Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Goals 2010

My junior year of high school, I created a binder for colleges I was interested in. I made a chart that included the size of each school's student body, the average SAT score, the tuition, and the application deadline. When it came to where I went to school (and there was never a question of IF I would go to school), I was prepared to be extremely organized and pragmatic.

But I only visited three schools. Earlham was too flat and empty (never mind that it was during its winter break). Centre College in Kentucky made the mistake of bragging that its frat parties and sorority parties were open to everyone. When I visited Denison University for the first time with my friend (who also ended up at Denison) and her dad, I felt like I belonged there. There was something about the hilliness of the campus and the way students moved: they walked quickly, as if eager to get to class, and seemed to smile at and nod to each student that passed. It wasn't my binder that convinced me to choose this school; it was my intuition. Denison was the only school to which I applied.

Of course there will always be a logical component to our choices in life - I wouldn't have gone to Denison had I not gotten scholarships and support from my parents - but we should also trust our instincts. The times I think I've gone most astray are when I privileged logic over feeling, instead of relying on both.

So I'd like to jump in. A part of me wants to aim for July to begin my MFA, using the March deadline as motivation to get into gear. But balancing guts and logic, I think the better option is to start next winter - July is that deadline. This will give me time to figure out finances, which job (if either) I want to quit, and to write a great admissions essay. I also want to get down to Asheville, visit the campus and professors.

This feels right, and it makes sense for me. (I'm taking for granted that I'd be accepted -- eek!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 in review (cont.)

I suspect I'll do this a lot--review the past year--as it gives me a chance to do two of my favorite things: think about stuff, and try to make sense of it.

In so many ways, personally, it's been a great year.

I went to Australia and had an unforgettable experience there. There are moments--maybe I'm washing dishes (it happens every once in a while!), or trying to fall asleep, or silently cursing the driver in front of me who suddenly stopped to make a left but didn't use a turn signal--and I'm back down under. I'm nuzzling up to that stoned koala bear; I'm snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. Megan and I are trying on fashion hats and picking out boomerangs.

In July I went to Paris with my brother and his (then) girlfriend. I so enjoyed showing him the sights I had loved as well as experiencing new parts of the city.

And I've continued to write pretty regularly. Actually, when I look at the monthly breakdown, in 2008 I was only writing an entry about every week or every other week. But in 2009, I went from two or three posts a month to ten or fifteen per month. The increase roughly corresponds with my switch from full-time library work to part time (lose benefits, gain writing time!) Whether I'm feeling depressed, excited, melancholy, nervous or even, every once in a while, happy, I've updated.

It's through writing and reading my posts that I came to realize that I want to enter an MFA program; I've realized that many times. (Though realizing something and acting on it are two completely different things... Pending post: "Goals for 2010!")

Someone recently tweeted that 2009 is the George Bush of years. Looking at national and international events of the past year, it's easy to see that. Me, I'm still floating a bit, bouncing off walls, watching, waiting so see if I'll land. Maybe not until 2012 or 2015 (or whatever year in the future) will I be able to see the significance of this year (or lack thereof).

Sunday, December 27, 2009


My only aunt is back in the hospital, and Wednesday she was sedated and put on a ventilator. Thursday, after I picked up my 94-year-old grandfather from his house, he received a call from the hospital that she'd crashed and they'd had to shock her. We turned around and went straight to the hospital, where she had stabilized. I brought my grandfather back to his house, so he could get his car and return to the hospital while I went over to my mom's for Christmas Eve dinner.

He called with updates throughout the evening (more to reassure us that nothing had changed as we ate lasagna, split up the pecan pie he'd made, opened presents, and played trivial pursuit).

It's been incredibly surreal. I was glad to get back to work at the library yesterday. I need to take this extra time I have to catch up on grading and get organized for the rest of the quarter (as well as the beginning of next); but more likely, I see myself twiddling away the hours, waiting for something to happen.

Edited to get rid of a couple words.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

2009 in review

Sometimes things take a while to sink in. Reality changes, but we don't recognize the paradigm shift until much later.

I watched an interview last week with a mom and her two children who were a part of a larger group of African-American mothers and daughters who went to see Disney's latest movie, "The Princess and the Frog." This was the first Disney movie to have an African-American protagonist, and the mom discussed how important it was for her daughters to see a princess who "looked like them." It wasn't that she wanted her daughters to grow up and become princesses but that she didn't want them to grow up thinking that their options were somehow limited because of the color of their skin. She brought up the experiment, first conducted in 1939 but then replicated many times thereafter, in which little girls who were African American preferred white dolls over black dolls. How sad, she suggested, that they thought the doll that looked most like them wasn't beautiful.

