Friday, October 29, 2004

Knock Knock

Why are there no jokes about academia? (Apart from the the dark, self-hating category of humorous novels that are set in academia, that is.) Shouldn't we start to invent some? As in, "So a professor walks into a bar..." Or, "Why did the adjunct cross the road?" And, "How many committee meetings does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

Unable to operate the fold-out handle technology on a tiny paper cup, I drizzled hot chocolate on my students' quizzes yesterday. Eep. Now that the cocoa has dried, they look particularly disgusting. At least this isn't as bad as the time that my cat quite literally puked all over a student's paper. As it turned out, the cat had accurately assessed the paper he victimized, but that didn't make it right.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sunshine on my shoulders

Things that made me really happy today:

* A "letter" from a really special former student, M.
I smiled at the name on the envelope. It's been ages since she and I last spoke, but we send emails and letters about twice a year. Today's envelope bore nothing but a scrap of torn wallpaper, on the back of which M. had written, "Cello, I bought a house! Here's the bedroom wallpaper — isn't it fabulous? Miss you! Hope you're loving [new state]!" Hee hee. I love that girl! And now I want to send her something creative for her new place. For the record, the wallpaper is far from fabulous. It's pink and green and purple and has raised, fuzzy stripes. It makes high-personality stationery, however!

• An early morning phone chat with my former adviser, E.
E. surprised me by saying ALL the right things about me needing to step away from teaching for a year "because you're not getting to use your full creative energies," "you need to stop getting exploited," and "you need to take care of YOU for a change." Oh, my. Those three assertions in a row might look a little melodramatic (especially the last one), but I felt such relief when she enunciated them. I also felt as if I'd grown wings when E. enthusiastically encouraged me to go forward with the couple of risks that I'd proposed for the coming year's publishing goals. During my grad school years (and during her own family problems), E. was my most harried and hard-to-reach committee member. But, today, she was beyond kind. I wonder if she knows how much hope she gave me....
(No matter the bad luck I had in grad school, I can't forget that I had three amazing women on my committee. One is a helpful hard-ass and one is an ambitious optimist. And then there's E. who has, of late, been both role model and spiritual guide. Yay! Go team! Thanks to them, maybe one day I'll get to carry their example forward.)

• Love punctuates the day
As I spoke with E. this morning, our Siamese cat lapped merrily at the condensation on my study window. In the window's damp fog, his tongue left row after row of tiny exclamation marks — all the better to coax in the rare autumn sun.

At last...

It had been so long since we had any. I was relieved I still remembered what to do.

I woke up this morning and smiled at Adam when I saw the signs. We don’t need a weatherman to tell us when the mood is right. Thank God! I’d been craving this for days.

Since it had been ages since the last time, I had to joke around a little. “What do we call this again, Adam? I know it’s a 3-letter word and it starts with ‘S’…”

Ah, that’s right. S-U-N!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

On November 2, remember...

Next Tuesday, please — think of the kittens.

(Found this at Goomba.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


While in graduate school, I sometimes forgot to be "happy-go-lucky" like this person. Silly, silly me. (Must... suppress... rage. Ah, New Kid's post helped.)

In months when my grad school research felt disordered, I took disproportionate solace in the then-new magazine, Real Simple. True, much of the magazine is a glorified sales catalog. It flatters its "busy women" demographic and offers "streamlining" solutions that just happen to require that you buy stuff. I'm aware of all this... and yet the magazine remains seductive. I'm taken by its fantasy of order — or, in some cases, the fantasy of the tantalizing possibility of order.

And there's no denying that I have learned some useful things from Real Simple. Many of these are domestic tips, such as how to bake a pie crust or how to fix a wooden table top that's been marred by a glass. (I read somewhere that Real Simple and magazines like it deliberately tap into the insecurities of the first generations of women for whom such domestic skills were not mandatory.)

But the most consistently useful feature in Real Simple is its recipes. Every thing I've ever made according to their directions has turned out very well. Much as I enjoy Cook's magazine, Real Simple does them one better in "teaching" their recipes so cleanly and concisely that I'm never overwhelmed by them. (Credit RS's soothing layout, and its economy of description.)

I'd never made a cheesecake before yesterday. But, as Professor B and Cheeky Prof rightly point out, it's not all that difficult. Here's the RS recipe that I followed, with solid results: (For the record, this worked without a springform pan. It had to, because I don't own one. And I garnished my cheesecake with Ghirardelli chocolate chips, which made it very pretty.)

