Thursday, May 31, 2007

The good things

That last post from Congress was really whiny. In fact, it didn't really reflect the goodness that the conference represented for me. (I do have another whiny post brewing, unfortunately - but for now, the positive!)

It was good because though there seemed to be some incomprehensible stuff on the program, the few sessions M and I actually chose to go to were really top-quality. Really. They excited me about the state of the discipline in Canada. I left yesterday morning's session in particular feeling absolutely invigorated. It's not often that I feel that way at a conference - so entirely positive.

And I made some good connections with some lovely new people.

But perhaps the most positive aspect of my experience at Congress was that I felt myself taking my place at the table. I have spent the last two years at two different universities, on contractual Visiting Appointments. I didn't realize until Congress just what a difference it makes to my state of my mind and sense of myself, to be about to step into a tenure-track job. I feel as if I can take up some space in the profession, you know? I feel like I can contribute to it, shape it, claim it. It wasn't until I felt this way that I realized how lacking that feeling was before now. The stresses and uncertainty of contractual work meant that even though I'd passed the hurdle of a PhD and was called "Professor," I still felt suspended -- almost like a grad student...(I am remembering that Flavia had a post some months ago about this feeling of being recognized as a mature is often the case, I am just confirming the brilliant Flavia!)

So, for instance, I was able to talk with a close friend of M's - the one who did the fab presentation yesterday morning, who is a fairly well-known and important person - about perhaps bringing her all the way out to my new Uni to give a talk. I will have the ability to make decisions like that (contigent on funding, of course), especially because of the shaping/admin role I will also have at my new job. And another scholar who blew me away is someone I can imagine hiring when another post comes open in a year or two...I will keep in touch with her and alert her to the post whenever it becomes available. I would never have thought like that before. And I realize how nice it is to do so.

And, notwithstanding the ex-friend who hates me, who could well be spreading nasty and, I can only imagine, unfounded rumours about me across the country and discipline, it is nice to be able to plant myself firmly in the Association as if I am someone who might matter within it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Congressional whining

Hello, I'm at the Congress. You non-Canadians, this is an annual congress of the conferences of 70+ Canadian scholarly Associations. At a different university each time. So, like, imagine the meetings of MLA and AHA and APA all happening at once, plus assorted smaller associations. Apparently it is the largest scholarly gathering in North America. This time, it is taking place at the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon. It is, as you can well imagine, a ridiculous academic circus. (Where, today, it poured buckets of rain and there was a high of nine degrees. Nice.)

Our panel yesterday went beautifully, M and C and I. I'm really pleased to have brought those two together. They adored each other. And the panel worked so well - even the arc of the three papers was perfect. And I even heard some positive feedback on my work, even thought it officially sucked, so that was nice. M and C's papers were tight, stellar pieces of work - I was proud of them. At night, the three of us went for dinner at some ridiculous tavern because all of the "good" restaurants in town were all full to the brim with visiting academics. We ate Tex-Mex food and drank neon green margaritas. It was a treat. We are already talking about a "sequel" at next year's Congress in Vancouver, so successful was the whole thing. I am especially happy to be seeing M. We're so close, and it's so amazing - we've only really been friends for about a year. But I talk to him more than almost anyone else in my life.

But my scholarly association is shite, people. Reading through the abstracts in the schedule, I was truly embarrassed by some of them. How can academics submit abstracts so riddled with grammatical errors that they are almost nonsensical? How are they academics? More pressingly, how is the association accepting these abstracts? It bugs me.

The other thing that really pissed me right off was the fact that they were supposed to award an undergraduate essay prize. And they just didn't. And I had one of my students apply for this prize, and wrote a letter in support of her. It's funny - when I saw the call for submissions for this prize, I remember thinking that it felt hastily put together and just a bit dubious. It was being released really late, considering the deadline - meaning professors would have to adjudicate the prize in the middle of every uinversity's exam period and marking stress - and there was important information missing from it, so that I had to write to the person and ask clarifying questions. But of course, I followed through because I took it on good faith that they would adjudicate the prize. You know what? They didn't, it seems. A prize presentation was on the schedule - and it just didn't happen. They just didn't do it. That really pisses me off - my student took the time to revise that essay and submit it, and I took the time to talk with her about it and to write and send off a letter in support of her. And these folks just couldn't get their shit together. That seems really grossly unprofessional, to me, and all the things that have happened with the association these couple of days have made me rethink my membership in it. I want a new association!!

Anyway. Partly because of the suckitude of my association, and partly because of the terrible weather, this was a somewhat depressing day (until the end, when M and I went to a reception and had wine and Deep Conversations). It wasn't just that, though - it was that there is just something freaking depressing about Congress. It's actually really alienating, really isolating. Even though there are 6000 people there, you feel alone, somehow...wandering around the vast spaces of the campus, running into almost nobody except other lonely, straggling souls. Where are all the people? you think. It just feels so fragmented. And even with all the talk about interdisciplinarity - and I'm nothing if not an interdisciplinary scholar, so that "talk" means much to me - you have no way of knowing what is going on in other scholarly associations, or even which building their meetings are in. So, for example, at the tavern last night I ran into a friend from last year's Uni City - someone I haven't seen for a year, whom I like very much - and we knew we wouldn't get a chance to see each other again because we are inhabiting these different spaces here. It feels so incredibly lonely and wrong as a way of organizing an academic life.

