“Enjoy Your Holiday Season”

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TGIF

It happened
It happened….TO ME
It became Friday again
And Friday is my SATURDAY

Hello friends,
I got up at 6:00 a.m. even though it’s my day off. It is straight-up pitch black outside, like it could be 3 in the morning for all I know. This is why being an old-timey farmer is bullshit.

Like an old-timey farmer, I am eating a donut for breakfast. Whenever I eat a donut or a piece of pie for breakfast I think vividly of Farmer Boy. It totally obsessed me, growing up, this idea of a kid going out to do 18 hours of manual labor in the dead of winter, slipping a piece of apple pie into his pocket as he walked out the door. How did he do it? I wondered. Didn’t the pie filling get his pocket sticky? They didn’t have tinfoil or anything–did he wrap it in a cloth? But the text doesn’t say anything about any wrapping. So dude just had a piece of oozing apple pie in his pocket while he milked a bunch of cows? Also why was he allowed to eat pie for breakfast? Young me did not understand the concept of actually working for a living; having a lifestyle that meant you literally could not eat enough calories to keep up with what you burned. Hence all the hallucinatory descriptions of the meals Mother cooks, in Farmer Boy. Every single meal, every single day, is like my family’s Christmas dinner times five but minus booze.

Please never forget this wonderful resource, re: Farmer Boy and descriptions of food.

Remember when Farmer Boy returns the rich man’s wallet and the rich man gives him a baby horse? Those were certainly the days. Also though when Farmer Boy is monkeying around on the river ice and falls in and almost dies and after his dad fishes him out he gets the whipping of a lifetime and he knew he deserved it. Also when he shot his eye out with a baked potato. And when Laura and her shitty friend slide down the haystack until they ruin it, and also get whippings. No one in those books seems unduly disturbed by the many whippings they receive. I remember asking my dad about it, because “whipping” seemed like such a scary, violent word to me. He said he used to get whippings all the time; his dad would make him go outside and cut his own switch off the peach tree in the yard, then he’d have to go all by himself out to the shed where his dad would be waiting, smoking Marlboros and looking at him in baleful disappointment. Eight years later he died in my father’s arms in the middle of the night because the town doctor was too drunk to come to the house, and my dad’s mom was already dead.

You’d think this might have put my own problems in perspective, when I was a child, but children are horrible sociopaths, so it did not.

My brother and I were spanked a few times, as children. My parents were always ambivalent about it; even at the time I could tell they weren’t that into it but sort of thought it was what one was supposed to do, especially in Texas.

(Sidenote: My cousin is a vice principal at a public school in a tiny town in Texas and guess what she has to do, as part of her regular daily duties at her job? PADDLE MISBEHAVING STUDENTS. This is still not only legal in Texas but a respectable and socially-approved practice. She is this tiny, gentle woman and she gets these hulking football players in her office and they have to hold onto her desk and she whales on them with a wooden paddle. This is a TRUE STORY y’all (for the record: she does not like doing this and thinks it is barbaric))

I can remember two spankings; I probably only got five or six in my life:

- When I Told My Brother I Hated Him And Then Climbed Up The Bookshelf In The Dining Room And All The Shelves Fell Down: Pretty self-explanatory. Extremely well-deserved spanking, lets be real

- When I Was So Bad At “Empire Strikes Back”: and my mom drove me all the way home and made my dad spank me, which in retrospect was obviously a huge bummer for him

When I remind my parents of the “Empire Strikes Back” story, which I do often, certainly every time “Empire Strikes Back” comes up in conversation, which it does fairly regularly amongst people of a certain age, my mom feels terrible that she didn’t just spank me behind the movie theater. Why did she drive all the way home and make my poor dad do it? I agree that this is totally fucked up of her.

