Saturday, December 31, 2005

Yay, Lisa Whiteman! + Days 3 & 4 Report

One of the best things about having a broad mix of friends is that, through them, I can vicariously experience lifestyles, choices, and obsessions that I otherwise would never know. And if that's true in real life, it's even truer in the blogopshere. For instance, I can thank Lisa Whiteman for my imaginary life among artsy, insightful, and well-traveled Brooklynites.

Plenty of other people are fascinated by Lisa and her growing success as a photographer, too, which is why she was recently profiled here. Yay, Lisa!

We return now to Cello's far less glamorous life. Thursday and Friday's work/writing record was pretty lackluster. I logged but FOUR hours of really concentrated work on Thursday. (Pathetic. I also slept for two and a half hours on my yoga mat.) On Friday, I can't claim to have done any work at all, unless you count picking up ten books at the library. I dragged Benedict along for this errand. Or, rather, he dragged me. In fact, he literally dragged me off the floor at one point. Suffice it to say that the library is sprawling (3 buildings, 7 floors). Ungainy as I am right now, I am reminded anew of how accommodating the world is when one is able-bodied... and how daunting it is when one is not.

But I was a lucky pup, because how often does one get to run a library errand with a smart-as-a-whip librarian in tow? I'm back to work today, and more refreshed for Benedict's visit. Is it possible that Benedict is the family member who loves us the most? He drove a very long way through rainshowers, and then showered us with thoughtful Christmas presents. He's as witty as he is sweet, and is capable of transforming even the most mundane activities into something memorable and fun. I love my whole family, of course. But Benedict is the person I most hope lives very near us one day. I always get weepy whenever he drives away.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Squeeze (Day 2 report)

Five and a half hours. That's what I logged today between 8:20 and 3:15.

The bad news: That's 90 minutes short of my goal.

The good news: I can probably log those minutes tonight.

More good news: I slept for only NINE minutes today!

The bad news: I didn't write at all. Instead, I edited a contribution for a conference panel I'm putting together and talked to its author on the phone. For the manuscript, I spent a couple of hours reading, updating my sources, and re-reading my old work.

The good and bad news: A chapter that I thought was in good shape turns out to be awful crap. But at least I can see the project for what it is now. And—miracle of miracles—I'm actually finding the subject matter interesting again.

A final bit of good news: I hated that I had to leave work early today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


This was Day 1 of the industrious and single-minded Cello.

It went okay. And I'm happier tonight.

I didn't get to the office by 8. I got there by 9. And a detailed log of my activities showed that I accomplished six, not eight, solid hours of work. I stayed in the office until 7, because I also fell asleep on my yoga mat for an hour and a half.

On the bright side, I did get some major traction on my project. And I know I can do an even better job of concentrating tomorrow.

(This will sound pathetic, but I'm going to concede that there's nothing I can do about the napping. I'll just have to extend my office time to accomodate it. I always develop narcolepsy when I write, and it's actually a useful tool for swiftly processing material. But some of this sleepiness is no doubt pregnancy-related.)

I really appreciate the comments on that last post, btw. Bitch Ph.D., What Now, and Timna: hearing from each of you was extremely encouraging and motivating and helped me press on through the afternoon. Of course, admitting as much reveals that I did break my own rules and checked email a couple of times...

Day 2 begins in 8 hours. I have to get to the office by 8 a.m. tomorrow if I'm to log enough hours to be satisfied. (Tomorrow's goal: Seven uber-productive hours.) I'll have to leave work early tomorrow, so we can stop by at a neighbor's Hanukah Party before racing off to our Wednesday night childbirth class.

Monday, December 26, 2005

How badly do you want it?

In real life, I would never refer to myself in the third person. On this blog, I sometimes do.

And now I can feel a second-person address coming on. As in, "YelloCello, when are you going to kick your own butt? You talk about making your writing a priority, but you continue to let a million little things interfere. You agonize about what having a baby is going to do to your already tenuous academic career, but haven't yet taken full advantage of these dwindling, teaching-free months in which the kid is still in utero."

