Sunday, April 30, 2006

Some GTD geekiness

ExPromQueen had asked about my GTD methods. I've been using the GTD Tiddly Wiki to keep track of my projects. It's client side, not server side, so it's physically located on my laptop. But I almost always have my laptop with me. There's a GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus that's easily transferred to USB, so that you can carry your wiki with you. A picture of what my wiki looks like is to the right there. I also keep a moleskein notebook with me and jot down ideas and things when I'm away from the computer. For me, there are two keys to the whole system. The first is to put in your wiki the next task for each project, not the next five tasks or ten, but just the very next one. You can keep a folder with a more extensive list of what needs to be done for any given project, but the wiki needs to have just next tasks. The second key (maybe the first as it's so important) is the review process. Once a week, you should review all your projects and your lists and make sure you're getting everything you need to get done done. This is also a time to put down new projects, to brainstorm for new projects and generally assess where you are. This is the part I fall down on the most, but I'm going to try to make it more of a habit. Some other things I do is keeping track of the Ph.D. stuff in my Blogical Construction blog. I also have lots of folders. I haven't yet fully implemented the 43 folder system. Instead, I've been looking for a good online calendar. Two I like so far: Airset and Google Calendar. One thing I like about Airset is that it syncs with my Palm. Since my work calendar is on my Palm, it's really useful to be able to sync that with an online calendar. I did this on a windows machine, but it might also work on a mac, haven't tried it yet.

Anyway, I'm constantly tweaking what I do. I highly recommend the 43 Folders blog and wiki for lots of ideas about keeping organized. The great thing about this whole system is that everyone can use it as they see fit.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Battery charging

I got about 2 hours' worth of work done this morning and am about to head out to the coffee shop to do some more. I'm waiting for my computer battery to charge to at least 85%, which will give me about an hour and a half of time. I am really, really close to a draft and I think one more push this afternoon and I'll have something I can definitely call a good rough draft. I read through what I had so far, making some notes of places to fill in and add footnotes to. I'm not unhappy with what I have so far, though I'm keenly aware of a certain selectivity in my sources. As I've read more and more, I realize that you can't include everything and no one really does include everything. I've read plenty of things where I'm thinking, "Why didn't they include this source?" They may not be aware of it or they may not want to include it for whatever reason. The thing about writing that I try to keep in mind is that it's never definitive; it really is a conversation. The hope is that someone would read my work and build on as I'm doing with other people's work. So if I leave something out, maybe someone will write something based on my work plus the thing I've left out. It would be looking at my work in a new way.

One thing I will say for this chapter in particular is that it's not the best thing since sliced bread. But it's solid and I can live with that.

Writing day

Today, I plan to finish the chapter from hell. Mr. Geeky is taking the kids to the zoo. I'm taking a few minutes to check in with some blogs and get a cup of coffee into my system and then I'm going to dive in. Yesterday, I reimplemented my GTD system at work and got a lot of little things done that were weighing on my brain and making me feel kind of frantic. Just knowing that everything I need to do is written down in a safe place makes me feel better.

So with my brain cleared of that stuff, I hope I can finally say something intelligent for the last section of this chapter.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sometimes there is no balance

I write a lot about work-family balance, but I think what I really mean when I think about balance is something perhaps more personal and more involved than simply balancing work and family. For one thing, saying work and family implies that those are the only two things that matter and that's simply not true. And my life right now exemplifies that and is in many ways unbalanced. It has to be for the moment. Let me explain.

Balance for me means that I'm working 9-5, busy enough to be satisfied with my work and getting everything I need to get done during those hours and not coming home feeling stressed about the things that didn't get done. At home, I have time to get some work done around the house and spend some leisure time with the family. And, there's time for me. There's time to work on personal projects or do something just for me: take a bath, play a video game, read a book. Here's a picture of what that might look like:

Nice balanced teeter totter and yes, I can't draw. When things are out of balance, one aspect of life takes over the other and my focus shifts. In my case, both my work and my dissertation have taken over my life. When I'm not working, I'm dissertating and at work right now, things are a little too busy (should be more balanced next week), so that I can't completely dismiss it when I get home. When life is unbalanced in this way, I tend to not think about other stuff. I can't deal with housework, for example, and I have to give up leisure both with the family and for myself, but at the same time, I'm focused primarily on myself, so that if there is time, I tend to pamper myself. The idea, for me, is that I need to rejuice myself for the work ahead. Here's a picture of what I think this looks like.

