Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lint Castles

Am I the only one who feels like she's completely making up her research? I mean, I do have photocopied documents, old filmstrips (one of my essential primary sources), endless transcripts of Congressional hearings and judicial opinions. But right now, it all looks like pocket lint to me. I feel like I've emptied my pockets onto the table and then attacked the contents with scotch tape and bailing wire and am now standing back and saying, "See! Isn't that a beautiful castle. Let's build a moat!"

I suspect this means I need more research. I also suspect this means that last week's complete disinterest was really hiding panic on a slow boil. I often suspect that I'm fooling myself completely with more than just my research. I used to think it was completely insane that so many people quit their PhD programs once they were ABD. Why quit when you've completed all those cumbersome requirements? Because that was the easy part; that's why. I'm not at all on the verge of quitting, but the thought has crossed my mind more in the last six months than it did in the previous four years combined. Right now, I'm looking around for the dealer who is supplying all these academics with crack. I need mine. Because that bunch of fuzz on the table? No way will that build floors that will support weight, walls that are remotely attractive, or a roof that will keep the rain out. That lint wouldn't make a barn a self-respecting cow would have any part of. A castle? Bwahahaha!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Take a Bite

I'm not really doing much of anything these days. I said this to a friend recently, and her response was the incredibly sweet (but, in this case, dead wrong) "You're doing more than you think."

I'm not actually. I'm doing considerably less than anyone thinks. I'm not thinking about my dissertation at all. Part of it is that I'm preparing to go out of town for quite a while and the logistics of the trip are taking up enough time that I don't do the work that calls my name in a particular, demanding hiss. But the other part of it is that I'm just not engaged in it right now. I will be again, I'm sure. I should probably stress about it, but I'm not doing that, either. I'm working on a quilt for a niece to be born next month, going for trail runs with Bug, baking a good bit for the fast-approaching holiday. I'm staying up late and watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica and plotting how I might join the colonial fleet so Starbuck can teach me to fly (ahem.) I'm going for long walks and longer drives and talking to friends and vacuuming the living room rug. In short, everything other than working on my dissertation.

The common grad school response to my confession of what I'm really doing with my time is that I deserve this down time. The responses are definitely well-meaning, but deserve has nothing to do with this. I have worked hard, yes, but what we do and do not deserve as human beings is almost always, in my opinion, light-years distant from what we actually receive. I'm sure that, on the day my niece is born, there will be another baby born, likely in the same zip code, that will deserve every bit of the love and advantage that my niece will be offered. That baby might get that love or it might get a lifetime of neglect and bitterness. On a fundamental level, there is no deserve. There's only grab with greedy hands the sunlight and hope and desire that pass by and thank god you looked up at the right moment to take hold of it.

On another level, I also hate the idea that graduate students must earn comfort or time outside our academic lives. There's a pervasive emotional undercurrent that we should each be proving ourselves worthy of the academy, not just because we do good work, but because we work longer, harder, and are more miserable than others. Our poverty and discomfort are somehow badges of just how much we deserve what we want in the future, and because what we want in the future feels so big and so beyond believing (at least for me), we feel that if we falter it's a grand sign of whether we're up for this is a big picture, long term sort of way. I often feel as if I'm supposed to be a character in a modern-day jeremiad, dangling over the fires of academic judgment, waiting for an angry god to dump me in at the first sign that I'm Not Supposed to Survive. If we get or take a break, it is either a sign that we're doomed or that we've been so good, so disciplined and hard-working and producing that we must deserve it on some fundamental level; the universe has tallied our accounts and granted us a day off.

