- It's Halloween. Scariest thing of the day: Tenure/Promotion workshop for junior faculty. Brrr...horrifying. The air was positively think with anxiety, hysteria. People lost their minds. (This is due in part to circumstances that are specific to this institution.) I witnessed outrageous slick-dick behaviour on the part of a familiar figure from earlier this week. I admit that several times, I thought, "Forget it. Let me out of this profession."
- But do you want to know how fabulous R is? She is the most loyal and supportive person I know. She gets so pissed off on my behalf (and your behalf, fellow bloggers), it's adorable. Case in point: I read her some bits of the vitriol lately spewed at poor Dr. Crazy/all junior faculty who deign to consider changing jobs. If we were mad, folks, well, we had nothing on her. So enraged about this - and she's not even an academic. Last week, too, when I relayed to her my awful exchange with condescending colleague, she was so livid she wouldn't even let me finish before she began ranting. I know it sounds ridiculous, but damn, it's nice to have that kind of strong and emotionally engaged support. Too bad it's from afar! (And don't worry - she can also criticize me when need be.)
- I leave for California tomorrow. Hurrah! It shall be warm. I shall see the sun (a very rare occurrence, these days). I shall hang out with my good friend from Home City, who's on my panel. Perhaps most excitingly, I have two blogger meetups scheduled, with two damn fine women. What a treat. And, oh yeah - I shall present some muddled new thoughts. And listen to some good talks. But, more importantly: friends! blogfriends!
- And, as I discovered at the conference I went to a couple of weeks ago, I feel free when I leave here. I must say, that's a nice feeling. Bring it on.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Hee. Somehow I find this heartening, knowing that a fancy academic is on national radio talking about the things he researches as "thingies."
Monday, October 29, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Here are the rules:
There is a set of questions below, all of which are in this format:"The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is . . . ."
*Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations: [fn1]
*You can leave them exactly as is.
*You can delete any one question.
*You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change"The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is . . . " to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is . . ." or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is . . ." or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is . . . .
"In addition, you can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...."
*You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.
*Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions.
*Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.
*Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers.
*Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
Here is my genealogy:
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
My great-great- great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent is Primate Diaries.
My great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent is Thus Spake Zuska.
My great-great-great-great-great grandparent is k8, a cat, a mission.
My great-great-great-great grandparent is Monkeygirl.
My great-great-great-grandparent is DancingFish.
My great-great-grandparent is Brazen Hussy.
My great-grandparent is Bad Ass Turtle.
My grandparent is Belle.
My parent is Squadratomagico.
And here are my mutated statements, plus one newly-added statement at the end.
The best classic movie is: The Women
The best novel in classic fiction is: Frankenstein
The best high-fat food in Indian cooking is: Pakora
The most eyebrow-raising conference-paper-related words I ever received from a scholar are: “Great outfit.” (Conference presentation two weeks ago.)
The best everyday lie in academic life is: “I'm really into radical pedagogy" (as an excuse for putting absolutely no effort into teaching)
The best red wine grape is: Pinot Noir
I tag: Psychgrad, What Now?, Marcelle Proust
- I am looking forward to finishing this conference paper. Not that it's been a terrible experience. In fact, it's been a rather illuminating one, but I'm ready for it to end. That should happen tomorrow, or even later today. Short-order happiness.
- On that note, I am sooooo looking forward to being away at the conference next weekend. (Hey, are any of my blogfriends going to be at a fairly large annual conference in southern California next weekend? If you are, and you'd be into meeting up, email me to see if we'll be in the same place. Perhaps some long, irony-soaked chats over wine could ensue!) I have long been envisioning this conference as a kind of release - it signals the end of the insanity for this term for me. Presenting this paper is the last piece of major, deadline-oriented work on my plate after these two months of crazy workaholic behaviour! And the panel I put together for the conference includes my good friend from Home City, so we shall have a chance to reconnect and cavort for four whole days. Hurrah!
- I am having a cheese party in a couple of weeks!
