Sunday, March 11, 2018


Well, I made it to Spring Break.

I actually had to make a run for it, courtesy of the Second Nor'easter of March 2018. (Sorry, Weather Channel, but I've disagreed with the whole naming-the-storms thing from Day 1. I simply won't cave to it.)

It was a bit hectic for the early part of last week, but then the Break kicked in a full 36 hours earlier than planned, because of all the closings and cancellations due to the storm. And a little extra Break is never a bad thing.

Also under the heading of "Never A Bad Thing," I have to file "Not Having Any Papers to Grade."

I'm not sure what I did (right) this semester, but for the first time since I was I don't even know how old, I actually don't have papers to grade over Spring Break.

This is almost historic. Granted, I had papers to grade for the full two weeks prior to Spring Break, but I somehow managed not to procrastinate. (I think the thought, "If I do these now, I will have absolutely no grading to do over Spring Break" was a really good motivator.)

Speaking of motivation, I'm trying a productivity strategy this week. As you may recall, I do this every now and then: I read about a way to get things done, and I give it a try.

This week's attempt is very old-school. It's called "The Pomodoro Technique," and although you can read about it in more detail here, I'll give you the short and sweet version:

Set a timer for 25 minutes, work until it goes off, take a 5-minute break.

Repeat. Once you've done four 25/5 reps, you give yourself a longer break--say, 25 minutes or so.

The down side is, some tasks aren't conducive to taking breaks after 25 minutes, if you're in the midst of "flow" while working on a task, for example.

But to that I simply say, ignore the timer, then, and keep working. Your brain won't explode and the timer won't be offended. (You're a human, it's a device. It's not the boss of you.)

For my part, so far, the Pomodoro Technique has helped me stay more focused and make headway on my Spring Break To-Do List (which is a nasty little thing, even without the paper-grading). It's helping me get through the scads of reading I have to do, no question.

Whether it will be equally helpful when it comes to getting any writing done remains to be seen. I spent the week reading, on the assumption that, come Monday, I would begin writing.

So tomorrow, we'll put the Pomodoros to the test and see what happens.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

What Might Have Been (February)

Well, so much for February. Last night, as midnight drew near, I thought, "I didn't write only ONE blog post for February did I? Surely, I wrote maybe... gulp... two or something?

Obviously, I was not confident. And just as obviously, I had good reason not to be.

Yes, I know February is a short month. But still. This is not how I wanted the blogging to unfold in 2018.

So I'm trying to begin again in the month of March, by flexing my blogging muscles right from the get-go.

Because the fact of the matter is, I really did have quite a few things to blog about in February.  I simply did not "apply the ass to the seat"--the inimitable Dorothy Parker's description of "the art of writing"--and write about any of these things.

For example, I unearthed a whole lot of new ideas for articles that I want to write, and I actually began to write a couple of them. I could have blogged about that.

I continued to work on the "temperature blanket" and other knitting projects, and during the 36 hours in February when it wasn't actually raining, I could have taken pictures of said projects and blogged a bit about them.

I had a brush with a virus that may or may not have been planning to become the flu (or some other unpleasant experience), but I drank water and homemade fire cider and got lots of rest one weekend, and managed to avert the disaster that is Getting Sick in February. I could have blogged about that near-escape.

I had to grapple with my super-shy kitty Freya's newfound habit of peeing on the couch. That in and of itself could have consumed at least two blog posts.

I could have talked about how I've suddenly become interested in graphic novels. I assigned David Small's Stitches for my Literature and Disability course, and, based on the fact that I've downloaded several graphic novels to the mental accompaniment of "Oooo--that sounds cool," or "OH, good, one with a cat-character," and "This looks like something I should be reading," I would say that I appear to be hooked.

I also traveled to Philly on a very rainy Friday afternoon to see the Terracotta Warriors Exhibit at The Franklin Institute. It made for a long day, because I went to an mini-conference on disability, race and social justice in the morning, but it was a worthwhile day, and one that I should have blogged about when it happened (i.e., in February).

Perhaps most importantly, I should have blogged about how wonderful it was to discover that at this mini-conference, there was a whole group of people who are well aware of the struggles that introverts (and others) face when attending conferences.

This was revealed in the fact that, on your name badge, you had the option of putting a sticker that indicated your "communication preferences."

If you put a green dot sticker on your badge, you were "open to talking to anyone and everyone, and welcome being approached."

A yellow dot meant, "I'd only like to talk to people I already know, thank you."

Red dot? "Please don't talk to me. I just can't today. Yes, I know I'm at a conference, but still."

Quite frankly, after that experience, I spent most of the last week of February wondering 1) why we can't implement such a system on a day-to-day basis, and 2) how many "green dot" days I would really have, given that I felt drawn to the idea of declaring at least 6 out of 7 days of any given week yellow or red-dot days.