One always wonders about the behind-closed-doors whispered conversations of one’s parents in one’s youth. Did my dad, later, the night of the spanking, in bed, turn to my mom and be like “FUCK YOU”

Anyway, needless to say, I am confident that this donut is not as good as the ones Almanzo’s mom made by hand every goddamn morning. As much as I am sad that humanity has been divorced from the earth by capitalism, I truly can not imagine the drudgery of being a farmer mom. How could you even keep that much food in the house? Dude’s mom seriously made probably three pies a day, every day. Not to mention, you’re having to go out and, what, pick 18 bushels of apples to put IN the pies, constantly. And churn the butter for the pie crusts, although they surely used lard. So killing a pig is a man’s job, but you’re the one who has to render it down into all its various useful parts, including a big bucket of lard you cook everything in all winter. All these hulking men, burning 40,000 calories every day, tromping into your meticulously cleaned kitchen at regular intervals, desperately needing to eat an entire side of bacon and a whole apple pie each. Good lord.

Actually maybe I would be good at it. I’d just put on my podcasts and go for it. It would be like being a monk. It might be cool to have all my worrying and angst just centered in one task instead of shooting out all over the place. HA! (smash cut to me, post apocalypse, slaving over some huge cauldron of boiling meat, sweat pouring down my face, holding 7 babies at once, being all, “I SURE WISH I WERE GRADING 33 PAPERS ABOUT THE BEATLES RIGHT NOW.” Insert title: “The Grass Truly Is Always Greener”)

The reason I have this donut is because every Thursday I get a dozen donuts for my TA meeting. As you know, I have 7 TAs, a part-time instructor, and a full-time course admin who I am the ultimate head boss of. Running a small staff is definitely something I was very well trained to do and something I am extremely comfortable with, though, so obviously that’s totally fine and not stressful at all, so that works out well. Anyway, to make up for my near-total incompetence (I think the phrase “what should we do?” is probably the one I have uttered in staff meeting more often than any other phrase aside from “oh my god” and maybe “I’ll have to check on that”), I bring them donuts once a week, but this week for whatever reason they didn’t eat them all, so here we are. They left all the jelly ones. Make a mental note: no more jelly donuts. I barely like donuts at all and when I do I only want a plain glazed, so I feel alienated from what would be “cool” donut choices for a staff of seven growing TAs, an instructor, and a course admin. Every Thursday when I buy the donuts at 7:00 a.m. from a place called “DONUT MAN,” the same grouchy teen is working there. Her uniform is always filthy, she kind of trudges around, and she’s really bad at putting donuts in the box. The box is clearly made to hold a dozen donuts but she can never make them all fit in there, because she doesn’t put them in all facing the same way. So the extras go in a bag that she slams down on top. I tip her a whole dollar because this is a hard life and we are all in it together. And there is a flatscreen in there that, from what I can tell, exclusively broadcasts breaking news about Ebola in America.

I am finally done being observed in the classroom by my chair, and I am surprised by how relieved I feel that that is over. He is a very nice man but having your boss sitting in the back of your classroom taking notes while you try to get kids to talk about “yes but WHY does funk sound sexier than disco” is not very restful. He observed me four times, because I teach four classes technically, if you want to get technical about it (on paper I teach 3). I felt like every time he was in the room, my class suddenly went off the rails and got very weird and everyone suddenly started acting crazy. It was like a curse had been laid upon me. But anyway now it is over and I don’t think I have to do it again for years.

The phrase “my chair” is funny. We all use it constantly but every once in awhile I realize how funny it is, to refer to someone as “my chair” all the time. “My chair says I am doing a good job.” What are you, a crazy person????

I will tell you a funny thing about this school. First of all, they do a 14 week semester, instead of 15 weeks which is what every other school I have ever heard of does. Second of all, apparently this new state I live in has significantly more state holidays than anywhere else, because this is the closest thing to a commie state that we have in this shitty country. I have never had so many holidays. We get days off on Columbus Day, which is bullshit, even! Also Veterans Day, “Patriots Day,” a bunch of other ones no one has ever heard of. So, we miss so many Mondays that the school has to make them up somehow. It does this by making the Tuesday after each Monday holiday follow a “Monday schedule.” So we have Monday off, then on Tuesday we all go back to school and pretend it is Monday. We never make up the missing Tuesdays; I imagine someone has somehow figured out that we don’t need to, but honestly I wouldn’t be surprised–considering how utterly shoddy all the scheduling at this school is–to discover that no one had ever realized that this practice means we just miss a ton of Tuesdays instead of a ton of Mondays, in a real “six of one; half a dozen of the other” type scenario. At any rate it is very confusing and throws every person into total disarray every single time it happens. Students are confused; professors are confused; it makes syllabus-planning an absolute nightmare.

