Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taking a Sick Day from My Life

So yesterday I ended up being a total crabapple (at first I wrote crapapple, which is maybe more accurate) to Tot, at least during the first half of the day. He's going through a phase now where there are just so many ways in which for him to be annoying or hurt himself. He's started some tantrum-like behavior and then there's the screaming. Oh god, the screaming. And he wants to go outside to the patio every three seconds. As in, he goes in of his own accord, then wants to go right back out again. I don't know what he's thinking. Why not just stay outside?

Absurdist Lover said last night he thought he was fighting something off, and AT had some dreadful cough this morning, but otherwise was fine. I was totally set to go the farm -- sunscreen on and everything (I have forgotten in the past and ended up all red), not feeling particularly well and trying to prop myself up with coffee (not the Corporation because we're scant on funds) -- and then, my stomach started gurgling. I swear, I was on my way, 10 more minutes and I would have been there. I had to turn around. I called in sick. So now I'm at home, trying to figure out what to do with myself. This is the first day in a while when I haven't had that grading hanging over my head. Of course, I know I could work on the thingamajig and my research. But I wonder if I should be doing something else, like figuring out some magical elixir of balance-making so I can be healthier and more balanced for my family and myself. But exactly what would that be? Reading a book because I can? Watching a movie without interruption? Taking a bath? A shower? Truth be told, I don't feel like doing any of that, anything really.

Here's something I want to focus on right now. Once upon a time, I was a creative writer. I focused on creative writing in undergrad and Grad School Part 1. For my doctoral work, I started out with that purpose, but I wasn't happy with what was going on in the creative writing courses. I wanted more. . .meat to the discussions. Intellectual meat. Not just "this works" or "try this." Not all creative writers are intellectuals. Some are amazing artists or craftspeople. In fact, creative writing is an art, not an intellectual pursuit (which is not to say that there aren't very intellectual approaches and intellectuals who are also artists/writers). I felt there was something wrong with their approach for me and began to look elsewhere for meatier stuff and ended up in the field I'm in now. With very few regrets. I have always been wary about staking my survival on my creative writing. Which maybe has always been the problem. I'm too scared or not romantic enough to put it all on the line to write that novel and be poor until I'm rescued by an agent or publisher. Or maybe I just have so many other related interests that trying to put it all in my creative writing is a problem. Really, I want to be one of those writers who ends up writing fabulous op-ed pieces and belles lettres about the issues of the day because people want to hear my opinion about such things. A certain version of public writing. So I have some interest in nonfiction anyway (though when I was a kid, the dream was always about writing novels and it's SO hard to let that dream go, even as I have failed at it a number of times and am probably tempermentally unsuited to writing something that long). But really, I'm sad to have lost creative writing from my life.

I feel it most when I see what my colleagues are up to, when I see my Grad City colleagues publish another book. (Okay, I like it when my friends do it, but when those people who were real stinkers publish another book, I just want to imagine that they have really awful personal lives to balance out that good fortune.) And I wonder: am I just upset because I wish I had published a book by now? Is it about the publication or do I miss the writing, that particular discovery process, the way those finished writings become encapsulations of a particular event or thought or time in my life?

It's also because I feel like I don't know how to write, in some ways. Obviously I know you have to show up, apply butt to chair, and get the pen moving. Not that. But I sometimes feel I have no idea what makes a piece of creative writing good. What's the magic formula? How can I do that? What do I have to make sure to have? How can I get better?

While there is some craft talk in the creative writing world (and I've been out of it for several years so I may not know what I'm talking about anymore), there's a huge strain of creative writing talk that is about the *mystery* of writing, the *inspiration* of it, the muse striking. That doesn't give me much to work on. I realize that there's no guaranteed path to becoming a better creative writer, but I would like to work on it -- and I'm kind of sick of the idea that working on it just entails showing up, applying butt to chair, and getting the pen moving until the muse rolls in. There's got to be more than that. Any ideas? Please?

But no matter how I end up working on it, I need to start writing again. (See how creative writing is really what *writing* means to me? I *work* on scholarship. But *writing* is creative writing.) Absurdist Lover agrees that I need to write; he likes to see me even writing longhand in a journal. What a sweetie.

