Monday, November 16, 2009

Unexpected Places

Zach and I are officially moving to Vancouver, B.C. in January. I'm desperately missing hot weather. Meantime I'm still working at my beloved community center where I'm learning patience, faith, and wonder. That last statement was trite, but I don't know how to put it so I'll just leave it at that.

I'm also substituting at the Bellevue school district, where I fill in for the Head Start and preschool programs, and where Dr. Seus books enable four-year-olds to exhibit their best fish faces and to bellow animal noises. During free-play preschool girls carry paper flowers and ask preschool boy(friends) to marry them. Preschool boys build train tracks and draw two-legged elephants, wanting nothing to do with marriage, except one timid boy with big expressive eyes, who tries on straw hats until the brides come to claim the hats, not the boy. He walks to the train station, tries to run his train on the another boys' track (at my urging) and causes a tantrum. He sits back, unbearably wide eyed and quiet. I can't stop worrying about him.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I'm learning the Library of Congress cataloging system this week. I need a full-time job I think. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Over the top?

The perfect state of being is when you are on the verge of three paths and you are equally excited and perfectly content with all of them. This is where I am. Only it's better because I am also extremely happy with my current (for the next 8 weeks) job. Fridays are swimming days and I'm learning how to take several of the autistic kids into the water with very rewarding responses. I just may have found an alternative calling. Next week I'm rereading the bone people.

Zach and I met our friends Susan and Chris in Ballard tonight for live jazz with the Vampirates. It doesn't make sense, but I'm sublimely happy.

Oh, one more thing- I am very satisfied with my dissertation mark. That helps quite a lot.

Friday, September 18, 2009

This is me sans acorn squash

On Monday I start work at the Bellevue community center. For 10 weeks, and more if it goes well, I'll be assisting various classes for children and adults with disabilities.  I'm rather excited about it and a little nervous. I haven't worked in a year. Updates to come no doubt.

Meantime, I've given a lot of thought to my aspirations and direction- recession time interviews can throw you into that loop. I feel as if I've just left undergrad. I was only an undergraduate for 2.5 years. I took a year off and then completed a one year MA. No comps and a short dissertation- my MA is like my final year of undergrad. 

I had been planning to move to Vancouver, BC in January to start an MLS program. But now all I want to do is move into a little community and wait for opportunities to come my way. This is a major reversal from the last few years, which have involved chasing opportunities and ideas all over- Denver, the North Cascades, Leeds, Vancouver. If I stay in one place, what will I find? How long will that take? Can you promise I won't end up a full-time circulation clerk? 

Meantime I've had to cancel my travel plans to Denver since I start work on Monday. My dad is 'disappointed', a word that dampens my day. He says, "What will I do with all the acorn squash we harvested for you?" This sadness can only be cured by a foray into monster books. On this bright blue-sky morning I'm settling in to The Little Stranger. Heres hoping for hauntings and MA-worthy jobs in the suburban wilderness.   

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yet another sleepy sunday

Currently my reading tastes have turned to:

Sarah Waters The Little Stranger- The story of a haunted manor in the 1940s. It's a delicious little bridge between manor fiction- such as Austin, Bronte etc... and British war fiction. Waters has a Phd in Victorian literature and has put her research to marvelous use. 

Don DeLillo Underworld- A wide ranging and ambitious novel of Americana.

Eudora Welty The Optimist's Daughter- A 1972 Pulitzer; A southern family novel, inspiration for the works of Anne Tyler. 

Naomi Novik His Majesty's Dragon- A fascinating blend of military history and fantasy; the Napoleonic wars plus a dragon. Recommended to me by my friend Amber.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I had the best time in Portland and am considering running away to join the Portland Hipster Circus. 

Wish me luck. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A note from my library cubicle...

One of my own cultural myths about Seattle residents was destroyed today while I was eating alone in a Subway in Bellevue. I had thought that Seattle-ites were aloof, though not exactly unfriendly, maintaining a very secure distance from one another. While eating I practiced the necessary avoid-eye-contact maneuvers with the men in the other tables. I stared at the window ads. I tried to read the coupons through the back of my sandwich wrapper. I routinely checked my cell phone every minute. Suddenly I heard a very distinct click-freeze sound from the table across from me. I realized that the man at the next table was not playing the avoidance game- while pretending to looking at his i-phone he was actually taking pictures! I stood up so hastily that I dropped my bag in a cascade of vinegar chips, and he lowered his phone and looked away. Now I know how those college male swimmers felt when my high school friends and I tried to sneak speedo pictures. Except at least they were ridiculously ripped, tanned, and mostly naked. I was eating a giant subway and squinting at the paper wrapping.   


In writing my thesis, I've discovered something about my use of commas. I use commas almost as if I were speaking. And I prefer it that way. I've been a little concerned about this, until I came across some passages in one of Anne Enright's books. Then I remembered, creative writers can use commas whenever they want, and no one comments. Therein lies my hope for future writing.  

Monday, August 24, 2009

Literary Distractions

During my final two weeks of dissertation writing, I've consoled my frazzled self with Anne Tyler's The Clock Winder and Beverly Clearly's Ramona the Brave and Ramona Quimby Age 8. There's nothing better than a good book-inspired LOL. And this time through, I realized that certain blogger friends of mine frequently sound just like Ramona. 

'Cleaning up her room seemed such a boring thing to do, no fun at all on a rainy afternoon. She thought vaguely of all the exciting things she would like to do--learn to twirl a lariat, play a musical saw, flip around and over bars in a gymnastic competition while crowds cheered'.

Nine days of academia left and them I'm off into the great unknown. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

What are you like?

Today's dose of pool water has made my short hair feathery. If only it were the 90s it could pass for styling. 

It rained in Seattle for only the second time since June. 

Last week I ate quesadillas five times in six meals, not counting breakfast. Wouldn't mind another one. 

Zach shaved his head again. I felt like crying. 

PBS no longer plays Arthur at 10:00 and 4:00, or any time. Michael Jackson is dead. I feel like an adult.  

I have more books out at university than public libraries. I need to resort my priorities. 

I severed ties with Amazon and am devoted to Shipping duration may weaken my resolve.

I know how to run a youth hostel, to tell strangers where to sleep and what to clean, sweep, wash. It's a better life than most. 

I crave almond paste. Preferably in a croissant, but straight up would also do the trick. 

I fantasize about living under Lake Crescent. Or at least being the designated scuba-explorer. Ever since I unearthed a brown beer bottle that was filled with rocks and sand. Actually, I felt like the kid from ET.   

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Backward Glances

I'm reading two books right now, while I'm supposed to be finishing a near 50 page dissertation. Both leave me ridiculously nostalgic for the British Isles. The first is Anne Enright's novel What Are You Like set in Dublin and New York in the 1960s and 1980s. I chose it because I loved The Gathering. Her writing is superb. I spent some interesting time in Ireland, watched some Irish tv dramas, shared cigarettes with some street urchins, and spoke to some Irish academics. As a result, I know next to nothing about the place but feel romantic towards it. 

The second book is a collection of stories by my favorite Canadian writer Alice Munro. I picked this book because I am thinking ahead to our pending move to Canada, because Munro is unparalleled, and because I wanted something firmly set in the present and in North America. Well The View From Castle Rock is a narrated history of Munro's Scottish Calvinist family from the about 1799 onward. I spent a lot of time wandering through rural and small-town Scotland, wrote a paper on Scottish Calvinism, and have just learned that my grandmother's family shared an occupation and a town with Munro's ancestors. Both were cattle thieves just north of the border with England. My family members were notorious; eleven of them prosecuted on the same day. Munro's more lucky and apparently more literary. 

Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Unexpected Party -- Queer Lodgings

In May Zach and I were trying to decide how we could stay in England through September. My reasoning was that I really wanted to focus on writing the dissertation. I also wanted to travel England in the summer while reading classic novels. None of that was to be. 

In June we ended up flying to Denver via Chicago. Zach got a job interview in Seattle on July 12 and departed on the 11th. I stayed in Denver to see my visiting sister and spend some more time with my dad and my second sister, Laura. While there, I wrote daily and tended my dad's corn and squash plants- nothing else took to the sandy soil. On July 25th I joined Zach in Seattle. We fully intended to stay there and write. His parents were heading to Thailand for three weeks for LST. We thought the big empty house and beautiful Seattle summer would be perfectly conducive. We didn't count on extreme heat spells or the alluring temperate rainforest on the Olympic peninsula. 

Yesterday morning, after a sleepless night in a 92 degree house, we threw clothes, books, and papers into his mom's car and headed for the coast. We had a few hostels written down on a subway napkin and a cooler full of ice with exactly one bottle of water and three bottles of beer. As we passed through Port Angeles and Forks, we remembered taking the same journey almost exactly four years ago. In 2005 we took a magnificent hike up through the Hoh rainforest to Cape Alava. 

We ended up spending last night in the Rainforest Hostel 22 miles outside of Forks, WA, home of the Twighlight books/movies/and paraphernalia, and much much more. Couples' accommodation is a well-kept RV. Our host is a Vietnam-Vet with passionate pacifist convictions and respect for the native populations and traditional gardening. He's asked us to run the hostel for him next week while he attends the 2009 Tribal Journeys festivities in Suquamish. We have a ton of writing to do but I don't think we can pass up the opportunity to spend a free week on the cusp of the rainforest. There is nothing like hiking through a couple of easy miles of rainforest and stepping out right on the Pacific ocean. We'll spend one more night here, try to catch the sunset on Ruby Beach, and return to Seattle for the weekend. Its there and back again beginning Monday. Someone up there likes us. 

Monday, July 27, 2009

Puget Sound

From behind the many desks- mostly library desks- at which I've sat during the past five years, I've met a lot of people with smoldering ambition to start over or move to a new city. My frequent relocations seem to get people excited. They talk about their family living in the west, or the northwest. They talk about their young adulthood, when they had the opportunity to live out of boxes and suitcases. At the time, I always feel a pang of loneliness because I'm leaving the little close knit groups of circulation workers and librarians, of urbanites who know their cities like I might have known them had I chosen to stay. But I also feel a certain lightness. Like I'm passing through and am therefore ultimately untouchable. And consequently, when I arrive in a new place, there is a romantic period of intrigue, as I learn the streets and visit the trendy coffee and sandwich shops, that will eventually give way to vagueness as the shops and streets blend together. 

I met another group of people this past year. These are permanently-temporary people, those who spend a season in Stehekin and then move on to another mountain park, as well as urban professionals who retreat to the seclusions of the mountains for a year or two. And I met a lot of global students in Leeds, those who have lived in the middle East and Africa and western Europe in the span of two or four years.  

So the goal, I think, as I enjoy the beautiful Puget Sound, Cape Alava, and the North Cascades, just a few perks of my new town, is to live like this is home. Hopefully Vancouver will be. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Films and Historical Fiction

Over the past month or so I've been reading some historical fiction. It's a bit of a relief from the sort of high-art post-modern mass I've been reading this year. 

David Gutterson's classic Snow Falling On Cedars is impressive for the sheer bulk of research and imagination that obviously went into the novel. The novel borders on genre (mystery or romance) once in a while, but its deep investment in the representations of place pay off. The result is that it succeeds in transporting the reader wholly to the communities inhabiting the islands in Puget sound in the first half of the last century. The book leaves a lasting and honest impression. It also speaks strongly to beliefs about American masculinity and nationalism, perfecting its picture of the laconic, war-haunted frontiersman. 

I can't say enough positive things about Geraldine Brooks's 2006 Pullitzer Prize-winning novel March. It engages with a so many fascinating topics and ideas: civil war history, transcendentalism, american religious reform, pacifism and tolerance, abolitionists, racial relations in the south during the war, and some critiques of paternalism that are essentially anti-colonial. Brooks also does an amazing job developing March's character as a self-obsessed tunnel-visioned eccentric who none-the-less holds all the right convictions. Brooks's prose is seamless enough to render plot development inconspicuous. Perhaps this is partly because the plot is necessarily contained within Little Women's plot and Louisa May Alcott's father's personal letters. 

Zach and I saw Away We Go last week. I can't decide if the film is an uncanny representation of us, or we are just a typical double-M-Arts couple. The film is funny but we liked best the fact that the characters are committed and in love without any of the typical dramatic complications that usually accompany romantic comedies.  

Early early this morning I saw the sixth Harry Potter movie with my sisters. Fun times, sore necks. 


Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer at Last

I realize last week was the summer solstice, but it simply had not felt like summer in Leeds. Somehow cardigans and goosebumps overwhelm 11 pm sunsets. 

Yesterday, Zach and I arrived in Chicago and were picked up by his uncle Steve. Thunderstorms, family visits, and humid heat instantly transported me to summer-thinking. I am really really happy to be back in the states. It's going to be a great, albeit unsettled, season. 

Between gardening, frequenting city libraries, catching films at the Mayan and the Esquire, moseying around parks and trails and city centers, reading Ramona Quimby books, and eating lots of crunchy tex-mex, I do hope to write a good dissertation. At some point. Lifting my sweet iced tea to lazy summers. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009


On friday I gave my first ever paper at an academic conference. The amazing thing was that once I began reading I didn't feel nervous at all. It was like I separated myself from myself. I got some good feedback and met some cool people. (btw- Did you know 'to get' is out of date verb in England?) 

Maynooth is a gorgeous campus. I'll post pictures some time. We stayed in a gothic style white stoned hallway that looked like it came out of a Harry Potter book. The brief time we spent in Dublin was great as well. We saw a lot of street musicians (of which I am a major fan), including a four person band with an electric drum set.  As usual I asked myself, why didn't I try to study in Ireland? 

Discussing postcolonial history, literature, and film in Ireland is different from doing it in Leeds. The Irish experience of colonialism is a constant frame of reference. I also met a PhD student from Michigan who is studying Irish history. Twas an eclectic mix. I'm developing a thing for Irish historians. 

I also had some of my theories about Indian literature dispelled. I met a PhD student from Madras who enlightened me about the Booker Prize, Arundhati Roy, and Rohinton Mistry. 

I met a delightful Parisian and social historian. I also met a fantastic South African MA student who wears dark eye-liner, rolls her own cigarettes, writes plays, and loves Coetzee. 

And one unrelated piece of news is that when finally had access to internet I found that I have been accepted to the University of British Columbia's Library Studies program. What am I going to do? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Tomorrow a charity truck is coming by to pick up our used possessions. When we return from Dublin on Saturday we'll have to survive 4 days with minimal living ware. I'm learning more about my mate from the different ways we sift through possessions. 

In the kitchen Zach kept two frying pans, small and large, a cutting board, and silverware. He surrendered all our dishes, cups, pots, and bowls. I traded his large frying pan for a small sauce pan and retrieved one plate and one mug. In the bedroom, I surrendered our fleece blankets and kept our sheets, duvet, and all four pillows. I also kept all of our towels. Zach threw away the wash clothes. 

