Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Take a Class If You Don't Expect to Learn Anything?

I had an uncomfortable conversation with a student today. It's a student in a general education course, a student whose major is way outside of the humanities. The student is only taking the course because it fulfills a graduation requirement, and the student intends to graduate this May, and had been putting off fulfilling this requirement because it is so far out of hir comfort zone. This student self-identifies as one who is not "good at English."

Ze "doesn't like poetry"; ze doesn't like books that aren't "realistic" or that don't reflect hir own experience; ze doesn't like to read things with which ze doesn't "connect."

Now, this is the raison d'etre of general education programs and requirements. To force students out of their comfort zones and into broader ways of conceiving the world, ways that might not be comfortable for them but from which they will, as citizens, benefit. Students outside the humanities benefit from basic instruction in humanistic inquiry, and students from the humanities benefit from courses in the sciences, the social sciences, and math. I really do believe that (now, as much as I put off my science requirements until the very end of my college career). It is important, if one hopes to be a well-rounded person, to be able to stretch intellectually, and to learn that the way that one finds most comfortable for approaching the world is not the One True and Only way.

But so. Back to my uncomfortable conversation. This student is very anxious about the upcoming paper assignment, and just more generally about hir abilities to engage with the literature of the course. Now look. I make students anxious. That is my lot in life. This isn't what made the conversation uncomfortable. What made the conversation uncomfortable was that the student kept reiterating that the assignments in the course were making hir feel "stupid." Ze kept returning to the theme of stupidity, that somehow because ze didn't have total and complete mastery over the material after one quick read that this was evidence that ze is "stupid." Further, ze kept comparing hir understanding of the texts in the course to that of other students, kept harping on the notion that even the texts themselves were somehow designed to make ze feel stupid, or that they were not for stupid people like ze. When ze veered from the "stupid" theme, it was only to talk about how boring and irritating the texts were.

This is not the first time that I've had this conversation with a student, but this conversation is not one that becomes more comfortable the more times I have it. Because here's the thing:

Why on God's green earth would anybody want to take a class in which they got nothing out of attending class? Why would anybody want to pay money to be "taught" something that they already understand? Am I naive in thinking that the whole point of taking a class involves coming away from the class with a greater understanding than you would have if you just encountered the subject or material casually on your own? I mean, seriously: I don't get it. I feel like the entire point of formal education is that you encounter things that you wouldn't encounter on your own or choose to engage with on your own, and you are encouraged to think things that you wouldn't think on your own.

When I am feeling ungenerous, I think this sort of response is about the very real lack of respect that people in the world have for my discipline. I think that such people would never question feeling challenged or in over their heads in a science or math class - those are "real" disciplines don't you know - but anybody who is moderately literate and has a library card is totally as qualified as a reader of literature as any Ph.D. Because that's the thing: this student's antipathy to the course material and to the course itself is about the fact that the student feels affronted by the fact that ze can't just coast through. Ze can't fathom that there are ways of thinking about literature that go beyond "I connect with this character" or "it's a good story." And so yeah, ze may be expressing that as "this stuff treats me like I'm stupid and hurts my feelings," but I think that the underlying thing is a total lack of respect. Ugh.

But when I'm feeling generous.... I seriously don't want people to feel stupid as a result of my courses, and I seriously don't want my courses to make people miserable. And I don't want students to compare themselves unfavorably with other people in a course, just because those other people have insights that they don't have. And I gave that student my most encouraging pep talk, and I insisted to the student that I value hir contributions in class, and I did everything I could to try to explain that I see my role as about guiding ze to success. But when ze took hir leave, I felt like nothing I'd said had penetrated.

Look, I don't need every student who takes a course with me to love it, to care about it, or to feel like hir mind has been blown. I don't need them to like the literature that they encounter, and I don't need them to like me, at the end of the day. But I guess I do need them to respect the point of the course and to be willing to learn what I have to teach them. I need for them to be willing to learn, even if what they're learning hurts their feelings. Hell, I need for them to engage enough for their feelings to be hurt. I need them not to cop out and to think that because they're not just breezing through that it means they're stupid.

This student is not stupid. But this student is totally resistant to seeing anything that doesn't fit in with hir own personal perspective as valuable. And yes, that makes for uncomfortable conversations.

Now, as a teacher, I hope that this student will look back on this class in a year or five years or ten years as something that was useful. As something that was a valuable experience. BUT. Do I think this student sees this experience as one that is valuable right now? No. I think that this student thinks that I'm a bitch who chose awful books, books that are not worth the paper that they're printed on and that are designed to make people feel dumb. I think that this student thinks that I'm a bitch who is just plain mean for insisting that students in the course all - without exception - use the methods of my discipline for analyzing literature and writing about it. I think that this student basically thinks I'm a bitch.

And yeah, I don't love that, but it's part of the gig, I suppose. I don't take it personally. Except for that I sort of do. I sort of feel like this student should imagine the possibility that my decisions about and design of this course aren't just arbitrary ones intended to cause the maximum amount of pain. I feel like this student should give me just a tiny little sliver of credit for knowing how to do my motherfucking job.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Pictures Will Probably Poof But....

I am feeling, for the first time ever, house-proud. And so I would like to show you the house that I shall be (fingers crossed, knocking wood) buying.

Isn't the porch FANTASTIC? And the tree? And also, I know you want to see this, though it is a crappy and unrepresentative picture. 'Tis the Nook of Ideas:

What you can't tell from this picture is that the Nook is like 5 1/2 feet wide and like 12-14 feet long. In other words, an entirely reasonable amount of space for an office. (In fact, not all that much smaller than my actual office at school, which I think used to be a utility closet. What you also can't see is that there are windows in the Nook, so in that regard it is superior to my actual office, which has no windows - another piece of evidence that tells you it was probably at one time a utility closet.)

I should also note that I'm sort of freaking out about the fact that things are moving forward. It's not the idea of the money and mortgage that gets me. It's just that it feels so grown up of a thing to do. Also, it feels like for the first time "home" will really be where I live full time, and not my mom's house. I think the anxiety is closest to how I felt when I brought the Man-Kitty home - that somebody was making a grave mistake and that I was clearly not responsible to own a pet. Of course, that was silly, but that is very close to what this feels like.

Offer, Accepted

That's right, bitchez. Crazy's going to be owning her very own house.

(Barring any crazy things with the home inspection, financing snafus, etc., so I still expect you all to be knocking on some wood, crossing some fingers, and praying to the gods of home ownership on my behalf.)


  • I did that thing where I convinced myself I could grade everything that I have to grade this morning. WHY do I ever think that's a good idea? WHY?
  • I am very, very frustrated regarding the MLA session I'm putting together, but shouldn't say more than that. Grrrr.
  • I agreed to participate in this colloquium with our grad students and I feel like a big loser because I had to change my paper to one I've already given because, um, yeah, I cannot do what I said I was going to do between now and the day of the colloquium.
  • I cannot wait until this semester is over. Can. Not. Wait.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Work, Work, Work

So, yesterday I took the day off mostly, which was good. I lounged around, read, and finally got around to watching the movie The Reader. All in all, a relaxing sort of a day. Today, however, I cannot just waste away the day. On the agenda are the following items:

1. Put together draft of MLA panel proposal.
2. Grade for one of my classes.
3. Work out.
4. Clean kitchen and straighten up around the house generally.

All in all, a fairly manageable list.

But, as you might suspect from the fact that I'm blogging right now, I don't really feel like getting started on any of the above. I think I may need to use the kitchen timer system to get myself going.

In non-my-to-do-list-work news, two things. First, I'm very excited about the news I'm getting lately from students for whom I wrote recommendation letters this year. Aside from BES's grad school news, two other students were also accepted into MA programs, and another has been very successful with applying to law school (two acceptances to solid programs; and he's on the waiting list at some places that are really out of this world good). Now, I don't measure my success as a teacher by the number of my students who choose to apply to go on to more school. Not at all. But when students choose to take that path, it is really gratifying to see them be successful in their endeavors and to know that I helped to prepare them to be competitive for slots in strong programs.

