Archive for February, 2008

Oh the drama! Oh the horror!

NB: I have to say, the word “horror” is one of my least favorite words. Whenever I say it, it sounds like “whore,” and if I try and enunciate it so that it doesn’t, then it just sounds lame.

In honor of the era of the political sound bite, I bring you: FELLOWSHIP-GATE ’08! (It even rhymes!)

So, I got into my office yesterday after class to find out that I hadn’t received the fellowship after all. I was very disappointed, but after reading the email more closely, it sounds like the fellowship was awarded before I even had my interview last week…to someone that the English department had never heard of (just to clarify: although this is a Judaic Studies fellowship, there is no graduate program in JS, so it’s open to students from other departments who have a Jewish Studies focus in their work. In addition, the director of JS is also an English professor, and the fellowship specifically notes that applicants coming from a literature background are preferred). Apparently, a “different channel” had been set up for nominations and they didn’t bother telling the interim director of Judaic Studies about it. In fact, despite the fact that he’s the one who put up the announcements about the fellowship in the first place, no one bothered to tell him that they had awarded the fellowship at all! And it looks like my nomination might not have even gone to the right people in the first place…so it’s as if my application never existed (hey, at least I can say it wasn’t me–that might not be true, I might still have lost it even if I was nominated correctly; I am just an M.A. student rather than a Ph.D. student after all–but it makes me feel better).

Anyhoo, I emailed the my DGS right away to make sure that I was still in the running for the TA packages, because no funding = no degree for me. Not to worry, I’m first in line for funding–instead of TA-ing Jewish literature classes or serving as an RA, I’ll be teaching/tutoring in the writing center. Not as nice as the fellowship, but I like to make lemonade out of lemons (and I’m not going to gripe about these lemons, let me tell you). I could use teaching experience, and it would be nice to be able to commiserate with the rest of my cohort when it comes to grading, etc.

BUT. I seem to have stirred up a wasp’s nest. The department is royally ticked off that the fellowship was awarded without their knowledge, so the chair has been on the phone to the dean and other higher ups to figure out if it’s really gone and so on and so forth. Quite exciting!

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On passport photos

Today started with a bang: an eye appointment (new super-cute glasses arriving soon!) and taking care of my passport so that I can jet off to England and France in May.  Fortunately, the eye appointment, post office, and passport picture-taking place are all right next door to each other–talk about one-stop shopping!  Unfortunately, this did not save me from the trauma of actually having my passport photo taken in the first place.

I hate having my picture taken at the best of times.  After walking a mile with a winter hat on and before I’ve had my cup of coffee–not the best of times.  On top of that, it’s a grayish-whitish background.  I’m so pale that I feel translucent most of the time, so I sort of just blended in (ooh, camouflage–I’m like a chameleon that doesn’t actually change in response to other backgrounds, just the pale, washed-out ones).  Then there’s the no smiling rule.  The woman taking my picture said it had to do with making sure your face didn’t look “uneven,” but I think it’s because the federal government has no sense of humor (or perhaps they do and they think it’s incredibly funny to send their citizens out into the wider world looking like grumpy convicts).  On top of that: no glasses.  Which is fine, usually, but I have very large eyes.  I generally consider them to be my best feature under normal circumstances.  But combined with the lack of smile, the washed-out background and so on, the end result was something more along the lines of a camouflaged, grumpy deer caught in the headlights.  Seriously, I look terrified and cranky at the same time…no mean feat, that.

I also had to have my hair tucked behind my ears.  I’m trying to come up with the rationale on that one.  Is is so that when I commit a crime in a foreign country and I manage to lop my ear off in the process, they have something to compare it to?  What I love even more than all of this is that I had to pay to look this bad.  Ah well, it doesn’t matter in the long run, because I will have a passport (eventually), and I will go to England and France, and for the next ten years, I will laugh every time I look at the picture.  $100 for ten years of laughter isn’t so bad…

What do you mean it’s Saturday already?

Somehow the days just disappeared this week (they’re sneaky like that). And because it’s Saturday morning (we won’t mention that it’s late Saturday morning and that I overslept), and I haven’t enjoyed a towering cup o’ coffee just yet, I will once again torture you all with bullet points!

