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Seven Miles to Nowhere

Writer. Mother. Wannabe Foodie. Not necessarily in that order.

Updated: 2016-02-18T09:07:07.177-08:00


Newtown is Our Town


There is a scene in the play Warhorse where horses charge for the first time into the carnage that will become known as World War I. In that moment, the absolute change in the world is made clear. Where once a cavalry might have charged into a flurry of bullets fired from single-action riffles, the horses portrayed in the play encounter a new terror--the machine gun. Most do not make it through. They are mowed down in the unbelievable firepower released by those guns, and for the next scene their bodies lay inert and broken on the stage, while the other actors pretend that they are not there. It's a chilling scene, because it mirrors just how clueless the people back home were about the differences of this new war. How little they understood the ways that the world had changed.Later in the play, a German officer gets hold of the main character--a horse called Joey--and saves him. Where another officer would have that horse charge senselessly into another barrage of machine gun fire, this officer knows the utter futility of that action. The utter waste of sending a horse into that sort of carnage. He seems the only one who realizes the futility of sending horses into modern warfare.It's the moment when the history of war is confronted with the future--the moment when the deadly nature of technology is made startlingly visible.I feel like we are at that sort of moment right now.I'm having a hard time dealing with the tragedy in Newtown. It was hard enough to hear that it happened as I followed the news via Twitter on Friday, but it was devastating to hear that the children were all first graders--all 6 or 7 years old--the exact same age as my oldest. I look at him, so blissfully innocent of every danger, of the suffering of those people just a few states north of us. I think of him with his little friends, excited to go to school. Excited to be in a classroom with a young and energetic teacher. Excited to start each new day.I look at him and I try not to imagine him huddled in a corner with his classmates--the little boys who defeated a dad playing Darth Vader at a recent birthday party. The little kids who were so sweet and gentle when he came to school with his arm in a splint, who ushered him around so that no one could jostle his injury. I think of all the little names drawn in crooked scrawls on that cast. I try not to imagine his small, lithe body torn apart by bullets meant for a battlefield. I try not to think about what I would do, how I would make it through that, and I fail every single time.I know that I don't really know. That none of us save those twenty (twenty!) families in Newton. Those 12 families in Colorado. Those families of the 88 people who died in the last year in mass shootings. And the countless families of the countless people who have died from gunshots this year and every year before. I pray that I never do know.And then I read responses of pro-gun advocates whose immediate response is to say that there should be more guns. That this is just a mental health issue. That guns don't kill people; people kill people.True- People are at fault. But people can't put 3 to 11 bullets in each of the tiny bodies of 20 six year olds in less than 10 minutes with any old gun. Semi-automatic assault weapons do that.And for what?Why are these weapons necessary for the average citizen? And perhaps you will argue that they are not necessary, but they are a right. To that, my friend, I say bullshit. A driver's license isn't a right, but that sort of fire power is? That makes absolutely no sense.Here's the thing--I'm not advocating a total gun ban. I don't think that such a thing is possible, nor do I think it could ever happen. America is a nation of guns. But--and this is a big but--there is not a legitimate reason for most ordinary citizens to have free access to the kind of weapon that was designed completely and solely for mass body counts.Let's be clear here--when you are talking about semi-automatic weapons--about Glocks and Bushmasters and other guns capable of firing a large quantity of[...]

7-7-7 meme


Julia Broadbooks tagged me for a meme and I thought it was kind of fun:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS 
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let them know

Here's mine:
But everyone that day noticed the birds.
As the mothers drove their children to school and the shopkeepers rolled up the gates on Main Street, they saw them. Even the most jaded and unobservant among them could not help but marvel at the way that the large oak in the town square shimmered with feathers brighter than the tender buds of leaves.
The tree came alive, shifting and swirling in the windless day as each of the tiny bodies fought for dominance on the branches above. As people paused to take in the strange and wondrous sight, the day slowed until it stopped. 