From our walls I removed and packed away our blanket from Morocco. I placed our pictures between pages in my notebooks. I left a string of Christmas lights. Zach removed the Christmas lights and the double-sided tape from the mirrors. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Speaking of secret lives.

Have I mentioned that I'm really enjoying reading all these short stories? I have a spark of a career dream. What if it were possible to be a librarian by day and a creative writing teacher by night? I think I'm on to something. 

This weekend I had a temporary but intense fling with Dexter. By season two he's starting to seem like Clark Kent. How is it possible I got roped into this show? It must be the Cuban tacos. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Taco Time

I haven't written in three days because three days ago Zach came back to the UK! We met in Oxford outside the Sheldonian theatre where I had been waiting in an ungodly line for Coetzee to sign my books. As soon as Zach called I ditched the autograph line and made for the door. 

Zach lost his wallet in Oxford, possibly at the hotel, probably in a taxi. The biggest loss was a wad of international cash but really, it's not so bad. 

Less than two weeks until our departure. In the meantime we're packing up our life once again and counting down the days until tacos reenter our vocabulary and our digestive tracts. 

I've been reading the short stories for the Commonwealth Foundation competition. I feel quite torn because many of the stories aren't suitable for this competition, but they're almost all really interesting. I wonder if it's possible to teach or be peripherally involved in creative writing in the future?  

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Odd but Rich Day

Today was quite a pleasant day. I was groggy because I haven't been sleeping well, and I tried to fix that with two lattes, a machine mixed mocha, and a mint tea. I had two coffee dates (hence the abundance of drinks) and a dissertation advising session. When I got home this evening I was worn out from the sheer abundance of conversation. 

I wonder if I can distill some of that here in my blog. 

My advisor is at times a little reserved, but today he was kind, chatty, and complimentary. He asked me about my future plans and told me that I am intellectually able to do a PhD. I write this here because it meant a lot to me. I'm so frequently beset with doubt that I need to hear these things. But despite such encouragement, I am not at all sure I want to do one. He spoke rather eloquently, and rhetorically I think, about the academic 'itch'. I felt a little bit like asking him if there is a cream for it. The most helpful thing he said followed my litany of the many reasons why everyone tells you not to do a Phd (tenure competition, the bad economy, and the abundance of miserable adjuncts running America's universities). He told me that yes, most doctors of philosophy don't become academics but they don't begin doctoral work in order to become academics. They start doctoral work because they want to write. This is an obvious truth maybe, and it doesn't solve my dilemma, but at least it teaches me to stop citing employment statistics as an excuse for not pursuing doctoral work. 

In between my visits and appointments I sat in the darkened English lounge and tried not to fall asleep. A woman in a long skirt kept running in and out of the bathroom and leading people outside. I watched through the window as she coaxed, chided, and coddled a very expressive brown bird perched on the side walk. The bird didn't seem nervous at all. He sat very calmly, head cocked, obviously trying to understand what this doctor of philosophy wanted him to do. Their engagement, bird and woman, lasted well over 2 hours. I wonder if she wishes she had done something practical with her life. Like gone to veterinary school. 


I've been feeling unwell lately. I've had a sore back and an unsettled stomach, a persistant headache and a bit of a fever. I've slept terribly. Often staying up until the wee hours and sleeping fitfully until 10 or so.

I've only been able to eat chocolate biscuits and chocolate chip cookies and drink copious amounts of tea and coffee. Lattes have been okay as well. Ice cream has a nice settling effect. Oh and pizza's been satisfactory. Especially hot pizza from dominoes. They deliver.

Despite being ill, I've gained a little weight. Not noticable when I'm wearing pjs- which is, well, much of the time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vocabulary Rant

I tend to make friends with laconic people. Remember learning that word in one of those orange high school vocabulary books? Well here in Leeds its a common utterance. Not in Leeds actually. In graduate school in Leeds. 

Why, may I ask, do normal street people suddenly vamp up their vocabulary in front of doctors of philosophy? Why drop words like laconic and corporal? Why not just say, 'man that character sure doesn't say much'. 'Hm... there seems to be quite an obsession in this story with body parts.' 

Beats me.  

12 Idealist Life Goals

1. write novellas
2. publish poetry locally
2. grow vegetables 
3. contribute (invisibly) to local theatre or film productions
4. stay limber
5. avoid debt
6. teach writing
7. write articles
8. swim
9. love God
10. keep friends
11. befriend different kinds of readers 
12. live in the neighborhood

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bodies in Pain and Disability

This morning I was walking back from a lone breakfast in the city centre when I was suddenly struck ill by awareness of a loved one's physical burdens. It was a little bit strange that something I have known of for so long could literally nauseate me when I went through the damage in my head body part by part. 

What I wonder is, does this kind of sympathy mean anything or am I practicing it for my own benefit? I don't imagine any one knows what I'm talking about. I think this is a conversation I need to have with Coetzee. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Today I was privileged as a foreigner to Yorkshire in a strange and unexpected manner. The clerk at the corner News and Booze, shook his head after the woman in front of me left the store and said disparagingly, "Locos. What can you do?" 
I thought to myself, "lock em up." But then I realized he said 'locals' and we can't be incarcerating people just because they were born and raised in Leeds now can we?  

In General

I'm packing up little by little. Yesterday I took down most of the wall decor, leaving small pictures up on the mirrors and above my work desk. I began to pack away winter clothes but the weather took a turn on the chilly side and I had to retrieve my sweaters. 

I'm beginning to feel the contours of the dissertation though I still have an incredibly long way to go. The conference paper has been stuck at 3.5 pages for a couple of days. This is unfortunate because I really don't have time to write slowly. 

In anticipation of moving to warmer Colorado I'm planning to get a dramatic hair cut on Thursday. My dad told me that they are planting strawberries, bell peppers, zucchinis, tomatoes, and squash. I'm looking forward to sun and summer gardening. 

Have I mentioned how much I love Elizabeth Bishop? Few writers anymore strike me with genuine and thorough admiration. Barbara Kingsolver has always been one of them. Anita Desai, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Bishop are others. Summer is a beautiful time for poetry. Even rainy and cold Yorkshire summers. I'm a little bit dreamy today must be the quiet rain and the empty streets. Everything is closed. Even the libraries. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

It IS All About Me

Anyone who has entered or plans to enter a creative writing contest may not want to read the latest. 

I've volunteered to be one of ten judges of the preliminary round of short stories for the Commonwealth Writer's Contest this year. The mere fact of my status as a post-graduate secured me the 'position' no questions asked. (Believe me, this is not a good indication of discernment.) Somehow in the next two weeks I will select 55-60 stories from 550 while writing and preparing a conference paper, writing a dissertation chapter, traveling to Oxford and Dublin twice, and cleaning my apartment, and moving across the world. 

June 26th seems a long time away. It might be an appropriate time to freak out. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009



there. i've ranted a bit and can now go on denying the fact that i am supremely frustrated at times by the systems of measurement of self-worth that are negotiated through rhetoric and grades. 

that said, i'm writing my dissertation with a little bit of resignation, a little bit of hope, and a lot of coffee. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chicken Flu

Ghosts of my vegetarian past have been punishing me for eating chicken. Suddenly that pink glossy product in its styrofoam and plastic-wrap package seems highly menacing. Poison in a pouch. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Strategic Activities for Attaining Happiness and Sanity while living alone:

1. Make seashell jewelry with the tiny shells gathered in Scotland and Spain
2. Practice a daily sit-up, crunches, and leg-lifts routine, (I'm not in the mood or condition for solitary yoga). Music helps. 
3. Write something daily, something like dissertation chapters or the preceding conference paper
4. Establish a habit of tea and scones at the Leeds City Library, Tile Cafe
5. Ablut. Also wash dishes and laundry on a regular basis. 
6. Read and write in public places
7. Set up mid-morning obligations to ensure that you get out of bed

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Day Another PB and J

There is a collection of small bottles of scotch whisky by the bedside. They're all sealed and most are still in the dark elegant boxes in which they were commercially packaged. Next to the alcohol cabinet, which doubles as the underwear drawer, is a two foot stack of Economist publications. The top three are still sealed in their white envelopes. Two shoe boxes still bearing the sale tags rest by the small closet filled with shoes. The box edges aren't lined up at all. 

