Category Archives: writing

I write letters

Dear Minnesota,

WTF, Minnesota? Really? Snow TWICE before the first two weeks of October are up? That’s how you’re gonna play it this year? It wasn’t bad enough to have one of the coldest summers on record, you gotta fuck up autumn, too? You KNOW autumn is everyone’s favorite season. Don’t give me that look. You know exactly what you’re doing. You like making me crazy, don’t you? Last winter nearly killed me what with the pregs and the toddler and ALL THE FUCKING SNOW but I thought, hey, this coming winter is supposed to be mild! Surely this godforsaken state can give me a goddamn break just ONCE in the weather department. But no. You’ve made your position plain. There will be no breaks. There will only be cold. And snow. And freezing winds. And chilling damp. You don’t want me to live here, do you? I’m getting your message, loud and clear: MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE, BITCH. Well, you know what? Right about now, nothing would make me happier, but financial reasons prevent me from making it so. Also, I happen to have a lot of wonderful friends and family members here and a great moms-network and ties to the local theatre community and I will move on MY OWN TIME, not yours, you stupid arctic tundra of a has-been territory. So knock it the fuck off, or so help me, I will CUT YOU.

Sincerely yours,
The Squab

Saturday musings

It is a GORGEOUS day today here in Minneapolis. Sunny, not too hot, a nice breeze – really just a perfect day to be outside. Not that I really know, mind you, since I’m at my regular coffee shop all day, doing the writing thing, hoping that there will be more perfect days once I’m done with the damn diss. Which I now have even more incentive to finish in a timely manner, because that job I interviewed for? I got it. One course in the fall, one in the spring – a perfect load for getting back in the swing of teaching, and hopefully it won’t be too hard to work out the childcare/scheduling thing. I gotta say, I’m excited to get back in the classroom. Teaching is really one of my passions, but unfortunately, it’s not one of those things that you can just get up and do for the asking. It will be good to mix with students again and get back to figuring out how to help them learn how to learn.

I was thinking last night about what I’ll call avocations, for lack of a better word. You know, “callings” – the things that you’re drawn to do no matter what. My senior year in high school when they asked us for quotes for the yearbook (seniors got special pictures and quotes) I eschewed the ever-popular Bowie/Changes quote and chose this one from Robert Frost instead:

But yield who will to their separation
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Almost twenty years ago, and I still have that memorized. And though it’s a bit highfalutin’ for a high school senior, in a lot of ways it still defines how I think about work and career. I am, I have discovered, not one of those people who can be satisfied with a “day job” – you know, the place you work to cover the bills, so you can live your “real” life outside work hours. I just can’t do it. Part of it is probably from growing up in an academic family, part of it is being overeducated with an overactive imagination, and part of it is just my nature. But whatever the cause, Frost’s idea of uniting avocation and vocation is pretty much what I’m always after. And I’m lucky, really, because I do have something that I feel “called” to do: theatre’s been my calling since approximately junior high, and teaching got added into that calling somewhere towards the end of college.

Having a calling is a gift, I know – I’ve pretty much always known what I wanted to do and be when I grew up – but of course it can also be a curse, because when you know for certain what you want to do, it’s pretty difficult to accept anything else as a substitute. Tenure track theatre positions aren’t exactly falling into my lap, you know? But I value it, nonetheless, because it’s a very centering thing to have in my life. Even if I can’t get that tenure track job I’d dreamed of – yet – I can get courses here and there, maybe start up a new theatre company, coach auditions, try to publish some articles in dramatic criticism. I mean, I might not know exactly what I’ll be doing ten years from now, but I know the general area I’ll be working in, because I have this avocation – theatre – and I’m the kind of person who has to make that my vocation, my “day job” as well.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because of a conversation I was having with some former students of mine, some of my favorite students, in fact, with whom I was talking about career goals, avocations, vocations. Over the years, I’ve taught a fair number of students, some of whom were interested in theatre, some of whom were not. All in all, out of the hundreds of students I’ve taught, there have been maybe a dozen that I really believed could and would and should make careers in theatre. It’s a demanding discipline, and you have a weird combination of talent, stubbornness, drive and insanity to do it for a career, but there were these few kids that I really thought would go there. And none of them – none! – have ended up doing it. Oh, they’re all doing various worthy activities. Lots of them are in public service jobs, working with underpriveleged kids or teaching in other disciplines or doing related humanities or nonprofit work. But none of them have made that lifetime commitment that I thought they would. In my more cynical moods, this feels like failure on my part. Why couldn’t I inspire them to follow that dream? I’ve found such a wonderful home in theatre – why don’t more of my students want to stick around and play? I know, of course, that this is a silly response. Like a parent, a teacher’s job is to prepare her students to find their OWN way, and as long as they’re happy and productive that’s what counts, right? But still, I wonder: how many of my students are even looking for a combination of avocation and vocation? How many of them will be brave enough, or crazy enough, to hold out for it? Will any of them find it where I have, in theatre? And is it my job to help them find theatrical avocations, or to use theatre to help them find whatever avocations or vocations will be their own? Heady thoughts for a Saturday, dear readers. How about you? Are you of Frost’s mindset? Or are you more contented with a separation between your work and your play?