- I am visiting Nearest Metropolis in mid-November to see my great friend C .(She's there for the year on a Visiting position, after living in European City for many years - it is officially a scandal that we haven't managed to see each other yet.) While there, I also get the chance to dance!
- I leave for Home City on December 8. This is, of course, exciting in itself. But also: I was expressing to R my hunger for queer events, queer communities. She has arranged for us to go a spectacularly fun and debauched queer event the very night I arrive - after a delicious dinner of Indian take-out!
- While I'm in Home Area, I am going to Fun City to spend a couple of days with M. We are so in need of this reconnection. He and I once together dreamed of a perfect, decadent day: sleeping in, going out for brunch, coming home and spending the rest of the day and evening watching videos and napping. If this kind of day is foreign to me, it is even more so for him, overburdened, workaholic star that he is. I plan to make this happen on this visit!
- So many exclamation marks! Such hyperbole! What can one do in the face of so much upcoming goodness?
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
After approving them at the level of my program's advisory committee, I sent my two new courses out to my department for approval before they go on to the next stages. I have received nothing but accolades and support for them. Except from one colleague, who is sending me - and the whole department - absolutely horribly condescending emails in which they are essentially asking, "Why aren't you teaching things the way I would teach them?" Well, my friend, that is because we have different kinds of training, and I am not an expert in what you do. You want courses that do that? You teach them in your program; the courses you're proposing don't actually fit with my training or my "inter-"discipline. This colleague is also sending me emails in which they try to "teach me" very basic things I already know. I don't know where this person is getting the idea that I need to be taught these things - it is a mystery to me. In fact, in an email I had just sent them, I had explicitly said these things! It is like my words are not being heard, and what the courses actually do is not being engaged with on any level. How frustrating!
I'm not sure how to respond. I feel as if I can't just let it go, this latest condescending email that purports to "teach me" things. It's a matter of pride. But I don't know - maybe I shoul just ignore. Ugh. Why, why, why do people want to make academe into a monoculture? And how do people have the chutzpah to talk to colleagues - people with PhD's, for goodness sake - in that way? (Part of the answer is gender, in this case.)
Update: I responded quite collegially but quite forcefully, and seem to have gotten the colleague to back off: I received a "Peace" response.
Monday, October 22, 2007
A few incidents/people lately have underscored all of this for me.
First, there is D. D is my best friend here - he's a great guy. He's my go-to person; we have lunch together at the uni often, live within a ten-minute walk of each other, and see each other for an hour here or there, all the time. As I say, great guy. But, what's not entirely satisfying: D has very little sense of irony. I need irony, I realize. (Not that there's much irony on this blog, I know. But trust me - I'm all about the irony.) As well, all we ever talk about when we're together is work; I am all talked out about work. I am all worked out; when I am not at work, I need to be talking about other things. Especially because with D, it's all negative. D also doesn't drink much, which means I do things like go over to his house to watch a film, the night after my uncle dies, and sit there and drink 3/4 of a bottle of wine by myself.
This leads me to my next point: I really like drinks with my friends. I like drinking wine and having long, intense chats about our whole lives. So, when I went to that conference ten days ago and had drinks with Mentor and a PhD student of hers? I felt like something clicked back into place for me; it was the kind of languorous, indulgent evening I hadn't had in soooo long. It was a way of being I'd almost forgotten, but that is so foundational to who I am.
Now, this doesn't all have to come in the same package - for instance, my good friend A, who I was living with over the winter, remember? A doesn't drink. I don't drink with her. But she's probably the most ironic, funniest person I know. We can talk deeply-yet-ironically for hours.
Then there is my friend K, who visited me a couple of weeks ago over Thanksgiving weekend. Why do I not feel as close to K as I should, given how much time we spend together and how much we talk about? I've thought a lot about this - about how I like her a lot, and know her very well, but how she'll never be an A, or an M, so so close for me. Even though she's a wine drinker and a major chatter. It is, I think, that she is highly, highly in control. A very successful lawyer at 35, she is the most efficient and, I guess, masterful person I know. She has the crazy schedule of any high-powered lawyer, but she doesn't ever, ever let the craziness of her life phase her - at least on the outside. She has a kind of clinical approach to analyzing her own life and those of the people around her that I find, frankly, alien. And it's not that she's unfeeling - not at all. And she is damn smart about people. But I have heard her make judgements - of people's incapacity to "control themselves", like in making perhaps unwise romantic choices, for instance - that I just find to be intolerant of the confusion and humanity of people. I think what I need to feel truly, deeply intimate with someone is a sense that they can admit to, give in to, chaos. That we begin from a point of admitting our own fallbility.