Children Are Not Adults


In early June, Megan Cox Gurdon wrote what has become a much debated article for the Wall Street Journal about whether YA literature has become too dark. (You can read the original article here.) In the days and weeks that have followed, Twitter and the rest of the interwebs have exploded with discussions about the issue.I haven't been sure what it is that I wanted to add, if anything, to the debate, but today, NPR had a feature about Ms. Cox Gurdon and her arguments, and for the first time I had a chance to hear the author of the article speak more about why she made the arguments.  (You can listen to the interview here.) It made me, finally, want to respond.During the interview, Ms. Cox Gurdon said one thing that caught my interest more than anything else. Considering her general condescension toward the genre and its authors, it should say something that this is what caught my attention. She said, "Children are not adults." Her point was that children do not have the ability yet to distinguish good from bad, moral from immoral, art from trash, and that it is the job of adults (parents) to help them make those distinctions.I a point. I think that it should be the responsibility of parents to help their children make these decisions. How parents are supposed to help them if their resources include articles like the ones that Ms. Cox Gurdon wrote--articles with no substantive evidence to back up some of the claims that she made. Articles that rely more on anecdotal evidence and fear-mongering than on actual investigative reporting. Well, that's a different matter, I suppose.My point is simply this: It is true that children, that teenagers are not adults, but it is also true that literature is not propaganda.Many on both sides of the issue--those for and against what Ms. Cox Gurdon argued-- seem to miss this important fact.Now I'm not saying that literature isn't powerful and that reading can't be a transformative act. Literature is immensely powerful. Every time we pick up a book and read, we change. We become someone we weren't before, someone who has now experienced things that he or she had not before. I've spent so many years of my life studying, teaching, and (now) writing literature, because I do believe in its power.But here's the thing: Literature cannot be prescriptive.In part, this is because literary language has a slipperiness to it that is nearly impossible to pin down. An author might have certain intentions about what a book is trying to say or trying to convey, but any literature teacher (or student) worth their salt can tell you that when you're interpreting a piece of literature, authorial intentions are a moot point all together. After all, how many racists were vindicated by Twain's use of a certain unmentionable word in Huck Finn when Twain's own intention in using the word was something else entirely?More importantly, perhaps, literature cannot be prescriptive because reading is an intensely private and personal activity. Without the reader, no book and no experience of reading can be complete.  The reader finishes what the author began in authoring the book, and because each reader brings to the book his or her own sets of experiences and assumptions, no book will strike any two readers the same way.A book--whether we're talking YA or Romance or anything else--may save a reader or it may maim them, that much is true. But it may also do nothing at all. A book can change your life in any number of ways, but it does not do that simply by existing. To change a life, a book requires the reader's active involvement.This is the real problem that I see with Ms. Cox Gurdon's argument and the arguments of so many of her opponents--they give the book itself a power that it just simply does not have.For a book to injure a child in some way, the child has to finish reading it. And a child who cannot relate to some of these so-called "dark" subjects may not select those books or finish thos[...]

Finding My Tribe


See, here's the thing--I've been struggling with the idea of being a writer. I think that deep, deep down, part of me still wants to be a professor. (Probably the bossy part of me that likes assigning homework and making up exams.) Ever since last September, when I started making a real, conscious effort to write a novel, I've been very reluctant to call myself a writer.  I just didn't feel like a writer. I felt like an unemployed professor.Since September, I've been trying to figure out at what point I could say I was a writer, rather than just a frustrated SAHM who still wanted the Ivory Tower. It didn't feel like one when I sent off my first dues payment to RWA or even when I finished my first "practice" novel. I'm not even sure that it was when I got decent feedback on that novel in a contest. It wasn't when I was obsessively focused on finishing the real novel--the one that I was thinking about the whole time I wrote the practice novel. Maybe I felt a little like a writer when I was querying or emailing fulls and partials, but mostly I just felt like a fraud. I was sure that at some point someone was going to realize I hadn't been writing fiction or wanting this badly enough for me or my work to be taken seriously. I  felt like since that other thing failed so miserably when it should have worked, I didn't see how this impossible thing could possibly work. I thought that I was supposed to be a professor. For the last eight years or so, my entire identity was wrapped around that dream, that single goal. I think that was part of the reason why it's been so hard to wrap myself around this new dream.This past Saturday, my local RWA chapter, Southern Magic, had a panel of YA authors that featured Jennifer Echols, Rachel Hawkins, Rosemary Clement-Moore, R.A. Nelson, and Chandra Sparks.  They talked about their books, their lives as writers, and some of those quintessential moments that aspiring writers dream of. As they talked, I realized a couple of things. First-- there are a ridiculous number of insanely talented and very recognizably successful authors who live within a fairly short distance from where I now live. Apparently there's something in the water or air down here. Second, and probably more significantly, as they talked I realized something that even getting an agent didn't make me realize--these    really are my people.Don't get me wrong--I was a pretty decent academic. I've got the CV to prove it, even if I don't have the job. But I always felt like being around academics was really, really hard. They're just so smart! All. The. Time.  I am not smart all the time--at least not in that way. Being that kind of smart all the time requires an amount of brain power and focus that I'm not sure I have. No, I'm pretty positive I don't have it.As I listened to the panel talk this past weekend, I realized that these were the kind of people I want to be friends with--and not in a creepy stalker way. These are the people I  want as colleagues, and these are the people I want to be respected as a colleague by.  When Rachel Hawkins talk about killing all the random smiling in her manuscripts, I knew exactly what she meant. I just got done doing the exact same thing. And when Jennifer Echols talked about being able to announce the first time she sold at one of the Southern Magic meetings, I understood what she was talking about. I had just been able to announce my new agent just moments before. They speak language that I understand--a language of books and literature that has nothing to do with being able to reference obscure German or French philosophers. A language that has everything to do with the difficulty of craft and the beauty of language. More than any number of words written, or queries sent, or even offers of representation made, the writers I've come to know in the past few months are the reasons why I've started to feel more and more like a writer. And if I ever d[...]

