years and I have long refused to admit that I should, perhaps, specialize in a certain field (which I’m not going to mention outright because I don’t want to out myself too much–I am, after all, at least trying to be pseudonymous here).  I have been fighting this field from the moment I stepped into a graduate seminar, lo those many years ago.  My refusal to read the writing on the wall, alas, has more often then not led to me feeling stymied in my research.  More specifically, it has led to no writing at all anywhere else.  As in, I can’t get up enough interest in papers to finish them.  But, but, but, I insist, you don’t really want to work in this field do you?  I mean, think of all the things you’ll miss!

And yet…

I keep finding myself drawn to other people’s work on this field.

And yet…

I compulsively read about this field in my spare time.

And yet…

I design courses to teach in this field.  Courses which I have a blast teaching.  Courses that I continue to think about even when I’ve moved on.

Perhaps, and this is only a suggestion, but perhaps I should stop being a FLAMING IDIOT and just accept the writing on the wall.  Enough with the angsty crap!

I leave you with another kitty picture (because I am apparently only good at taking pictures of cats and flowers):

Meshuggenah again.  The other 3 cats are not nearly as interested in being photographed.

Meshuggenah again. The other 3 cats are not nearly as interested in being photographed.

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things i’ve (re)learned today

Because I’m in the midst of writing several papers, my brain can only handle bullets today.

  • Coffee is supposed to go into your mouth…as opposed to down the front of your shirt.  Apparently, I confused the two today.
  • Laptops = cat beds, but only when you actively need to be typing.
  • Cats are very good at emotional blackmail.
  • Despite the fact that I have a relatively large desk, I prefer to work from the couch, with my laptop propped on the coffee table and a fortress of books/papers surrounding me.  That’s right, I have once again taken over the living room…poor Apparent Dip.
  • My life is really boring in the summers.  I read.  I pretend to write.  I read some more.  I watch a lot of brainless television.  I actively avoid writing.  Repeat ad nauseam.
  • I really love my camera.

To distract you from the boring-ness of this post, here are some more cat pictures!  And a pretty flower!

Meshuggenah spends most of her day sleeping or modeling...

Meshuggenah spends most of her day sleeping or modeling...

A rare sighting of Edna Furber...who tends to stay under the bed.

A rare sighting of Edna Furber...who tends to stay under the bed.

after a rainstorm

after a rainstorm

Ambivalence is my middle name

Sorry for the month-long absence and the lack of responses to all of your comments! I have come to a decision of sorts in the meantime about this whole ph.d. thing.

I’m staying…for now.

I’m not doing so out of some kind of naive sense that things will be different for ME on the job market in the future, or that somehow the market will dramatically transform itself, the baby boomers will all retire en masse and I’ll be assured a job.  I’m staying for a number of reasons:

1) I’ve always been told to make a decision when you’re ready to, OR when it is absolutely necessary.  Neither of these conditions were wholly met with this situation, so right now, I’m staying the course.

2) My ambivalence over a ph.d., I’ve realized, is less about getting a ph.d. in and of itself, and is more directly related to this program in which I find myself.  At the risk of outing myself, or making anyone from my institution who might read this blog indignant I’ll say this: I realized too late that this program is regressive in its outlook on English as a field.  I am interested in studying Jewish and Arabic diasporic representations of place/space/home.  There is literally no real way for me to do this here, despite the department’s protestations to the contrary.  I’m trying to figure out a way to make it work, but oy…it might not be possible.

3) My ambivalence re: the program also involves ambivalence toward some of my fellow students.  I left a ph.d. program in history where my colleagues were generally younger than me, were often silly, but were also seriously invested in their scholarship.  Here, it feels altogether different.  Sometimes I think I’ve woken up in a sorority/frat house.  I don’t consider myself to be an old fuddy duddy (I’m only turning 33 in September for goodness sakes), but apparently, I am, in fact, an old fuddy duddy (but at least fuddy duddy is fun to say).  Pretty soon I’ll be telling incoming students: “Back in my day…”

4) That said, I’m taking advantage of my fellowship and my space in academia to experiment and explore.  I might be transferring to another program (in geography).  I might discover a way to bend people to my will (that could be handy).  In the meantime, I’m fully funded, and Apparent Dip has a job.  Financially, it makes sense to stay.

5) The other options: library school, teaching comp for a year, etc., are still viable.  They aren’t going anywhere.

