Sunglasses and Iced Coffee

Last night I “taught” the last class of the year. I put “taught” in quotation marks because the class consisted of an enormous African dance and drumming troupe coming in and forcing all 150 of my students to dance and sing. It was so fun and I loved it; even the rude handsome jocks who used their phones all semester long right in front of my face got up on stage and danced around. There were a bunch of strangers there too, people who had just popped in when they heard the wild and incredibly loud drumming party going on in my classroom, and some of them brought small children, who also got up onstage and ran around and shook tamborines and sat down on the ground and took off their shoes and cried. I felt like I was dreaming. One little girl stood onstage plugging her ears and crying for what seemed to me like a really long time before her mother dealt with it; I thought that was cool as hell. Welcome to life, kid!

Class ended around 7:30 at night but I had to wait for several more hours before going home because my old man was at some weird film screening. I had the fantasy that I would go into town and get a full order of nachos at this bar I like, but when I walked up I saw that seemingly every grad student I have ever taught was there. I thought “where can I go where there is no way I will see a single student?” The answer was obvious: the swanky expensive bar for grownup rich people and visiting dignitaries, which is named after the man who first had the idea to give smallpox blankets to the Native Americans. That was the place for an aging professor just looking to have a quiet nightcap without the pressure of knowing all her students were surreptitiously watching her consume an order of nachos intended for at least four people to share! I walked over there–hobbled really, my hips sure aren’t getting any better–slung my enormous backpack underneath the bar, took off my novelty fake-fur-lined raincoat, and heaved myself up on a barstool. After perusing the menu I chose a $12 cocktail made with green tea and cucumber. The bartender looked at my ID and then laughed in surprise and said “God, I didn’t think you were THAT old! Jeez.”

Today I had to come back to campus for a goddamn meeting. I was complaining to my old man as we lay in bed. He also had to go to campus today, and was complaining. Then he said “I JUST WANT TO SIT ON MY ASS ALL SUMMER AND COLLECT MY CHECKS” which pretty much sums it up. So, properly shamed, we got up and dealt with our bodies and our dog and slogged our way through the glorious weather into the two different towns where we teach. After this meeting I will go pick him up and buy bread and wine.

It was surreal to be teaching (“teaching”) the last class I will teach until LATE JANUARY. My research leave has officially begun! Already I have become as jealous as Smaug, clinging sensually to the mound of liberated time I have been allotted. Anyone who tries to suggest a “working retreat” in “July or something” to “generate a report for the new chair” is met by me with a horror akin to that I would manifest had they suggested we run a marathon or commit an act of international terrorism. “I HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK” I say to all these people, who look at me agog, as though everyone around here is not also trying to write a book. “I HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK, I HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK.” I said this to the guy who cuts my hair; to the bus driver; to the lady at the coffee shop. But honestly I am excited to write a book. I like writing and I like my book topic and I want to see if I can actually do it.

I went to a seminar that was supposed to give helpful advice to junior faculty. The only thing anyone would say, though, was PROTECT YOUR TIME. They all looked wild-eyed and scared while saying it. YOU HAVE TO PROTECT YOUR TIME!!! Somebody would raise their hand and ask a question about TA management or the etiquette of writing recommendation letters and the ladies running the seminar would just say PROTECT YOUR TIME!!!! As junior faculty, and specifically as women, you will be asked to do more service than anybody else, and you won’t be able to prove this is happening! But you have to protect your time! We were all scared shitless!

How you actually do that, however, wasn’t really a skill that was taught, at least not at this seminar. If your chair asks you to do something, you say yes, I know that for a fact. People with children annoyingly get out of so much shit, but I don’t have that excuse and am not so brazen as to make up a fictional child in order to get out of committee service. Can you imagine? “I can’t. Hester has pneumonia.” “What? Who’s Hester?” “Oh, my baby I had! I must not have told you.”

On the plus side, I am glad I don’t have a baby, so I guess we can call it even. Poor Hester, never even getting a chance to be born! What might she have accomplished?? Getting me out of a whole mess of meetings, that’s for sure. Children are our greatest blessing after all

I wonder if the man who is on the other end of this phone conversation this other man is having on speakerphone in this coffee shop would be happy to know that a bunch of strangers are listening to him talk about his marital problems. This motherfucker also got his coffee in a to-go cup even though he is apparently staying inside to drink it, while talking on speakerphone to his friend about his friend’s marital problems. Is this the worst human being who has ever lived on the earth? Have I finally encountered this elusive character?? I keep looking over at him judgmentally but as a middle aged white man he is blessedly unaware of what the body language of other people might indicate about his own behavior. I doff my hat to you, good sir!