Of course this is bullshit of the complete and utter variety. Being a graduate student is my job. It's a phenomenal job with rewards that make me blink with surprise on a regular basis. It is defining and engrossing and encompassing. It's still just a job. I no more deserve a day off from that job than I deserve the job in the first place and I don't deserve that any more than I deserve a family that loves me or friends that give me hope that the world is a place of fundamental decency. If we succeed, it will be be because we are successful, not because some cosmic force has chosen us. We don't have to prove that to ourselves or anyone else day after day. There is no deserve. There is only live our lives and the hope we won't waste them.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Photo Blogging

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I need to link to's photo today because I've looked at it several times since it went up. It's a superb photo of the Brisbane skyline at dusk, and I keep trying to fall into the serenity of the water and the promise of each lighted window. It's reminding me of a moment in my life that I'm very grateful has passed but I'm also very grateful that I had. When I was in college, in those early tortured years alone, when I was coming out and a rural Southern girl in a New England city and everything felt absurdly uncertain as it only can when you're 18, I used to sit in a park near my college campus and look out at the skyline on cold evenings. I'd breathe into my scarf and feel my breath accumulate in little wet pools on the wool and try to choose one window, one light and imagine what was going on behind it. And then I'd pan out, eyeballs imitating camera, and be comforted by what seemed like the possibility of the light and the dark and the thousands of lives behind the glowing bulbs. I figured that amongst all those lights there was someone more miserable than I was and someone happier than I could imagine being and that anything was possible. I could end up behind any window. It could be worse. It could be better. But mostly, sitting there looking over my new home, I knew that for a while longer, I could be.

Fourth Carnival of GRADual Progress

The Fourth Carnival of GRADual Progress is up at My Life, My Pace. I'd tell you exactly which posts to make sure you read, but I'm loving them all. I love them all except the one that points out that checking e-mail is not working on your dissertation. That one I refuse to acknowledge.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Photo Blogging

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wheelies in My Field

People are assholes. I mean, not you. I'm sure you're perfectly lovely. (Actually, I'm not sure of that at all, but I bet most of you are pretty decent.) But there are a lot of assholes out there. I was confronted with this fact today when I took Bug to the park and found our favorite field had been run through with some kind of truck, destroying what had once been a perfectly beautiful spot to run and jump and lay on your back and smile at a hawk that's flying overhead. Now it's a mess with ruts and muddy puddles and holes and ugly scars. I looked at it and looked at Bug and just had one of those moments when I thought, "god, I hate people."

Truly, our destroyed lovely field is just one more straw on a broken back today. I realize I'm supposed to be celebratory on account of the Democratic victories, and that is nice and all. I really am happy about that. But I live in a state that passed an anti-civil unions measure, and I'm beyond tired of being the Religious Right's whipping girl. I'd really like to type up some insightful analysis of what this institutionalized homophobia and election year hate-mongering means in our culture. (Much like Tom Bozzo at Marginal Utility did not long ago.) I'm a cultural historian with a focus on sexuality, for crying out loud. I should be able to do that. But I can't right now. Because I've had more than I can take of hearing my life and my desire disparaged and derided and used as a political pawn. I just don't have it in me tonight to do anything but shake my head and just feel disgusted with my fellow human beings. I feel like people have just been given further electoral permission to take something lovely and tear it up and leave it bleeding and broken on national TV.

In the local newspaper, one of the women leading the charge against civil unions said that she was proud that they had passed the amendment without resorting to "hatred." Well, let me tell you, lady, if this isn't hatred, I don't know what is. You've given every gay-basher, every parent who has thrown a gay child on the streets, every employer who has fired a gay employee, every judge who has taken a child from a gay parent permission to continue acting on hatred. You've given them a bit of legal legitimacy, a constitutional cornerstone to lean on when they need rationalization for their own immorality.

