Ailments of dissertation completion (Episode 2)

Today I wrote many pages. I also suffered from:

  • Huge-mongous ginormo pit stains all day long (even bigger than usual)
  • The unavoidable tendency to run over my toes with my desk chair (thrice people!)
  • A near-death experience on my bike after drinking a fully caffeinated latte for the first time in 4 years (who hangs chains between random parking-lot posts anyway? People setting booby traps for tweaked out dissertators, that’s who.)
  • An extremely sore tailbone (reminiscent of the week after I fell off the Bigtoy playing sharks and minnows in the second grade and then had to sit in the car all the way to Idaho with my mom.)





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Today’s edition of symptoms of dissertation stress

I have recently made an ironclad commitment to complete my dissertation by August. Since them I have been dealing with a steady stream of odd physical symptoms of stress. Today they were: 

1. My eyeballs feel really hot, like they have been removed, boiled, and then replaced in my head.

2. The heat is now spreading to my nostrils.

3. Really strange dreams about George Stephanopoulis making professional-level shadow puppets

4. general nausea and malaise

Stay tuned for the next edition!

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It’s been a while…. so I will return with a topic dear to my heart.

Cafes and coffee shops are a big part of life as a graduate student. When we are up to here with sitting in our houses unable to concentrate, or need to ring a few more hours of productivity from tired brains and can’t stomach the idea of going to the library where we are likely to see undergraduates with tiny dogs in their backpacks, we hit a café. I sit all day, eat multiple meals, and hopefully do a good amount of my writing, grading, and thinking during my café stints. What, you might wonder, do I appreciate about a good studying café?

1. Food that has some modicum of nutritional and is neither disgusting nor pricey. Some cafes have great food, but are so expensive that my ten-dollar bill will only last through a cappuccino and cup of soup. This is a no go. Others have only sugary pastries that will not keep a girl going for hours. Some only serve food they bought at Costco, like, a long time ago. The best cafes, I can take ten dollars and have coffee, then a lunch of Panini or salad, and then a refill coffee. This is what we want.

2. Unobtrusive music. No Taylor Swift please? My favorite cafes for studying worry less about being hip or trendy or kitschy and more about playing music that creates an active yet uncluttered audio atmosphere. Just enough to offset the person next to you yelling at their plumber on their mobile phone but not enough to distract you from your work or (and this is important) sneak through the headphone barrier  thus making it impossible to listen to your own music while working.

3. A rational tea policy. This really has two parts. First, does the café have a tea containment system that allows for the water to stay hot enough for your tea to brew? You’d be surprised how many don’t. Second, do they price their tea like crazy people? Case in point: is a large tea twice as much as a small tea? If so, do they also charge 3 dollars for a large cup of hot water? No, no they do not. Yet they feel no compunction about charging you 3 dollars for the same teabag you are buying for 1.25 only because it is in a larger cup and filled with hot water. I cannot tell you how much this disturbs the tea drinker who wants to nurse a nicely brewed cuppa for many hours without breaking the bank.

4. Comfortable chairs. Many people who have not spent every day of their life writing a dissertation may not realize the relative comfort of one café table chair over another. They should. There are some cafes I simply cannot abide because my ass is asleep in 45 minutes. Not good. We need nice large seat, preferably with a cushion of some sort, ideally with a sort of grabby leather or oilcloth surface that keeps you from having to hold yourself onto the damn thing. We also need a back to the chair shaped somewhat like the human back.

Then there are some things I wish for that are so rare as to be truly special.

1. A big salad for around 6$. Let’s face it, we all want a big salad for lunch. We want it with nuts and maybe tofu or meat or fish. We want it with good dressing and maybe a little feta or a crouton. But we all can’t spend $12 for it. I know of only one studying café in Berkeley that does this. But sadly, they have an irrational tea policy and uncomfortable chairs so I rarely get to enjoy the salad.

2. Free or incredibly cheap coffee refills. I realize that the internet café thing is making this perhaps a thing of the past. But man is that 4th cup gratifying if you only paid a quarter for it.

I want to manifest the perfect café. But I can’t.

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Over the last month I have spent a lot of time checking my email to see if any of my dissertation committee members have sent me any comments on my draft. They haven’t. But still, the checking keeps me busy and gives my days a sense of purpose.