In other news, shit is popping off in my garden. The radishes are like WHATS UP DUDES and even my perennials are peeking out of the dirt. The apple blossoms are just about to explode; any day now I’ll arrive home and the whole yard will be awash in pink.

We’ve had yet another great experience with a big strong honest New England man who comes to our house to do some work for us. It’s regarding this apple tree. When we moved in, our realtor and the home inspector were both really worried about the tree. It’s about 30 feet tall, which is VERY tall for an apple tree, and they kept saying it was out of control, it hadn’t been pruned in 75 years, it was a disaster, and we’d have to hire an arborist to come design a three year plan for slowly bringing the height of the tree down without destroying its productivity. We’ve been getting more and more stressed out about it. Finally I called a highly-rated local arborist and he came over right away. His name was Kevin. He arrived three minutes late and was deeply apologetic. We walked out into the yard and I was like “well, here’s the tree, as you can see it’s crazy and horrifying” and Kevin was like “oh, beautiful! What a beautiful tree! There’s nothing wrong with this tree.” We were really surprised. “Doesn’t it need to be pruned? It hasn’t been pruned in 75 years!” Kevin goes “Yes it has! Look at all those cuts, see? There, and there, and there–no, this tree has been very well cared for. It’s got a great shape.” We said “isn’t it too tall?” He said “No, the only issue is it’s too tall to pick the apples, but there’s nothing you can do about that.” We said “our realtor said we needed to lower it.” He scoffed! “You couldn’t lower this tree without BUTCHERING it,” he said with real emotion. He said the tree could stand a very mild pruning but that we could just do it ourselves–he showed us how! Then he said to wait a year before even doing that: “This tree is just about to blossom–it’d be a CRIME to prune this tree right now.” I said I still wanted to hire him to come prune the higher branches and he goes “yeah….I really don’t think that needs to happen for at least another couple of years.” He worked hard to talk me out of paying him money!

God it was amazing. It was AMAZING. I love Kevin!!!!!!!!! I will never call another tree guy as I live on this earth. Within a few years we are going to have to spend THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS getting these dying hemlocks removed from our property, before they fall on our house or, worse, a neighbor’s house (one already did, on the fence anyway) and you can bet I’m calling the shit out of Kevin. “KEVIN I NEED YOU”

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Semester, que me veux-tu

I am on my computer at an establishment that is in between a grad student bar and a semi-nice restaurant and I don’t know if it is weird that I am on my computer. No one else is in here. Oh the etiquette perils of modern life. I just consumed a full order of nachos by myself and I would do it again. For lo, I have just given my last lecture until January. January! I still have a couple seminars but no more lectures. Fare-thee-well, handheld microphone with plosive sibilants. Goodbye, passionately describing Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” while looking out at a bunch of kids staring slack-jawed down at their phones. Sayonara, hoping none of my students can smell my crazy stress-B.O. when they come up afterward to ask me about make-up quizzes. Huzzah to all and to all a good night. As I left the lecture hall there were a bunch of barefoot boys outside doing just straight-up backflips for no reason. Just standing in the grass and doing backflips. Just lounging! Ah youth

Tonight I lectured about why I care about art and why learning to think about art makes you a better person. I, as usual, told my students at length about how they are all going to die someday and no one on earth will remember that they ever existed. I made them watch four minutes of Einstein on the Beach. I told an anecdote about Jeff Koons that made it sound like I had once wet my pants at a Michael Jackson concert. So, pretty par for the course, all things considered.

Anyway now I can take a MOTHER FUCKING BREAK from teaching this huge class every single semester! I really love this class and believe in it and have had amazing experiences with students in it but I am feeling burnt. out. by the repetition of doing it every semester. It’s too much and I need a nice break to just write a book and turn 40.

Actually I won’t turn 40 until I’m back in the saddle, teaching this class again. Lord, I feel young, as young as a spring lamb about to be murdered.