So that was February, and I wish I had blogged about it when I meant to. (In February.)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Uncovering the Unburied

At the start of this year, I decided to participate in “Now Read This,” the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, because I thought it would help me stay a bit more up-to-date on recent books—as an English professor, I sometimes have trouble finding book to read that were written after, say, 1950.

The book for January was Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old boy named Jojo, his mother, Leonie, his sister Kayla, his grandfather and grandmother, Pop and Mam, and the way in which their family’s history continues to (literally and figuratively) haunt the present.

The novel is organized around a road trip that Leonie takes with her friend, Misty, from the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi to the state prison in Parchman: Michael, the father of Leonie’s children, has been recently released, so with Jojo and Kayla in tow, Leonie drives to Parchman to pick him up.

The novel’s use of the motif of the journey pays homage to a novel by one of Mississippi’s most famous writers, William Faulkner. Like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, the journey is centered on the idea of coming to terms with death, on a complex and problematic mother-figure who struggles with her role as a mother, and the novel itself is narrated as a sequence of interior monologues (like Faulkner’s AILD and The Sound and the Fury). Like many of Faulkner’s novels, Sing, Unburied, Sing also focuses on the way in which racism  inflects the day-to-day life of its characters.

Unlike Faulkner, however, Ward’s focus is on the impact that Mississippi’s violent, racist past has had on the impoverished black and mixed-race protagonists of her novel. The journey to Parchman is both literal and symbolic: Michael, who is white, is only the most recent family member to have been incarcerated in the notorious prison. As the journey unfolds, the reader learns more about River’s own experiences at Parchman (as told to Jojo) and begins to understand the nature and significance of the (again, literal and figurative) haunting that shapes the life of Jojo and his family.

So as not to give too much away, I’ll simply note here that the plot of Sing, Unburied, Sing also draws on Toni Morrison’s famous novel, Beloved (which was also influenced by Faulkner’s work). Personally, I felt that this was perhaps a bit too obviously done: if you’ve read Beloved, by the midpoint of Sing, Unburied, Sing you can more or less guess how the novel will end (with one or two minor adjustments that I’m not sure were really all that significant, ultimately).

I found Ward’s use of the journey motif more interesting, particularly when compared with Faulkner, but once again, I was disappointed when things became a bit too obvious for my liking. I got a bit tired of hearing about vomit. As a realistic detail that also served a symbolic purpose, it worked well at first, but then the reiteration made it seem a bit too heavy-handed… I just didn’t want to read another description of vomit.

All of this said, I enjoyed the writing style of Ward’s novel and I think readers will find a lot of food for thought in her text. Personally, I like novels that strive to be a bit more nuanced when incorporating and re-representing their literary influences, but I think that’s simply because I know and teach the earlier writers, so the connections stand out immediately to me and often leave me wishing the comparisons were more subtle.

But I think readers who are less familiar with writers like Morrison and Faulkner will find the connections resonant, and overall, I would recommend Ward’s novel.

In fact, I liked it enough that I’m now reading Salvage the Bones—so I hope to be posting a review of that novel some day soon. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Rejection Becomes Her

It was back to school this week, which means I had to relocate and set aside all kinds of relaxing things I’d rather be doing.

I was reconciled to this, but then it was all thrown into a whopsy when I found myself facing a rejection.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve faced rejection before: I’m not new in town. But this one struck me as particularly unjust and really took the wind out of my sails for a good 48 hours or so.

It let the air out of my proverbial tires, if you will—I just couldn’t shake it off and get going, and I had to remind myself to, well, “get going,” if anything was going to get gotten done.

But then I decided to do two things: first, to write a note explaining which I found the rejection so ridiculous to the people who did the rejecting and then… hit “delete.” No, not “send.” “DELETE.”

Secondly, I decided to look up the people who’d done the rejecting and see if I could get a better sense of what their own qualifications were—so I’d know where the evaluation was coming from, so to speak.

Once I did this, I kind of decided that in this case, it might actually be a bit of a compliment that I was rejected.

Long story short, I’m not sure they knew enough to make their rejection worth paying much attention to.

It took a day or two for this realization to really take hold with me, but then this morning, I woke up with a renewed sense of energy and purpose: I decided I would reapply next fall, when there will be a different crew doing the review, and that I would also tweak what I submitted to address what might have gone wrong the first time around.

So I did that this morning, and then I took a long walk, and when I returned, the world seemed to have a new sense of balance and energy.

Because color me crazy, but I’m one of those “thanks for making me a fighter” types that Christina Aguilera once sang about. If you really want me to fail, rejecting me is just not the way to do it.

