Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ode to the 46

I love the bus. I honestly do. I love that I can relax and read or close my eyes for a while as someone else handles the stress of the traffic. I like the exercise I get walking to and from the bus stops. I like the virtuous feeling I get from reducing my carbon footprint. Sure, I could get everywhere twenty minutes faster if I drove myself, but I genuinely like the bus. It gives me an excuse to spend some time with my books or my blogs read on the blackberry. It's the only time in my life right now when I can read without feeling guilty because I should be doing something else (research, exercise, talking with my almost-husband, whatever...not that talking with Penn counts as a chore because it doesn't, but you get what I mean, I hope). 'I can do actual work on the bus if need be, but I've come to appreciate my commute as my time to relax and be by myself. It's pathetic, maybe, that my life is so full right now that most of my me time comes on the bus, but that's just how it is until the dissertation is finished.
Sometimes I feel like I should film a PSA for the bus: "Young, attractive, middle class white woman regularly rides city bus and survives!!" I don't understand why I am consistently the only white person on the bus, especially out in the semi-suburbs where I live. In the city it's a bit better and sometimes I'm not the only white person on the bus, but most of the time I am. What causes the white middle-class stigma against riding the bus? All the people in the world who complain that they don't have a free moment in the day don't know what they're missing.
I want to tell everyone I know, "Take the bus! You'll feel productive, because you're commuting, but you can read a book or listen to music without your kids or your boss or your friends pestering you!"

Not that the bus experience is always perfect. Today, for instance, I had to do a tutoring session for one of my high school students and then go to my dermatologist to make sure none of my bazillion freckles are morphing into anything weird. Penn has the truck with him two hours away, so I had to get to these appointments on the bus.
I had to catch one bus near my (temporary) house and then transfer to another bus fifteen minutes later. Well, the first bus was running late and as we were approaching the stop where I was going to need to transfer I saw the bus I needed to transfer to: driving right in front of the bus I was currently on. Grrrrrr. The drivers can't contact each other (I was on a city bus and I needed to transfer to a county bus run by a different company entirely) so I knew there would be no way I could get off of my bus and hop onto the other one. The one I needed would already be on its way up the street. Luckily I know the system well enough now that I knew the bus I was on would get me to a train station and from there it would be a one-stop train ride and then a slightly longer walk than I would have had from the bus stop. Still, it was annoying to be stuck on the first bus watching the second one cruise obliviously in front of me.
Then I was waiting for my bus to the doctor's office when it drove right past my stop without stopping, despite the fact that I was holding my bus card in the air in the unofficial "Please stop for me" gesture. I was like, "What the hell?!" and I jumped up and down to try to get the driver's attention and then began to sprint up the street after the bus, hoping the driver would see me and slam on the brakes. Then behind me I heard loud honking. I turned around and, lo and behold, there was another bus for the exact same route! I always dream that will happen when I miss the bus, that maybe this one time there will be another 46 right behind the one I just missed. Well, today there was!! Apparently the driver of the first bus that had passed by was running late (REALLY late; like half an hour late) and so she was no longer picking up customers, she was just doing drop offs. It made for an entertaining ride to the doctor's office because every time we'd approach a bus stop I would see everyone attempt to wave down the first bus, then get enraged when it passed by, then light up in surprise when they saw the second bus right behind it.
Oh, bus. You are rarely perfect, but I do like you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What the Pack Taught Me

I have a free evening tonight!! I'm waiting for a friend to call me to discuss lesson plans for the course we're teaching in the fall (she's teaching her own section of the same course so we're touching base to get ideas from each other) and then I can do whatever I feel like doing for the rest of the night! I can't remember the last time I had a free evening all to myself during which I wasn't already exhausted from a full day:

Yesterday evening-updating my training for my tutoring job
Monday evening-meeting with a wedding DJ, lesson planning, plus the power was out so after that it was either read by weak candlelight or go to bed early
Sunday evening-breaking down the project I had been working on all summer, surviving freak thunderstorm that knocked out power to pretty much everyone in the region, going to bed early because the power was out and I was exhausted from my weekend
Saturday evening-Dad still in town; nice dinner at an Italian restaurant followed by many drinks here (Just to clarify, I am in no way complaining about this. Penn and I had so much fun hanging out with my dad, and I loved the bar at his hotel! It was beautiful; definitely one of the most picturesque bars I have ever sipped cocktails in, and you know me, I have been to a lot of bars!)
Friday-entertaining my dad, my aunt and uncle, Penn's mom, Penn's sister-in-law, and my dad's limo driver buddy who were all in town for the night [I promised to give you an update on that. Surprisingly, it went well! The limo driver is a very quiet guy so he mostly just sat back and took in all of the conversations going on around him. I still don't really get his sudden friendship with my dad, but it wasn't as awkward as it could have been.]
Thursday-finishing up my summer project
Wednesday-conducting a dissertation interview, hiking around town advertising my project, happy hour with a friend leaving town for a month
Tuesday-updating my training for my tutoring job, lesson planning
Repeat ad infinitum

