Thursday, January 31, 2008

MFA defense

Perversely, even though I hate it here in Scary City, I know that one of the things that makes it easier for me than it is for R is the fact that I am not there, in the house, where Mr. K and his movements and reactions were conditioned into my muscle memory. So that after he passed on, every time the doorbell rang, I would stiffen, waiting for him to bark. Coming in the door from outside, I would be waiting for the sounds of him coming over the greet me. Or I would be lying in bed and find myself turning over to look down and see him in his little bed. These were all rather awful bodily reactions in the aftermath of his death, as they only drove home his absence. I am sad that R has to deal with that alone.


Anyway, let me try to actually use this space to focus on something else for a little bit. It is probably good. Like the fact that tonight I am going to a movie. Juno.

I was called in as the university examiner for a thesis defense. The defense was postponed because I was away in Home City for Mr. Kasper. It is coming up, now. It is an MFA defense, not an MA. I don't work in the Fine Arts, obviously. I am an examiner because the theory that informs the candidate's work is the kind I work with, broadly speaking. There is an exhibition - the thesis exhibition - and then there is the written work, about two thirds of which is a theoretical meditation.

I am confused about how to evaluate/examine this piece of work. I am confused about the criteria. I presume they are different from the criteria used to evaluate an MA thesis, since for an MFA, the actual artistic work is the most important thing. So I assume that I am to tread lighter with the written work than I would if it were an MA? This becomes an issue because I don't think the written work is very strong - I would have serious reservations about it, were it an MA thesis.* But I suppose I am just to let it go, to ask the candidate some good, challenging questions that push their thinking - and leave it at that? Nobody seems to be able to answer this question. It's a little disconcerting.

* I feel like a little bit of an ass for even writing this, as this is the first time I've been involved in any kind of defense and I guess I'm still having impostor syndrome as a new tenure-track faculty member - who the hell am I to be a gatekeeper for grad students??

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Today I flew back to Scary City, arriving at the airport an hour and a half before my class began. I'd extended my trip to Home City by a day. I wasn't ready to come back early Monday morning. I was still in the thick of the grief, and didn't want to leave R yet. She stayed home from work. I didn't go out out of the house all day - and we ordered a pizza and watched DVDs. We actually hadn't had a day like that, and I think it was necessary. My father had come in from his City to be with me, on Friday after Mr. K went, and we'd spent Saturday afternoon with him, in a weird haze, doing errands and going to a distracting movie. On Sunday, we'd taken ourselves out for lunch just to get out of the house and the awful feeling of emptiness there.

Then this morning I got on a plane. Every time I come back here, I dread it more. This time, it felt like I was saying goodbye to Mr. K all over again, for some reason. The next time I go back, he'll be gone. It honestly feels like my heart is broken. I - non-believer that I am - am so worried that he's lonely.

But here I am, and all that. Back in the thick of this job. I can't care. I have this whole freaking week of events planned for early March, and it is both stressing me out (misunderstandings, budget problems, and just WAY TOO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT GOOD GOD EIGHT EVENTS?!) and making me confront the fact that I just don't care. I guess that is the clearest sign that I'm depressed (which is certainly how this new therapist has diagnosed me). This week of events was my idea, and now I just want to crawl into a hole until it's done. But pretend to feel I must, somehow. The depression books talk about loss of motivation and apathy and lack of energy. But they don't say what to do when you have to do a song and dance, feigning your investment in something that, by rights, you should care about - that it is your job to care about. And that you did once care about. While grieving the loss of your best friend. Blech.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hello lovelies. I thought I would check in, since you are all so right there with me, to let you know that we let Mr. Kasper go this morning. He was suffering immensely. It hurts us; in fact, I know for certain that I have never felt loss like this before. But it was the right thing, and he knew how much we loved him, and we felt loved.

There's no need for comments.I don't want to pressure people to say anything; you have said so much that is so lovely, and I know it is hard to know what to say. But I wanted to check in because I have felt you all with me, and I am grateful.

