Friday, July 25, 2008

Saying Goodbye

I'm going to break down my Hollins semester in more detail when I get back home, but, before our sleepover begins in earnest, I wanted to recount a few of the highlights of the day:

We hiked up to the top of Sharp Top Mountain this afternoon, and, on the way, we encountered this very tame doe (which we named July).  Robin has the pictures of him licking my arm.

We made it up to the top.  When we saw the mountain later from the Parkway it was amazing to think we had climbed all the way to the summit.  Michelle and Robin held up admirably, and I'm sure I've instilled a life-long love of hiking mountains in them. :-)  Or maybe not.

It was a beautiful, perfect conclusion to this experience.

So, until I return home, valete!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I'm Alive!

Yes, I am alive.  I took a week hiatus, not out of desire, but out of necessity.  You see, I've been a little busy.  Let me recount the past few days:
Saturday:  Got up at the crack of dawn, sang a little, read a lot, and basked in some warm fuzzies.  The conference was wonderful and I enjoyed reading my paper to an audience (I even did the voices!).  All of that excitement eventually died down and I spent the last four or five hours working on a Roman history timeline.  I think I went to bed around 4AM or something ridiculous.
Sunday:  Got up and worked on my Roman picture book from around 9AM until 3AM.  I'm serious.  I sat on a stool for over eight hours just manipulating stuff on Word.  Then I had to go back to my room and manipulate the same stuff one more time.  While watching Gladiator for inspiration.
Monday:  Got up early again and had to go to Kinko's to print everything off.  Had some issues but Robin kept me calm.  I finished everything for my picture book about 5 minutes before class began.  Presented said book in class, got positive feedback and then went home to read all my classmates' stories for workshop the next day.  Also typed up guidebook for next year's entertainment chairs. 
Tuesday:  Woke up early, wrote 6-7 pages of a new picture book I'm working on, helped out with a picture book workshop, met with resident scholar Philip Nel and had my head deflated a little, and then did a fast and furious critique before class that night.  Came home from class and crashed.  After reading another three stories and making comments.
Wednesday:   Again, woke up earlier than I would have liked, did the rest of my critiques, went to last picture books class and then came home and did revisions all night.  
Thursday:  Got up, met with my picture books professor to get one more book signed and then went for an extensive walk around campus to get pictures and reflect on my 2008 experience.  Went to my last meeting as a committee chairperson and then did another couple hours of story revision.  Went to class.  

And then I was done.  Finally.

I'm not kidding when I say that I haven't worked this hard in a while.  Which is hilarious to me because I spend an extraordinary amount of time doing my job during the school year, but this gig takes the cake.  That Roman picture book alone took around 30 hours (maybe more) to complete.  

But I survived, and I received great marks for my efforts.  And now I have nothing to worry about anymore.  However, I don't feel weird about it like I did last year.  This year I'm just relieved.  I'm so thankful that tomorrow I get to go hiking with my friends, eat some good food, reminisce a little and then have a final sleepover before I embark for Bryan and home on Saturday.  

I really need a break over the next few days.  I'm sure I'll be itching to be back in the classroom by Wednesday, but, for right now, I just want to bask in the glory that is another semester of graduate school in the bag.

Friday, July 18, 2008


We're (of course I mean Robin, Michelle and myself) watching The Outsiders downstairs and I'm avoiding looking at the PowerPoint that is supposed to go with my presentation tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will do my first public reading of my critical work. I'm actually not that nervous; teaching has cured me of stage fright.  However, I do want to say all the words correctly and give some emphasis to my argument.  I want people to be interested more than anything, and these critical essays are real hit or miss.  Last year I was able to understand a few of them, but others were a little too obtuse without having the paper right in front of you to follow along.  

Today, I really faced the reality that as much I sometimes feel stressed and overwhelmed by my responsibilities, there are people out there that are way harder on themselves and are even more stressed than I am.  After a few conversations with some of my classmates, I'm starting to feel like I'm one of the more relaxed people here.  Bizarre.

But I mostly can thank Robin and Michelle for that.  They have been my salvation during these past 5 weeks, and I am very fortunate to have met such wonderful women.  Only a week left, but I will try to make the most of it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brain Dead

It's very hard to blog right now because my life is consumed by a picture book. And that, well, that's just boring.

Some computer savvy person would probably scoff at my angst over having to create a 32-page text, but it's pain-staking, and I don't think about much else these days.

Well, I do think about getting through Saturday (Seussical performance and critical paper reading), and then I think about Monday afternoon when this beast will be done. And knowing that when I eat dinner on Monday that I will be done, well, that's a very nice thought.

I'll have a few things left to work out, but it will be a piece of cake compared to this past week of photoshopping and photo studioing and photo illustrating. Ugh.

