I am sitting alone at a bar in the town adjacent to the giant school where I teach. The bar is filled with students. It is 8:15 p.m. on a Wednesday night. The bar is playing an odd mix of music I can’t quite nail down. Lorde, “Africa” by Toto, Postal Service, Depeche Mode, a song from a musical like maybe Sweeney Todd, Richard Hell, Frank Ocean, The Beatles, and something that sounded like some of that contemporary classical music those hipsters in Brooklyn are making these days. What Spotify playlist is this? I am pretty much in favor of it, I guess.
I am consuming an entire order of nachos and just finished preparing for a student’s oral exam tomorrow. At this point I am truly living the dream! Alone at a bar researching the Spanish roots of the chaconne, drinking a fine local IPA. What could be better? I can’t tell if I’m joking or not!
This kind of is what I set out to make my life become, ten years ago when I began this journey. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this journey, how crazy it is that I actually have the job that I set out to get in 2005, and that I decided to one day set out to get in 1996. 1996!!!! A lifetime ago. What was going through my mind, when I decided to become a professor? I no longer have access to that person; I can only assume she was kind of an idiot but I also respect her passion. And anyway here I am, grading papers just like I always dreamed.
It’s kind of sad that my life clearly seems very weird and boring to many people I know, and yet it is everything I always dreamed of AND MORE, and also it was INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO ATTAIN. Like, I had to strive for it. To the max, and with devotion and passion in my soul. And I’m still not very good at it and this haunts me and I strive harder each day to become even a tiny bit more good at it, and every little fragment of “more good at it” I become fills me with profound joy. And yet when I explain my daily life to people, many of them look at me with pity. I have decided to take pride in this fact. In an absurd world, only absurd actions are sane.
There are lots of things I dislike about teaching this huge gen-ed lecture class I teach every single semester, but one of the things I dislike is the fact that, because there are 200 students in the class and I barely see their faces, almost anyone I encounter in this town who is between the ages of 18-21 could be one of my students, and I wouldn’t know it. The person who sells me a used copy of House of Mirth I am for some reason buying could be my student. The guy who watched me trip and drop my keys as I crossed the street could be my student. A student could be staring at me right now as I shovel an entire order of nachos into my mouth and I would have no idea I was being evaluated in that way. One time I got a cavity filled and then went immediately to eat hot and sour soup in a local restaurant and halfway through my messy struggle to pour soup into my numb mouth I realized a fairly large group of my grad students was watching me. I am definitely getting more comfortable with being a lame freak of a middle aged weirdo but I will also say I am glad we consciously decided to live in a town 30 minutes away and full of farmers who don’t give a shit about this university.
“Africa” by Toto is a truly great song
So I have been growing my hair out and I can’t tell if it looks normal or actually crazy, and no one will tell you something like that, the truth I mean, and my husband is useless when it comes to matters of appearance, because he always says I look fine, which just statistically speaking can’t possibly be the case, which means I can never trust his opinion. He’ll tell me there’s nothing in my teeth even when there is indeed lots of stuff in my teeth. I can’t tell if he (a) always finds me enticingly beautiful because he is blinded by his love for me or (b) he is trolling me. Or (c) he’s just not paying much attention. The other night I told him it triggers me when he says “maybe I could make a soup” at 8:00 p.m. when I am starving and there are no groceries in the house, so now he says it every night.
Anyway I am growing my hair out. I haven’t shampooed my hair in at least five years, but during that whole time I had very short hair. It turns out it’s a bit more complicated when your hair gets longer; you actually have to think about it and brush it and shit. I bought a nice brush and actually researched the no-shampoo method and we’ll see what happens. My fingernails are also long. I feel like I am turning into a monster. The repetition of my days is starting to get to me. Do you know what I mean? Every day the same routine, the same actions performed in the same order, in the same way. Open the medicine cabinet, get out the toothpaste, put the toothpaste back in. Cook the dinner, eat the dinner, shit out the dinner. Write “Nice work!” on the papers. Say “I don’t know” in the faculty meeting. “Another day, another dollar; another dollar, another damn day–where does it all end?” I keep telling my students they’re all going to die someday; they always laugh.
Our neighbors were so delighted by the bird feeder we put up that they bought us a set of beautiful crystal goblets and left them on our porch with a big card in the shape of a chickadee in which they’d written “thanks for being such great neighbors.” Word to the wise: if you want your neighbors to like you, stick a bird feeder by their kitchen window! Now we talk every day about all the cool-ass birds in the yard. “SAW A BLUEBIRD THIS MORNING” one of us will yell while pruning some sort of bush or hedge in the yard. I love all our neighbors. We live around mostly retired people and this guy Bob who has these beautiful huge mastiffs he’s always out in the yard with.