Here is a reprise of the way I want to remember Mr. Kasper:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Things are looking pretty dire. Mr. Kasper is only getting worse, and what he has by now ENTIRELY fits the profile of advanced mediastinal lymphoma - i.e. the worst kind. We are thinking about the unthinkable at this point. I was pulled together until last night, when I talked to R on the phone, she was crying, and she told me Mr. Kasper kept looking at her as if he wanted her to help him. I am worried about getting through this - I feel gutted. But I'm leaving this afternoon, and I will be able to hug him and hold him tonight. I need strength because I feel like I will fall apart.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

3 possibilities

Since you are all so sweet and concerned about Mr. K, I shall keep you posted. The three possibilities are: Diabetes Insipidus, lymphoma, and kidney tumours. Next step, ultrasound with specialist to determine whether it's one of the latter two rather disastrous possibilities, with biopsy being done on the spot if there are tumours found.

Oh, damn. Damn, damn, damn.

Well, we shall see. More to be found out, still.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Calmer times, puddle of cheeks

Mr. K update

R took Mr. K to the vet this morning. He's a disaster. She's a complete mess. The vet doesn't know what is going on. He is at the vet for the day. They are doing a water deprivation test, to find out if it's Diabetes Insipidus (the rare, nearly untreatable form of diabetes). That test is terrifying, because if he has that DI, it can seriously harm him to be deprived of water. This whole thing feels like torture. There are other symptoms that make the vet think maybe it's something else...the not eating, some breathing problems, red eyes. They are getting an internal medicine specialist involved, and need to do ultrasounds to look for tumours. It doesn't look good, folks, no matter what. I didn't expect to be staring down these kinds of possibilities with a five-year-old dog. I don't even know what to do with myself. I think I may go home for the weekend. R is so stressed and so isolated. She's now full of guilt, berating herself. She needs some time off from this. I think maybe I need to go. I am showing a film in my Monday class next week; I could easily just get someone to show it for me, and would be able to be gone Thursday-Monday.

Friday, January 18, 2008


So Mr. K is not better. He's still peeing all over the place, even 72 hours into the regime of antibiotics. I am freaked, and think it's a sign that something else is wrong. (After all, apparently the tests showed only "low-grade" bladder infection.) He's pacing and restless and sometimes not eating. What's more, it is taking a toll on R, and finally on R and I. She is extraordinarily unhappy. She feels like a prisoner, like she can't go out or do anything, because every time she goes out, he pees all over the place even though he's been let out. Like, even if she only goes out for 45 minutes. Or he pees right in front of her. As well, she says, he's destroying the floors. She says they're starting to buckle in the places where he keeps peeing. She is really angry and fed up - and you must understand that those are the most innocuous descriptors I can think of. She is deeply, deeply pissed in the depths of her soul, more like. And yet she won't do anything about it, and is convinced it is now entirely psychological - that Mr. K is peeing because now he thinks he's allowed to pee in the house. This seems highly unlikely to me. And in any case, I think it's clear that he needs to go back to the vet - like, tomorrow. But she freaks when I say this, and there's an undercurrent to all of it about her being the one who is having to deal with it, so I should shut up. So she's angry and upset and completely consumed by the fact that she feels like a prisoner and her house is being destroyed, and yet she won't do anything about it. And we haven't had a decent conversation for almost a week now because of this. Good times, good times. I don't know what to do. I know that I need to lay I'm not calling and haranguing her or anything. I know that when she is like this, she just needs to wallow in anger. And yet, there is a dog's health at stake. And, too, I feel like I need to make a bigger gesture, since I can't do anything concrete to help. I sent her the entire fee for the expensive antibiotics, instead of just splitting it - that was my token thing. I have sent her cards and emails of gratitude. But I don't know what else to do. Bloody hell.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Mr. K seems to have a bladder infection. The vet was stumped yesterday because it didn't seem like he did have one, but in the end, it turns out that is the problem. (Although there's also the backburner possibility of some kind of "rare" strain of diabetes, whatever that is.) Anyway, he's started antibiotics tonight, so barring rare diabetes-ness, he'll be much better in no time. Thank you to all - especially T.E. and Maude! - for your suggestions and good vibes. This is a major relief!


Also, on teaching, from which students have been fleeing: Things are going awesomely. As they did last term in my first-year class, and for the first half of the upper-year course. This term, my first-years? They absolutely rock. Chatty and confident and radical. My upper-years + two grad students? Incredibly inquisitive and attentive and right there with me and the material. The vibe in both classes is great, perfect from my perspective: casual but rigorous. So yeah, I wish there was some way of showing Chairs and Deans and such that things actually go really swimmingly in my classes, with the people who stick around because they're not scared away by the workload. The idea that the future is going to be determined solely by attrition/drop rates is frustrating.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A semi-embarrassing first

So over the weekend I got an email from my Chair asking if I could stop by her office for a chat on Monday. You know when you're called into your boss' office for unstated reasons that something is up. (My guess was that, when my Dean emailed me last week asking me to be on Important Committee, and I told him I was over-busy with service commitments and wasn't getting to my research*, he had called her up and told her to order me back onto the Research Track. (I know, I know, why am I compulsively honest?? Who tells their - notoriously paranoid and micro-managerial - Dean that they aren't getting any research done??))