A Virtue I Don't Possess


So here's the thing-- I have the patience of a gnat. 

No, really. I'm so bad that I tend to read the ends of books because I don't want to wait to see what happens. Sacrilege, I know.

I've never been much for waiting.  In HS I got tired of waiting to get to college, so I started taking courses at Akron U during my senior year. I graduated from Kent in only 3 1/2 years. And then I went straight to grad school and got through that fairly quickly, too.  Actually, I would have been done sooner, but the market tanked so I hung out for a while and pretended not to be done until J finished.

But the publishing industry is absolute torture for someone like me.  I'm all about the instant gratification of knowing.  I don't even care if it's bad news, as long as I know.

Right now I'm querying to agents, and let me tell you that as exciting as it is to still have 6 partials out there, the wait is k.i.l.l.i.n.g. me. 

So I'm trying to figure out what to write next. Mostly, though, I just think about what to do if all 6 of those partials turn out to be a bust.

Also I discovered Twitter, which is like crack for someone who likes to know things instantly. Thank goodness I don't have a smart phone.

So how do you keep waiting from killing you?

Upon Penalty of Death


I'd like to preface this post with a warning.  You really, really shouldn't tell me any of the following:
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • It's all part of God/Yahweh/Ganesh/whomever's plan.
  • You do have a job-- you're a mom.
  • Everything happens for a reason. (seriously- I hate that one.)

So it's been a while, eh? And while you've all been up to whatever it is you've been up to, I've been having a little bit of an identity crisis.

But I think I've worked my way through it finally. (insert applause here)

So the whole being a professor thing didn't turn out. And I'm not really cut out to be a housewife, no matter what the lady at the bank seems to think. So I've decided to go with something really realistic.  That's right.  I'm a writer!

Or at least that's what I'm telling myself until we run out of money and I'm forced to get a full-time job.

But seriously, I wrote a book.  Okay, I wrote two books, but we're not going to count the first one since it was really just practice.  The second one, though, we're totally going to count.

It's out in the world right now looking for an agent.  I'm patiently (okay, not really patiently) waiting for it to send an email home to its mama and tell me it found a fabulous job.

(Did I mention I tend to go for careers that have little-to-no chance of taking off??)

But, hey, seven (out of you don't even want to know how many) people so far actually requested to see pages. 

So stick around and we'll see what happens next.



Squeak: (out of the blue when we were driving home from preschool) God gave us things.

Me: Oh? Like what?

Squeak: Bushes.

Me: Bushes?

Squeak: And bridges.

The Bookshelf in Your Mind


In my past life, I taught literature. I was an Academic. I looked down my nose at the Nora Roberts and other Fluff that my mom read each summer. I read real Literature. I read the Greats. I forced my students to wade through the greats. And I loved it.

Then I hit a rough patch back in 2008 and I needed happily ever after instead of "Isn't it pretty to think so?" at the end of the books I read. Someone handed me Outlander. Outlander lead to Karen Marie Moning which led to Mary Balogh which led to me bringing home 10 or more romances a week from my local library and devouring them. Eventually, I had to turn to Nora Roberts. I didn't have much else left. And I fell in love with her, too.