So, yeah. That's what I need, what I'm really, really missing. That is the ad I should put out for a Scary City with Potential Friend. Wanted: ironic, chaos-embracing wine drinker.
By the way? All you folks out in the blogworld? It seems to me you are like all the people I would hope to have answer my friend-wanted ad. And certainly, those of you I've met have been ironic, chaos-embracing wine drinkers. Perhaps this is why I feel so at home in this little slice of the blogosphere.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
But, more importantly, I've had a breakthrough! A breakthrough in my thinking. Because my writing process is quite open, I never know quite what's going to come of it. Sometimes that's a bad thing - ideas that come to me have a contingency to them that means they won't easily be made into a foundation for...anything. But yesterday and now, this morning, I've had a breakthrough that shows me my entire larger project in a new way. That has foundations, that connects to and intervenes in very important, I think, ways in the field (whatever the field is!). What a great feeling that is. Back I go!
Well, what do I do?? I duly separate the pile into two every week, "to be graded" and "not to be graded"...AND THEN READ EVERY SINGLE RESPONSE, AND EVEN MAKE COMMENTS ON THE "NOT-GRADED" PILE. In short, I treat every single one the same - just don't attach a grade to most. But of course this defeats the whole purpose of the thing - the random grading thing is so that I don't have to read 70+ things every week. And yet here I am, reading 70+ things every week.
It's just that I feel bad! I don't think I can stomach having them do work and getting no feedback, no engagement from me. Especially because they're having epiphanies all over the place - these critical responses are full of them. It feels terrible to not engage with them. I'd never expected to feel like this, and I certainly don't for a moment think everyone should feel like this. I think the random grading structure is a good one. But I am too much of a softy, it appears, to do it.
More evidence of my weakness in the face of students: A student had talked at me for way too long about a novel she had read that related in some way to the course. She was really excited about the novel, and was suggesting that she would bring it in to "tell my classmates about it." (With me thinking, "oh dear god, no - what is this, show and tell?") Anyway, last week she brought it in and came up to me to tell me excitedly that she'd remembered it - and then she insisted I take it. So I took it, and now I am reading it. It is a really badly written (and problematic, I might add) young adult novel, for chrissake. But I don't have the heart to give it back to her without reading it. So, though I don't really have much time for fiction-reading these days, and I sure as hell don't want to be reading bad young adult fiction in the little time I do have, I have been reading it these last couple of nights before bed.
Sigh - where can I buy a spine?
Friday, October 19, 2007
So, it's Friday. My favourite day, these days. I woke up in a happy mood for the first time in a loooong while. This bodes well!
Why am I feeling happy, despite the fact that it is Bad Cramp Time?
Why, it's certainly because the insane overwork is starting to come to an end. I have one more push over the next couple of weeks, but I no longer have multiple hugenesses on the go at the same time.
And yesterday I had the first meeting of my little program committee - you know, the little group of folks who are advising me through the process of growing this program. I brought to them fully fleshed proposals for two new courses to go to the university curriculum committees - one at the second-year level and one at the third. These are my attempts to teach theoretical courses without stepping on the existing Theory course. They are both on particular topics, but they are theory courses, without being named as such. The committee loved the courses, and I am so pleased. They also confirmed that there is likely nobody who will contest them as horning in on their territory. One of the members of the little committee also had a great idea: teach a general theory course at the second-year level! Yes!! This is what I should be doing! This won't step on the toes of the existing upper-level theory course (one would hope!) and I can make it a requirement, like I wanted to. It will just involve rethinking the course a little, but that's certainly doable. So, yes - I am satisfied with this piece of the puzzle.