Penn left today to go home for a funeral and won't be back until Saturday morning. One of his good friends was basically raised by his grandfather, and the grandfather was killed when his truck was hit by a drunk driver on Friday evening. It's very sad. Penn thought he should go home by himself (I didn't know the man who died at all, so I agreed; I feel like I would be in the way when Penn really just needs to focus on his friend and the rest of the guys) so now I have three nights to bum around my professor's house all alone. Well, all alone but for half a dozen dogs, which isn't really all alone at all. It's always a little bit weird when Penn is out of town. I don't feel lonely or bored--I really do enjoy my own company too much to ever really feel either of those emotions for long--but it just feels strange without him nearby. And I get mildly freaked out when I go to bed at night and rush through my bedtime routine so I can get under the covers, which is stupid because I spent three years of my life sleeping alone in an apartment every night and I never worried that somebody was going to come after me with a knife. Now, though, it feels creepy once I turn off the TV/radio/computer and head to bed. I guess I should feel safe while housesitting, though. I'm pretty sure nobody could creep up on me here with five yappy dogs and one deep-voiced one (mine is the deep-voiced one, of course).

Speaking of that, I have now been housesitting for almost three weeks. For the most part it hasn't been bad. First of all, I'm getting paid a good amount of money every day to basically carry on my usual routine from someone else's house. There is no television here, but I find that I don't actually miss it. In fact, this experience has made me realize that I would be completely content to give up cable entirely and just increase my Netflix subscription to 2 DVDs instead of one. All of the good TV series go to DVD eventually anyway, I can watch the Colbert Report on the internet, and I could live without House Hunters and Say Yes to the Dress and the other fluff I put on as background noise when I'm working during the day. Penn pointed out that we can't watch sports on DVD, though, so I guess we're going to have to keep cable just for that. Don't you wish cable channels were a la carte? It seems stupid to pay $90 a month to watch football and hockey, which I have realized is pretty much what we're doing.
Taking care of six dogs at once has made me realize something, though: six dogs is too many. I always thought I would love a pack of dogs, and to a certain extent I do. It really is fun when I sit on the couch and they all climb up around me and get cozy. The problem is that I feel like I can't devote enough time to any of them. I definitely haven't been able to spend much one-on-one time with my own dog, and I don't even make an effort to spend one-on-one time with all of the others. There's just not enough time in the day. Not that they need it, I guess, because they're dogs, but I feel like I don't know any of them that well. And I know that's stupid because they are
, but I still wish they weren't a constant pack so I could differentiate their personalities on a less superficial level. The other problem is that when there are six dogs in the house there's almost always one of them that is being obnoxious at any given moment. Actually, as I type this they are all asleep and it's peaceful, but 90% of the time one of them is doing something that is less than ideal. Someone's barking, someone's begging to go out or come in, someone's whining, two of them are wrestling loudly, one of them seems sick...there is hardly ever a time when they're all being good at the same time. Also, with this many it's impossible not to play favorites. Of the five dogs there is one I really like (so much so that I would take him home with me if I could), two that are sweet but not as special, and two that are just okay. It's all just so different from having my one dog whose personality I know through and through, whose color pattern I could draw from memory, who is a very good dog 90% of the time.
I write all of this because I wonder: do you think it's the same with families who have a lot of kids? I know people always say that there is enough love to go around and that you'll love all of your children the same amount, just for different reasons, and I probably shouldn't compare children to dogs. But I can't help but wondering if some of the problems would exist with big families, too. With six kids, wouldn't one of them always be pissing you off somehow? Would you ever all sit down to dinner together and have everyone in a good mood? I grew up with a brother and sister and there were plenty of times when everyone was having fun together, but even with just three kids one of us was often being a pain in the butt, so wouldn't it be way worse with twice that many? And wouldn't you play favorites? And feel like you could never have one-on-one time with your children? And like you didn't know all of the details, just the basic personality gloss? I feel like that when I watch the show about the Dugger family (another reason I don't need a TV!). The parents always claim they know their children as individuals, but then when they're interviewed about them they give the most basic personality gloss. "She's sweet." "He's always running around." "She's a helper." "He's shy." Maybe they genuinely do know them on a deep level, but I can't imagine how that's possible. Seems to me like with that many kids you spend time making them as similar as possible rather than trying to appreciate them all as individuals.
Anyway, after these three weeks I think I've realized that, as much as I love dogs, I really only need one or two of my own at a time. I can love two at once and feel like I'm treating them both fairly. And I imagine I'll feel the same way about children. Too many would just not be fun or fulfilling.