In personal life news, no major news on the house front (Bank #1 is on board, we await confirmation from Bank #2, and in the meantime I'm still looking at other houses as they are listed), and I've been doing a lot of thinking and negotiating about personal life stuff in general in terms of relationships,which isn't terribly interesting (which is one reason why I'm not going to get into the details of it), but which I think is actually really positive, as much as such thinking and negotiating is not terribly fun in the short term. We'll see.

Ok, now to get to it with the things on the to-do list.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hooray for Productivity!

I am officially totally caught up with grading in one class and nearly caught up in another! Huzzah!

(We're just not going to talk about the third class, which I will need to spend all day either Sunday or Monday grading for, though I'm not actually behind in that third class - just have stuff I must grade this weekend to stay on track.)

I did not get anything done around the house, but I think I don't care. That's what Saturday is for.

So now I'm going to shower (am disgusting) and then will meet up with BES for celebrating! Celebration of grad school admission with funding and celebration of grading being less now than it was this morning! Celebration of Friday! Celebration of Springtime!

(Yes, I really am this enthusiastic. This is what being totally caught up with grading in one class can do for a person.)

Busy Day Ahead

Hello, all! The sun is shining, and I've got much on my agenda for the day.

1. Grading. Yes, the grading madness continues. But I glanced at one of my syllabi yesterday and realized that we have but THREE things left to cover! And then I realized that we have but FOUR things left to cover in my other two classes! We are in the home stretch, people! The semester will end! The grading will be done! Huzzah!

2. I'll do some crap around the house. Whatever.

3. Regarding houses, I know you're all dying to know how my house-hunting progresses. Well. Regarding the short-sale house on which I made the offer, I'm still in limbo. BUT, progress is (slowly) occurring in this limbo state. See, there are two mortgages on the house, and two different banks to deal with. Bank #1 is on board. And things now do appear to be slowly getting underway with Bank #2. This is still my favorite of the houses I've seen, but I continue to look at listings and will be going to see more houses in the interim, hoping of course that Bank #2 is on board with my offer on short-sale house so that I can stop doing so and just move ahead with short-sale house. I will not start to worry in earnest until April 1. (And yes, I know that's next week, but a lot can happen in a week, or at least I hope that it can.)

4. BES and I have tentative plans to get together tonight for celebration! She remains on the wait-list at Fancy-Pants U, but she has been accepted to Respectable U with full funding! (and no, the stipend's not like a million dollars or something, but given the cost of living where the school is located, it is adequate, and so she should remain basically debt-free). Now, we all know that this is the beginning of a very long road for her, and yes, it is a road with many potential pitfalls and disappointments possible, but now is decidedly not the time to focus on that. Now is the time for celebration! Time enough for the doom and gloom in weeks and months and years ahead! I know that originally she had higher hopes than Respectable U, and those still might be realized, but the good thing about Respectable U (if this is where she ends up going) is that it's an MA program to which she was admitted, and so it's entirely reasonable that she can reapply for Fancy-Pants PhD Programs as she finishes out her time there, or, if she realizes the Ph.D. is not for her, she can bow out gracefully with her terminal M.A. without the angst and misery of feeling like she's "dropping out" of a Ph.D. program, or she can likely stay there for the Ph.D. In other words, this acceptance gives her options, and that is a very good thing.

So off I go to get started on my busy day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gender, Success, Academia

So you should all check out this post over at Historiann's from yesterday, along with the comments. This is slightly off-topic from her discussion, and so I thought I'd write over here, rather than leave a lengthy and off-topic comment over there. First, let me say this: I don't aim to discount anything that Historiann or her commenters have noted about gender bias in their professional lives. Gender bias is a part of every woman's professional life in one way or another, I think, but I do think that it plays out in different ways at different institution types.

So first, let me give a very reductive summary of some of the assertions in the comments that are inspiring this post. In hiring situations, as well as in advancement along the tenure-track:
  1. Women are punished for appearing too ambitious, too prepared, or too qualified. (Bitches)
  2. Women are punished for any sign of lack of preparedness, lack of qualification, lack of focus, or lack of a penis. (Ok, I added that last part because I'm being funny. Nobody said that, but it really is the bottom line, isn't it?) (Lightweights or Incompetents)
Now, I do not think that these two things are in contradiction, actually, and I do think that in many contexts both labels, which I've inserted parenthetically, can coexist as challenges that women, whether as job candidates or as faculty, face. But in thinking about my own institutional context, and the ways in which sexism plays out within that context, I think that women are potentially evaluated differently (and in some ways benefit from that differential evaluation) according to the very same criteria. Let's note that what follows is in no way less sexist than what Historiann says when she writes in a comment, "Women job candidates are either overprepared Tracy Flicks who “intimidate” others, or they’re total lightweights or incompetents."

Ambition, Preparedness, and Qualification for Female Candidates at My Institution

I think that at my institution, female candidates or faculty who appear to be ambitious, prepared, and qualified often do better than male candidates or faculty with those same qualities, or at least can be regarded more favorably. I think that this has to do with the fact that as women, they are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as not threatening the Old Guard with their ambitions, preparation, or qualifications. I mean, they're just women, after all. Instead, they are perceived as people who will be good work-horses within the department and university, and as people (especially if they are married or have children) who will never leave. This, at least, is what I have felt about how (some) colleagues have regarded me, as well as how I perceive the ways in which other of my female colleagues, both senior to me and junior, are regarded.

Now. There are benefits to this. It means that we've hired many awesome women in my department (4 women fairly recently before me, 4 women including me - though two of them have left - in the year that I was hired, and 6 women since I was hired, including those hired in this year's searches [so 12-14 women]; compared with only 5 hires who were men over the same period of time). It means that it's fairly easy for an awesome woman in my department to go about her business and to Achieve Great Things without anybody retaliating or being an asshole to her.

But, there are also fucked up things about this situation. There is a pervasive sense that it doesn't MATTER what you achieve if you're a woman in my department, that all that really matters is that you do more than your share of the service and that you keep your mouth shut about any accomplishments that you might manage in addition to that. (Or at least this is what I've felt, when I'm feeling less than generous and positive.) In other words, the fact that I was a really strong candidate did work in my favor here and has done throughout my time here, but it's only after 7 years here that I feel like I really have any sort of real respect. And honestly, I think that what respect I've gained is not about the fact that I published a freaking book before tenure with a 4-4 load, or even that I've been an amazing teacher, but rather that I slaved revising not only our major's curriculum but also the university's general education curriculum over the course of the past 18 or so months. And nobody gives a shit that it's been my students who have won our department's Outstanding Major award in the majority of the years since I've been here, or that it's my students who are winning our Outstanding Writing award, or winning any of the other book awards or other awards that we give each year. What people care about is that I will do committee work that is miserable. (Of course, their blindness to my Total Domination contributes to My Grand Plan to Rule the Universe, so they are stupid, but whatever.)

This culture of not giving a shit about what women faculty do other than "serve" contributes to many of my colleagues just giving up on doing anything other than serving. I mean, research isn't rewarded, and teaching isn't rewarded, so why not just slave away at service, because at least people seem to like it if you do that, right? Except of course, the majority of our male colleagues don't fall into that particular trap, even if they're not achieving anything of note in research or teaching either. The men in my department can be mediocre in all areas. That's just the way of it. And nobody blinks. The women in my department? This is much less the case. But still, nobody (at least as far as I'm aware) thinks I'm a bitch because I'm ambitious, because I'm prepared, because I'm qualified, and because I produce. No, they see me as their meal ticket. Because I exist, the men can slack, and nobody will be the wiser. (This is totally ungenerous of me, but it is how I feel in regard to many of my male colleagues. I want to note, though, that this is totally not universal, and I have many great male colleagues - it's just that they are not in the majority.)

Lack of Preparedness, Lack of Qualifications, Lack of Focus, and Lack of a Penis at My Institution

In this area, women here are perceived positively as well. You're not prepared? Students will connect with you! You're not qualified? But you're so enthusiastic! You're not focused? Well, it's hard to focus with a family, but at least you'll never leave! You don't have a penis? Well, then your penis cannot be bigger than any of ours!