Also, my teaching is going so well. Who'd have thought I'd love my first-year course so much? They just amaze me - they are so engaged. Even on topics that I don't expect to be taken with much enthusiasm, like yesterday's. And I have a number of them expressing interest in taking the minor in the field, or a major when it's available. This is wonderful - I am building momentum, and it's so heartening. My upper-level course was a dream yesterday, too.
Have I mentioned that I have four weeks in Home City to look forward to? I had an exam scheduled in my first-year course (of course) but I have to admit that I was not looking forward to the possibility of it being scheduled toward the end of the exam period in December - which would mean I'd be hanging around Scary City for weeks, just waiting for this exam, when I could be in Home City. So my Chair suggested that I turn it into a take-home exam, an option of which the students were almost unanimously supportive when I took a vote. (The only thing about this is that designing a good take-home is VERY hard, I think.) So I am leaving on December 8, and will be HOME for a whole month. That is helping push me through the next weeks. I shall see my puppy! And R of course - but I talk to R every day. My puppy!!
So my final push is to write a conference paper. I want to get most of it written this weekend - ahem. It's for a conference in two weeks. When I pulled the panel together in the spring, I wrote an abstract that I just pulled out of thin air. Now I have to go and write that randomly conceived paper (which does, after all, fit with my larger project). Oy. I couldn't even remember what I'd written. But when I went back and looked at the abstract, I saw that it could function nicely as an introduction to the paper. Yes! There's 1/12 of my paper written! :)
So, plans for the weekend:
- Write a minimum of 60% of my conference paper
- Write abstract for Congress paper, which will be on a panel that's a reprise of this year's Congress panel, with M and C
- Mark critical reading responses for both classes
- Prepare as best I can for thing on Tuesday, at which I am being a respondent/discussant at talk by visiting artist
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
So, I say: If you'd like to receive a gift from me before the end of the calendar year, be one of the first five people to leave a comment, and ye shall receive! Just email with your RL address. You just have to put out the same call on your own blog, and send out five gifts yourself.
I can't wait to get little presents for you! Let's celebrate the end of crabbiness!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The A/V equipment wasn't working, I discovered when I got to class. The projector wasn't speaking to the components. My 80-minute class today was to consist of a 60-minute video and a 20-minute Q&A session with the librarian, following up on an earlier session. So when the equipment wasn't working, it was kind of a problem. Not such a big deal, though - my TA immediately went and phoned IT. (Although, since there is no phone in this LECTURE HALL, she had to run down three flights of stairs and out into the pouring rain to use a phone in the library.) IT said someone was on their way - not hard to send someone, since that someone is coming from practically next door. Nobody came. She went and phoned again. Nobody came. Finally, after half an hour of waiting, I just had to let the students go. Now we are completely behind schedule and off track. This video is written into the syllabus - I still have to show it somehow.
This is so unacceptable. It's shocking. I had thought today would be a relatively relaxed day, since it just so happens that I am showing videos in both classes. Apparently I am wrong to assume any day around this place will ever be relaxed.
Oh, but what's this? An email from Mr. Chris Walter from the "Hobbit Security Vault and Trust" to tell me that an undisclosed benefactor wants to deposit $10.5 million in my account. Freedom shall be mine. (Thank you, Mr. Chris Walter, for providing me with the laugh that let me release this rage. Hobbit Security Vault - you slay me.)
Sunday, October 14, 2007
It was, first of all, the conference itself. What a joy. It was small and intimate. I didn't know many people besides Mentor, but felt just so warmly welcomed into this circle. I feel as if I made some real connections with people. Had one particularly fantastic conversation at the dinner last night with a person I'd met once before, in the summer at Congress - the two of us sat there til the restaurant closed, and then (rather unsuccessfully) moved on to a nearby bar. Such a good conversation about things that really matter.
