Monday, March 28, 2011

Revise. Re-vision. Envision. And Compromise

Last Friday I had a meeting with my advisor about my dissertation revisions.  Before I talk about that, let me back up a bit.

Normally what people do is take their general exams, then if they pass they write a prospectus.  Once the prospectus clears, then they write a dissertation.  The dissertation goes first to the advisor, then there is a revision.  Then it goes to the committee as a "reading copy" and a month later, the committee meets with the candidate and it's defended.  Successful or no, that's how it goes. It usually takes 3-500 semesters.

I defended my general exams last semester.  This semester I wrote and defended my prospectus. I also wrote my dissertation. One hundred-ninety pages to be exact. It's not perfect; it needs work.  Nothing I couldn't do in a week.  Seriously.

So I met with my advisor.  And he said it's the feeling of the committee that I need more time with the material.  He gave me some ideas.  I respect those ideas; they are good advice.  But nothing I couldn't do in a week and I could have gotten them to my advisor and the committee in time to defend this semester.  But it's not to be.  I wasn't really told why; I'll have to make an inference that two semesters isn't cool with the committee as far as graduating with a good product (the dissertation) is concerned.

I am disappointed.  I wanted to finish up and be done.  But graduating over the summer won't be a big deal. I can still, if I want to, do the hooding ceremony at graduation.  I can still get a job if I'm sure to be done by August.

It seems to be the year I learn to compromise, and to figure out which things are my principles and which are my ego.  Rather than looking at this as failure- I did everything I knew to do- I'd rather look at it from the standpoint of working with the world as it is rather than as I wish it to be.  I'm a work in progress.  Maybe I can have patience with me too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


My Grandma died on Thursday morning.  The day before her birthday.  This was far from unexpected and Grandma was never alone; my sisters, mom and aunt and uncle kept a constant bedside vigil.  My mom says that practically the whole town came by Booker Annex Rest Home to say goodbye, from her hairdresser and the laundry person to friends and family.  In my mind, I imagine instead of a requiem, a quiet, loving and happy send-off.

A few years ago at Thanksgiving, I took a picture of her at the dining room table, talking to my sister Patti. She's telling a story and they (and I) are having coffee.  The dishes are done after supper, Grandpa and the men are in the living room watching sports, and the kids are playing in the bedrooms or outside.  Grandma is wearing one of her many gingham blouses.  There are other women in that kitchen and even more running around wrangling children.  The teenagers are doubtless out in the pasture somewhere away from adult eyes, not doing anything bad, just figuring out to establish their own identities.  I hope they look in the sheds in the trunks and bins and discover all the things we discovered when we were that age- farm equipment, leather goods and strange contraptions that don't work anymore.  So I took this picture, not really thinking of how important it might be to me someday.  Just my Grandma and my sister Patti, doing what we do. Weaving a tapestry of love one thread at a time.

I talked to Patti on Friday.  We expected to feel a huge hole in our lives, in our hearts.  This is the end of an era for us.  Both of our grandparents are gone now and the woman who was the rock of our family and the example we often follow in matters of kindness and compassion, is gone.  But we had had time to prepare.  I spent time with Grandma at Christmas.  Patti was there last weekend.  There was never anything left unsaid.  We both used to just call out to Grandma and Grandpa's house to say hello because we knew they would answer and we could say "I love you", " How are you?" and "I will see you soon".  Some days it was all talk about the weather.  It didn't matter. We stored up those memories and took those actions in preparation for the days to come.  For these days that have come.

I miss my Uncle Vernon, my Grandpa's  little brother. I miss my Grandpa and I miss my Grandma.  They taught us, through demonstration, how to be a family and how to care and cooperate with one another.  Grandma left something behind for us in the faces and actions and love reflected in her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even her great-great-grandchildren.  Hopefully this legacy is one we will pass on as well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


So I'm living in the middle of nowhere and the biggest business in this two-horse town is the Walmart.  It's always busy there and believe me, short of sunrise, I'd rather go any time of the day when there aren't people. They're like zombies or something.  Walmart in Maine isn't much different than Walmart in Kentucky or Oklahoma.  There are always going to be people who don't brush their hair, teeth or armpit hairs before leaving the house. But enough about me..