But no. I was called into my Chair's office today to account for why the enrolments in my classes this year have been so low. And not low from the beginning - why there have been significant drops out of my classes.


How embarrassing. I admit that I had been aware of this, especially this term. I knew it didn't look good, but the fact that I currently have only 35 students (+ 2 grad students) made me happy, I must say.

Chair wanted to know why I thought the enrolments had dropped so much. My best guess is that it is because the workloads are very demanding - in fact, my fall term 1st year course was, by any standards, too demanding. I see that now. I had a hard time adjusting to this 90 minutes, twice a week schedule. I over-assigned reading and assignments. I know better now.

It's just that I've always been a very popular instructor, not one who drives students away. That's rather embarrassing. As my charmingly frank father noted on the phone tonight, "It doesn't make me look very good to my superiors." Nope, it doesn't. Oops.

The good thing about the state of apathy I'm in these days? It means I'm not taking this on, feeling like a failure. I am not internalizing failure. What I do feel squirmy about is the external perception of failure.** Eep.

* I realized, after I wrote this to him, how untrue it is. I have gotten a list as long as my arm of reaearch-related work done - and some of it published - in the six months since I began this job. My perception that I'm still not doing anything is a problem (to be addressed in another post).
** Theoretically, I also feel squirmy about the fact that this will make it next to impossible to hire even a sessional for next year, much less a TT person, much less grow the program. Theoretically.

Oh dear

Mr. K is sick. He started drinking what seemed to be excessively while I was in town, and had some peeing episodes (unusual). Last week he peed every day while R was at work. She and I fought about it. She was convinced it was emotional (my leaving again); I was urging her to take him in to the vet. Well, the last two days, he's wet his bed twice - both days, could not make it through the night - and done all sorts of other peeing. Even though R has been limiting his water. R has finally seen that she needs to take him to the vet right away, and has an appointment for after work today.

I'm worried, because of course one looks up these things on the Internet these days, and of course at the top of the list of possibilities are kidney failure and diabetes. I'm trying to keep calm about it, but I'm very apprehensive.

Poor Mr. K. I wish I could be there.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First, before I launch into this - once again - negative post, let me say that I am a little horrified by myself. As I noted in the comments to the below post, I have felt pretty self-conscious about being a mess, in this forum. R always used to tell me how together and even-keeled and "well-adjusted" I was...(She noted this because it made her feel like a fuck-up.) Well, ever since about six months into this blog adventure, life has been pretty damn up and down for me. So you all have had to witness this months-long sense of crisis. Since it's come to a head, lately (witness the continued - but not so acute - crying jags on the street on Friday and Saturday), I feel some hope that things will get better...I am doing "all the right things," as my friend M told me today. Therapy, socializing, etc. I'll get through it. And more importantly, figure out some really crucial...stuff. I just worry that I seem endlessly in a mess...that's embarrassing, frankly.


Anyway, so here's some bitching of the non-existential variety. I just need to vent about it.

I have a friend here in Scary City, F, with whom I was "set up" by a friend from Home City/Dream Uni. F and I see each other every few weeks...usually - like today - we go for a long walk.

On the second occasion that F and I socialized, I invited F in for dinner after our walk. While I got dinner together, she perused my bookshelves, calling book-related observations to me from the living room. When I emerged from the kitchen, I discovered that she had a rapidly growing pile of my fiction books at her side. She asked me about several author collections I have..."What is your favourite of A.S. Byatt's novels?" she asked. I would tell her, and stare as she pulled out all of those favourites and added them to the pile. Note that she hadn't said anything about what she was making the pile for. After she had a pile of at least eight books, she asked, "Can I borrow these?" I was a little taken aback - don't you ask before you start pulling books off the shelf? And why were there 8-10 novels?

So I sent her off that night with a collection of the books that are most important to me. Feeling bugged, but not wanting to admit it to myself. I mean, sharing books is the right thing to do, of course. Why should I hog my books? It's not like they're rare editions, or anything.