In between checking my email, I attended some Occupy events, both in Oakland and at Cal. I love the way the Occupy movement has brought so many important issues into the public debate, and it has been fun and sad to see our two right-wing parties try to grapple with them.  I have trouble throwing myself into this movement 100%. Mostly because of the cynicism I feel toward the possibility of real change, partially borne from my belief that for things to get noticeably better for most people, a pretty fundamental transformation would be necessary (Capitalism, I’m lookin’ at you).

What I realized, though, during my trips into the encampments and the protests is that this cynicism and lack of hope that has developed in me over the last ten years or so has its limits. It cannot block out the beauty that comes out of people working together, speaking together, and acting to express their desires for human freedom. This beauty was everywhere at the protests I attended, and its value is not dependent on this Movement’s ability to make lasting change in the world. It is not about efficacy. It pours out of us as humans, and this, in itself, gives me hope.

So I took some pictures to capture some things that reminded me of our capacity for beauty, cleverness, silliness, creation.

Planting veggies in downtown Oakland

Pitching book tents, Sproul Plaza

Awesome art

Chanting for the 99%

Beautiful flower art on free speech spot, Sproul Plaza

Strike and The Big Game

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hamster me versus scholar me

Last time I wrote on this blog I was struggling over letting myself try at something. A few alluring academic jobs had become available at small, friendly-seeming schools in nice locales. I had just spent the summer experimenting with the idea of not becoming a professional academic at all, and so my yearning for these jobs was surprising. That is when I realized that maybe I was just afraid of some aspect of academic life, and that was why it felt so good to think of letting it go and trying another option. Then I realized maybe I was just scared to try for something difficult, time consuming, and vulnerable-making. Especially if I failed.

So I said fuck it and decided to try even though I am so confused about pretty much everything that has to do with my desires about the future.

And that is what I have been doing for the past month. In order to apply for these jobs, I had to write a cover letter describing my research and how amazingly special it is. A friend of mine described his cover letter as making him want to stick his chest out and vomit at the same time. I read his letter; it was fantastic. Self-congratulation is the name of the game. I also had to write a “statement of teaching philosophy” that congratulated myself on being such a talented, conscientious, and unparalleled molder of minds.

But by far the biggest challenge was to get all six of my dissertation chapters into some sort of state to show my dissertation committee, so that they could read them, and then write the all-important letters of recommendation.

There was something deeply terrifying to me about showing “everything I have” in the words of my adviser, to another human being. I realized that showing him “everything I have” is, like, showing him “everything I have.” All my thoughts, all my imperfections, all the holes and wiggly spots in my argument, all the research I have uncovered. Everything.

Perhaps one of the scariest parts was taking an honest look myself at the state of things. I had to switch modes from my preferred busy-little-hamster-with-eyes-closed to thoughtful-scholar-making-actual-decisions. That little hamster is really good at keeping secrets, hiding from hard truths, staying busy. But in order to take this step toward actually finishing this dissertation and preparing myself to be assessed as a viable job candidate, that hamster could not be in charge anymore.

So, every day of the past month I have been sitting down and trying to look honestly at what I have done – to see both its strengths and weaknesses. It has been exhausting and now, the day I have turned it all in, I feel like I have a heavy lead blanket on all my internal organs. The physical response is much more than just tiredeness. It comes from having done something that went against every little hamster-instinct of my being every day for a month.

And now I am sitting in a beautiful room on campus, writing this blog, I am starting to realize something.

I did it. I survived.

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The courage to choose without limits

This week I am puzzling over whether I can find happiness working in a field that requires that I constantly make myself vulnerable by exposing my work and ideas to critique. Yet I wonder just as much if that vulnerability might be the only road to true satisfaction, wholeness, and belonging.

It seems I am always trying to stop myself from making real choices. By “real” I guess I mean free, unencumbered, and from the place of love and compassion. Of course, there are always limitations to our choices that come from the circumstances in which we live. No matter how much I approach life from freedom and divine compassion I cannot simply choose to be a professional figure skater (no matter how much I would truly truly love to). My age, athletic ability, budget, god-given inability to pull my leg off and stick it over my head all prohibit that choice from being available to me. This is the case for so many things, so why do I go through life creating more obstacles for myself when there are already so many?