But our reality is changing, and the moral arc of the universe is bending. Until this year, we only had one image of what an American President could look like (Morgan Freeman notwithstanding). I'm reminded of a Langston Hughes poem, written in 1925, called, "I, Too, Sing America":

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

When I hear the rhetoric about "Real America," the unfounded challenges to Obama's nationality, I also hear the echoes of those who sent Hughes to eat in the kitchen. I think, aren't they ashamed? But those voices are on the wrong side of history and will slowly become more obsolete. I look back at this past year and think Obama has accomplished a great deal; once (and if) the noise dies down, we'll better recognize that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

(Not) Good Country People

Did you notice? The last post was written from 3rd person point-of-view? It felt weird and uncomfortable, as if I were representing someone else's views and opinions instead of my own. I hated writing essays for school; I procrastinated until all semblance of writer's block faded with the daylight. But I really enjoyed writing personal or reflective pieces, as well as fiction.

Someone wrote that it's much easier to agree on nothing than it is to agree on something. While "nothing" is always zero, there are many possible "somethings." This is why the Republicans were able to vote together so much during the Bush years, and this is why the health care reform process has been so painfully slow during the Obama era. I listen to the debate on the left: public option, and what kind of public option? Medicare buy-in? Subsidies? How much? They're debating actual issues! Compare that to the objections and self-removal from the process by the Republicans.

My point, here, is that when writing in 3rd person, I listed some typical liberal positions: gay marriage, universal health care, removal of troops, etc. But what I love about the democratic party is that it really does have room for a variety of positions. I know many people who call themselves democrats that don't support gay marriage, or that don't think a single-payer health care system is a viable option, or that believe our military has important roles to play in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are many "somethings" democrats, liberals, progressives, whatever we are, believe in. We may not always agree on a singular point of view, but that's so much better than the alternative: a belief in "nothing."

I'm reminded of a quote (in bold, below) from Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People." Joy-Hulga (named "Joy" by her mother, she lost her leg as a child; she changed her name to "Hulga" in order to accurately reflect the ugliness she felt) is being seduced by a used bible salesman. He wants her to remove her artificial leg. She initially refuses, as "she took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private." She asks hims why he wants to see it.

He says, "Because it's what makes you different. You ain't like anybody else."

Well with that, Joy-Hulga removes her artificial leg: "it was like surrendering to him completely. It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his."

But this being a Flannery O'Connor story, the used bible salesman steals the artificial leg after she resists him. He says to her, "You just a while ago said you didn't believe in nothing. I thought you was some girl!"

Unfortunately, Joy-Hulga had assumed he was just "good country people." She says, "You're a fine Christian! You're like them all - say one thing and do another."

He explains that he wasn't born yesterday and adds, "you ain't so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!" He leaves her stranded in a barn loft without her leg.

(Before we read O'Connor in class, I tell the students that she's my favorite short story author. After they've read the stories, many are slightly incredulous: such ugly and offensive characters!)

Anyway, even though the republican party is supposedly the Christian party, the party of "family values," it reminds me of O'Connor's Bible salesman. The party of "no." I wish there were more moderate voices on the right, joining the conversation. There is common ground between all people, but the right refuses to concede that. And as the party continues to push out moderate voices, it will become even more insular. Either way, I like my big tent: everyone's invited.

Edited to add a quote from Steve Benen's article in the Huffington Post that explains much more articulately just what I meant:

Progressive activists and progressive wonks are at each other's throats this week, but they want largely the same goals. Their differences are sincere and significant, but the intensity of their dispute is matched by the potency of their arguments.

And then turn your attention to the other side of the divide, and notice the quality of the arguments conservatives and Republicans have offered -- and continue to offer -- in this debate. Death panels. Socialism. Hitler. Government takeover. Socialized medicine. Incomprehensible charts. Incessant whining about the number of pages in a proposal.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where's My Unicorn?

An Obama supporter said yesterday about the Obama presidency and its current trajectory, "I'm very disappointed. I wanted my unicorn. Where's my unicorn?"

Many of us recognize that our expectations were high. But we didn't think they were unrealistic - after all, we helped get him elected. A lot of us expect gay marriage to be legalized; we expect our troops to come home from wherever they are; we expect a return to science and a strong commitment to combating global warming; we expect single-payer health insurance, quality public education and affordable higher education, sooner rather than later. These aren't exactly unicorns.

