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 (btw- Did you know 'to get' is out of date verb in England?)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