In the kitchen, a pile of pale bamboo cereal bowls crowds the cabinet top. Their corresponding spoons are stuck to them. Pull them off and you'll see their silver bottoms ringed with white lactose remnants. The kitchen garbage is almost full but free of organic smells. 

The only laundry littering the floor is an assortment of colorful feminine socks. They're scrunched inside out. Yellow folders are scattered strategically over the carpet. Stacks of papers, articles, chapter copies, and drafts appear haphazard over the desk and table. Six indigenous films, three comedies, a melodrama, and four book adaptations are lined up on the desk. Beside them a half dozen film books, and four novels written in English but not in England. A mocha tealight is lit in a red and black bulbous holder beside a lighter and an empty pack of menthol marlboros. 

There is one toothbrush on the glass tray. One towel on the rack. One suitcase missing from atop the wardrobe.   

Friday, May 29, 2009

on the road, so to speak

When Zach and I make decisions we tend to do so very quickly. Tonight we decided (long-distance) to leave Leeds on June 25th. Yes, that's less than a month from today! We are flying to Chicago, as it's cheaper than Denver, and from Chicago we plan to either amtrak, fly, hitchhike or drive to Denver. Presumably, we'll spend July and August writing our theses. Beyond that remains firmly tbd. We have a few applications out there in cyberspace, but I have a very hard time imagining how they might land, ink, paper and all, on some librarian's or environmental firm's desk. Writing from England, it feels a little indulgent to proclaim that our best chance lies in Vancouver, British Columbia, but I think it's true. Why are we so mobile? And why is it always lateral and never vertical?

My Calamity Physics

I often think of the quirks, perks, and side-effects of my seemingly imminent librarianship. A major one, particularly if I were to be an academic librarian or if Zach were to work for a University, is free/reduced continuing education. Yesterday I imagined myself reading through all of the literature and Spanish courses at tiny Universities like Reed until eventually I would be awarded an honorary PhD for most dedicated-without-titular-ambition-reader of first-class books. 

My brain took the idea to a whole new  plane of being. I dreamt I was sitting in an intro to Physics course. In my dream, my fears of physics took numerical form. I saw unintelligible blobs of equations pasted over peoples' faces and onto desks. But then the course began with an 80s style filmstrip of psychedelic colored robots launching into space to techno music. I thought to myself, that's right- physics is about robots and techno! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dreary Yorkshire

Today was an immensely dreary day. I began with good intentions and high morale. At the school library I printed my CV, finished and printed a job application, and emailed a request to visit the Philip Larkin collection in Hull on Tuesday. The I headed over to the Career Centre, feeling professional and grown up. The HR individuals didn't know of any library jobs open at present and recommended that I keep searching in the usual manner. They provided me with useful and thorough descriptions of Information Specialist job descriptions etc... Then they informed me that I was completing the wrong course for librarians. Was I aware that I will have to complete an MLS course as well? Of course I was. They also informed me that my CV was nothing more than a list. Well, blah. 

I headed to the city centre and on a whim decided to try the Acropolis Cafe because I have many a time seen it but never ventured inside. The Acropolis Cafe must have been designed to mirror a late night diner in the states, possible a diner in a Stephen King book. The self-service line hosts tiered rows of lethargic triangular desserts slumping on their hard plastic plates. The strawberry jam unceremoniously dumped atop anonymous creamy cakes. The whipped cream lines have lost their wiggles and creases. The baked custard, as I discovered, has the exact consistency of a soft boiled egg, and a similar flavor. A gracefully aging European man, wearing a tie, soft looking dress shoes, and a large rectangular watch mans the counter. The rest of the staff are waitresses. Some of them teenagers with short straight dyed hair and foundation that accentuates their black eye-liner. The other waitresses much older, short white curls raised up on their heads. Outside I see people rushing past, discount shopping at places like Poundland. Not a smile. Needless to say I found the subdued diner with the gray-blue fuzzy seats and Greek-hatted waitresses oddly comforting. In that quirky downbeat setting, I feel that I can write better than in a buzzing well-lighted coffee shop. 

My comfortably dreary day was made wonderfully complete by a visit to the city library. Mixing with immigrants, vagrants and oddly dressed urbanites, I meandered through the fiction rows. They didn't have any of Coetzee or Munro books that were listed available in the the catalogue, but I found two Tim Wintons, a Fred D'Aguiar, a Larkin collection, and Charlotte Bronte's earliest novel The Foundling, complete with its own imaginary world. This is my favorite thing about public libraries: discovering unexpected books. I also discovered in my wanderings that I want to stay in Leeds as long as I can. I like pretending to be a Brit- frowns and all. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Top Pics: Sisters in Scotland

Pluscarden Abbey

The Inverness bridge over the narrow part of Loch Ness

Beautiful white coral bits covered the beach... 

Laura on the St. Andrews shore...

Lighthouse on Skye under the bridge...

Shelling while waiting for the train in Plockton

The secret cove we hiked down into...

Not sure if Laura is kissing or eating that snail, but I love the pic!

Why is my hand blurry?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Learning to Lie

Yesterday my faraway love called me as he was preparing to brave the crowds and begin the field work component of his social research. He sounded terrified and asked me how he should approach people. My instant internal response was anxiety. I thought, 'How would I know? I would never ever ever create a project that required 'cold call' interviews. I would drop off the face of the planet first. I would hide under my bed. I would drown myself in two-inches of water in a kiddy blow-up pool. I would run away over bubbling tar on bare feet before I began to interview strangers on the street. 

After a moment's pause, I realized I simply couldn't tell him that most obvious truth. So I said, 'It's natural to be nervous but I have absolute confidence in you. You are born to do this kind of research. The first day may be rough, but it will prepare you for the rest of them. If anyone blows you off, it isn't you they are rejecting. Once you get the hang of it, you won't even be nervous anymore.' 

This was all true. I do have supreme confidence and admiration for my husband. I am frequently amazed and tickled by his brilliance and insight. But to produce this answer, I had to think in a completely unnatural way. Ordinarily I respond to people with pure empathy. Considering my own social anxieties, empathy would only make me nervous and do no good for him. I learned, on the fly and rather well I hope, that bluffing it can be quite effective. I can't wait to go out and develop my new skill in other adverse situations.   

Monasteries and Castles, our venture through Scotland

Laura and I returned from a truly amazing tour of Scotland. In some ways the pinnacle of the tour was three nights spent in a Catholic Monastery near Elgin close to the Highlands. We met some great women from Aberdeen who wined and dined us and told us stories, spoke a tad with two brothers and a quirky priest, and met a Jesuit from Poland who invited us to volunteer in Poland for two weeks in July. On Sunday we made a valiant effort to go to vigil at 4:45 am. Unfortunately, we were so worn out by it that we slept through Mass. Oh well, we aren't Catholic and couldn't receive anyway. 

