Monday, January 28, 2008

Collegiality and Other Excitements

The new semester and a variety of small but interesting events have prevented me from posting lately. I have some new students in the class (though most are continuing from last term) and they take up extra time. In teaching I have been alternating between being TOO lackadaisical and not doing such a good job, and over-preparing which does not always lead to things being successful either. Maybe because the material is more complicated, I have had a harder time finding interesting ways to teach it.

Meanwhile, I have been very inspired on my dissertation since trip back to grad school town. I met a first-year student in my field while I was there and we have been corresponding. It is great to exchange ideas with someone who is worrying about all the same problems I have worried about! I just hope he will think me interesting enough to be worth the e-mail time! I certainly think his work is promising. Anyway, I have been writing away, slowly but with a little more confidence.

Another development on the collegiality front is that I have joined a classical reading group put together by the Lama. We have only met once so far, and I was a little over-prepared, but enjoyed it. Again, it's fun and inspiring to talk to real people about this stuff rather than JUST sitting alone with my computer. When it comes to talking shop and career-related stuff, I surprise myself by being more brave than about other things. I would expect to be more anxious and scared because it matters so much. Well, it does matter, but for the most part I feel like I just about have the skills now to pull it off, to do stuff right, to end up having satisfying interactions. This bodes well!

Finally, Saturday was quite an amazingly full day. In the morning I went down to U of C for a symposium. I was mostly interested in the morning session, which was more or less related to my field. It was a presentation by four grad students from the department there. It was not all that well attended, but I thought what they were doing was interesting and worthwhile even if I could not always agree with it. While there I also ran into one of grad school classmates who has a job there. He introduced me to everyone after that talk, including the grad students and a scary U of C professor who I only knew by reputation. There were all surprisingly pleasant and welcoming, and the grad students even invited me to go to lunch with them! I went, and enjoyed it so much. I hope to be in touch with them soon. In fact, I must remember to write some follow-up e-mails... maybe tonight, if I can stay awake...

I stayed for a couple of afternoon talks, but didn't find it quite as worthwhile as the morning. Then I had to race home (and I was a long way from home, causing myself great CTA stress), because we were having the head of Pocket of Bolts' department and his partner (also in the department) over for dinner at our place! Fortunately PoB was a prince and had prepared most of the dinner and done most of the cleaning. So when I came home there was only a manageable amount of racing around and fussing left to be done. And I do think the dinner went well, though it wrecked havoc on our diet. Well, you can't serve guests diet food, after all! I ate a lot less than I would have otherwise, but still used many flex points... Among other things, got rather tipsy which, combined with the exhilaration of the day, made me uncharacteristically chatty. But PoB said I was fine, fun and bubbly.

Well, I must go. It's a school night and there's plenty still left to do. Sorry no pictures! My camera battery has been dead and I just haven't even had time to recharge it. Which shows how little time I've had; working out, among other things, is a surprisingly large time commitment, but nothing even comes near how much time I spend teaching...

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Truant Returns

Last Thursday and Friday I went back to grad school town to have a meeting with PhD adviser. Since I haven't been there in over a year and a half, needless to say it was a bit of a shock. Most of the people I had known were out of the country or on the job market. It was especially disturbing when I first arrived. The department secretary didn't recognize me, and I couldn't connect to the wireless. I went about like a lost soul, half regretting that I wasn't meeting up with anyone I knew and half dreading meeting anyone I knew--especially professors I had failed to particularly cultivate. Also, there were almost no unassigned carrels in the library, and all the people up there were strangers.

I did this that and the other for a while. Felt a lot better after naughtily wolfing down a substantial snack of sushi. For dinner, I went out with three of Pocket of Bolts' friends. It was a little awkward, given that PoB hadn't actually come with me, but they were all friendly and kind, and we did our best to make conversation. After dinner (I had a small beer; hadn't had one in ages because of they points and it was SO good!), I tagged along with DBake, with whom I was stay. DBake's girlfriend is going to be one of my bridesmaids, which is why I felt okay about crashing in their spare room. But she was out of town.... It was a little awkward, but not so awkward as to warrant a $200 hotel room...

Actually I got a lot of work done in their house, an exact copy of the house PoB and I used to live in. I felt so nostalgic, despite having become spoiled by the pleasures of proper heating and insulation. The place was COLD! I curled up under my coat and banged out several pages of dissertation, sitting in the old red velvet chair that PoB had bequeathed to DBake, as it had been bequeathed to him. The persistence of grad school furniture!

I slept in a sleeping bag on the futon in their study and had dreams about running away from bad guys, a standard thesis anxiety trope, don't ask me why.

The next morning, I slept in, had an incredibly decadent bagel for breakfast--with butter! (OMG, delicious) In the cafe, I did run into someone I knew, one of my younger classmates. She was very surprised to see me. I was surprised by how beautiful she had become! Truly, a flower in blossom. We agreed to meet for lunch, with a number of other people I knew slightly or not at all. Then I went on a bibliographic wild goose chase in the library.