On a random note, I am pretty mad at my state legislature for threatening to raise our co-pays on our medical plan because they are seriously lacking in the forward planning department. I get paid so little for what I do--do I really need to pay $50 to go see a dermatologist? Or $35 to get a drug that I need every month? And they dropped our raise from 6% to 3%. Economic downturns are like dominoes, everything is touched somewhere in the process and no one can get back up again once that first piece falls.

On a happier note, I have discovered a nice little diversion. Joss Whedon's new web show, Dr. Horrible. It's hilarious and comes at a time when I need a little fun injected into my day. Plus I love Nathan Fillion from his days on Firefly. And I love Joss Whedon's writing. And even Neil Patrick Harris has gotten cooler with age after his stints in the Harold and Kumar movies. It's only available until July 20th at, so go check it out quick if you're interested in having a laugh.

But now, Q calls, and I must return to picture book land. Sigh.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mountain Paradise

My camera is battery-less right now, so I can't post pictures yet of my lovely weekend with Bryan, but just imagine a mountainous landscape, a well-constructed camp site, and two very well fed spouses.  

It was relaxing and perfect and fulfilling in a way that nothing in my professional life can top.  I would like to say it re-energized me for my last two weeks here, but...

that would be a little bit of a lie.

However, I'm making progress, and I have a timeline in my head that keeps me going.  Get to Saturday and this will be over. Make it to Monday and that other thing will be over.  And in 11 days, I will get to pack up my stuff and return home.  

I really do appreciate all that I am learning here, but it is unnatural to be this removed from daily life.  I try to create a routine with my classes and gym visits and conference duties, but it never quite matches the satisfaction I get from my husband, my career and my little life in Raleigh.  

But I do believe that it is good for me to push myself in this way because I doubt I ever take much time when I'm in Raleigh to reflect on how good I have it.  How much joy Bryan brings to my life.  Or how grateful I am for my students and the unique challenges my job affords me.  

And how wonderful it is to be able to go to bed and not worry that some beetle is going to make a home in your hair while you catch some Z's.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Hi Michele!

Congrats, your submission "A Familiar Quest" was chosen to be read at the conference. Please email an electronic file of your submission to Ellen and Leslie (see address in CC of this email) by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday).

Also, please time your piece by reading it out loud to someone and send me the time by noon on Tuesday. Please do not guess or estimate your time. Reading it out loud and having an accurate time is necessary for conference planning.

Thank you and Congratulations!

Well, that kind of makes the 7+ hours I spent revising my submissions worth it. :-)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One More Day

I am feeling better.   My ears still feel "moist," so I will be avoiding the pool today but I think I'll make it through the last two weeks.  On Tuesday night, I went to bed at midnight (quite an accomplishment for me) and then last night I went to bed at 4AM again.  Sigh.  

Right now my life is occupied with the looming academic conference and getting my dummy started for my picture books class.  I need to finalize what I will sending as submissions to the conference reading committee and I have four rehearsals to run/attend before next Saturday.  In addition, I have roughly a week and a half to get my picture book in shape, so I'm trying to pace myself a little so if I stay up until 5AM it won't be because I HAVE to.

Mostly my mind is fixated on seeing Bryan tomorrow.  This will be the first time we have more than 24 hours to see each other and we've never gone camping while I was here, so it will be a new experience in many respects.  Being with Bryan makes me feel so normal.  I have a tendency to get so invested in everything I do, and he is the only one who can pull me out of the trance-like state I find myself in sometimes.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to be here for 6 weeks and never see him.  

Since I can't swim, I'm going to go on a bike ride this morning. Here is a snippet from an adapted version of the first chapter of my novel:

So I went to a place called Hair Champs to get my hair dyed. I’m not a high maintenance gal so the implications of attending a $7.99 haircut place for a major cosmetic transformation did not occur to me. I walked in with a purpose—I knew the colors and had a picture of the cut I wanted. However, I ended up with an artiste.  

“Can I help you?” a foreign-looking woman behind the counter had asked. She had enormous breasts. I’m sorry, but that was the first thing I noticed about her. Her v-neck blouse gave me an eyeful as I walked up to the counter. And just to clarify, I am not gay. My mom thought I was for a while, but that’s a different story.

“Um, I want to get my hair cut and colored,” I said, holding the picture up for her to see.

“Well,” she began in an accent that I recognized as Russian-esque, “I think we can do something for you; you will like.” She began to lead me to a station on the right side of the room.

“I want this,” I said again, jabbing my finger at the photograph of Ashlee Simpson that I had clipped from my mom’s copy of InStyle magazine. I walked over to her station and saw that it was very minimalist with a few hair products and that jar of blue gel they put combs in scattered across the counter. My eyes were mostly drawn towards the picture of a young blond girl doing a split taped to the mirror.

Her eyes registered what I was looking at. “Oh, that’s my daughter, Alexa. She’s cheerleader. Very good. She is even on All-Star team.”