The following two nights were spent on Skye, where we mistakenly booked beds in a caravan, shared by three bikers, among others. One was an Irishman called 'Big Man'. It was a slightly scary, but very funny morning. Ironically, we felt that the bikers had protected us from a drunk stalker from Glasgow who departed in the middle of the night. 

Back on the mainland we hiked through farmland (the wrong way), bought jam from a family farm, saw chicken, duck, goose, and quail eggs for sale, stared down cows, and even discovered a secret and gorgeous cove. The sand was covered in a fine layer of white coral pieces and colorful centimeter shells. It was amazing. We felt so lucky that we followed the signs along the coast and through some woods to a castle. When we arrived we discovered it wasn't a ruin but a residence.  Badly in need of facilities and water we asked a woman who was departing in jeep. She directed us in to a bathroom and then rushed back in to inform her husband, who was 'in one of those moods', so he wouldn't yell at us. Apparently, we used the toilet at a private contemporary castle on the Scottish coast.  

Friday, May 8, 2009


I'm at that point in the essay in which I am tired of thinking/writing/reading about all of the texts and terrified that the structure won't congeal. And procrastinator that I am, I have only two days to write the remaining 2500 words (max thankfully) and make them congeal. SOS! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Today I ran into a fellow student in the Poco programme who I hadn't seen all semester. She told me that she works 40 hours/week while taking the course full time. I felt like a major bum. 

Then my sister told me about a co-worker at the nursing home where she works who holds two full-time jobs. After she gets off her day shift at the home, she goes to her evening shift at another nursing home. I felt like a privileged bum. 

I found a potential job beginning in June that runs for six months (the exact length of my work visa). It's an archiving job that involves indexing and preserving documents from Yorkshire that have historical interest in an international context. Catch is, I would be working full-time during the summer while having to write my dissertation. Considering my two encounters with real hard working people today, I'm going to send in my humble-pie application. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Essay Stuff

I finally got going on essay number 1, though essay number 2 is well underway. The problem is, 700 words in, I haven't introduced the second primary text. Can I bleed it in gradually or do I need to integrate it in from the beginning? 

Tuesday is my last literature class. I told Zach I didn't have time to go and he said, 'You're telling me that you don't have time for the last literature class of your life?' It remains to be seen whether I will go or not. 


May 12th Train to Edinburgh, hostelling
May 13th Meet Laura at the airport, train to St. Andrews, hostelling
May 14th, Train to Inverness, Loch and/or dolphin viewing, private hostelling
May 15th Bus to Elgin, Bus/taxi to Pluscarden Abbey, Monastery -dwelling
May 18th bus/taxi to Elgin, train to Kyle of Lochalsh, coastal walking, Highlands hiking, hostelling on the Isle of Skye
May 20th train to Glasgow, private hostelling
May 21st train to Leeds, home-dwelling
May 24th Laura returns to Denver

I'm stoked. 

Friday, May 1, 2009


Jambalaya Recipe: Ideal for Students and other Lazy Stay-At-Home-Readers:
1:2 Brown rice and water
1/2 cube vegetable stock
dash of olive oil
dab of butter
Simmer covered for about 15 minutes

Add green bell pepper, garlic, chopped tomato and any other veg you fancy. You may need a little extra water. Season liberally with garlic salt, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, onion salt, pepper, and any other spice you fancy. Let simmer for another 10 minutes or so, until the rice becomes pocked with steam holes. 

In 25 minutes of basically no labor you have a healthy, robust meal. Meat is a super easy addition as well. 

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy Critics

How often does it happen that you're reading secondary material for an essay of dubious interest and you find a critic whose prose is so pleasing that you just might read it for fun? Well it just happened to me for the first time. Rod Edmond's book Representing the South Pacific is succinct and clever and basically smart. It isn't a topic I'm particularly interested in, but his prose gives academic writing a new lease on life. Edmonds is teaching at Kent, which had originally been my first choice for graduate work. Is it coincidence or a fact of academic incest? 

One class period left. Two papers remaining. Eleven full days until submission and vacation! 

Six Eyes

I have six eyes now but I only wear four at a time. I first thing I noticed when I tried on my new specs at Boots was that my nose is blotchy. My instinct was to take them right off so that the young male sales clerk wouldn't see my blotchy nose. 
The second thing I noticed was that the woman walking down the street in front of me had freckles on her calves. In the past skin coloration would blur into smooth peachiness. Now I see flaws. So despite the fact that I can now talk to people with my eyes wide open, can read important signs and menus, and can safely operate machinery, I can't help but wonder if my plain brown blurry eyes were more, well, kindly disposed towards the outside.  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hardly Working

I have an astonishing ability to sleep in past ten o'clock and still take an afternoon/evening nap. Particularly when the alternative is writing a paper I no longer have much interest in. Perhaps I need the pressure of a deadline. Maybe two weeks is too distant.

To provide further distraction today, I watched episodes of Tool Time. I kind of miss 90s television about normal, mostly functional families like Family Matters, Life Goes On, etc... I also found out I have the same Myers-Briggs personality type as Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Laura Bush and that potential career prospects include law and librarianship and tend more towards higher education than secondary education. I don't trust those test of course. How can 30 questions or so, most of which I'm unsure of the answer, tell you three pages worth of advice about yourself. Also, the website listed Isaac Newton's personality type. As far as I know.... 

This procrastinating must stop. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mine eyes

I went to an optometrist this morning to replace the spectacles (as they are called here without affect) I lost in January. They offered a buy one get one free deal (yay!) and I can hardly wait until next week when I can start seeing again and being seen in two different styles. I think they should separate optometrists from sellers of eyewear. I am way too persuadable. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

After a Dorothea Smartt reading

Okay so tonight I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to University lectureships and readings. Even if I can't see myself doing a PhD or becoming a professor, I must keep literary readings and socially conscious authors in my life. How can I ensure this? 

Perplexed in Leeds

Not counting down

Three classes remain of the semester. I suspect I am losing my eyebrows. Too much forehead bashing I imagine. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Flip-Flop Finales

I love it when professors love a book. John McLeod is just such a professor. His emotional response to Caryl Phillip's final section of Crossing the River made my whole semester. Can I really only have four literature classes left in my life? 

In addition to the Coetzee reading in June, I am planning to hear Caryl Phillips give a paper on V.S. Naipaul in May. Zach and I also bought tickets to a Lisa Hannigan concert in two weeks. The sun and the celebrities are out for the season. The British people are all wearing shorts and flip-flops. 65 degree weather in AZ would merit long sleeves I think.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

Trousers and Trainers

Yesterday a woman in the public library cafe approached me vaguely and told me I should wear skirts in order to please members of the opposite sex. She said my trousers would do for working in the garden if I cannot afford help when I am older.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Capital T-h-e-o-r-y

I decided that for my final semester of academia, it was time I take on the monster. I'm using Homi Bhabha for one of my papers. Well, it's a bit easier than I thought it would be. In fact, I'm beginning to think that using a theorist to make your argument or structure your essay can actually be something of a cop out. You see once I got through applying Bhabha's theory of the stereotype to sexuality in a single scene of a novel, I had 1000 words. Unlike last semester, in which I structured an entire essay with my own thought and literally sweated over the creative form, I have next to no anxiety over how this paper will work. I am parroting the thoughts of a terribly authoritative person (in the small and lucrative realm of the academy of course), and who can possibly argue against Bhabha?; but now I have no space to make my own creative argument. 

My findings: theory is frightened of failure and uncreative. Academia is... not for me?