Vanilla Cheesecake
• 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
• 4 eggs
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 Ginger Graham Cracker Crust (prebaked)
• 1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 325° F. In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add 1 cup of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and mix until well combined. Pour the batter into the crust and bake until set, 45 to 50 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and the remaining sugar and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the cheesecake, spreading it to the edge. Bake 5 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Tip: Run a sharp paring knife around the outside of the crust before releasing the cake from the springform pan. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the cake.

Ginger Graham Cracker Crust
hands-on time: 5 minutes
total time: 20 minutes
makes one 9-inch piecrust

• 2 packages honey graham crackers, to make about 2 1/4 cups of crumbs
• 5 tablespoons sugar
• 2 tablespoons ground ginger
• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the graham crackers to form fine crumbs. Add the sugar, ginger, and butter and pulse to combine. Press the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan, working the crumbs over the bottom and then up the sides. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool slightly before filling or according to your pie recipe directions.

Use for: Cheesecake, pumpkin pie, or any other favorite custard-pie recipe.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Day 2

Another glamorous day in academe:

Baked brownies. Baked 6 batches of cookies. Baked my first-ever homemade cheese cake. (Delicious, if I do say so myself.) Graded some papers. Taught two classes. And spent the next seven hours with two sets of freshmen. At my house.

By ten p.m., every dish in the house was dirty. Every remaining crumb of dinner and desserts had been boxed up and and sent back to the dorms. And the dining room table was piled high with pumpkin innards.

Many a jack-o-lantern was born in this house tonight. Other types pumpkin art, too. (Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the seeds are everywhere, everywhere under foot. We'll be finding them until Christmas.)

These students are not my regular students. The students said, "Thank you! Thank you! Good-bye!" And tonight I felt happy for having fed something beautiful.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


It was 1980 and my mother had just picked up a bunch of us neighbor kids from some event at the enormous public high school. My mom was a popular mom, and she bantered easily with the other children. Upon hearing the story of how the oldest boy had defended the rest of us in a confrontation with a scary high school student, my mother praised him heartily. "Eric, there's no doubt about it. You've got guts!"

I had never heard this phrase before, and it delighted me. Guts. I'd sung the "great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts" song with my school friends, but never had I heard of someone having guts in a way that made them tough and brave.

I cringe to think of what my daffy seven-year-old self did next. I leaned forward from the back seat to address my mother, because I just had to know: "Mom? Guts? Do I have guts, too?"

Note to self. So maybe that was a silly, self-centered question. Still, if ever a child asks me this question, the answer will be yes.

My mother chuckled. "No, Cello. Guts aren't your thing. Having guts means that you're bold."

I say back again, cheeks pink. No guts! And she'd said so in front of everyone.

Years later, when I was a successful pitcher for my softball team, my mother would praise me for having grace under pressure. "You wait until things look really bad, and then you show everyone your steely core."

Which would you rather have? Adrenaline-spiked, intuitive guts? Or a sharp and chilly, steely core?

This afternoon, it's been a struggle to conjure either one. It's another one of those "What am I doing in this business?" days. What do people out there do when they start to drown in self-doubt?

Or do the self-doubting ones self-select out of academe? I feel myself at the cusp of a Darwinian moment here. How best to steel one's brain against fear of failure? How best to guts out the academic hierarchy while searching for a more healthy standard of self-evaluation?

Day 1

Am awake. Feel as if my head has split open, but I'm awake. Getting up at 5:30 is easier in the summer months. Duh. Would smack my forehead right now, but the whole cranium hurts too much.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

(On a quest for) Perfect Timing

So many raggedy blog thoughts, so little time...

On sleep: I'm such a fan. Last night, I didn't get to bed until 1. This morning, I turned off the 7 a.m. alarm and didn't wake up until 9:30. (Ick. Had fifteen minutes to get ready for a 10 a.m. appointment with friends.) Both because of the work hours lost and the fact that my partner goes to his computer every morning at 6 a.m., sleeping in felt rotten. But there was no denying that physically I felt fantastic. Felt much clearer of head, in both the figurative and literal sense.

Adam and I used to be night owls together. We'd stay up reading until 2 or 3 in the morning some nights. That pattern changed a bit when I got a visiting professorship -- although, for a good part of that year, I was up late AND up early, pressed by a need to prep my new classes and to finish my dissertation. (Blech. That sleep deprived year, I'd almost rather forget.) Adam was on a fellowship, so he'd often stay up with me, but then he could nap in the afternoons. Now, let me not mislead you — I was no superwoman by comparison. On Fridays, I'd often collapse on A's sofa not long after my last class ended at 4 p.m. And I'd not wake up again until around 10 p.m., by which time Adam would had cooked us dinner.