Because once it dawns on me that the source of the opinion isn’t really someone I know or admire or value, I can, as Taylor Swift once sang, “shake it off.”

Better yet, I shake it off and then relish my freedom. Something about being told “You can’t do X,” tends to make me say, “Okay, fine: I’ll do Y and Z and then I’ll back up a few steps and do A, B, and C, too, and you can just go stick it where the sun don’t shine.” (To put it a bit impolitely.)

At that point, my problem then becomes finding time to do all the things I want to do—which is a very different problem from being unmotivated. A better problem with which to start another busy semester.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Blanket Statement

Just a quick little post tonight to register the fact that 2018 really seems to be shaping up to be The Year of the Blanket.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I decided to make a "temperature blanket" this year. This is what the start of that looks like: 

I realize it's sort of hard to envision this as an entire blanket at this point in time, given than the square for the second week of January (on the right) isn't even completed in this picture.

I've also decided to edge each of the log cabin squares in black and then join them. I'd been toying with that idea for a bit, and then I remembered that, in a previous yarn-buying binge, I'd purchased a lot (a LOT) of black cotton yarn.

I think the original plan had been to make a black cotton sweater (boring, I know), but I never got around to doing that (probably because once I had the yarn, I realized how boring such a project might truly be).

So this will put that yarn to a better use--and use up quite a bit of it as well, I suspect.

I think the black sets each square off nicely--but will also work well when it comes time to pull the whole thing together. Again, it's hard to picture the whole (which will be more than the sum of its parts), but this is the starting point.

As you may recall (particularly if you click the link and read the previous post), I originally planned to assemble the squares on a diagonal.

I decided not to do that. The log cabin pattern is premised on the idea of squares and blocks and will have enough variety as it is (I think), without my getting jiggy with it.

But because I kind of had the idea in mind that I want to make a blanket with squares on a diagonal, I did a crazy thing.

I started a second temperature blanket. I'm not going to post pictures of that here just yet, because it really needs at least a couple of months worth of squares before it will be anything worth looking at.

If this sounds slightly (or even totally) insane, I promise you, it isn't.

In fact, it's very soothing because I've made working on the temperature blanket pieces part of my morning ritual: I get up, I make coffee, and I make the small square required to build the larger squares that map out the week's worth of weather.

It's interesting and soothing at the same time. And it goes quickly, because of the way I've divvied up the project.

What is going far less quickly, however, is the Persian Blanket I started over a year ago that I set aside when summer of 2017 rolled around (because really, working on wool in the summer is just not what I want to be doing).

I've picked that up again, though, and started working on yet another hexagon for that. It's slower going, but that's because it's far more complicated than the temperature blanket.

Right now, though, it's just what the doctor ordered for days of rainy or snowy weather, as I'm winding down on winter break and getting ready to start teaching again next week. Whether it will continue to be as soothing and shape up as systematically as I'm hoping remains to be seen.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Old and New

And just like that, 2017 is over.

It was a year that I never quite seemed to get a grip on because the days just slipped away. Don't get me wrong, I accomplished a lot (or at least enough to feel good about the year's progress) but my constant thought all year long was, "What happened to [insert month here]? How is it [insert date here] already?"

I don't know if 2018 will be the same, but I have a lot of little projects I'm currently working on, and I suspect this is part of why the time seems to fly by. (Either that, or I'm "getting old." I think I'd prefer it to be the result of the projects, so that's what I'm going to assume.)

Right now, I'm finished up a final round of revisions on an article that's been a labor of love, because it's on two novels that I love--Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. It's moving right along, but it's also going a bit more slowly than I had expected--from one week to the next, I keep thinking that this is the week I'll be done with it. But then another week is added to the process.

But the article is getting better with each passing day, so that's good. Because the worst thing is when it takes forever and seems to just get worse and worse. (I'm looking at you, Zola article that I can't even bear to look at anymore.)

I had a very nice holiday season (that flew by, obviously, because that's what 2017 did), and in the end, I managed to clock 32 days on the Runners World Runstreak: I ran a mile (or more) every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I stopped on Christmas for two reasons: 1) It was Christmas, and I wanted to eat, not run, and 2) we had a hailstorm that morning, followed by rain. I don't mind running, and I've come to like it much better as a result of the RunStreak, but I'm not "that kind" of runner--you know, the one who runs in any kind of weather, when even the postman isn't out and about.

Which explains why I didn't make it to 40 days of running: it was COLD here in the Northeast. Mind-bogglingly cold. Early autumn in Alaska cold. Single digit temps, sub-zero windchill, and then, to cap it all off, a little blizzard, thank you very much.

I spent most of it visiting friends and knitting and eating. I did, however, take the train to NYC in the thick of it, and on a very chilly and very brisk walk back to Penn Station I took this photo to commemorate the fact that I was in fact out and about even though it had only been about 8 degrees at high noon in the sunshine that day.