This passage from Pauline Melville's story 'The President's Exile' seems appropriate:

"This is remarkably like an essay from one of the current third-year students that I marked last year" ....
Naturally he feigned surprise and looked mystified, although he had, in fact, copied the essay from the student whose effort had been marked with an alpha plus. His own work was of a reasonably high standard but it was the certainty of obtaining the best grade that he had been unable to resist.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Comic um, relief.

I spent today at the Leeds public library reading articles in the cafe, drinking tea from the white enamel ware that seems endemic to Britain. I knew I didn't have the time but I find it hard to pass up indentured books so I walked through a random aisle, stopped at the sight of Roald Dahl, and 'bagged' a red book with a minxy spider woman on the cover.  The book is My Uncle Oswald and to give you a idea of the contents of the stories, as I discovered in a far too open floored Starbucks, I'll quote a rather clever reviewer. 

'Very saucy, very funny... quite frankly [Dahl] could write an interesting story blindfolded [...] with his hands tied behind his back'

Well I suspect Dahl did write this book with his hands tied behind his back, blindfolded. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Judge Ely Blvd., Oxford UK

Zach and I spent the weekend at ACU House in Oxford. We stayed with Dr. Morris in his basement flat; we slept on bunk beds on which hung a thread blanket depicting the ACU buildings. Dr. Morris cooked pizza, pasta, and pie for us and we watched a French film adaptation of a novel. Our conversations ran from films to travel to common acquaintances at ACU. I had the strangest feeling of security and exception. To be welcomed into and walked through an ancient and affluent city by a 'local' who shares a valuable piece of your past is remarkably comforting. The soft Texas accent is easy on the ears. 

Does the picture of a past self always render a person anxious over the evidence of her own inconstancy? On the train ride back to Leeds I was struck by nostalgia and a mad desire to bundle all of my places and people into one manageable, rememberable town.  Stehekin-Leeds-Abilene-Boston-Denver-Tempe. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Dandelions have overtaken Leeds. Where daffodils sprouted  in untidy groves in Hyde Park and along the grass sides of walkways three weeks ago, now massive furry heads are boldly crowding.  

Life in the house of mirrors

Last summer I spent my working days cleaning hotels rooms and waiting tables. This school year I spend my working days and nights synthesizing articles written by scholars about other authors writing about other people who spend their days cleaning hotels rooms.  

Yesterday I sent an email to a professor from Leeds asking his opinion about a career trajectory. He wrote back positively, 'That sounds like a fascinating opportunity'. I was satisfied. Later, I told a British classmate about an alternative to coffee called 'Yerba Matte'. She responded ambivalently, 'Sounds fascinating'. So this semi-unproductive evening I'm wondering if 'fascinating' means the same thing in Britain as it does in America. 


Thursday, March 26, 2009

'I have a fear of exploding tires'

I got The Bean Trees earlier this week and having been laughing loudly in the library, the otherwise empty bedroom, and Opposite cafe. I think I detect some words substituted for the British reading audience but I'm not sure. Things like 'jumper' really could be the American word for those overall-type atrocities of the 1980s. Thankfully the Kentucky syntax and vocabulary is still intact. I didn't notice before how obsessed this book is with ethnicity, and less so with other differences like disability. From the deep depths of my mid-semester trench, I read Kingsolver for fresh air and a dose of nostalgia for Arizona. Speaking of evangelism, Julie reminded me that I haven't extended a used copy of this wonderful book (or any other book) to anyone since I left Boston. Definitely need to resume my used bookstore 
perusal habits asap. Academia does drain some joy out of the reading life. 

In other literary news, I bought tickets the other week to hear Coetzee read, (read what I don't know), in Oxford. Luckily they were only £4 a pop. I hope to have time to read something like Waiting for the Barbarians before then. 

The rest of the semester involves an exciting book by Caryl Philips, who is of Leeds, and rereadings of the nefarious Naipaul. Has anyone read Keri Hulmes' The Bone People? I am really interested in others' opinions of it.  

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't Make Me Talk

I would get by in graduate school if I never had to talk in class. That is the point where I become self-defeating. Can I write my answers please? 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

tid bits

I'm typing in the Brotherton computer lab. There was a line of about six people ahead of me. While I waited I thumbed the paper I must edit. I remembered the three months I spent in Denver learning about social work. I decided I need a job that aims somewhere between social work and academia. A seat opened up. I mechanically sat down. The worn green fabric of the chair was warm on my legs and back from the person before me.

Sunday was a bright day. While walking home I noticed a vine that had bloomed in the night or morning. The small wonder of it was that I smelled the flowers before I saw the white blossoms.
I looked to the grass then and found three small white grass flowers. My friend Amber is having allergy attacks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Unpardonable List: My 11 week marathon

Typee Herman Melville (USA)
In The Castle of my Skin George Lamming (Barbados)
South Seas Tales Robert Louis Stevenson (Scotland)
The Lonely Londoners Sam Selvon (Trinidad)
Selected Stories Katherine Mansfield (NZ)
the Mimic Men V.S. Naipaul* (Trinidad)
Poetry Alan Curnow (NZ)
Selected Poetry Derek Walcott* (Saint Lucia)
Stories Frank Sargeson (NZ)
Crick Crack Monkey! Merle Hodge (Trinidad)
My Place Sally Morgan (Australia)
My Revalueshanary Fren Linton Kwesi Johnson (Jamaica)
The Bone People Keri Hulme (NZ)
Myal Erna Brodber (Jamaica)
Remembering Babylon David Malouf (Australia)
A Small Place Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua)
Cloudstreet Tim Winton (NZ)
Migration of Ghosts Pauline Melville (Guyana)
Crossing the River Caryl Philips (Leeds, UK)

*Nobel Prize Winners

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A still moment

It's nearly midnight. I've washed the dishes, swept the floor, wiped down the counters. I'm listening to NPR, smelling a mocha candle. If only I could finish this paper. 

5 days until Easter break. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One week to Easter

I have two major complaints with Leeds today. The first is deadlines. Our essays are regimented by the department rather than the professors themselves. I've never had a problem with deadlines before, but this year I have on two occasions. I've developed an anxiety about submitting my work that is really disabling. My second complaint is vomit. I assume it is always on the sidewalks because there are too few outdoor trash bins. Whatever the case, it interferes with my freedom to amble and I protest. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the Stars?

It was one of those days. The meter man rang our bell relentlessly while I was in the shower. When I came to the front he insisted there was a secret door in our flat that held the meter. Of course there wasn't. I knocked over the course convener's coffee cup and it tumbled down the stairs and over my coat. I passed him at the coffee vender two hours later and wasn't sure if I should hide or pay for his coffee. As usual, I was a dollar short. A visiting academic was locked inside of someone's office for 45 minutes. Campus Health and Safety had to saw off the bolt. 

But I survived a mid-day confidence crisis by lying in the sun and watching Jon Stewart, my lifeline back to the US. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Day Late, dollar short, an added expense

In January I submitted a paper proposal for a conference in Maynooth, Ireland in June. I was thanked for my 'interesting proposal' and told I would hear back from them very shortly. For the first week I checked my email a bit obsessively. After the second week I decided I didn't care. After the third I felt a bit relieved that I wouldn't have to come up with an extra paper or figure out how to present to a group of professionals with more elegant accents and superfluous letters after their names. Believing I would have four solid months of time to write, I helped buy my sister a plane ticket to Scotland, planned a monastic visit to the Pluscarden Abbey, and scheduled an extensive tour of Scotland across the month of May.