Those were our patterns in that last, dreamlike year of grad school. When we moved here, I had a class to teach at 8:30 a.m. That didn't stop me from staying up too late the first semester (again, for the prep of a new class). Adam, meanwhile, abruptly disciplined himself into an early bird, forcing himself to be in bed by 10 and up by 6.

This new habit was disconcerting at first. "I don't know you anymore!" I joked, but I really wasn't joking. Being nightowls had been a significant part of who we were, and how and when we did things. (In our old city, it wasn't uncommon for me to go grocery shopping at midnight, for instance.) So, yes, this new Adam was odd to me. Also, in spring of last year, we had a shrinking window of hours in which we were both awake to spend time with each other. I often didn't go to bed until hours after Adam, and this got lonely.

It also got liberating. And here's why: In the wee hours, I was awake alone, yes. But that meant my work habits went blissfully unobserved. Getting up early connotes an industry that staying up late will never match. And lingering in bed only becomes a virtue if you have a buddy to linger there with you. Once Adam became locked into his "report-to-the-desk-at-6.a.m." routine, I started to feel like a slacker, no matter how many hours I put in at my own desk. Worse, I started to feel as if Adam controls the time spent working in this, the first living space that truly belongs to us both. And, worst of all, I started to feel he was the gauge of how well I spent my work hours. Certainly, he's never been judgmental about my patterns, but, let's face it, he has the authority of the institution behind him. No contest. I'm always the one teaching, advising, or making dinner for a gaggle of freshmen, as I must this coming Monday. Meanwhile, Adam is the one adding publication after publication to his CV.

Adam protects his time, he says. By implication, that means that my own time is... vulnerable? Abused?

This is not a post about being subjugated. I'm sensitive to that, ever since SOMEONE (hint: he gets up each day at 6) blurted that my subjugation is my own doing. I don't protect my time, he said. I say yes to people and things I should blow off.

Unfortunately, the first thing I want to say no to is his example. I might consider getting up at 6, but that would be humiliating, because 6 a.m. belongs to him. (Does that sound petty? Or does that make sense?) I also function poorly at 6 -- and am loathe to drink all the caffeine that Adam consumes to keep alert.

I definitely miss Adam when he's out of the house, but, because he is so rarely gone, I also can't deny that time — that is, the work-at-home time — feels more my own when he's not here. In those infrequent occasions when he is on the road (as he was earlier this month), I long for his presence on a personal level. But on a work level? Where work is concerned, I can relax more when he's gone. I am eerily efficient. I get more written. I get everything accomplished in less time. Tell me, why is this so? I've always believed that women without familial obligations tend to achieve more. But I don't even have children. And I have a partner who's become quite good about divvying up the household labor. So what's wrong with me?

Experiment: From now until next Saturday, I'm going to do a little experiment. I'm going to rise at 5:30 each day (the blog stamp will tell if I'm succeeding or not) and be in bed by no later than 11. This won't be a permanent pattern, but one that will be necessary in a final crush of deadlines this week.

Why 5:30? In the past, when the cats have awoken me at that time, I've always been able to get my head together pretty quickly. It's an oddly alert time for me, if I'm shaken out of sleep. The same is true of 3 a.m. Go figure. But, if the alarm goes off anytime between 6 and 8, I'm sunk.

This week, caffeine and chocolate will be my very important friends. Just so long as I don't go crazy. Will try to keep alert with exercise as much as possible. Afternoon naps are allowed, too, so long as they do not stretch beyond 1/2 hour. Such naps are crucial because I know myself, and I know that I often work out writing problems in my sleep.

So, I'll try this new pattern and see how it goes. I don't want to get too uptight about it, but I also can't deny the fact that there is quite a lot at stake this week. And, no, it doesn't help that I live in one of the most depressing, overcast parts of the world. Wish me luck, okay?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Domestic Culture, or A leaky room of her own

On Monday, we found streak of mold growing in the back of our closet. Apparently, an errant shelf screw had found not a wall stud, but a bathroom pipe. (Oops!) So much for the elaborate closet system that Adam and I proudly installed all by ourselves last fall. We called a plumber. We called a carpenter. We whacked out the rotten bit of drywall and draped hanging clothes all over the house.