Well, that was ramble-y. I think I need to go for a bike ride and use some energy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nothing Ties This Together

I love fireflies. I'm dogsitting/housesitting for one of my professors right now and I was outside at dusk watering her flowers and there were lightning bugs all over the yard. It felt magical. It's too dry for fireflies where I was raised, and I would see them every now and then in college, but it's only since I moved up here that I see them regularly during the summer, and it still feels like a novelty. I wish there was a way to fill a room with that firefly effect and drift off to sleep watching them (I have a feeling, however, that the charm of fireflies would be lost if you literally filled a room with them). (Also, I realize that perhaps rather than fill a room with fireflies I should just sleep outside, but I'm not really the camping type. I don't think I am, anyway. I've never actually spent the night in a tent. I'll be RV-ing on my honeymoon and I'm pretty sure that's the closest I ever want to come to actual camping. I don't mind the idea of sleeping outside provided it's optional and I have an enclosed, climate-controlled RV to retreat to as needed.)

So, what has been going on around here? Some quick numbers:
3: Interviews conducted as part of dissertation research.
0: Interviews transcribed.
0: Pages of the dissertation written so far.
30ish: Pages of the dissertation that I plan to more or less copy and paste from papers/articles I have already written.
20: Pages of the dissertation I hope to have written--new material, I mean--by the end of this month.
9: Days left in this month. Gulp.

3: Florists contacted
1: Florists who have actually replied to my phone calls/e-mails and met with me to discuss my "vision" for the wedding. (So, uh, I guess the guy will be my florist.)
1: DJ to (hopefully) meet with and hire next week.

6: Summer school classes planned and taught.
23: Students in said summer school course.
18: Students in said class who are part of a special program that seeks out high-potential-low-performing students and accepts them to the university on a probationary basis for the summer term, at which point they take a core class (mine) and study skills classes and if they pass said classes they get to attend college in the fall. I hate the fact that whether or not these students will get to go to college hinges on their performance in this single course. Fortunately, they are all doing well so far.
1: Midterm I need to write this weekend.
This is the first time I have ever taught a college class--from start to finish--that I planned and controlled completely. I have taught entire units in other classes and I have guest lectured many, many times in other professors' classes. I also taught discussion sections during the first year of my PhD, and I had complete control of the grading in those classes and I had to do all of the teaching but I didn't make the lesson plans since they were pre-planned for us. I could tweak things, but I could not change the content entirely. It has been fun and eye-opening to decide what I think is important about my subject and to attempt to teach those things.

3: Days remaining on the project that I had been working on all summer. I'll be sad to see it end (perhaps only temporarily, since we'd like to pick it up again next summer). On the upside, I'll no longer be spending 20 hours a week on this project, and that's a good feeling. That's 20 hours a week I can spend on the dissertation! That's what I SHOULD do with those 20 hours, anyway.
1: Awesome review of said project. I'm proud of the people I have been working with and proud of myself for guiding them. I'm worried that we'll get more reviews tomorrow, though, and that the good one will have turned out to be a fluke.

I now have to quit this number gimmick because it won't work for the other things I want to talk about.

First of all, there have been some strange things going on around here. We had an earthquake last week, an actual earthquake that was apparently felt by most of the local population, although Penn and I both slept through it since it happened at five in the morning. I'm bummed that I slept through it, actually. I doubt I'd have realized what was going on even if I had been awake, but I've never experienced an earthquake and I have always been curious about how it would feel. I've been housesitting so I haven't been at my apartment much for the past two weeks. I stopped by for a while this afternoon to hang out with Penn who was working from home (he chose to work from our actual home, possibly because there are six dogs--yes, SIX, including mine--at the house we're watching and that can get distracting). While I was over there I noticed a jingling sound coming from somewhere in the house. It sounded like a faint old-fashioned alarm clock. I thought maybe that's what it actually was at first, like maybe a neighbor had forgotten to turn his off this morning and we were hearing it through the walls, but after wandering around the apartment I realized the jingling was coming from our china cabinet. Our A/C unit shoots air out behind the cabinet and shakes it ever-so-slightly. There had never been any jingling before, though. I reached in the cabinet and rearranged some glasses and vases so that they weren't touching each other any more and the sound stopped and I know all of this is terribly boring but, look, it's the only earthquake-related thing I actually experienced.
The earthquake caused all of the crystal in my china cabinet to shift just enough that many of the pieces were pushed up against each other, causing a strange clinking sound. I'm glad it wasn't a more intense earthquake. That would have sucked, to get a bunch of hand-me-down crystal from my mother-in-law-to-be two weeks before a huge earthquake. (Obviously, a huge earthquake would suck, period, new-to-me crystal notwithstanding.)