Probably for Mr. Geeky, it feels more like he's on the low end, but I like the image of three people still not able to make the see saw go down. I'm sucking all the energy for myself. When Mr. Geeky was in this mode, with a full-time tenure track job and finishing his dissertation, I was a stay-at-home mom, so although things were unbalanced and I wasn't particularly happy about that, the world didn't fall apart. I knew the situation was temporary. But things were unbalanced then in other ways. Because I was doing all the housework and childcare, I didn't have as much time for myself and we certainly didn't get enough leisure time together as a family.

I'm wondering if there's ever balance. Around here it seems, the see saw is always going up and down. And yet, I need for it to stay tilted in my direction in order to finish my dissertation. That creates tension at times as different family members feel they need more of the family support for themselves. Or just need some socks.

I kind of hate the feeling of being in my own bubble. You can tell just by the blog that that's happened (less connections to other people or writing about current events), but I'm afraid that unbalance will have to stay in place with small breaks along the way in order to get this work done.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Presentation anxiety

Or lack of it. I am giving an online presentation today. I'm not nervous about it. I've been giving a lot of presentations lately and I have two more, one each in the next two weeks. I've gotten fairly good at putting these things together. But it's been a long road getting to this point.

My first presentation ever was three and a half years ago. It was my job talk. For that, I was extremely nervous. After all, a job was on the line, a job I really, really wanted. I practiced with Mr. Geeky, who told me quite honestly I kind of sucked. I cried. He told me how I might rethink it. I redid it and eventually, it was good enough to land the job.

In the humanities, we read our papers generally. The first presentation I gave at a conference was loosely based on my job talk. It was at the 4Cs in New York (2002?). All the conferences I'd been to before, the usual method of presenting information is to read a script, something like a paper, but more conversational in tone. Thus, when I got to my job talk, I hadn't presented information without a script since my speech class in high school.

Mr. Geeky was telling me that his students were struggling to present their final projects. Most of them have never done this before. He was surprised when those who have very visual projects did not have a single image to show the group. This is a skill we almost never teach and yet, it's a skill that's often required in multiple settings, whether it's an academic job talk, presenting material to a board or to one's colleagues. In many disciplines, we are still focused on text as the primary way to convey information. In particular, we are still focused on the academic essay as the primary way to convey information. We ignore all the other types of texts we might write and all the other ways we might convey information. And yet, all around us, we absorb information in multiple ways. Television news gives us still and moving images and sound. Even newspapers provide a number of images. Most of us consume a varity of media. And yet, we rarely ask our students to produce that variety. Doing so, I think, would provide them an opportunity to really think about the messages they receive via the multimedia they consume every day.

I am not discounting the importance of text, but I plan to, next semester, ask my students to do at least one multimedia presentation and to think about the difference between that type of presentation and text. Partly, this comes out of my own experience of feeling at sea in putting together my first presentation, but I also really believe that students shouldn't just learn to create and critique text in school.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Burning at both ends

It's true. I worked this morning and I worked this evening and the chapter still isn't nearly done. I'm only aiming for 15-20 pages as the chapter is kind of a set-up for the next one, but oh well. I'll get there. It's just going slower than I want it to.

What sucks about my life right now and my blog as it represents my life is that I have so many good things I wanted to write about, to tell you people about, but either a) I don't have time or b) I can't reveal because most of you know who I am and where I work. Damnation, why couldn't I maintain some kind of anonymity. I'm terribly sorry that I've devolved into writing about how I don't like to get up in the morning and how hard it is to write. I do realize there's stuff going on the world. I saw Caitlin Flanagan. I did. And it was as horrifying as you all said it would be.

I have been thinking a lot about my "foot in both camps position" and might have even more to say yet again later. Also I'm on a search committee and it's been quite fascinating. Not so much from the perspective of the candidates but in being like a fly on the wall and observing our faculty and staff. If only I'd known when I applied. . . Maybe at a later date, I can say more. But can I ask, what do you all think of job talks for staff positions? Just an informal poll.