I know this section is much less thoughtful and expository than the one preceding it, but that pretty much says it all. And even if (or especially if?) you lack all of those things? You are Woman and you shall be a workhorse for the department and the university! You will serve - on search committees and task forces and whatever - oh my! And even better - you'll never even try to leave, and you'll never try to get promoted to Full Professor or to wield any real power at this institution! And you'll be stuck in terms of salary for the rest of your professional career, which is a real money-saver in these tough budgetary times! AND you'll just be grateful to have a job - any job! And that's just fine with us!


So heres' the thing. Sexism. Institutionalized sexism. It works in lots of different ways. At many institutions, and in many departments, it shuts women out almost entirely, and it doesn't even give them a fair shot at a bite at the apple. Whatever they do, they are bitches or incompetents. But at an institution like mine, we let women in. Maybe even more frequently than we let men in. We like letting women in, because they'll take one for the team when a comparable male person wouldn't. And part of that is about the kind of institution I'm at (non-research university, regional, known in the area for its lack of rigor, high teaching load for faculty).

On the other hand, at an institution like mine, it is possible for a woman to do really important and powerful work without facing any fucked up retribution for doing so. It is possible to achieve, to thrive, to produce without that being held against her. It is possible that she will even have a better chance than a male colleague of the same caliber or pedigree, if only because nobody really takes her very seriously or pays very much attention to her. You won't be labeled a bitch or an incompetent. You'll just get screwed.

Is that better? Is that less sexist? No. But it doesn't corroborate the narrative of women's lives in the academy that we see over at Historiann's either.


I'm sick, people. My symptoms include lethargy, an inability to focus, difficulty seeing tasks through to completion, and mood swings that seem to correlate with the weather (wild elation and joy when it's 65 degrees and sunny, and irritation when it's cold and rainy). My disease? Sabbaticalitis.

What? You've never heard of this grave malady? Well, it's a lot like Senioritis. Except, of course, I'm a grown lady, and so people don't find it quite so charming when I present with the above symptoms.

So anyway, I've got a day of grading ahead of me, and even though I know I've graded this much before, the mountain of things that I must grade feels entirely overwhelming. And I seriously do blame my upcoming sabbatical for this. This is not at all a complaint about the upcoming sabbatical - for I do realize the awesomeness of it, and I know it's a privilege to get a sabbatical, and I know that lots of people would kill for such a thing, etc. It's just that it's very, very difficult for me to maintain the necessary level of motivation right now with that on the horizon.

What's funny is that I haven't really allowed myself to count down to the sabbatical or to make any but the vaguest plans for it (other than my very detailed research plans). It's like I'm afraid that if I do that then I'll be tempting the Sabbatical Gods and somehow the Sabbatical will disappear. So, instead, as with Senioritis, I'm in this holding pattern where I'm just waiting for the school year to be over and where I have stopped giving a crap about what I'm doing right now.

But you know, maybe this was to be expected. I've been working like a maniac for the past 18 months or so - even more like a maniac than in the years on the tenure-track before that. Maybe I'm just totally burned out, and it's not the Sabbatical that is to blame at all? This could be true. But really, I think what's producing the above symptoms is that I'm seeing that moment when I will be able to leap off the treadmill of maniacal work. I think that if I didn't see that moment in front of me that I would still be burned out, but I would be managing much more efficiently and reasonably.

But so anyway, grading. I'm going to grade. I'm going to finish grading many, many things. I am. For serious. I will be a Sabbaticalitis Survivor, not a Sabbaticalitis Victim.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rejection Stinks, Even if One Knows It's Dumb to Take It Personally

So, it looks like I'll not be giving a paper at next year's MLA. This is not the first time an abstract of mine has been rejected, and it won't be the last, and having organized panels myself, I understand that such rejections happen for all manner of reasons that only rarely have something to do with an abstract being a piece of crap. But rejection, no matter how philosophical one is about it or how used to it one is, or how much one gets that it's part of the process, still stings.

This means that I've been slightly bummed today, even though ultimately I've been getting lots of work done. I knocked out the minor revisions on the review essay, I caught up on some emails, and now I'm settling in for an afternoon/evening of grading. The more work I've been doing, the better I am feeling, but I'm still sort of in a funk. You know, here's the thing: rejection never actually stops, as far as I can tell, in this line of work. Well, or it could stop if one just gave up on trying to do things, but you can't actually succeed in the profession if you give up on trying to do things. And I suppose that one might say that if one is a "superstar" that one wouldn't get rejected, but that's not true either. You just would get rejected from bigger things, as far as I can tell. Maybe not as frequently, but still.

I'm just feeling so tired at this point in the semester, and I'd really like some good news. This doesn't need to be professional good news. It could be house-buying news, or some other sort of good news that I can't predict.

But for the moment, no good news. So I suppose I should just get back to work, get more things done, and stop my whining.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tasks for the Day

I have a lot of shit I need to do. And so, a to-do list:

  • Go for a walk on this beautiful day.
  • Look at abstracts for MLA panel; decide whether to extend the deadline to get more submissions.
  • Minor revisions to review essay.
  • Grading for at least 2 if not 3 classes.
  • Dishes.
  • Work on research reading, and at minimum get through ILL books that will come due sooner than the other books I've got checked out. (I've got like 28 books checked out of the library.
  • Read novel that will be the cornerstone of at least one upcoming conference paper, as well as of chapter in NB.
  • Prep for classes next week.
  • Begin work on conference paper.
  • Make notes for pedagogy essay that I REALLY should submit for a special issue of a journal. Deadline isn't until June, but if I'm going to do this, I should really do some preliminary stuff now to decide whether I will actually write the thing.
  • Email to chair reminding him about my concerns re: our language in our dept. handbook re: going up for full professor. (The issue is that we don't really have language about what "counts" in terms of scholarship. Historically it's been a "book" of some kind, but let's be serious: we are not a school that should require two books for tenure. We should have some sort of language that makes it more flexible, i.e., book or series of well-placed articles. And yes, the main reason that this is on my agenda is that even though I'm working on a Next Book, I'll have a series of well-placed articles more quickly than I'll have the next book published, and those should count substantially and not just be icing on the cake.
  • Decide whether to email chair of MLA panel to which I submitted an abstract weeks ago to check on status.
  • Put money on laundry card.
  • Achieve zen-like acceptance of the fact that yesterday came and went without getting any news on house, in spite of claims that I would hear something yesterday. Also wish that more houses would be listed that fit my criteria so that I can start looking at more houses next week if possible. Though I suppose wishing for something isn't really an item on a to-do list.
  • Minor revisions on other essay that I should have completed MONTHS ago.
I think I'll tackle grading first and foremost, then the two revision tasks. If I get those things accomplished, it seriously would be fine if I do nothing else. Actually, it would be a miracle. Might as well aim high, and maybe I'll actually get those three things done? Doing so would go a LONG way to eliminating the stress I'm currently feeling.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And a Year Goes By

Tomorrow will mark the 1 year anniversary of my father's death. Everything that happened after was very, very hard, but I survived. I made it through.

I hate the above song. I hate it because my dad played it over and over while my parents were splitting up. But on the other hand, it's a song that makes me think of my dad. Which made it wicked strange when my dad's sister started posting the lyrics to it on facebook on the day that my grandma, my dad's mom, died, a couple of months ago. But somehow, as much as I hate it, (and Night Moves is so a better song) I'm thinking of it today.

But there are other songs that make me think of my dad, too.

Let's post some videos that are Crazy's greatest hits with her dad, shall we?

I will never forget my dad moving me home from college one year, and the two of us singing along to this on the radio, with me doing the lyrics and him doing the "hoo!hoo!s" My dad totally rocked.

My dad also totally loved some Hall and Oates. When he would drive me to ice skating when I was a kid, in his rusted out jeep, we would listen to Hall and Oats on his tape player and he would let me do the stick shift as we drove. Sure, I was like 8 years old, and probably shouldn't have been shifting. But it was awesome. And this song, well, it included the word "bitch" which seemed very naughty, but my dad didn't freak out if I sang it, and that made him WAY cooler than most adults.