And on the other, completely opposite hand, today was depressing because I realized just how claustrophobically close we academics can be, here in Canada. Where the communities just are small, by virtue of our small populations. Where there's no anonymity. I was thinking about this because I saw someone who full-on loathes me, at my association's meeting. I had seen her on the schedule, and was nervous about running into her. The story there is that we used to be great friends, early in grad school. Great friends. Very close. Then, sometime about six years ago, very suddenly, she apparently decided I was the devil, for reasons completely unbeknownst to me. I kid you not - I have no idea what the problem is. Really, truly none. I do know that even when we were friends, I was put off by the intensity of her dislike for some people - she appeared to get really wrapped up in rage at people for no reason. So I guess I am one of those people. And it hurts my feelings, because I actually think I'm a pretty kind and ethical person who doesn't deserve that. Anyway, today I passed her in the tiny lounge on a break between sessions. I walked about 14 inches from her, sort of squeezing between her and another person to get by. Because I want to make this okay, and because I don't have anything against her, I looked directly at her and smiled - as I have done before, a few times when I've seen her over the last few years. As always, she ostentatiously sneered at and then ignored me - it was like "I despise you, you are dead to me."

And I just felt sick because of the smallness of this community. Who knows what she says about me, how far her noxious hatred of me has travelled? It's sickening to know that she could well be spreading quite nasty shit about me to who knows how many acadmics in this country, and that I don't even know what the source of the loathing is. And that I could conceivably spend the rest of my career dealing with this.

So yeah, that was today - simultaneously saddened by and longing for academic anonymity in a very small community in this country. But I bought fun books at the book fair - that always cheers one up, right?

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I am pleased. As much as I try not to be a running obsessive, and don't let myself fall over the edge into worrying much about numbers like heart rates and race times and kilometre paces, I did have a goal for my half-marathon this morning. And I realized as I ran how very badly I wanted to meet it. I did want to come in under 2 hours - that's all I really cared about. And I did - I came in at 1:57:12. In the top quarter in my age category, and the top fifth of women overall. So I am pleased.

Especially seeing as how I've been secretly battling a cold for the last three weeks - about which I haven't blogged because I haven't wanted to really admit it. But I've been stuffing myself with Cold FX, appearing to get rid of it and then having it come back, for weeks. And yesterday it really started to come back in a big way. So I ran this morning with a sore, swollen throat and on tylenol because I felt chilled and...just kind of bad...

It was very cool and there was a light-medium, steady rain for the second hour. It was really refreshing conditions. And now I am done. Hooray! And I have my eye on the half-marathon in Scary City in early October...


And tomorrow morning I have to get up at 4am to fly to the Congress in Saskatoon...yuck. I am flying from Ottawa to Toronto, where I am changing planes. My close friend M, who is one of my two co-panelists (the other is my colleague, C), is flying in from another city and meeting me at the Toronto airport - we will fly the leg to Saskatoon together. We have 3 1/2 hours from when our flight lands to when our panel begins. So, blogosphere friends...please send "no delay!!!" energy the way of M and I and our flight...let's not even talk about how bad a significant delay would be...

And once that damned panel is over, I will be so, so happy. I am so underwhelmed by my paper. I am hoping nobody comes to our panel, which is terrible of me. I see that the competing panels might be more interesting to the breed of conference participants who will be there. But then C is a pretty big name, and M's paper is provocative, so that is a draw to ours. Oh, fret, fret. Please to also send "the panel will be great" vibes our way!

Tomorrow night: dinner with M and C - I'm so excited for them to meet; they have some intirguing similarities and differences in their work - and much wine. And finally relaxing after this crazy race weekend and panel nonsense!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Finding housing in an imagined community

Ah yes, my housing search in Scary City. So, as I indicated in my last post, it's been hell.

First, there is the problem of the ads and their crazy exclusivity. It occurred to me yesterday, while I was looking at socially critical contemporary art in the National Gallery of Canada, that I could make a nice little exhibition from the rental ads I see in Scary City. They are unlike anything I've seen before - and I've looked at a lot of rental ads, being the chronic mover that I am, and in several cities. Some of the most common refrains are "Christian couples preferred," "families only," "35+" or "40+," "no parties."* It's not all about what they don't want - high on the list of positives are "right on the golf course!!" and "carport."