On a more serious note, I've actually been thinking about the fact that today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. I have been blessed with many friends who are Jewish, most recently a group of writers who wrote frequently about the Holocaust. One even ghost wrote one local woman's memoir and turned that into a screenplay. It was amazingly moving. I have always been amazed at the straightforwardness with which many of the people I've met have discussed the Holocaust. It has always been as if to say, "Remember, so we do not forget." There is no vengeance, only survival and a quiet and despairing recognition of the ability of humankind to visit such horror and cruelty on its own.


Yesterday, I discussed my struggle to write first thing in the morning. My kids have inherited my (and Mr. Geeky's) struggle to get moving in the morning. I mean, I don't mind getting up, but I want a couple of hours before my brain has to really kick into gear. That's one of the reasons I get up earlier than necessary. I can drink coffee, eat breakfast, and generally warm up to the day. Doing the writing thing isn't exactly the same thing, but I'm still working on it.

The kids have to be prodded a couple of times before they rouse themselves. Like me, they relish every extra minute in bed, snuggling under the warmth of the covers before having to emerge into the harsh realities of the world. If I had my druthers, school wouldn't start until at least 9:30. Next year is going to be painful since Geeky Boy begins middle school and has to be there at some ungodly hour.

Making matters worse at the moment is my utter lack of attention to such basic housekeeping chores as laundry and grocery shopping. Thus, a few minutes ago, I was regaled with, "I don't have any socks" and "I need pants." I responded with "Dig through that basket there" and "Just wear shorts; it's going to be 70 eventually." Health and Human Services is on their way, I'm sure.

Someboday would call this laziness, I suppose. I just choose to direct my energies elsewhere. I guarantee someone who rises at 5:00 a.m. is not going to be awake at midnight reading something. Why is it that our society sees early rising as a virtue and staying up late as a sign of sloth? Is this Ben Franklin's fault? Can I help it if he didn't know the wonders of good lighting at night?

Monday, April 24, 2006

More on writing

New Kid had a really funny and thought-provoking post about writing and exercising first thing in the morning. I find it especially amusing given that I, too, hit the snooze this morning and got up at 7:00 instead of 6:00. Thus, I'm catching up on blog reading instead of writing. I did manage to write first thing over the weekend. My main problem this morning was not getting to bed early enough. I'm debating now about whether I should try to get in an hour or so after work. That's one thing that writing first does for you. You don't have to think about it anymore. And if you do think of something you want to write, it's just gravy.

The exercise thing, well, I, too, am not much of an exercise or sports person. We did all get tennis rackets for ourselves and as soon as the weather cooperates, we're planning to hit the courts a block from our house. But exercise is never going to happen in the mornings.

The thing is, I'm not really a morning person. Though I naturally get up between 7:30 and 8, during the week, I have to get up at 6:00 in order to get some writing in before I have to start getting kids up and ready for school and myself ready for work. I think people who make dictums like "Write First" don't have any other obligations first thing in the morning. Or they're the kind of crazy people who don't think 6 is that early. My mother is like that.

Though I missed the mark this morning, I'm going to do the write first for the rest of the week. I definitely like it, but it's not that easy to do. And if I wanted to exercise first thing too, I think I'd have to get up at 5. No way is that happening. I wonder if the people who say these things do so because writing or exercise is the most important thing in their lives. Does Emeril say "Cook First"?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another talk about sex

Or at least the potential of sex. Last night, as I was tucking in Geeky Girl, she asked me if I knew what a period was. I said I did and explained that I had one everyone month and that I bled. She asked what she should do if she gets her period in school. A very practical question. I explained about carrying tampons in a purse or in a backpack. And then she said, but you're in the bathroom when it happens, right? Turns out she thought getting your period was like peeing. I explained how you can't control it the way you can control pee. Then I told her how I got my first period.

I was on a day trip to the lake with the girl scouts. We were in bathing suits and there wasn't a bathroom anywhere (port-a-potties only). We were all lazing around on the deck when someone pointed out I had blood on my bathing suit. Luckily, there was someone there with the required materials, but it was a harrowing few minutes.