“That’s…great,” I said, with an over-the-top smile. “By the way, what was your name again?” Her blouse didn’t have enough material to put a nametag on, obviously.

“It’s Elly, short for Elvira.” Elvira? The Mistress of the Dark? I just couldn’t believe how much sense that made. Big breasts. Big hair. I had a celebrity impersonator for a hairdresser.

“Wow, that’s unusual,” I said, lifting my jaw up from the floor.

“Very common in Russia,” she said while she brushed stray hairs from the chair in front of me.

“So, what do you think of my plan?” I asked, gesturing back to the photograph.

“Yes, yes, but I will make it work with your head. It is, how do you say, squatty.”

“My head is squatty,” I repeated as I looked at myself in her mirror. While I contemplated my head shape, I heard the chatter of the hairdressers behind me. Apparently they had all taken the same boat over here because I heard an inordinate amount of v-sounds. I felt like I was in the cockpit of Air Force One in that Harrison Ford movie.

“Let me take better look,” she said as she grabbed my shoulders and shoved me into the black vinyl seat. “Yes, mm-hmm, I know what we will do. What colors did you want it to be?”

“Well, I want it be black …” I began but I became distracted by her long red fingernails combing my scalp. I think she was testing the weight of my hair, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel like my head was getting raked like a big pile of fall leaves. I slouched a little in the chair to distance myself from her claws and finished, “With blue stripes somewhere towards the front.”

“Black and blue?” She chuckled a little; the American expression was apparently not foreign to her.

“Yeah, just call me a Duke fan, I guess,” I said with a guffaw. She stopped laughing and just stared at me in the mirror with a look of confusion on her face.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I seem to have reached my breaking point.  I'm really tired.  I've been exercising so much and working so much and stressing so much that my body is now fighting me a little.  So I'm going to critique two stories and then call it a night.  Maybe a night that ends before midnight will do me some good.  We'll see what happens tomorrow.  My hope is that I just need a good night's sleep and I'll be right as rain the morning.  Well, let me put it another way, I will be right as rain in the morning. :-) 

My main fear is that my equilibrium is off because of all the swimming I've been doing.  I'm prone to ear infections anyway so I knew that I might be playing with fire by spending so much time in the pool, but I'm hoping it's something will right itself without antibiotics or $60 urgent care visits getting involved.

So think happy thoughts for me and wish me wellness...not just for Bryan's sake this weekend but also so I can finish my to-do list before next Saturday.  :-)

Monday, July 7, 2008


Even while I'm in the midst of one of the toughest academic semesters of my existence, I am happy to see that I can still find life amusing. 

For instance, Nicole Kidman named her new daughter, Sunday.  She was born on a Monday.  How many times do you think that poor little girl will get asked if she was born on a Sunday?

Other than that, I'm at a loss.  Three days until camping.  That's all I've got to say.  And about 12 days until I regain my sanity.  


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fairy Tales

(Warning:  Robin, you may not want to read this since you already got an earful last night.)

Last night Robin and I watched Enchanted.  At first I was cracking up.  Ha ha.  Disney is poking fun at its silly princesses and their shallow relationships.  And then the princess gets transported to the real world and discovers that life is not so perfect.

So far, so good.  

Now, I know this is a Disney film and I shouldn't have been expecting a postmodern rewrite of their entire canon.  I also know it is geared towards children.  However...

In the "real" world (I use that term loosely as you'll soon see), a father is giving his daughter a book on important women in history.  Sure, she wants a princess book, but he is trying to teach her that real women don't just sit by windowsills and sing. They work, invent, and use their brains.  


This father is about to propose to a "real" woman; they have a good relationship but it's not showy, head over heels or anything.  They love and respect one another.


Then the father meets the princess and suddenly we have a complete reversal.  She doesn't learn that life is not a fairy tale--she turns REAL LIFE INTO A FAIRY TALE.   People are dancing in Central Park.  The father who made fun of the princess for falling in love in ONE day, falls in love with her in TWO days.  True love's kiss saves the princess from death.  And then the princess and the father exchange their significant others and end up together.  The working woman who was so happy when the father injected a little romance into their relationship, happily goes to the cartoon world to become the pea-brained prince's princess. And the original princess in question?  She cleans the father's house, cooks meals for the family, takes the daughter shopping and to a spa, and then finishes the film dancing around the father's apartment with her new family.

Now, I'm losing my mind.  

Are you kidding me?  They make fun of the whole premise and then do it all over again!!!!  I thought this was supposed to be different; instead they made it worse because they had intelligent women and even they all jumped onto the romance/fantasy bandwagon.  

Why, Disney?  Why?

