Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How a Homeless Man Called 911, or, My Adventure on the Way to the ER

The morning began, as usual: early. I was getting ready for classes when I suddenly felt a stitch in my side. It began like any kind of running flank-cramp I've had after pushing myself a bit too hard. Only this pain made me unable to breathe, and, unlike a cramp derived from exertion, this didn't go away but increased tenfold as the seconds ticked by. Nausea rolled over me and I tried to hold onto the counter, the walls, the bed. Sitting made it worse. Standing was out of the question. I needed help.

I jumped in the car and made the longest three-mile drive of my life to a doctor's office that had just opened. I dragged across the parking lot into the small office, where three nurses were working. Although I created a strange sight, surely, as I could do no more than bend over at the waist and could barely eek out words, the nurses ignored me. Cutting their eyes at me from the side, they pretended to be very busy with paperwork. "Someone please talk to me," I said, trying not to overdo it despite my penchant for hyperbole. By this point, I'd convinced myself some important organ had exploded and was leaking some vital liquid into my body cavity. To say I was worried is putting it mildly. "You a patient here?" one woman finally asked, barely taking her eyes from the paper in front of her. "No. I'm new. Something's happened to me, and I need help." She spoke over me, pointing down the highway saying, "The hospital is that way. 30 minutes." And she resumed her paperwork.

I paused only a minute to lose all faith in humanity. Then I began the long crawl back to my car. I prayed I would make it to the hospital, but I didn't. I swerved violently off of the road, which was packed with rush-hour traffic, into an empty parking lot as I fought violent pain and sickness.

On my way into the lot, I saw two feet sticking out of a six-foot rusted dumpster. These feet belonged to a man who abandoned his dig to run over to my car. I was trying not to crawl on the asphalt, but I could not longer stand or sit, and I needed to think.

The homeless man climbed into my car and took my keys from me; he started the ignition. "If this guy steals my car while I'm dying in this parking lot, I am really going to lose it," I thought. "I'm just going to park it properly," he called out over my desperate pleas for him to get out of my car and to give me my keys. At this point, Dollar Store employees just arriving for work were rushing over to me, calling out, "Are you looking for a little dog?" Apparently the only rational explanation for a woman in business attire on all fours on the blacktop would be that she was looking for a lost pet. Made sense to me.

The absurdity of my situation began to get the better of me, and while I wanted to laugh, all I could do was cough out my explanation, "No. Dog. Can't. Breathe. Trying. Hospital. So. Far." At which point, the homeless man, who had, minutes before, been ankle-deep in rotten banana peels, whips out a cell phone and dials 911. I don't even have time to think about how freaking bizarre that is before I'm pulled into an ambulance and whisked away to the ER.

The last part of the story isn't nearly as interesting as the first. My doctors treat me like a hysterical drug-seeking maniac for four days, refusing to give me the painkillers that would have allowed me to eat, sleep, or sit still. All I can do is writhe, moan, sob, and beg them to listen to me tell them that my kidney feels like a hot, swollen watermelon. On day four, a specialist recognizes the signs and sends me home with meds that allow me to swallow jello and water. Hurrah.

Seven of the most excruciating days pass before I'm able to function again. Andrew takes off of work and stays with me to care for me. I drop 7 pounds in 7 days but recover. I find myself thankful for a dedicated husband, concerned Dollar Store employees, and the dumpster-diver with hot pink hi-tops and the willingness to call an ambulance. And I wonder, do these things happen to other people? Or just to me?

Sunday, November 15, 2009


It's a well-known fact that people with PhDs have no common sense. It has something to do with spending too much time in dark rooms with books, and something else to do with idealism and ivory towers. Anyway, I'm here to reinforce that little stereotype with a story.

A young kid showed up at our door on Friday. He was wearing skinny jeans and dirty converse shoes and some nondescript t-shirt. He was probably in his mid-20s and he stood, pigeon toed, and fidgeted through a speech he'd clearly practiced. He was a junior at UF, he said, and was raising money to study with a BBC TV program we recognized. He didn't want money directly, though; he would be funded if he convinced people to purchase a certain number of books for a children's literacy program. He showed me a brochure I was too busy to examine closely; we were on our way out for the evening.

At this point in Pigeon-Toed's speech, I began to hear sirens. They sounded like fire engines and they got louder and louder, trying to blot out the kid's voice. But I remembered growing up in Linden -- the capital of small town USA --, and how hard it was to fundraise, and how people always helped me out when I needed to go on a school-related trip. Andrew seemed to think the guy was OK and he has much better sense than I do. So the kid gave us his name, pointed to his house, took our check, gave us a receipt for tracking our book order, and disappeared.

By this point the sirens had dulled. Instead, I felt a gnawing in my gut that translated to "wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong."

Fast-forward to one day later. That same gnawing chewed my husband out of sleep at 2 AM. His city-boy instincts finally kicked in. He searched the internet for the scam, and there was the boy's canned speech, the general description of the types of scammers who engage in this scheme, and all of the actions people had taken to try to stop the criminals.

The rest of what happened isn't important. We put a stop payment on the check and signed up for fraud monitoring, since this crook now had our bank account number. He never got the money.

But it taught me a lesson I'd hoped never to learn about trusting young faces and supporting people's endeavors in hard times. It also taught me something frightening about the state of the economy; what kind of a person has such a hard time that he decides to show his face to the people he's robbing? What WON'T a person like that do? And why, in heaven's name, didn't I know any better?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cacoethes Scribendi

I am a hypocritical composition teacher. Let me explain why.

I tell my students that I believe anyone can develop the fervor for writing, when really I believe I was born with a hunger to do it. This impulse used to be called cacoethes scribendi, often erroneously translated "the urge to write." While it's true scribendi means to write, cacoethes is more akin to madness than inspiration. I could no more ignore the impulse to write as I could to eat or breathe, and trying to explain that to people required to take a composition class has always seemed silly, if not strange and overtly sentimental.

I tell my students that six sources is enough for a research paper when I truly believe that scholars are born with a fire located in the center of their bodies that tells them when they can begin losing themselves in books and tells them again when they can stop and write. I don't read to get to know a subject better. I sink my teeth into subjects like a rabid dog tears into his last meal. I want to rip open every last bit of the subject before I put pen to paper and God help anybody who tries to stand in my way.

I tell my students the best work is carefully outlined and prepared when I secretly write like a woman possessed, letting the pages come out of me like some kind of sickness. When I'm done, I always think of Anne Bradstreet, not because I come anywhere close to her sense of irony or wit, but because she compared her finished product to a monstrous child, hideous when shown to the light of the world.

Sometimes I wonder how I could share this kind of thing with my own composition students without making them suggest that I belong in an asylum. How do you tell people who so desire structure, who want you to show them the steps to becoming a better writer, that it's an urge in the back of your mind or a fire in your core, and that, when you listen to your instincts, they'll take you farther than any composition textbook ever could?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Everyone says the first year of any new job is the hardest, but really that did nothing to prepare me for what these first few months have been like.