And you know probably something that makes me Crazy? This most awesome song by Heart, another of the "driving in the car with my dad" greatest hits:

And finally, the blues. My dad loved the blues, and introduced me to B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy, among many others. But just after I'd gotten my wisdom teeth out, he took me to see B.B. King and Buddy Guy in concert, and, because he was nothing if not a pretty crappy traditional father, he encouraged me to drink beers while on the pain meds, for it would be "more fun." Again, he made very bad choices as a father, but at 19, that kind of a father is really pretty awesome. So Buddy Guy:

Tonight, I read the posts that I wrote last year surrounding his death, and the comments. I want to say thank you again to all of you who commented last year. That support meant so much to me then, and it still means so much now.

My father's sons, my half-brothers, and I are facebook friends. We keep in touch, as much as I think anybody can keep in touch with teenage boys. I sent them a message before starting this post, just telling them that I love them, telling them that I hope they're ok, telling them how proud my father was of them.

This past week has been hard for me. I still don't know what happened to my father's ashes, and I still feel a lot of anger, not only about my father and his choices but also about the choices that most of his family made when he died. I still feel completely in disbelief that my father, who would be only 56 if he were alive, is dead. I'm still sad, both for what I've lost and for what I never had while he was alive.

But I'm still here. And I'm ok. I've found a way to ok after the devastation of last year. But yeah, so my dad is dead. And it's sad. But I'm here, and I'm good. Really good.

Lies, Traps, Fools, and Villains

It just so happens that yesterday morning I read this piece in the Chronicle, along with its lengthy comment thread, in which James Mulholland offers a rebuttal to the most recent in Thomas H. Benton's series of offerings, the gist of which one might somewhat ungenerously summarize as "only naive fools go to graduate school in the humanities and only evil and dastardly professors with the privilege of tenure who are totally disconnected from reality support them in doing so." I'd already posted about BES and her adventure in grad school applications before reading that rebuttal, but as fate would have it, a commenter directed me to the Benton piece to which Mulholland was responding, and since that comment, I've been mulling. Mulling and thinking. Both about the rebuttal, as well as about Benton's commentary on these issues, as well as another fine series featured in the Chronicle, too, the 6-part "Academic Bait-And-Switch" (links to parts 1-5 are at the bottom of the previous link) series by Henry Adams.

[Aside: Do any of the rest of you find it, well, troubling, that all of these columnists for the Chronicle are male professors of English who work at SLACs? And that when we see women columnists on the Chronicle's advice page that most often they don't get to talk about Big Important Issues like the "state of the humanities" but rather that they are enlisted to talk about the only things that women academics apparently care about, which involve the two-body problem, birthing babies, or mentoring those in need? Because I find that deeply troubling.]

Here's the thing. I've written countless posts (to which I'm too lazy to link) in which I have attempted to think through my position as a mentor to students in regards to graduate school in my discipline, and in which I have expressed my ambivalence and fear and general angst about the issues that all of the above columnists address. I don't believe that "there will always be jobs for the best and the brightest"; I don't believe that graduate school is some idyllic time of inquiry and Deep Thoughts in which time stops, material reality ceases to exist, and one leads a "life of the mind." I don't believe that graduate school is always the most emotionally or even intellectually healthy option for a life after undergrad, and I don't believe that it's generally the most financially responsible choice that any person can make. I don't find arguments about the moral or societal good of my discipline, or of the humanities generally, a terribly compelling rebuttal to the very real institutional and structural realities of the employment structure of higher education, nor do I think that there is something privileged and special about the life of a humanities professor if we're comparing it to the life of people in other careers.

And yet, I have supported students who want to pursue graduate school and who want academic careers. And I don't think that this makes me someone who tells Big Lies, who entraps the unsuspecting and naive, who preys upon the innocent and baits them with one thing and then pulls the rug out from under them. From the columns by Adams and Benton (aka William Pannapacker), it would seem, however, that I'm all of those things.

Or, if I read myself through the lens of Mullholland, it would seem that I'm a person who believes that pursuing an advanced degree in my discipline is akin to running off to New York to become a dancer or poet or actor, or, alternatively, who dreams of being in the NBA as a college player, and I don't believe that either. And the main reason that I don't believe that is because at its core, the job of a college professor, however difficult such a job is to obtain, is neither as awesomely bohemian nor as glamorous as the above have the potential to be. It's a bourgeois, middle-class, ultimately pretty boring sort of a career choice, and that's if everything works out as planned, which most of the time it doesn't. While it's true that most people who run off to be artists or actors or basketball players will not succeed in achieving those dreams, it is also true that if they do then the payoff is infinitely greater than if one "succeeds" at becoming a professor. While the competition to succeed may be similar, the reality of one's job if one succeeds is very, very different.

But so. If all of that is true. If I don't advocate for a modernized life of the mind in which we strive to "understand the pleasures of those who still choose to pursue" it (as Mulholland writes), how can I possibly argue that graduate school in the humanities is not a trap specifically designed to "[limit] the options of students and [to socialize] them into believing that it is shameful to abandon 'the life of the mind'" (as Benton describes)? How can I have a problem both with the initial assertion as well as with the rebuttal? How do I see these issues, and how do I justify my continued support of (a very small number of) students who want to pursue graduate school in the hope of securing full-time academic employment?

I suppose the first thing is that I think that this whole concept of a "life of the mind" is a red herring, and that it distracts us from considering the real value of the humanities generally, as well as, to get more personal, from considering the real value of the study of literature more specifically.

First, this reification of the mind/body split, whether one is arguing in favor of the concept of a life of the mind or against it, fails to account for the embodiment of subjects, and this has very real consequences in terms of how we position subjects in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. Here's the thing: the only subjects who may have the privilege of leading a "life of the mind" are straight, white, middle-class-to-upper-class, able-bodied male subjects. The moment that any of those "other" categories intersect a given individual's subjectivity, s/he has to contend with the ways in which embodiment compromises, or at the very least inflects, the intellectual work that one might perform. Don't believe me? Just think for a moment on my aside earlier in this post.

Second, by arguing either for or against the concept of a "life of the mind," one accepts as a given that the work that we perform as academics is somehow distinct from actual living. It is as if, in choosing graduate school, one is choosing to stop living actual life for x amount of years, as if that would even be possible. (I think when people talk about grad school as a "trap" this is what they're talking about - that somehow it robs people of their "actual" lives.) It also implies that those who secure tenure-track employment don't actually have actual lives, but rather, in their cushy ivory tower offices, they have surrendered any connection with actual living in favor of a "life of the mind." Not only do I not know of a single case in which this is true, but also I don't think that it's possible. Now, it may be true that the domestic and daily work that goes along with actual living might not be something that certain individuals have to focus much attention on, because they have partners who take care of all of that or because they have the material resources to pay people to do that stuff for them, but that group is by far in the minority. Academics have lives. They have televisions, friends outside the academy, hobbies, interests, families, worries, responsibilities, paperwork, conflicts in the workplace or in their personal lives, whatever. Actual living doesn't stop just because a person goes to graduate school or just because one becomes a professor. Actual living is not reserved for people who don't go to graduate school in the humanities or people who have gone to graduate school but don't succeed in securing tenure-track employment. Seriously.

But so while I do believe in intellectual inquiry and its value and the joys of it, this whole notion of a "life of the mind" totally rubs me the wrong way, and yes, I think that limiting our discussion to that concept gets in the way of really discussing why anybody should bother to study anything in humanities disciplines.

But so why do I believe in humanistic inquiry? Whether at the undergraduate or graduate levels? (And I should note that I don't believe this list is only reserved for the humanities, but it is what I think that the humanities offers.)

Humanities disciplines teach us:

1. To see outside of our own limited experience and perspective in order to understand viewpoints and experiences that differ from our own.