I was hustling to make sure I didn't miss my train, but even so, I just had to take a moment to appreciate Times Square. There's just something about bright lights and a big city on a cold winter's night.

This may have been what has inspired me to undertake a year-long project known as a "Temperature Blanket."

Basically, you make a blanket--either knitted or crocheted--that documents the temperature for the year.

Most people knit (or crochet) something striped or with ripples, and obviously, blankets created in this way will end up rather long. Most people knit them in wool or acrylic.

I decided that, as a seasoned knitter and crocheter, I know myself too well to delude myself into thinking that 1) I want another striped blanket, or 2) I'm willing to tough it out and knit wool in July.

It won't always be this cold. I know that.

So I've decided to take a different tack with my 2018 Temperature Blanket. I'm going to crochet it (because that will go faster) in cotton (because then I won't want to hang myself in August). And instead of stripes, I've decided to use a "Log Cabin" pattern, like so:
I'm going to make a series of crocheted squares. Each will be 7"x7" and represent an entire week, and the stitch direction will follow the direction of my handwriting in the template above.

The center block will always be Monday (because January 1st was a Monday this year). I think I'll join the squares like so:

This should keep the size (somewhat) manageable and also reduce the amount of day-to-day upkeep. I can crochet a square every week or two, instead of having to do some kind of work on the blanket every day.

I'm going to use the mean temperature for wherever I happen to be that day, and I'm going to try to incorporate indications of severe weather--snow, sub-zero windchill, thunderstorms--as well. This is the color scheme I'm planning to use:

At this point, I'm simply recording temperatures so that when the yarn arrives--I ordered it, so it won't get here until next week--I can get started. 

In the meantime, I'm going to try to finish up some "wip's" (that's knit-speak for "works in progress"). Because ye gods, I have a lot of them.

And you'd think this would stop me from starting anything new, but as soon as I click "publish" on this post, I'm off to embark on an irresistible hat pattern that caught my eye today.

Out with the old and in with the new! Happy 2018, everyone!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Season

The end of the semester has arrived, so that means it's Grading Season in my world.

Oh yes, it's true, there are other activities that accompany this time of year, that make it very easy to avoid grading. Like this:

The above is often accompanied by other activities, such as this batch of sugar cookies, decorated like snowflakes, to commemorate the first snow of 2017. (Because really, it's important that things be documented and commemorated with sugar cookies.) 

Needless to say, the combination of Grading Season with the activities documented in the images above leads to a high-calorie, inherently sedentary lifestyle during the month of December.

So I have bitten the proverbial bullet and, in fact, committed to the Runners World RunStreak.

For those who don't know about this small piece of (possible) insanity (and who don't feel up to clicking on the link I've provided), to participate in the RW RunStreak, you commit to running at least a mile a day, every single day, from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.

At this point, we're on Day 24 (I think), and I've made it this far, but in all honesty, I'm really looking forward to crossing the proverbial finish line on this thing.  (Less than 3 weeks to go!)

Don't get me wrong, it's done wonders for my fitness. I was never a runner, much less a Runner, and the other day, I ran 5 miles on the treadmill with a pace of 11 minutes, 30 seconds per mile.

There was a time when this would have seemed to me to be sheer nonsense--nothing short of inconceivable.

That said, running is just not my favorite activity. I'd rather be swimming. I'd rather be on the bike. And although the latter isn't really possible in the Northeast around this time of year, the former is, but I'm finding that my necessary running is stealing away time I'd prefer to give to swimming.

But this too shall pass, and the fact is, during the spring months, it will be easier for me to run than it is to get to a pool to swim, so I need to think of this Winter of My Discontent as giving me options that will come in handy in the months to come.

And I do feel a nice sense of accomplishment when the runs end because, as I said, it's nothing short of miraculous (to my mind at least) that I've been able to incorporate running into my fitness regimen to the extent that I have, over such a short period of time.

This morning, however, my swimming and my running are being put on a temporary hiatus by my car.

I'm sitting in the repair shop waiting for the remedy to a low-pressure tire problem. (Update: The tire had a nail in it.)

But as I sit here and think it through, I've decided that this is all very well-timed and probably for the best.

I just finished a semester that involved a lot of driving, I've got a brief hiatus, and then I need to do... more driving. So if the tire had to go, this was the time to do it and I'm grateful it chose to do it in my driveway, not while we were barrelling down an interstate somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, I was hoping to get a bit of grading done while I wait, but as it turns out, I can't load the website that I need to access to do so. So I did what I could, and now... I wait. 

And blog. And contemplate the fruits (and occasional frustrations) of The Season.