Thursday, June 30, 2005


My mother urged me to pitch them, but I just couldn't do it. And so 42 empty tea tins have again made the move to a new state. The collection has grown a bit since the last move, and is a testament to a near decade of graduate school and teaching in places with blustery winters.

In this world of cardboard and plastic packaging, it's feels wrong to throw anyway anything made of real metal — i.e., not flimsy aluminum. (Thank goodness I don't like Altoids, or I'd probably have dozens of those tins spilling from the cupboards as well.) As for the tea tins, I've peeled their paper wrapping, which leaves me with 42 pleasing metal cylinders. But what to do with them? Does anybody out there have any creative ideas?

I imagined decorating these tins to transform them into some sort of wacky, but useful, homemade gift. I just don't know yet what that gift would be... At five inches tall (sans lid), they're just a little too tall for holding pens. They will hold a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, although the overall effect is awkward. And, anyway, I was hoping to come up with a more creative re-purposing than that!

I've thought about punching holes in them and turning them into candle luminaries. But, to shine brilliantly enough, the cylinders would need to be punched full of enough holes to turn them nearly to lace. I haven't any good idea as to how to go about that, or what sort of tool might do the trick.

Brilliant ideas, anyone? Or just a story to share about other odd stuff that you can't throw away?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

This House

I am not an architect, nor a student of architecture, but buildings have played a serious role in my life so far.

I had zero interest in my undergraduate alma mater… until I fell in love with its eclectic campus. I resisted moving across the country for graduate school… until I was charmed by the Twin Cities’ 1920s-era bungalows.

My beloved St. Paul house went up in 1909, but it bore layers of history from the 1930s and later. I used to lie on the carpet to admire its stained glass window and the gawky lines of its brass chandelier (complete with toggle button wall switch!).

In 1890, our Rust Belt farmhouse stood quite alone in the neighborhood, save for the company of an old horse barn. The garden soil still turns up horseshoe nails, plus the occasional bead from the jewelry artist who had once kept a studio there.

This house—or our little part of it — was strange to me at first. "I don’t speak late 1700s," or so went my private joke when we first laid eyes on this place. I was more overwhelmed than impressed by the house’s broad plank floors. I thought I would drown in all the dark wood. The four-foot-high fireplace looked as if it might swallow us. And what to make of the gravestones just beyond the kitchen windows?

This is a very strange house.

It has but one doorknob. All the other doors have latches.

The floors slope. Really slope. If I lift my feet and take my hands off this keyboard, my chair will roll backwards into the center of the room.

There used to be four fireplaces. We use the mantle of one as the headboard of our bed.

There is a ghost who, lightning quick, will lock you in the closet every time, even if you remember to kick backwards with one foot as you enter. Fortunately, the closet door has a latch on both sides.

At night, it gets very dark here. But I can walk confidently from room to room by following the cracks between the floorboards, which are illuminated by the basement light below.

I don’t speak 1700s, but I get a good feeling from this place. I'm surprised by how much it already feels like home. Whatever ghosts and stories may lurk here must be of the generous sort. Whatever history is made here will be our own.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Still Searching

I believe that everyone should have the right to her choices. But I can’t lie to you: this woman’s First Person column, about abandoning her career the minute she discovered she was pregnant, left me mightily depressed.

I’m all in favor of discernment, and if Hannah Goodwin now knows better what she wants in life, then bully for her. As she writes early in her piece:

Although I have the training and personality to be the type of person who puts her career above all else, I've discovered that, to my surprised relief, there are other things I value more.

But I felt a little dismayed reading the ways that she came to this discovery. Looking for the job was too inconvenient and time-consuming. The need to do phone interviews wasn’t feasible from an office she shared with six people. (Was there never another time in which or place from which to do such interviews?) But then comes the kicker: the main reasons that Goodwin was putting her own job search on hold were because she didn’t want to interfere with her husband’s job search.

As Goodwin writes:

In essence, I took the role of "trailing" spouse, preferring that my husband nail down his job first. The feminist in me was unhappy with that state of affairs, but not unhappy enough to make me get off my duff and go find a job. After thinking long and hard, I realized that although it is absolutely important to me to have a challenging job that I enjoy, my partner values the overall importance of his job much more than I do mine. Subconsciously I think I knew that. So I didn't feel justified in going out there and banging my drum, demanding that we move to a certain location so I could have my dream job and insisting that my husband follow.

It was at this point in the article that I felt the earth grinding slowly backwards on its axis. And thus commenced my silent screaming:

You “didn’t feel justified” going after your dream job and “insisting that [your] husband follow”? Honey, isn’t he insisting the same of you? Girlfriend, I just want to shake you and make you do a close reading of your own language. Do I detect fear? insecurity? ambivalence? Maybe even a little laziness?

One reason I’m so frustrated with Hannah Goodwin is that her situation is something like my own. I was a “trailing spouse” who let her husband “nail down his job first.” (God, I hate that phrase.) Like Goodwin, I reasoned that my partner “value[d] the overall importance of his job much more than I do mine.” But I’m here to tell you that that kind of other-directed-ness can come back to bite you in the ass. While my partner and I are glad for the extra time we’ve had together, we would also be the first to tell you that that time together wasn’t as happy as it could have been had we given equal — or even nearly equal —attention to my own undeniable need for meaningful work. I’m here to tell Hannah Goodwin that it’s not so simple to turn one’s back on one’s years of training and toil. For me at least, there was misery and mourning over my lost identity. It was a long, painful road to reconstructing and revising that identity and feeling again that I deserved the kind of fulfilling job that I had once declined to seek.