I carted off the photo albums. (Thankfully, these weren't damaged, but they'd been doing a boffo job of hiding the streak.) I sat at my desk and tried to calculate what these emergency repairs might cost. Staring up at the ceiling, I decided my estimate was too low. Because there, in the ceiling plaster, was proof of a giant new leak.

On Tuesday night, I was alone and lonely and our farmhouse was awash with ghosts. Like mute party guests, they floated in corners, wearing my slacks and Adam's suits.

Unnerved by the silence (and the leaks), I blasted this CD and was startled by how quickly the ghosts and the anxieties disappeared. The right song and a pair of high-heeled boots moved me to dance, first in the kitchen, and then all over the house.

Was feeling giddy, feeling tall. Feeling a little crazy. And deeply, deeply happy.

So that's my writing formula this week: Boots. EFO. Inexplicable energy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

This was supposed to be a post about shoes

A "girly" thing I never got: Horses.

Never could understand the fascination with horses. Sure, they're very beautiful animals. But the only horses I knew were the poor old things made to drag tourists around and around Philadelphia. Maybe that's why horses make me sad. To me, a penned-up horse is a melancholy object—both on account of the dejected specimens plodding around the city and on account of my childhood memories of Tammy, a neighbor girl with an expensive set of plastic horse models.

Tammy loved to put me to work building elaborate fences and jumps for her miniature equine fleet. This labor completed, Tammy would toss me the Palomino she no longer loved, because it had tumbled off a shelf and lost a leg. She’d adopt the role of the Black Stallion and would "gallop" away, shouting, “The stallion is loose! Chase me! Chase me!” Since the plastic horse in her hand wasn't much of an actor, Tammy would whinny and snort as she tore off across the park.

Tammy laughed at my entreaties that we play a different game. “I’m not Tammy!” she’d tease, stamping a hoof and shaking her mane. “I’m the stallion, and it’s your horse’s job to try to catch me. But your horse is slow. And the stallion is the fastest in the world. So your horse eventually will die. In a little while, we can pretend that her heart explodes!”

You had to give it to Tammy for drama. But I was better at recognizing bad employment situations back then.

Unwilling to subject the Palomino to further indignity, I laid her gently on the grass and walked home. I thought I heard Tammy sputtering in my wake. But it was only the Stallion, strutting his freedom.

Monday, October 18, 2004

On this cold Monday morning...

...I'm wishing for I could do a "freaky Friday" with the kitty cat, who's still curled up on the bed.

That way, he could stumble to my desk in the dark, after just five hours of sleep. And I could stay nestled serenely among the bedcovers, to await the sun.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Conversations with my Mom

A few months ago, my mother shocked me with the news that she is voting for Kerry. She's since promised that Kerry definitely will win. When I expressed worry about Pennsylvania's and Ohio's electoral votes, she promised that both states will tip Democratic.

I really, really want her to be right.

And, no doubt about it, I really love my Mom. She's intelligent and generous to a fault. She also can rile me like nobody else.

For example, she's told her friends that she feels "trapped" between her FOX-watching husband and her NPR-listening daughter. She's intimated that FOX and NPR are equally distorting, a logic that leaves me equal parts befuddled and incensed. And so I had to laugh when, during a recent phone conversation, she said, "You know, I listen to way too much NPR and it's giving me a negative outlook on the world. That's why I should really cut back on my radio listening so I'll be a happier person." She paused, expectant. I paused too, wondering whom I was talking to. My mother rarely listens to NPR, so her confessional made no sense.

Finally, I said, "Mom, are you trying to offer some sort of instructional allegory?" She muttered something about the unpleasantness of talking politics and hung up.

The next time I phoned my parents' house, the call wouldn't go through. A robot-woman informed me that "The number you have dialed does not accept blocked calls. Please hang up and try calling from a different number." Huh? We don't have a blocked number, so this came as a surprise. I imitated the robot-woman's spiel for Adam: "The number you have dialed does not accept blocked calls. Please hang up and urge your brother to phone your parents, as they would much rather speak to him."

So, yesterday, I called Mom again, this time from a cell phone, outside our doctor's office. Ten days ago, my period failed to show. Six home pregnancy tests declared me not pregnant, but my abdomen seemed to disagree. Once it had swelled to strange and painful new proportions, I got nervous enough to call a doctor.

"You're probably pregnant," said the nurse I saw on Wednesday. "Don't you want to be pregnant?" Then she frowned at the urine and bloodtests that came back negative.

