The night ended with Frankie Valli

May 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

I delight in mimicking Frankie Valli’s falsetto. It brings me great joy.

Especially when I’m too drunk to drive home. Robert has us parked in the driveway, and we are belting it out to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Today, we celebrated Mother’s Day early with both of our moms. During the majority of the day, Robert and I were with my mom shopping. Afterward, we all gathered together and had dinner along with Robert’s parents. We had a great time. I might have had too much to drink.

“I’ll drive,” he tells me, looking at me with that stern expression that tells me I better not argue with him. He’s right, of course. I might feel fine now, but as soon as I stand up…I’m sure I’ll be in trouble. I’m already imagining the great joy I will experience when I unbuckle (and possibly unzip) my pants for the car ride home. He’s definitely right. I really shouldn’t drive like this.

Dinner was delicious. The company was fantastic and fun. And on the drive home, halfway through my very rousing rendition of “Hey There Delilah,” Robert switches our audio to the soundtrack to Jersey Boys. My pouting lasts only a second before I realize what he’s done: he’s popped in a CD that we can both sing to. One that we love to sing to.

I take the high parts and leave the low parts to Robert. I have found that I run out of breath too early with the low parts. But when I’m drunk…maybe I run out of breath during the high parts, too.

“You’re just too good to be true…,” I croon, looking a bit crookedly at my loving spouse. “Can’t take my eyes off of you….”

I’m a lucky girl.

Meditation on the Writing Process and Dissertations: Time for a wee break

May 3, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve been feeling a lot like a loser lately. And that’s only in the sense that in the wake of an uber-productive weekend (including two revised and polished chapter drafts sent back to my dissertation director), I have been extraordinarily unproductive. Sunday, I chose to rest after grading without feeling guilty about it. And I did rest. And I did not feel guilty. Monday, I did major domestic chores, which included paying bills for a couple of hours and filling out a job application for the Princeton Review so that I can proctor an LSAT exam in a few weeks. I didn’t expect either of those tasks to take as long as they did, but the Internet was acting rather slow for me…I imagine it’s because of Osama Bin Laden’s death, honestly. I think people were clogging up the Interwebs, if such a thing can happen.

Today, though.

Today I have been productive. I’ve read Twelfth Night, which I’ve been trying to do (according to my schedule on iProcrastinate) since last Wednesday. I’ve dog-eared the passages that will be particularly useful to my argument in Chapter Three. And now I’ve chosen to take a little break, not a nap, before plugging away at the segment on Twelfth Night.

As much as I fight it and struggle with guilt, breaks are important. They afford us an opportunity to take a breath, to walk away from the project, to gain some perspective. They might even allow us to recharge our batteries, reignite our motivation to work, offer us the chance to talk to someone else. As I write this massive project, the largest project I have ever worked on, I have had to reevaluate my writing process, my research process, even my very thinking process. How I create ideas, cultivate them, and rework them until they’re cogent has been entirely different from any other project I’ve worked on. No, not even seminar papers (those little conference-papers-to-be or wanna-be-publications) in all their 20-to-25-page glory are developed in quite the same way as a dissertation. I was once told, and I once naively believed, that writing a dissertation is doable simply because, in theory, it’s five or six seminar papers smushed together.

For those who have wisely avoided graduate school (I kid, but only a little), a seminar paper is the end-of-semester culmination of theory and application for a single course that tends to take an overwhelming majority of the total course percentage. If you bomb your seminar paper, you’re in a pretty bad place. Seminar papers can range in required page counts, but most fall between a requisite 20-30 pages minimum. In my line of experience, most professors ask for a 20-25 page paper.

Theoretically, a dissertation chapter would fall on the high-end of a seminar paper page range. But, no, dissertations are not five or six seminar papers smushed together. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a bold-faced liar and you should call them so to their face.

The difference is fairly stark:

1. Dissertations require you to maintain a single theoretical argument from page 1 to page 250. You have to span chapters with this single argument. The success of your dissertation can hinge a great deal on how well you articulate and consistently discuss that argument. It’s all about the follow-through. A 20-25 page paper, though long and daunting in its own way, simply doesn’t have the same requirement about it.

2. Although most PhD candidates will have written more than five or six seminar papers in their entire graduate careers, they likely will not have consistently written on the exact same topic from paper to paper. Frankly, doing so is improbable because of the very nature of graduate work. If a student has had the opportunity to take several graduate-level classes that have curricula identical enough to warrant repeat topics, then that student has been done a vast disservice. Although I haven’t had a graduate-level American lit. course, a fact that I would correct given the opportunity to, the British lit. courses I’ve taken at the graduate level simply did not make it possible for me to write on the same topic consistently.

3. The composition of a dissertation is less about the writing and more about the pre-writing. Yes, pages are what matter. If you have not written a page, then you have not really begun “writing” your dissertation. However. More often than not, the conceptualization of a dissertation takes a long time. (The amount of time differs on an individual basis, but for me, it was two years.) During this time, the candidate is conducting research, asking questions, coming to conclusions, and assessing other writers’ arguments in order to make their own. If a dissertation-writer failed to take the time (however long that is for their own purposes) to do the research and ask the questions and come to the conclusions, then that student’s own argument simply cannot be taken seriously. (How can one claim expertise on a subject, claim even a convincing opinion, when the proper steps have not been taken first?)

