Friday, December 19, 2008

1001 Reasons to Smile

   Andrew has a gigantic book of reasons to smile that I have always appreciated.  My favorite is: the tilt of your head as you eat a taco.  And while the holidays may be a winter-wonderland, cookie-smorgasbord time of enjoyment for some people, I find it inordinately stressful -- all the more reason to consider reasons to stop grinding my teeth and smile at someone. So I thought I'd make a list of things that make me smile. I had to cut it short because I thought I'd lose you, so feel free to add any that inspire the same reaction in you.

1.  Someone's face when he/she is genuinely happy to see you.

2.  Wormwood hiding in the Christmas tree, waiting to ambush the other cats/dogs. 

3.  Bing Crosby's serialized radio show.

4.  Thumbprint cookies.

5.  The word "zither." 

6.  Candles that smell like you could eat them.

7.  Newspaper cartoons.

8.  Unexpected snow days.

9.  The sled my grandfather built for me on the only unexpected snow day I've ever had.

10.  Acceptance letters.

11.  Naps in front of the Christmas tree when it's cold out.

12.  A dinner with friends that runs late.

13.  A student that has an epiphany

14.  Sangria

15.  Seeing two movies at a theatre in one day

16.  The smell of a book you loved as a kid

17.  Seals

18.  Puffins

19.  Cookbooks

20.  Poorly made Sunday-afternoon 80s movies

Monday, December 15, 2008


This blog is inspired by a phone interview I recently had with a university. It just ended and my fingers itch to pick up the cell and say, "You know, I said this, when I really should've said this."  That's right. I'm second-guessing myself. 

This is a particularly irksome thing to be doing for me because I do not second-guess myself. Most decisions I make undergo grave consideration before any action is taken. I rarely regret break-ups, or moves, or job changes for this reason.  I also believe that I am shaped by the mistakes I make. So while I don't think every decision I've made has been the right one, I still rarely second guess a decision since I know it probably happened for some unknown reason.  I'm not a Calvinist.  But you might think of me as someone who has walked by the pool of predestination and caught a bit of condensation on her cheek. I have been lightly sprinkled with its possibilities.

But these interviews do not fall in line with my faithful life pattern of little regret.  As soon as I shut off the phone, I think, of COURSE I can define transnationalism! It's the study of cross-border communities! It's the deconstruction of thinking us versus them and the recognition of the complex relationships involved between the colonizer and the colonized! It's not whatever garbage I just gave five minutes ago.  The answer I gave five minutes ago sounds now like "Words! Verbage! Transatlantic! Literature between colonies! Vomit!" Not only that but I begin to worry: can Julia Sterne be considered a theorist? Is Erving Goffman too archaic to bring up as an influence? Is Judith Butler overdone even if there is no better substitution? 

But I can take none of it back.  I've got a monkey on my back I can't shake, and I've got to learn to do that and much faster than I have because at MLA I only have 1 hour to recover from anything stupid I might have said. My momentary bouts of idiocy cannot affect each interview I undergo.  The only thing getting me through? I keep hearing over and over from gainfully employed academics that the interviews they thought were the worst resulted in the campus visits. Maybe that won't be true for me, but maybe it will help me temporarily pry this chimp from my shoulders. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

I don't have a poker face; may I borrow yours?

I'm not blogging right now because everything that's happening to me has to do with job interviews, and since blogs are public, I don't want any of the schools reading something that might jeopardize my chances of getting to work for them. But I think I finally found a neutral topic.

Sometimes, and on very very rare occasions at that, I allow myself to daydream about what happens next.  I pull up maps of the places I applied to and squeeze my eyes shut and try to picture myself walking Sierra on a beach or throwing snowballs at Andrew.  I imagine carrying reusable grocery bags on the subway or buying a convertible to cruise sunny highways with the top down.  But besides the ugliest of my ugly characteristics -- self-doubt -- there's one thing that always bursts that bubble: my lack of a poker face.

You see, all of the candidates who ever made it to a campus visit at Baylor or Ole Miss had great poker faces. I ate with them, drove them several hours to the airport and back, and none of them let me know if they would pick BU or UM if they were invited to do so.  Nor did anyone show unbridled enthusiasm or obvious disdain for the campus they were visiting. They masterfully held their cards close to their chests, undoubtedly because they didn't want to seem too eager so they could make negotiations later.  

But I'm not like that.  If I'm lucky enough to get a campus visit, while I might have the intention to act like a normal, intelligent, reserved human being, my true self always comes out with adrenaline.  If we pull up to a campus next to the loveliest ocean I've ever seen, my tongue will surely develop a mind of its own as it blurts out, "My GOD you must wake up every day and be ecstatic to be alive, living in a place like this!!"  Or if we walk through some classic, austere New England town and pass 4 museums, 8 art galleries, and 32 specialty food stores, even though my brain might be saying "don't do it Kacy!" my arms will detach themselves from my body and grab my guide in a feverish clutch as I babble:  "THINK of the different kinds of PEPPERS I'll bet you can buy here!"  And then, of course, it's all over.  

While other people play coy, I'm completely incapable of doing that.  Take, for example, Dr. Prickett's grad class on early British literature.  While I liked Prickett, a severe Brit who belonged at Oxford and not Baylor, sometimes reading all of Darwin's Origin of Species made my mind wander a little.  We sat at a small table trying to discuss beetles and turtles and Darwin one day and no one was talking.  No one had anything to add.  It'd been 2 hours and I felt like my brain was going to explode.  I looked down at one of the pages and saw the name "Cicero."  I leaned over to my good friend and whispered, "Do you know that Cicero in Latin means chickpea? Can you imagine? All Hail the Chickpea!"  While my friend possesses that thing called the poker face, I, as I have mentioned, do not.  While Prickett did not hear my whisper, he did see my suddenly animated face in a sea of dead ones.  "Kacy! Finally, someone has something to say about Darwin. What are you thinking?"  "No, sir," I said, turning scarlet and blotching like always.  "Don't be shy Kacy. Be confident! What you have to say is most likely insightful."  "No, sir, I am ashamed to say it isn't," I said, trying to find a way to surreptitiously start a fire or crawl under my friend's chair.  Long pause.  "Oh, come on," Prickett urged. I'd been a teacher. I knew what he was going through. 2 hours of silence were brutal.  I swallowed:  "Cicero in Latin means chickpea, Dr. Prickett."  I wasn't giggling. I'm not a class clown.  It was mortifying.  He wasn't angry; he looked utterly disappointed.

You might wonder why I didn't bluff him. I'd read the book. (I always do, as a nerd.)  I should've been able to come up with something about bird beaks or barnacles.  But I don't have a poker face and I'm LOUSY at lying.  So I just -- couldn't. Not because I'm a good person but because I don't have the knack. My face always screams the truth even as my words try to cover it up. 

So if I'm ever lucky enough to get a campus interview, the school will probably know everything it wants to and most of what it doesn't after 15 minutes of talking to me.  And if I'm wholeheartedly in love with the place I've visited, even though I don't want to do it at all, I'm most likely going to tell every person I meet.  Just think Honey when she meets Anna Scott in Notting Hill:  "Oh God this is one of those key moments in life, when it's possible you can be really, genuinely cool -- and I'm going to fail a hundred percent. I absolutely and totally and utterly adore you . . . and more importantly I genuinely believe and have believed for some time now that we can be best friends.  What do you think?"