OMG. The coffee shop is playing the shittiest music right now. Memo to Dunn Bros.: I CANNOT WRITE WHILE CELINE DION IS SINGING.

Why did I not bring my headphones? WHY?!?!?!?!?!

In exile

So since Tuesday night I’ve been up in the wilds of central Minnesota, house- and cat-sitting for my parents while they’re at a conference in Pasadena (lucky stiffs). And, oh yeah, trying to get some larger quantities of writing done. It’s sooooo quiet here, y’all. Partly because I’m out in the country, and partly because, you know: no toddler or husband around. I really miss them, more than I thought I would. The last time I was away, for my girls’ weekend at the cabin, I missed them, but not, like, crazy missed them. But my parents have all these pictures of the Hatchling all over and god DAMMIT, she’s so cute! Not to mention that even on her worst day, she’s waaaaaaaaaay more fun that writing my dissertation. Sigh. I’m trying to use the loneliness as incentive to crank stuff out. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Faith. And also Begorrah.

Well, I got almost four pages written, plus I have a detailed plan for how the rest of the chapter is going to go. Mom says that counts. We had a video conference on Sunday (so web 2.0) to set goals for writing this week. One of the many good things about having my Mom keeping track of me is that she reigns me in from setting unmanageable expectations for myself. I have a tendency to say things like “this weekend I’m going to FINISH chapter one revisions.” This goal is possible, but also unlikely, and then when I don’t reach it, I feel like a total failure and don’t want to go on. Mom says “how about you try to finish the first two sections?” which is far more attainable and then if I do happen to get more done, it’s like a bonus. She’s smart like that.

Anyway, not to jinx myself, but I’m feeling far more hopeful about this than I was last week. At least I’ve gotten some actual pages out, so I know it’s still possible for me to write. But enough about me. What I REALLY wanted to say was:

Now get out there and drink some green beer, dammit.

Bad Blogger! Bad!

God, I know, I know! It’s been like a ghost town around here lately. What can I say? Depression and lack of dissertational progress make for exceedingly light blogging. This fucker is just not getting written. OK, let’s take out that passive construction and own it: I AM NOT WRITING. This last week I finally called in reinforcements in the person of my mother, who a) has directed many dissertations (though not in my discipline), b) knows my tricks, and c) is an excellent writing mentor. Because despite my having repeatedly told my own director that it would really be helpful to me to have him set some deadlines for me and/or have regular phone conferences, he steadfastly refuses to do so. “Just send me revisions when you have them” he says, and until I do I will not hear word one from him. He just doesn’t consider that kind of checking in to be a part of his job. And of course, from a purely objective standpoint, it’s not: his job is to give me comments on my writing and confer with my committee and decide when the dissertation is done. But I call bullshit on that, y’all. I don’t know offhand what the percentage is of PhD students who actually complete their degrees, but I know it’s fucking small. And dammit, dissertation directors are supposed to be mentors, as well, and shouldn’t a mentor be a little more available to assist a struggling student in getting their degree done? It’s not like I’m asking him to write it for me, for christ’s sake. I’m asking him to set some dates, or maybe shoot me an email once every month or so. That should not be beneath him!

But it is, so I called my mom, and she kindly agreed to take on the role of taskmaster. I’ll tell you what, at 36 going on 37, it’s fucking embarrassing to have to call your mother to help you get your homework done. But I am so damn stuck right now, I didn’t know what else to do. It’s not like I don’t know how I’m supposed to approach this. I’ve read all the books – shit, I have entire passages of How to Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day memorized – and everyone keeps saying, just break it up into manageable bits, don’t try to do too much at once, think small, etc. But when I go up to my study and turn on my computer and start even thinking about writing something, I feel exactly as though I’m standing at the edge of swirling black waters, and if I stick in even so much as a toe I’ll be sucked into the abyss and drown. I know that sounds melodramatic, but I swear to God that’s exactly how it feels. I started crying just talking to my mother on the phone about it. I don’t know why it’s so scary; I’ve never had this kind of response before, even when I was writing my master’s thesis. I’m not even sure what it is, exactly, that I’m scared of, but whatever it is, it’s nightmare level. So you tell me, how the hell do you break an abyss into tiny, manageable pieces? I’ll be damned if I know. But I’ve got to do something to break through this block, and I’m hoping – desperately – that being accountable to someone else and having an externally imposed timeline will help me do it. I’m supposed to get four pages done before I have a phone conference with my mom tomorrow. I’m not there yet, but I’m going to stay at this damn coffee shop until I get there, if it kills me. Encouraging words are welcome.