I don't know how to fit creative writing in. My life already feels so scheduled, so determined. In fact, I don't have time to do the things I need to do -- I feel like I'm constantly giving short shrift to my job because I take care of Absurdist Tot and work on the farm. I don't work out or do yoga, both totally necessary to my brain chemistry, either because I can't figure out how to smoosh it in there. But I've got to figure out how to get these things into my teaching life -- and soon, because summer courses are going to start almost immediately.

And I'm nowhere on prepping for those courses I'm teaching. But I think that taking a sick day means thinking about those things that got me sick in the first place, especially if I'm not going to be able to do the one thing that really most feeds my brain chemistry. (Though I said I'd go to the farm tomorrow or Friday.) So I think I need to think about how to make time for writing and working out/yoga at least twice per week.

And then, of course, there's the report and the research. Ugh. Can I go take a nap now?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

So I've been working on the project of getting Absurdist Tot to sleep through the night. I found the No-Cry Sleep Solution at the used bookstore and have been trying to really watch what AT does. I've long felt really bad for him that AL and I (but especially me) are very undisciplined and unscheduled. Which is not to say we don't get plenty done, but just that we're not very consistent about what we do when. Since AL is quite ADD and who knows what on earth my problem is, I worry that AT may be too, or at least may thrive with more of a schedule. Which I fail terribly at. But I've been trying to work on it, especially around AT's sleeptime.

And he's been going to sleep at 8 (unheard of -- remember, he used to go to bed at 11), 9, and variation thereof, sometimes waking up again, sometimes not. Last night he woke up at 10:30, I got him back down by 11, and then he slept through until 7.

But he's erratic! Case in point: he usually takes his nap around 11ish at home, 12ish at daycare (which he is at 4/days a week now). Today? He crashed hard before Dinosaur Train, which was at 9:30. I had promised myself that I'd start some bread when he took his nap, but I've had some trouble getting going today because the Corporation at the grocery store was closed (I took it as a sign) and decided I'd try to go back to yerba mate instead of coffee. Especially since we're low on coffee and have to make it to Friday morning before we can purchase anything pricey.

I was going to have a protein shake, but then he went to sleep! The laptop is in the kitchen, though, so I'm trying. I've started the first bit, which is putting the yeast, ACCKKKKK! The Tot is up. Oy gevalt.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grading Prison: Because You're Going to Be Here a While

So this morning, I have way too much to grade. This is my last day of daycare before grades are due, so in a fit of virtue, I'm going to dedicate the day to getting it done, rather than starting off with research or the annual report thingamajig. I have a lot to do. But can I just stop to say that it's not virtuous to wait until the last minute. Being at the tail end of things this quarter frankly just makes sense (my grandfather dying and accompanying fall-out really did take my head out of work for a long while, delaying things to this late date), but while I usually turn in my grades pretty quickly, happy to get done and be done, I almost always wait until the last minute to grade a batch of projects. I wait even with a batch of reading responses. Not during the first couple weeks, but eventually and pretty regularly.

When I was a grad student, I was notorious (at least in my own mind) for holding onto projects for ridiculously long times. I once had an all-time low and held on to them for such a long time I'm frankly just ashamed to tell you. Bad. Very very bad.

Now I always tell my students that it's going to be two weeks. When teaching two sections of the same prep especially. You don't want to hand back one class rather than the other, but it gets so tedious to read 50 of the project, no matter how interesting or unique. But really, there is no way it should take me 2 weeks to hand back a set of papers. I know -- to some of you this amount is already scandalous. I've seen a teacher I worked with hand back a full set of comments for drafts in one class period (it met every other day). The class was at least 25 students. It was inspiring and dispiriting. There really are people who are totally on the ball.

So when all this is over, I want to stop and think about why it takes me so long to make myself dig in to a stack of papers. I think part of it may be that there is no lull between projects -- we turn a project in and start a new one on the same day -- and those project introduction days are usually much more intense for me. Whatever. It makes no difference now, but I know I need to come back to this later. (Hence I put this in a blog, rather than a journal. I feel no responsibility toward consistency or logic in a journal. I don't even necessarily reread my journal for the most part. I feel responsible to the blog though because y'all are out there.) Also, once I dig in to them, they're usually more interesting and easier to grade than I had feared. Could fear have something to do with putting off one's grading? Hmmm.