As a historian I think a lot about narrative. In my dissertation, I am taking a collection of disparate primary sources: letters, newspaper articles, diaries, maps, reports, and turning them into the story of settling and colonizing Oregon. A lot of scholars have demonstrated that narratives are inherently skewed, embedded with power and always reinforcing power relations, even when the writers and readers of the narratives are not even aware of it. This is undoubtedly true, but it does nothing to reduce our absolute dependence on narratives and stories to live in the world, to create our identities, and to understand ourselves and others. So, we keep telling stories even though we know they are imperfect and sometimes dangerous.

What does this have to do with the way I relate to choices in my life? Well I’ll tell you. The main tool my unconscious and conscious mind uses to limit myself when it comes to choices is narrative. I have a narrative about why I cannot be a good academic, for example. It infects my thinking, circumscribing my assessments of the world around me, my interactions, my moods, and my work habits. When I finally think I have broken through that narrative another one begins to emerge. This one concedes that I have done OK in graduate school and so I am well-suited for some part of the job, but only the parts where I interact with people. The rest, it tells me, I am still hopeless at. I feel a strong sense of freedom when an old story has been vanquished and exposed as the rascal it is. But then, as my ego begins to construct new stories of limitation that sense fades. It’s really a constant struggle. These narratives are seriously strong little suckers! They are extremely good at convincing me not to try.

Because if I try and fail then the stories might be proven true.  Which of course in reality does not even matter because I am already letting them control me as though they are true. But the fear is still enough to hold me back.

So how can I escape this cycle and really allow myself to choose based on what makes me happy instead of what the constellation of stories structuring my reality at a particular moment decides to allow?

That is a very good question.

I’m pretty sure the answer is to act with courage, to trust, and to let go. When I write these words I know they are true, and yet they are so difficult to carry out. Writing this post is a way to remind myself and to hopefully cultivate a sense of commitment to living my life according to these principles.

Many things inspire me to reach for the courageous life. Mary Oliver, who is the bomb,  seemed to get this concept when she wrote the following words:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride, married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
–Mary Oliver (From her poem, “When Death Comes.”)

And Brene Brown gets it too. Take a look at this life-changing video.

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OK so I know my last post was freaky, or Who’s Your Daddy (Episode 2)

I was inspired to write my last post while waiting for Lucy at the Apple Store. Is that an excuse for its freaky stalker-like quality? I don’t really know.

What I do know is that, even at the very earliest stages, searching for a sperm donor is strange stuff.

I mean, Lucy and I have already found each other. Our mates. I have fallen in love with every detail of her face and body. Her slender ankles, her honey colored hair, her slight lisp and her laugh. She’s my baby and I love her. For most heterosexual couples those details that we become so enamored with and so accustomed to are the ones we will enjoy seeing recreated in our little babies. Oh, to have a baby with Lucy’s slight lisp! With those curls!

So, I am noticing that thinking about finding a sperm donor is a bit sad because what I really want to do is make a baby with Lucy.

Also, it is discombobulating because, since I don’t get to make a baby with Lucy we get to start from scratch. But what should we prioritize? Is it most important to have someone we know, and who our child can know, and ask questions about his penis or other people’s penises? Or better to have someone with no history of depression, bipolar disorder, heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, obesity, diabetes, schizophrenia and the gazillion other illnesses we have in our families? If we do go with someone we know, should we know them well, or just a little? Should we live near them, or far away? If we go with a sperm bank should we shell out more money for the identity-revealing kind of sperm or the forever-a-mystery kind of sperm? Or maybe it’s better to use that money to start a college fund? Should we get a Caucasian donor, so the child looks like us, or an African-American donor so the child looks like its cousins. Should he be short or tall? Jewish or Irish? Sporty or brainy?

The Questions Never End!

So, forgive me for getting a little loopy at the Apple store and perhaps scaring the crap out of every man we know.

Oh, and if you want to father our child, just give a call. 


Posted in Lesbian pregnancy and motherhood, PSD | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Who’s Your Daddy (Episode 1)

Lucy and MacKenzie got married.

Lucy and MacKenzie want babies. Cute ones.

This means that if you are a man but have not been explicitly eliminated as a potential sperm donor (PSD), then consider yourself warned…

You are a candidate.

We are watching you.

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Wonderful things that happened to me today before 9 am

I generally enjoy my mornings. I love breakfast food, steaming mugs full of frothy beverages, starting the day’s work, and stretching.  But today really topped them all.

Today, before 9 am

I was awakened to the news that my sister-in-law’s labor had progressed brilliantly overnight, and she was headed to the hospital to give birth Teddy – a new baby nephew for me and Lucy and the rest of the family to love!