What this means for me personally though is something very cool, because I DON’T TEACH ON MONDAYS.

YOU DO THE MATH

Damn, this donut actually sucks. What am I doing.

Another thing one must do when one gets a job at a massive state institution is that one must attend a literally infinite number of in-person and online “trainings” covering various issues, perhaps 0.0001% of which actually apply to you or your job in any way whatsoever (for example, a 45 minute online training with unbelievable animated gifs and clip-art helping me figure out who I am allowed to take campaign contributions from and telling me that I can NOT use state money to buy lobster dinners for potential clients. The same clip art of a lobster dinner with an X through it was shown in multiple slides of this training presentation. So much of the clip art was golf related). I mentioned the heinous “anti workplace bullying” workshop I recently had to attend (we had to sign in! Like, to prove we were there! I have a PhD) at the end of which I raised my hand and delivered a blistering screed about power hierarchies and how inane it is to place responsibility for bullying on individual employees by making them sit through a 2 hour presentation about how you shouldn’t use the n-word when obviously it is all the Deans and Chairs and Chancellors who ought to be at this training, because THEIR OWN DATA proves that the problem with bullying is that higher-ups don’t act on reports from employees. No one stood up and cheered afterward, so maybe I AM an asshole. You know what though, if being the only person in the room who thinks doing a “physical activity” to learn that racial slurs are “inappropriate workplace behavior” is stupid, then fuck it, I’ll be an asshole.

Anyway, I had to take another online training yesterday. This one was so that I could be given my corporate credit card, which I will use to pay for things that are supposed to come out of various institutional budgets, such as my future piano, plane tickets to conferences, and such-and-such. The training took 30 minutes but I kept getting interrupted during it so it ended up taking hours. I spent my entire day constantly returning to this training, trying to keep straight information such as the following:

The Procard simplifies the process for the purchase and payment of goods, enabling the Cardholder to order materials directly from the supplier. When the goods are received, the Cardholder saves the packing list (or whatever documentation is available from the vendor to show an itemized proof of purchase). Once a month, if there has been activity, the Cardholder will receive an email alert that a statement is available. The Cardholder logs into the Citibank site and downloads their statement that lists all the Cardholder’s purchase transactions. The Cardholder will reconcile the documentation to the monthly statement and place it on file for audit purposes. It’s that easy!

That “It’s that easy!” absolutely kills me

I also learned about what kinds of items may NEVER be purchased using a corporate credit card. Oh, it’s just the usual stuff that a Humanities professor might try to inappropriately buy with state funds–firearms, ammunition, prescription pills, and “live animals–with vertebrae.” DAMN there go all my big plans

Gifts may not be purchased with the corporate card either. Luckily, however, a single exception is made:

As stated above, gifts are not allowed on Procard and flowers would be considered a gift. The only exception made for flowers (or a fruit basket or similar purchase) is for bereavement purposes in the event of the death of a staff member or their immediate family (only spouse, child or parent).

ONLY SPOUSE, CHILD OR PARENT

“BEREAVEMENT PURPOSES”

I am imagining a scenario where I insist on using school funds to buy flowers or equivalent for a bereaved coworker. Then printing out my credit card statement and writing “BEREAVEMENT PURPOSES: CHILD (ALLOWABLE)” next to the charge. I guess that could happen, if I live to be eleventy billion years old

After reading perhaps seven thousand pages of these rules and guidelines, you have to take a series of INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TESTS. Having now taken a lot of these online trainings, I actually did try to read and learn all the material, because I knew it would make the tests go faster. I am a highly-trained intellectual, I paid attention sincerely to the material presented to me, and yet I failed each test at least twice before finally passing it. Here’s a sample question:

Please indicate if the purchase of POSTAGE AND MAILING – Express service of proposals and progress reports, local postage costs (depending on award), international postage, bulk mail services (depending upon award) and University mail services is normally considered direct, allowed under a grant or not allowed and considered, indirect?