The lunch was amazingly fun. More people kept arriving! I felt like the queen for a day, or the general reviewing the troops. I dispensed advice and reassurance about qualifying exams to someone who was about to start them, talked about China to the Chinese students, met the new ones, the first and second years. It filled me with great happiness. I MISS them, even the ones I don't know! It is my natural community. On a wave of good fellowship we all went to get tea at the department, and chattered away about everything. I felt quite sad to go, but of course I had the momentous meeting with adviser to prepare for.

The meeting went surprisingly well. The upshot of it was, keep doing what you're doing. You'll have to condense, and take out the sloppy bits, redoing them rigorously in the introduction. But don't worry about that now. Just keep on. Though we did discuss the problematic issues some. I felt very on, like I had worthwhile things to say, like I knew enough to have a substantial discussion. Adviser knew enough too. He's made progress in the last few years, an awful thing to say but true. In this field, the wholes in a person's knowledge are quite apparent, and in past years I had been especially critical of his. But he has been filling them in. Education is an unending pursuit, and that's a good thing about it.

Contrary to my fears, I left the meeting feeling encouraged about the work. The sun was going down and it was time for me to head to the airport. It's sad that a person can't be in two places at once, because I really wished I could work all day in at grad school and come home to PoB in Chicago at night. Grad school provides all kinds of small supports and encouragements that it's hard to even notice when you're in the middle of it, but when you don't have them anymore...

Well, nothing lasts forever. I will graduate eventually and be pushed all the way out into the mean old real world. The main thing is to write a good dissertation and get a job somewhere that has an actual department in what I do, colleagues to talk to, and try to get back some of that community feeling.

Last picture is the campus train station at dusk. Journey of a thousand miles...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Photos from the Holidays at Home

Just some pictures from Christmas break with the family. First, some food! My mom greeted my arrival at home with a gorgeous fancy soup and salad meal.

My bro and I made quiche for dinner on Christmas eve. We were quite willing and happy to make something all fancy, but quiche was what dad decided on, and we were all quite happy with how it turned out. I made the pattern on the top (it was a little more symmetrical before it went in the oven), with a lot of critique from my art professor bro. :D

Here we are in our various Christmas morning attitudes. Mom in her new Christmas shawl:

Me under my new Christmas coat:

My dad and bro putting together new Christmas toys:

For some reason it was an especially pleasant Christmas morning for me. I can't say exactly what about it. It was low-key and fun, not overly extravagant--we only got a few presents each--but very full of love and joy.

In the evening my sister and her two boys, and my niece and her two girls came and filled up the house with playing and chattering. My nephew Twintree is getting to be such a teenager! but somehow after shyness to start we always find something in common. This time around, he taught me how to make a Jacob's Ladder!

Here is a picture of Dad putting together a puzzle I got him from the Art Institute. It's Frank Lloyd Wright's Seguaro window, and was very different from your average puzzle. I thought it kind of easy, but Dad found it hard! It was definitely pretty.

The last big set of pictures I can't post here but let's just say that I finally found that expensive white dress I've been looking for--and NOT at David's Bridal, but at a really nice little shop that got driven out beyond the city limits when the David's Bridal came in. We went there by recommendation and found just the thing.

All in all it was a very happy holiday, and if it hadn't been for missing my dear husband to be so much, I would have been very sorry to leave. But the parents can't complain of my filiality this year, as I've enriched the airlines considerably with my jetting back and forth on wedding business.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Year Stuff

Here I am in 2008. I won't say that Pocket of Bolts and I made New Years resolutions, per se, because those have kind of a bad name. New Years resolutions seem made to be broken. Let's just say we decided to makes some changes, starting on January 1. Probably the most dramatic change is a more concerted effort to lose some weight, or at least stop gaining so much. Neither of us had ever been on an actual diet before, probably for very similar reasons--the feeling of indignity, disgust with popular culture's obsession with them, and of course pure and joyful enjoyment of self-indulgent eating. But all good things come to an end, and I guess this years is the year we lose our dieting innocence and learn that a bagel is six times more fattening than a pita, and a serving of pork chop should be the size of our palm, etc. Self-indulgent eating had been starting to become a long slippery downhill slope.

Now we are one week and one day into it, and already I look upon a picture like this one with considerable nostalgia. We made these cookies (Pocket of Bolts' mother's family recipe) for a December cookie and cocktail party we went to, where we consumed probably 3000 joyfully sugary and alcoholish calories. Now I haven't had a cookie of eight days. It's not that I COULDN'T have one, but it doesn't seem worth it... Oh well, I still get to enjoy what I call Pocket of Bolts' Jude Law face, a hilarious mock-haughty supercilious look, ha ha. Actually in this particular picture he looks more like an angry butler, but take my word for it, sometimes he looks very much like Jude Law.

Here's me turning over a new leaf in the form of an enormous Asian pear. I actually bought this in East Lansing, at a little Asian grocery by the train station. The guy in the store said that the big ones are most sweet, but my dad said they're all water and don't have very much flavor. I'm not a very good judge right now, being that I'm so hungry everything I eat has a lot of flavor, even things I normally wouldn't touch like skim milk, cabbage, and (shudder) Splenda. Okay, I still think Splenda's incredibly gross, and hoard up my points so that at the end of the day I can have one little piece of real chocolate...