2. To interpret cultural artifacts in relation to our own experiences, viewpoints, and cultures.

3. To produce logical arguments and to support those arguments with strong analysis.

4. To understand that there is value in exploration, creativity, pleasure, and knowledge, and that even if an object of study resists quantitative, economic, or scientific approaches that it may still have value.

5. To think more deeply about our ethical, moral, and social responsibilities as members of various communities.

I could go on, but I think that's a pretty good list to start with. And here's the thing: each of those items on that list relate to how individuals live in, experience, and understand the "real world." And yes, I believe that education in these areas is valuable, and I think that study in these areas is valuable for all people, and I think that all kinds of people should have the opportunity to pursue deeper study in these areas, not because at the end of it they will get some mythical "life of the mind" but because, as with the study of law or medicine or engineering or math or accounting or plumbing or construction or whatever, such study gives us a greater ability to contribute to the world in which we live. Yes, there are many ways in which we can contribute to our world. Humanistic inquiry is just one in a long list. It is neither more morally good or better for society than the others, nor is it less "practical" than the others. It's just distinct from the others.

But, you may say, given the job prospects at the end of such study, how can you advocate for anybody to pursue degrees in these areas? Not only at the graduate level, but even at the undergraduate level? I mean, seriously: shouldn't everybody just get a college degree that will get them a job? What the hell will people do with a degree in English (or philosophy, or history, or whatever)? Well, first, let me say this: undergraduate majors in English go on to do many things that are totally unrelated to going off and getting a Ph.D. in English. They get jobs in editing, writing, human resources, teaching, administrative work, libraries, and I could go on. We have one of the largest majors on our campus, and the vast majority never pursue any sort of advanced degree in English, and they do go on to lead productive and fruitful lives. I know. It's shocking. Also, I will say that many of those people who pursue "clear job at the end of the degree" fields don't necessarily end with jobs in those fields either, especially in this economy.

At the graduate level, these issues are more fraught. There is a huge opportunity cost to pursuing a Ph.D. in English, even if one is fully funded, and a huge emotional and personal cost to pursuing an academic career. But. I ultimately believe that one of the things that my discipline, and undergraduate education generally, teaches people is how to evaluate information and to make thoughtful decisions based on the information that they have. If I didn't believe that, I think it would be unethical for me to continue as a professor, frankly.

So as I see it, it's my job to provide as much information as I can to students who approach me about the topic of graduate school, both in terms of their own personal aptitude for graduate-level study and in terms of what graduate study and professional life in the academy involve. Further, it's my job to talk honestly with my students about any questions that they have, about my own experiences, and about not only the negatives of that path but also how to navigate that path if it is one that they indeed choose. I also talk to them a lot about other potential paths that they might pursue, as well as how to professionalize themselves in order to position themselves for future employment, whether that employment is inside the academy or not. I don't stop mentoring my students about this stuff after I've written their letters of recommendation, or after they graduate. I don't just tell them "Graduate school - don't do it" and throw them to the wolves. I don't give them the impression that pursuing an advanced degree in my discipline is the One True Way to have a vibrant intellectual life, and in fact, I talk a lot about the ways in which working in the academy can get in the way of a vibrant intellectual life. I make it very clear that they will, if they really want to be a professor, most likely never have a choice of where they live, and I am very open about all of the different parts of the job, emphasizing all of the requirements beyond teaching, talking about literature, and working with students (the parts that are most visible to them). In encourage them to talk to adjuncts in the department, as well as professors besides me for other points of view. I direct them to blogs by people from a range of positions within the academic food chain and to the Chronicle - to the forums and even to some of the columns to which I've linked in this post.

Does this make me a villain? Does this make me somebody who's perpetuating lies, inequality, foolishness, and magical thinking? I don't know. Do we think that law professors do those things? Journalism professors? Professors in social sciences fields? Heck, even business professors? To what extent is it a professor's responsibility to devalue his or her discipline or field? To what extent is it a professor's responsibility to control the choices that his or her adult students make? To what extent is it a professor's responsibility to confirm anti-intellectual arguments that reduce education to something that is merely a means to an end?

I'm not arguing here that job prospects don't matter, or that we shouldn't see education as something that is crucial to future employment. I'm only saying that it is both that and more. As I see it, it's my job both to prepare students for jobs as well as to prepare them for the lives that they will lead beyond their jobs. It's not an either/or.

And yes, it's true that some people will always continue to think that they will succeed where others have failed, that they will be the exception that proves the rule, that all of the things I tell them don't apply in their personal case. I can say, however, that so far this has not been the way that my students have responded, with only one potential exception. And if that exception is bitter and disillusioned at the end of the line, that will suck, but that won't be for my lack of caring or effort, no will it be because he was told a Big Lie, Trapped, Fooled, or Maligned in some way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Following Dreams, Etc.

So. BES has applied to graduate schools this year, and it's that time of the season where she's begun to hear back. The news has, for the most part, been utterly bleak.

Rejections to the left of her, rejections to the right.

Wait-listed at one place.

Silence from the remaining few schools.

Now, the waiting list news is really awesome (top 25 program and one of the most highly ranked programs to which she applied), but the rejections come from a range of types of programs and rankings, so when we talked yesterday, one of the topics we covered is that there is absolutely no logic to this process. We also covered the following: waiting sucks, rejection sucks, waiting and rejection are the central features of academic pursuits post undergrad, everything will be ok no matter what happens, and it's very important to keep in mind that none of this is about one's value as a person.

Here's the thing. This is a bad year to be applying for graduate school. Lots of programs are reducing their number of slots (ah, budgets) while at the same time there are record numbers of applications. BES is a strong candidate, but as we all know, strength of candidacy is not all in the crap shoot that is pursuing anything academic. One of the things that she's struggling with is that as much as I told her the worst possible scenarios for all of this, she'd never really believed they could happen to her. See, this is the first time she's ever faced this kind of rejection, the first time there has ever really seemed like it was possible that her merit and various talents would not get her what she wanted. On the one hand, this is a good lesson to learn at this point in the game. On the other hand, wow does it suck.

She was talking with her dad a few days ago about what's happening, and the topic came up of what she'll do if she doesn't get in anywhere, and she said to him that she wasn't sure if she'd apply again next year. Now, I really like BES's dad, but he gave her what might be the worst advice in the world about not "copping out" and "being a quitter" and if being a professor is really what she wants that she should keep applying every year until she realizes the dream of a grad school acceptance. Now, I see where he's coming from. He doesn't want her to accept defeat, and he wants to support her dreams. He wants her to be a person who goes after her dreams. But from my perspective, I'm not sure it would be the worst thing in the world if she held off and did something else for a bit, in order to evaluate whether, knowing now what she didn't know then, this really is her dream, and even if it is, if it's worth the opportunity cost of getting there.

This is not to say I wouldn't support BES if she did want to apply again next year. I would. I just don't believe that this is the only or best path available to her. And I don't think there would be anything wrong with her saying that she wanted to hold off on putting herself out there again, if the worst case scenario happens.

Here's the thing: I have every ounce of faith that BES is good enough to get accepted with funding into a good grad program. I have every ounce of faith that she'll excel if admitted. But I also know what's on the other end of that best case scenario: a job market that's brutal and that offer no guarantees of employment at the end of it. As much as this round of rejections sucks for her, subsequent rounds of rejections promise to be even more awful. And those rounds of rejections will come, no matter how great she is. And knowing that? Do I think it's the worst thing in the world if she doesn't single-mindedly and relentlessly pursue admission to grad school? No.

It's so weird being in the position of mentoring her through this stuff because I'm walking this fine line of cautious optimism and realistic pessimism. It's weird because obviously I'm a real-life example that following this path can actually work out ok. It's just I know that I'm the exception, not the rule.

So do I want BES to follow her dreams? Of course I do. But I'm not sure that there's any such thing as One True Dream to follow.