That struggle wasn’t just about a derailed job search. It was also about confronting my own fear, insecurity, ambivalence, and yes, laziness. It seemed a lot easier to be relieved of the things that scared me. If I never was put to the test on the market, then I never risked failure on it. Unfortunately, I felt like much more of a failure for having so blithely abandoned my own desires.

Goodwin refers to “the feminist in me” as being unhappy with her instinct to follow her husband. Again, everybody deserves to make her own choice and should not have to justify them to anyone living in a different skin. But I wonder why the feminist in her had no problem with the classic crunch for so many of us:

One of the reasons that I didn't want a tenure-track job in academe was because of the long hours involved at a time in my life when I was starting to think about having children. I feared the same would be true of work at a small start-up.

Yes. I can relate. But did you really have to turn down the possibility of a short-term consulting contract? Were there no creative solutions to be found, such as having your husband ask for a deferral on the start date of his new employment, so you could experience the consulting job’s tropical location together? And, if you didn’t like the idea of going to work pregnant, shouldn't we try to change the conditions that suggest a pregnant body is somehow embarrassing or unprofessional?

Goodwin concludes: I'm content at the thought of having some time off from work to prepare for our first child, and being able to spend as much time as I want with the baby without having to worry about when my maternity leave would end. And just like that, I learned what my priorities are: my husband and our child. My job search certainly didn't turn out the way I thought it would, but that's all right. It's good to make plans, but sometimes plans change.

I suspect that Goodwin will be very happy. I hope that she will be. Babies are, in the traditional sense of the word, awesome. Motherhood is a seriously meaningful job, one that doesn't always get the respect it deserves. And, indeed, it is great that Goodwin doesn’t have to worry about when her maternity leave will end. (At least assuming that her husband’s job stays solid and that both he and their relationship remain in good health.)

Sadly, though Goodwin also confirms one of my deepest fears about getting pregnant myself: that I will become a self-denying pod person who cheerfully sublimates my dreams. And who willfully forgets who I was or who I still want to be.

Let this be a lesson to me.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


We're about to walk into town in search of a brioche.

Adam has never had one. It's been over ten years (egads!) since I last tasted one in France.

The charming bakery of Alleged Utopia-ville has brioches on the menu. But they were long gone by the time we stopped in late yesterday, on a brioche whim.

We may be luckier today. But will they taste as good as I remember? Did they taste good then?

On good tastes: have discovered Brown Cow vanilla yogurt. Yum.

Too Many

In my freshman year in college, we had to read Jude the Obscure. I'm hazy on the details of that book, save for one: I remember wanting to hurl it across the room at the moment that Jude's children hang themselves to relieve their parents' desperate poverty. "Dun becos we was too meny," writes the eldest boy on the suicide note.

Oh, how I hated that book! And yet I find myself thinking of it lately when Adam and I discuss the problem of cats. We have three of them. (We used to have four, but one of mine went to live with my brother, where she has thrived as an "only cat.") Three cats were fine when we had a house. But, now that we are in a smaller apartment, near a busy street, and (still) trying to start a family, we are getting the sense that three cats are a little much.

Not that we could countenance giving up any of our boys (especially not G.!). Or I didn't think so anyway. But then a particularly blunt, and cat-loving, neighbor asked if she and her husband could adopt Love, our vocal Siamese. Adam consented with shocking alacrity; it was I who resisted and mourned, even though Love was technically Adam's cat. For three weeks, we guiltily lavished Love with all sorts of extra attention and treats. Then our neighbor's oldest cat became deathly ill, and she abruptly rescinded her offer of adoption. Love stayed in the family.

Love has a lover. Of sorts. A feral kitty roams the meadow behind the house. She (he?) has a tatty marmalade coat and watery green eyes. She was at first a ghost figure in headlights. From the edge of the meadow, she observed us with cool reserve.

Now she comes to the window. She stares up at our Love, who sits comfortable and well-fed on the sill. We were sure Love would howl, but, instead, he is silent. His blue eye starts to quiver as he watches Marmalade Cat watching him.

We worry that she is sick. We suspect she is some careless student's discarded pet. Imagining her as an abandoned animal makes me ache.

Adam sees what I am thinking. “It would be a bad idea to put food outside,” he says slowly, deliberately. “We can't adopt a new cat, because we already have too many.”

Yes, he is right. But I think of Jude's kids and say, "Shh."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Receding, Re-needing

You might think that I was making this up, but it's true: Yesterday, as we drove my parents around our new campus, new town, we passed a woman with a cello strapped to her back. I've seen cellists carry their instruments like backpacks before. (Indeed, I've done it myself.) But I'd never seen an electric, canary yellow case like hers.

"Yellow Cello," whispered Adam. I felt the corners of my lips turn up, but with only the vague comprehension of someone coming out of a dream. It's criminal, how happy we've been in this new state, this new home.

A lot has happened in the last three weeks. Packed the house, emptied the house, moved the house. Drove through the night. Woke up smiling in a new place. Hugged a lot. Cooked a lot. Grown accustomed to the bugs. Grown accustomed to the sloping floors. Welcomed guests. Blessed the past.

Time again to write.