Please discuss while I stare at a young squirrel who is half-splayed on my patio.

By the way, remind me to tell you about the patio and the wildlife. We've had a very eventful spring turn into summer, with squirrel babies and Canada goslings and the crazy goose who goes up and attacks tires and people. Oh yeah, and if any are interested, I have stories from the farm. I've been working at the farm for three or four weeks now. I really feel I can breathe better there. I swear it's just being so close to so many plants, who are putting out fresh new oxygen at me. I love it. But now it's not enough. I had to go to the farmer's market yesterday in the storm for a booster shot of produce and oxygen and gorgeous green onions that remind you that they are beautiful plants -- as gorgeous in shape as a tulip or iris or calla lily. I'm getting weird in my old age. And five plants on the patio, a place which has become an indispensable part of the house, especially to Tot. We are becoming much more granola earthy farmy people. AL can really feel it at work, how different we are from everyone sharing YouTube videos and apps or whatever. Anyway. Can you tell I'd really like to do something else? I don't even let myself think about it.

So this is what I have to do today:

  1. Grade revisions.
  2. Record revisions.
  3. Grade all-quarter work.
  4. Calculate grades.
  5. Grade final projects of Elective.
  6. Calculate grades.
  7. Contact any stragglers.
  8. Turn in at least Class 1 grades.
Yes, I wrote every little thing in there because I'm going to need the satisfaction of striking things off the list. I am profoundly tired. After a wonderful night of a full, uninterrupted night's sleep on Saturday night, last night Tot went to bed around 8pm, but woke up at 2:30, came to bed, and was very demanding this morning at 6:30. I have a giant coffee from the Corporation (which for money reasons and political reasons I really need to stop frequenting -- there I've made it real by putting it on here -- I really just need to get my espresso machine out of storage) and am fully ensconced in a spot in the house where I shouldn't need to get up for at least two, three. . .minutes.

When I wake up more and am out of coffee, I'll make myself a protein shake and take my vitamins. I would love to be done with Class 1 by about 1pm. That would really set me up for the day.


Hope your day is shaping up better than mine.

***12:15pm Update***

So I'm done with the first class completely. I pretty much rock. I can put all these papers somewhere (to go to the office, since I don't want to keep all this stuff here).

Now, I think I need to eat something. A protein shake. Lunch. Something. And then. Maybe a little bit of rest before I launch into Class 2. Dear lord. But at least if I keep this up I might be able to either work out or do something else besides grading before I have to pick everyone up.

***4:30pm Update***

Well, I'm done. But now I have to pick up the other Absurdists. No shower. No cleaning of the house. No nothing. Sigh.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On with the Show

Okay, so yesterday I did not end up doing any grading at all, and then last night it hit me: I'm going to have only today and Monday to get it finished up, because I'm booked already for all the other days. So I must get at least some grading done today. But I don't get tenure for grading (well, I'm sure I'd not get tenure if I didn't grade, but beyond that. . .) so I'm still going to make sure I get some research and annual review report thingamabob do-hickey done today too. Because I enjoy those, and they make me feel good and productive.

So on with the show:
  1. Go through last 10 pages of Great Article, transcribing the notes I made when I read it the first time. (Yes, this does count as research.)
  2. Work on annual report thingamabob. Try not to get lost.
  3. Grade Class 1's Final Projects.
  4. Assign Participation grades.
  5. Start Revisions, maybe, possibly??? NOPE
  6. Work out
  7. Shower

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blue Accountablogging

I'm feeling low. My grandfather died last week; while my father was willing to pay for the tickets, I got sick and Tot was just finishing up an ear infection, so we didn't go to the funeral. My father and I had it out, finally, over some unfinished business. Members of my family are having catastrophically hard times right now. Lots of death. I'm just feeling low, like everything's dismal and unlikely to get better. But really I'm probably just worn out, not terribly healthy, sore from working at the CSA, and grieving, not just the loss of my grandfather, but the loss of the way I wish my family were. I know that an important part of being an adult is to accept the way things are and stop getting angry or upset that things -- and people -- aren't different. But I think I need to grieve right now, instead of telling myself I should be over it by now. Which I should. It's just more of the same. But I'm obviously upset about it. I don't have the strength to fight too hard with myself.