Ada is pretty quiet.  Even though I live on Stadium Drive, on campus, and it's the busiest street with a couple thousand students a few stone's throws away, it's still more quiet than Berry Rd in Norman.  I don't know if that's because it's truly less traffic or because I live in a concrete cell block, but nonetheless, not a lot of noise.  My neighbors and I seem to have an understanding that peace and quiet are all we need.  No talking, no borrowing cups of sugar (Ok, I don't have any actual sugar and I barely know what to do with that shit other than to lend it to people.  What am I gonna do, bake?!). Just quiet.  We are all single women.  Two of the three apartments on my floor are occupied; the other is not.  Nobody downstairs as far as I can tell. Just me and them.  And across the complex in the other buildings are my students.  Lots and lots of them and they never come near.  I think they worry that I've got some evil den going on or that I'm somehow incapable of discussion outside of a classroom.  It's let me get some work done, that's for sure.

Every time I go somewhere, I think "I'm not staying, I shouldn't meet people or get attached".  So I tend to engage in solitary activities and anyone who knows me knows I already enjoy this.  I like walking in the little park by my house- to the park, around the lake and home is two miles.  It's a nice little jog on a sunny Spring day.  I also run or do the stairs at the track on campus.  It's roughly 200 steps from my door.  I can, if I want, go to the little fitness center on campus.  Only problem is that I'm pretty sure that I'm not going there.  I imagine this scenario:  I'm sweating, using some elliptical and listening to the Offspring on my little iPod.  I get interrupted by a student wanting help on his next assignment.  Another wants to know what's due tomorrow. And another who didn't make office hours but knows that I'm on campus and of course I will talk to her.  Meanwhile my mascara has run because I didn't go wash it off first and I'm sweating and smell almost as good as a warthog in heat.  Awesome.  Yeah. Not going there.

I thought I'd dwell on a few positive things.  You know, to cheer me up.  It's kinda lonely in the concrete bunker.  And I get sick of self-pity and being freaked out about how things didn't get the way I wanted them to.  Things go all wonky all over the world and in much worse ways than I have to deal with so i'm just going to get over it.

Today I'm going to be grateful. Way grateful that I have been given the opportunity to write a dissertation.  Not many people are that lucky (or even care. Or think it's cool, or think that I'm cool for wanting to.. ).  And grateful to Kimberly Stormer who met me at the library last week for a pep talk and a read-through on my work.  She gave great and timely feedback and showed me pictures of that gorgeous little girl of hers.  And Cathy who kept my dog Big for weeks and chauffeured him to the vet and back.  And met me for coffee and a pep talk and another read through.  I need lots of read-throughs.  And both of those amazing women looked me in the eye and said that it's going to be ok.  Actually, Kimberly said that I was not a normal white girl, but I'm sure she means that she believes in me.  My friend Greg read the whole thing and gave me written feedback in only a day.  And he sent me a text that said it didn't suck.

Valerie helped me move in and she and my cousin Christian both hung out with me for St. Patrick's Day.  It was awesome, low-key and fun (and normal, ha!) and sane.  I get messages all of the time from my friends- have a great day, thinking of you, please get done with that piece of writing because we want our friend back- you know, encouragement, by text or Facebook or email.  And I've really appreciated that. Hell, this afternoon, my friend Dan put on a Superman cape and flew to my rescue as I melted down over pagination.  Seriously, I emailed it to him and he emailed it back to me ten minutes later. All better.  Made me cry, but don't tell him I said that.

My Grandma is dying now, too.  I found out that it's a matter of days.  Actually, I found out as I was writing chapter 5.  I saw her at Christmas up in Washington state and I considered flying up there just to say goodbye one more time.  The thing is that she knows I love her and my uncle, aunt, sisters and their children are all there too. And my mom.  And our pastor.  They say that I should concentrate on this and on being here in this moment and that's a hard thing to do.  But again, I'm really grateful that my Grandma is surrounded by people who love her and care for her. She's a loving person and has always been well loved in return.  She has good karma.  Of course, she could cut you- make no mistake. Do not get on her bad side.  The good part about that is that it's pretty hard to get on her bad side. It can be done, but it takes some doing.  I have gratitude even in this, because if anyone deserves a little grace, it's my Grandma. And later, it will be us who love her who will need it.

So thanks, friends, for your support and encouragement in scary times and for rooting for me on the whole dissertation thing.  I think I'm ok if the whole thing blows up. So thank you, Valerie and and Cathy and Kimberly and Liz and Matt and Matt and MattMatt, and Luke and Greg (and Greg), and Samantha, and Davie and R.E. and Veronica and Brook and especially Shellie (OMG you are so funny!) and Jeff and Orinda and Elissa and Daren and Mitch and Tammy and Joe and Hassie and Jackie and Hayley and Matthew and Damian and my cousin Christian (yeah, cuz you are my friend too) and Joe and Tafv and Steve and Staci and Sandra and Britton and Dennis and Sabrina and Shelly and Mandy and Jen and Jen and everyone else that I forgot.  Damn!  How did I get so lucky?

