Monday, September 28, 2009


I've written 63 pages in the last two weeks. I have at least 30 more pages to write this week. I really don't know what this exam is supposed to prove, since I doubt there will ever again be a period in my life when I need to write quite so much in such a small amount of time. It seems like the only point of this is the hurdle itself: prove that you have the tenacity to complete this assignment and we'll let you suffer through writing a dissertation for us.

While I've been holed up in my apartment, people have been going to Oktoberfests and football games and having actual weekends without me. I'm jealous, of course, and yet there are also moments when this is strangely soothing. Last night it was just after midnight and I was sitting in my home office finishing up last week's papers. My thoughts were flowing freely for once (the perfect combination of adrenaline and too-tired-to-waste-time-doubting-my-ideas), my fingers were clattering over the keyboard, I had classical music playing on Pandora,* I had a box of saltwater taffy on stand-by for when I ran out of steam on the typing. My boyfriend was in bed in the other room and, in addition to wanting to be in bed with him there were a dozen places I would rather have been at that moment. And yet at the same time there is nothing else I wanted to be doing more than what I was doing right then: reading, thinking, writing, putting the puzzle pieces of a theory together in a way that it clicked for me, even if it won't necessarily click in the same way for anyone else.

There are not a lot of moments in life when I am completely convinced that I've chosen the right career path, but throughout this process I've been reminded again and again that I am doing this because I want to do it, and that no matter what happens at my defense in a few weeks I am going to get over this arbitrary hurdle and finish this degree because right now I'm not supposed to be doing anything else.

Thank God for intrinsic motivation.

*I used to scoff at the idea that classical music was helpful for studying, and yet personal experience has proven to me that a surefire way to really understand heavy reading material is to turn off all other technological distractions and listen to streaming classical radio. The combination of theory+classical music just clicks in my brain. I don't mock those studies anymore.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Where I'm At

From: My Former Undergrad Professor Now Working on Her PhD at A Different University
To: Me
How is the PhD stuff going?

From: Me
To: My Former Professor
I'm taking my comprehensive exams right now. Well, technically right now I'm on Facebook, but you know what I mean. I work on them for the next three weeks. I defend the exam in October. I'm dreading the defense even more than the writing. This is how I anticipate it going:
Prof: Why did you choose to cover Topic A instead of Topic B?
Me: Um, because I already had a bunch of books at Topic A at home so it required a little less effort?
Prof: You wrote about Era C, but you didn't bother to mention Very Important Person from Said Period. Why not?
Me: Because I don't really know anything about VIP, so I thought it was better to just pretend he didn't exist. Is that not okay?
Ugh. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

From: My Former Professor
To: Me
I have a strategy planned out for my comprehensive exam defense, too:
Prof: You wrote about Era C, but you didn't bother to mention Very Important Person from Said Period. Why not?
Me: (Take off all of my clothes. Smile broadly.)
My plan is based on the fact that two out of my three committee members are in their seventies. I figure the shock will kill at least one of them. The others will be in a stress-induced coma. When they ask me, "What were their final words before they died?!" I'll say, "They gasped and then said, 'You pass.'"
I will only resort to this plan if I have to say "I don't know" more than three an hour. You are more than welcome to borrow my idea, although I am approaching 50 and I have a bit more potential to shock and appall my committee.

From: Me
To: My Former Professor
That's such a good idea! Unfortunately, my committee is relatively young and spry, so it might be harder for me to shock them to death. Although I have another plan inspired by a friend who defended her MA when she was nine months pregnant. She was a week away from her due date at the time, and she said that everyone was so terrified she was going to go into labor at any minute that they were basically like, "Congratulations, you passed! Now get out of here, you're making us nervous!"
Unfortunately, the whole be-so-pregnant-that-everyone-is-either-pitying-me-or-terrified-but-either-way-just-wants-me-out-of-the-conference-room plan couldn't be put into action for comps. But I suppose if I time the next couple of years verrrrrry carefully and get lucky (or unlucky, maybe...dissertating while pregnant doesn't sound fun) I could still put the plan into action for my dissertation defense.

From: My Former Professor
To: Me
Great idea! Hard to get pregnant at 47...bummer. I think you should seriously consider doing it for the dissertation defense. And, if the baby comes early, bring him/her along and about half an hour into the defense say, "Don't mind me, I just need to nurse. Continue with your questions." Ha!
I came up with one more plan: Walk in with a mask. "Hi everyone, I just found out I have swine flu! Don't get too close!"
Enough plans. Happy writing!