The sessions themselves - I attended every timeslot - were roundly great. I felt challenged in a way I haven't in a while. It makes me realize how pedestrian my everyday intellectual life is these days. So teaching-oriented, and that ends up reducing complexity, so much of the time. Sad. This was a real intellectual rush for me, this event. It got me thinking in all sorts of ways - including some great ideas for teaching...(My paper? Meh...fine. Well-attended, received without argument, but felt somewhat out of place. And I had taken an extra-strength decongestant, which had dried me all out, so my lips were sticking to my teeth in ridiculous, constantly embarrassing ways. But it was fine, overall.)
And spending time with Mentor was wonderful...we went out for drinks, she and I and a current grad student of hers, at a quiet bar on Friday night. It's been ages since I've had such a lovely night - I felt in touch with myself again.
Then, too, there was the fact of being away from Scary City with Potential.* I didn't know this would mean so much to me. But yes - being out of here mattered. I felt free. (Hmmm. That's not good, really, in terms of what it says about my negative experience of this place. Anyway, this is a time for dwelling on good things!)
I came home bubbly and energized and chirped away on the phone to R for a long while. I want this feeling to last...
*Recent events have prompted me to an amalgamation of its two names.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
- I have actually become angry about the conversation I had with my colleague the other day. Not about her course - whatever. It was the other ways she was talking to me about my beginning this program. It was a conversation consisting in the main of veiled threats - served to me with smiles and a chai latte she insisted on paying for. I won't rehash it here. But I am not pleased, not at all.
- Today I had a meeting with a student in my first-year course. I'd asked her to come and meet with me because I am curious about her, frankly. What the heck her deal is - why she's so freaking brilliant at, like, 18 and in her first year of university. Well, no, not really - I wanted to check in and see what she was thinking of doing her degree in, see if she was bored to tears in her first-year courses. So I asked, "What are you thinking of for your degree?" She said, "For my undergrad degree, I'm thinking of..." Ha - for her undergrad degree. Someone had a sense of her path, doesn't she? Her dad is my departmental colleague. She writes these stratospherically learned things. In our meeting, she sat there, all lanky and shy - such a classic teenaged girl. But she worked the word "intertextuality" into our conversation. And the thing is, she knows what this means - I read her writing every week; I see that she's not name-dropping. She's not arrogant. And yes, she went to a regular public high school. Huh. I guess she's really a living example of what can come of living in an intellectual household. I just hope she can carve her own path, out of her dad's shadow. She wants to minor in my program and major in another. These are both fields that have a lot of overlap with her father's fields.
- I am off to a conference tomorrow morning. Returning Sunday night. Do not want. I am nervous about my paper. I feel like a fish out of water at this conference, doing something quite different from - and more easily dismissable than (in this context) - what other folks are doing.* That, and there are going to be a lot of people at my talk. Great combination. I'm doing this because my mentor suggested I get in the habit of doing more Canadian conferences, for visibility. She was right; I should be. But I wish this weren't one. Repeat: Do not want.
- What is worse than going to a conference you don't want to be at, to network? When you have so much to do that any spare non-networking or nervous-nausea time is going to be spent holed up in your hotel room doing program-building? Doing so when you're sick. That's right. The telltale signs began this morning and intensified this evening. I have a full-blown cold. And I have to fly there. Ugh. Looking on the bright side, perhaps my paper will be a foggy, sinus-y blur (for me, I mean, not the audience)!
- More bright side: Mentor will be at this conference - I will see her! Hooray!
- Good luck, me, with the cold and the paper!
*You know, it really bugs me how annual conferences get organized around themes, so you tailor your paper to the theme and then see that nobody else has done so and that the theme meant absolutely nothing and now yours stands out as...just...weird in this context.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
And perhaps my whininess can be productive of some thoughts, this time. Because what I was feeling particularly demoralized about today was something to do with interdisciplinarity, and what better space than this to think that through?
The context: Each of my three degrees is an interdisciplinary one. To what is sure to be the scandal of many, I don’t have a disciplinary home – I never have. I had my BA and MA in one kind of interdisciplinary program, and my PhD in another kind. I have taught exclusively in such programs – I have done so these last two years post-PhD, and even when I was a TA, my teaching was in another interdisciplinary program.
My own research is not easily categorizable, not at all, as a result of all of this. I draw from, and my writing could be used in, multiple disciplines.