I spent about two weeks this past September researching an alternative career. One that would give me more job options and—what novelty!—a regular paycheck. So why aren't I already running in that direction?

It's the writing. I'd miss the writing. And a whole lot else about academia, too.

But let's face it. There aren't many opportunities here. The strikes against me are
1) My lack of a really fine graduate pedigree (or at least one that would be recognized in this region);
2) My apparent inability to be more than competent and pleasant in an on-campus interview, and
3) My penchant for slaving away on impressively administered projects for which other, more senior academics blithely take credit. (And my persistent naïveté in feeling surprised when they do.)

1) Tenacity (Or inertia. Or gullibility. I'm not sure which of these has kept me in the game this long.)
2) Publishers profess to like the way I write. I also love writing. (So why do I dedicate myself to it so infrequently?)
3) I really do work hard as a teacher, and consistently get positive results. (But I also get nervous and vaguely unhappy when students tell me I've inspired them to go to graduate school. And much as I despise the devaluation of teaching in much of higher ed — i.e., the "star" professors teach the least — I also recognize that I have internalized that screwed up hierarchy.)

It takes a certain type of selfishness to achieve a certain type of success in this business.

It also may require one to become kind of boring. And to give up a lot of things (interesting hobbies, frequent contact with family) that are, to me, central to what it means to live meaningfully.

Maybe I'm making excuses? Yeah, I've already heard the arguments about how that all can happen later, after tenure. And, yeah, I know there are energetic people out there who will maintain that an academic life has only magnified life's possibilities.

Maybe, if I could shake the hierarchy out of my head, it would be okay to slog along as a fringe academic. (And how "fringy" can I be, when I meet more people like me all the time?) Isn't it all worth it, to live a life that's built on reading, thinking, and curiosity? Isn't my cynicism just a product of the objections of well-meaning, but uncomprehending family members? or dominant, capitalist conceptions of what it means to be successful and productive"?

Or of my own lack of faith in myself? Or of my own certainty that I am undeserving of better?

I'm trying to self-motivate. Instead, I'm wasting time in the same mental circles I've traced ten thousand times before.

So I'm calling for a suspension of worry. For now. Starting now.

No thinking about anything save for the immediate goal at hand: the manuscript which may or may not broaden my options, but which certainly sickens me the longer it unfinished.

The manuscript which, paradoxically, has nourished me each time I've forced myself to return to it.

One goal for tomorrow: 8 hours in my office. 8 to 12, 1 to 5. No distractions. No excuses.

A tall order for this sleepy pregnant chick. YelloCello will report tomorrow on her progress.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas, Blogford Falls!

Adam and I made the radical decision not to travel this holiday, on account of:
- general exhaustion, of both our bodies and our bank account;
- 2 book manuscripts, due about 5 minutes before the baby gets here;
- that much-anticipated baby, whom family members are coming to see in February.

So we spent Christmas Eve with a pair of relative strangers from our childbirth class. They're new to town also, with families on the opposite coast. I think all four of us were surprised by how much fun we had together. Definite long-term friend potential there.

Adam also surprised me with a silver and amethyst necklace last night. I am so not a jewelry person and Adam is SO not a jewelry-giving kind of guy. But the necklace is beautiful... and, as Adam's note explained, represents the birth stone of our son-to-be. It's not a gesture I would have expected from Adam. But, then, I wouldn't have expected that I would have started bawling either. Adam wrapped me in a hug and said, "Aww. You're not going to cry, are you?"

I wore the necklace to bed. Am wearing it now, with my toothpaste-splotched pajamas.

G. acted kittenish all morning, frolicking in the wrapping paper and ribbon. Music-lover that he is, he's claimed the baby's new musical mobile as his own, and purrs as each of the mobile's little creatures swoop down to alight on his head.