At first I told myself (and my husband, who seemed kind of concerned with my sudden change in reading habits) that it was research. I was learning the genre so that I could understand how it worked.  Partially, I was still experiencing a residual academic shame for the scantily clad couples on the covers of the book I was checking out each week.  But I was also partially telling the truth. I really did want to figure out how those writers managed to take stories that seemed like the same plot over and over and make them fresh and engaging. I wanted to figure out what drew me to those stories.

Read the rest of this post HERE.

Winding Down


I have 11 more days in the classroom and just over a month until the big move.  Then we're off on a 2300 mile trek across the mid-west and southeastern parts of the country.  (400 miles of which will include the cat.)  Yesterday, I submitted the final paperwork for the dissertation.  Once I pay the $96 dollars to deposit, it will be officially done.  Finally.It's different than I thought it would be.  I thought it would be a happy moment.  Instead, I'm fairly indifferent.  I have boxes of research that I don't know what to do with.  Part of me thinks I should keep it, but another part of me knows that I'm never going to touch it again and probably shouldn't pay to move it.  The thing is, I always thought that my dissertation would turn into the kind of book that people might read, that might be useful to students and other scholars.  But then again, I'm sure everyone thinks that.  Now, I know that isn't the case.  I'm leaving academia and leaving that behind as well.No one (beside my poor committee) will probably ever read the thing in its entirety, but there is one page that I do hope people get to read.  Because while I am currently without career prospects, I am not without graditude.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSWriting may be a solitary activity, but this project did not happen without support.This project could not have been completed without the help of numerous libraries and librarians.  I am grateful to the Special Collections Resource Center at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale for allowing me access to the Kay Bole and Caresse Crosby collections.  Librarian David Koch was particularly kind and helpful in sharing his stories and answering my questions about these two literary women and their works.  After his retirement, Melissa Hubbard made my work in the collections a pleasure.  Sandra Spanier, of Penn State, helped direct me to the Kay Boyle papers, and other members of the Kay Boyle Society, including Thomas Austenfeld and Marilyn Elkins, were instrumental in pointing me to other sources for this project.  Kay’s son, Ian Von Frackenstein, was generous enough to allow me to quote from his mother’s unpublished papers.  I am indebted to the staff at the JFK Library for facilitating my access to Hemingway’s papers and manuscripts.  Judith Baughman and Jeffery Makala at the University of South Carolina library helped me to access Matthew Bruccoli’s Fitzgerald collection remotely.  The staff of the University of Virginia Library helped me to locate correspondence between Faulkner and his publishers.  I am also grateful to my committee for their assistance.  Michael Rothberg, John Marsh, and Naomi Reed all read portions of this project at various times and added their expertise.  Robert Dale Parker helped me formulate many of the ideas found in the Faulkner coda and Hemingway chapter.  His keen eye and extensive notes helped me polish my writing.  I am especially grateful for the guidance and support of Stephanie Foote.  She always seemed to know where this project was going far before I did, but her guidance was never prescriptive.  I’m grateful that she took a chance on a 20th century dissertation and allowed me the freedom to make this project my own.  Her guidance was astute and made the final product here infinitely better.  Any shards of brilliance contained within are directly the result of these scholars’ influence; any mistakes are, of course, my own.Finally, I am grateful to those who had to live with me while this project was being completed.  Aerin Hyun helped keep me sane when I dreamed of throwing in the towel and going back to retail.  Mary Rose Cottingham’s excitement for completed chapters and publications was inf[...]

A Farewell to, uh...stuff.


There's a for sale sign in front of our house.

That was harder to take in than we thought it would be.  Our little house isn't really ours any more.  Starting Wednesday, people will parade through it to measure it up and decide if they want it. 

I'm not really ready for this.

In order to get the house ready, I've started to sell books.  Granted, they're books that I don't want to ever have to read again.  bu-bye to Jameson and Adorno, to Veblen and Butler.  They've been sitting on my shelf for the better part of 10 years now.  I don't really want them--they're stuffy and difficult.  They're not what you curl up with at night before bed. (At least they're not what I curl up with at night.)