The other strange thing happened just tonight. Penn is staying at our house tonight instead of with me and the six-pack of dogs because he wanted to go to a jam session in a warehouse in our neighborhood. Back story time!: We were walking home from the subway one Thursday night a few months ago and we heard music coming from one of the little warehouses by the train tracks that we have to cross to get from our home to the train station. We weren't aware that there were restaurants or bars or anything in the block of warehouses so it was surprising to hear music. Curious, we wandered over to the warehouse to check it out. It turns out that the warehouse is an art consignment store. Or maybe just a place where the artwork is stored and worked on until it can be moved to the actual store. I have no idea. It's not important. The point is, it's a warehouse that typically serves another purpose but during Thursday nights the owner opens it up to amateur and semi-professional musicians who want to hang out and practice together just for fun. The night we wandered in there were five or six musicians hanging around playing and a few people lounging around watching. They let us in to watch for a while and then told us to come back sometime. Last week Penn happened to be walking home from the subway on a Thursday night again so he stopped in to see what was going on and ended up drumming for two hours! He was very excited about the experience and looking forward to going back again this week. He was hoping it could become a regular thing since he can't play his drums at our apartment and has been out of practice for years now as a result.
Well, when he got there tonight there was no jam session. Instead, there was a candlelight vigil being held for the woman who was MURDERED in the warehouse on Monday night. He called me to tell me that and I felt chills run down my spine. It's such an awful story. Apparently a woman who lived in our neighborhood rented a studio in the warehouse to do painting restoration. She had gone to her studio on Monday night to work for a while but there happened to be a man already there in the space. I'm a little unclear on why he was there. I think he had worked for the warehouse owner before in some capacity, so maybe she felt like it was okay that he was there. The media seems to be under the impression that she didn't know him well, though, or perhaps at all. At any rate, for reasons that aren't clear yet, he stabbed her to death with scissors, in the very room where Penn was hoping to play drums tonight.
The whole thing makes me feel sick to my stomach. I can't even begin to imagine what is wrong with the murderer. It scares me that a seemingly completely random, cold-blooded murder took place so close to my home. It's a fluke, I'm sure, but these are the crimes I hate most, the ones that are completely senseless. I almost hope that they establish a clear motive that doesn't boil down to her just being in the wrong place at the wrong moment. It will be easier to stomach this if there is some cause, because otherwise I'm left thinking that it could just as easily have been me or Penn in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was looking forward to going over there some Thursday and watching Penn drum. I'm not sure that that will happen now. I'm freaked out by the idea of being in that space, and I'm not sure that the jam sessions will pick back up anyway.
When I was planning to blog tonight I was initially going to tell the strange story about how two people in the building next door to ours were arrested last week for robbery and there were half a dozen police cars blocking our truck in the driveway as these two guys who were clearly on meth were led out to cop cars in handcuffs. But that story doesn't seem like a big deal now compared to this other thing.
The crazy thing is that Penn and I do not live in a bad neighborhood. We live in a "good" neighborhood, in fact, on the fringes of one of the poshest zip codes in this entire region (in the entire country, actually). I love our apartment. I hate that things like this happen so close to where I sleep at night. Then again, it just proves that bad things happen absolutely everywhere: big cities, small towns, cushy suburbs. No place is without its secret, underlying problems that occasionally burst to the surface in ways that make you think, "Maybe it's time to move." I'm not going to be nervous in my own neighborhood because I truly do believe that both of those events are bizarre, terrible flukes. It's just a bit much that they took place within such a short amount of time and so very close to my home.