Even better than that, I was awakened with this news by a VERY excited and adorable Lucy. She just couldn’t sleep, and therefore had to wake me up and make scrinchy eyes at me about Teddy, and how the labor was going, and how excited she was to be an aunt again, and read the many many emails that her mother had sent out.

A drawing I did of the exterior of my first Apartment with Lucy, right up the way from Homemade Cafe

Even better than that, she then took me to Homemade Cafe, the best place on earth for breakfast, at 7am. This restaurant has a very special place in my heart (when Lucy was a chef working nights and I worked days at a law firm and we NEVER saw each other even though we lived in the perfect type of very first apartment on Dwight Way we would go there every Friday morning and sit and be in love).  Early in the morning on a weekday it is most magical. The staff there are like a family – today an ex-employee brought in her beautiful baby girl for breakfast and a visit. She sat in a high-chair at the counter. All the waiters talked to her and she ate her waffle while watching the cook perform his short-order magic. Once, he juggled three eggs while she watched in amazement.

Inspired by the family atmosphere,  Lucy and I decided to compose a cheer for her laboring sister. It went:

Keep on growing
Don’t stop until
The head is showing!!!!
Yeah! Woo! Gooooo!!!!

After we finished our delicious breakfast, we came home and my lovely friend Deborah told me my eyes remind her of this beautiful pink dragon named Serendipity:

Then Lucy totally crashed. While she took a nap,  I decided to run an errand before going to campus for lecture. So, I went to the Ellis Hardware to get new smoke detectors for the house. (This in-and-of itself was exciting because it is something I have been meaning to do for over a year. You know, that list of things that you have been meaning to do for so long you are afraid they will never happen?) Now, it may seem like a trip to the hardware store would not qualify as a wonderful thing that happened to me before 9am. But in this you would be wrong. It qualifies because Ellis is a truly wonderful place. It is a blast from the past because they keep the vast majority of their merchandise behind a counter, and you have to ask an employee to retrieve it for you. Sounds annoying until you realize that you never have to wander around getting frustrated wondering what the hell you are doing, which is how I spend most of my time in more modern hardware stores.  At Ellis this morning, a wonderfully knowledgeable woman approached me and took me right where I needed to go. I told her about the impending arrival of my nephew and she thought that was very exciting and we agreed errands you have been meaning to get done and haven’t are a great way to pass the time while waiting for a baby to arrive. She advised me on the appropriate number of carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors to buy, and then wrote me  a receipt by hand on a pink tablet printed with the ACE hardware logo. It being early morning, all around me contractors, painters, electricians and home fixer uppers chatted about chain saws and the best way to seal a duct. It was busy, but had the calm feeling of the beginning of a day full of possibilities. I know it seems cheesy to say, but I felt part of my community and connected to my fellow humans, and I loved it.

I would love to hear your stories of unexpectedly magical days/weeks/lifetimes/hours/minutes.

Soon, I will be able to tell you in more detail about Teddy’s little head. So stay tuned!

Posted in Inspiration, My new favorite..., Our House, Silliness | 5 Comments

Great writing and filmmaking about poo

As I continue to be inspired to deep thoughts by the purge of my home (I have now successfully cleaned out and minimized the laundry room and overstuffed toolboxes), I came across the following work of genius on my new favorite blog Occipital Hazard, entitled “Jettisoning Clutter is a Lot Like Taking a Shit.” This led me to think a lot about shit-taking. Which actually isn’t that unusual for me. What is unusual is that I have this newly minted internet forum on which to air my thoughts about shit-taking. During this period of reflection and the preliminary stages of composition, I came across this amazing video which says everything there is to say about taking a shit without really saying it at all. For that reason, it is my new favorite video and I want it to go viral and am doing my part to get it out there by posting it here.

This video should go viral because:

  • This man is as passionate about toilet decorum as he is decorous while speaking publicly about it.
  • He is like a father to me.
  • He has an assistant who sat without laughing while filming.

I really just want you to watch this video. All the way to the end if you would. You won’t regret it!

For more sources of poop related humor, follow these links

A list of movie names that evoke going #2

A movie we all wished had stayed longer in the theater

An interesting history of poop-scenes in the movies, from Caddyshack to Trainspotting to Slumdog Millionaire

Posted in Inspiration, My new favorite..., Silliness | Tagged , | 8 Comments