The next time I saw her, 3-4 weeks later, I asked her how the novels were going. "Oh, she laughed, "I haven't had any time for those! Maybe I'll get to them at Christmas!" More irritation - why take 8+ books from somebody if they're just going to sit there for months? This was October. But I've tried to be bigger than that feeling. I know how selfish and unnecessary it is.

Flash forward to today. Early in our walk, she told me she'd spent all of yesterday holed up with a great novel...not one of the ones she's borrowed from me. What's more, she is currently packing to move, and so my books are being just packed up in her stuff, unread.

I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. Yes, I'm selfish, yes, it's petty, but these are some of my favourite novels! And yet, I find it really hard to address this. We're not close enough, I feel, to weather the awkwardness that would ensue if I brought it up. I've long since resigned myself to simply asking for my books back, just as "naturally" as can be, when I move away from Scary City, whenever that is. As if I hadn't been obsessing about them for the last number of months.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Black holes

This week has been...interesting. I felt like I'd been slammed with a two by four. By yesterday afternoon, walking home from the bus stop in the 5 o'clock dark, I was so stressed I had a little bit of a breakdown. Breakdown is probably too strong a word. But, it's worth noting that I haven't been able to cry for months - this is one of the ways in which I have become completely emotionally detached and estranged from myseld. And since I let loose with massive, wracking sobs on the snowy street...seemingly out of nowhere...a little breakdown in my everyday actually seems like an appropriate description.

I cried really hard. And then I was basically okay. Was pulled together by some seemingly invisible hand. The suddenness and randomness of this felt freaky, to me. It was like for twenty minutes, I slipped through a black hole that opened onto a terrifying, true world. That truth being the utter emptiness of me. I thought of how Maggie said, in a comment to a recent post, that her therapist speaks of moments when your soul is talking to you. I like that formulation. It is the best way to describe what happened yesterday.

The scary truth I was encountering? It's that right now, I don't care. And this me who doesn't care is not someone I've ever seen, and she scares me, and yet I can't help but wonder - constantly, these days - if she is really me.

I try to hold on to the fact that I have cared. That I do this job well. That I saw five - five - of last year's students over my time in Home City. Because they like me, because I made a difference in their lives, because they keep in touch with me, and ask to have dinner or tea or "watch Margaret Cho videos" with me when they know I'm going to be in town. I try to hold on to the fact that I am - or have been - gifted at this work, somehow. That I came back to Scary City/Uni and found a card from one of my fall students slipped under my office door, which said, "Your class was great but the reverberations will be even greater." That should be enough, all of that. It should be enough to make me care. But I can't - and that's very alienating.

Y'all don't need to respond to's not necessary to affirm me or anything. I just like this forum for working stuff out, and I feel as if a lot is being worked out right now, so I feel like putting it here. I have many thoughts on this, as well, that I do feel are relevant to larger questions about gender and about the academy - and not as self-indulgent as this. But I just wanted to say, you know?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

So I almost never assign books, right? I just do up course kits, for the vast majority of my readings. This year I thought I'd assign a couple of books. I assigned one for my first year course that started this week (as well as a course kit, of course). I put my book orders in, in the last week of September. That's three and a half months ago. I designed my course, relying exclusively on that collection of essays at the end, with a few pieces from it scattered throughout.

What do I find out this morning? (Let me remind you that this is 3 1/2 months after I put my book order in.) That the book is probably never going to come in. The publisher doesn't have it in stock. Oh my fucking god. Fuuuuuuuck. What the hell am I going to do???

This is why I should never order books. Dammit. I was so pleased about this book, too. It was one of the things that I felt made this course awesome. Oh, I could strangle someone!!!!!!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Back in Scary City...

...That is right. Today I travelled from Home City to Scary City. (For at least a while, the city I come from will still be Home City - hell, it will always be Home City to me, I think.)

As my departure approached, I felt myself shutting down. So I said goodbye to R and boarded the plane without heartache or tears. Problem is, I boarded the plane and arrived in Scary City without any emotion. I'd started to thaw out, so to speak, toward the end of my time in Home City. But I am all sewn up tight again. And I just can't make myself care about the term that starts tomorrow. When have I not cared about teaching?? I've always cared about teaching. But right now, I'm a machine. I haven't given a single thought to the class I teach starting in thirteen hours.