"Don't you want to be pregnant?" asked the doctor who examined me on Friday. He prodded my puffy belly, and I tried not to scream.

Verdict: ovarian cyst. But only a sonogram next week will say for sure. I phoned my mother to ask about her own experience with ovarian cysts.

"You're probably pregnant," she said happily. "Don't you want to be pregnant?"

As patiently as I could, I explained how impossible that was. But over-the-counter home pregnancy tests only became available in the late 70s, and so my mother had never used one. "Those home tests can't be all that good. It probably takes about a month before they can pick anything up, right?" When I told her how some of the tests detect traces of the hormone hCG as early as the day before one's period, she said, "Oh!.... Well, don't let them cut out your ovary until you get a second opinion!"

Several hours later, I started to bleed. Copiously. I'm crampy as can be, but glad to see my abdomen returning to normal. According to the doctor, this is the best thing that could happen with a cyst — that it would resolve itself and my cycles would return.

Meanwhile, my mother has decided that I would feel better if we say that I had a miscarriage. "You were sick earlier this month, so it probably wasn't a viable time. But you're getting closer!"

Yeah. Closer to a bizarro world in which a lost pregnancy is somehow better news than a resolved ovarian cyst.

Still, maybe Mom and I can both have our way. A grandchild AND President Kerry in '05.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

More misery from the Chronicle

I did not write this, but several of its sentiments — especially those about "corrosive effects" of adjunct work — fell from my own lips last night.

"Why do I do this?". (<--No Chronicle subscription required for access.)

Thank you, Lucy Snowe. I'm sorry it has to be this way.
It shouldn't have to be this way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Plight of the humble me

There are days when I feel like such a dupe. There are days when colleagues (but they're not really my colleagues, are they?) grow petty and cruel. It could be ego or simple thoughtlessness that makes them flash their claws. I don't know. All I know is this: In a forest full of predators, it's a shame to be the rabbit.

"Okay, then. What do you want?" asks Adam. "What would you prefer to be?"

For a moment, I'm quiet, pondering stripes and talons. Then the answer comes, and it is so pathetic I start to cry.

"I want to be.... an inedible rabbit."

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Carrot Soup (6 servings)

This is a corruption of the recipe that appears in The Joy of Cooking, but it's a good corruption, in my opinion. Ah, happy accident. Happy distraction. Happy dish for a cold night.

• 4 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (Pacific Organic stock is well worth the extra money. As a lax vegetarian, I recommend using Pacific's free-range chicken stock for this recipe, as Pacific's veggie stock has an overpowering flavor.)
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 or 2 heaping teaspoons peeled, FRESH ginger (No powdered ginger or dessicated root that's been in your freezer for years.)
• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
• 1/2 cup white wine
• 1 cup fresh orange juice
• 1 1/2 pounds of carrots, chopped
• 1 block silken tofu (optional, for protein) or 1/4 cup milk

Heat 1/4 cup broth and 1 tsp. butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat until the butter is melted. Add the onion, ginger, and curry powder and cook, covered, under tender but not browned (about 5-10 minutes). Stir in the rest of the stock, the white wine, and the carrots. Cook for about a minute and then add orange juice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots are tender — about 15 minutes. Puree the soup (a puree-ing wand tool works best), adding either the milk or the tofu if you want the soup to be creamy. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Curmudgeon on Campus

It's official. I'm becoming a curmudgeon.

The other day, I ranted about how ticked I get at some students' cavalier attitudes toward alcohol poisoning. Today I must report on a student's baffling (to me) T-shirt.

So, we're having a surge of gorgeous fall weather and, naturally, the students on my campus have reverted to summer wear. It's hot enough for it, and I've envied them their freedom to wear shorts to class.

I'm less sure what to think of the student who yesterday came to campus wearing a mini-skirt and a brown T-shirt printed with the words "NO UNDIES" in bold orange font.

I don't want this to be the blog that thinks too much about undergarments. But what is the purpose of such a slogan? Do I read it as a statement of the wearers' politics (i.e., a variation on the "No Nukes" slogan)? Or am I to be forgiven for doing a slight doubletake and then thinking, "Hey, suit yourself, girlfriend. But that's a little more information than I need."

Thursday, October 07, 2004

You are Not a Hero

[New Kid's recent post on James Waite's First Person column and "academic boozing" reminded me to blog on this related topic.]

At least once a semester, I get the following excuse from a student, who, so far, always happens to be female:

"Sorry I had to miss class. We celebrated my roommate's 21st birthday last night and, you know, I had to take care of her. [Giggle.] We were up all night in the E.R."