Ok, I do have to go here: the worst case scenario is me sitting in a room with 5 committee members and them telling me how awful my project is and that I will never make it and I should just give up.  And somehow in there I am naked and wearing my nerd glasses with tape on them.  And braces. I've never had braces or needed them.  But I'm good, just in case that does happen.  I hear it's not too late to become a bartender.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land

I guess it's been a minute since I wrote a blog post.  Blink too much, you'll miss your whole life passing by.

Suddenly, the world changed and I have changed with it.  New location, new direction.  I'm just not sure what that is yet.

I moved.  It's never really been traumatic for me to move before. I've always gladly said goodbye to wherever I was and went on to the next place.  But this time, leaving my home for a new and temporary destination, was more difficult.  Here is what happened...

The commute was killing me.  Seventy two miles every day, there and back.  One hundred forty-four miles a day, five days a week, twenty times per month.  It takes a toll.  I have three months left of school and I need to finish my dissertation.  I made a deal to rent my house to some friends and passed my prospectus defense.  The same day, I found out that I would not be renewed at East Central University for next year.  That means that in May, I will become unemployed if I don't do something about it.

Stop. Breathe in.  Figure out what is important and what to do next. Slow down.  Feel the fabric of the collar on my neck.  Listen to the blood rushing past my ears.  Eat something at some point.  Let cool water run past my tongue and down my throat.  Swallow.  Breathe out. Figure out what steps to take next and what is most prudent.  Trust that there is a plan somehow and I just don't know what it is.

I was going to rent an apartment for six months that would let me have my dog and cat.  I need to concentrate on my dissertation.  I have to get that done.  A place close to the college until school lets out is a good idea.  But I won't be here for six months.  That went out the window.  Why stay in Ada when I am not working there?  I'd have more luck in the city.  That's where my contacts are.  That's where my best chances of employment are.

I ended up asking my friends to take care of my Big Dogg for awhile, and sneaking my cat into married student housing at the university.  So here we sit, in a cinderblock apartment painted a god-awful color of eggshell white.  Right on campus.  When the apartments are inspected, it becomes "bring your kitty to work" day.  I do laundry downstairs with all of the other tenents- many of whom are my students right now.  Truly there is no bonding experience like folding my underwear next to someone's hyperactive toddler and discussing the next essay.  I see my cool students at Walmart in the middle of the night and tell them stories.  I've always felt more at home in the late-nite community than the daywalkers anyway.  I go jogging around the little tiny pond next door to my apartment and see yet more (surprise!) students and their families.  Yes, I sweat and run and look like crap right in the presence of those same people I'm expected to look professional in front of.  I just keep my head down and try not to say anything.  Eleanor is a trooper, by the way.  She doesn't complain and sleeps and cuddles and sometimes gives me crap for being late with dinner.  She bugs the shit out of me in the middle of the night, trying to get me to give her even more canned food  than she normally gets.  I'm going to start locking her out of the bedroom at night if it gets much worse.  Ok, who are we kidding? She claws the shit out of my neck until I either pet her or make her go away as gently as possible.

I'm living a dual life somehow, with one foot in Ada and one in Norman.  I'm taking Big to the vet on Saturday, for his annual vaccines, then to get a haircut because my Gawd that dog is a hairy beast.  And I'm going to have coffee with a friend, a nice normal friend- or at least as normal as I get- and then I'll go by and check my mail. On the one hand, I need time to slow down.  I have 100 pages to write on my dissertation!  It's due the day we come back from Spring Break.  On the other hand, I want this semester over with so I can stop resenting where I work for not hiring me back.  But then again, I'll be unemployed when that happens.

So life has changed and I have to change along with it.  I will change. I will adjust.  I've been looking for comfort.  The comfort of foods I like~ sushi the other day at my favorite sushi place in Norman and my favorite silly peanut butter and jelly which I eat twice a day~ comfort of routine and comfort of familiar faces like Eleanor.  I'd rather not be a stranger in a strange land.  I keep remembering that I'm not doing this alone.  My friends rally and offer support.  People call and text and ask how I am doing.  And thank the stars that I finally have internet access at home again.  Two weeks without and I was going crazy.

Stay tuned, please.  And think a happy thought for me.  These next four months will decide a few big things in my life and I am afraid, sort of excited and sometimes dreading the outcome.  I find it hard to believe that anything good can come next given my string of bad luck lately.

But don't count me out.  I might be resting, I might be down, I might be a little scared even.  Or a lot scared.

But I'm gonna be ok.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.