Again, I just need to throw myself into my research - if I can't be emotional, at least I can be cerebral. And I will feel as if I there is a point to my existence.

And I have located a potential therapist already. I have an introductory, do-we-fit? appointment with her on Tuesday afternoon. She sounds promising. I do this mostly for myself, but also I owe it to R. My relationship with her is suffering due to my ambivalence and unhappiness and I need, for its sake, to sort out my needs and desires.

I have a cat now!! For the year. She is amazingly well-adapted to this place already, and seems to have made her home the guest bed. She's a darling little black thing named Diamond. The instructions left to me by her owners (my former downstairs neighbours, who are going away for a year) say, "She likes to be gently scratched and purrs frequently." Which I find insanely freaking cute. I shall post pictures soon.

A strange bright spot is that I have accepted the work of replacing someone on a hiring committee. The candidates are coming in over the next two weeks. I shouldn't feel as interested in this as I do, given that I am predictably swamped with other beginning-of-term things, and that it will involve me being on campus five days a week this week and next (instead of four). But I am looking forward to it for some reason. A strange bright spot indeed.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"A question-friendly environment"

In my syllabi, I tend to write something about the course being a question-friendly environment. In the upper-level seminars, I explain that, indeed, the purpose of the class is to raise and work through questions.

My classes start next week, and I am teaching fourth-year Theory. Some of you will remember how absolutely fantastic my theory class was last year; all of my (exclusively upper-level) courses were fantastic. They took seriously that question-oriented approach, and I had incredibly high participation rates - all these students musing productively. That had to do with the institution and the cohort of students, though. The raw materials aren't as stellar at Scary City U, if you know what I mean.

So I'm worried about how to create/foster an environment where students aren't afraid to put themselves on the line by raising questions about the texts we're reading. I want them to be able to recognize that some of the material we're reading is difficult, and that means our stance will be a questioning one. Part of this is as simple as having the students feel comfortable identifying passages they just don't understand, or that they find contradictory, etc. This is the way they're going to learn - I can't explain the things they don't understand if I don't know what those things are. There is the added pressure of the fact that there will be a few grad students - including at least one PhD student - in the class. As people noted in their comments to my query about this, grad students can intimidate undergrad students into silence. This would be a very, very bad thing with this material.

So I'm wondering if people have thoughts or experiences they can share, about how they have made their classrooms "question-friendly," so that the students feel comfortable taking the lead in processing the material through close readings and queries of it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year thoughts

Today has been a quiet day...R and I went to the live simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Hansel and Gretel. With my uncle. My uncle and R are opera fans...I am not so much. Meh, I thought with this one...I find opera frankly ridiculous much of the time, especially when it is narratives about mundane things..."Have some berries, Hansel..." That kind of dialogue, sung operatically? Does not compute.

Anyway, I thought I would like to note some goals for 2008, which is also my Prophet Year (since I am newly turned 33).

I am excited, actually, about finding a kind of solace in work. I have turned to some interesting...stuff recently. And am about to set out to write the first chapter of my book (have some conference papers to build from...) I feel estranged from the particular rigours of research and writing, I have to say. That makes me question what the hell I am doing in this profession, as I am doing too often lately. It makes me feel alarmingly stagnant. Instead, I want the unique excitement I feel when I am getting somewhere new with my work.

Write at least two chapters of the book.
Find publisher for co-edited collection.

Find constructive ways to deal with the frustration I felt in November, if indeed it returns. Also, since I'll really be working with grad students this term, work out a protocol for teaching them. (I actually find this somewhat scary...)

Get my ass into therapy. Figure out some stuff .

- Half-marathon in April. Since late September, I've been running only about 2x per week, and my 12k weekly long runs (maintenance when I'm not training for something long like a half) have fallen by the wayside entirely. NO more of that.
- Get out cross-country skiing at least five times this winter!
- Do some goddamn core strengthening so I can protect myself against back injury! Why do I resist this so much??

- Make sure to get to Nearest Metropolis at least three times before C moves back to European City in the spring.
- Cultivate my new wine-drinking friendships in Scary City.
- More phone talks
- Get to at least one dance weekend, and week at dance camp in the summer.
- Chill the hell out.
- See Susan in New York
- Meet a couple of blogfriends
- Swim in Scary City in the summer!
- Holiday on the Big Island in Hawaii (after a conference that takes me there)
- Eat pastries in Paris (during research trip in May)
- Enjoy the cat I am adopting for one year starting this weekend