My typical schedule goes something like this: I push my way into rush hour traffic while blaring BBC Radio 1, which I turn all the way up so that I can ignore the four jerks who will attempt to ram my car in an effort to quickly wedge themselves into the traffic, which is at a standstill.

Then I get to my office to grade and attempt to form a coherent thought before class. Some days, I steel myself for ignorance, resistance, apathy, boredom, and willful misunderstanding of the directions I spent years working into my syllabus. Others, I can barely wait to go into the classroom to discuss an important text or issue, as I think back to the first day I learned about Thoreau or Dickinson or Faulkner.

Then the tedium takes over. I sit through a meeting about a meeting, which usually ends in a discussion of splinter meetings I try to avoid getting sucked into. Someone needs someone to sign up for something on a Saturday morning, on a day late in December, which will last for 87 hours without a break. Anybody? Nobody? Come on.

I attempt to work on my research and am stymied by something. An inability to concentrate. A lack of resources. I research anyway. I can't help it. I open an email about a conference I applied to and then ignore it. It's too much to think about. I thumb through the calendar and try my best to remember why I decided to sign onto this or that project. I can't. It has something to do with tenure though; I'm sure of it.

If I'm lucky I catch dinner with a fifth floor friend. If not I eat in my office--leftover soup that is cold in the middle.

I'd go home but there's another meeting at 8 PM that goes until 11. I stagger home, tripping on a mountain of comp papers, and crash into bed, only to awaken bleary eyed to a cruel alarm clock that goes off four minutes later. I wave to the man I'm positive is my husband and begin the cycle over again.

I eventually learn secret exits out of the building where I work. It dawns on me that some papers may take a while to grade and that's ok. I figure out, slowly, how to ask for help. I apologize to the family I never see and stuff down the guilt that accompanies living in another time zone. I say no to people I like being around to make time for a dinner date with my husband (the person I like best). I get sick from the exhaustion. I make time to walk the dogs. And I stop to thank God I have this job, these friends, this life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Have you Lost Your Dog?

The day began with bad signs I chose to ignore. The first was that my dog woke me chain-barking at 4:30 in the morning. The second was that my cat woke me thirty minutes later by sticking his claws in my closed eyelid. Then he bit me in the face.

The third was rush-hour traffic that crawled to a standstill. It did that, I found out, because people were rubbernecking to see a motorcyclist, unhurt, in an accident. I can't tell you why that makes me angry, but it does.

My class went well, so I thought perhaps this "bad-day" beginning was a fluke. I was wrong. I returned to my office to ensure I had the rest of the week's lessons lined up, when I suddenly did a double-take at my syllabus.

What was planned for tomorrow was written down for next Tuesday. What the students should be reading for Tuesday was on Thursday. My syllabus was one. day. off. Which means: the blogs the students were supposed to post were all screwed up, the day Valentino Deng was supposed to visit now didn't make any sense, & the due dates for the composition papers were wrong, wrong, wrong.

And I had the dubious honor of telling 50 freshmen about this problem. In my experience, no student likes a change in the schedule, but freshmen despise it because it leads to 10,000 other questions. I wanted to sit down in my office and cry. Instead, I went home.

When I walked in the front door, I got a call from my vet. In Batesville, Mississippi. "Have you lost your dog?" she asked. This was a mystery to me. Of course my dog isn't in Batesville Mississippi. "No," I said wearily. "I live in Tampa now." I can hear my vet shake her head. "Someone from Tampa called; you still have your MS tags on your dog. She's out." This is impossible. And yet, when I step wearily out on the back porch, there's a hole where Sierra should be. Fantastic.

It gets better when the woman who has Sierra calls and begins quizzing me: Why does the dog have a broken leg? (It's not broken.) Why won't she take water? (She's frightened.) Why did she escape? (The @#$% mowers let her out.) These questions and her tone all mean: why do you abuse your pet? should I give her back to you? maybe I should keep this animal?

She reluctantly returns my dog to me. I walk into my house, exhausted. All of the strings holding me together break, and I begin to weigh the advantages of alcoholism. I'm still weighing them, actually. I'll let you know what I decide.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Barefoot Running

Sometimes, I get a little overeager about things. Nothing really illustrates this more aptly about my latest experiment with barefoot running. 

See, I'm reading a book called Born to Run, the story of the Tarahumara ultrarunners, who run ultramarathons through canyons in Mexico -- barefoot.  And the strange thing about these people? They don't have injuries, depression, heart disease, obesity, or diabetes.  They are happy when they run; they are happy because they run.  

The point of this study is to bring to light ever-increasing evidence that the tennis shoe is ruining our feet -- and our backs, knees, and ankles -- because it deprives us of our natural pain-sensors.  When you put your foot in rubber and foam, it doesn't know the proper way to hit the pavement, so it strikes heel-first and as hard as possible in search of something solid.  But when you take off your shoes, your pain-sensors (there as many in your feet as in your groin) tell you to roll your feet from the inside out, to spread your toes wide, to tuck your legs under your hips, and to avoid striking the heel at all cost.  People who have tried it have found they no longer suffer pain in their knees, feet, or back -- in part, because we were all (at some point) engineered for running.  

So, the more I read of the book, the more stories I heard of people taking off their shoes and suddenly being able to run 80 miles instead of 2.  As someone who has been forcing her way through 2 or 3 miles a day for 15 years, I was eager to give it a try.  

Totally inspired, I kicked off my tennis shoes and socks.  Andrew, wrapped up in my hypothesis, decided to try it, too.  Exhilarated, I shot forward onto the pavement and smashed my heel into the ground.  My foot instantly corrected itself -- VERY wrong form, it told me immediately -- and I felt my toes spread.  I waited for a sensation of flying, of freedom.  I waited to feel like I could run a marathon in 15 minutes with nothing on but flip-flops.  

Instead? In my zeal, I pounded my pampered, pansy little toes onto the suburban sidewalk, cutting and bruising feet that have never run barefoot and rarely go dirty. I'm brought up short by the sharp gravel I have to cross to get to my driveway. Rather than flying, I'm tiptoeing around the loop in pain.  My teenage neighbors look at Andrew and me askance.  

"I could've gone much longer!" Andrew says, smiling, apparently unscathed. I hobble past him into the house, to soak my feet.   

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cereal-Box Decoder Rings for the Code of Life

Adjusting to a new place involves more than just finding a house or making new friends. It means breaking the code. 

Here's what I mean. Yesterday, I attended 11 hours of meetings, 4 of which were about health care benefits.  While I knew this was very important information, I missed much of it because it was delivered in code.  We had a rather self-important representative -- self-important people love to speak in a code only they can decipher -- and her presentation sounded like this to me: 

"Your options are to sign up for the PPOL, the PPOH, or the PHMO. The VLETS  -- don't worry about what VLETS are -- will tell you that PPOs are better than the PHMOs, but after a quick glance at your W4s and I9s, I can tell you the VLETS don't know what's best for you. I do. I've worked with Barb here for 15 years."  Here she stops to pat Barb, whose name is Joan, on the head.  "She can vouch for me."  