Obviously the fact that the questions were written in approximately four seconds by someone without a super solid grasp on grammar and sentence structure (what’s up with that “depending on award” and “depending upon award” difference? Not to mention that comma it took me ages to figure out was just accidentally-placed? It seems like it would have been great if even one person had just quickly read over all this copy before making every single employee of this institution slog through it but what do I know, I’m just a stupid person who writes for a living) doesn’t help, but sweet dear lord, WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?? I finally got it right (after extensively reviewing the information provided in multiple “helpful links”) only by process of elimination. My thought after so many of these questions was “Well I will just try to remember never to use my card for anything related to this question.” Maybe that is the goal?

Anyway, great news everybody, I finally passed and got my credit cards (I have two: One is ONLY for travel and I get in MAJOR trouble if I use it for non-travel-related purposes; the cards are more-or-less identical in appearance). I was also given a print-out of our tax-exempt status, which I am supposed to show to everyone I buy something from. TO THE LIVE ANIMAL STORE!

I am throwing the rest of this donut in the garbage can.

The sun came up, it is now a foggy chilly day. The dog came downstairs and asked for his breakfast, ate it while looking happily at me, then went back upstairs to bed. I keep thinking it would be funny if my old man behaved the same way. If he got up excitedly with me at 6 a.m., pranced down the stairs all full of joy and exuberance, immediately ate a bowl of granola, then went and got back in bed for three more hours. Actually I have seen him do this before, minus the prancing. He is not a morning person.

One of the greatest blessings in my life (aside from being born to good parents who had enough money to feed and clothe me, and being born into a privileged race and nation, and aside from my epic and expensive education, and the fact that I was born at a time when women are not chattel, and of course aside from all the great luck I have had in finding a life partner who is nice to me, and getting a job, and being more or less healthy, and other stuff, and pizza) is being a morning person.

It is Halloween! I do not observe, except in the sense that I plan on watching Mario Bava films and drinking spiced mulled wine tonight. Huzzah to all!

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Following up

I’ve been asked in the comments about my hatred of Jeffrey Eugenides, and I was about to write a post all about it, but then I had this weird feeling that I had already done so, and I searched my archives, and

Check It Out!

Ha ha ha

How many times have I repeated myself on this goddamn blog over the past 10 years?? Jesus. I am really glad that at least this time I remembered I had already said something. Sorry for all the repetition you guys! I guess I am obsessed with Jeffrey Eugenides, among other things. Jeffrey Eugenides is to me what David Foster Wallace is to Jeffrey Eugenides. LOL hardly! Besides, I don’t have a penis to measure, so I’m sort of outside that whole game.

Re-reading that entry made me so sad that DFW is dead. He is the only dead person I legitimately get personally sad about on a regular basis (so far; I’m sure this will change as life continues taking its awful toll on all of us). I just miss him so much, and I want to know what he would say about things. I want to read his final version of the Pale King, which will never exist on this earth. It makes me feel very hopeless, that the only person whose honest view of the world really gibed with my own actually couldn’t take it, and killed himself. Where does that leave the rest of us? I also am just sad for him. I think often of the scenes from Karen Green’s poetry memoir of him, particularly the ones with the upset dogs. I didn’t know, until reading her memoir, that the dogs were with him when he died. When she got home they ran to her howling and upset, and led her to where he was hanging. I hate it so much, I can’t bear it. And then later she had to give one of the dogs away to a friend because she couldn’t handle its emotional needs in the wake of everything. I can’t bear that either, it’s too much.