The rhetoric is just rhetoric, but it still hits hard. I once counseled a girl who had tried to kill herself when she was nine years old because she knew she was gay. She was nine. She wasn't suicidal because of all the horrible effects of a corrupt lifestyle. She was suicidal because she just kept hearing about how evil she was. I've been very out as queer for approaching 15 years, and one day about five years ago I found myself sitting in my car at a gas station and sobbing because the pope had just announced again (must have been a slow news day) that the gay lifestyle was an abomination. I remembering thinking, "This? This lifestyle? I woke up by 7 and had yogurt and now I'm taking my dog to the park with a stop for gas on the way. I haven't even had sex for a very long time. This is an abomination?" And then I cried. Because you can only take it for so long. You can only let them tear at things you love for so long, in so many voices, in so many ways before you can't take it any more. And then your defenses crumble and you take it like a punch to the gut and it's damn hard to get up off the mat.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Birthday Bug

Though I don't intend to blog about my dog all that often (he doesn't need to be the center of everything in my life), today is his seventh birthday, and so I'm making an exception. So:

A List Reasons I Love My Dog

1. He usually sleeps with his nose tucked under my leg.
2. When he lifts his head up from a nap, his face stays all flat on one side and he looks so surprised to not be sleeping anymore.
3. That smile he gets on his face when he is running uninhibited through a field, like he's flying even though all four paws are on the ground. I take more joy in his joy than I can possibly express.
4. He thinks he's a lap dog, even though he weighs 70 pounds.
5. He's so smart, I'm lucky he can't talk back.
6. He plays like it is serious business.
7. All he cares about in the world is playing outdoors, eating good food, and loving me.
8. He'd die for me given the chance.
9. He comes to sit with me when I'm sad.
10. He's mine and we both know it.
11. I'm his and we both know it.
12. He still sucks in his sleep like he's nursing.
13. When he plays "put a body part in my mouth" with me, he never bites down, and he makes funny sounds that make me laugh so hard I can't stop.
14. I get so many wonderful things from him, I could type this list all night and never run out of inspiration.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tinnitus, or Another Research Metaphor

I've had a case of tinnitus ongoing now for approximately six months. For those unaware of the delights of tinnitus, let me assure you that it does, in fact, mean my ear rings all the time. All the time. I can't tell you how wearying this is. It's very much like having some small physical problem, like a broken finger or small wound that's been stitched up, that requires small adjustments in order to get through the day. While I used to be hyper-sensitive to any kind of noise at all—I loved my quiet—in the last six months, that same lovely quiet is an invitation for the ringing in my left ear to soar, sort of like leaving a small child at a piano in a church sanctuary and asking, "How much noise can you make?" BAM! As a result of this unfortunate problem (made worse by currently being uninsured), I pretty much need white noise in the background all of the time. I'm actually grateful when my obnoxiously loud heater kicks in, because it blocks the noise. I sleep with a white noise machine on in the background. I'm constantly looking for a source of background noise to distract me from the ringing in my head.

Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend in a cabin with several friends of mine. It was a fabulous trip. But in order to get any sleep at all, I had to listen to a white noise track on my iPod. Now, here had been my original plan: Since only my left ear rings, I would wear an ear phone in that ear, thereby freeing me up to sleep on my right side (sleeping on an ear phone hurts) and drowning out the ring. When I attempted this, I discovered the first interesting thing about tinnitus (a very boring condition) since it set in: The white noise MUST be in stereo. It does not do to only have white noise blaring in one ear. Nope. Both ears must be taking it in.

Now I'm sure there's something very simple to know about white noise that makes this obviously the case. But what it drove home for me is that I'm not actually hearing anything. There's no sound there to be easily drowned out. While in some cases of tinnitus, there is an actual external sound being perceived, mine is not one of those cases. (Small mercies: in some cases, the sound perceived is to the beat of the person's pulse. Shudder.) I'm actually arranging my days around the perception of a non-existent sound. It's the sound I hear first when the white noise stops. I'm constantly testing to see if it's there and discovering that yes, it is. Only it's not. It's a kind of auditory mirage that keeps rising up across the desert of my eardrum. It's not even an attractive mirage with promises of salvation from a parched, silent world. It's just what's there. And so my only choice at present is to tune it out, learn to listen through it, learn to not go completely out of my frakking mind so that I can perceive the things that are real. But god, it sucks.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Photo Blogging