And, of course, 90% of the ads specify "no pets." The remainder say either "Cat OK" or "small pets negotiable." Needless to say, Mr. K is not coming with me - ex-GF and I decided that for good. (Which is really, really sad, but he'll ultimately be happier in dog-friendly Home City, and in his One True Home, ex-GF's place...he's really made it clear these last few months, living elsewhere with me, that he's more comfortable there...)

I feel as if these housing ads are a great window on the imagined community of Scary City. And you know, I try to feel positive about the whole move, I really do. But this imagined community of golf courses and family-values Christians? It freaks the shit out of me.

Anyway, I've of course been calling people about the ads for places that would deign to take me, as someone who is under 40 and not Christian, and might want, you know, to have the occasional cocktail party. I am getting nowhere. People say, "I'll send you pictures," and I never hear from them again. Or, as with yesterday, I'm just on the cusp of getting the place - I've been told that it's mine - and suddenly it falls through. The number of disappointments I've had has been pretty mind-boggling. I can't really figure it out - I've rented places in other cities sight unseen before, and people have been perfectly friendly and non-suspicious and amenable. Best I can figure, it's that the vacancy rate is almost 0%, and so if there are 40 people standing there in person, chequebook in hand, they're going to pick one of them. But I have to say, I feel as if a lot of this has been pretty disingenuous.

I have posted a "wanted" ad, and several people have contacted me, but their places have all been out of my price range. (I don't know what people think; they see "professor" and they think I must be a millionaire.) They tempt me with photos of these gorgeous apartments, but it's just not feasible - I've already had to up the rent I was willing to pay because the city is expensive, and I really can't exceed it.

After a recent tangle with some lying bastards who told me a place was mine, I decided to book a ticket out there from June 4-7 to look for a place in person. So I can be one of the people standing on the doorstep with chequebook in hand. Sigh - I had just been thinking, lately, about how I fly quite a lot, and that's not so good - I'd like to try and reduce that footprint a little. But off I shall go. Which means three return plane trips for me in just over two weeks. Not what I had in mind.

Anyway, that's where things are at and that's the source of my frustration. I know it will all be okay in the end, but goodness, it's been a pain!

*The "no parties" thing is not a response to a city that's trying to cope with some insanely huge and rowdy student population. The student population is not that big, and the overall demographic of the city is older. So this seems to me to be just another value judgment and bit of gatekeeping.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Greetings from Ottawa

Here I am in Ottawa, where my father lives. I travelled here yesterday morning; it is this city's race day I am participating in on Sunday.

I went for a run yesterday. It was awful. It was painful. Oh god, I'm so hoping that's not an indication of Sunday's race. At this point, I am chalking up the pain to a) the fact that I had had drinks and four hours of sleep the night before, and woken up at 5:15am to travel here, and b) the fact that it was extremely hot and humid yesterday, and there was a smog alert...Yes, this must be what it was...I am more than ready for this race, and I've never had my lungs hurt like that before...My body, besides being tired and probably a little hung over, hasn't yet adapted to this kind of sickening heat. I shall try again this afternoon. Thankfully, it's supposed to be cool and rainy on the day of the run. And I won't touch a drop of alcohol between now and then. And I will have long sleeps...

Anyway. Life here is nice, other than that. Ottawa is always a holiday city for me. I do lovely things, like go to the National Gallery, which I'm going to do this afternoon - there seem to be some great shows on at the moment - and take myself out for sunny patio lunches (also on today's agenda). I'm also going to make a visit to the cats on Parliament Hill. If you're ever in Ottawa, you have to check them out...there is a colony of once-stray cats on the grounds of the Canadian Parliament...they're fed and cared for by a local animal lover, with vets donating medical care (and, I presume, spaying and neutering) and people who stroll by filling the donation box. They are sweet, domesticated, complacent animals. There they are, just lounging on the grass or in their little cat houses, in the shadows of Parliament. This never ceases to amaze and delight me, this quiet phenomenon.

And I have fiddled with my conference paper for Monday, and it seems done, if pretty unsatisfying. Now I have to turn my attention to reading a book for review, which is due next Thursday. Ack. Given that I'm kind of mostly busy while I'm here in Ottawa and then I'll be in Saskatoon Congress-ing Monday through Wednesday (and reuniting and carousing with my friend M, who is on my panel - this'll be the last time we'll see each other before I move away), there's not much time for this. I suspect I'll be reading the bulk of it on my flight home from Saskatoon, and writing the review the day it is due. What can you do?

In other news, I await news of whether I have a place to live in Scary City. I've had the most hellish time finding a place ...Ugh...don't even get me started. (Though I am sure I will find time to rant about it soon!) Keep your fingers crossed for this place, which is a little wee tiny two-bedroom carriage house! They're just checking references now...let's hope!

Update: Well, of course, given that this housing search is godforsaken, this house has fallen through. I've lost count of how many times this has happened now. I can't tell you how frustrated I am. (This isn't about references, by the way - apparently the woman I was dealing with and her husband haven't been communicating well and he rented it out although she intended to give it to me. Whatever. But, truly, fuck.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A blogiversary

Hey, today is my one-year blog annniversay.