6) I need to discover if I’m running away from a challenge (as in the history ph.d. which I now wish I had not run from) or if I’m just bored with the program I’m in.  Only time (and patience, which I most emphatically DO NOT HAVE) will tell.

So there you have it.  We’ll see how things progress.  In the mean time, here’s a cute cat picture to lighten this post!

This is my professor's cat, who was not very happy that I was house sitting...

This is my professor's cat, who was not very happy that I was house sitting...

In the works…

So this post has been percolating for a while.  There’s something that has been lingering in the back of my mind for years, and I closed my ears to it.  I closed my mind to it.  I persevered.  But now…

…I’m thinking of leaving the ph.d.

There, I said it.  And it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.  Partly because I’ve been saying it quite a bit the past couple of days.  Some background: I’ve been in graduate school in some form or another for the last 8 years.  I have a MA in history, will be finishing my MA in english in August, and am accepted into a fully-funded ph.d. program beginning this fall.

And I don’t think I want to do it.  I can do it, but I don’t think I want to.

I have always loved school, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t even enjoy the fundamental tasks of my job as a grad student.  I’m not enjoying seminars, the writing leaves me paralyzed, and I find myself looking longingly at courses in other departments.  Indeed, the only thing I seem to enjoy is walking across campus with a coffee in hand.  And quite frankly, that’s not exactly a reason to get a ph.d.

For years I always thought that I didn’t know who I was.  I spent so much time worrying about what other people thought about me that I never took myself into account.  But I’ve recently discovered that I know enough about myself to recognize that I don’t like the person I’m becoming.  I feel like I’m well on my way to being Ebeneezer Scrooge before he spent an insomniac night with three ghosts and found his inner self.  There’s more to it, but ultimately, it comes down to happiness.  I would like to travel.  I’d like to pay down my debt.  I think I’d like to become a librarian.  I’d like to enjoy writing and reading again.

So I might become an adjunct composition instructor, something I NEVER thought I would enjoy. I could still walk on campus with coffee in my hand (hell, grading those papers practically requires a caffeine drip). I could teach (which I love), I could eventually enroll in library school, and I could have time to be with Apparent Dip, with my family, and, of course, with the four idiot cats who run our lives.  Hell, I might even have time to knit again! Or learn Arabic. Practice my French/German/Russian.  Take piano lessons again.  The possibilities are endless.

So do I do it?

The world’s smallest violin player…

To sum up the main reason why I haven’t been blogging lately (for almost a year–yikes!): complaining.  Apparently, I’ve been doing a lot of it lately, and I’m tired of it.  Complaints are helpful and necessary…to a point.  But when my own ears get tired of hearing about how stressed and busy I am, it’s definitely time to stop.  Moreover, a truly crappy year has just wound down (I live my life by the academic year rather than the calendar version of events).  Time to lift the head up, enjoy the gorgeous spring weather, and be.

Besides, Apparent Dip and I have decided to make this summer: The Summer of Apartment Reorganization 2009.  We need to keep our wits about us. This is serious business.  It requires major furniture moving around (and unfortunately, it doesn’t do so on its own).  It requires the four cats to discover new ways of constantly getting under our feet just as we’re about to attempt something potentially hazardous to all of our lives. It involves paint. Cursing. Chaos.  But even more than that: it requires me to take every. single. book. off. the. shelves.  All 800 or so in a tiny two-bedroom apartment.

The benefit: an organized apartment that will most definitely suddenly make me want to write and stay organized all summer and into the new academic year (stop laughing!  It ruins my ability to convince myself). Plus, I usually discover that there are whole shelves of books that I am dying to read that I forgot I had.  And I get to play with database software as I catalog everything because I am just that ridiculous.

So, like Sisyphus, I’ve broken out the (metaphorical) colored pens.  I’m trying to decide how to reorganize my ever-expanding-despite-no-income library.  Part of me wants to play with color.  But I think I’ll experiment with time instead and organize my fiction chronologically (non-fiction is divided thematically and then alpha by author, then title).

And in the meantime, I’ll procrastinate on both my writing and rearranging projects by blogging.  Mwa ha ha.

…tap…tap…tap…is this thing on?

At the risk of sounding like the gropen-führer of California or some freaky kids in a horror movie…I might be back!