I don't want them-- I just want what they represent.  Selling them was a bit similar to selling the Camaro.  I knew it had to go, but the idea of and then the sight of it driving away gave me a bit of a panic attack.  Selling them means that it's really over.  They were my reference books--the tools of my academic trade.  Now they're going to grace the shelves of some young grad student (I didn't recognize the names of any of the people buying them in my department) who hasn't figured out yet that things have shifted in major and important ways in our discipline.

They're going to be someone else's future.

I'm replacing them with a single book-  The Writer's Market.  Because it's time for a new trade.

But hell if I know how that's gonna work.

PS- Stay tuned-  The new blog is in the works.



Big changes are happening. Big changes are coming.

Once I figure out a new title, I'll start a new blog.

I think it should have the word Dixie in the title. Ideas?

Best Album of 2009



Biggest Challenge of 2009


I could say that the biggest challenge was 3 months of morning sickness. I could say that it was being pregnant for a full 40 weeks. Or dealing with a three year old.

But the biggest challenge of 2009 has been dealing with the hand I've been dealt. That hand, it seems, does not include a) a job as a professor or b) a new Camaro.

We decided to have another baby last year when it was clear I wouldn't be getting a job, and for the last year I thought I was doing quite a good job of getting over that fact and mourning the career that should have been.

And it really, really should have been. I have a great project, multiple publications, and teaching awards. In a real market, I should get interviews. I should get offers.

That, it seems is not to be.

There's still the outside chance that I'll creep in through the back door. That J will somehow wrangle me into something when he negotiates his offer.

It's just not the same, though. I've never wanted to ride on anyone's coattails. I've never wanted anything handed to me, and I've worked my ass off these last eight years to be good at what I do--good enough that I should be hire-able.

I'd make a damn good professor.

J has 6 interviews already this December, and with each call he gets I realize more and more that I didn't really mourn completely, that I didn't really finish dealing with this. I want to be excited for him--I am excited for him--but every time he gets another interview, my stomach sinks and I feel like curling up into a ball and crying.

Apparently, I am not as ok with the whole situation as I thought. Apparently, I was just distracted by morning sickness, 40 weeks of pregnancy, a dissertation defense, and an increasingly whiny 3- year-old.

Apparently, this is an on-going challenge. One that doesn't seem to have any end in sight.

The problem is that I'm a planner. I decide what I want; I figure out how to get it; I make a bunch of lists and a bunch of plans; I follow through. It's what I do. I'm really not good at dealing with failing.

The biggest challenge of 2009 is to re-envision my future and who I am. It's not been going so well the last month or so.

Best Blog Find of 2009


I actually have two:

Awkward Family Photos


My Parents Were Awesome

One makes me laugh on a regular basis. One just makes me smile.

Best Trip of 2009*


I've wanted to drive down Highway 1 for a while now, but something about doing it in a blue Mustang makes it even better.Last December I had flights and hotels booked to my convention back in July or August. I assumed I would get interviews (and we all know what happens when we assume). The interviews never happened, but the tickets were non-refundable. J's convention was the following weekend in the same city, so we turned what should have been a depressing week into one of the best trips of the year.We started in San Francisco, and when a problem with the rental car company meant that we got to drive a Mustang for the price of a compact, we knew it was going to be a great trip.We headed down to San Luis Opisbo, where my baby brother lives. We saw the MissonWe ate at the Madonna Inn and I ventured into the men's room to see their waterfall urinals:We rented a boat and saw the sunset at Morrow Bay, we saw the Monarch Butterflies, we went to Paso Robles and went wine tasting. And X got to have a great time with Uncle D.But it was still 2008.We left Uncle D and kept driving down to LA- Little Man was not amused. (And Judy Garland had freakishly small feet.)After 2 hours in LA traffic.....We saw 2009 in here:We spent two days in the Magic Kingdom seeing it through 2-year-old eyes. We rode the Tea-Cups and the Elephants, we saw the Haunted Mansion transformed into Jack Skellington's house, we watched it snow, on demand in Southern California.And then we headed North once again, back to San Francisco for J's convention. Little Man and I saw the sights of the waterfront while J went to meetings and panels. I peed on a stick and we celebrated the results in a private booth in China Town followed by cappuccino and cannoli at The Steps of Rome.I could have picked our June trip to Florida with my extended family; that was also a trip to remember.The best trip of 2009, though, took us up and down the California coast. It was the trip that helped to heal the pain of not knowing where life was going and the trip that gave us something to look forward to. It was the last trip we took as a family of 3, because when we boarded the plane back to the prairie, we knew we would be 4. And that, it seemed, was a portent of all the good things that had to be coming.*I know I should be posting on best workshop or conference, but this year I haven't been to any, so I'm going back to the Best Trip post.[...]