And I was hired to develop an interdisciplinary program here at Scary City/with Potential U. That is what I’m here for, and I know that my interdisciplinary background made me an attractive candidate here.
The Problem: So here I am, trying to develop my interdisciplinary program. Tra la la. (In truth, I am doing next to nothing about this right now because I have so much in the research department, and absolutely no stomach or energy for this admin piece.) What is clear to me is that Theory is going to need to be a requirement to graduate with a minor or major in this program – such is the case in most such programs. And I happen to do Theory, and to teach Theory (quite successfully, if I do say so myself - as those of you who read my rhapsodies about last year’s Theory class might remember). So I want to introduce this Theory course, and to teach it. But my Chair tells me, “there’s this person in [Discipline X] who teaches a course called [Name of my theory course]. You should just consult with this person to make sure they’re okay with what you’re proposing.”
But Chair and I, we both think this won’t be a problem because of course this person will be teaching Theory in [Discipline X], and not the kind of interdisciplinary Theory course that I teach. Tra la la. So I send this professor an email explaining what I’m up to, and attaching my Theory syllabus from last year – which will be very similar to the Theory course I’m teaching as a Special Topics beginning in January, and proposing go on the books as a permanent course.
And what do I get back? This prof’s syllabus for their Discipline X Theory class, which is essentially the same as my interdis Theory course!!!! So we met today, and the only solution to this is to let this Prof teach this course – I can’t propose to put a course on the books which is essentially a duplication of an existing one; it won’t go through. So there you have it – I don’t get to teach the core course in my specialty. I am not pleased.
I’m not angry at this prof, of course – how could I be, when they are teaching such a splendid course? :) And when I value and tout interdisciplinarity? But it does make me think about the way the disciplines are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. And if this happens, do “interdisciplinary scholars” like me become redundant? Do we go the way of the dodo? What, in short, am I doing here, if I can’t develop the courses I want to? This prof made it clear that I would potentially be blocked in the program development I want to do, by all sorts of overlap with all sorts of courses in existing disciplines. I was essentially being told that there was no way to do what I am supposed to be here to do.
So we’re all becoming just one big smoosh? That’s what academia is now? Interdisciplinary puree? I’ve encountered this recently in another way because my friend D is teaching the Intro course in another interdis program, and there is the risk of some overlap between our courses. For god’s sake. You know, smoosh is nice in theory, but I feel like I’m at risk of being smooshed right on out. (And frankly, it makes me want to leave for pastures in which the interdis thing is already sown, and I don't have to spend my energy battling smoosh when I don't even mind smoosh.)
Sunday, October 07, 2007
My family held an intimate memorial service for my uncle yesterday, and that was, R tells me, extremely loving and soothing. I am so happy to hear that people could honour him properly. Now that my mother is finished the planning of that service - she was entirely wrapped up in it for three days - I worry about it all coming crashing on her shoulders. We shall see.
I am doing much better than I was. I was completely exhausted and grief-stricken for a couple of days there. Then my friend K arrived from Home City, for a visit. Which is a good thing - I think I needed the distraction it is providing.
So she is here, and we are having a lovely, wine- and food-oriented time. Probably too much wine, and I now kind of feel as if I have to detoxify! But it has been very, very nice.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
He was my mother’s twin brother. I am worried, in the first instance, about her. When she phoned me, she was not as distraught as I’d have imagined she would be – and I know it hasn’t hit her, a much, much, much deeper grief that she hasn’t even encountered yet. I know this because of the circumstances of her life, of his life. His life always – his whole life – but also, especially, just recently. Just in the last few weeks.
We spent an awful lot of time talking about my uncle when my mother was visiting. She was worried about him. She phoned every day, trying to get hold of him. She checked in with one of their sisters about him every day. His wife had just left him because he was an alcoholic. Full of rage. Emotionally abusive. She had moved out into my other uncle’s house, taking their thirteen-year-old daughter with her.
He was a profoundly damaged man. In some ways, hurtling toward destruction. Nearly died of heart disease a year and half ago, but hadn’t quit the smoking that was killing him. Hadn’t quit the drinking.