  • The fellowship interview went really well. I’ve been recommended by the director of graduate studies, the interim chair of Judaic Studies, and the dean, but it’s waiting final approval on the actual chair of Judaic Studies, who is currently in Jerusalem on sabbatical. So I’m hoping that by next week I’ll know. He’s been faxed all of the information and the English department really wants this settled, because they can’t award other funding packages to the other incoming M.A. students until they know whether I have the fellowship. I just want to know one way or the other…
  • Yesterday was a wasted day. It started out well: I baked a batch of cupcakes for Apparent Dip’s Friday beer get-together (I guess it’s my department as well, since I work there 15 hours a week). There’s nothing like waking up and baking. However, I then proceeded to read the same page five times over without absorbing anything. And so it continued. Hmph.
  • Because a girl can never have too many things going on at once, I started another knitting project last night. What’s that? Incomplete sweaters, you ask? I have no idea what you are talking about. I plead the fifth. The new project is a lace scarf. It’s green and reminds me of the spring. I’m coming to realize that small projects may be all I can really handle at the moment. Socks, scarves: they at least stand some chance in hell of being finished.
  • I would say that I’m looking forward to relaxing over spring break in a couple of weeks, but spring break just means that I work more now that those pesky seminars are out of the way. I still have my day job, but now I have no other excuse for avoiding the library (well, besides the fact that it’s such a ridiculous place–things are still as crazy there, but I think it’s starting to grow on me).
  • And now: what I need to accomplish this weekend. I need to put this out there so that I stay on track. I have to read Willa Cather’s My Antonia for my American reading group and I also have to finish various books/articles on John Dryden so that I can write up a historiographical type essay for next week’s long 18th century seminar. I need to finish reading the few articles for my class discussion in my American lit seminar (I already finished Sister Carrie–this is a major thing for me! Usually I leave everything to the last minute). I need to go to my local library–I’m hoping that two more of my three reserves have arrived: Ellen Litman’s The Last Chicken in America, and Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast (as recommended by Danielle). And then it’s off to a favorite coffee shop to get some work done! And one of these days I should get going on the second half of George Meredith’s The Egoist for my 19th-century reading group. Oh the exciting life I lead!

Random Bullets of Monday

  • I have the interview for my fellowship tomorrow. I’m nervous because I’m a neurotic person, but I’m also feeling pretty good about my chances. That could be because no other department has really submitted anyone’s name for this fellowship, but it’s also because I found out that the professor I’m interviewing with really liked the paper I wrote and submitted with my application. So cross any and all appendages for me!
  • This is the first time in my ENTIRE graduate career that I have a body of work that I’m proud of. In my history M.A. we only wrote a couple of seminar papers (and they didn’t necessarily cover topics in which I had much intellectual investment). In the first year of my history Ph.D. I took a total of 10 classes (on the quarter system) and I ended up with no papers to speak of. Just short 7-page essays, which are rather worthless overall. Right now I have three projects ongoing, all of which I’m excited about, and this summer I will be picking up a fourth. It feels really good to be semi-productive like this.
  • I swear to all that is good in the world that my cats are sharing a single brain cell. Tonight I picked up some toys and catnip for the three of them. Two of them are now stoned and drooling over the catnip. One of them keeps trying to climb the front door. Oy.
  • I’ve been in a bit of a “fun” reading slump lately. I have several fiction books on my bedside table, but for some reason, they’re not holding my attention. So I’ve decided to mix things up a bit with some non-fiction (which I love). Even better, I’m giving in to my love for all things espionage (I loooooooove James Bond–I’ve seen every film and really need to read the books–even though he essentially stands for everything that I stand against). I just picked up the book Agent ZigZag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre. It’s about a charming con man who became a spy for the Nazis only to turn right around and become a spy for MI5, leading the Germans by the nose for years. I can’t wait to dive in.
  • I’m in the middle of reading Sister Carrie for one of my courses. It’s a bit clunky and repetitive in parts, but I’m enjoying it nevertheless. And there are moments when Dreiser just gets it right–his writing hits home and works beautifully, making up for the clunky bits. I think I’ll be reading An American Tragedy this summer.
  • I have perfected the vegan cappuccino cupcakes, which I filled and frosted with coffee-flavored frosting. Yumalicious.
  • I’ve started reading Elie Wiesel’s Night for another course. I’ve avoided it for years now, because it’s so painful, but it is heartbreakingly beautiful. Depressing, but beautiful.
  • After Milton, it’s rather shocking to move on to the pornographic satires of the Earl of Rochester.
  • Time for me to drink my tea and go to bed! I’ll hopefully have good news about the fellowship in the very near future!