Needless to say, I left that orientation, disoriented.  But really that's not the only code I've struggled with since moving here.  For example, I've just begun to crack the traffic code.  On the road, "big construction switch" means "plan to sit still on this road for 3 hours." At work, the words "highly recommended" mean "mandatory for those who'd like tenure."  At home, the term "HOA dues" translates to "fees you pay your neighbors for tattling on you."  

Working through a code is typical of any move, and it always takes time, which makes me wonder -- why doesn't anyone make cereal-box decoder rings to crack open the code of life? 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Junior Faculty

The first day I heard I'd have an office, I was ecstatic. I get a job and an office I don't have to share with 15 other people? I just couldn't wait. I called every week I could, asking if my keys were ready, if the furniture was moved in, if the paint had dried. Finally, I got the room number. The person who gave me my office assignment laughed a little when she gave me the keys, but seeing the confusion on my face, she pulled herself together. "Well," she said as lightly as she could, "No one will come to bother you there."

I did not know what that meant.

At least, I did not know what that meant until I moved in. Andrew and I loaded about 6 heavy boxes of books and other paraphernalia and set off for the fifth floor of the building where I work. What with required ADA compliance, I didn't even consider the possibility that the elevator only stopped at the fourth. I should have.

Forty-five minutes later, all of the books had been hauled upstairs to a stifling attic with no air conditioning. The ends of the hallway were littered with "take me" books and discarded waste bins and broken filing cabinets. The lights were out.

But I didn't care. I was excited to see what the view from the fifth floor looked like. And, anyway, I'm healthy. I can take stairs.

I flung open my office door and was greeted with a view of . . . the roof. A rusted nasty debris-littered roof whose slopes and angles hindered any view of the city or its river. My furniture was peeling, the handles on my office chair brown with rust. My carpet was filthy, and my desks and bookshelf were covered in a fine layer of gray dust, no doubt courtesy of a long stay in a storage building. I felt as if someone had poked a hole in my elation.

I channel my mother, and wonder what she'd do. She certainly wouldn't whine, not after all it took to get to this dusty attic office. So with Andrew's support and the downtown Ikea, we reconstructed it. And these were our results.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Lawn Seats

I have a short bucket list that contains some pretty strange but not wholly unusual things. See the pyramids of Egypt. Go scuba diving. Try windsurfing. Visit Italy. See a Bollywood film in India. See Dave Matthews move his feet in a live concert.

So I crossed off the latter last night, when we went to the Dave Matthews concert and sat in the lawn seats. I should say it's been 10 years since I've been to a concert, and the last time I attended one, I made up some incontestable truth about seeing live concerts only when you could sit in the lawn seats. I must've been thinking something about stars, romance, a cool Tampa Bay breeze.

Apparently a lot can change in 10 years. Suddenly the people who helped you create that community of music when you were 20 -- those people who let you know you belong in the world because you all know the same words to the same weird songs -- at 30 become slovenly naked weed-smoking drunks. When did this happen? Young twentysomethings tripped over my beach blanket and poured margaritas on my bare toes, giggling as they did so. Rather than apologize, they did things that didn't belong to their generation at all, like yelling "right on" and holding lighters in the air. One guy came up to us and said, "Have you seen Waldo? WHERE'S WALDO?!" which wasn't as strange at that point in the evening as it was obnoxious.

The people my age weren't much better; they arrived harried from rush hour and sloppy-drunk to make up for it. Most of them spent much of the concert thumbing through their blackberries, pretending to be bored. If they weren't doing that, they were yelling at the spouses they never should've married in the first place, and saying things like, "Well if you'd REMEMBERED it, I wouldn't have to go and buy one now, would I?" and "You've turned into such a SCHMUCK."

This pretty much ruined my idea of romance and cool breezes and recapturing the feelings I had when I first listened to DMB about 15 years ago. My conclusion? You probably think it has something to do with getting older or becoming jaded but I have decided to adamantly deny what is probably the truth. Instead? I've learned to just give in and buy a seat.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

I used to dread grocery shopping. Even at midnight on a Thursday, Wal-Mart, which was often my only choice in the small towns I lived in, was unpleasant. The aisles were narrow, the carts large, and the people pushy. Children screamed and wallowed in the floor, begging for some toy they didn't need. The vegetables were rotten by the time I brought them home, and the chicken I marinated and pounded was still sinewy by the time it reached the dinner table. But I now know grocery shopping doesn't have to be this way.

Because of the growing interest in organically grown foods, Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is getting more and more notoriety, even though it's certainly nothing new. CSA programs allow people to buy a share of their local farmers' crops, and in return, they can pick up (or have delivered) fresh, organically-grown produce at 1/2 the cost of what they'd pay for the same products in their local Whole Foods store.

CSAs work something like this: you pay a fee (in my area, half-memberships are $400 and full are $725) that provides you with about 4 bags of fresh food -- this includes veggies, fruit, and herbs, and occasionally chicken, eggs, flowers, and cheese -- either every other month (for a half membership) or every month (for a full) during the growing season. In Florida, that can be year round, or, typically, November through May.

The benefits are endless. Not only do these programs make buying fresh, healthy food affordable but they also mean you're sure to buy in season. This means your lettuce will always taste like lettuce, rather than styrofoam, because you won't be trying to eat some chemically altered lettuce-like product shipped in from Chile in the middle of January. It means you'll be doing something for the environment without even trying; by not paying someone for the gasoline and manpower to ship lettuce in January from Chile to your grocery store, you've helped, in a small but significant way, minimize your carbon footprint.

But most important of all, you get to know exactly where your food comes from because you buy it directly from the farmer. The added bonus, in my opinion, is that many CSAs require you put in 4 volunteer hours (over the course of the year) in order to join the program. That means you pull weeds, dig in the dirt, harvest the crops -- you get to have a hand in growing what you eat, all the while getting to know the people responsible for growing the food that sustains you and your family.

And beyond all of those liberal, granola-crunching reasons, it's pleasant to get your groceries this way. The farmers/merchants are happy to be handing over their hard work to people who appreciate it, and as a result, they're usually happy to see you (as opposed to the stockguy at Wal-Mart, who just wants his next break). Many CSAs also run farmer's markets, and so when you pick up your groceries (if you don't have them delivered -- how awesome!), you might find music or artists, which you can enjoy while sampling goods like freshly-baked focaccia or organic herbed cheeses.

Sound appealing? Go to to find a CSA or farmer's market in your area.

Friday, July 31, 2009

And Goldilocks Said, "This porridge is just right."

This is the pipe organ from the United Methodist Church of Hyde Park. It may seem like some gaudy tool for an ostentatious religion to you, but to me, it was a very good sign. That is because music is a very important part of worship to me. People can screw up religion without trying very hard at all. Pastors can preach temperance and have a drinking problem. Youth ministers can profess a dedication to family values while having an affair. Congregants can be conniving, jealous, vindictive, and never miss a church service. But music doesn't cheat, lie, or scheme, and what you get out of it is up to you. This church had beautiful music.