The student will smile conspiratorily as she tells me this. She is certain that she has been a hero, and glad for the chance to tell her professor about it. She is confident that the professor will praise her for her responsibility, her noble self-sacrifice.

What I'm thinking is: "How could you be so stupid? You are NOT a hero. You are not even a friend. What kind of person lets her friend drink so much that she has to be hospitalized? What kind of stupid students drink to that kind of excess on a Wednesday night? (Or on any night of the week?) And what kind of f*cked up logic were you using when you decided that an alcohol-induced health crisis constitutes a normal and even meaningful reason for missing my class?"

What comes out of my mouth is: "Okay, well, I'm glad your roommate survived. Keep track of your absences, because they detract from your final grade."


Ugh. Feeling so hopeless and lazy and uninspired tonight that I'm contemplating (for the hundred trillionth, zillionth time) what it would mean to leave academia. The classes I'm teaching are going very well, but I'm having trouble regarding their subject matter as important. (Important enough to be my life's work, that is.)

Am having fantasies of working in public health, or for health insurance reform, or in "alternative energies" research. Anything that would be more meaningful and less exploitative. Anything that let me earn a better wage and that is less emotionally taxing. (No laughter, please. I've just spent the better part of today and yesterday with twelve lovely freshman, but now I'm all out of love.)

Despite my bravado of a few months ago, I really don't want to live apart from Adam next year. What kind of opportunity would make that conceivable? And how likely is it that such an opportunity will be mine?

Ugh. Ugh. Ugly intertia. Flavored up with a gummy serving of self-doubt.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


I once had a disagreement with Sister Maria, my diminutive high school religion teacher, over the existence of hell. "If God is benevolent, then there can't be a place of eternal suffering," said I, the sheltered-high-school-senior who knew that all of life was sweet. Sister Maria's hands fluttered to her face. "Oh, Cello! Cello, don't say that. Hell does indeed exist."

Years later, I decided that Sister Maria wasn't so much cowed by religious doctrine so much as she was aware — through her work on behalf of political prisoners — that hell may indeed exist here on earth.

Years after that, I discovered what one version of my own life's hell might look like.

The dream always starts with my shock at finding him in the house. Then comes the chilling realization that, in fact, the space is his and mine, and there's no way to get him out. He makes overtures of physical affection. (The very thought makes me retch.) And, most horrifying, he seems to have displaced Adam. Panic rising, I covertly seek Adam out. This means I must feign distraction, make excuses, and twist away from the massive, soft-bodied man who lumbers and lurks like a trickier version of Frankenstein’s monster.

Where is Adam? In the dream, he’s stuck in history, and I’m frantic to dislodge him. I clandestinely dial his Minneapolis apartment to remind him of the life we’re supposed to have started five years ago. The monster knows this, and finds it delicious. In some dreams, the monster is content to leer at my unhappiness. I watch with disgust as he stoops, awkwardly, to peel off a sock. In other dreams, the monster bellows in a fury, having found some evidence of the life I haven’t forgotten. He charges me with raised fists and chuckles when I flinch.

The evidence of Adam — a bicycle, a new university address — always appears late in the dreams, just before I wake. Maybe the evidence is conjured by desperation? “This is not how it happened,” I tell the walls. "This is NOT where I live."

I jolt awake, clammy with sweat. I would have killed him. Not in real life perhaps. But, in the dream, I’m absolutely ready to murder the monster for what he’s taken away. I wobble my way into the kitchen, woozy on fumes of that uglier self. Then I wobble a bit more, in the rush of waking relief.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Real Recipe

As my brother said, "I would not eat that, not even if I were on Fear Factor."

Kitty Litter Cake.

Woke up, fell out of bed...

I have a friend who hates the Beatles. So I hope he'll forgive me when I compare my present state of my mind to the cacophonous crescendo near the end of "A Day in the Life." A slow-mounting tsunami of deadlines and toil now threatens to flatten me with its wall of unforgiving noise. As in the song, there will be a crash to silence by month’s end. But the post-crash hum won’t cease til mid-December.

I need to remind myself that “this work is a pleasure, this work is a pleasure.” Optimism hasn't yet lost the battle to despair. But I also fear that I can’t work fast enough. Can’t focus hard enough. Can’t put off sleep enough to do all the things that I need to accomplish in the next 20 to 30 days.

Still—when I read over that last paragraph, a little voice in the back of my head whispers her defiance. “Watch me!”