Which explains why I've been home for two hours and really haven't done anything that I set out to do. I need to finish up the spring quarter (we have a really late grade turn-in date, mercifully, considering that this is the first quarter that I haven't had everything in more than a week early, but then it's been a very eventful end-of-quarter). I have revisions, final papers, and some other stuff to look at in one class. The other class is just final projects and assigning grades to things like participation. I'm not going to get all this done this week. Not even close.

Then there are other things I really need to get to, like this article I'm trying to write and for which I really should have a draft written by the end of the month. That's not likely to happen, but still. And then there's the annual report, which I really need to pound out. Then there's planning for the summer, but I'm not even going to put that on my plate just now.

There are other things I'd like to do today, like work out, do the dishes, and try to take care of myself, since I'm so run-down and borderline sick it's crazy.

So what to do? Originally I was thinking an hour for research, an hour for the annual report, then two hours for grading. But if I do that now, then it'll be 4:30 by the time I'm done and I won't get anything else done, not even, likely, some working out, which I think I need. Maybe 45 minutes for each, then an hour and a half for grading. Then I'll be done by 3:30. That sounds better.

Here's what I've done so far: made the bed, threw some clothes in the hamper, cleaned up the toddler toys all over the floor, watered the plants and took care of the patio, read lots of blogs and wrote a couple emails. Pretty pathetic.

Here's what I'm going to do:
  1. Do dishes, so I get that instant satisfaction that comes from being able to see progress.> DONE!!
  2. Work on research for 45 minutes. DONE!!
  3. Work on the annual report for 45 minutes. I think I spent way more than 45 minutes here, but it felt good to make clear and visible progress on this puppy!
  4. Pump? Eat? Mmmm. Swiss chard. Wow.
  5. Grade for 1-1/2 hours. Hmmmm. Not so much.
  6. Work out.
  7. Take shower.
I realize this is the most boring post in the world, but I need that public accountability. I'm depressed; what can I say?

Friday, June 11, 2010


I found out last night that my grandfather is dying. The doctors say it's a matter of days. He has two different cancers, and he is in his eighties. I should've seen him when I was in Urban City a couple weeks ago for my sister's wedding, but I was barely functional the one day I could've seen him so I didn't.

Though I haven't seen him in a while, my grandfather is a very important person to my writing and my scholarly life. He really started me on the trajectory I'm now on -- in trying to understand the mystery of him, I developed a whole collection of scholarly interests that I am still fascinated by. He was always a very difficult man, sort of cold and distant emotionally. He worked all the time, talked about war and politics during the holidays. He couldn't really relate to people on other people's terms. He was only really interested in talking about a few subjects interesting to him. Luckily, he and I shared interests -- mostly stories about his rather remarkable life -- and I wrote about him over and over again.

Part of me wants to hop on a plane, but I really can't. We don't have the money, for one thing. I would have to take the Tot because we are not at all prepared for me to be gone -- no breastmilk saved up, days that the daycare is closed when Absurdist Lover has to work. I have responsibilities here. I could ask my father for the money to fly Tot and me to Urban City, but there is a whole drama there. I owe my father tons of money already which he is angry about and mentions that "we need to talk" but then doesn't call me when he says he will and doesn't pursue clearing the air with me. Yet, I know he's still mad at me because he didn't call to tell me that Grandpa was in the hospital or anything and because my brother made reference to it. I know Dad avoids confrontation, and I should just deal with it because of course he has every right to be angry, but we're doing our best with one car and can't pay him back yet. It's hard for me to believe that he needs that money to eat the way we do. And maybe I've just been avoiding the whole thing too, because it pisses me off to have to be the one to pursue it when I'm already ashamed of the whole mess and I also have a full and exhausting life without worrying whether my father is angry at me and won't deal with it a dozen states away.