I started this blog last year on the Monday of a fricking insanely freezing Victoria Day weekend, as I was coming down with a bad cold. I'd wandered into the blogosphere by chance - the first blog I stumbled across was Sfragett's - and loved what I read there every day. After about six weeks of reading, I decided to create my own. I sent fan letters to Maggie and Flavia informing them of my devotion and my new blog. And that was the beginning.

It's been fantastic. I've now met four of you in person. I've made a close friendship with one. I've even gotten new-to-me furniture out of it all! I've had so much support from all of you, and learned a hell of a lot, too. Your advice is always spot on. You are funny and wise.

When I started this endeavour, I was self-conscious - anonymity didn't prove freeing, necessarily. For the first few months, I fretted about what I was writing. I don't anymore - I consider that a victory.

Also, those first few months were characterized by a lot of long, weighty posts on "issues." I don't do that anymore, really. I am not sure why not - probably because the issue posts were my reaction to feeling self-conscious.

I still don't write much about my day-to-day life - my errands and administrivia and social life - because I think those kinds of blogs demand a humour my writing doesn't have. But I do get a lot from ruminating on my work life and occasionally on my personal life - and from hearing what you have to say.

Sigh. I had planned a longer, weightier post than this, but it's been a long day: up at 7, newspaper and tidying and breakfast, grading a leftover student paper, long dog walk, a phone chat with friend M about our conference panel next week (while I ate lunch - how rude of me), yard work, run, more yard work, another dog walk. At least it was almost all outside in the sunshine. And now shortly I'm off (with ex-GF, who else?) to have a bite to eat and see another screening at the queer film festival. So the more thoughtful post about what this means will have to wait, possibly for quite a while.

But I just wanted to say thanks to all of you folks and how happy I am that I found this little slice of the cyber-world.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Oh please...

Let me actually be on the edge of a breakthrough with this paper.

I have what is essentially a complete draft - and it is terrible. I came to the library, where I am now, between film screenings, to try and finish it up. And I realized just how deeply, deeply, it sucked. Like, truly deeply. It says nothing. It is pointless blather with no argument. I was sososososo despairing, and thoughts about my imminent and spectacular scholarly failure overcame me - predictable fraud-thoughts: "Why did a good, research uni like this hire me? Iam feeble-minded. I'll never be able to publish anything again, and I'll never get tenure. I am sunk!"

So despairing was I - I am really running out of time with this paper - that I decided just to go and try to calm myself with a cup of tea. I had exited the conference paper's file and was just about to shut down the computer when I was struck by some thoughts. I opened up Word again and quickly typed up notes, to remind myself when I open up the beast again tomorrow. Then I went to the bathroom, and in there I had a related chain of insights. I immediately scurried to one of those leather chairs to scribble them down in my paper notebook.

Oh, I so so so hope that this will lead somewhere, and that it won't involve rewriting the whole thing. Ack. I'm so nervous and worried, I could eat my own arm.

Running highs

This morning I had my last long run before my half-marathon next Sunday - though I am tapering now, so it wasn't really so long - just roughly half the distance, rather than the full 21+ kms that i've been running the last four weeks or so.

I have to say that I am really feeling strong and happy in running these days. It occurred to me in the winter, when I was beginning to train in earnest for this race, that I chose to do it because I needed to feel strong right then. As I still do, now. What with all the upheaval and angst of the winter, I needed something to focus on. Something that was about nothing but me, my capabilities.

And it's been that way. I've felt very strong and very healthy when I'm running. I get to meet this part of myself that I rarely see - it's kind of fierce and determined. And I've had lots of moments, over the last six or so weeks, of pure runner's high - aided by my trusty running soundtrack, which currently consists almost exclusively of the new Arcade Fire album and the frenetically paced Awoo, by The Hidden Cameras. There was one moment a few weeks ago in which, I must admit, I was blinded by ecstatic tears as I listened to No Cars Go, while I ran along a trail overhung by budding trees.

As much as I try not be a running obsessive, I can already feel my attention focus on next Sunday's race. I have a personal goal, time-wise. It's doable. What I hesitate to declare as a goal - though I so badly want to - is to beat or at least match my time from the last half-marathon I ran -- which was ten years ago. Hence my hesitation. Cause that's probably really just setting myself up for failure. But damn, it would be sweet...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Non-date follow-up

So this morning I had my dog walk with the sweet and lovely person I don't want to date!

Going into it, I was a little apprehensive. The email she sent yesterday afternoon to confirm was all "I need to relearn how to have fun", in a kind of "I hope to be relearning with you, my darling..." way. Eek.

We had a nice walk, though. She actually showed me a hidden gem of a little park that I'm so happy to know about - and shocked that I'd never seen before, considering that I once lived a mere three or so blocks from it! She is very interesting (though perhaps slightly too chatty-with-few-words-in-edgewise for me).