I got my teeth cleaned today. My dentist is of a pedagogical bent, and enjoys parlaying significantly more information about teeth and gums than you want to know, given that it is disgusting and upsetting. She is very good at her job. She is so genuinely stoked at my excellent hygiene practices. She’ll get out a gigantic oversized novelty human jaw and demonstrate proper use of different kinds of electric toothbrush head. She is the first dentist to NOT point out that my teeth are crooked (like I don’t know! what on earth) and the first dentist to ever notice that I apparently gnaw on the insides of my cheeks at night while I sleep. Every dentist notices that I grind my teeth–that’s pretty much Dentist 101 if you ask me–but this lady sees the bigger picture and I respect that about her. “Somebody’s been chewing on your cheeks girl!” she admonished, somewhat confusingly. I said it happens while I’m unconscious and I have no control over it but that I do wake up with blood in my mouth sometimes and also that my husband describes the sounds I make at night with my mouth as “gross.” She told me about how scar tissue forms and said I’m really “shredding” it back there. I said I bought a $30 mouthguard from CVS and I think it’s working. She said for only $400 they will make me a fancy one that probably will feel a lot better. I said “I can’t think about this right now.” She said “I hear you.”

But honestly, what is going on in there (my mouth)?? It’s like I have Lesch-Nyhan disorder, that horrible brain disease where you compulsively eat yourself. And my teeth always feel like they are growing of their own accord, like every day it is a different set-up in there. It’s because I swallow incorrectly and am always pushing at them with my poor untrained tongue, but I feel like it’s deeper than that as well. They have notches and sharp serrated edges I like to worry with my tongue; sometimes I wake up and my tongue is bleeding. I regularly dream my mouth is full of tasteless gum that I have to dig out with my hands and there is always more of it. However, I never dream that my teeth fall out, which is one of those classic Freudian dreams that’s supposed to mean you want to have sex with your mom, so thank god for his blessings

Recurring Dreams I Have:
- mouth filled with tasteless gum I have to claw out with my hands
- can’t see, even though I can see (impossible to describe but very, very upsetting)
- forget I am married; spend whole dream crying and asking people what I’m forgetting; marry someone else I don’t like and only at that moment do I remember my old man; dream ends with me sobbing and pawing at a cell phone and not knowing how to use it but hoping he will answer and forgive me for marrying someone else. I have this dream all the time; I had it last night
- very upsetting dream in which I can’t find my classroom OR I can’t get the projector to work in my classroom, and the weeks go by and I never figure it out

Why are recurring dreams always upsetting? Why don’t any of the good ones recur? ALAS THIS HUMAN CONDITION

Anyway my dentist visit got me thinking about all my weird #PushinForty afflictions. As afflictions go they are really not that bad and I mostly feel affectionate frustration with them. But they definitely do add up to one positively #PushinForty human body, to where you are having that Louis C.K. experience where the doctor is like “just take an advil! Jesus Christ” and you’re like “will that fix it” and the doctor is like “what? no of course not.”

Night Sweats: What even is this??? No one can diagnose it. I’ve now been to FIVE DOCTORS and been tested for everything from hormone imbalance to vitamin d deficiency to, most recently, parasites. I’ve been put on hormone-balance-specific Prozac, the birth control pill, vitamin d supplements, black cohosh, and calcium (?). After all these doctor visits, these pills, all this googling, all these dreadful nights “sleeping” wrapped up in big beach towels I bought expressly for this purpose half price at the very surreal department store in my town, my latest doctor suggested I “try sleeping with a lighter blanket on the bed” and just even remembering this right now I feel like I will shriek with rage. As though I am so stupid I’m just lying there in the night being like “I feel way too hot, but I don’t know what to do about it!!! Guess I’ll just lie here and pour sweat from every inch of my body until there is a person-shaped yellow stain burned into this mattress!” He told me lots of times people THINK they are sweating a lot at night but really they aren’t. I said I soak through two full beach towels every night and have ruined two pillows and can’t sleep in any clothes whatsoever anymore. He didn’t believe me. So that’s where that’s at! On the plus side, he was very handsome, and gave me a parasite test even though I could tell he thought I was crazy.

Gnawing the inside of my mouth to shreds: is this something 20 year olds do?? There’s so much scar tissue in there there are visible ridges along the inside of each cheek; I rest my jaws on them when I am thinking hard

Tongue thrust: swallowing incorrectly. To be fair, this is something I have done since infancy but it sure feels stupid now, and I don’t think I will ever learn how to swallow right, certainly I have no interest whatsoever in trying to figure it out

Hip dysplasia: also a birth defect, and not technically a product of #PushinForty, but the SYMPTOMS didn’t set in until I was becoming middle aged, so it feels like an old lady thing. It makes me sad because of obvious reasons but also this morning we were horsing around in the kitchen and my old man went to bend me over like in a fancy dance and I could tell that he stopped himself from bending me as far as he normally would have, out of concern for my frail and failing body. But honestly that’s also just part of life, we’re all gonna end up there one way or another, so it’s really okay. Gone are the days of him wearing me like a backpack and compacting my vertebrae, and I suppose that’s not entirely a bad thing (does anyone remember what this is a reference to? Boy I sure will not forget it)

Legally blind: have been legally blind for most of my life! Amazing to think about. What a miracle it is to live in these shitty times, when I can have glasses and not be stoned for a witch.