I glance around this mid-sized church and see -- to my relief -- stained-glass windows. The educational tool for the poor, the illiterate, the young. Now an archaic symbol to many, to me stained glass represents the church's desire to reach everyone, not just the elite. I feel like I can breathe again.

I also see many different faces, many of whom I did not see in the other churches we've tried. I see old and young, children and twentysomethings, white, black, Asian, Latino/a, a myriad of people. The visiting pastor is an African-American woman; one of the regular pastors is a female. A good sign! I feel like squeezing the stranger sitting nearest to me, and asking them, "Is this home?" But I refrain. Wouldn't want to seem like that crazy fellow from Idlewild, now, would I?

The sermon is about food. The pastor discusses the bread and fish miracle, and interprets it to mean we are spiritually fed, and we are often materially blessed; she encourages us to feed others in any way we can. She then outlines ministries in the church that would allow us to do just this. I am excited by her practical application of scripture, by her call to make the community we live in better, and by her specific suggestions outlining how to do just that.

My experience at Hyde Park reminded of Goldilocks's porridge experiment. The first was too hot, the second too cold, but the third was just right, and so she ate it up. And so did we.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Try #2: The Unitarian Universalist Church

After the megachurch "incident," as I would like to call it, we needed something much more broad-minded. Fewer references to women in the kitchen and fewer crazy people writing letters from Jesus. The criteria was loose but important. We decide to try the Unitarian Universalist church.

For those who aren't familiar, the Universalist churches welcome all faiths. They believe that all religions worship the same God but call him/her by different names. I am, at heart, a Universalist, so I had high hopes for this service.

In many ways, I was not disappointed. Despite its strange outward appearance -- this church was a large dome, actually more bizarre looking than the one in this picture -- the congregation was warm and inviting. People came early to talk to each other and to visitors, and they stayed late to reflect on what they'd learned in the service and to share coffee with each other. Universalists are against proselytizing, so no one tried to convert or pressure us. And the highlight of the service occurred when, before the "joys and concerns," the pastor reminded her liberal audience that "just because the microphone is available doesn't mean this is a time for political rants or polemics." That. Was. Awesome. "So this is where liberal democrats and academics go to church," I thought to myself. And all this time, I've been looking for other people who think like I do, who embrace all faiths as different interpretations of the same story. It was quite refreshing.

But it wasn't a fit, not wholly. To begin, unitarians (not universalists) shun the trinity. No matter how open-minded of a raving liberal professor I am, the trinity is a very important concept to me. And because the universalists welcome all faiths, the service worked very hard not to step on anyone's toes. While the principle is wonderful and welcoming to me, the practice translates into an entire service where nothing definitive is ever actually said. The hymns were purposefully vague; because no one worships the same way, the songs could only discuss the universe, space, and family. And "sameness." The sermon talked about the parking lot growing weedy outside, and lamented the fact that the Universalist church rarely attracted members who gave money. The credos expressed the idea that we are all one, but it was not a credo in that it professed any one belief. And for some reason, some stubbornness ingrained in me, this irked me a little.

In sum -- I appreciated the warmth, open-mindedness, and intelligence of the Unitarian Universalist church. But I'm in a new place, in a new job, meeting new people; I long for just a dash of something familiar. So for next time: the First United Methodist Church of Hyde Park.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Visit to a Megachurch

We needed a church. So we decided to try Idlewild Baptist at the recommendation of one of Andrew's family friends.

When we walk in, the sanctuary is the size of a collegiate basketball stadium. There are no stained-glass windows or hymnals; in their place are two gigantic megascreens, a 75-person orchestra, and a balcony that must hold at least 300 people in a choir. The megascreens make me have palpitations, but I breathe, and tell myself to give it a good college try. They advertise a Starbucks coffee shop just outside of the sanctuary. I choke down a scream.

The deacons come forward, streaming down 6 church aisles all in nearly-matching suits. They are all men. This makes me wonder. I take a good look at the four-person ministerial team. All men as well. Strike one.

The preacher steps up to the pulpit. He is a visiting speaker and the president (or maybe former president) of the Southern Baptist Convention. No. Please no. He begins with an anecdote, and I think, at least it isn't a joke and he doesn't mention football. I try to stay open-minded. He makes a crack about women and cooking. I restrain from volleying one of those stubby pencils toward the megastage. His sermon goes something like this: Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Buzz words synonymous with salvation, damnation, Hell, and Born Again. A smatter of guilt. A pinch more of guilt. And it concludes with "Turn to your neighbor and tell him or her that you know you're saved by Jesus." Strike two.

I peel myself from my seat, where I've tried to remain as low and still as possible to remain unnoticed. My tactic has not worked. Crazy McCrazy, apparently a regular congregant, sidles up to us with an envelope in his hand. He says, "I've had my eye on you since I walked in. This is for you." We wait to open the note until we're in the car. Apparently McCrazy has channeled Jesus, as his scrawled note is signed by none other than Christ himself, and in it he insists that Andrew is David (a philandering man-whore?) and I am Esther. Strike three.

Next week: the Universalist Church of Tampa. Updates to follow.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Carl, the Neighborhood Alligator, & How I Accidentally Ended up at the Social Security Office in Florida

Moving is irksome. But for us, it was particularly adventurous because we had to drive 19 hours across the country at 45 miles an hour in a Penske truck with 5 animals.  We took 2 days to complete our move to Florida, and along the way we stopped at a Best Western that promised it took pets.  I'm not sure it knew what it was getting with the Tillmans.  We had Brinkley, the 75 lb Golden Retriever, Sierra, a dog half his size, and 3 devil cats, one of which found great amusement in waiting on top of the entertainment center for a dog to walk by to drop claws-first on its back, making the dog bark, the other dog howl, and the rest of the cats hiss, spit, and knock over furniture.  We were tired.  The front desk calls.  "Do you have cats, too? You didn't say you had cats too."  I lie. "Nope, no cats here." Worm gets next to the phone and answers for himself: Mrrrrrow. Mrow! Mrowwwww!  "Nope," I reiterate. "We don't like cats." 

We get on the road and arrive in Florida what feels like 3 years later.  As we drive into our subdivision, I pass all kinds of interesting creatures: an ibis, something that lives in a nest the size of an SUV, colorful lizards and frogs, and, yes, an alligator, sunning in the lake not 2 blocks from my house.  People pass him as if he is a mailbox. We name him Carl. 

For mundane reasons I won't explain, we have to get our licenses changed over quickly and it is one of the first tasks we undertake.  I wish we hadn't.  I go to the DMV with an appointment, all of my paperwork filled out, and a box full of every piece of paper they might ask for and some they won't.  I'm ultra-prepared. I'm psyched; I'm there early and there's no wait!  Andrew breezes through the process and I prepare to as well, but there's a woman who has it out for me that day.  "The social security office says June 1 isn't your birthday," she says.  She seems almost happy to follow up with, "You'll have to go there to straighten that out."  "No!" I say. "I've ordered a passport with that card; there has to be a mistake on this end."  "Nope," she insists and sends me to the 9th circle of hell. 