Anyway, as we approached the place where we were going to go our separate ways, I started to feel nervous about what plans she was going to want to make for getting together again. Sure enough, she said, "the lesbian and gay film festival is on right now." (Duh!! I know, that's bitchy - and don't worry, I didn't say anything like that - but that's a huge event. I don't live under a rock!) She started skirting around the "did I want to catch something together" question. I reeled off the three screenings I have tickets for, and then quickly said, "And then I'm going out of town for a week." Which is true - early Thursday morning I'm leaving for my dad's city for a few days, in part to run the half-marathon, and then going from there to Saskatoon for the Congress.

It was, perhaps, graceless, but I think I was able with that move to make her understand that I'm not up for dating. If I were, I'd surely have invited her to one of my films or volunteered the idea of getting together as soon as I get back. And this way, we got to avoid having any kind of awkward conversation about "monkishness", "I'm-a-messiness", or "I'm sleeping with my so-called ex". It was probably the wimpy way out, but I think it worked. She said that if I wanted to go for another dog walk sometime, I should get in touch.

It is interesting to me how uninterested I am in her, in any kind of romantic or sexual way. Like I said before, on paper, she's definitely "my type".

Anyhoo. It's a gorgeous day out. I shouldn't be in here writing this, I should be out in the sun doing my errands and eating a popsicle on a bench!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Unknowable outcomes

"But I have to admit that there is a demand in my writing...that a sort of opening, play, indetermination be left, signifying hospitality for what is to come [l'avenir]: 'One does not know what it means yet, one will have to start again, to return, to go on'..."
-J. Derrida

OK, I know it's gross of me to open a blog post with a quotation from Derrida, but it's just that this - which I read in the context of doing some research for the paper I am now writing - captures my writing anxiety perfectly. I know he was writing about a very different context - the notorious difficulty of his own work - but if I work on the terrain of the literal with this quotation (vile traitor that I am) it tells what is happening to me with this paper I'm writing. Which is just an intensification of my writing process in general.

Which is that I never know what's going to happen. And that stresses me out. Big time.

I have tried to be the kind of writer who plans. But every time I try to write an outline, I end up with approximately three point form notes. And they don't correspond to anything that actually unfolds in the work, in the end.

For this new conference paper, which I have to have finished a week from yesterday, I started with nothing. I didn't even have a three-point 'outline'. I had a couple of questions. They aren't going anywhere very fast, though yesterday I finally sat down to write and came up with a relatively paltry 750 words. It is like I watch what pours out of me and am estranged from it...I don't know what's going to happen. That indeterminacy, that very strong element of chance, seems somehow wrong and bad an unscholarly of me. When I make a choice to go in Direction X, and am leaving behind all the other possible directions, it is terrifying because I don't even know what all those other possibilities are...because they only become clear to me in the writing. So if I don't pursue them, I'll never know them -- and what if one was the "right" one, or at least a better one??

It's so random.

And it seemed that yesterday, maybe because this is the most opaque paper I've ever written (I mean, opaque to me, the writer) what came out was some kind of crazily over-confident tone. I had been reading all of these special issues of important journals on [Theme I'm Writing About] - unbeknownst to me, I seem to have picked something a bit trendy (with my interest stemming from the appearance of this theme in the stuff I am working with in my book project). So all these special issues are unfailingly robust and clever. The editors' introductions are all written with the ease and suaveness and confidence of people who know what the hell they're talking about - and they know it damn well. There are keynote addresses reproduced in these journals - wry, funny, learned. And exceedingly confident. They're senior academics, leaders in their fields. What do you expect? And I've seen that my writing in this paper is mimicking this kind of's still full of questions, but it's all clever and witty and obliquely jokey...and so very...not me. I don't know what's going on. But I'm going to bear it out and see, I guess. It could make me look like a complete idiot, though - like some insufferably poncey junior academic trying to be something she's not...And it doesn't match the uncertainty with which I am approaching this theme, not at all. Perhaps that's it - I'm borrowing this tone to cover up the fact that I'm just not sure. And that would be -- ugh.

Let's hope that some certainty comes by the end of the paper, otherwise there will have to be a major tonal revision.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Maggie asked for some more details on the old sleeping-with-ex-GF front.


I guess, what can you expect when you are staying over at each other's places at least once a week - if not more - talking every day, cuddling when you see each other, and generally acting more placidly loving than you had for a long time before you broke up?

It's happened twice - the first time was about a week ago. After that, I worried that it was a baaaaad idea...that it would just make my angst-ridden leaving to a faraway place that much more upsetting. But she said, probably rightly, "It's going to be be brutal no matter we may as well." Too true - given how close we are now, it'll be very, very yucky. Though she has already booked a trip to come and see me for eight days at the end of August.