Because I am still learning the intricacies of dissertation-writing, I’ll leave my list there for now. But I will clarify this point once more: the dissertation is unlike any writing project I have ever undertaken before. That alone requires me to rework my writing process until it is something that I can sustain over the course of a years-long writing project.

Break’s over. On to Chapter Three.

Happy May Day!

May 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ah, May 1st. If we were in early modern England we might celebrate May Day with a Maypole and a festival.

Or maybe if we were in twenty-first century America, we might celebrate the eve of May Day with a BBQ among friends. And the celebration would be less for May Day and more for the triumphant return (read: brief weekend home) of a friend in FBI training.

And at this BBQ we might have brought along our dogs. Who have been utterly wiped out all day. And maybe on May Day, we might enjoy the warm, sunny day by grading the last 9 student papers, reading about 100 pages of a leisure book (what???), and possibly bathing a puppy that smells distinctly of a BBQ grill.

Or, at least, that’s what I’ve done on my May Day.

No, I got nary a new word written on my dissertation. No, I did not conduct additional research on the next chapter.

But I did relax. And recharge. I enjoyed my day off after a fairly productive day yesterday. And I do not feel guilty in the least.

Tomorrow will be a much more productive day because I relaxed on May Day.

Combine sea salt and EVOO and what do you get? Sexier legs, that’s what!

April 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

My friend Vikki has done it again! Last time I stole a blog post of hers, it was in honor of her awesome powder laundry detergent recipe. (By the way, I’ve now washed like five loads of laundry in it, and I am in absolute love with it!) This time, though, I am leeching off of Vikki to share a sneaky little trick of the kitchen that leads to a delicious joy in the shower. And…the title of this blog is misleading. I’m not about to talk about sexier legs. Ahem.

If I have any gentle male readers…now might be the right time to avert thine eyes and leave the ladies to their gossip. Trust me. Uhm, same goes for my more innocent female readers. If you’d like to retain your innocence, I’ll understand if you just leave it at this. See you tomorrow. « Read the rest of this entry »

How an intended lazy Sunday became a domestically productive day

April 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

Today, I woke up fully intending to sit around all day and nap when I felt like it. Yesterday, my normal day off, was incredibly productive. I wrote additional pages, finished up my cover letter, CV, resume, statement of teaching philosophy, and heard back from the third of my professional references. I’m still feeling happy and excited about tomorrow’s meeting–I literally can’t stop thinking about this job prospect.

In lieu of utter laziness and in need of a distraction from my hopefulness…today became Laundry Day.

After reading my friend Vikki’s step-by-step guide to making powdered laundry detergent back in February, I’ve been dying to try out this method. But I had to wait until we’d used up all our Tide. That day was today. Laundry Day. So, Robert and I went to the store, and a little over $15 later (I had to buy an entire pallet of Ball jars–Kroger didn’t sell them individually) I was able to make this:

Ivory soap + washing soda + Borax = a happy home!

In Vikki’s post, she used Zote (14.1 oz). I couldn’t find Zote, so I ended up using roughly 14 ounces of Ivory instead. The detergent is super yummy smelling!

Thanks, Vik, for the awesome tip! 🙂

Day of relaxation

March 26, 2011 § 5 Comments

“And then I said to myself, ‘Self,’ I said, ‘Self, it is time to do right by you!”

This morning, I woke up extremely stiff and sore, and I thought it would be a brilliant idea to try loosen up with a walk at the park. I brought my favorite little walking buddy with me, and she did superbly as usual. Although I failed in my mission not to leave the house, I did enjoy the walk…until it started to hurt again. Sigh.

Annie is still conked out, though–she and I took an awesome nap when we got home, and now we’re getting ready to have dinner, since it’s after 6…oh dear, it’s actually almost 7. I’ve lost track of time.

I’m probably going to do more of this same thing tomorrow. It’s been nice just laying around entirely guilt-free.

Taking time for yourself

March 25, 2011 § 5 Comments

I ramble when I meet with my director. I don’t know why; she intimidates me in the way that brilliant people intimidate the commoners, the way that authority figures intimidate people who really want to impress them. But she doesn’t frighten me. I’m not scared of my director. (Nor should I be, just to be clear. Nor should anyone be.) My director is the kind of brilliant woman who just seems to naturally get things. Even though I ramble on and on, she manages to parse out meaning in my nonsense, whittles it into a much better point (pun fully intended, thankyouverymuch), and restates it in a way that stuns me in its innate brilliance. In her voice, my dissertation topic sounds meaningful and worthwhile.

I’m learning to take deep breaths while I meet with her. An attempt to stop rambling. An attempt to slow down so she doesn’t have to try so hard to catch my meaning.

During one of my breaths, she looked at me and said,

“Amanda, you need to be happy that you turned in a draft. That’s good.”