That John Milton…he cracks me up!

[ETA: I apologize if you have me on bloglines and a billion entries came up. I’ve been trying to edit this for formatting and WordPress is NOT behaving].

I’ve been reading Paradise Lost for my grad seminar on the “long 18th-century.” Now, due to my own ineptitude and poor weekend-plan execution, I’m only skimming over books 6-8, 10-11 because those are not the books our professor wants to focus on in class (although I do intend to go back and read them thoroughly). I get a major slap on the wrist for that, because I am really enjoying Paradise Lost. One of the things I love most about seminars is the fact that I am forced to encounter works that I would otherwise have overlooked (and I have to find something to love because I am sooooo tired of taking courses and I have a crapload more to take–seriously, I’ve been taking grad seminars of one sort or another for the past 6 years). I went into this course thinking I would get some good background info and some historical/literary perspective on the Victorian period; I did not expect to enjoy the time period as much as I do. It was a crazy time to be alive: Courtly intrigues, pornographic poetry (a la the Earl of Rochester), and danger abounds! (For example, I had no idea that John Dryden was attacked in an alley! He was beaten pretty badly, but to this day, no one knows who did it or why. Some think that the Duchess of Portsmouth–Charles II’s mistress–ordered the attack, but that’s just conjecture). In addition, I love cranky old men. I’m not saying I agree with them, but I love reading their works. John Dryden and John Milton were cranky, but they were also masters of rhetoric, which makes reading their poems and political writings even better. As an example, in the preface to his poem Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden (who sided with the Tories against the Whigs in the Exclusion Crisis of 1681-4) has this to say:

It is not my intention to make an apology for my poem: some will think it needs no excuse, and others will receive none. The design, I am sure, is honest; but he who draws his pen for one party must expect to make enemies of the other. For wit and fool are consequents of Whig and Tory; and every man is a knave or an ass to the contrary side (177).*

Love it. Basically, Dryden is responding to criticism he’s received for his political poetry (from Whigs in particular) and his back is up. But my favorite line, by far, is this:

If you like not my poem, the fault may, possibly, be in my writing (though it is hard for an author to judge against himself); but, more probably, it is in your morals, which cannot bear the truth of it (177-78).

I soooo want to use this as an epigraph to one of my papers! I particularly enjoy the phrase: “..the fault may, possibly,…” He makes something so small, like perfectly-placed commas, speak volumes. Milton has hidden surprises as well. I found myself laughing out loud during parts of Paradise Lost, although it’s really hard to explain why when someone asks you what’s so funny. A conversation from last night:

Sarah: (laughing and trying to underline at the same time–never a good thing)

Apparent Dip: What’s so funny?

Sarah: So, Satan has escaped from hell and is caught in the garden trying to poison Eve’s dreams and encouraging her to think very bad things.When he’s caught, Gabriel confronts him and says:

"Why hast thou, Satan, broke the bounds prescribed
To thy transgressions and disturbed the charge
Of others, who approve not to transgress
By thy example but have power and right
To question thy bold entrance on this place,
Employed it seems to violate sleep and those
Whose dwelling God hath planted here in bliss?"

To which Satan responds:

"Gabriel, thou hadst in Heaven the esteem of wise,
And such I held thee; but this question asked
Puts me in doubt.  Lives there who loves his pain?
Who would not, finding way, break loose from hell,
Though thither doomed?"

Ha, ha, ha–isn’t that funny?

Apparent Dip: …um…

Sarah: And then! And then Gabriel turns the tables and says:

"But wherefore thou alone?  Wherefore with thee
Came not all hell broke loose? Is pain to them
Less pain, less to be fled, or thou than they
Less hardy to endure?  Courageous chief,
The first in flight from pain, hadst thou alleged
To thy deserted host this cause of flight,
Thou surely hadst not come sole fugitive."

You can positively feel the sarcasm and disdain! Isn’t it great?!

Apparent Dip: …sure…

Yeah, guess you had to be there. But oh, that Milton, he cracks me up!

* Taken from, John Dryden: The Major Works, Oxford World’s Classics edition.
Excerpts from Paradise Lost: John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. David Scott Kastan (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co, 2005), 139-40.