So yeah, it happened, and then it happened again. And it was familiar (in a good way) and lovely.
But the interesting thing is, since it happened, we've actually had some conflict. We hadn't, really, at all up until now. (I mean, since the breakup -- there was plenty of conflict before that!)There was a classic, stupid Hilaire-and-ex-GF argument about nothing on the weekend, which I ended with an exasperated acknowledgement that we had started fighting again as soon as we were having sex again. Which cracked us up. (To be fair, I think this argument had a lot to do with a freaking terrible mood I was in on the weekend, for various reasons having to do with my work and my move - about which I might hope to blog soon.)

We had some tension today, too, though. And this was mostly coming from her, though it kind of escalated and I said a colossally ridiculous thing. (We both quickly realized how bad an idea this was, and apologized to each other.) And what this one was about was really her grief at my leaving - she admitted that.

So, I don't know. On one hand, I think it's true that we're in a tight spot no matter what - it's gonna hurt when I leave. But I do note that these kind of more volatile emotions have come up in the wake of sleeping together. Which might seem to suggest that it's not such a good idea. But so hard to know where/how to draw the line, you know?


Ah, and on that note of emotional volatility and confusion, off I go in half an hour to have dinner with my mother! Who often cries when she sees me, because I am, er, not at my best with her! The other night, though, she got angry at me. For not calling her for two weeks. This was a new note - anger instead of tears. So now we're having dinner!! And she wants to "talk"! Good god!! About coming to visit me in my faraway place. And about a large sum of money. And also, presumably, about my terrible behaviour. Fun times all around.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Uh oh

I think I was surreptitiously fixed up on the weekend. Urgh.

You see, I have a friend named H. H began a relationship about a year ago with a woman named L. I met L last June when the three of us and another friend went out for drinks. L and I hit it off really well...I went to her birthday thingy a couple of weeks later. Then H left for a job in a faraway city - so no more socializing with H and, by extension, L. I ran into L at an event at the end of September, she drove me home, and that was that.

Lo and behold, in the middle of last week, I got a seemingly off-the-cuff email from L. Such a surprise - I barely recognized her name at first. She said, "some friends and I are going to a show this Saturday...want to come?"

I agreed to go because I'd wanted to see this performance piece. I agreed to go, too, out for dinner with a whole bunch of people I'd never met in my life. On Saturday, L emailed me and her friend J, to say, "Let's meet all these folks the two of you have never met at such-and-such restaurant at 6:30." I recognized J's name - remembered meeting her and having a nice chat with her at the birthday thing last summer.

It occurred to me, then - with a kind of horror - that it was quite possible J and I were being set up -- without telling us (or me, at least). I can imagine it - H and L talking about their two friends who could use a summer fling, and cooking up some kind of plan. When I told ex-GF what I was doing Saturday night, her first question was, "are you being set up?" So it wasn't only me who sensed something fishy.

So, I went to dinner and to the show. J was really lovely - I liked her a lot. We chatted easily. We are living just a few blocks away from each other right now, and both doing the joint-custody thing with our dogs and our exes. We talked about dog walking and great food places in the vicinity. It was all lovely, and she was great - but I didn't feel a spark. (I am pretty much the opposite of sparks right about now, I'd say - I'm kinda not feeling very attraction-y at all --well, okay, except that I've started sleeping with ex-GF. Sshhh...I know, I know...) She's the kind of person I should - whatever that means - be interested in, but I'm not feelin' it, for reasons related to the kind of state of mind I'm in.

When I was leaving, J acted all shy -- confirming for me some kind of interest. We had talked about taking a dog walk together, and I said she should get my email from L.

So last night, she emailed me, wondering about a dog walk on Wednesday or the weekend. She asked, at the end, about the provenance of my first name. I wrote back, briefly, not giving much, but did add a PS correcting her first guess about its origin. I proposed a Saturday morning dog walk - I honestly like taking these walks with people, since I have to spend so long doing them every day...I'm always up for walking partners.

The email I got back today was...uh oh...It's not what I want...She was shyly flirting...or at least indicating her interest. She had looked up the meaning of my name. And was throwing the meanings at me in kind of flirty ways - using them to compliment me.

Ack. I don't want this right now. And yet I am pretty much a loser who doesn't know how to indicate that she's nice and all, but I am not up for dating. Especially cause I'm sleeping with my "ex"-GF. How do y'all indicate that you're not interested in that way? (I should know how to do this by now, considering that I'm in my thirties, but I don't...) What have been your strategies for the letting down easy of the exceptionally sweet and gentle person?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mr. K, the newest Marvel hero?

A, who is a photographer, had a little photo shoot with the dogs toward the end of the tmie I was living with her. And then just the other day she downloaded some kind of "make your own comic" program -- and made a comic from those hilarious photo shoot snaps of Mr. K!

And frankly? It's's all true...That is how he gets his way.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Being a student again

As I've mentioned, I've been taking ballet since January. The first term ended a few weeks ago - it was fifteen weeks long - and we've (slightly) progressed to the next level.