In other news, I've got minor revisions to do on a review essay that I completed months ago, I've got MLA panel submissions to review, I've got grading to continue, I've got preparations to make for class tonight, and I've got a bunch of research stuff to do so that I can return some library books. I've also got a paper that I need to look at for a student presentation, another paper that I need to comment on for a grad student from last semester, a conference paper I need to draft (the conference isn't for a hundred years, but I've said I'd present a version of it at a grad student symposium thing that is only a few weeks away), and god only knows what. Oh, and I'm still waiting on news re: The House (my realtor said they're optimistic we'll have a response by week's end, but we'll see). And my stupid Man-Kitty woke me up at 4 AM, and while in theory I could have gone back to sleep after giving him some breakfast, my mind was so clogged with all of the things that I've got to do that I just said fuck it and woke up, so that means I should crash sometime in the next two hours and need a nap.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

So, So Behind

It is the official last day of spring break (though I have no appointments tomorrow, and I don't have to teach, so I do have a bit of a reprieve), and I have accomplished exactly nothing. I have approx. 20 lengthy things to grade for my online class (which I should have graded weeks ago), 25 short papers for one class, and approx. 15 medium-sized papers to grade for another class. How many of those things did I grade over my break? Exactly none. How many of them MUST be graded pretty much immediately? Exactly all of them. And yet, rather than grading, I'm Not Grading. And feeling guilty about it, and stupid, but I totally lack motivation to accomplish ANYTHING.

Oh, and on top of all of this, I blew off a deadline for an MLA abstract (not that it would have been accepted anyway, most likely, but whatever, I should have submitted something), I accomplished NO research reading or writing over the break, and basically, I'm a loser. No, really. Right at this moment, I am. Do not try to comfort me. I deserve to feel badly.

Well, except. Here's the part where I make excuses for myself. I've been waiting on House-Buying News, and that's taken a lot of energy. (I'm still waiting. Cyndi claims that the hope is that I'll hear by the end of next week. In the meantime, we're both scouring the listings to see if there's anything else to go see.) Also, my parents came this weekend to look at the House Upon Which I Wait. They love the house, but a weekend with the 'rents can be just the teensiest bit exhausting. First of all, talking to them can at times be like playing some bizarre game of "guess what I mean when I say something that makes no sense." Example: G. and I were having a conversation about how my mom refuses to buy him a certain kind of ice cream that she'd once bought for herself, but my mom has a thing where if you decide you like something she likes then she decides she'll never buy it again. But so then, the conversation turned more general, and George said something about Jim and Gary's, and it took me a beat and I was then like, "Do you mean Ben and Jerry's?" And he was all, "That's totally what I said!" Complicating matters is that my mom and G. totally understand this bizarre associative language in which they speak, and so I'm always catching up to conversations about 3 beats after they are over. It's crazy-making. Second, there's just my mom. I love my mom, but she drives me nuts when she stays with me, by doing things like "helping" by putting dirty dishes in a dishwasher full of clean dishes, refusing to be supportive when I need to ramble about things, etc. I know I'm an ungrateful little brat, but you try spending a weekend with these people! (Again, Mom and G. are grand, just a little much to take at times of high stress, such as this one.)

So. I should try to get some grading done, but I just can't face it. I can always grade tomorrow, right? (I hate myself for even suggesting this.)

Hmm. What else? I don't know. I think I'm a little in a funk because I'm coming up on the one-year anniversary of my dad's death. That's been lurking in the shadows of my brain since the beginning of the month. Whatever the case, this was the least restful, least productive spring break I've ever had. And I'm sort of mad at myself for not at least having it be restful, if not productive.


Thursday, March 11, 2010


I have accomplished exceedingly little, and Spring break is almost over. Waiting around is taking pretty much all of my energy. And patience is not really one of my virtues. But, I'm hanging in there. I'm waiting on two things in particular:

1. The House. The owner has accepted my offer pending bank approval. The bank(s) - for there are two, one with a first mortgage and one with a second - wanted my realtor to provide a closing statement from the title company with the offer, and so Cyndi took care of that, and now the bank has received everything. So now, it's just a matter of them deciding whether they will take what I've offered. The good news is that my offer would totally cover the first mortgage - it's the second mortgage that would lose money, but that's the smaller of the two, and if the house went into foreclosure the second mortgage would likely get nothing. So, I remain cautiously optimistic and would ask all to send whatever good thoughts they can about this finishing up positively and quickly.

2. To hear about an MLA panel to which I submitted an abstract. I had been hoping I'd hear back by now, as there is another panel to which I could submit something with a deadline of tomorrow, but I didn't want to have to put that together if I already knew I was accepted to the other. Of course, if I just did the abstract for the other panel, that would probably increase my chances on the first (cosmically, not in reality).

In other news, when I'm not waiting I'm procrastinating. I have a mountain of grading to do, I've got things to do around the house, I've got research stuff I really should be accomplishing. But I DON'T WANNA.

I'm giving myself an hour and a half longer to procrastinate, and then I MUST make myself do some things.

Monday, March 08, 2010

It Looks Like I'm Really Doing This

So, I've decided. Tomorrow morning I'm going to my realtor's office and I'm going to put in an offer on the house.

We went and saw another house this afternoon (HIDEOUS!) and then we went back to Crazy's Dream House. No, it's not quite as big or as pink as this one, but it is a Dream House nonetheless. We took care of some important matters, including measuring some spaces in the kitchen, as well as measuring the Nook of Ideas. First things first: the Nook of Ideas is really even bigger than I'd thought it was. One half of it (left side of the doorway) is a square area that is about 5 1/2' x 5 1/2'. Then there's the doorway space, and then the other half is about the same dimensions, with a chunk taken out because the stairs run underneath it. In other words, it is totally big enough for a desk, for some shelves, and to hold my file boxes. It has an electrical outlet, and a light fixture. It is a totally perfect and usable space that I can dedicate to the Ideas. Huzzah!*

Also, we went over the disclosures on the house. The furnace and water heater were replaced in 2000, and the furnace was repaired more recently than that, so both of those are good for the foreseeable future. The central air was installed in 2005, the floors and the roof were done and the ceiling fans installed in 2004. So that's all good. The basement was resurfaced and sealed in 2004, too. Oh, and the bathroom was totally redone, too, so awesome. And earlier today I called up the energy company, and I found out that the average monthly bill for gas/electric is ~130, which is totally doable.

And then, BES came by to confirm that this is a house that a person who knows me could see me living in. It may seem weird that I asked her, but she's my peep and she knows what I'm like - and I knew she'd tell me if she thought it was not me. Direct quote from BES: "I LOVE it!" Another direct quote from BES: "I can totally see us drinking wine on this porch." I wasn't so much looking for confirmation about whether it was a good house - I know that it is - I was looking to see whether somebody other than me saw me inside the house. And she totally did.

But so anyway, after all of that, I felt totally like, "of course I want this house!" and so I told Cyndi that I wanted to make an offer, and so we set up our appointment for tomorrow to sign, seal, and deliver this baby. I also set up a time for us to see it on Saturday so that my parents can see it (though the offer will already have been made, per my mother's advice), and I coached Cyndi about how to handle G. "Don't tell him what number I offered, but just emphasize that if it works out it will be an excellent deal - he cares a lot about making excellent deals." She then inquired about whether he'd be looking at the mechanics of the house, and I explained that he's a guy who once "fixed" a screen door by putting a glove in it so that it would stay shut, and this "fix" was in place for years, so he so is not the guy who is going to have opinions about the goodness of the house - indeed, he'll think it's a great house because it totally is - he just cares about me low-balling in an offer, which is why the "excellent deal" thing is so important.

I feel very calm and sure about the decision, and very excited about the possibility of it working out. I do not feel scared, nor do I feel like I might be making a mistake. I've got to say, I haven't felt this good or sure about a decision since I decided to change my major in college to English and to pursue graduate school after graduation. And that decision actually felt a lot like this one - lots of hemming and hawing and considering and list-making, and lots of talking it through with anybody who would listen to me, but once it was made, I felt very sure and comfortable and secure in it.

Now, it still might not work out, but the house has been on the market since July with no offers, so I feel like I'm not in an actively bad position. It's just a matter of the timing. And will I be upset if it doesn't work out? Sure. But at the same time, while I believe in love that is pure and true, I do not believe in One True Love, and I know I'll find another house if this doesn't work out. Just like I knew I would find a life I wanted if I didn't find a job as a college professor. So do I want this house, and want it badly? Sure. But I will be ok if it doesn't work out. And in fact, if it doesn't work out, then that means that it wasn't meant to be, whatever I might want right at this moment.