Geeky Girl wanted to know if she could practice using tampons. I laughed and told her when she got older, she might want to, but that she could also use pads. She asked what tampons were like, so I described them and told her she could look at one of mine sometime.

I'm sure I'm not capturing everything. What struck me about the whole conversation was that she wanted such practical advice: what tampons looked like, how to use them, what to do in school. I never got such practical advice. I had misinformation and myths. No strategies for coping with the many days of accidents and embarrassments. I hope Geeky Girl (and Geeky Boy, who was listening from the other room) will continue to come to me for advice.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday random stuff

I had a post written, then went to save it and *poof* it was gone. Oh well. Here's some random stuff.
  • Recurring dreams about Harrison Ford. We're dating and yet not physical. I have no idea what's going on here, but we seem to be serious about each other. It's weird.
  • Rude drivers in the burbs--what's up with that?
  • Being swamped means not knowing what's going on in the world like Scott McClellan resigned and we're gonna blow up Iran and other such stuff.
  • I'm unbelievable glad it's Friday, but I'm planning write this weekend. So no freedom yet.
  • Keynote is done! Now I just need to be able to present it well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Taking a break

I decided not to write this morning. I've been writing every morning since last Friday. That's 6 days in a row. So I think I deserved some time off for good behavior. Plus, I'm just downright exhausted and don't think I could think straight. I spent a good deal of last night tweaking the presentation--almost done. So I hadn't read anything to write about. I'm sure I could have written something, but since the chapter is primarily a lit review, I don't think it would have been productive. In general, the morning writing sessions are going pretty well. I definitely think I'll have a decent draft by Sunday. It's still much rougher than I'd like it to be but hey, what can you do?

I have only been poking my head in the blog world a tiny bit. I miss everyone. Reading blogs really does get my brain working a lot of the time and I miss that too. I haven't even been able to peek in at work. Yesterday, 15 minute lunch. Sigh. Things don't settle down until next Friday. Gah! Then I'm sure something else will come up. It's all good, I guess.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Treading water

I'm sure everyone is feeling similar. I'm not grading or anything, but I'm working on a presentation and organizing a program during the day and writing the dissertation in the early morning and reading for the dissertation at night. I should have a draft by this weekend that I'm going to have someone read. The presentation is next Thursday and school ends then too. I'm on a search committee and we begin interviews this Friday. Several of my days include barely enough time for a potty break. Bleh. Calgon, take me away.

Monday, April 17, 2006

On both sides of the fence

Since I'm finishing my Ph.D. (hopefully) and have now taught a class and am teaching another in the fall, people often ask me if I'm planning to slide back into full-time teaching. I've definitely thought about it, but I think I like where I am, even with its frustrations. The one attractive thing about teaching is more control over my day. I could begin and end work whenever I liked. There might even be days with no classes and no obligations. But the work load (in a 4/4 likely scenario) could be backbreaking. The grading might be endless and the rewards few.

What I like about my situation now is that each side of the equation, teacher and technologist, informs the other. What I do in the classroom lets me know the kinds of things I might pursue in my role as a technologist. For example, I taught in a "smart" classroom whose layout was worse than horrible. The space was inflexible. There was barely room at the front for the teacher (and I didn't always want to be at the front anyway). Using the computer and screen precluded using the chalkboard at the front. This experience led me to discuss these issues with our team of people who plan for classroom technology. It led to, among other things, the use of tablet pcs in similar spaces and to making sure that new spaces did not cover the board with a screen.

As a technologist, I am able to share my teaching experiences with those who come to me for help with using technology. I can say what I've tried and how it's worked and how to manage the extra time and energy using new technology often requires. I don't pretend that technology is a magic wand that solves every pedagogical issue and even admit that it may create new ones. When presented with problems, I look for appropriate solutions that might be useful pedagogically and not just the lastest new gadget.

Some, I know, find this dual role I play problematic. I've noted many times the desire on some people's part to have me play the mechanic. And I don't mind playing that role at times. Sometimes it's nice simply to fix a technical problem or answer a question and move on. But I do know a bit about teaching, both from experience and from extensive research. I won't pretend to know what content one should include in a biology class, but I might offer ways of presenting that content or of having students interact with it or build their own. Sometimes those suggestions are viewed as stepping over my bounds.