It's been a happy morning, although we are missing our families today. Adam's busily uploading photos to send to them right now. And, huzzah!, Benedict is coming for a visit in a few days.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(And count your Christmas blessings, as this entry almost concluded with, "Blog bless us, every one!" Having scanned the sky for thunderbolts, and reflected on the relative merit of puns, YelloCello repressed her inner Tiny Tim.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Party time

Our attempts at socializing tonight failed. We drove to a party, only to find the host's driveway suspiciously empty. After a couple of drive-bys, we decided that we must have the wrong date. Either that, or everybody at the party had carpooled in just one vehicle. And everybody was ducking to avoid being seen through the curtain-less windows.

So we went to the grocery store. And thank goodness, because I would have hated to have put on mascara for nothing. Met another party-less couple, with whom we had a weirdly animated conversation in the check-out.

It's been a strange day all around. Had my first set of Braxton Hicks contractions, or at least the first set of detectable ones. One minute everything's normal, and the next minute it feels as if the baby has been replaced by an anvil. Ouch! Tonight, I'm feeling alternately nauseated and hungry. It's a replay of that first-trimester confusion, but with an additional sensation of bodily disintegration. My limbs feel twitchy and indistinct. Never mind restless leg syndrome. I have restless whole-body syndrome.

Meanwhile, the baby kicks and kicks and kicks and kicks and kicks...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Things I know before I know I know them

Sometimes my body is way ahead of my brain.

Take one small example: One afternoon, I had on NPR's music station, which had that day broken format, replacing classical music with selections from classic musicals.

Immersed in what I was doing, I didn't pay much attention to the radio. At least not until I felt seized with anxiety, and abruptly started to sweat. My brain noted this unpleasant sensation, along with the heart accelerating in my chest. But I had no explanation for it. Was I sick? What was happening to me?

Then I registered it. The radio. The station was playing the long overture from Carousel, a musical I'd not thought about since my high school had mounted a production twelve years earlier. The overture was nearing the moment when, in that production, I would have been readying myself in the wings, preparing to glide on stage on the unicycle I'd only recently taught myself to ride. In rehearsals, I'd had a generous amount of stage space to pedal around in. But, just before opening night, the stage crew had installed a giant carousel and barkers' booths that took up most of the stage. This pushed the crowd of actors forward... and left precious little room for a nervous unicyclist. As the musical cue for my entry approached, I clutched velvet curtains in one hand and my juggling pins in the other. Balanced on my bike seat, I stared a line of safety across the stage and willed. that. crowd. to. part.

Hence the heart palpitations. Triggered all those years later by a few bars of music.

(That story has a happy ending, at least. I never hit anyone. I navigated my little strip of stage and never fell off that bike.)

Yesterday put me in a bad mood. And so I thought I was overreacting when I spied the long screwdriver that a mechanic had left behind in our car. True, the mechanic had kept our car a day longer than planned, but that didn't justify the nausea and fury I felt at the sight of his forgotten tool. Shaken, I slammed the car door and fumbled for my housekeys. Don't be such a baby, I chided myself. So you've had a disappointing day. That's no reason to get so worked up over nothing.

And then I remembered why that screwdriver might be upsetting. I remembered broken glass and blood-soaked seats. It was the early 80s and my father and I had just emerged from a Phillies game. The Phillies had won and it was a delicious, bathwater-warm summer's night. I ran ahead of my father through the darkness of the parking lot and, in little kid fashion, playfully threw myself against our car's side door. That's when I noticed the window was missing. Standing on tiptoe, I peered over the door ledge and saw the bloody screwdriver. And the dark stains all over the car's tan front seats.

I can't report accurately on what happened next, save to say that my father must have done a boffo job of staying calm. He explained that the radio had been stolen and that someone must have cut himself on the screwdriver used to pry the radio out. He urged me to curl up on the back seat and drove us swiftly home. I vaguely recall the extra wind that blew through the car's broken window and (as I began to doze) my father's cheerful observations about how I could learn to play third base like Mike Schmidt.