But am I putting an offer in on this particular house? Yes. And I feel totally sure and ready for that commitment.

I think I found my house. And I really think that I'm going to live in it and to have a fabulous life in it. Sure, there's always the possibility that this won't happen, but right now? I feel totally certain that this will work out and that it's perfect, like the house was waiting for me, in fact. And yes, that is totally cheesy, but it is how I feel.

*It occurred to me as I've been thinking tonight that it's about the same size as this tiny room off my childhood bedroom that was only big enough for some toys. Perhaps this is why I love the Nook so much, that it reminds me of my childhood?

Sunday, March 07, 2010


I am officially sick of myself. Yesterday, I stopped by a couple of open houses, but I wasn't enchanted by anything I saw. I should have gone to some open houses today, but I just couldn't get it up to go. I knew that the houses I'd see were not houses I'd want, and so instead I spent the day ruminating. Pathetic.

So after two days of thinking, and plotting and planning, I think that it's very, very likely that I'll put an offer in on the house I described in my last post. But that is a big decision, and one that does freak me out. I've done some more thinking about why not to put an offer in, but I am really not bothered by the negatives as much, now that I've thought them through more carefully.
  • As for the dishwasher situation, the reality is that I could easily get a portable dishwasher if I don't want to begin my home ownership with renovations. There is totally space for a portable dishwasher in the kitchen, even though that wouldn't necessarily be my ideal first choice.
  • Also, I've continued to think about the dark wood trim, and I think the problem really is just with the current owner's decor. Darker furniture/throw rugs would make the trim make sense (and would also mean that I don't have to fuss with painting it).
  • I know that lots of people think one bathroom is just impossible, but seriously: when did we start thinking that every individual person needs their own flipping bathroom? My grandparents on one side raised 10 children in a house with one-and-a-half bathrooms. My other grandmother's house, in which she raised seven children, had one bathroom. I'm not saying that's ideal, but seriously: I'm one person, and one bathroom is really all I need. (Though I would ultimately would want to put in a half-bath downstairs, I do think, because it would be a nice thing to have that on the first floor.) Whatever the case, if I'm close enough to a person to let them sleep in my house, I think that we can share the bathroom. I'm not running a hotel for chrissakes. And the reality is that since this house has only two bedrooms, it's not like any potential buyer down the road who has a passel of children is going to want it anyway, nor would an old person who doesn't want to deal with stairs. So no, the one bathroom isn't perfection, but it's completely fine. (And I really like that bathroom that is there.)
The short sale status of the house is really the only thing that continues to freak me out. So. I think what I'm probably going to do is to try to get in to see the house with a friend over the next few days (as well as to go see a couple of other houses that could work), but if I think unless I notice something on that visit that deters me, this is a house I'm going to put an offer in on. That said, I also realize that the timing because of the short sale won't be ideal, so that means that I will keep my eye out for other houses through the time between when I put the offer in and the deadline for a response (likely about 3 weeks), so that I can bail and start this process over again at the beginning of April if necessary. I am not going to wait forever on this particular house, but I really do think that it would be a good house for me.

It does occur to me now, though, that it's going to cost me gajillions of dollars to move in. Well, not really. Just that I have a lot of ideas about purchases I'd want to make, which while not necessary would make it pretty and happy. So, for example, all of a sudden I want: a new toaster, a new microwave, new pots and pans, a new cabinet with doors for the dining room, new shelves, area rugs, doormats, a new mattress and box spring, new furniture for the porch and deck, a grill, a new sofa, a new armchair and ottoman.... Oh, and potentially a washer and dryer (I don't know if those are staying with the house).

All of the above is quite shocking, because I'd always thought that I was a person who really doesn't give a shit about home decoration. And, let's face it, historically, I haven't. But apparently now I have very strong desires to spend money on such things. However, of all of the above, I really don't need anything other than the rugs and some furniture for the porch and, if necessary, the washer and dryer immediately. I would just like it if I didn't move shit with me that I didn't want to keep. Ooh! But I just remembered something! Summer fellowship money! I will have a big chunk of money coming in right around May 1! Huzzah! Yippee!

Hm. Yes. I think this is what I'm going to do. I've made lists, I've checked them twice, I've thought about pros and cons, and really, what more is there to do? It just feels very big. But, I've done big things before. I've picked up and moved to a city in which I've never lived and known no one, not once but three times. I made the decision to go into debt for and to get a Ph.D. in a field where one won't necessarily get the job at the end of it. At the end of the day, buying a house is not as big as those things, keeping things in perspective. And I'm ready to move, and I'm ready to own the place in which I live. I'm ready to paint walls a freaking color!

You want to know something cheesy? After all of the practical ruminating, the thing that really made me feel like this is a good decision is that I can imagine this house being the place where I write that next book. Like, I can imagine myself really enjoying waking up in the morning, moseying down to the kitchen (I can go directly from bedroom to kitchen with the layout of the house), and bringing my coffee back upstairs to my little Nook of Ideas (yes, apparently I've named it) and starting my day. And I can imagine walking in that neighborhood, and on nice days hanging out with my laptop and writing on the front porch. I can imagine happily having dinner parties and, heck, just regular parties.

Now, if this house is not to be, then it's not to be. But it's time for me to take a leap. So, I'll call up Cyndi tomorrow morning and schedule a time to go back, and if I'm feeling certain, I shall make an offer. If I'm not feeling certain, my parents are going to come and see the house next weekend whatever the case, so I can wait for them if I feel like that would make me feel more secure one way or the other. (Hilariously, though, my mom told me not to wait if I'm feeling sure, even though G. wants me to wait so that he can advise, because, in her words, "G. will only nitpick and say no to everything. You know how he is. This is going to be your house. You don't need us to ok the decision.")

Enough of thinking about this for now, though! Enough!

Friday, March 05, 2010

House-Hunting, Day 1

Ok, so I went out into the world today with my realtor, who is just fantastic (and whom I found through the recommendation of a colleague, and who apparently has facilitated home buying and selling for many other colleagues as well). Let's call her Cyndi (not her real name, but close enough - she's got bleach-blond hair and is very energetic and direct, and I really like her).

Anyway, so Cyndi took me to see 5 and a half houses (the half is a for-sale-by-owner that is, in her words, "a doll house," but that we couldn't get inside of, so we only saw the outside of it - not the house for me, I don't think, but darling and, indeed, very doll-house-like). But so. I'd thought I'd known what houses would really interest me before I went, but wow, I was so wrong! House #1 turned out to feel very... cramped and problematic. Great neighborhood, maybe a great house for somebody, but not my house. House #2 turned out to be gorgeous and fantastic - even moreso than I'd dreamed it could be - but with it's high ceilings and likely lead painted closets, as well as what I imagine is a lack of decent insulation, too many rooms, and its need of fresh paint on the exterior... Um.... Well, look. I could be Miss Havisham in that house and creepily hang out in a wedding dress, or I could be Miss Hannigan and have a number of little girls live in it with me while I was drunk and abusive, but if it were the actual me and the kitties? Yeah, way too much house for me. But the pocket doors! The stained glass! The original woodwork and floors! The historic designation of the house! And yet, not my house.

So the ones I thought were my houses? Not so much. The others on the agenda for seeing I hadn't really imagined I'd be into, and for the most part I wasn't, but I was all about seeing what there was to see, if only to give Cyndi an idea of what I'd like. And then we get to the last house on the list.