If you were wondering what that is -- it's the social security office in the Old People Capital of the US.  Hours of waiting. By the time my number is called, I'm furious.  The woman behind the counter pulls up my record and says, "There's no problem here. Everything is correct."  I want to stab someone in the eye.  I drive 1/2 an hour back to the DMV, where a new guy pulls my SS# up on the screen and says, "Why did you go through all of that? Your birthdate was fine all along!"  

Andrew, thinking himself immune from this insanity, inwardly chuckled at me, I'm sure of it.  At least, he does until we get all the way home, and he finds out his new name in FL is "Andrew Tllman." A big ugly misprint on his shiny new license.   I love moving. 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

True Genius

Let's just cut to the chase. If you're not watching True Blood, you should be, and this post will hopefully tell you why. 

Based on Charlaine Harris's brilliant 8-book Sookie Stackhouse series, True Blood is a series full of surprises.  It's not your typical vampire story; it's about Sookie, a mind-reader, and her efforts to uncover the murders plaguing the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.  She has quite the motivation, too; both her brother and her new vamp-boyfriend Bill are under suspicion, especially since Vampires have just "come out" and not everyone in Bon Temps is happy about it.  Think you know how this story goes? You don't. Sookie never becomes a vampire. The most lovable character is a black effeminate gay drug dealer/cook at Merlotte's, where Sookie works.  The most intriguing is Tara, her best friend: a girl who nursed her mother (briefly) out of alcoholism, all the while building a tough-girl veneer so she could cope. And just when you think you've figured out the key paranormals in the series, Harris introduces shapeshifters, blood drainers, and, in the next few series, will coax out the witches, fairies, werewolves, werepanthers, and whatever other army of strange she can come up with.

The story is enough to make it worth your while, but it's the attention to detail that highlights its excellence.  Sookie's grandmother drinks Community Coffee, the only coffee any sensible Louisianan (and east Texan!) will have as a wake-up call. Rene speaks perfect Cajun -- none of this ridiculous fake Hollywood BS -- although that turns out to be a bit ironic later in the story.  And Sookie's coworkers and boss speak like East Texans, which they basically are, rather than Georgian Southern belles.  Hollywood always confuses the two, but finally, and perhaps strangely, we get verisimilitude in the most unlikely place.  Many of the characters are faithful friends and closet racists, diligent workers but close-minded cops, devoted family men and murderers.  Everybody has a twist. 

Look, if it's escapism you want, walk away from Paris Hilton's My New BFF. Run screaming from Heidi & Spencer's wedding in The Hills. And pick up True Blood (and the Sookie Stackhouse series of course).  Then recommend something for me to watch or read; I'm in full and utter Sookie Stackhouse withdrawal.  

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Teaching under Tension

I haven't written much lately because I've been teaching an intersession course, which means I left for work at 4 PM and got home at 10:30 PM and basically wanted to curl up under my bed and never come out again. This is not because the class was bad -- it was a modern american drama course with an interesting class roll of former students and a few new firecrackers -- but because the people that keep me sane were denied me during this period.  I couldn't see friends or family, and I saw Andrew about 10 minutes each day if we were lucky. 

The class started off as intense just because of my schedule. 

The tension increased when I introduced the reading list. My students read The Emperor Jones, W;t, Doubt, Angels in America, Streetcar Named Desire, and Crimes of the Heart. Despite that I told them on day one that modern drama is by its nature reactionary and at times outlandish -- that it remains important because it addressed taboo topics concerning race, sex, and gender -- my students were still shocked to read about graphic gay sex or child molestation.  

There were several times during the class that the room got uncomfortable, not because the students said anything incendiary, but because they were discussing possibilities they'd rather not entertain (such as the idea that gender is learned rather than innate).  It was an odd experience: though the students were comfortable with each other and with me, just about every play made people shift uneasily in their seats.  

Is tension necessary for growth? Have you learned something if you've been introduced to an idea that made you feel a little out of sorts? 

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Saying Goodbye

Many thanks to Paul Larson, whose blog on goodbyes got me to thinking about this topic. 

The end of the semester is always a good time for me. By this point, many students have learned to think analytically, or write with a little more panache, or have found a favorite writer, poet, or literary work. Maybe they've learned to love reading more than they did, or maybe they've found a voice they didn't know they had.  If any of those things have happened, I feel I've done a good thing. 

Teaching writing and literature usually leads students to "confess."  This year, I taught an autobiography class, which of course led to a lot of sharing.  The book my students connected to more than any was one called Paula by Isabel Allende, a beautiful true story of a woman trying to write her young daughter out of a coma and into existence once again.  One of my students had to excuse herself from the discussion, since she was currently spending her evenings next to her terminally ill father, going through the exact stages of grief outlined in the book. Another had coached her abusive, meth-addict father through the end of his life just recently. Another had never known his father, except for a fleeting glimpse of him in the street. Another had made the decision to pull the plug on his dad's life-support machine and was still angry at himself (and, as a result, the book) for telling his father it was "ok to let go."

So, the point is that I got to know a lot about these remarkable people in a short amount of time, and just yesterday they turned in their papers and left. I'll grade them as fairly as I can, attempting to block out any connections I made with that class while I do, and then I'll post the grades and begin teaching the intersession class that looms ever closer.  But I can't shake how anticlimactic that end-of-year  -- or any -- goodbye can be.  I never have been able to, not in 7 years.

My way of dealing with goodbye as a teacher is usually just to awkwardly smile at the students as they leave and pretend this is all just part of teaching, or part of living, or maybe a little of both.  Goodbyes are on my mind quite a bit these days, really. So if I don't make a big production out of leaving you this summer, when we begin our trek east, don't think twice about it. It just means I'm not ready to let you go. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Abandoning an Agenda

Most professors will tell you they never teach with an agenda, that they don't try to push their beliefs onto their students. But the truth is that any teacher in a classroom does this to a certain degree. It's rather hard not to do so. Let's say you're faced with a room full of racists, and you're reading a book about empowered black women. Would it be wrong to encourage your students to rethink their stereotype of the African-American community so that they can approach the book in a way that allows them to appreciate these characters?  Let's say you're faced with a room full of homophobes, and you're all reading a book about a lesbian who refuses to apologize for finally finding the one person who makes her happy.  Would it be wrong to encourage the students to be open to this literary character's admirable strength in the face of oppression, despite the students' reservations regarding what they do not understand?

I find I'm faced with this delicate balance every day.  At what point am I teaching them to think for themselves, and at what point am I encouraging them to see the world as I do? I'm constantly faced with people who say things like, "Homosexuality is an aberration of God," just like I might casually remark, "That's a very nice lamp you have there."  As if they haven't just shunned an entire group of people based on a narrow reading of one Biblical passage.  And I have to struggle each time with how to respond. Do I take the expansive, professorial role and say, "Oh? And what informs that opinion?" in an effort to get them to examine their beliefs? Do I point out that their profession of intolerance could've just isolated 1/4 of the room? Do I shake them by the shoulders for their close-mindedness? I'm happy to say I have never chosen option #3, though getting a little riled up has its benefits.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Watchmen: A Review

Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen or don't know the story to the Watchmen, don't read this blog. I'd hate to ruin it for you.  