I don't want to borrow pretty much near a thousand dollars right now. I want to honor my grandfather and what he means to me -- my brother says he's only sometimes lucid -- but I also don't want to further weigh down my little family's half-deflated liferaft of hope that we're going to eventually be able to climb up and out of the financial mess we're in. I just can't do that to AL when he's working so hard and not really loving this job -- really finding some of the corporate crap impossible and ridiculous. If my father gives us the tickets, that's something else. Though it would be nothing but headache, I suppose I would take Tot on a couple planes and tough out dealing with all the stupid issues (Tot in some sort of living space not meant for an active toddler, Tot with Dad's dog, etc.) if Dad would buy us the tickets. I'm not holding my breath, though maybe he would. Obviously, I don't really want to go to Urban City, don't really think it will do much for me and my needs when losing my grandfather to deal with all that. I'm really torn. I swear to God I was already really exhausted from trying to be a good little trooper finishing up a sort of depressing quarter, driving everyone around, and dealing with Tot's being sick, which means he wants to nurse through the night, i.e., bad sleep for Mom.

I can't really expect the family to understand and respect that I'm torn between my duties to them and my duties and responsibilities to my little Absurdist Family. (My needs in the face of this loss: how do those factor in to them?) I'm not sure that there is much I can do there in Urban City -- for my grandfather, my father, my siblings. I can see my grandfather, if he makes it that long. I can go to a funeral. I should probably call my father and ask him how he's doing, despite his idiocy. (How angry and disappointed at him I am to realize that his anger toward me outweighs his letting me know that his father is dying! Did he say anything about his anger toward me at my sister's wedding? No.) I know what's important is that I make the right decision for me and feel good about it -- but that's so much easier than it sounds. What is the right decision? (Is not going the right decision for me? Or am I just trying to justify it? I don't know.)

I feel terrible. I've been in my office for hours now. I should be reading some student papers already woefully overdue to be graded. Instead, I've been writing about my grandfather (which I'm sure will turn into a eulogy that I can ask someone to read), remembering things, and reading things I wrote about him. And crying.

So what do you think? Am I the terrible daughter and granddaughter I think I am for thinking that I really can't just up and go to Urban City? Do I wait for the funeral? Do I go to the funeral at all, if I have to pay for it? I figure I shouldn't go anywhere until next Tuesday anyway, when my classes are over. Not really because my job is important, but for my own peace of mind. Maybe I'm terrible, but I'm exhausted and I need to finish up my courses. I have a couple weeks between the end of this quarter and the start of summer. Maybe I can go to Urban City then and help with whatever Dad needs help with.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More on Writing: I Wanna Do More of It!

I was rereading the terrific and varied comments on this post and wanted to respond, but when it got super-long, I figured I better just write a new post. (You all rock, dear great readers! Rock on!) But it's been so interesting to re-read all your comments now after a week where I really wanted to work on research and so I did in weird odd hours.

I read once that the key to writing with kids at home (I think this was a stay at home mom) was to pull up the file and keep it open all day, so that you have that sense that you're still working on it, but that you were pulled away from it and will get back to it.

Now, I didn't do this exactly (I usually have tons of things open on my computer, so having a file open doesn't really exert the tug on me that it should), but I did have this sense that if I had a few spare minutes I wanted to use it to read and take notes on an article, do another library search and request stuff from ILL or even, one exhausted evening, type up my handwritten notes (which is a must for me) into a file.

What I think works about this strategy is that they are all short assignments, little almost modular pieces I can work on and then leave. In fact, in the idea-generation phase of scholarship, it's even better if I come to the work many different times so I get different perspectives and ideas.

This tends not to work as well when I'm actually trying to draft the damn thing, which is usually a terrible battle because I have to figure out how to organize the piece. This part really needs the kind of focused effort that requires a longer session. And then I might try to organize it multiple times until it feels right or at least okay. It's so tempting to not even think of this researching-and-taking-notes phase as writing. Except that it is, and I know it. But this is why I never want to say "I'm writing scholarship"; it's always "I'm working on scholarship."

Anyway, what I noticed about this engagement with working in little bits was that I was much happier and more fulfilled on the days I got something done on the research front. I think I've finally really grokked that research IS the way to tenure as well as the option of moving elsewhere and that I've got to do it. But I think there is something else going on too: I just like what I'm doing.