Today I was supposed to turn in a draft of the first chapter of my dissertation. I didn't. I even believed myself to be a bit of a rebel, setting my own guidelines, working at my own slow pace. Then I got two emails. The first is from the English department secretary, a rather terrifying lady really. Her email trusted that we had all turned in our draft or if we had not, that we had notified our advisors in advance. I spent the evening at the theatre feeling every second of 'wasted time' dragging me down. I came home,  feeling quite rotten, and received a schedule of the Maynooth conference. I scrolled through it rather wryly and found to my horror/excitement that I am presenting a paper at 9:30 am on June 19th. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

September 2nd

Zach and I return to the US.

Anecdotes from a Yorkshire Primary School

On Thursday afternoon I took the bus to the Ebor Gardens Community Centre in order to spend a couple of hours with a crowd of small , costumed British people. The whole of the Thursday after school time is spent making crafts and playing games. Amazingly the children are content spending two hours gluing, cutting, sticking, coloring, and folding. Here are a few precious moments...

All of the children stare at me whenever I speak but one Caribbean-British girl of about seven years piped up in a clear Yorkshire dialect, 'Are you from America?' After, and because no doubt, I answered yes, she made me a paper bracelet of cut and pasted hearts. It caught on something on the bus ride home and tore off.

The incoherence runs both ways. Another of that group asked me, 'Do you ave un awbby?' That's either equestrian or marital, I thought; so I said 'um, yes!' 'Well, wha is it?'

One little girl, aptly dressed in a princess costume, was keen to fight with three very quiet sisters. She kept accusing them of writing things about her on their Easter cards. They all proceeded to pile their cards in my hands for approval and to my surprise they were letters of wild declaration to Stan, Randy (think about this name with a British accent), and Marshall. I didn't know how to handle this one, short of saying that they can write whatever they want because the cards are private. Fortunately for me another girl piped in, 'You all better stop talkin bout love!'

The cards were made of creased stock that was much larger than the envelopes provided. It was kind of amusing to me that each child only learned that the cards wouldn't fit when it came time to envelop their own card. I had to explain to fifteen kids that the cards were in fact too small. Most of them were content to fold their carefully made cards in half rather than do without envelopes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

WTF mate!? Frank Sargeson and Zach

This afternoon Zach required a nap but couldn't fall asleep. I sat on the bed with him, brimming over with enthusiasm for a new short story writer. I tried not to talk about it. Finally I asked him to let me read a short one to him aloud. Reading aloud to him is a habit that I can't control and one that annoys him because he can't follow aurally, but I felt this story was one he couldn't miss. 
I read the story quickly. It was only four small pages with a lot of dialogue. Probably took 4 minutes. As I finished I read faster and faster in anticipation of the cracker ending. 

'You want to lift the pan right up, Victor said. They're burning. 
Well Elsie lifted the pan and Victor dumped the cat in the fire. Elsie just stood there, and Victor grabbed the pan and jammed it down on top of the cat. 
Then, not far away, you could hear the car, and Victor went over to put his shirt on.
Look here, Elsie, he said, it's a fortnight to next sale day. If I was in your shoes I'd look around for another job.' 

"Well?" I asked triumphantly.
There was a significant pause.  "What!?" 
"You didn't understand it?"
"Maybe I fell asleep" 
and then ten minutes later I hear from the other room.  
'You're a five legged monster! Aren't you wearing slippers and heels from a castle?' 

that revolving door

Today I went back to my earliest posts and read up till April 2007. I'm amazed and slightly concerned to find myself in a similar dilemma, considering similar career options and location moves. When will it make sense? 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

a rare moment of contentment

a successful, balanced class
a personable professor
tempeh cooked in olive oil and soy sauce
a cup of coffee
chocolate cake
a quiet dim afternoon
tom waits tunes

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dracula's Strawberry Remains

Yesterday two friends and I took a grueling 3.5 hour bus ride to Whitby, a beach town noted for its quaint beauty and its literary significance as the sometimes residence of Dracula. The town was indeed quaint, the beach beautiful, the weather a hopeful sign of spring's relief. The abbey ruins on the cliffs were especially impressive, their elegant arches largely intact. The tombstone of Dracula was really odd. It bears no engraving other than a skull and cross bones. Was it carved to look ancient and worn? Did some one pick an anonymous stone, engrave the symbol and call it Dracula's? Or did this unknown person actually have a skull and cross bones on their tombstone and their identity has been appropriated by literary goths? I purchased a 'Dracula's Coffin' confection at Justin's Chocolatier but shirked my tourist obligations by avoiding the £8 fish and chips. 

My sister is coming to stay with me while Zach does research in the Pacific NW. She spent a summer in St. Andrews a few years ago and has friends to visit in the region. We're going meet in Edinburgh and make our way through northern Scotland: St. Andrews, a monastery near Inverness, the Highlands, and hopefully one of the islands. I'm stoked.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

sp(r)outing discontent

Why the gap between the writing life and the academic life? I feel slightly skeptical of the value of even using phrases like 'the writing/academic life' which appear either artificial or incestuous. Give me a Philip Larkin or Barbara Kingsolver, living writers of the ordinary and to hell with high modern writer-artists. Despite my rancor, I'm writing a paper on these same strange self-appointed high artists and must spout my slightly hypocritical discontent. 


Saturday, February 21, 2009

the Reader

I watched The Reader last night for the second time and of my own volition. I like how the film is actively discussing within itself the processes and failures of testimony. I am intrigued by Michael's deep psychological torment at having loved Hannah and their lifelong entanglement. One criticism of the film is that it seeks to humanize Holocaust perpetrators. One one hand, this may be valid for the film suggests it is Hannah's illiteracy that leads her to work for Auschwitz. The other Nazi women on trial are then portrayed as utterly unethical villains, in part by their betrayal of her. So it privileges an exception-Nazi rather than discussing how all individuals became involved in the crimes. On the other hand, in privileging one woman's involvement, suggesting the poverty and lack of opportunity that led to her employment by the SS, the film begins to understand how a new regime utilizes society's impoverished to mobilize its purposes. It exposes the limitations- or perhaps the utter inabilities- of the justice system which can neither satisfy victims nor correctly assign guilt.  

Today I'm taking a little break from long term studying and enjoying the exuberance of Derek Walcott in poetry and prose. Thank God for joyful souls and that we can't all be V.S. Naipauls. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dialect Dreams

I was told by a high school Spanish teacher that to dream in Spanish is a sign that one is becoming fluent. Well last week I dreamt in Yorky and a couple of nights ago in an East-Texas twang. Discussing the accents of my dream characters with a professor, I was told that Yorkshire is to England as Texas is to the entire US. ... In other words my nocturnal brain is hosting a country/folk festival. Two nights later I woke myself up with my own maniacal laughter. Could I possibly be under undue stress?

Friday, February 13, 2009

PhD statement of purpose

Over the past twelve weeks I have had the pleasure of studying the troubling and compelling texts of V.S. Naipaul under the guidance of his recent award winning biographer Peter French. Many scholars have examined Naipaul's works from postcolonial critical perspectives. Others have remarked upon his formal existentialist debts to Sarte and the high modernists. As of yet, far too little has been said concerning the sheer power that his liminal sexism and philandering practices have had upon structuring his fictional terrain.  The research I have begun, and propose to continue through the course of this dissertation, fills this critical gap in our knowledge of this significant male writer. I carry out an exhausted comparative analysis of Naipaul's novels and the musical contributions of American grunge-blues-lounge-wtf? performer Tom Waits. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beating my MA Ambivalence

I love tom waits. I know he's often growly. I know that a real life incarnation of his music would involve spilled whisky, saxophones, and rear tire breaks grinding over a drawbridge. But still... I am an introverted lover of beat music and talk. I admit to listening to it while drinking yerba matte and wearing a blue bathrobe, but let's face it- you can't reason with true love. 