This is a review of the movie, not the graphic novel, which I hear is quite different and certainly more complete. The movie's plot concerns a group of former superheroes, called The Watchmen, who are being picked off one by one by an unknown murderer. The living, naturally, want to figure out who this is.  Side plots include avoiding a nuclear holocaust, a series of failed or corrupted relationships, and the dehumanization of a mutated physicist named Dr. Manhattan.  But really, I do the plot very little justice. 

The film suffers from having three competing artistic visions rather than a unified one.  To begin, it cannot decide how it would like to represent the comic book world.  At times, it would like to make fun of comics, with bam-boom-pow, 1950s Batman-like fighting scenes and lines from the evil villain like, "I'm not going to reveal my plan to you. What do you think I am, an evil villain in a comic book?" This approach could have been quite a bit of fun, if they'd stuck to it.  But then the characters would drop melodramatically out of airships or strut across the screen in purple-and-gold tights delivering serious lines about a nuclear holocaust without a trace of humor, as if they'd forgotten they were, just a few scenes earlier, making a parody of the comic genre.  

Alongside these 2 versions of the same film was yet another fighting to get through the macabre, violence-laden storyline: that of a post 9-11 vision of the United States.  The graphic novel, which was written in the mid-80s, imagines what would have happened if nuclear war between Russia and the US hadn't been averted (or had, in a way . . . well, I don't have time to explain that). The directors of this movie reinterpreted it to be both about the graphic novel's original concern -- war with Russia -- and the terrorist attacks on New York City.  While they occasionally make the parallels, showing shots of the twin towers still standing, ready to fall, they do not do so faithfully, making their point clear only when the film ends, as they pan out to show a gaping hole a nuclear explosion has left in NYC.  The hole is the construction site for the 9-11 towers, suggesting we have already survived our own near-annihilation.  

But since the graphic novel was already such a complicated story, these three artistic visions fight each other the entire way, struggling to stay faithful to the novel for all of its die-hard fans while simultaneously trying to mock the genre, honor the genre, and turn it into a political commentary that it only barely mentions and at the most inconvenient times in the film.  

These factors, coupled with the gratuitous sex and violence which add nothing to a story that was fascinating all its own, made it a disappointment to say the least.  

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Pet Ownership

These are just 2 of our 5 animals. While most blogs on pet ownership might be about the joys of playing with these precious creatures, this one won't be. I am certainly a blessed pet-owner; don't get me wrong. Wormwood, the kitten, provides endless entertainment. Sierra and Brinkley have grown up to be loving dog-companions. Chloe and Allie, our first animals, continue to be an important part of the furry family. 

However, lately the hairy children in our household have been quite a handful. Chloe has been quarantined and put on cat-paxil for an anxiety disorder that causes her to ruin anything that's fabric.  And today Worm had to go to the vet to be neutered, which meant no food or water after 7 PM last night.  THAT meant that at 4 AM he decided to let me know how he felt about what was apparently cruel and unusual punishment by biting me in the ear, bringing me out of REM and into a panic-stricken state of semi-alertness.  "Mrow?"  he asked.  I told him to go away and put my face under the pillow.  So he burrowed under the covers and bit me in the chin.  "Mrow!"  I get it but there's nothing I can do. I shove him off of the bed.  He sneaks under the bedclothes and nips me in the big toe.  "Mrrrrrrow," he adds, as if perhaps I am dense.  I try to put him outside, but he's a young tomcat, and it is as if I have channeled his voice into a bullhorn.  "Mrow mrow mrrrrroooowwwwwwww," he protests, upping his volume so he can be heard from inside my bedroom.  I let him back in. 

Just as I am about to fall back to sleep, the yellow cat, Allie, lets me know that, while she hates Worm, the two have formed a union.  She entwines herself in the wooden blinds next to my face and starts batting the blind-pull against the wall.  It's now 4:30 AM.  THWACK. THWACK. THWACK THWACK THWACK.  I shoo her.  I'm almost asleep when Worm bites me on the ear again, and Allie THWACKS the blind-pull at the same time.  They are certain I am an idiot.  And I must be, because I try to spray Allie with lavender linen spray, only in the dark I have turned the nozzle towards my own eye.  I give the pump a good hard push and cover my face with the stuff, getting it in my mouth and eyelashes, which causes me to sputter and the cat to fall out of the blinds, soundly knocking over my eyeglasses and a bedside lamp.  Andrew groans.

This cycle repeats itself for 2 hours until my alarm (needlessly) sounds. As I finally get Allie off of my head (where she is attempting to sit to draw attention to her lack of food and water) and Worm in the pet taxi, I turn around to find Chloe-the-quarantined-cat has escaped from the sun porch and is now standing in the living room, ready to demolish our new living room furniture we added because she ruined the old.  

I sigh and realize it is going to be a very, very long day. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

On Humility

An extraordinary thing happened to me today. 

The day began with lots and lots of pain. I have some respiratory disease I can't shake that makes me cough until I feel like all of those little bronchial tubes in my chest are on fire. As a teacher, I haven't been able to rest my voice, which only irritated this feeling, so I finally decided I couldn't take the burning anymore and called the doctor.

"Sorry, we're booked," said the woman on the phone, who really didn't sound sorry.  "I can transfer you to Dr. Smith's office." So she did.

"Sorry, we're booked," said the woman at Dr. Smith's office.  If possible, she sounded less contrite than the first. "You can try Dr. Jones's office." And so I did. 

"We might be able to work you in," she said doubtfully. "Just come down here and sign in."  

I trudge to the doctor's office with my books and my laptop, prepared to wait and work, this being my only day to plan lectures besides the weekend. I feel like sludge.  They take $115 dollars from me, and I remember that I now have state insurance with no copay, and I feel even sludgier.  They send me to Dr. Jones's office with my chart. Thirty minutes of my life have passed during this process. 

I hand my chart to the receptionist and she glares at me. "Who are you?" she asks. I cannot understand the hostility. I should be angry at her for stealing $115 out of my paycheck, which isn't even hours old today.  I tell her my name, which is clearly printed on the front of my chart, and it makes her more angry. "I JUST talked to you on the phone and said we had NO ROOM."  I open and close my mouth. I have nothing to say. She's lying. And she's making me feel like dirt in front of a hallway full of people.  She rolls her eyes at me and huffs a big breath, blowing at the papers clipped on the clipboard.  "I guess you'll just have to wait for two hours and see if you get lucky."  

I return to where she gestured -- a large germ-infested waiting room -- and then decide I'm wasting my time. I tell the attendant at the front I must've misunderstood, that this doctor couldn't work me in after all, and I ask for my money back, which they grant to me.  I am quite distressed at this point, feeling, as I do, on fire, now aware that I will continue to feel on fire for some time, untreated. I am not indignant or angry. I just want to disappear into the floor, where maybe I won't feel sick or exhausted or upset for being yelled at for no reason at all.

