Monday, December 13, 2010

It's been a while

I'm afraid I've let this blog atrophy, but I've been finishing my book and undergoing a number of big changes, some unexpected, some expected, and all welcome.

Expected: I moved. I had an excellent first job, but as I eventually discovered, it was not for me (nor I for it). I went on the market extremely late in the season, applied to a very small number of jobs, made the short list on all of them. This time around, nerve-wracking though it was, I had all positive and confidence-boosting experiences. Even the job I didn't get, which was an interdisciplinary position at a very important ny institution and went to a tenured scholar whose work I admire, was still kind of a dream moment in my career: just to have come that far and allowed myself to fantasize about teaching there, living in the Village, and taking my students to exhibits at the Met, was loads of fun. But the right job chose me, in the end. I had always wanted to be at a research institution, and now I am at an excellent State R1 with a fine doctoral program, a large faculty (about 50 of us), and an Oxford program which is coincidentally down the road from my old college (go Keble!).

Unexpected: I moved further South! I am now in one of the so-called "deep south" states, a state that at the moment (well, since the '80s) is very conservative. I never expected this to happen.

Also unexpected: I love it here! My little college town, sometimes referred to as a "brain bubble" is full of over-educated, arty hipsters and vegans and yogis and local foodies and indie rockers.

Also unexpected: my adorable beau moved down here (from Brooklyn) and now we are trying our hands at co-habitation and domestic bliss. He seems to like it here, too. Also, I haven't seen anyone go so quickly from criticizing me for indulging the cat ("you're such a Jewish mother to her!") to outdoing me in spoiling her ("can I give her this yogurt?"). To be fair, he also trained her not to wake us up in the morning, a feat I have never been able to accomplish on my own.

Also unexpected: my students are smart and inquisitive and bursting with intellectual curiosity. They like me! They don't need to be told what questions to ask, they are already asking them. They stay after class to talk about poetry. They are also diverse and quirky and, well, not all that homogeneous a group. Okay, so this wasn't exactly unexpected at all, of course my students are awesome. But sometimes when one moves from an expensive private institution to a big, affordable state one (in the poorest county in the state), one doesn't know what to expect (perhaps also because expensive institutions tend to have somewhat inflated senses of their importance).

Expected: my colleagues are awesome. My department is, well, an English department (each messed up in its own way, pace Tolstoy). But mine's actually a functional one, with a tremendous amount of support for, and protection of junior faculty. Tenure rules are clear and specific. Procedures are followed, and a sense of democracy achieved. It's also a big department: I'm one of five practicing early modernists (the other four are senior faculty). My senior colleagues are strong and supportive and collaborative. In particular, they have of late been very encouraging and helpful in navigating the uneasy waters of academic book publishing.

Anyway, I'm thinking back to a year ago, when I felt unhappy and bitter. I'm kind of overwhelmed by how quickly things seemed to turn themselves around.

I don't post very often on this blog, in part because I'm finishing my book, and in part because I fear I've lost my audience. But for some reason I felt like I needed to finish telling the story it was telling last year. It's not the end, but at least it's finally happy.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dinah Washington: I Don't Hurt Anymore

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog. It's been a crazy year, very busy, very up-and-down, and yet it seems that as the semester draws to a close, I've actually come out on top, rather than underneath. Or maybe that's just growth or something. Anyway, this song was in my head and I thought I'd post it here.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Musical Signs

I am not one for spiritual signs. But if I were, they would have to do with music.

I should explain about "The Theme." When I was in High School, I spent my summers at a large arts camp in the Midwest. Even though I never got a big role in any of the Shakespeare productions, or won the concerto competition, I loved it there. And at the end of every musical performance, the performers had to play the camp's theme. And the rule was no clapping. You were supposed to walk out humming it. And the camp's theme happens to be a beautiful little motif from Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 ("The Romantic). It is like a sigh. When there is a vocal performance, the singers sing it in harmony, to the syllable of "lu" (Lu lu lu lu lu lu lu, etc) . And when little children perform it, it is always followed by "Sssshhhhhhhh" as they tell one another not to clap.

Even though The Theme is famous at my arts camp, and Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 well known, I have only heard The Theme on the radio twice.

The first time I was 17 and heading to one of my two top choice colleges for an interview and campus visit. At the time I didn't think I would get in, and the place seemed out of my league. Of course that made me want to go there even more. Anyway, as we drove up to campus in my grandmother's old toyota, suddenly The Theme came on to the radio. It was stunning. Right as we were pulling into the parking lot, there it was. We all sat in the car until it was finished. When I closed the car door and walked up into the sunshine, I knew it that no matter what happened, I would be okay. Of course I got in, though I ended up going to my other top choice, which was bigger and artsier, but that is a different story.