On a less amorous note, today's 'planning and writing your dissertation class' proved to be no more than a powerpoint projecting the great variety of departmental requirements that are born and die in the pages of university handbooks.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Library and Dissertation Woes

I'm beginning to see the contours of my dissertation. I'm frightened because they are lumpy. There is no smooth, overarching theory, no linear logic to make it svelte and smart. But this is how I think. In montages of experience.  Isn't that how we're taught to write? The imperative as always been 'show don't tell!' Why is there so much difference between the form and subject of academic writing? 


Julie's postings about her library stalker, her library opera singer/light bulb, and her polygamous library book prepared me for a library encounter of my own. I now have a library foe. Yesterday I went down to the bottom floor of Brotherton at 4:30. An irate employee chided me, asking why I would turn on a single stack section light when they are preparing to close (in 30 minutes). I responded as I always do in direct confrontation, a little bluntly, a little daftly,
'I'm looking for a book and I can't see.' Today I saw said closer-of-libraries, bringer-of-darkness on the second and third floors and received suspicious looks of recognition despite the fact that the library doesn't close for six hours. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Travelers' itch or foot fungus?

Since our heavy round of traveling through Europe and the UK, I've frankly been keen on staying in and resting the soles of my feet and the strings of my metaphorical purse (debit card). I'm still determined to stay on the ground for a few months but we can't help considering our modes and destinations of future travel for, as we are daily reminded by would-be-renters viewing our apartment, this year abroad is extremely short and has over a third passed. As far as short term trips go, we're planning a visit to ACU house in Oxford at the end of February. One of our favorite former professors is teaching there this semester and has kindly offered us a room, a tour, and welcome conversation. I confess I am so eagerly looking forward to a familiar face and Texas accents. 

A more imposing trip is in Zach's future. He's flying to Seattle in May. From there he'll conduct social research in one or two cities in the region, probably Coeur d'Alene. He has four weeks in which to do the groundwork for his dissertation, visit his family, perhaps head down to LA to see Kurtis, before returning to Leeds to write. 

I for one plan to take the opportunity to have a European spring fling but since I will inevitably be frantically finishing overdue papers and dissertation drafts, I shall have to find a European fictional character with which to carry on in the romantic poetry section of the Brotherton library.  

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sleepless in Polynesia

I'm taking a class this semester that spans one-hundred and fifty years of South Pacific writing. The first text is Melville's Typee. Reading this sickly romantic book I've come to the realization that my vocabulary books in high school, specifically 10th and 11th grade, were based upon 19th century American novelists' vocabulary. Words like 'perfidious', 'sonorous', 'blithe' and 'profusion'. It's odd to come across those old words that I once used so awkwardly and energetically in my writing at the time. 

Zach and I are notoriously sleepers-in. But we've come up with a plan. During the month of February, our goal is to rise by-- I'll be honest-- ten five out of seven mornings per week. In March by nine. April by eight. That's where I draw the line, but Zach is ambitious, believing that summer's long hours in the north will enable him to work dawn to dusk. 
What am I doing up at 3 am in light of our plan and the momentous dawning of my own new year? Good question.  

How they pile

Why is it that separating and piling my books takes up so much of my time and accomplishes so little? Wouldn't I feel better if I checked them out one by one and actually read them?  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My new year

I missed the inaugural address but it came to me in a Halal fast food joint across the street from Uni. My friend Amber and I were discussing the brutality of Tudor and Stuart punishments when the new class president Barack Obama's voice came over the speakerphone in homeroom. 

But seriously, I was thinking about it as I walked home. I'm joyous, if for nothing else, for the fact that African-Americans today are saying, 'America is my country for the first time.' I think that counts for something. 

Tomorrow is also my birthday, which means that I have another reason to re-begin my new year today.    

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'll have none of that.

Early this morning I woke up with the most severe case of vertigo and nausea I have ever experienced. 
I broke out into a cold sweat and found that I couldn't stand to lie down. On my back I was overcome by nausea, on my sides by vertigo. Like any internet-informed person, I took my case to the world wide web. The most common cause of those symptoms occurring while one is lying down is an ear complication called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. It is often onset by movements of the head and creates horrible sensations of out-of-control spinning that can cause vomiting and dry heaves. While this pretty much described my night, I was horrified to read about the current treatment practices. Since the symptoms seem to be caused by loose particles touching sensitive parts of the inner ear, the treatment involves someone rapidly moving your head and body from side to side positions in order to dislodge the offending particle. Frankly this sounds like treating motion sickness with a roller coaster.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dancer in the Dark

Time to resume my existential gaze. It is 4:30 am and I am up because of the resounding power of the film Dancer in the Dark and because I have just tonight discovered Philip Larkin and John Donne. You can imagine how my awareness of the levels of existential angst has sky rocketed this evening/morning. 

After crying my eyes raw for literally an hour I turned to Donne's profoundly moving, oddly comforting metaphysical poetry. I, postcolonialist, 21st centuryist, want much more Donne in my life. I don't need to explain how Philip Larkin fits into the triangle of inevitable death, resurrection, and art. Unfortunately, in my post-llorarial high, I believed it would be a transcendent experience to stay up until sunrise in order to fully experience Larkin's 'Aubade'. 

I promise myself a more normal, less neurotic post next time.   

Existential Smiles

I logged onto blogger in order to jot down a little bit of general angst. But I first came across Richard Beck's latest post and it 'postponed' my existential contribution. The post is about detecting fake smiles or grins and consciously exercising the oculi muscles in order to create more welcoming encounters. 

So I'm sitting in the refectory on the lookout for eye smiles. There is a man in a button-up orange shirt sitting at the table next to me who I am convinced is from Texas or Tennessee.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January cleaning

Over the past few days I performed a few mental cleaning tasks. I stacked my ragtag pages of my handwritten notes, pushed them into notebooks, and stuffed them into my desk drawers. Out of sight, out of mind. I returned the last straggling library books and enjoyed watching my library debt diminish line by line. And most importantly, I stapled the clean pages of my papers and handed them over forever to the English department head. And I signed them away so that my intellectual products belong to the University of Leeds. With that I closed the door on semester 1. 

I promise not to write about school or anything postcolonial for the next three weeks.  As proof, my next read is a mystery novel called Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Absurd Trajectories

I came across this statement last night in World Memory: Personal Trajectories in Global Time and had to laugh...  

'In some cases, texts are being selected for study on the basis of how well they illustrate theories of trauma and memory, rather than because they provide fresh insights into an international range of catastrophes and traumatic events.'

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Paper of Mythic Proportions

I'm breaking for a short exclamation of my joy at finishing essay number one. 24 hours of class, six weeks of contemplating paper topics, a notebook of quotations, £.5.60 in library fines, 45 pages of excess printing, 500 cups of coffee, 2000 digestives, and five hemp bracelets have been condensed into 3993 words including footnotes.   

One more to go by Monday and I'm getting a massage. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

the Global cafe

In the last week I have taken taken four regular trains, one over-night triple-bunker train, one over-night ferry, an airplane, two taxis, and countless rides on the Prague and London metro systems. We spent one night in an airport, two nights traveling across Germany and through the sea, one day in the Amsterdam public library (bibliotec-extraordinaire) , and one day in a tiny Camden branch of the London public library aka social services, which is juxtaposed against the massive British library just across the street. And now I sit in my very own Leeds Uni library, still attempting to finish the coursework that has followed me around Europe like a cold.

Happy New Year!