I leave.

I go home and pity myself for a while.  I get a phone call, unexpectedly. 

"Is this Kacy?"

It is.

"I think I was rude to you today, and I wanted to say I was sorry."

No one ever tells me they are sorry.  I stumble around for a response.

"I was short with you and I realize that now, and I think I'm why you left, and, knowing that, I couldn't even eat my lunch. So I just wanted to tell you I apologize, and that if you come at 2, I'll make sure you see a doctor."

This was a remarkable thing for her to do.  That room was full of patients; that business did not need my money.  She doesn't know me at all.  She had no reason to track me down and apologize, and she did it anyway, even though dialing my phone number must have been uncomfortable.  So today I'm thankful for her humility, which restores a bit of my faith in humanity.  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mandatory Maternity

So here's what happened. I have an old friend who doesn't like to hear news second-hand, so I called her to tell her I was moving to Florida. She said, "Oh," rather deflated.  "What's wrong? You and I haven't lived near each other in years, " I asked, misinterpreting the disappointment in her voice.  "Oh, it's nothing," she said sheepishly; "I just thought you were calling to tell me you were having a baby."  

I actually don't blame her for this reaction. This post isn't about her, at all; if I've heard this once, I've heard it 1,000 times. Many of my friends are on child #2. To many people, I am "behind."  

Recently, at my father's 60th birthday, I saw several former teachers who guided me through elementary, junior high, and high school. My mother told them (and everyone) that I'd gotten my PhD, and these teachers said, "We're so glad for you. Do you have any children yet?"  

This has been an unusual reaction for me. I'm not sure what I expected -- I've been too busy to wonder what other people would think -- but I find it odd that my identity, while for me has been defined as academic, scholar, teacher, wife, friend, and daughter, is not complete to other people unless I adopt the persona of mother.  People are often quickly apologetic after they point out what they see as an omission in my life.  They say, "Oh, I know I never liked it when people asked me."  "It's none of my business of course." "You don't have to tell me."  

Isn't it odd that, while I've finally achieved self-sufficiency, while I've gone to college for 10 years, searched for the right job for almost as long,  own my own house, have a successful marriage, and am involved in my community,  because I'm a woman, it isn't enough? 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The End

Well it's not the end, not really; it's the beginning -- but I've gotten a job, finally, and that signifies the end of a lot of things. For one, my insides are no longer tied in a knot. I can listen to people when they talk to me, and I don't feel tired from worry anymore. I don't have to wonder if I'm going to stay here in the fall or not, and I have at least a decent idea of what life will be like in the 2nd part of 2009.  I can focus on my teaching instead of seeing my students in a blur since I stayed up all night packing, grading, scrambling to teach someone else's class at an unfamiliar university, acquiring books I haven't read or don't own.  

I have a lot of people to thank. Since I've told friends and family the news, they've said things like, "We're proud of your accomplishments" and "You worked hard for that" but the truth is that there were so many people and so many factors that helped me get the job that I can hardly take credit. Maybe I got the PhD, and maybe I tried my best to be an appealing candidate, but that's not enough to get a job. 

First of all, I had friends who stayed friends with me even though I have been glassy-eyed with anxiety for about 6 months (ok probably a year).  My husband didn't leave me, even though I brought up these anxieties to him day in and day out for what has seemed like an eternity.  The people I worked with got me a temporary job so I didn't starve during all of this, which would've pushed me over the edge most likely.  My writing group kept telling me to keep my head up; my religious friends continued to pray for me; my mom and dad remained positive even though all of my options took me far from them.  And Tampa gave me a chance, even though I probably wasn't the smartest person they could've hired.  I'm really still not clear on why I've been smiled upon in this way.  I certainly haven't served in enough soup kitchens or stayed up with enough sick friends to earn the karma for it.  I feel indebted.  To everyone.  

I also owe the people who rejected me.  That sounds weird, so let me explain. I applied for 55 positions.  I interviewed with 8 schools (which I can now name):  Longwood, Corpus Christi, Wofford, Simpson, Kutztown, Edgewood, Ball State, and Tampa.  I received offers for campus visits from Longwood, Wofford, Simpson, Kutztown, Edgewood, and Tampa. I accepted 5 of those invitations but only ended up making it to 3 campuses.  I got offers from two schools, and accepted one.  I am indebted to Wofford, particularly, who rejected me. 

What I mean by that is that Wofford called me the day after I returned from San Francisco and asked me to visit on 1/5.  I loved everyone there -- still do, really -- and loved South Carolina and decided if they offered me the position, I'd take it without visiting the others. This would have been stupid, but I didn't know that at the time.  They chose someone else. I yelled at God.  I was pretty angry with him; why show me a great place and give it to another person? Everyone told me things work out for a reason but you couldn't tell me that. I was angry and, naturally, insulted. I'm human.  

But their rejection made me visit Edgewood and Tampa, where I met remarkable people.  And I ended up taking a job where it's always warm, where the department is a great size, where there are more people near my age and with my interests, where there is more travel money, a larger salary, time off for writing my book, and something they call "relocation assistance." They're helping me move.  I'll be working in a building that was a former hotel -- a magnificent building called Plant Hall where all of the offices have giant windows and a fireplace  -- and I'll most likely buy a house on or near Davis Island, where, if you take your dog for a walk in the afternoon, you're likely to see dolphins. It's less than an hour from Disney, Andrew's favorite place in the world, which is also the home to a dear childhood friend who has been homesick for her friends for quite some time.  And if I'd been offered the SC position, I would've worked every Christmas as part of a wintersession program -- which means when Andrew and I have children, we wouldn't have been able to let them visit their grandparents several states away. 

Needless to say, I apologized to God for all the yelling. But really, I think he's used to it.  

People are quick to point out the hard parts are just beginning. I have to sell my house in a market where no one has money, and I have to buy a house from far away. Andrew has to find a job, and we have to make all new friends and learn a new city.  These things used to frighten me, but not anymore. If we can make it through the job process, we can make it through anything.  And anyway, I'm slowly becoming resigned to the fact that someone's looking out for me.  Maybe it won't be easy, but it'll be OK.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

 Imagine you were an expensive French cheese enthusiast. Just bear with me.  Imagine that the one thing that took you away from your worries was expensive French cheese, and each chance you had to order some, read about some, taste some, even attempt to age your own, you took it.  As an expensive French cheese enthusiast, you may have tried once or twice to share your passion with your friends, but it made you seem uppity, and maybe a little weird, which was often disappointing to you, since sharing your passion was the one thing that you wanted to do.  And then -- one day -- one bright, shiny day, it happened:  an American company stumbled on an affordable fantastic French cheese that brought your hobby to the masses in the USA, and everyone loved it, and everyone suddenly wanted to talk fromage with you, and the sun came out, and you were deliriously happy. 