There will be more before this life is over, mark my words sonny. This seems like a funny list of afflictions to me. What is wrong with me? Everyone else in my family is healthy as a horse; my mother’s never even had a menstrual cramp. All that happens to them is they constantly shatter their bones doing extreme sports.

My recent scary hip flare-up went away again, but I still have an ortho appointment in May so we will see what he says. I feel very fatalistic about it. I’m going to do yoga again, I don’t give a shit.

I just ate so many nachos. More than one person is supposed to eat, I think. I feel great. I got a big stack of books about apocalypse theory from the library, I’ve got two weeks left in the semester, Monday is a holiday, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses


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Cool Summer Haircuts, New Offices, Garden Woes

It is now truly the countdown to summer vacation. Our last day of school is April 27, if you can believe that!
- only four more seminars
- only three more undergrad lectures
- only two more discussion sections
- only eighteen thousand more committee meetings

As you know, I have a number of non-school-related hobbies that I largely credit with keeping me from going completely insane and becoming morbidly depressed. I think the list of things keeping me sane is, in order of importance:
- my husband
- my dog
- my few sad straggling hobbies
- large wine

My hobbies tend to be the kind that are easily fit around the academic’s schedule. Baking bread, for example, is something you do for hours and hours while not leaving the house. It is perfect for me! I usually bake bread while grading. I set my timer and go for it. It gives me focus, and then at the end of the day the grading is done and the house smells like delightful bread. It’s a true win-win—hey, it’s good for the grading, and it’s good for the bread! Or for another example, there is yoga, which I kind of half-assedly do whenever I have a moment here or there.

Now, however, I am seeing that my new hobby goal, which is gardening, is going to be much, much harder to fit around my weird schedule. Gardening takes serious and consistent chunks of time and you have to do them at certain moments. I’ve already waited too long to start my seedlings, and I should have built a fence a month ago. Right now I ought to be getting going on these things, but I have to spend my weekends prepping for the coming week, and there’s just hardly any time to do these things. Normally, honestly, I don’t really mind working every day, first of all because I like my job, and second because I know I have these gigantic breaks built in. So, I can take up landscape painting once summer starts! Or whatever (note: I will never take up landscape painting). Gardening though you have to really start whilst the semester is still fully underway, indeed you have to start it at the very moment the semester begins ratcheting up to pants-shitting levels of intensity. And your garden doesn’t care that you have all these oral exams and that you have to drive two hours to go to a PhD defense you agreed to do and that you have to write these program notes for this orchestra concert and all the rest. Your garden is like, gimme compost, NOW, it’s TIME!

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to garden to the best of my abilities and see what happens. There will be epic failures but lord knows I am used to that. God. If there is a sphere of my life I have yet to epically fail in I’d like to hear about it.

Anyway, I went to the farmers co-op to get some new pots in which to re-pot my poor suffering houseplants, and right there, glowing on a shelf in the front of the store, was exactly the gardening book I’ve been dreaming of but haven’t been able to find. It is just a locally-produced book about gardening in new england. It tells you exactly what to do in each month, with no frills, no expensive full-color photos, no great reams of prose about “honoring the seasons” or some shit. Just pragmatic lists and warnings about slugs and advice for attracting “predatory wasps” to your garden by planting goldenrod or whatever. I read half of it yesterday and now I feel ready, although it did stress me out by noting all the aforementioned stuff I was supposed to have been doing a month ago.

My gardening goals:
- grow a decent tomato. I have not tasted a decent tomato since I moved to this tomato wasteland. When you ask local farmers what’s up with new england’s shitty tomatoes they get this really pinched, haunted look on their faces and then they talk about this weird mildew that hides in the dirt and infects everybody every year and there’s nothing can be done. If you say “what if I try growing in a container,” they just shrug fatalistically. MY DREAM MUST BE REALIZABLE
- have a strawberry patch
- learn to can, and can stuff
- figure out what I’m doing wrong with Sandor Katz’s fermentation recipe, fix it, and pickle a bunch of shit from the garden
- hire an arborist to create a 3 year plan to lower our apple tree
- grow my husband some hot-ass peppers
- plant a cherry tree like the one George Washington chopped down to prove his honesty
- figure out how to keep cats from shitting in my garden constantly

It is hard to get this garden going when I have so many meetings and service requirements. On weekends! At night! And now we have to meet all summer long, which frankly I feel is an abomination. I didn’t pursue this career because I wanted to keep doing my job all summer! Lord have mercy.