Also, there is this:

From: Nicole
To: Everyone Writing Comprehensive Exams
Does anyone else feel like all of a sudden they can only comprehend very simple ideas and write those in very simple sentences?
I like English. It is good. It tells stories.
(Don't use that, anyone! It's mine!)

From: Me
To: Everyone
At least you're writing sentences. I just keep thinking, "Wait, you mean I can't just keep reading things and making outlines? I actually have to
write thirty pages at some point this week? Well, crap. Can't you just look over my outline? It makes all the points I would have made anyway, and you don't have to put up with the torture of reading my poorly strung together sentences."

From: G
To: Everyone:
I. Response
A. Same as *A*
1. Outlines
2. Ideas
B. Different from *A*
1. Formulate outline with source in mind
2. Discover no English version of source, despite TONS of critical research found
3. To reformulate argument, check out more books
4. Almost hit borrowing limit from library
5. Drive 45 minutes to borrow book from J.
C. Subtext/Additional Questions
1. Why am I reading MORE at this point?
2. Why is it Wednesday already?
3. I wonder if wine would help this response?

From: J
To: Everyone
Women, please, some of us are trying to surf the net for critical theory Clifs Notes!

From: Mari
To: Everyone
We sincerely apologize for interrupting your Wikipedia time.
Also, do our committee members really find it necessary to write on every section of our questions that we should fully and accurately cite our sources? I think we've got that part...

From: G
To: Everyone
Accurately cite that, bitches!
I am using the MS Word Thesaurus way too much. It first started when I appropriated Nicole's three word sentences that she already claimed. Now I think I'm just going to quote and cite Nicole's e-mail...which I would have to look up how to format Chicago style.

From: Me
To: Everyone
We have to do this for seventeen more days? BLARGH!
P.S.-Resorting to drinking soon. It always worked for theory seminar response papers...

From: Nicole
To: Everyone
I think I have swine flu.
Great timing.

Don't you wish you were me right now?

Goodbye until October!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Conversations on the Way to the Beach

Me: I was just trying to figure out if I like to do anything crafty at all.
Penn: Crafty? Why would you want to do crafts?
Me: That's just it. I don't. I don't want to scrapbook or paint or crochet or do anything like that. Maybe every now and then, but not on a regular basis. I don't think I have any crafty hobbies.
Penn: No. You just like to organize things...That's about it.

Me:It really bothers me when song lyrics aren't correct.
Penn: I know.
Me: It's okay if someone writes a song that's all just grammatically incorrect nonsense. Like some of the Beatles stuff, that doesn't bother me. But you either have to make most of the song grammatically incorrect and just run with it, or else you can't make any mistakes at all. You can't just throw one grammatically incorrect phrase into the song. Then people wonder if you did it on purpose or if you don't even realize you released a song with a mistake.
Penn: People don't wonder that. YOU wonder that.

For the record, Maddi still calls me every time she hears that Fergalicious song from a couple of years ago just because she knows it infuriates me that the song puts an E in Tasty. It is a bit of an obsession, I suppose. It's not like you can't make grammar and spelling mistakes on your own, but surely with all the steps an album has to go through before release, someone could point out that "most loneliest" isn't acceptable.For example. I'm just saying.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You're Getting Very Sleepy...