This is what happened to me in the theater this weekend. Well, so to speak.  Slumdog Millionaire brought India/Bollywood to America and I sat next to people who loved it as much as I did and I could have squeezed everyone as I exited the theatre (but I did not).  I could barely contain myself from sounding like Hermione Granger.  "Do you see that interviewer?" I wanted to yell; "That's  Anil Kapoor! He's in Tashan, which is awesome, and Welcome, which is hilarious, but he's always the bad guy. And the police inspector? That's Irrfan Khan. He's amazing -- watch the Namesake! You should see Aaja Nachle! Do you hear that song? That's my favorite song from Don -- you should SEE Don! It's 3 1/2 hours long but worth every second."  Again, by some miracle, I was able to avoid such an outburst.

What was amazing about the movie was that it was not a typical Oscar-worthy film. It didn't make me want to tear my own eyes out from sorrow. It didn't make me turn away from sticky, overdone gore.  It was a suspenseful, clever, poignant, brilliant love story. It's the story of a young guy from the slums -- which makes him a Slumdog -- who, when the film opens, is winning India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  But the hero isn't interested in money; he wants to find a girl.  He and Latika were separated when they were children, and he's spent his life trying to find her again. He's hoping the sensation he creates on the show will draw her to him. 

The movie is about family, colonialism, caste, poverty, prejudice, and perseverance.  Well, WHAT are you doing still reading this blog? You should be seeing it right now, for heaven's sake. And be sure to stay for the credits. You wouldn't want to miss the dancing. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That Was Instinct

So I forgot to tell you the story of what happened when I was coming home on the plane from my campus visit. 

It was very late -- later than it should have been, in fact, because of cross winds that delayed my flight. I squeezed into a seat next to a woman who had been chattering on the cell phone, ignoring my pleas to let me sit down until I poked her in the shoulder.  Rolling her eyes and sighing, she got up to let me attempt to fold myself into a sitting position.  She continued to chew on the person on the other end of the phone until the plane was well underway.  The flight attendant practically had to make her swallow the contraption to get her to turn it off. 

Being off of the phone seemed to have a negative effect on my flying companion.  We had to idle on the runway for an hour because of the weather, and the longer we sat there, the more fidgety this woman became.  She began chewing off her fake nails, one by one by one.  She achieved this by gnawing the glue close to the quick and then prying the nail off with her front teeth, giving it a quick feral yank at the end for good measure.  Once she'd done that to all ten digits, it was time for the plane to take off. Unfortunately for me (and for her, in all fairness), this did little to ease her.

As the plane began to ascend, she rustled anxiously in her bulging bag and pulled out a white crocheted toboggan.  This she pulled down tightly over her ears, keeping hold of the sides of the hat until the plane leveled off.  Had she not been behaving this way, I would not have known she was upset. Her face was completely serene.  Only her fierce clutch on the hat suggested flying was not her favorite activity.

She finally let go of the toboggan and began ordering drinks when we reached altitude.  Since she reeked of bourbon, I assumed these were just a few in a long line of beverages she'd begun drinking way before our boarding time.  This might explain what she did two hours later when we finally descended. 

I missed whatever other odd behavior this woman exhibited while we flew because I gave over to my exhaustion and fitfully slept.  I might have had a few more minutes of rest had this strange person sitting next to me not done what she did.  Right before the plane's wheels touched asphalt -- which, to me, is the worst part of flying (next to the screaming, germs, body odor, and security searches) -- this mentally deranged person fully extended her arm and whacked me in the face with the backside of her elbow.  I snapped open my eyes to gape at her.  I guess my face demanded an explanation before I could form any words.  "Did you see that?" she asked me in her East Tennessee drawl;  "That was instinct." 

Friday, January 9, 2009

On Possibilities

It is a rare day that someone can say "today, I have stood at the threshold of the rest of my life."  But during the job process, there are days (or early mornings, or late nights) when one can actually pause a moment and think those thoughts.  The feeling is quite strange. You could very well be sitting next to the person who could be your best friend and colleague for the remainder of your life.  There is this possibility that you have walked by your own office.  It is not altogether unlikely that your town tour has taken you by your future home.  And while these thoughts might be exciting -- while these possibilities may be absolutely thrilling in a way nothing ever has been before -- in the job process, it is equally likely that everything you have seen could be offered to someone else.  What a strange, wonderful, hopeful, anxiety-ridden experience this is. 

Thursday, January 1, 2009


So, I have returned from the the MLA convention. 

I read more blogs than I should've about what to expect. Some emphasized the smell of failed deodorant; others discussed strange and unusual interviews that involved people going to sleep or attempting to conduct an interview drunk.  These were not my experiences. At least, not exactly. 

I accidentally (but fortuitously) booked us in the Fairmont, a convention hotel but not the main one.  Initially, I was confused -- where was the mania? The evidence that everyone was going through his/her worst fear? This was a golden lobby. The only people in it were shaking it to the Tonga Room or enjoying a bellini at the hotel restaurant.  Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. We met up with people we'd missed a long, long time. We shared excellent meals and watched the ice skaters on the square. 

But that was all until we were summoned to the Hilton.  The Hilton was the hub of all activity -- where most interviews were, where all sessions were being held.  I walked through the double doors and finally realized why everyone shudders when they say the word "MLA."  The first breath I took felt hot and sour; I actually breathed in everyone else's panic like it was cigarette smoke.   There must have been 200 suited, strange people in the hotel lobby. Those who weren't fidgeting or sweating were ecstatically embracing people they'd missed. What I tasted in the air was one part terror and one part impatient joy.  Everyone was scanning everyone else's nametag.  They wanted to know, "Are you somebody?"  I tucked mine away to save them the trouble.

Then I found "the phones."  In case you didn't know, MLA interviews are held in hotel rooms.  And you have to call the room where your interview will be held 5 minutes before it's scheduled to begin. There was a line of phones in the hallway with young professionals and graduate students hovering around them. Everyone was glancing at their watches, glancing at the phones, glancing at their watches, and breathing heavily.  Most looked like this was their first time in a suit. Everyone was shifty. The energy made the air hard to take in.  It was horrible. Everyone was thinking the same thing. Call now? Call NOW? 

But that wasn't as weird as the elevator ride. The elevator ride to the interview room took 1,000 years. While taking it to the designated interview room, time stopped.  I died about 10 times, came back to life, and somehow by a miracle made my way out of the elevator. This enjoyable experience was comparable only to the moment outside the door of the interview room.  For one second, I wondered if it wouldn't be a better idea to crawl down the stairs, slink out of San Francisco, and hide out in my closet the rest of my life. But I didn't do that. I felt fairly proud of myself each time I avoided this alternate plan of action.  I breathed. I avoided hyperventilating. And then I knocked. 

What happened in that room is fodder for 1,000 stories but all of them could jeopardize my chances of getting a job. So we'll skip over that part.

Perhaps we'll fast-forward to the time we saw a cat strapped to a dog walking down the street outside of where we were dining.  Or perhaps I'll just stop there.