And I remember one last thing. The annoying neighbor who came over to dinner a few days later. Who cracked a racist joke (sickle-cell anemia) that took me years to understand. And who said something else that struck fear in my second-grader's heart: "Will you be tested? What if you and your daughter caught AIDS?"

I don't remember what my father said to that. But it was many years before we went to a Phillies game again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rejection email

"I am very sorry to have to tell you that the Search Committee has decided to proceed no further with your application. Thank you for applying. We wish you well in all your endeavors."

It wasn't even the post-doc for which I'd had the most hope. I'm grateful to get the rejection sooner than later. And, as emailed rejections go, this one could have been a lot worse.

But then comes the call from A., ecstatic because a mutual friend for whom he wrote a recommendation letter has won Fabulous Visiting Lectureship. The same friend has also landed an interview at Prestigious University.

I am pleased. (Especially since I helped refine the recommendation letter before it went to committee.) This friend is deserving, and I am genuinely happy for him.

But I am sad for me. And I'm worried because I can feel my recently revived hope for an academic future start to flag.

Oh my God. I spent the better part of a month on that application. What was I thinking? What am I going to do next year? I've applied selectively for post-docs and portable money, on account of the baby and a commitment to live here in Alleged Utopia with Adam. I've politely brushed off suggestions that I find a job with a giant insurance firm which, a rep from Adam's university insists, is "a great place for working mothers." Never mind that the firm is an hour away, or that I would rather bleed from the eyeballs than work there. It alarms me that a career placement office would a) peg me as a good fit for the financial planning sector of that office; b) ignore everything I've ever told them about my ten years as a writer and teacher. In my weaker moments, I also worry: Do they know something about my prospects that I don't?

Trying not to get discouraged. Trying to summon resiliance.

A faculty mentor is going on sabbatical and will be abroad next term. But she just wrote to put me in touch with a colleague of hers, and has suggested I might get undergraduate support next semester for an archival project I'm working on. That's a hopeful thing, right?

And the post-doc for which I was just rejected would have required an on-campus interview had I made it to the final round. That interview was scheduled for a week in February which happened to conflict with my due date. So, heck, that's one more worry off my plate, right?


Sleep Aid

Love Kitty has never been one for cuddling. Until recently, that is. Adam has long claimed that Love loves armpit sweat. I tried not to think about this theory, or the fact of its development in Adam’s theory-boy grad school years, when he showered a lot less frequently than he does now.

I also try not to think about what it means that Love Kitty is lately drawn to me. Whenever I sit down with a book or curl up to go to sleep, we hear the staccato click of Love’s claws on the wood floors, and his happiest meow. If I’m lying in bed, he ambles up to my face so I can lightly scratch his ears and nose. Then he walks two or three backward circles, collapses with his back against my upper chest, and commences deep purring. I tuck the covers over us both and carefully adjust the arm I have tucked under the pillow, the better to let Love Kitty rest his head and forearms on the crook of my elbow.

And that is how we fall asleep. Me on my left side (the better to oxygenate the baby), and Love Kitty just under my chin and neck, like a warm and furry violin.

Monday, December 19, 2005

10 weeks to go (maybe)

30 weeks pregnant. My uterus now pushes up hard on my rib cage. In response to recent belly photos, my mother and mother-in-law each promptly sent me a poncho to cover my girth. I am a menace in the tiny aisles of our town's co-op grocery store.

A colleague lent me her enormous, horseshoe-shaped "body pillow." Which should be called a "half body" pillow for its resemblance to a pair of giant, white-clad smurf legs. The strategically pooled stuffing forms knee-knobs and a plush, smurf boots—the better to prop my mid-section and feet. In daylight hours, cats nestle contentedly in the smurf crotch.

I am very spoiled. Another friend brought me a cocoa butter stick to soothe the awful, "I-have-too-little-flesh!" feeling that signals another baby growth spurt. The stick smells like stale frosting, but I roll it on anyway, wondering if my "innie" bellybutton will ever return.