Marc Ambider, editor of the politics section of the Atlantic, asks, "Does Obama Hate Liberals?" He quickly answers that no, Obama does not hate liberals but instead "harbors contempt for ideologically driven special interest constituency politics." For the past couple years, many of us have projected our own beliefs onto him, our own struggles and aspirations. Because how he talks and approaches issues seem to account for disparate points of view (during the campaign, in particular), we have felt heard and validated. But when it comes to choosing a policy or direction, we see that our point of view was not chosen - instead it's some middle road that leaves us scratching our head. Still, he's the president of the United States, not liberal America or Blue State America. Obama has said on many occasions, don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

And so we wait. Health care reform will pass, barely. Many of us will be bitter because it will lack a public option or Medicare buy-in. But even with the public option, the reform would still represent tinkering around the edges; it would still be a far cry from single-payer. The bill is better than what we have now, though. The bill isn't perfect, and it may not even be good, but it's something. It's a start.

We still expect unicorns, but hopefully we can settle for a decent horse.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wait and See

I've got one class going pretty smoothly. After many quarters, each one with alterations and improvements, I've gotten comfortable, with few surprises. I've taught my other class three times - should be enough time to make changes. But this one has doubled in size each quarter. Behaviors that worked for a few people don't work for a couple dozen. This quarter especially, I'm dealing with a winter break that eats up much of our class time. I made concessions to the syllabus. Adjusted expectations. While I consider this to be one of my strong suits - my flexibility and my ability to reflect and adapt - I think I've come across this quarter much weaker. And so today, when much of the class was absent due to sickness, job interviews, and omigodihaveabigtesttomorrow ("let's skip English to study!") I see the result of my lax attitude.

I give weekly quizzes in the first class, as soon as class begins. This results in great attendance as well as punctuality, not to mention the fact that students get immediate feedback on how they're doing. I think next quarter I'll start doing the same thing in the second class. It's literature, so the quizzes will be over the readings.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

If 40 is not the new 12, then 29 is not the new 21.

I always enjoy Judith Warner's writing over at the New York Times. Until recently, she penned the weekly column, Domestic Disturbances, in which she wrote about motherhood and modern life. Now she contributes to the Opinionator, where her columns have a similar focus. I like her style and voice - personal, honest, smart - and how she looks for connections between trends and behaviors, using herself and her family as models.

In her most recent column for the Opinionator, "40 Is Not the New 12," Warner describes a piece about bullying that she attempted to write a few years ago. She wanted to visit a girl who had been "particularly cruel" to her in junior high in order to reach some kind of understanding. Warner was unable to locate the "bully," but she did fine another classmate who remembered things differently: Warner wasn't bullied; rather, Warner deserted her and others for a more popular clique.

The piece goes on to describe and reflect on the nature of memories, especially of a time in each of our lives so wrought with daily crises and hormones. She wonders about the impulse of mothers to revisit these experiences, using their daughters as proxies:
These days, I come back a lot to memories of 7th and 8th grade (and the unreliable narrators of those memories), because my elder daughter, Julia, is now in 7th grade, which means, of late, that she lives in a world filled with endless girl dramas of the most unfortunate and, alas, ordinary kind.

Warner suggests that parents, especially--or uniquely?--mothers, want to make sense of their children's experiences, or at the least, help the children make sense of those experiences. Frame them in some kind of narrative, one that allows them to dismiss some experiences and heighten others. But, she concludes,

I’m not sure that our selves really are so continuous. And the experiences of childhood are not really as universal — i.e., as accessible to us as parents — as we’d like to believe.

That is, each of us has a right to our daily traumas; on our own, we'll write our narrative.

I enjoyed reading this piece, but it was the comment section that drew my attention more than Warner's column itself. Many reflected on being bullied, being bullies, or being both. Others wondered about their own children. A few described experiences at lunch with distracted peers, texting their daughters, being BFFs. But one wrote the following:

Maybe it would be good if the economy collapsed totally or we had a total war like WWII so women would have to spend all their time focused on tilling the fields, working in factories or doing something constructive to keep themselves and their families in food, shelter and clothing, leaving them no time to think about the silliness that is the subject of this article. I cannot imagine productive intelligent women (whether holders of one or more degrees or possessing little education) wasting time on such foolishness. Indeed, I'll bet women who were successful mothers in years past never did.