I just got a letter from my landlord letting Penn and I know that we can renew our lease for another year. And she's not even increasing our rent! Hooray! That's a huge weight off my shoulders. Our current lease is up October 22nd and if we had to move next month the timing would be terrible. I'm writing my exams until the first week of October and I know these exams are going to be so time-consuming that it's going to be hard to find time to eat and sleep during the next three weeks, much less keep up with my assistantship and tutoring work. House-hunting would have been almost impossible. Then we would have had only a couple of weeks to pack and get situated in between my exams and our upcoming trip to Europe. [I'll have to talk more about that in another post; we're almost definitely going to Europe in November but almost all of the details--even seemingly obvious things like "where?" and "when?"--are still to be determined.] Basically, moving next month would have been a logistical nightmare.
Plus I just don't want to leave this condo yet. I really, really love it here. The location has proven to be even better than we anticipated. It's quiet, Penn and I both have very easy commutes from here (he can bike to work in five minutes, it doesn't get easier than that!), we can walk to the grocery store, our neighborhood is full of every variety of restaurant you can possibly imagine (Chinese, Thai, Japanese, seafood, Argentine, Italian, Peruvian, barbecue, pizza, wings, hamburgers, kosher, amazing Honduran taco trucks...), we can bike a mile to a path that takes us into the center of City A, we can walk or bike to the subway station and be downtown in 25 minutes or in our town center in 10. The biggest complaint I have about any of our neighbors is that one of them occasionally smokes on his balcony and on cool nights when our windows are opened we can sometimes smell the smoke. Big deal. I still love the way the owners painted this condo, and I'm really cooking regularly for the first time in my life, something I attribute almost entirely to our awesome kitchen that I love to use. And just last month I finally finished hanging all of the artwork Penn and I never took the time to frame when we first moved in together or aquired over the past year. I hung up all of our art (note: I'm using the term "art" loosely, as our art mostly consists of free postcards I brought home from Russia and maps and album covers) and now it feels even more like home here. Oh, and our new (to us) fifty-inch (!) TV was delivered the other day and I definitely don't want to carry that beast downstairs for at least a year.
Knowing that we can stay here for another year is a relief. And who knows what will happen by this time next year. There's a possibility that Penn's office may move locations and we may opt to move closer to it. We took a homebuyers' class over the summer and determined that we aren't ready to buy quite yet but we may be ready a year or two from now. Basically, being here for another year should be perfect, and I think by this time next year I may be ready to move somewhere else. But for now I'm just really, really glad we don't have to move this year!

And now for a fun conspiracy theory: last night Penn and I were talking about the job he had when we first met (which he hated) and he said, "Did I ever tell you about how they tried to hypnotize us?" I started laughing and said, "Nooo..." and he proceeded to tell me a story about a particular training session he had to do at his old job. I don't want to say what exactly his old job was, but it was a job working for a, um, conservative branch of the government. He was stuck working with a bunch of redneck guys. You know the type, guys that have "These Colors Don't Run" American flag stickers on the back of their trucks and can't believe anyone wouldn't want to own a gun and refer to anyone with brown skin as "the Mexicans." He used to come home from work with t-shirts that said things like, "Support the Troops, Support Each Other" and featured screenprints of soldiers wearing gas masks and stick figures shaped like policemen and nurses and 1950s businessmen. Oh, and I think there was a shirt that pictured a ripped Uncle Sam with, like, missiles or something in the background (I never actually saw that one, Penn just told me about it). Anyway, that job was SO WRONG for him and we always joked about how so much of the job was an attempt at brainwashing, so I was amazed the hypnotism story had never come up before. But last night (interrupted by tons of laughter on my part) he described a training session where all the employees had to go into a room full of comfortable folding chairs and put on virtual reality-esque goggles that covered their eyes and ears completely and watch a film about having a positive attitude in the workplace. He said before the film started the trainer said, "Now, don't fall asleep! You'll want to fall asleep, but stay awake!" and then the movie started and at first it showed bad actors in a workplace scenario of some sort but then it switched to scenes of meadows and waterfalls with single words like "trust" or "unity" superimposed over them as soothing music played. And then Penn fell asleep and he woke up to the sound of the trainer saying, "Wake up! The movie is over!" After the training he talked to all of his coworkers about it and nobody, not one person, stayed awake for the movie.
Doesn't that make you a bit suspicious? It sounds like the video intentionally made everyone fall asleep. Why else would there be soothing pictures and music and key words to focus on? I don't know much about hypnosis, but isn't picturing soothing places and repeating mantras a big part of some versions of it? And I don't think there was any discussion about the lessons supposedly taught by this video after it was over. Just a simple, "Wake up! Go back to work!"
I told Penn that they probably were hypnotized and that at some point while everyone was asleep the trainer put some sort of code word deep in their subconsciences. And suddenly one evening at 9 PM the code word will be broadcast around the country via all radio and television signals and Penn will turn to me with a glazed look in his eye and slowly say, "Must. Attack. Red. China," and then he'll stalk out the door to buy his army fatigues and I'll be all puzzled, alone on the couch, and I'll never see him again.
In all seriousness, though, isn't that story sort of bizarre? I've been to a lot of training sessions in my life, but they always had clear objectives and they never involved personal video equipment.