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

  • finishing my MA in one year instead of two (cuz that’s how I roll)
  • adopting a fourth (and feral) cat–her name is Edna Furber (literary pun intended)–she won’t let us touch her yet, but she has no problem letting us feed her.
  • teaching
  • reading lots and lots and lots of books
  • finding out that finishing an MA in one year instead of two is kind of a silly idea
  • getting into Ph.D. programs
  • deciding to stay put for said Ph.D.–something I didn’t think would happen, but makes me happy after all

So stay tuned, because I’m going to try to post a bit more regularly (particularly as I should be writing and revising 6 papers in the next couple of weeks and I need to procrastinate)!

I’m not dead yet!

Although it would be hard to tell given the silence around here lately.  Life got a bit chaotic for awhile there, and while it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down (in fact, it’s probably only going to get crazier with school starting), I’m slowly but surely feeling ready to start posting again.

Let me tell you the story.  No, it’s too long, let me sum up:

  • Our newest kitty is no longer our newest kitty.  Three weeks after we found her, her jerky “owner” claimed her.  He answered all of our trick questions correctly, so we had to give her back.  Until this week, she still visited us regularly, she’s still unspayed (even though the dude took my FoA certificate without bothering to offer to reimburse me for it like he said he would).  So, yeah.  I am turning into a bitter cat lady.  Luckily, I think Zoe is off to live with her mom, who I hope is more responsible.  I do miss the talkative little cat though.
  • We had an adventurous time in Wisconsin.  My (not so) little brother got married in a beautiful ceremony, we visited with Apparent Dip’s extended family, and then Apparent Dip and I visited our college campus.  It’s the first time I’d been back to campus in 8 years or so, and it was weird.  Fun, but definitely weird.  It was the same feeling I got when I went back to my elementary school as an adult and realizing how very little those chairs and desk were.
  • I will be teaching!  For the very first time!!  ON MONDAY!!!!!  Sorry for the barrage of exclamation points.  I just finished my very first syllabus ever and I’m freaking out a bit.  I’ve spent the last two weeks in orientation, and I almost forgot that the reason I’m here in the first place is because I’m a grad student in English (not a writing instructor).  This teaching thing threatens to become a bit like the blob: it just might consume me (although, as far as I know, it doesn’t cover you in slime–but ask me again on Monday).  I’m looking forward to the English department BBQ tonight where I can drink my sorrows away and put on my disaffected hat for a while (not to mention my funky glasses).  Actually, only a few people in my department are affectedly tormented.  The rest of us are normal-ish (although funky glasses are practically a requirement).
  • I got a new haircut two weeks ago.  I wanted a pretty drastic change.  So far, every single person who has taken a class with me in the last year and a half (including the faculty) has not recognized me.  I call that a successful haircut!  It’s truthfully the best cut I’ve ever had.  Note: always look for salon-slash-sake bars when making hair appointments from now on–even if the cut is abysmal, you’ll be too happy with your sake bloody mary to notice.

The newest member of the menagerie

Because it’s Friday, and apparently crazy cat ladies* post pictures of cats on Fridays, I’ve decided to join the club! Without further ado, I present the newest member of our menagerie (although if her parents contact us, we’ll have to say goodbye, which is going to be VERY difficult for me).

This is Zoe. We found her on our porch on Wednesday. After a long night (only two hours of sleep for me), much caterwauling, and a vet visit, Zoe is now free to roam about the house and, as you can see, help me review for the GRE subject test. I’m a sucker for torties, and she’s a very sweet little cat. She’s also VERY helpful:

Apparently she thinks the GREs are a waste of time and boring to boot. Although they do make nice pillows.

*note: I don’t think of them in this way, but several people have determined that I am, indeed, a crazy cat lady, so I figure I might as well own it!

Heelllloooo!

Note: when you read the title to this post, imagine John Stewart doing his Queen Elizabeth impersonation (something Apparent Dip threatened to do in England every time we met someone).

My brain is too scattered to make much sense today, so bullets it is!