Though I raised my eyebrows about the teacher's approach the first night of class, I soon saw that there is a (very good) method to her madness. She is a gem. An astoundingly gifted teacher - and she has won awards for her teaching, I found out. I am a *huge* fan of hers - she is young, and has a sparkling, an effervescent personality that incarnates fun for the class, but she is also really skilled at explaining technical things. It's really a pleasure to spend my Monday evenings there.

That said, I have been really attuned, especially over the last few weeks, to what it means to be a student again. (What Now has written about this issue of returning to the classroom as a student -- much more thoughtfully than I am about to.) It started when the teacher - let's call her G - was teaching us a comparatively difficult step one night. I was frustrated; I tend to berate myself when learning any physical activity - it is a fault of mine. So G was teaching us this step and it just felt awkward and weird, to most of us, I think. She asked us to move back to the barre to start it over again, and then she playfully called out - still in her lovely, happy, sing-songy voice - "Ooh, we're getting some attitude. I saw someone roll their eyes there..." And she laughed and brushed it off and that was that.

When she said that, I realized that it had quite possibly been me that she had seen rolling my eyes; I felt as if my eyes had just done something, at any rate. And it had nothing to do with her, not at all. It was just my frustration - I wasn't liking the feeling of this thing we were doing, and didn't want to do it. But I was mortified that I had been seen, had been read like that. Had rolled my eyes at all. I thought of myself as a teacher, of how hurtful that kind of response would be. I fretted about it all week, and then at next Monday's class, I went up to G and apologized, saying it was quite possibly me she had seen rolling my eyes and assuring her that it had had nothing to do with her.

G didn't even remember the incident, but it led to a good conversation about what we perceive, as teachers. She is working on an MFA right now, and says that being a student again, after being a dance teacher, has made her alert to things she wasn't aware of, the first time she was a student.

It is very much the same for me. In the wake of the eye-rolling incident, I am newly aware of my presence in that ballet class. I tend to be overly serious and hard on myself, when I learn things like this. I realize that I often have a sullenness about me that must be quite unnerving, quite unpleasant, from a teacher's perspective. Hell, if I had me in the classroom, I don't know if I'd like me much! So I've been making a conscious effort to catch myself and snap out of my opaque, heavy presence.

It makes me think about my students and the energy they bring to class. How I read them, sometimes, as disengaged or hostile - when they may truly not be. It suggests that I might stop always referring everything back to myself, as an instructor. Stop thinking every reaction, every mood, every face, is about me. At the same time, it makes me want to have a frank conversation with the students about urge them to be aware of the presence they establish in the classroom.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thinking small

I was pretty freaked about my work. I have to write a conference paper for the end of the month, one that I have sort of set up as fairly major. But most of the thinking hasn't been done yet. Eek. On top of that, I had to conceive, in short order, of a paper for a conference in November, since I'm coordinating a panel proposal for said conference. These two papers represent two theoretical pillars of my larger (book) project. They began to seem impossibly huge. I started some reading in relation to the proposal for the fall. I was doing the Big Questions thing...leaping from the object of my study out to some enormous, diffuse field of which I have very little grasp. And I was panicking.

But today, I put away the sidetracking Big Questions books, and I returned, conceptually, to the small questions and intricate details I started with. Ahhh. It was like slipping into a warm bath. I have worked out a problem for the fall paper and pulled my abstract together, along with what I think is a strong panel abstract that ties our three papers together very nicely. Along the way, I browsed through the set of small questions - really, one question - that needs to occupy me for the paper at the end of this month. It will be more than okay, I saw. I can grasp this. It is doable.

I don't know why I continually forget this principle, this imperative to think small. Over and over again, I tie myself up in knots by turning much too soon to questions that are much too large. For me, the hardest thing to learn about being an academic is that the best work lies in intricate, subtle treatments of things. That is ultimately the work that takes my breath away. I hope someday soon that recognition will stick, and I will remember to apply it to my own work from the outset!

Friday recipe blogging: pasta with asparagus & lemon

I am just obsessed with asparagus these days. I eat it nearly every day. My usual M.O. is just to quickly roast it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and have it with salad. But I've made a couple of lovely pasta recipes using asparagus lately. I made this one a couple of weekends was delighfully simple. And quite wonderful. It's from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.


Serves 6.
Time: 35 minutes

1 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 pound penne or casarecce pasta
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, rinse the asparagus, snap off the tough lower stems, and discard them. Cut off 1 1/2 inches of the asparagus tops and reserve. Chop the rest of the stems. Cook the asparagus tips in boiling water to cover for 3 or 4 minutes, until tender. Remove to a colander with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same pot blanch the chopped asparagus stems for 6 or 7 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, and reserve separately.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. While the pasta cooks, puree the asparagus stems, lemon juice, and olive oil in a blender or food processor until smooth. If necessary, add a little of the hot pasta water. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta and transfer it a large bowl. Stir in the asparagus puree, the asparagus tips, and the grated cheese. If the pasta has cooled, stir it in a pot on high heat for 1 or 2 minutes, until hot. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A positive change of heart

Oh, I LOVE this time of year. May has always been my favourite month. More than anything, it's the trees...this first week of May, everything is in a light green, fuzzy phase. There's a pale halo of colour around each tree. It's gorgeous.