That damn clerical error

Alternatively titled: Why I feel like a fraud…

In the different grad programs I’ve been in, one of the most common sentiments expressed among my fellow students is the fear that one day, someone will finally realize that we’re frauds–that somehow our admission to a program was/is little more than a clerical error. Given the fact that I still feel like a fish out of water when it comes to declaring myself as a graduate student in English (just a year ago I was still a history graduate student), I essentially feel like the Wandering Jew in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (except completely different, because instead of being the embodiment of some gothic, mythical anti-Semitic stereotype with an upside-down crucifix carved into my face, I’m the embodiment of a lackluster character in a boring made-for-tv movie with the word “FRAUD” stamped in flaming invisible ink on my forehead). I hate the irrationality of this feeling, but it’s there, and it’s something I’m slowly but surely learning to counteract.

Today the feeling was brought about in one of my classes. The problem, as I see it, is that I do not think in a linear fashion. I pretend that I have a method that is more “organic,” but that’s just my way of covering up for the fact that I make crap up as I go along and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t (and when it doesn’t, let me tell you…it really doesn’t). I somehow managed to ace my logic course in college (they even asked me to be a tutor the next year, to which I responded with astonished laughter), but as anyone who knows me can attest, I have my own version of “logic” and my own way of working out problems. This doesn’t mean that I can’t think in a linear/logical fashion, it merely means that it isn’t natural for me. I’ve never even been able to do any sort of mind-mapping/brainstorming type of thing because it’s too concrete and linear for my tastes. If I were to visualize my thought process, I would say it’s more like a swarm of fireflies at night, lighting up in a rather haphazard manner. After being together for thirteen years, Apparent Dip can generally map out the connections between what I say, but I have an irritating tendency to speak to people as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation (little do they know, it’s because I have been having imaginary conversations with them in my head). To make a difficult situation worse, the filter between my brain and my mouth has major holes in it. I think out loud, and too often, people assume that when I say something, it is somehow the verbal equivalent of carving something in stone.

So, back to the undergrad class I sit in on (I warned you I wasn’t linear): we were doing small group work (which I hate), and analyzing a poem. I am crap when it comes to analyzing poetry on the fly. No one in my group was talking, and I hate awkward silences, so I started working out my thoughts. And I made a mistake. Unfortunately, one of the guys in my group is someone I would describe as a problem student. He’s apparently going through a Freudian phase, which is cool and all, but sometimes not everything (such as the Holocaust) can be reduced to Freud. He tends to railroad conversations in class. He reads other books about the Holocaust during class, and he carefully dresses himself in ennui. I get the feeling that he feels like he’s gracing us with his presence and his nuggets of psychological wisdom and that he feels like he has nothing to learn from the rest of us. So when I made the mistake (I said the phrase “biblical history” and I meant, I really did, to say “biblical metaphor”) he wouldn’t let it go politely, but instead looked at me and said “Yes, but this is an English class. You can’t believe the Bible is history.” I wanted to smack him and tell him about a four-letter word that I think he should learn (granted, there were a number of four-letter words in my mind, but my mother raised me to be nice): T-A-C-T. Instead, I let the guy get to me. Why? I mean, he’s an undergrad, I’m not. I know I do good work and that I just misspoke. I know that I wasn’t saying anything really intelligent, but my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and I was actually thinking of how I had to read the next ten books of Paradise Lost by tomorrow. But I think it bothered me because, for a brief moment, I felt exposed. The invisible ink on my forehead became legible and all of the doubts I have about my ability as a scholar were seemingly there for the world to see. And this is something I really need to work on because the sad truth is: jerks exist everywhere. So the question I want to throw out to the few who have managed to read to the end of this really long, navel-gazing post is: What do you do? If you’ve had the clerical error syndrome, how do you deal with it? Can you? What do you do when someone makes you feel like an idiot? Or should I just stockpile large quantities of chocolate and wine for these (hopefully fleeting) moments of irrationality?

In addition to your regular forecast…

…keep an eye out for flying pigs.

That’s right–I finished a knitting project! I even wove the ends in. It is done, done, done. Apparent Dip was sent forth wearing a cozy scarf knit with Noro Silk Garden (a total of 4 skeins, 3 different colorways). And I finished just in time…the wind is brutal, and we have a mile to walk to get into campus. Now I just have 2 sweaters, a scarf for myself, 3 lace shawls, and other random bits and pieces to finish. I think we’ll need some more pigs.