If only women would chop Maslow's hierarchy of needs in half: food, clothing, shelter. None of that silly happiness stuff and, god forbid, self-actualization, this commenter implies.

Actually, I think many of us - men and women alike, though I imagine (maybe wrongly?) that it's women, more so - experience that guilt. We know that there are those with real problems: hunger, homelessness, lack of opportunities. We know that regardless of what's going on in our own life, someone, somewhere, has it far worse. We know it's a relative luxury to wonder about things, to seek meaningful connections. But I also think that this knowledge contributes to our ambivalence - dually holding the desire for better and the fear and guilt of having better.

And I'm realizing that, in general, women aren't encouraged to do and have better in the same way that men are.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grown-up Things

My manager, today, told me I should really look into buying a house "because you'll get an $8000 credit, which is great." She said that if I'm handy at all, I could get a place that needs repairs for really cheap. I replied that I'm not handy at all, but she counted that all I need to do is be able to read, and I could figure the rest out. Eek. It's one thing if I'm married and have a husband who likes to "fix" things. But the idea of being personally responsible for the maintenance of an entire home fills me with dread and discomfort. I still haven't brought myself to call my landlord about a slow drain (it's in my kitchen sink; I don't do dishes enough that it's gotten in my way).

I guess it is a "grown up" thing to do - buy a house. But I know myself: I'm not ready, financially or emotionally.

Speaking of emotional, the U.C. Bearcats coach who led the team to consecutive Big East titles and, this year, to an undefeated season, has accepted the job at Notre Dame. There are a lot of heavy hearts here in Cincinnati. As someone who came from a Catholic family - Dad's side Irish - I grew up rooting for the Fighting Irish. My family and I went to South Bend when I was a child just to see the campus, and then again when I was in junior high to see a football game. (My dad and brother were there when they filmed the crowd scenes for the movie "Rudy.") We went again a few years ago for a game - they played Purdue and came from behind to win.

I'm sad for U.C. Like many others, I jumped on this bandwagon of success. But I've been cheering on Notre Dame for much longer, and I hope Brian Kelly does well there. Just as I hope that the new coach of the Bearcats is able to pick up where Kelly left off.

Edited to change "kitchen sin" to "kitchen sink.":)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterback

I learned a long time ago that I'm not cut out for sports. My throws are awkward and if you yell at me to catch something, I'm much more likely to duck instead. In other words, you don't want me on your team.

But something strange happened when I took a biology class in high school. If we reported the score of the previous night's Cleveland Indians baseball game on our quizzes, we could earn extra credit. (This seems much stranger to me now than it did at the time!) By checking that little box score every day, I became a baseball follower. And I quickly transferred that to our home team, the Cincinnati Reds. I learned stats, abbreviations, records. Soon, my competitive nature took over. While I couldn't throw to save my life, I could do it vicariously through Barry Larkin. Hal Morris. Jason LaRue.

Cincinnati is a wonderful sports town, full of passionate and dedicated fans. From the Bearcats to the Bengals to the Reds, the success of our teams lifts the spirits of an entire city; it certainly lifts mine.


Saturday, December 5, 2009


December 4th, my mom and I had gone downtown to the Main library. I borrowed a John Grisham book. That night, in the house we'd been living in for less than a month, I picked out a melon-colored teeshirt and plaid pullover hoodie to wear on Monday.

But for all those details I remember about December 4th, I don't recall a thing about the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. I collected details afterward. My backpack, weighted down with textbooks, dented the front of the police car that hit me. That melon shirt and plaid hoodie were cut off of me in the ambulance.

Anyway, today's another fifth of December. I woke up at 1am and was unable to fall back asleep. I think about those things I don't remember more than the things I do remember. This date doesn't pass quietly for me.

I'm looking forward to sleeping tonight; maybe I'll write a bit more, grade some papers, clean.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quick note

I have to laugh. Forster's oft-quoted (by me) phrase, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" comes back to me as I look at my past few entries. They're all about gratitude, goodness, optimism. This strikes me as amusing because a. I certainly didn't plan that, and b. usually around this time of year I'm somewhere on the spectrum between melancholy and depression. It's typically seasonal, and I muddle through it. Ah, I'm not complaining. Just waiting for a shoe to drop.

But even right now: I'm finishing grading stories--I resent that I have to put numerical grades on creative pieces, although some certainly show more effort and polish than others--and getting ready to watch one of my favorite shows, "Glee." It's a show that exudes optimism and spunk, bordering on corniness.