Now, this house seemed to be totally out of the running from the listing alone. It had only 2 bedrooms (I'd wanted 3 so there'd be a dedicated guest room as well as an office), only one bath, and what seemed from the pictures to be a ginormous yard. Also, I'd really thought I wanted to buy a house in area B, and I was only looking in area F (where this house is located) just to get a sense of what I could buy in my price range. Area F tends to have a lot of wooded spots, and tends not to be terribly walkable in a lot of places, and tends to be very family oriented, which, there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm not a family. I'm a lady with two life-partners who are felines. (And yes, I just called the Man-Kitty and Mr. Stripey my Life Partners. Because here's the thing: they're not children, and yet I have committed to them for life. They manage bathing and potty-going on their own, as well as most of their other needs, and they also are available for consultations about big decisions - though often the only response is an irritated meow or a look of disdain. Life Partner seems like a much more apt title for them than "furry children" or "furry babies," though it is true that they both do have fur.)

But so anyway. The Last House.
  • Well, it's true that it only has 2 bedrooms. But what wasn't clear from the listing is that it also has a nook off of one of the bedrooms that is totally big enough for a desk and some major bookshelves and to store my files. And that nook would make it possible to hide my work detritus while at the same time to have a cozy dedicated space in which I could actually do some work. I may not be in love with the house as a whole, but I am in love with that nook.
  • The yard is not as ginormous as it looked like it was in the pictures. It is bigger than I imagine myself needing or using, but it's totally and completely flat. Which is a big deal given the rolling hills of my location. Yes, it's more yard than I'd choose, but it's not an undoably large yard, and I can imagine mowing it every two weeks and not wanting to kill myself. And there's space in the back that would be a perfect garden! A vegetable and herb garden! And fenced off to keep the deer at bay! (The deer are a big enough issue in this SUBURB that it's actually legal to hunt them on private land, land that is no more than 10 minutes from a recognizable city in America. In fact, this is the big dividing line between people who run for office in this town - whether it should be ok to hunt in a motherfucking suburb. I wish I were kidding.)
  • There is only one bathroom, but it's a very nice bathroom. And if I ever wanted to do a half-bath downstairs, there is a space where that would be easily doable, and it wouldn't be a space that was off of the kitchen or the dining room, which, let's face it, is not appetizing.
  • Did I mention that both bedrooms have walk-in closets? And that there's good storage downstairs, too?
  • Both the furnace and the hot water heater are new-ish, and the entire house has new vinyl windows. And the basement is freshly painted and looking fabulous, and has a walk-out onto the backyard. (I still need the intel on the age of the roof.)
  • The house has both a FABULOUS front porch (from which one could hang pots of flowers! And have a table and chairs! And maybe a glider! And gaze superciliously upon the neighbors!) as well as a FABULOUS deck in back (that you access from the kitchen! Dinners alfresco!)
  • It has an open(ish) floorplan, but there is enough division between the rooms for it to feel cozy! Cozy!
  • There is a lovely window seat in the dining room on which the kittens could nap in sunshine!
  • The dining room is so huge that I can have A.'s boyfriend Matt build shelves that would be window-height for books, which would also serve as additional seating! For parties!
  • Amazing windows! All over! Bright natural light!
  • In the best school district in the general area, and located smack dab in between (and within walking distance of each) the post office/town square area and the bar/restaurant area where my vet also is (not that I'd be walking to the vet with the kittehs, but just they'd have a very short car ride, which would be better for their nerves).
Ok, so now for the down-sides:
  • There is no dishwasher. I cannot live without a dishwasher. I would have to do some work in the kitchen to make a dishwasher happen, which would involve shifting the sink to the right, installing the dishwasher, and shifting the stove over about 6 inches. All of which would likely mean needing some new cabinets. This is not a huge project, but it is a project, and one that would need to be done nearly immediately, for I can pretend that I would wash dishes by hand, but the reality is that if I did pretend that, I would live in filth a lot of the time. A dishwasher is a total necessity for me.
  • The woodwork in the downstairs is dark, while the hardwood floors are light. Ew.
  • The yard really is more yard than I'd wanted. It could require me to hire lawn boys. Then, of course, I'd have lawn boys, though, and that could be a positive as well as a negative.
  • No garage. Though in my region, no garage is so not a deal-breaker, as typically we don't get much snow.
  • The house is next to a bank. Only two windows in the whole house (from the kitchen and from the nook) look onto it and its parking lot, and even that is mediated by shrubbery and space, and even in winter it's not a total eyesore. Now, let's just note, this is so not a problem for me. And it's a bank: it's not like it's a Taco Bell or something. But apparently this has turned off other house-hunters who've viewed this property. My thought is that what this means is that I have no neighborhood noise on that side of the house after 5 pm, that on the weekends I've got a whole lot of easy parking if I were to decide to have a bash, and that, seriously? Who cares. Now, I suspect that people who would be negative would be all, "but what if the bank closes and a taco bell opens? It is commercially zoned land!" But I feel like it's not a big deal. I could be stupid about that.
  • The house is a short-sale. This will potentially drag out the process, and it will potentially mean that I have some trouble with negotiating. Let's note: the house is listed at a very good reduced price. But it's my first house. I want to try to negotiate. I don't believe in not negotiating. But I also don't believe in waiting for a month to hear about a house only to find I'm rejected and then to have to spend all of April doing this, too, and still potentially miss out on the first-time homebuyer tax credit.
As you might be able to surmise from the above, I REALLY like this house. But I told my realtor I needed the weekend to think, that I'd want to go back to see it next week, and I called my mom tonight to see whether she and my stepdad would be able to come down next weekend (viewing number three) before I'd ever make an offer. But this might be my house. It really might.

The Sun Is Shining, The Birds are Singing, etc.

So, the sun really is shining - and brightly, too, for the second day in a row, and the birds really are singing, for they woke me up and made it impossible for me to ignore the brightly shining sun.


This afternoon I will go and look at houses in person for the first time. I'm a little nervous, but also very excited. Yesterday I actually went and drove past the three that are true contenders (we'll be looking at more, but the others are ruled out for issues that no visit will change, like "no driveway" and "crazy-big yard and not enough rooms in the actual house"). Well, one of the "true contenders was ruled out by the drive-by yesterday, as it is located at the very end of a dead-end street at the end of a hill that then is wicked-steep right when you need to find the driveway of the house. I'm fairly certain that there would be a good many days each winter where I just literally wouldn't be able to leave my house. In addition, behind the house is a wooded area, and I feel like with the way the house is set at the bottom of a ravine, that wooded area would be a place where people would stash dead bodies or other criminal type items. In other words, the precise location of that house is a PROBLEM.

The other two that were true contenders remain true contenders, at least until I see them inside.

Other than that, next week is spring break, and I've got high hopes that I will be able to sleep and to catch up with work and to make good progress on the house-hunting front.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What Even to Say

Before I actually post about what I intend to post about, I accidentally deleted a comment about the motherfucking jameson because I was rejecting a spam comment and hit the wrong button. So, commenter whom I've never seen before, do come back! I didn't mean to reject your comment.

But what I'm really saying even though I don't know what there is to say is that apparently I'm really going to buy a house. Like, really. Like, I called up colleague-friend's realtor this afternoon, and all of a sudden I'm going to be going out to look at houses that I could actually buy, in person to look at them and all, on Friday. I've received listings in my in-box. This is really happening. And it's happening FAST.

Now, on the one hand, I already talked to the bank and everything and I'm pre-approved for a loan and all that, so this is fine. On the other hand, isn't this an awfully big step for me to take? I mean, it's an awfully big step. And sure, that's exciting and all, but it's also, well, a teeny bit horrifying. But apparently I'm really doing this.

In funny news, I trust my judgment not at all so I consulted with my mom, BFF, and with HS Best Friend about the listings I received. It was interesting, in that HS Best Friend and BFF both picked the front runners that I picked, while my mother chose as her front runners things that I wouldn't consider in a million years. I think this is probably a good sign, actually. My mom and I have very different priorities for houses, and at the end of the day, my mom really has no clue about what I like about anything. It's a weird thing: my mom and I are very close, but she seriously just doesn't understand what I like at all unless I explain it to her in detail. In contrast, my friends do understand what I like and what I am looking for, and they know me, ultimately, in ways that my mother just doesn't.

In other news, I spent much of the day doing research for the NB, and then I went and showed a film in my class. All in all, a pretty good day. Even if I'm really horrified that I apparently really am going to buy a house.