On the other side of the fence, there are staff in my department who don't know about my experience teaching and the knowledge it's given me about the way faculty and students really use technology. A few years ago, for example, we had a discussion about the use of laptops. Why would faculty need a laptop anyway? Don't they have computers on their desks or at home? I had to remind them that many faculty do research remotely. They visit libraries or archaeological sites and may need a laptop for notes, for writing up reports, for storing and analyzing data right there on site. That fight is long over as many of my colleagues are now laptop owners themselves and value the freedom of computing anywhere they want. Now we're on to discussing tablets!

I also get a lot of the perks of teaching without the grading. I love helping students. I love working with them, whether it's on their writing or putting together a multimedia presentation. I get to do that every summer with the internship program I run and throughout the year, students come to my lab for advice and technical help. I also get to do research, as much or as little as I want, with no pressure for publishing in the "right" places in the "right" amount. It's really gravy. And a perk I get that most faculty don't: a 7-hour day. I leave the office and leave the work behind.

I like the back and forth of all of this, of being the go-between. That's why I signed up for this gig and that's why I still find it interesting, if sometimes challenging. But what's life without its challenges.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Friday, April 14, 2006

A day of play

I took the day off from work today. Midway through yesterday, I was feeling tired. I was emotionally drained, intellectually drained, just drained. I needed a day where I didn't have to do anything, where there were no emails to answer or things to schedule. I got up this morning and spent two hours writing. It was good writing and I've vowed to myself that I will do this every morning. Despite Bolker's suggestion that writing 5 pages a day is a better approach than setting a specific time limit, the time limit works better for me. I like knowing there's an end and I can push myself to the end if need be. Lately, though I've been writing anyway, I've found writing at the end of the day difficult. My mind is already filled with stuff and my body is tired. I'll be setting the alarm back a half-hour and slaving away.

After I finished my writing, I told myself I wasn't obligated to do anything else. And so I didn't. I played Civilization and Diner Dash. I made a quick trip to the grocery store. I watched What Not to Wear and The Office. Mr. Geeky made me dinner while the kids were down the street eating with friends.

I've noticed this pattern in myself. When I get really stressed out and frustrated, mostly in an intellectual way (trying to figure something out or solve a problem or something), I need some serious down time in order to work out the problem. I need to distract my brain from itself. I give it a toy to play with so it won't worry itself over how to begin chapter one or think things like, "what if I've left something out." My brain is like a small child (maybe I am too).

A day of not thinking, of delivering virtual meals to virtual people and conquering virtual worlds. Escape, sweet escape.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dog poop

This morning I stepped in dog crap. I don't have a dog. There's a city ordinance dictating that one must clean up after one's dog. I drove all the way to work enveloped by the smell of dog poop, thinking that people were just doing an awful lot of landscaping. When I was still smelling it while waiting at the light next to the Starbucks, I knew I had dog poop on me somewhere. I parked the car and shuffled across the grass to my building. Then I scurried into the bathroom, took my shoe off and washed it in the sink. Yuck.

I decide I need some coffee. I go into the kitchen and wash out my cup, noticing that the hot water isn't working. Oh well. I reach for the pot. No coffee. No hot water. No way.

I call my buddy upstairs to see if he wants to go get coffee at the campus cafe. Sure, he says.

As we leave the building, I say, "Here's what kind of day it's gonna be. I stepped in dog poop."

Virtual colleagues

Such good suggestions from everyone about my class. It's been officially approved, so I'm plowing ahead. When I was a grad student, I would have walked down the hall until I got to an office filled with other grad students and started bouncing ideas off of them for my class. With the web, I don't even have to get up off the couch. I'll throw up some more ideas in the weeks to come as my syllabus takes shape (need to have something in by May-ish). I'm calling the class "Telling Tales Out of School." There may need to be a requisite colon. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gaming reward

I am rewarding my 5 pages of crap with some video game playing. What sucks is I think I said everything I have to say in those 5 pages. I know, hard to believe.

Joy is

Realizing you have two weeks to prepare a presentation. Thank FSM!