Also, for the two years I have had this job, I have known that my office would eventually be taken away from me. And now it is happening. I am excited and horrified and nervous. Basically I was put in way too nice of an office given my level of seniority (nonexistent) and my area (academics, i.e. the area in a conservatory-style music department that is lower than a piece of shit on the floor). I was put in this nice office because when I started this job, the huge class I teach every semester had seven TAs and a full-time program manager with whom I shared an office. Thus, I required a large and accessible office, even though every other academic is shut up in former broom closets down in the basement. My office is a source of resentment within the department, and I totally get it. There is no reason I should randomly have this huge bright office right on the main floor, when there are people who have been here for 20 years who are stuck in the basement without enough room to rehearse their quartets or whatever. Also, over these two years, due to state budget cuts, this huge class I teach has slowly been whittled away from underneath me–TA line after TA line has been cut, which results in a lower and lower enrollment cap. Now we are running at a lean-and-mean 100 students/3 TAs and plans are afoot to cut the program manager position. If this happens, it will indeed be insane for me to be in this office, and I am fully on board with that. I am not selfish enough to demand I stay in this office when it is patently unfair. If I had won a MacArthur or something maybe I’d pitch a fit but I’m just a hardworking junior faculty member without even a book to my name, who the hell do I think I am?

So anyway the point is I’m probably getting moved down into the basement. Honestly I am looking forward to it. A clean slate! An office not filled with the detritus of ages. And, my office will be so tiny that it will be impossible for my TAs to sort of unofficially use it as a hang-out zone where they store their trombones. The thing I am not looking forward to is cleaning out this current office in preparation for someone else taking it over. I might just not do it–lord knows nobody cleaned it out before I moved in! But that is petty of me. OH GOD it is SO TEDIOUS to do the right thing, alas.

Really, I have to HOPE I am getting moved to the basement, because SOME junior faculty are actually in this whole other building, in this awful broken-down abandoned warren of fake offices partitioned off with like particle board. The building is slated to be demolished soon but they sort of let some of the less lucrative departments on campus squat in there as necessary. If they move me over there I will scream; that shit’s not fair at all! Oh god now I’m scared. There’s always someone worse off than you, ain’t it the truth!

But anyway, this is why I never actually invested emotionally in my office. People would come in and say to my face how shitty it looked and I’d be like….yeah. But I knew that I’d feel like a dingus if I spent days of my summer painting and cleaning and buying new furniture, only to get shunted down into the basement! NOW WHO IS LAUGHING, FUNNY MAN???? I made the right choice!

when you go down in the basement you never see anybody ever again. Currently, my office is a buzzing hive of activity. My TAs are in there, my program manager is in there, people are always popping in to say hi and ask me a question about policy or curriculum I don’t understand, or invite me to lunch, or tell me about a funny thing that happened. It’s so fun! It’s the reason I have actually made some friends here. But the flipside is that everyone knows when I’m NOT in there, which can work to my disadvantage in a department where most of the people do all of their work on campus and don’t totally understand what is involved in writing a book/prepping for class/grading, and how even when you are at home you are working. Down in the basement, no one can hear you scream, but also no one can see that you are actually at home working on your book. You can go literally weeks without seeing your colleagues; I know, because I go weeks without seeing the people down there. When I do see them it’s almost like I forgot they existed. We look at each other in delight: Oh yeah! YOU!

So my social life is going to be very different. And, I will need to get a mini fridge. And plants that don’t need sunlight. I guess mushrooms.

Anyway yes, it is almost summer time. The birds are chirping. It’s supposed to snow tonight but I don’t think it actually will. Tonight I am going to an event I nominally helped put on after which we get to go to a fancy restaurant on the school’s dime, everybody’s favorite activity. I was like “is there a bar” and everyone was like “uhhhhhhhhhhh let me check, ARE WE FUCKING IDIOTS? Of course there’s a bar”

When summer comes I always want to get a crazy haircut, to emphasize my freedom from my teaching duties. What will it be?? There’s not much hair to work with, in truth. Maybe instead I will grow out my armpit hair.




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