Best Book of 2009


I read. A lot.

Let me put this in perspective for you-- I saw a woman on one of the news shows who was being interviewed for doing a blog on reading a book-a-day, and I thought, "yeah, and??"

I've always read a lot. When I was younger, I'd start devouring books before I even got home from the library. I would stay up until 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning to finish a book if it was compelling enough.

It's really no surprise that I eventually gave up the notion of being a lawyer and decided to study literature for a living. Once I started college, books got harder-- Faulkner, Morrison, Joyce, Woolf, Heller, Pynchon. The weirder, the better. I reveled in the difficulty of crazy modernist and post-modernist works. I tried to go back to Grisham, and I couldn't. It just didn't seem worth my time.

Then I picked up Twilight (no-- that's not the book of the year) sometime in 2008. Then a friend recommended Outlander.* And, between the two of those series, I remembered why I liked reading. I had been doing it so long for my work, and I had been reading so many wonderful "important" things, that I forgot that reading could just be fun.

After the great job market collapse of 2008, all I wanted to read was a happy ending. I was tired of reading about "isn't it pretty to think so," and wanted to read that someone got what they wanted and deserved. So, I started devouring romance novels.

I've never been the romance novel type-- but for the last year, I couldn't get enough of them. I've read hundreds of them, literally. I was reading one during labor to distract myself. If I think about it too much, I realize it probably verges on either pathetic or obsessive, but I don't watch much TV. Or, at least that's how I excuse it.

So the best book of 2009? Heck if I know. I do know that all of those fabulous, unheralded romance writers kept me sane this year, as I was suffering through morning sickness, dealing with pregnancy, and mourning a career that's a non-starter.

I used to look down on Romance, as a genre. It seemed too fluffy and "girly." (Heaven forbid!) But now I see it for something more. The women who write romance, and who do it well are masters of style-- they may never make it into the annals of literary history, but they're my pick for this year.

*If you have not yet read this go directly to your local library or bookstore and commence reading. As in now. It's fabulous and you will thank me for it later.

Best of 2009


I found this fabulous idea via one of my favorite blogs-- It's a way to look back at a year I haven't really blogged about. 31 Topics to reflect on-- Stay Tuned!

I'm Back


It has been months and months since I've felt like writing. They've been hard months of pregnancy and uncertainty and exhaustion.

Lately, though, I've been itching to write something. So just to catch you all up (is anyone even there anymore?):

  • Little Dude (H) was born on Sept. 13. He was not inclined to come out on his own, so we forced him along.
  • H is wonderful. He is the sweetest little thing I could have ever imagined. He rarely cries; he sleeps fairly well; he smiles and laughs all the time. I'm in love, again.
  • I have no job prospects, and I'm surprisingly ok with that. I defended my dissertation in August, and while it's sad that no one, besides my committee, will ever read the thing (There will be no Book without a Job), I'm happy to be done with it. I'll deposit it sometime in Jan., and call it a day.
  • J has been having some health problems with his Crohns. He'll have surgery for it next week.
  • We're waiting (hopefully) to see where J gets a job. He better get a job. If not, we're kind of screwed.
  • If he doesn't get a job, we'll move somewhere fun. Ohio is not fun.
  • Did I mention that I'm in love with little H?