At 30 weeks, the baby's eyelids are no longer fused shut. I imagine him peering through my stretched navel, his peephole. "Grow, baby, grow." (That's what Adam used to whisper to my stomach.) And "Happy birthday, little boy." (Just a little while yet.) "A happy birthday to you."

He kicks so much and so vigorously lately. Already the biased parent, I read into these movements his exceptional intelligence, bravery, and joy.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


So is it weird to admit that…

The remnants of my favorite ginseng green tea with honey smell vaguely like cat urine? Or that onions on pizza smell to me like sweaty feet?

Cilantro tastes like soap, by the way.

But a laundromat’s sweet exhaust is alluring to me.


Our cats often give me a look that conjures my late grandfather Harold. Less frequently, one of the cats also channels my late grandmother on the other side. (Of the family that is. Although she is, technically, on the Other Side.) My grandparents appear not in the cats' facial features, but in their eyes (Nana), or in the position of their necks and heads (Pop-Pop). It's a very disconcerting, but also welcome, phenomenon.

Off to take a walk with my new neighbor, who called to warn me that she just saw the Johnny Cash movie last night. "And I have a terrible voice," she rasped. "So, whatever you do, don't let me sing!"

I'm tempted to encourage her.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

So little time

Paradox: When I blog more, I also write more in other parts of my life. (Including academic writing.)

Christmas struggles have mostly resolved themselves. Caught Adam humming Christmas carols ("O Holy Night" of all things), and said.... not... a... word. Our Christmas tree remains only partially decorated and we have yet to find a holiday music compromise. So, for now, we listen to the Cuban jazz station, and everybody's happy.

Paper writing crunch...has become a bigger paper writing crunch. Editor abruptly offered a reprieve on the deadline, and that was good AND bad news for busy, procrastinating Cello. New deadline: this coming Monday.

Since more frequent blogging = more frequent writing, let me resolve to write on the following this weekend:
- a "secret folder" in the archives
- surprise encounters w/friends and their startling revelations
- childbirth classes
- my furry, third lung

There's probably more, too. But I also want to catch up on reading other people's blogs, which I've missed in the recent hiatus.

P.S. Check out the marvelous Teaching Carnivale IV at New Kid's.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


"You're not going to get me to tingle."

That bizarre sentence fell from Adam's lips last night in the midst of a quarrel over Christmas. Blame intelligent design. At Adam's recommendation, I was reading Margaret Talbot's excellent New Yorker article on the trial to determine whether intellligent design will be taught in Dover, Pennsylvania. I expressed my displeasure for the tactics of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan (which gets mention in Talbot's piece). Adam responded with some observations about the "intimidation of the intellect" that goes on in organized religion as a whole, and lamented religious people's need for "consoling illusions like the afterlife." This lead to a discussion of miracles... which lead to a discussion of our respective family's religious orientations... which lead to a discussion of the rationality or intolerance of secular academics... which eventually lead to a heated and teary discussion about Christmas, which Adam and I will celebrate on our own for the very first time this year.

Actually, Christmas didn't come up until after we'd put the first part of our argument to rest, and had, against better judgment, brought in our first-ever Christmas tree in from the garage. Christmas tree stands are designed to bring out the worst in people, I swear, and never more so than when the people in question happen to be stressed out and exhausted.

We managed to keep silent during the struggles with the tree stand. And, given my girth, it was Adam who had to slither under and around the tree to tighten and re-tighten a dozen, ill-fitting screws. For myself, I had only to hold the tree upright and inhale its fragrant green. Which started to put me in a pretty good mood.

But, to Adam, Christmas is a sham. The "most fake of all the holidays." Most of what passes for the Christmas season depresses me as well, I will admit. I hate the crowds at the stores and supermarkets. I hate the ridiculous frenzy of useless material goods. And, okay, so I'm not especially enchanted with a lot of Christiantity these days. I still think it's a mistake to throw out everything that was and is good about the holiday.

To be continued...