So anyway, in light of these feelings, you can imagine what happens inside me when I read some bullshitty interview with a Eugenides or a Franzen where they’re like “yeah, David was okay I guess but he just held everyone in such contempt, and of course I am a real writer and so I have love for humanity in my heart, not hatred like David did” YOU TRANSPARENT OAFS, p.s. you both hate women. I mean, women don’t exactly come out well in DFW either but at least they are actual characters he takes time and interest in developing. Reading those other two you are like, honestly boys, have you ever spoken to a woman about anything but your many literary prizes. They have the interest-level in women of, on the one hand, 13 year old boys, and on the other hand, a medieval king.

It’s weird though because it’s true that Middlesex was pretty good, and did not leave me with these same feelings of grossness. I am not actually sure I can comprehend how the same person could write Middlesex and The Marriage Plot. Perhaps Middlesex was written by a dead person from whom Eugenides stole the manuscript? Or else the Marriage Plot was the result of a lost bet. I honestly don’t know. Middlesex was not my favorite book on earth but it certainly felt like its author was interested in gender and identity in a way the author of the Marriage Plot can only shrilly puppet in a really upsetting fashion. What gives??

You know what else though? I really don’t like the New York literary scenester scene. I don’t like that all you have to do to be a hot hip new young novelist is just live in New York and meet the right asshole at a cocktail party. I don’t like how “the industry” is located there and everyone who is anyone simply MUST be seen there blah blah. This dude who just published the book about twee that never even mentions music? New York cocktail party dude. I feel like that dude is legion, and I am tired of his voice. I am tired of your Franzens and your Eugenideses (who, to be fair, is now a Princeton dude, not strictly-speaking a New York dude, but Jesus Christ, PRINCETON) looking down their noses at a DFW, who has more intellect, humanity, and brilliance in his sweaty bandana than they have in their whole body including their dicks they are so worried about. I like that DFW just ambled around in the midwest and thought New York was depressing. He didn’t like going to those self-aggrandizing New York scenester parties where everyone’s trying to out-brag everyone else about how they had lunch with Phillip Roth or whatever. Those parties quite famously gave him hives and nervous breakdowns. He hated giving readings to champagne-swilling dorks who aren’t even paying attention, they’re just trying to see who else is there. He wanted to live in a corn field and talk to sincere earnest midwestern students and walk his dogs. He relentlessly stripped away bullshit and tried to see underneath it, in his writing, and I feel like some of his contemporaries–the ones who fully have submitted to the New York literary machine–only make a pretense of doing this, but they are unable to, because they’ve so fully accepted the bullshit in their own lives. I’ve gotten to the point where I see on a book jacket that someone is a “young New York writer” and I kind of am just exhausted already by it. I had never heard of Colson Whitehead but then my old man told me he wrote a zombie novel, so I was stoked, and went and got it, and there on the book jacket it says he’s a hot New York writer who has won a lot of fancy New York writer awards and I felt like, this book is probably not going to be up my alley IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT IT IS A WHOLE NOVEL ABOUT ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE WRITTEN BY SOMEONE WHO CAN ACTUALLY WRITE. And I was right, that book was boring as hell, there I said it.

Also, I googled “making fun of Jonathan Franzen” and was reminded of that INSANE SHIT HE WROTE in the Guardian called “What’s Wrong With the Modern World” LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Look, there is a lot that’s wrong with the modern world–some of it even makes his list, for example how much Amazon.com sucks–but I would probably dig into, I don’t know, how the police of america are basically on a nationwide racially-motivated murder spree, or whatever, rather than book reviewers who don’t read Jonathan Franzen’s work carefully enough (it’s on his list!). He is a straight white New York dude who has benefited enormously, some would say exclusively, from the status quo, he fancies himself a liberal, and yet he is truly perhaps one of the biggest elitists who has ever lived.

Anyway, what do I know

It’s also funny because reading Freedom is what helped me finally see that I don’t want to have children. I’ll remember that book for the rest of my life! And yet I didn’t really like it, and I don’t really like Franzen. And yet, forevermore, I’ll have to tell my unborn children: “you don’t exist because of a dumb novel by a guy I don’t respect”

I guess that’s life! You win some you lose some

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