But when his wife left him, he tried to turn it around. For these last two weeks, he’d been going to AA meetings every day. Was looking into a residential rehab program. When my mother was here, he phoned once while we were out, and left a soft, forlorn message trying to reassure her that everything was – or would be – alright.
My mother tells me she talked to him for an hour last night. He was sick with worry, apparently, that the family thought he was a monster. She tried to reassure him that nobody thought that.
Today his heart failed. And he died.
So I think of him, trying so hard to remake his life, and the screaming injustice of being stopped so soon. And I think of my mother, his closest sibling, his twin, for goodness sake. A recovered alcoholic herself, who saw through to the core of him – as many of us couldn’t , or wouldn't – and knew, and knew, what a good person he was.
I think of his children - a young girl he was so proud of, and a boy in his twenties, shy and sweet and standing by his father these last couple of weeks. What it feels like to watch a father live the way he has - so wounded - and then to lose him.
I think, too, of the larger family. It is large – my mother is one of seven children – and soso heavy with its own baggage, much of it centering around him. I know that losing their brother hurts. I know it hurts in an especially confusing and acute way because of where he stood in that family. Of where he had stood his whole life. Ever since he was a child.
And I think of my grandmother, losing one of her children. And what that must feel like because they didn’t really speak, she and my uncle. She – and these were her words, or at least an approximation – had never felt connected to him. He lived with that, she’s lived with it. And now he’s gone.
And it’s strange and terrible to feel that you’ve somehow failed someone. By writing them off. That’s what I did, I think. Because he was such a hard man to handle, because his profoundly insecure personality tended to grate. I didn’t take him seriously. And the worst part is that I knew. I knew how damaged he was, and at least some of the reasons why. And I still wouldn’t really, humanly engage with him. That’s selfish, and profoundly wrong. I am sorry for that.
My mother said she was grateful that he’d been released from the pain of his life. She believes he’s in a better place. I can’t say, of course, that I feel he’s anywhere now. I can't make anything of this. No lessons, no consolation, no nothing. Just the injustice of it, for him. Just hurt, for everyone else. And oh, my poor mother.
Monday, October 01, 2007
This is the sense I have right now. Having just finished blabbing for 8000 words about my book project for that huge grant proposal which would see funding starting next spring, I moved on - the very next day - to writing an internal travel grant application for funding for a faraway conference next June. This is one huge-ass travel grant application - the amount of documentation they want for a thousand bucks or less is colossally ridiculous. It's going to be a days-long affair to complete this. I have to talk up my project and its significance yet again. In future terms, hypothetical terms. And then there's the booking I just made yesterday, for my research trip in May. It's all projecting, months and months ahead.
How much time do I spend, by comparison, actually working on the book? Bascially, none. Instead, I'm all about planning for how to execute it in the future.
But what about the present? What about some time to actually grapple with the stuff I'm working on? Hell, what about the past, whence the stuff originated?
This future orientation is frustrating.
Please come back to me, batch of 19 critical responses from my first-year class. Oh, please.
I receive critical responses from everyone in that class every week, but I have a random grading scheme, so that I separate them into a small "to be graded" file folder and a larger "not graded" folder. I did this sitting in my office on Friday afternoon, and then - or so I thought - put both files in my bag to take home over the weekend. Yesterday I could only find the "not graded" pile and got nervous, but figured I'd be able to find the other one at the office. Not so.
The only thing I can imagine is that it fell out of my bag on the bus home on Friday. But I can't imagine how. Oh god. No.
Please, please, oh ye gods of the blogosphere, please let these things show up!
Update: It occurred to me after I wrote this that it is possible that I put these papers in my purse-ish kind of bag, before I went out for dinner on Friday night - thinking that I might go to a cafe after dinner and do some grading, because my dinner companion said he needed to go home early to work. (He didn't and I had too many drinks and was out too late to do this grading.) But I thought I'd put another batch, from another class, in my bag. We shall see when I get home late this afternoon!
Update #2: Found! They were in that purse. Thank you, blogosphere!