Teaching the academy

I'm planning to teach again in the fall. The program I teach for is our writing program. Faculty from various disciplines teach in this program (though it is usually heavy on English and Humanities profs). They are encouraged to come up with topics in their discipline that would appeal to a broad audience. Last year, of course, Mr. Geeky and I co-taught a course on blogging. This year, I'm going it alone. My plan is to use writing about college and specifically, professors. Right now, I'm thinking of such books as The Straight Man and White Noise. I might have them watch Paper Chase and/or episodes of that tv show about a women's college with Richard Dreyfus whose name escapes me now. I also want to include articles and books about university education that are more analytical. And I might have students explore academic blogs.

I thought it would be fun, since the course also serves as an introduction to college life (at least the academic side of it), to analyze and explore that life, both as represented in fiction and movies and as subject of study. Any thoughts from the academic blogosphere? What books or articles would you teach?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

So so slow

This dissertation chapter is going so slowly. I worked for three hours tonight and got . . . 1 page written. I was trying for 2, but that didn't work out. You know you're in trouble when you're leafing through Aristotle randomly and then ordering books you just might need from Abebooks. Sigh.

I know I have a very, very good reason for dragging a little right now, but still it's discouraging. It's going to be okay, I know. I'll get through it, but I am going to bed with Joan Bolker tonight.

P.S. Is it Wednesday yet?

Choice in 2006

First, a conversation:

Mr. Geeky and I are discussing the debate among Casey, Sandals, and Pennacchio. I start babbling on about how Casey made some disturbing statements about abortion.

Geeky Boy: Do we like Bob Casey?
Me: No, we don't.
Geeky Boy: Why not?
Me: Because he's pro-life.
Mr. Geeky: Well, he's not really pro-life; he's anti-woman.
Geeky Boy: That's not right.


The latest Quinnipiac poll actually shows that Casey might be vulnerable in the primary. I don't know if that will really play out, but I hope so. PSoTD links to some blogs summarizing the debate.

Monday, April 10, 2006

When you have exes like these

This is my ex-boyfriend from high school. Really, really small world.

Of funerals and families

I have returned to the comfort of my own small nuclear family, having spent several days under difficult circumstances with a large extended family including an even larger community of church friends, high school classmates, former work colleagues and much more. I knew very few of these people at all. In traveling to Mr. Geeky's home town, I had in my mind that I was there primarily to support him and his immediate family: his father, sister and brother. I wanted to not be a burden and to lift as many burdens from others as I could. I was largely successful. I helped put together a photo collage. I heated food that neighbors and friends had dropped off. I stood by Mr. Geeky's side for nearly five hours greeting the hundreds and hundreds of people who came to pay their respects. I tried to be in the background as much as possible.

I enjoy many people in Mr. Geeky's family. His sister, especially, with whom I share a first name and a high-school graduation year, I am supremely fond of. We've been on vacation together just the two of us. We've talked on the phone (though not as much as I would like). We've said of each other that if we met each other on the street, we'd be instant friends. There's a cousin from San Francisco who's delightful. There's an aunt and uncle from Seattle who sat down with us after the funeral and talked to us for a long time, asking us about our work and the kids. And we asked them about theirs. I have always enjoyed my father-in-law, a quiet man with a keen sense of humor. His sadness breaks my heart. My father called and talked to him for quite a while, convincing him to have an autopsy done (long story, and one I likely won't blog). I told him to visit us whenever he wanted. Many of Mr. Geeky's other aunts and uncles and cousins are also pleasant people, happy and tight-knit, always greeting anyone with open arms and platefuls of food. It is in many respects a comforting environment to be in and I'm glad that my father-in-law has them.