I made eye contact briefly. “Yeah…but…when you were writing your dissertation…did you ever feel happy when you turned in chapter drafts? I mean…I’ll be finished with them, and then I just sort of sit there thinking about how bad they are and what work they need still. Was it like that for you?”

“Yeah,” she smiled. “It was. But you have to get over that and just be happy that you finished a draft. It’s a big deal.” There was a beat. I made eye contact again. “You need to take time for yourself. Do something that you enjoy. Be kind to yourself.”

I promised her I would.

This weekend, beginning tomorrow, I fully intend to take time for myself. This includes but is not limited to the following: staying in my PJs, not doing my hair or make-up, leaving the house only to take Annie and Milton potty in the backyard, and watching the trashiest television I can find.

My weekend will be relaxing to be sure. I have done as much work on my dissertation as I intend to do over the next 48 hours, and I have caught up on all my grading. I literally have nothing to do right now.

And you know what?

It feels good.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 17, 2011 § 6 Comments

This is the first St. Patrick’s Day that I’ve celebrated with my husband in our four-year history together! Year One: he went to Panama City Beach with the guys; Year Two: he went on a bachelor party cruise before the wedding with the guys; Year Three: I was in Rochester, NY visiting a friend; Year Four: we are doing it right and going to a new-ish Irish pub with a bunch of friends! 🙂

I’m looking forward to a few hours of Irish music, some traditional Irish fare, and hopefully some green beer! Oh yeah, and of course I’ll be happy to spend St. Patrick’s Day with my husband for the first time!

Anyone else donning green as an excuse to imbibe copious amounts of green alcohol? 😉

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

And then they grew up…

March 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

…our table came today!

Isn't it absolutely gorgeous? 🙂 (Also, please excuse any imperfections in this photo--it's straight out of the camera.)

I really feel like we’re making our move toward becoming grown-ups. Maybe it’s more like a state-of-mind thing. Robert and I will probably always feel like our table was something we bought because we needed more seating, not to mention that the purchase was fun and a little bit thrilling. But what will our kids think? They’ll think, “Oh, this is the kitchen table.” Lord knows I’ve never given any thought to when and how my parents acquired the furniture that decorated our house since I can remember.

We hosted a dinner party with some of our favorite friends tonight to break in the new table. I made a delicious chicken parmesan (my very first, thankyouverymuch) and an Italian ice lemon tiramisu that I got from the Today show yesterday. I have to say that both dishes were delicious–I was quite impressed.

Of course, I could not have possibly managed to create this yummy fare or complete all of my domestic chores without the help of my incredible sous-chef/husband! 🙂 (Thanks for all your help, honey–without it, I’m pretty sure I’d still be cooking right now.) Because he helped me by cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen, changing the bed sheets, running last-minute grocery errands, keeping dishes rotating in the dishwasher, and boiling the spaghetti noodles, we were able to pull dinner out of the oven almost exactly when our guests arrived. Even though our friends are totally laid-back and chill and would never criticize my hostessing capabilities, I truly hate it when I’m still cooking and they arrive. In my mind, I should be absolutely finished and cooled-off by the time they arrive. (Maybe even mildly intoxicated!) But I never am. Today, though, was one of the first times that our dinner guests arrived just as dinner was ready. Well done everyone, all around! 🙂

Just like yesterday, I’m keeping this post short. I’m sleepy after an evening of fun, food, and laughter. Good night, all.

Mama said there’d be days like this

February 5, 2011 § 3 Comments

Today I did not work on my dissertation. On purpose. Today was Saturday. My day off.

I awoke around 9 a.m., my amazing husband graciously giving me not just thirty minutes to sleep in, but actually an entire two hours to sleep in. It was…glorious. He fed the dogs, took them potty, and even went to Chick-Fil-A to pick up breakfast. Whatever I did to deserve that, I hope I can make that happen again! 😉

As our morning wore on, I realized that I was itching to do something. Anything. As long as it was not in my house. This week’s worth of rain not only caused me to develop a little head cold but also effectively grounded my happy ass and kept me inside. The dogs have been rambunctious all week–Annie, the worst. I told Robert that I had to get out of the house and take them somewhere and run their energy down.

To the dog park! As soon as we got out of the car, the dogs were immediately thrilled. Milton was anxious to get off the leash and play, and Annie’s little nose worked overtime. We walked them almost two miles around the park before finally taking them to the dog enclosure to play with the other rambunctious, cabin-fever-suffering town pooches. Annie literally vroomed! around the park several times, chasing dogs of all sizes and being chased. Milton sniffed and politely introduced himself to the other dogs. He ran around a little while, but poor Milt’s hips are painful, so he spent more time just sort of meandering around.

After the dog park, Robert and I went grocery shopping, and then I had dinner with the girls at a local Irish pub. We had such a relaxing, hysterical, supportive time. I love hanging out with these girls. V and I finished our evening hatching a brilliant (not hare-brained, thankyouverymuch) idea. More to come on that later.

This has been the absolute perfect Saturday. This is precisely how I imagined spending my day.

Thank you Robert for letting me sleep in and humoring my whims. Thanks to Milt and Annie for the exercise and laughs. Thanks girls for being such great friends. The perfect day off. 🙂

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