  • Just thought I would stop in and say hi!  I realize it’s been a while, but boy-howdy, how time does fly when I actually attempt to get some work done.  I’m actually reading articles!  And revising my seminar paper draft!  And creating bibliographies!  Oh my!
  • In other news, I had surgery last week and I’m almost back to normal.  I have bruises all over my abdomen, and I think my belly button was somewhat insulted by the procedure, but all is well!
  • I have apparently had too much caffeine this morning, as the exclamation points are threatening to take over (if they haven’t already done so).
  • As of today, I only have two weeks left at my job before I can declare with pride that I am no longer a wannabe grad student but an actual grad student (ok, perhaps pride is a bit of a reach, but it sure beats the pants off of what I do now!  Damn, another pesky exclamation mark).
  • I have been reading fun books as well.  I’m continuing to enjoy the Paul Scott novel from my last post, and I also have a slew of non-fiction books in the ever-increasing pile o’ doom at the side of my bed.  Diarmid MacCullough’s The Reformation: A History, is, well, a history of the religious turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  It’s extremely well-written and engaging and in a surprising move, it dovetails nicely with Arthur Herman’s How the Scots Invented the Modern World (which I might leave behind in favor of T. M. Devine’s The Scottish Nation).
  • I have discovered an alternative career path if the whole grad school-leads-to-a-bajillion-years-on-the-job-market path doesn’t work out: I need to become a product/software tester for magazines like MacLife.  Seriously…I think I own every word processing, bibliographic, productivity tool/program known to man.
  • I owe Emily a meme response, and I do believe I’ll get to it before hell freezes over, but I have decided that one of the reasons I’m actually being productive in my work life is because I’m not procrastinating as much on the blog.  So so sad.  Before you know it, I’ll actually be writing papers weeks before the day they’re due instead of the night before!  What is the world coming to?

See?  Told you I was random/boring today.  I’m going to blame the anesthesia…

Happy go lucky

Last night Apparent Dip and I went to a bookstore (no surprise there, it’s something we do two to three times a week it seems). As the ever-insightful Emily has pointed out, books are like drugs, and I need a regular fix. I don’t always buy books when we go, but there’s something about walking between the shelves that rejuvenates me and soothes me when I’m stressed. Anyhoo, last night I picked up a copy of the new MLA Manual of Style (I’ve documented my nerdy love of style manuals before) and sat down with my tall Americano with a triple shot of espresso (my other drug of choice). And then it hit me. Here I was in a cafe reading through a style manual, which I picked up in part because it’s something I need for work/school. When was the last time I just randomly picked up a book to read? When was the last time I wandered through the shelves without having a specific title or author in mind?

My method of selecting books has changed dramatically over the years. As it should, I suppose, but I also miss the days when I was more random in my choices. I have fond memories of the public library in my hometown, where I spent a lot of time in the summers (because it was air conditioned and filled with books, what else does a girl need?). I would wander around the fiction stacks, completely oblivious to generic divisions, bestselling lists, etc. And I would find a book that looked interesting–usually one that was really fat with tiny print–and I would hide up in the children’s book section and read for what felt like hours (our library had this fake “train” thing upstairs–little cubbyholes with cushions where kids could hang out and read. I’d stack the cushions up against the doorway so no one could see in). In Fanny Herself (which, by the way, is partially based in my hometown), Edna Ferber has a great paragraph describing Fanny’s reading habits:

Fanny Brandeis had a way of going to the public library on Saturday afternoons (with a bag of very sticky peanut candy in her pocket, the little sensualist!), and there, huddled in a chair, dreamily and almost automatically munching peanut brittle, her cheeks growing redder and redder in the close air of the poorly ventilated room, she would read, and read, and read. There was no one to censor her reading, so she read promiscuously, wading gloriously through trash and classic and historical and hysterical alike, and finding something of interest in them all (41).*

This image really resonated with me when I first read it, and it continues to do so. I, too, used to read promiscuously, often to the point where one of the librarians would wag her head disapprovingly when I checked out books that she felt were inappropriate for my age (Nothing smutty, really. I just had delusions of grandeur and tried to read War and Peace when I was in seventh grade. I liked to carry it around with me–it felt solid and full of potential in my arms).

I haven’t really read promiscuously in quite a while. So last night I threw caution to the wind and picked up a book that I’d never heard of before, by an author I’d never read about. It’s a fat book, and it’s the first of two volumes, so I know that if I finish and like the first one, another fat book awaits. It contains the first two books in Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, The Jewel in the Crown and The Day of the Scorpion. And although I feel somewhat guilty that I’m not reading books that will patch the holes in my literary background for grad school, there’s a sense of excitement every time I pick this book up. There’s an adventure waiting for me in those pages. I have no idea if I will appreciate it when I look back from the other side, but for the time being, I feel like the younger Sarah is standing next to me and reminding me why I love to read in the first place. Now I just need to find some very sticky peanut brittle!

* Edna Ferber. Fanny Herself. New York: Grossett and Dunlap, 1917. Google Books.