Also, I feel happy because all of a sudden, the move to Scary City seems about a thousand times less distressing. I sent an email to a contact I'd been given - another academic, who works at another institution in the city, as does his partner. He's an old, old friend of ex-GF's best friend, RockStar (who really is one) - and ex-GF has known him for a million years as well. RockStar had emphatically urged me to contact him, saying he was just about the greatest. So I sent him a little introducory email the other night, saying I was coming and would love to meet him and his partner, etc., etc. I got back the loveliest note, so entirely enthusiastic about my coming and about the fact that there is overlap in our research interests. It reads, in part:

"There's so much we'd both love to talk with you about. We have a couple of good friends up at Uni (mostly in English) and so can introduce you, when you arrive, to some fine souls.
We've found the town very much not Home City in terms of diversity etc. but also have found some pockets of weirdos and radicals that are very inspiring. I'm on the Board of a kick ass art gallery (Gallery Name), for instance, and Partner and I are a part of a Radical Pedagogy group... plus there's some okay activist stuff going on, and there are tons of writers around."

I cannot tell you how much better this makes me feel. I feel as if they will be such kindred spirits. And this is giving me the elusive proof I needed that there is something else in Scary City, different from all the things that horrified me about it. Also, dudes, I was thinking of starting some kind of radical pedagogy group. And it's already there, and they're in it! How fabulous is that?!

He also put me onto a very useful resource for apartment-hunting, one that I hadn't yet seen and that looks really promising.

Hooray for friendly new people who will help open the right doors for me in Scary City and hopefully make it much less Scary!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Post-grades moods and ruminations

I'm feeling good. Weirdly free. Surprising, considering that yesterday I basically had a stress meltdown, started semi-hyperventilating and had to reach for the Rescue Remedy, which I've never done before (unless it's to give it to the dog.) Reasons: outstanding grading, my drowning in piles of paper, the smartitude and efficiency I must exhibit over the next three weeks, and ex-GF.

Today, yay. It's that I'm really done. I went to Uni City and handed in all my grades today, though I did give Incompletes to three students. Three students of fifty strikes me a fairly high number, actually. But anyway. The point is, I am free. After handing in grades and meeting with Incomplete students to fill out their forms, I also packed up my office at Dream Uni. And got a drive with the contents back to Home City.

So, weirdly free. Good mood tonight, which persisted even though I spent the evening with my mother, she with whom I have the notoriously difficult relationship. This is a definite sign of happiness.


So, my thoughts on grading:

I have the pushover problem I have mentioned before. So students feel okay coming to see me about their problems, big and small. And as soon as I hear stories, which are often accompanied by genuine distress, I'm a goner. "Of course you shall have an extension!" I cry. "Take a month! Take as long as you need!"

So what I've decided is that next year I am going to try the five-days'-grace method I've heard of people using. Where the students have five days' lateness grace over the course of the term. They can use it all on one assignment, or spread it across assignments. They don't have to offer an explanation; I don't want to hear it. After they've used their five days, they face severe late penalties unless they have documentation of some kind of serious medical problem or whatever.

I want to try this because I need to find a way to stop hearing the stories. Because it gets me to the spot where I was this last couple of weeks, juggling so many extensions and crises I couldn't, honestly, keep it all straight. Down with the story!!

If anyone has experience with this method that they'd like to share, I'd love to hear it...


The other thing related to grading is this:

I was out for a dog walk with A on Saturday. I mentioned that I was still waiting on some assignments, mentioned the perennial state of student emotional crisis I find myself dealing with. These are some of my very top students, I remarked.

A asked, "Are they queer?"

And you know what? For the most part, they are indeed.

I've been thinking a lot about this. About how the university can be such a site of potential, patchy empowerment for some queer youth - especially this university - that it can blind us to the really, really frickin' hard thing it is to be negotiating sexual identity at this stage of their lives. Out in some spaces, very much closeted in others. Really so full of longing, and also of fear. Oh, the painfully split subjects they are, almost all of them. So open, and so vulnerable. I need to remember that homophobia and heterosexism profoundly affect even the most seemingly savvy and self-aware students.

I had a while ago decided that I wanted to be on the Human Rights and Equity committee at my new position - that would be my service (aside from, ahem, coordinating a little program). I had thought of creating a Positive Space campaign, which the campus doesn't currently have. This only reaffirms my commitment to doing that. But more than that, I want to create a way to begin to address the mundane hardships or at least weirdnesses of being a queer student - not the spectacular injury many face (though that is so important) so much as the ephemeral, almost unnameable aspects of their existence. The things that lead them to my office, always searching...How can there be a language, or at least a recognition, a context, for that?