Anyway, I'm going to the beach tomorrow for the last time this season. I'll be with Penn and his friends and the other girlfriends and I'm going to enjoy this vacation because it's the last free weekend I'll have for three weeks.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Things That Are Happening (or Have Happened)

  • I haven't seen Creepy White Van guy since last week, so that's good.
  • Here's a scintilating topic: My hair is now so long that it's starting to cause weird problems. When it's wet post-shower I have to keep it in front of my shoulders until it is dry because it's annoying to lean back on the couch against my own wet hair. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night now because Penn is accidentally sleeping on my hair, keeping me trapped in one position. Despite the fact that I've been growing my hair out for well over a year now, it has only been in the past month or so that it has started to annoy me. So, I may have reached the limit on how long I can stand to have my hair (for the record: just below my breasts. I may be able to handle another couple of inches. We'll see.)
  • Penn and I did a twelve mile bike ride today. It was supposed to be a ten mile bike ride, but we took a couple of accidental detours. Also, we learned a valuable lesson: when there is a bike trail that winds from behind your apartment all the way to your destination in another city, just STAY ON THE BIKE TRAIL. Don't go getting any sort of crazy ideas about "saving time" by "taking a shortcut to 16th Street" because said shortcut will either a) not be a short cut because you'll temporarily get lost or b) will be a short cut, technically, but will involve a hill that's so steep you want to cry and it just won't be worth it. Trust me. With that said, we made it to our destination (a free outdoor blues festival) and it was a lot of fun and then we ate enormous sandwiches for dinner and then took our bikes on the subway to get home and all was well. That's the furthest I've taken the bike in one day (so far) and I'm up for more biking adventures in the future.
  • Those adventures will have to be sometime after my comprehensive exams, which begin in just over a week. Ugh. I've long since passed the point of freaking out about the exams and am now just resigned to the thought that if I fail I can do it all again sometime and I'll eventually pass...someday. Because writing 120 pages in three weeks is something I can do twice if necessary. Right. My new attitude towards these exams may not be an improvement.
  • My car is dead. Very, very dead. So dead that the cost to repair the car is more than the car itself is worth. So, no more car. Mostly this isn't actually a big deal. I hated having to spend money on anything car-related and it's as if deep down I've known for the past few months that the car was on its last legs (wheels?) anyway because I had gotten into the habit of biking or riding the bus or subway almost everywhere. I also stepped up my practice with driving Penn's truck, which is good because that stick shift truck is now the only working vehicle we own. I'm proud to say that I drove it to work on the Scariest Highway in America by myself the other day. As in, completely alone! I was the only person in the truck, Penn wasn't sitting there to say things like, "You really need to shift to fifth," or "The brake is still on." So, yeah, mostly I don't care that the car is dead and I think that for now Penn and I will be just fine sharing a vehicle since he walks to work and I take the bus to campus and we were both only filling our cars' gas tanks once a month or less before the Death of My Car anyway. Sharing shouldn't be a problem (and if it proves to be one, my dad has offered us his old truck. In fact, he's pretty much trying to force me to take the truck because he wants an excuse to buy his midlife crisis sports car. It's a nice offer, I'm just not exactly enthusiastic about the three-day drive it would take me to get Dad's truck up here, so, we'll see). Anyway, I did have an afternoon where I was a bit sad about my car because it's the end of an era. I'm pretty sure the days of two-seater sports cars are behind me, at least until I'm trying to pawn my Mom-SUV off on my hypothetical future child so I can buy MY midlife crisis convertible.
  • On a vaguely related note, Penn and I opened a bank account together the other day. We're still keeping most of our money separate, but combining a little bit of it will make the day-to-day logistics of living together easier. I'm living with my boyfriend and we now have a joint checking account. That's still a little mind-blowing sometimes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Hi there. I need to catch you up on a lot of things, don't I? Well, maybe not a lot of things. It's not like anything of earth-shattering importance has happened lately in my world. But I feel like I haven't really updated this thing in weeks so here we go:

The trip to Seattle with my grandparents and sister was awesome. (It was this trip, the one we'd been planning since December of 2007) First, the opera part of the trip: I watched 17 hours of Wagner opera over the course of the week. The Ring Cycle is like some sort of crazy triathlon of operagoing. We went to operas on Monday night, Tuesday night, Thursday night, and Saturday night. The last two operas were each five hours long. There were a couple of half-hour intermissions in the longer operas and we had tickets to a VIP room where we could move around and stretch and get free wine and small meals and coffee (which didn't help me much because I'm not really a coffee drinker), but still, that's a lot of time sitting and watching opera. I was actually surprised by how much I ended up loving it. Prior to the trip I'd only seen a handful of other operas in my life and never anything by Wagner. Sometimes I felt like the only person in the audience who wasn't a hardcore Wagnerian. (There are people-incredibly wealthy, insane people-who spend the entire year traveling the world from one Ring Cycle to another. I loved the cycle, don't get me wrong, but I kept wondering if these people realize there are other art forms out there...or even other operas, if they don't feel like branching out that much.) Anyway, the production itself was very impressive. There were flying mermaids and cliffs flickering with actual fire and a horse and, well, the spectacle was really amazing. I also loved the music, although I'll admit that I'm not qualified to judge the quality of the singing (it sounded good to me!). Anyway, I really enjoyed the cycle. The fact that my mind keeps traveling back to it on a regular basis two weeks later means it definitely made a major impression.
I would definitely attend the whole cycle again...provided I could ever afford to do it on my own, which is sort of unlikely. The one downside to the experience was the conflict I always feel in these...well, "rich people" situations (for want of a better word). There's a part of me that really loves it. I'm never going to look a gift horse in the mouth and complain about being related to people who can afford to fly me across the country, put me up in a really nice hotel, and buy me tickets to absurdly expensive entertainment. I love the feeling I have when I'm dressed up with a glass of wine in one hand and a plate of tiny crabcakes in the other. I like when someone leaps to my service to valet park my car or carry my suitcase. It's great to be able to pick a restaurant based purely on what sounds good and not even have to look at the prices on the menu because whatever it costs I know we can afford it. I guess what I'm babbling about is this: the trappings of wealth are really pretty damn fantastic. I feel extremely blessed that my grandparents have lived their lives in such a way that they can afford to do such nice things for me and my siblings and cousins. But I always feel conflicted because, first of all, as much as people like to think they get rich through hard work, I know that most of it is just luck and could easily slip away (illness could bankrupt a family, we could become--GASP!--a socialist country, etc.). I don't understand how people come to feel entitled, to feel like money is just a given thing in their lives. That emotion doesn't exist for me, and so it sometimes rubs me the wrong way to be in a room full of people who don't appear to feel lucky for what they have. I'm in the VIP donor room just marveling that I get to be there at all, while around me old ladies are shoving chocolates into their purses and complaining about how there aren't enough and in my head I'm shouting, "Seriously, people, you have thousands of dollars to donate to something as frivolous as an opera performance and yet you're concerned that you're not getting enough foil-wrapped chocolates?!) It's doubly frustrating because the half of me that can't believe how much money people spend on the arts when there are so many people in need wars with the half whose ENTIRE CAREER hinges on the fact that people remain interested in and continue to donate money to the fine arts. My other conflict in these "rich people" situations stems from the fact that I grew up solidly middle class and will likely (hopefully) raise my own family in the middle class so I didn't grow up my whole life in this world. Sure, I grew up with a lot of privileges not everyone has. We always got to take summer vacations, we always got new back-to-school clothes, we never wanted for any of the basics, ever. But it was only recently, when my dad's business started doing particularly well, that my parents upgraded from La Quintas to Hyatts, you know? And, like I said, I can't shake the feeling that I shouldn't get used to the nice opportunities I can have spending time with my family because it could all slip away just as easily. I look at the life Penn and I have supporting ourselves, and it feels perfectly nice. There's honestly not much we need that we don't have right now. We have all the basics we need and we have quite a few luxuries, too. We can afford a few vacations a year, we can afford to go out with friends on weekends, etc. We have to watch our money, but we don't have to stress constantly about it. And this lifestyle is perfectly satisfying to me. I'm rambling, but I guess my point is that I really enjoy the opportunities afforded to me by my grandparents' money, but I don't feel like the "fancy" part of my life is a right. It feels like a privilege, always, and I wish more of the people I was at the opera with realized exactly how privileged they are.

Wow, I didn't realize I needed to get that off my chest. Sometimes these entries go places I wasn't expecting.

Anyway, there was also a lot of the Seattle trip that had nothing to do with opera. It was great getting to spend time with my grandparents, and I also spent a lot of one-on-one time with my sister. We so rarely get to do that anymore, so it was really nice. We did a lot of the Seattle tourist things: Pike Place Market (AMAZING!), the Fremont Troll, the Experience Music Project, the aquarium. We even took a ferry to Victoria, Canada for the day and went to the Buchart Gardens (also AMAZING). I really, really loved Seattle. It's a very pretty city with a lot of great restaurants and a perfect mix of urban culture and outdoor activities. I could see myself living there, actually, which surprised me because I thought I'd pretty much determined that I'm an east coast person. I'm looking forward to going back someday.

I was going to update you on the rest of my life but this got lengthy so I'll save it for another entry, I suppose.