Voices from Academe-Labor of Love


Recently, there's been a slew of articles about the dire prospects for graduate students, especially in the humanities, on the job market. The New York Times last weekend ran an article about the job prospects (or lack thereof) in the humanities. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, a columnist that goes by the pen-name Thomas H. Benton has been warning prospective grad students of the danger of attending graduate school in English. "Just don't go," he says, unless you're independently wealthy, are supported by a spouse, or are independently wealthy. Today, the most recent Chronicle has a part two to his original essay about avoiding graduate school. Apparently, he received quite a bit of mail that accused him of undermining the importance of the academy, the importance of intellectual life. And, in response, he brought up what I think is a truly important point-- that the rhetoric of doing this (i.e., academia) because we love it is at best naive, and worst, dangerous.And he's right. For what other profession do people use the rhetoric of "love" to excuse the fact that there are no jobs out there. He makes an important point, that the discipline has lost its ability to take care of its own. I see this happening in my own department. Surely enough, this spring will bring a wealth of new graduate students to visit campus. Next fall 20-30 new bodies will fill the seats in orientation. And, I can almost guarantee that no one will mention the fact that, in all likelihood, most of them will never become tenure-track professors. They may be told that we have "very good job placement" (I was). They may be told that we're an extremely strong program with a strong faculty (we are). But no one--I'd be willing to bet money on this--will tell them that they should be open to other options besides being a professor. (Other than adjuncting indefinitely, that is.) That would be tantamount to blasphemy in the hallowed halls of the ivory tower.Trust me- I know this from experience. When I told my otherwise helpful and supportive dissertation director that I would go do something else if I didn't get a tenure track job, she gave me a look that indicated that I might, possibly, have lost it.The problem, really, is that this isn't about my own piddly job market performance. It's really about a system that perpetuates cycles of exploitation--and not even on purpose. Our professors really do care about how we do--that much I know. But even they don't know how to help us do anything else but become research-oriented professors. And so, this rhetoric of the love of the profession becomes our reason for being, our entire identity.I was struck by one specific thing in Benton's latest article-- that some of the letters he received from graduate students talked about depression, some about thinking of suicide. And that floored me.But it also made me realize how very lucky I am to see this as both a vocation and a job. If I thought of studying literature as only a vocation--something so intrinsic to my identity that I could not do without it--my utter job market failure might well have been devastating.It wasn't, surprisingly enough. I had a fine time in California at Disneyland while I should have been interviewing with people. And I think that is partially because I see this as a job. I've never been one to think that work comes before family, friends, or other obligations. Especially not family. And I have an amazing family--both extended and nuclear. Every time my little guy comes up with some new idea or game, every time I tuck his sm[...]

I Want This



When Words are Personal


Sometimes I forget that what I do can impact people in a very real way. I teach literature, after all. And, while I know that there have been books that changed my life, made me more of who I am today, I don't necessarily believe that it works that way for everyone. I don't believe in any inherent quality in books or stories that has that kind of power.

(image) But then today, one of my students came up to me after class. We're reading The English Patient, this beautifully lush novel about identity and love and words and war, and my student is worried. Because in just over a month, her boyfriend will ship off to Iraq. In just over a month, the horrors that the novel depicts in poetically horrific language might become her horrors.

But she doesn't want to be rude, so she asks if it would be ok if she needs to step outside of class sometimes to get her bearings.

Just two days ago, we read a story from The Things They Carried. It's a story about the awful weight of war, the pointlessness of death, the end of moralizing stories. It's a story about a boy (because they were almost all boys over in 'Nam) who got his head blown off taking a piss. "Zapped while zipping," the story tells us. It's a story I've always loved for its ability to strip any of the romantic trappings away from war and heroism, combat and death. It has always seemed to me strangely innocent in its rawness. But it's a story that my student had to read knowing that her own reality would be intersecting with that fiction in very real ways very soon.

I forget sometimes that words matter. It's funny, really, considering that what I do is deal in words because I do think they matter.

I forget sometimes that I cannot control context, and so I selected a couple of war stories, because I happened to "like" them, for my class to read while we are in the midst of two wars. I'm conscious of the wars. I've had students who were about to leave, who had just come back from the hell that was Fallujah (where his base camp had a banner that said "will today be the day"). And yet, I so easily forgot to include that in my thinking, in my planning.

I know that The English Patient is about more than WWII, just as The Things They Carried is about more than Vietnam, but that isn't really going to help the young woman who sits in the front left side of my classroom. For her, those stories are going to be about her war, her boyfriend's war.

And every time she steps out of the classroom, I'll know it was just a little too much.

Decorating for the New Addition


It's happened much faster than I expected--my clothes officially do not fit.

At first, I was kind of excited. Since I was pregnant with X, we've gotten a Motherhood store in the mall. Last time, I had to take a trip to the closest major city to do maternity shopping, because we had zip here in the middle of the corn fields. But for some reason, the designers have decided that maternity clothes needed a little something.

Like ruffles:(image) I think the little flower detail really adds something, don't you?