Still Waters

You know how when you were little and your mother or grandmother would tell you “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?

Yeah … that.

I have a bunch of books I want to review for the blog, and family updates and pictures to post, and at some point there will be bloggy goodness, but right now my Zoloft seems to be set on “maybe you can sleep tonight” rather than “revert to perky ol’ self” so y’all please forgive me if it’s a little taciturn around these parts for a while.

Weekly Index

Number of hours spent “writing” this week: 8
Portion of that time during which anything actually got done: too small to measure
Percentage of writing time that I felt like banging my head against a hard surface: 100
Ratio of naps taken to days of the week: 1:1
Days during which my nap times could have been more profitably spent: all of them
Bitchiness level, on a scale of 1-10: 10
Self-esteem level: -2
Ability to channel Scarlett O’Hara (tomorrow is another day): waning

So … that’s why blogging was sporadic this week. On the positive side, I made a fan-fucking-tastic dinner tonight. So at least I can still cook.

Warning: Self-Indulgent Rant below

So I just called my doctor about getting back on Zoloft for a while. Specifically, until I’m done with my damn degree. Because, y’all: I have been FREAKING OUT about this whole thing. My three primary emotions about my dissertation are fear, anger, and resentment. Fear that I can’t do it, can’t complete it after all this time, fear that it will take too much out of me and I’ll be an empty shell, fear that I just suck too much or don’t care enough or lack the necessary skills/gumption/wherewithal to get the fucker done. And I’m not talking casual kind of “oh, dear” fear: I’m talking TERRIFIED. Like, sitting in front of my computer with my pulse racing, hoping and praying for ANYTHING to come up that I have to attend to so I don’t have to try and write. And forget about calls or emails with my advisor – those both send me practically into myocardial-infarction land.

That is not a functional state of mind, y’all.

And the anger, the anger is so consuming. Why didn’t I wait for a while between my MA and PhD to make sure this was the degree I wanted? Why didn’t I finish the dissertation during the YEAR back in 2000 when I had an extremely light teaching load and specific release time to write? (I went on Prozac that year, because of the stress.) Why didn’t I finish it before I got pregnant? Or before I had a kid? OR AT ANY OF THE MULTIPLE TIMES WHEN IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH EASIER??!!

Or there’s the resentment: I resent the time and energy this takes away from my family, I resent that I’m making all this effort for a degree that won’t actually prepare me for the kind of job I ultimately want to get, I resent that I *knowingly* chose an advisor with an extremely hands-off style, because I’m macho like that, and couldn’t admit to myself back then that I need a much more interventionist kind of advising. I resent being in a position where I have to accept all these huge favors from friends and family to help me get it done – not that there’s any doubt the offers are made sincerely and unconditionally, but I HATE being in a position where I need those offers! I resent that this whole process stresses me out to the point that I have to go on prescription anti-crazy meds, simply to function at an every-day level. And wear a mouth-guard when I sleep at night so I don’t grind my teeth down to splintered stubbs. I RESENT.

It’s funny how sitting in front of one’s computer and mentally chanting “I HATE this” over and over again doesn’t exactly produce a flowing literary style. Or much of anything, really, except the occasional fantasy of throwing said computer out one’s second-story window. So, you know, enough already. I mean, at some point it doesn’t matter that I picked the wrong degree or had multiple chances to finish earlier or that my advisor hasn’t been as supportive as I might have hoped. None of that is important. What’s important is, am I going to fish or cut bait? Shit or get off the pot? And I’ve decided that I’m going to fish. Or shit, whichever. (Hopefully the former is a more apt metaphor for the final product.) So, yeah, OK, it’s not on the top ten list of things I’d like to be doing this year. But fuck it. I decided to do it; I’m doing it. There is no “try,” motherfuckers.

Now on with the show

Just got back from dropping my mom off at the airport, after having spent a satisfying afternoon getting pedicures and having lunch out on the town while Mr. Squab watched the Hatchling (and played video games while she was napping). I had my first ever straight-male pedicurist, and he totally put rhinestones on my toes for free. RHINESTONES, BITCHES.

So my week of glorious full-time nannydom has come to a close, and now I have to figure out how to squeeze regular writing time into my normal schedule. Also exercise of some kind, because a) it was one of my new year’s resolutions, 2) it will be a good stress reliever, and third, it should give me additional energy, which I could sorely use. Anyone who has any tips on extending the day beyond its traditional 24-hour boundaries, please contact me.

Oh, and one last thing – thanks to everyone who’s commented or emailed me with support and love. It helps a LOT, and is just one more reason why I heart the interwebz in general and my readers in particular. You guys rock.