But there are members of the family who are challenging, people that for whatever reason get under my skin. Under different circumstances, I might have objected to some of the things they said or did. But I didn't want to be difficult or appear unkind. I tossed and turned at night trying to figure out why I felt this way, why di this person or that person always bother me. Why did I let them get to me? And what should I do about it? I found no answers in those late night wonderings, only more questions. How do I become a better person? I want to be someone who isn't so quick to find fault with people. How do I not take innocuous comments that I find hurtful personally? My mother-in-law would laugh them off and her son, my husband, is able to do the same. But I can't. I am hurt and angered by them and I spend too much energy trying to deal with them by myself. But it is my goal to find some way to handle that hurt and anger better.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Coming up for air

I will have lots to say when I officially return, but I had to check in with a few blogs and my own--needed to be with my people so to speak. I'm trying to decide what I want to blog and what should not be blogged. This is not *my* family after all. I've found myself in my usual role of amateur anthropologist and counselor. There have been good moments and fingernails on a chalkboard moments. Typical, I guess, of family gatherings. There is one more semi-offical gathering to go and then we hit the road.

I want to thank everyone who left comments the other day. It was much appreciated. If I ever wanted evidence that internet people are "real", that comment thread (among many others) would be proof enough. Thanks.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On the road

We're on the road with our free internets. It's been an uneventful trip so far. And now we are watching bad cartoons. Sigh. I was thinking about this sonnet, so I thought I'd post it. It's one of my favorites.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

. . .

Last night, quite unexpectedly, my mother-in-law died. She had been in the hospital for some surgery and never quite recovered. All day yesterday, she went back and forth and then her condition deteriorated. A few hours after she was moved to intensive care, she died.

I couldn't have asked for a better mother-in-law, really. From the first time I met here, she's always treated me like family. She was the life of the family, always bustling around preparing food, decorating for the holidays, making sure everyone was happy and comfortable in her home. She always saw the good side of everything and everyone. Despite having chronic health problems, she still traveled frequently and never let her condition get in the way of doing the things she loved. She had always wanted to be a grandmother and has been a wonderful one, sending the kids notes in the mail and treats on every holiday. She always made them feel special.

Last night as we were trying to get to sleep, Mr. Geeky and I shared our memories of her, many of them funny. Like when she was learning to play Balderdash and the first definition she came up with was "Don't hurt people." Or when she asked a park ranger the difference between a mule and a mule deer. She was never afraid to laugh at herself and made others laugh too.

I feel most for my father-in-law, who has lost his life's companion. I can't begin to fathom the depth of his loss.


Needless to say, blogging will be light. We're traveling to Mr. Geeky's home town, possibly leaving today. I have no idea if I'll have the internets.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Big fat nothing

My brain is either on overload or fried. I hate that all I've done around here lately is talk about myself. Bleh. I'm watching what's going on around me, but I got nothing to say about it.

I got two pages written on diss chapter 1, which doesn't sound like much, but the thing is starting to shape up. It's sort of like sculpting or throwing pots. At first, it's just a stack of articles and a pile of notes. Then it starts to look like something, something new, built on that stack and pile.

I was up in the middle of the night feeling ill and was awakened by the same illness this morning. I can feel the fatigue in my face. My life is busy in a good way, but I definitely could use some time away, preferably with the family.

If you haven't already, go read Psycho Kitty's post from last night. It's really good.

I'm gonna try to reinvigorate myself in the shower. Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound good. I'm too tired to care.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A rerun: ghosts in the back yard

I'm off to work at the coffee shop, but I was perusing my archives to see what I was up to a year ago and ran across this old post about playing with the ghosts of Helen Keller, Bing Crosby, and Laura Ingalls Wilder in my back yard. Enjoy!

Losing an hour sucks

I got up late. I'm groggy. I just want to hang out for a while and drink coffee. The kids also seem groggy and cranky. Plus it's supposed to rain. This is not a good way to start the week.

Eventually, I will have consumed enough coffee. I'll have a bagel or something. And then I can really start the day. But I'm still gonna feel off by an hour.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Getting out of debt

I paid off a credit card today. And I'll probably pay off another one next month. It felt really good. Basically, Mr. Geeky and I decided to take our meager savings and pay these puppies off, mainly so we can put more in savings. So that's 1 down and 3 to go. Most of the debt on these cards comes from several poor summers either in grad school or the early years of Mr. Geeky's employment. We used them to buy groceries, pay bills and generally lived off of them on occasion. I do know we financed one of Mr. Geeky's conference trips on one a few years ago, right after we moved here. But other than that, we haven't really used them.