Anyway, I'm off to bed. My dad comes tomorrow for a whirlwind weekend trip. Tomorrow night Penn and I are going out with him, my aunt and uncle, Penn's mom, Penn's sister-in-law, and...the limo driver who drove us around when my dad was here in April. The explanation for this is really a post in and of itself, but the short version is that back when he visited in April my dad wanted to check out some bars/restaurants in another city a couple of hours away and it turns out that if you have a big enough group it's only slightly more expensive to rent a limo than it is to take the train. So we rented a limo to drive us there and back one night and for whatever reason my dad bonded with the limo driver. I sort of think the reason was Too Much Gin plus the fact that my dad not only paid and tipped the driver but also bought him dinner AND invited him to hang out in the bar with us (he didn't drink since he was driving the limo). At one point on our trip home that night I looked out the window when we were getting gas at a rest stop and my dad and the limo driver were standing there together, arms slung around each other's shoulders, laughing like crazy as if they'd known each other their entire lives. The visual was made even funnier by the fact that my dad is a six-foot tall graying white man and the limo driver is approximately a foot shorter and black. They are exact physical opposites. At any rate, my dad inexplicably exchanged phone numbers with our driver and ever since then the driver has been calling my dad to chat. He called him the day after our trip to make sure my dad was okay (we had all had a lot to drink that night; nobody had to be a designated driver!), and he has also called him to say hi on all major holidays since: Easter, Father's Day, 4th of July. So now my dad seems to think that they are genuinely buddies and he invited him to hang out with us tomorrow night.
I hope that they genuinely ARE buddies and that this guy isn't some weirdo who is just using my dad. The whole thing is baffling to me and seems like the exposition to an Odd Couple-ish play or a reality TV show. Then again, my dad really is good at being friends with absolutely everybody and tends to be a pretty good judge of character, so I'm trying not to be too skeptical of the whole thing.
I'm just not sure how Penn's mom is going to react tomorrow night when I'm like, "This is my aunt and uncle, and this is my, um, limo driver?" Thankfully she has met my father once before, so this won't be the first impression. It's going to either be a disaster or a hilarious comedy.
I'll try to remember to let you know how it goes.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


What one word describes what you want most in life?

A friend asked this via a Facebook status post today and I came up with my answer immediately: Security. It's all I want right now and, now that I think about it, security is the only thing I have ever really wanted, ever. It all comes back to that for me. I just want to feel safe, in every way. I want the security of knowing that somebody loves me and understands me and will do whatever is necessary to protect me. I want the security that comes from having friends and co-workers that support me and understand me. I want the financial security of a steady job and a comfortable income. I want the security of knowing that my family is safe and healthy. I crave the security that I imagine will come from having children, the security of knowing that someone will carry on my family through future generations, that a little bit of me (biological, perhaps, but if biological children doesn't work out for us then certainly a little bit of my morals and teachings) will be here in this world even when I'm not. I want the security of knowing more or less what to expect next in my life.
I don't need anything lavish or exciting. In fact, what I want is mundane. Just a simple feeling of security. That's all I need to be happy. This becomes increasingly apparent to me all the time as I realize that the only times I am ever distressed are the times when I feel insecure: when I don't know what is expected of me, when I don't have a plan for the immediate future, when I can't anticipate what is going to happen next and I feel like the rug could be ripped out from under me at any moment.
Maybe that description is true of everyone, but maybe not. I feel like there are some people in the world who are perfectly okay without any kind of safety net. I have friends who are (seemingly) content to live life as loners, without a plan in place, without a clear sense of where the next paycheck is coming from. Some people seem to thrive on that, in fact. I can't imagine it.
This doesn't mean I'm dull, I don't think. There is plenty of room for adventure and trying new things within a life that is still fundamentally safe. Take traveling, for example: I love traveling. In fact, there is almost nothing I like more. You might think this contradicts everything I just said, but it doesn't. It's perfectly possible to travel to an unknown place and still feel completely secure surrounded by your family with a Visa card and an itinerary.
The hard thing about wanting security more than anything, though, is that it doesn't really exist. There is never a time when I can fully let down my guard. I enjoy my life--I enjoy it very, very much--and I do have the ultimate security of knowing that I am a strong, resilient person who can always cobble a sense of security back together for myself even if it all falls apart. But it's frustrating to know that all security is an illusion.
Right now I have Penn's strong arms wrapped around me (metaphorically, but often literally), friends and family and colleagues that (mistakenly) think I am brilliant, a comfortable roof over my head, a bright future. This is just another one of those times in which I feel the need to remind myself to cherish all of this while I have it. And to hope for the best, of course.

What one word describes what you want most in life?

P.S.-I've been a horrible blogger this summer. My latest excuses are a bout with stomach flu and many, many hours being spent on a big summer project. I also have been spending a good amount of time doing dissertation work (yes!) and preparing for the summer course I begin teaching this week. Still, I'll try to post more than a few times each month.