So it was weird for me to write a blogpost that said I probably can't write every day, then find myself stealing moments to write/work. Since Friday (when I stole some moments at the Corporation, if you can believe it!), I haven't done diddley-squat though because 7am is really really early -- and that's the time that AL has to be at work. And also I'm finishing up the quarter. And Tot is sick. So: no time to even dream about research. Okay, I can dream about it for two seconds before I fall asleep, before Tot starts crying to come to our bed. . .again. Poor guy. Poor us.

I'm going to bed now, because I'm an awful person, a really bad example of an attachment parenter: after a few nights when Tot needs to come sleep with us, I absolutely relish being in bed without him, able to stretch out, able to sleep in any position I want. Off I go. Good night all.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oh. My. Freaking.Goodness

It has been the most exhausting. . .I don't know anymore how long it's been. . .long time.

So to start where I left off last week I woke up late to get to my flight to Urban City, but made it nonetheless. I slept, somewhat, and worked on research on the plane. Then despite the fact that I told my credit card company that I was going to Urban City and what I was planning to use the card for, the idiot company still put out the fraud alert when I tried to rent a car at the airport, making it impossible to use said credit card. Gah! The rental car company was really nice and let me call AL from their phone while we tried to figure out what to do. Ultimately, we had to let the rental card company hold money in our checking account so I could rent the damn car. So that was an exercise in purgatory.

That day, finally, I visited my grandmother. That was fun. Then it was off to the wedding locale and though I thought that everything was going to be mellow, I ended up being whisked away by my sister and her friends and it was a whirlwind from then on, right up until the part where one of the bridemaid's (not me!) didn't have her dress with her until 15 minutes before the wedding. Oy vey! I've never had so much hairspray on my head in my whole life -- and I was an inventive teenager. It took several days to wash it all out.

I got home Monday evening, then Absurdist Lover started his new job the next day. Because we share a car, I had to drive him, then take Absurdist Tot to his eye doctor appointment. The next day I worked my first day at the CSA (yay! in the rain! squashing beetles! yay!), then I went off to my final workshop that makes me despair of any other such workshops. I'm not signing up for anything outside my field that proposes to teach me how to teach from now on. I could critique the facilitators up and down, but I won't. Suffice to say: madness and badness.

Then Thursday, driving everyone everywhere, then going to teach, locking myself out of my office, driving everyone everywhere again. Friday, same thing without locking myself out of my office. All this, while making sure that Absurdist Lover is there at his new job by 8am. Which is a time I don't really believe exists. I now understand how people get their children to sleep by 9pm and themselves crash by 10: it's called waking up at 6. I crashed on the couch at 10pm last night watching Pollyanna. How embarrassing.

Today, I woke up at 7, took a shower (unheard of on the weekends), got Tot, etc. By 2pm, I had baked bread, gone grocery shopping, started the laundry, taken care of the Tot. I wanted to do anything but the grading I needed to do. When I finally got to it at 5pm, I figured I could do one in 20 minutes. And by the end of 2 hours, I had 5 graded. Then I nobly did 3 more once Tot went down to sleep. Now I'm considering my options: I could work on research, which I've strangely been doing in between other things; or I could eat chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. The last few nights I've been too exhausted to get to dessert! What is happening in this world?!

All I can say to all this craziness is that I can't wait until two things: 1) This quarter ends in less than two weeks and then I have about two or three weeks off. 2) We get another car.

I basically go through my day telling myself what a trooper I am, what a good job I'm doing, mostly just because I'm still alive at the end of the day.

This is the first time in a week I've been able to actually consider putting together this blogpost, meanwhile so many of you are off now. Next week will be better, even though I have to have AL to work even earlier (egads!); at least I won't have to go from quietly planting seeds in flats and hunting beetles to pretending I find a bunch of hot air intellectually and pedagogically inventive in a matter of hours.

Tomorrow's the farmer's market. Fitting all the lovely things -- like homemade bread, working at a farm, and going to farmer's markets -- alongside all the other things that must be done means pushing myself to do things when part of me just wants to park my butt on the couch, watch some 8 hour saga, and drool. I feel like this week I've been living my life in a higher gear (or a lower gear -- one that has more oomph). I'm not sure I'm up to it. Two weeks from now I'll be taking Tot to daycare and probably coming back home to sleep. Oy vey.