SNOW AND NEIGHBORS
In New England when it snows a lot there is this whole culture around it. I imagine it’s like this everywhere that it snows; I just haven’t experienced it because in Colorado we didn’t live in a neighborhood but rather out in the middle of nowhere where there was no culture and no neighbors to speak of. So, when it snows here, first of all you wake up in the wee hours of the morning because the snowplows are driving down your quiet residential street going literally 40 mph and it’s completely terrifying, yet the sound also fills you with excitement because maybe school is canceled!! Which it rarely is. If it’s a pretty big or a huge snow, then the whole next day people are outside dealing with it. I think this is surely partly a product of having mostly retired neighbors? Because it really is like a 5-7 hour pretty non-stop management situation, which I hear on snow days when I stay home. I work in my office all day and all day the snow blowers and the scraping of the shovels continues. When my old man and I shovel the area that is generally considered to be our responsibility it takes like 20 minutes and we do a shitty but passable job. The neighbors, on the other hand, are out there carving these like beautiful geometrically perfect sidewalks. They have so many different tools, all propped up waiting their usage. Several of them have actual snow blowers, which, if you have never seen one of these, it’s kind of like a lawn mower in terms of its general size and decibel level. You push it and it sucks up snow and shoots it off to the side in a huge arc. Obviously snow blowers are superior to shovels in a variety of ways, although much worse in the sense that they are loud and gasoline-powered. However, unlike their shitty cousin the leaf blower, they REALLY do the job!
The neighborhood culture regarding snow is very fun. When it snows, you go outside the next morning, and all the neighbors are outside shoveling and jawing about it. You stand around leaning on your shovels, chatting about the snow. “Heard they got 15 inches up in Brattleboro,” that kind of talk. There is a lot of congenial complaining about the city’s snowplow drivers, who are generally held to be “maniacs,” an assessment I totally agree with. “Well, better get back to it!” you say, and everyone says “oh yeah,” and then you all go back to shoveling. But then! Sometimes a little magical elf comes and helps you without saying anything! One time we came home and someone (clearly Bob) had just blasted all the snow in our driveway back into our backyard, doing us a huge solid. Several times I have been outside struggling to shovel the sidewalk, and then I come inside to take a break, only to realize that one of our neighbors has come over and is using his snow-blower on OUR sidewalk or driveway! It’s so goddamn neighborly, I can’t stand it, I always wish I had cookies to bring out, although of course I never do. We also shovel the steps and driveway of our very elderly neighbor, Al. It’s just a lot of good old fashioned helping each other out, in this great New England way where no one ever says anything about it.
I am sure we have had our last snow for the year. It was a weird 24 hour sleet that was disgusting.
Crossing our fingers for our apple tree to bloom this year. OH MY GOD. I am so excited/nervous.
My old man is walking around with a puffed out chest and a shit-eating grin on his face because several months ago he dumped a pile of brush in the yard in hopes a family of carolina wrens would make their home inside of it AND THEY DID
It’s a long story but it turns out I’ve been accidentally overloaded on teaching for three years, and have technically been teaching a 4/3 instead of a 3/2 as stated in my contract. It’s actually terrible and I am really upset about it, but the upshot is that next year my teaching is being reduced and it’s going to make an enormous difference in my life. Just think, all this time that I’ve been panicking and saying “I don’t understand how people do this,” meaning write/publish while teaching full time, it turns out I’ve been teaching almost double what the other people in my college teach (the rest of our college has a 2/2). So I wasn’t just a piece of shit after all–it actually WAS too hard! I am intensely gratified by this. And also kind of proud, because I DID IT, I got used to it, and it was really hard but I did do it and also did get writing done also. And now next year will feel so amazing! Knock on wood. There is also talk of finally moving me into a real office, although tbh I will not count that chicken until it is not only hatched but grown up and thriving out in the yard.
I learned that restrictions on how university funds can be spent mean that although I am allowed to use my startup funds to buy a piano for my home, I have to have the piano delivered to campus, unloaded, checked off a piece of paper, and then a separate company has to come pick the piano up to take to my house. In conclusion: “I am not getting a piano.”
My old man got a book about how to build your own sauna. It’s full of pictures of naked Finns.
I put my rad sweater in the dryer and it shrank and I am going to mail it to my friend who is a small child in hopes it will fit him.
I am in one of these zones I get into periodically in which I dream vividly each night but only about extremely mundane things I already planned to do the next day. It makes me feel tired and confused. I will dream that I:
– graded all my papers
– emailed that student I’ve been meaning to check on
– tweeted a joke
– made coffee
– walked the dog
that sort of thing. Then the next day I have to continually confront stuff I thought I did already. What on earth
The other night my old man insisted on betting me that “Ned” is not a nickname for “Edward.” He obviously lost. We have been together fourteen years and I literally can not think of a time he has won a bet against me. This is NOT because I know everything but rather is a result of my betting style. “You are a very conservative bettor,” he agreed, chagrined at yet another victory on my part. I truly only bet when I know for a fact I’m right, which makes his insistence on continuing to bet against me either frightening or sweet depending on how you look at it. One time he bet me $150 that David Hyde Pierce was in the movie “The Ten.” He also bet me one time that there was an “s” in “Bobcat Goldthwaite.” I am making money hand over fist! Most personally lucrative marriage in history???
After losing this bet he challenged me to re-cast “Ghostbusters” using only actors named “Ed.” Here is my cast, I feel good about it:
– Venkman: Eddie Murphy
– Ray: Ed Asner
– Egon: Ed Begley Jr.
– Winston: Ed Harris
– Dana: Edward Norton
– Annie Potts: Ed Helms
– Lewis: Eddie Izzard
– Mayor: Edward James Olmos
OMG the bartender just yelled “THIS IS JESSE’S FUCKED UP PLAYLIST” and another bartender said “Oh no you can NEVER play Jesse’s playlist in here!” Everything makes sense now