Of course now I'm probably on some terrorist watch list since I'm paying a card off in a lump sum. We'll find out Friday when the payment goes through.

Family day

Since I've been away and both Mr. Geeky and I have been generally busy, we're taking a family day. We're going out for brunch and a movie, kids in tow of course.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Reclaiming "Mom"

About a year after I had Geeky Boy, my inlaws were all visiting and we were all talking and my sister-in-law said in response to something about clothes or fashion or something, "I just don't want to look like a mom."

My mother-in-law and I looked at each other and Mr. Geeky piped up, "I think you just insulted the two moms in the room."

The sil tried to backpedal but it was too late. And, in truth, she'd expressed a sentiment I'm sure I myself had thought (though certainly not said out loud). It wasn't about the clothes for me as much as the whole image of motherhood. I held in my mind a rather negative image of motherhood. Partly, this was because of my own problematic relationship with my mother, but partly, it was a social construction. Mothers, while revered in some circles, very easily get labelled in negative ways. Often, one hears such postulations as "She's just a mom." There is that kind of derogatory sense that a mom, even a good one, is a lesser being.

I felt that negativity going into being a mother. I'm surprised I didn't slide into full-blown post-partum depression. Actually, I think I might have if not for the fact that I had to return to work a mere 6 weeks after my baby's birth. But work kept me sane and it gave me another identity to hold onto. I wasn't "just a mom." I was also a worker.

I no longer have negative feelings about my identity as a mom. But that identity is perhaps the most difficult one I have to contend with because the world often defines it negatively. Stay at home moms are bad because they're not "working" or they can be bad if they parent "incorrectly." Working moms are bad because they're not at home. Moms dress sloppily or shop all the time (either is bad). They obsess about their children too much or not enough. When things go wrong with any aspect of childrearing, the mom is to blame. Fighting all these stereotypes takes a lot of work. I don't like being boxed in and being thought of in a certain way simply because my body reproduced. The same doesn't hold true for men (though there are other issues there, another post's full).

So I want to reclaim "Mom" as a more positive moniker. One of my students this weekend said to me, "You really are a mom." And because I know her and know a little of how her mind works, I took it in its most positive sense. I was actually flattered by it. I think (and she can correct me if I'm wrong) that she meant it as something like the following:
  • She provides a safe place for people. People can speak their mind to a mom and know that she won't castigate them if she disagrees.
  • She listens.
  • She is patient.
  • She keeps your secrets.
  • She supports people in their growth (just as she does with her children).
  • She gives advice that will help people make good decisions about the directions they'd like to take in life.
  • She successfully juggles many things.
  • She often directs and manages a substantial budget and schedules for several people.
  • She is good at long-range planning as well as meeting daily needs.
These are just some of the skills that many moms possess or develop and then use on a daily basis. Some of them fall into that horrible category of "nuturing" skills. I like to think of them as managment skills. Being patient is just as important for managing a project or a company as it is for dealing with the toddler who refuses to get dressed. Anyone ever have to sit through a meeting or listen to someone give a report for the third time? Supporting people in their growth--good for children and also good for employees.

I still don't like to be stuck in just one box. And I don't think anyone should be. Even someone who is mothering full time has other identities that may hold equal value with their identity as a mom: wife, sister, aunt, concerned citizen, volunteer, writer, artist. I value the skills I've developed primarily in my role as a mother. I think they've been extremely useful in my work life.

As I shared some of my challenges as a parent with my students, they also shared their own misgivings about becoming parents themselves. The whole process sounds difficult to them. And I wouldn't disagree. It's absolutely a lot of work. And I'm not going to sugarcoat it with the typical, "but there are many rewards." There are. But there's no guarantee that there will be. Unlike other jobs you're dissatisfied with, it's hard to leave this one. I wonder, though, if some of the students' misgivings have anything to do with the negative connotation "mom" sometimes has. As I said at the beginning, I certainly had that in mind and that was why, in part, my sil's words stung. And is there any way to correct this image without lapsing into some kind of "angel in the house" syndrome?

Public voices

Just returned from a kick-off event at Mt. Holyoke for a Women's Public Voices grant. It was really fun and exciting. I have a lot more to say about but right now, I'm exhausted. BMC women rock!