The second time I heard The Theme was the day before I was to depart for New York this January. I was feeling all sorts of stressed out about my move, wondering if I would be able to finish my book in New York, feeling sad about leaving a few good friends, feeling sick and congested and anxious about the future. I think I was driving to the tailors to pick up a shirt for a late season job interview (reader, I got the campus visit. Just not the job). I was on the exit ramp from 40 business, turning onto Knollwood St. to get to Stratford Road, and there was the theme. It was calming and peaceful and yet I found myself in tears. I could say that it triggered a memory of youth and innocence and happier times, but that wouldn't be true: my experiences at summer camp were just as emotionally complex as my experiences are now. All I know is that it was the right time for me to hear The Theme again. And that it brought me some sense of closure and peace of mind. Of course I remembered the other time I had heard it, and was hopeful.

The second musical sign came a few weeks ago. A dear friend (and an exboyfriend) was visiting for the first time from the UK and we made plans to hear a chamber music concert in Manhattan. We saw the Takacs Quartet at Town Hall on a Sunday afternoon. We didn't know what they would be playing, only that we hoped it would be late Beethoven since that is what they are known for. Lo and behold, the last piece on the program was Beethoven's Quartet Op. 132, with the incredibly gorgeous and ethereal third movement called Heiliger Dankgesang, "The Invalid's Prayer of Thanksgiving."

This was something we used to listen to together in Oxford. In fact, the first time I heard this piece was on my friend's stereo in his tiny rooms on Banbury Road. Hearing and seeing it live far transcended any experience of Beethoven quartets I have ever had. By last strain, I was in tears and the violist had to pause to wipe her eyes before starting the last movement. It amazed me that she could demonstrate such control over her playing and yet cry all the way through it, because it was so beautiful. It was good to share this music, at this time in my life, with a good friend. I felt like I was the invalid recovering from an illness. I have so much to be thankful for.


It's been a while since I posted on this blog. The move to Brooklyn for the semester plus the sinus-infection-that-would-not-go-away have seriously limited the amount of free time I have to spend musing about myself on the internets.

But I do have some thoughts, having recently turned 34.

33 was rollercoasterish. It was rough and confusing and uplifting, not all at once but in succession, and I am grateful for all of this in the end, because it reminds me that I am living, that this is experience.

In the beginning of 2010 I lost a dear friend, too early--much to early--to cancer. He was one of my closest friends and colleagues, arrived at my institution right when I did, in 2006, to start a tenure track job in another department. I miss him horribly, and am still only just beginning to understand what a life without him means. But oddly, here in Brooklyn, I keep remembering him and it's kind of like being haunted by someone in a good way. He came here to spend his 4th year leave with his partner this year, and in the end, to rest from his illness. I can't help feeling like his memories are part of this place.

I turned 34 two days ago. I've been fighting this awful upper respiratory infection for 3 months that has left me fatigued and frustrated. My biggest fear is that I won't be able to finish this book and get the manuscript ready to be reviewed. Thankfully, writing doesn't take up that much physical energy, but I'm hoping that this year I'll get better. Perhaps some of the frustrations of last semester weakened my immune system enough for this malicious infection to work its way inside. Though if that were the case, then the recent spate of good luck I've been having would have strengthened it. But I still have a lot to be thankful for: an adorable and witty beau who extolls me in verse, two healthy and wonderful parents (kinne hurra) and a growing number of friends and supportive colleagues the world over.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My year in fortune cookies

From 2009:

"You have a natural grace and great consideration for others."

Not so sure. Since I stopped taking dance lessons seven years ago I've started stumbling around and bumping into things a lot. I also have a big problem with interrupting people and talking too much. And as for being considerate of others, well, not exactly according to my most recent group of students. I can be tough, critical, abrasive. I let them know when they are wrong and say things in class like "where's the textual evidence for that claim?" I need to relax and be gentler with my kids in class. I think I should treat this fortune as something to work towards, not something that is already true.

"You find beauty in ordinary things, do not lose this ability."

Okay, I'll try not to. And I think this is probably true. Nothing thrills me more than a perfect fried egg staring up at me from a turquoise china plate. Or a simple lit window glimpsed from the dark street.

"Prepare yourself for a big change of events in your personal life."

Well, I guess it depends how one defines "personal life," but, yeah. There have been some big changes in 2009.

"Your name will be famous in the future."

But not in this life, apparently.

"Do not display your treasures or people will become envious."

Sound advice, and words I frequently need to hear. I get so excited about the things I love, I often forget that others have not been as fortunate, or might not see things from my perspective.

"Accept the next proposal that comes your way."

Okey-dokey. So long as it's something nice.

And the first one from 2010:

"You are working very hard."