Or- if ruffles aren't enough for you, you can also have a bow:
(image) Because nothing says you're pregnant like wearing a shirt that looks like your kid's birthday present.

And the thing that's really irritating me about maternity clothes is that almost all of the pants have this ridiculous belly thing going on. Pea in the Pod and Mimi and Motherhood--the major maternity brands online all have something called the secret fit belly. It's basically like a big ole' piece of Lycra that comes up over your stomach. I can understand that some people might find this a good thing. I am not one of those people.

I'm going to be really big in the summer. The hot, sweaty, icky summer. So imagine my delight at learning that shorts mostly come looking like this:
(image) Because a pregnant woman really needs that extra layer of polyester over her stomach when the temperature's hitting 90.

All in all, I'm wondering what these designers are possibly thinking. I don't want to look like I'm getting ready to go to the club or walk down the runway when I'm pregnant. I just want nice, simple clothes that don't accentuate the fact that I'm expanding by the minute.

More of Life in Limbo


Yesterday, I got an email telling me that an article I submitted a few months back has been accepted for publication. No revise and resubmit, just straight up taken.

I should feel good about it. It's not one of my dissertation chapters, but an old seminar paper that I reworked. It shows that I have more expertise in ethnic American lit. But it's hard to be excited about it. I can't help but think that it won't really matter in the long run. There's not much difference between 2 and 3 publications on a CV (or even much difference between 2 and 4 if I ever get around to revising and resubmitting another article that a journal has shown interest in.)

I'm trying very hard to distance myself from all of this, so that I'm prepared to move on in a year if I have to. But then a random article hits in a decent journal and suddenly I feel vindicated--that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

But I'm not doing it--so something's wrong. The market. My project. Something.

I was one of 15 finalists for a generalist position at a small Catholic college in Wisconsin. They asked me to fill out a pre-phone interview questionnaire.

I never got a phone interview.

How much does that suck? Because you know, straight up, that it's something I wrote in those answers to the ten stupid little questions about "gifts" and "values." I'm hoping it was because I'm not Catholic enough, because I'm not sure that I could have answered the pedagogy questions much better than I did.

I keep hearing this saying about how it's all about "fit." That's all fine and good, but what if there are just not enough shoes in the store?

So I have another line to add to my CV. I should feel excited.

But I don't.

If I had a million dollars...


I would certainly not spend it on a monkey.

But I would spend some of it on some lovely pills.

The midwife gave me two prescriptions for morning sickness yesterday. One, which costs me $5, will probably make me too drowsy to function. The other, she called "the Cadilac" of drugs for nausea. Apparently it's some special drug they give to kemo patients before they have their treatments. Apparently, it also costs something like $100 a pill. Oh-- and I don't have any prescription coverage (thank you big stupid prairie university who doesn't think I need it). The magic $100 a pill drug is one time a day with no side effects of narcolepsy.

Did I mention that it's $100 a pill?!?! That would be almost $1000 for a week of good days.

Now, the midwife said that she thought that there was now a generic form of the pill that runs more like $10 a pill, which compared to $100 a pill sounds like a steal.

Except that it's not. That's still over 300 dollars if this stupid morning--make that all frickin' day long--sickness lasts another month. (which it did with X).

So I think I'm going to try the sleep-inducing one first, because I don't know if I want to pay that much money to feel ok. For that much, I could buy J the stupid netbook he wants to thank him for taking care of me.

Seriously folks-- how much would you pay for a good day?

And the Award for Best Drama Goes To....


What is it about drama?

Certain people seem to feed on it. They love the "scene"--that moment when all eyes are upon them, when grievances are aired, when catharsis comes at the expense of others' peace.

I've never really been one of those people.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not above confronting someone or opening my big mouth when I shouldn't open it. I don't mind biting back if someone comes after me. But usually, I don't seek out drama. I have too many other things going on to want more chaos and trouble in my life.

But even from 300 miles away, drama often finds its way on our doorstep.

And to be frank- I'm kind of tired of it. To be frank- I'm kind of tired, period. I'm really tired. And sick. And downright miserable. And my poor husband isn't fairing much better, because while I'm tired and sick and miserable, he's doing everything else. EVERYTHING.** And other people are worried about us, too. Because there's nothing guaranteed about this pregnancy and we're taking things day by day. Everyone's a bit on edge. And none of us need anymore drama.

**For which I love him immeasurably.