I know I sound cynical, but I would just like ONE MOVIE that actually gives these kids realistic expectations.  I know nobody wants to see a normal relationship on the big screen, but did it have to be so shallow and perfect?  Princesses are great.  Fairy tales can be great.  Dreaming is, of course, wonderful.  But these little girls need to know that it is possible to be happy in the real "real world" too.  It doesn't have to all be an elaborate fantasy.  I have friends who are in their mid-twenties and single and frustrated. These types of movies where real relationships are quickly pushed aside for bimbo princesses don't help.  

I know I'm fortunate to have a marriage that brings so much joy to my life, and I can see someone being confused by my reaction to these kinds of films considering how storybook some aspects of my life have been, but falling in love with Bryan in high school was hard.  We were so immature at times and we had to deal with the realities of being teenagers in love.  He is my other half, but I would never tell any future children of ours that it's perfect all the time.  That falling in love is easy.  That a kiss can make everything right and save the day.  That CLEANING A HOUSE AND COOKING A MEAL AND WEARING A PRETTY DRESS WILL MAKE MEN LIKE YOU.  

Good gracious.

Am I going to have to deal with this issue every year I'm here?

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I feel so much better.  I have spent the last 2+ hours revising a critical essay from last year and it feels so good to be sitting in this library, in a comfortable chair, looking out at the mountains and dealing with words that don't have to be beautiful.  The focus is on the argument--not the setting or the characterization or the metaphors you deem to include.  

I love writing creative works, but it is so hard to do it here when you have to be on spot all the time.  Be. Creative. Now.  Write a perfect short story.  Now.  Create a publisher-worthy picture book.  Now.  Admittedly my classes don't make me feel that way in a direct manner, but when you're getting graded on the creative works you turn in, you don't want them to be crap.  

Whereas with critical papers, you just have to have the right ideas.  Sure, you have to put the words together nicely but the two tend to go hand in hand for me.  If I have a good idea, I'll find a way to write it.  I suspect that I will shy away from creative courses in the future (besides the one I am doing in London next year) and focus on writing at home where I can arrange my thoughts at whatever pace I desire.  I have enough writer friends that I think I will be able to workshop my stuff without too much difficulty.  I will miss reading everyone else's stuff (definitely a perk of a creative writing class), but I feel so out of my element this semester and I need to regain my sanity. Sooner than later, I hope.  

As for tonight, Mexican food with Robin (yay!).  And a little time off the reservation (mucho importante).  

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sound and Fury

Today did not feel like a national holiday.  Maybe it's our isolated campus, but until 9PM when the fireworks started going off in the different corners of Roanoke, I could not tell that today was any different than yesterday.  

I started the day by doing laundry.  Well, scratch that, I started by reading some chapters of New Moon, the second book in the Twilight "saga."  I finished it this evening.  Yep, I read a 550+ page book in a day.  I gave all three of them to my friend Robin to hide until I finish some of my projects.  My sister was nice enough to supply me with the sequels, but I want to hold out on the 3rd one until I have made more progress on the work I HAVE to do here.  I will say the 2nd one was as engrossing as the first despite the fact that I feel like a teenage girl for liking them at all.  Oh well...

Yes, so laundry and then a little clean up around the old dorm room, a workout at the very deserted gym, and a good dose of reading in the afternoon.  We had a simple dinner here and then watched Pride and Prejudice (I think I'm up to 15 viewings) in my room.  We finished off with some sparklers and a mountain-top firework viewing party.  I'll post some pictures of that as soon as Robin doctors them to make them look as fantastic as possible.  :-)  

A quiet but satisfying Friday.   Tomorrow I'm looking forward to a real dinner off campus...but before that comes a long list of work that I'd rather not contemplate at this moment.  

Oh, and tomorrow, my brother-in-law is getting married!  Bryan is at a "bachelor" party right now but the last time he spoke with me he was playing spades.  I'm thinking I don't have much to worry about there.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why I Love Teaching Latin

I won't pretend there is a lot going on in my life right now. I had my second critique of my work in progress tonight and by all accounts it is being well received. It is going to require a time commitment on my part and some parts of it are going to be hard to write, but I think I am actually going to finish it. And then we'll see what happens.

This week is a holiday, of sorts, but I'm mostly concerned with getting as much done as humanly possible because next weekend I am going camping with Bryan and the following week is when some pretty big stuff is due so I feel the need to get cracking and make some progress as quickly as I can. I will probably go check out the fireworks tomorrow with the gals but I'm kind of waiting and seeing how much free time actually materializes in my week.

But the title of this post is what I really want to talk about. I was trained to be an English teacher. I went to college for five years (blast you, Duke!) and studied English the entire time. I never switched majors or had any doubts that I would be anything but an English teacher upon graduation. I took Latin to fulfill my own foreign language requirement and that was that.

When I was asked to take on a few Latin classes by the Garner High administration, I said yes because I am a sucker for any kind of challenge and, to be honest, I kind of thought I had to. English teachers are in abundance in Wake County and I thought I might lose my spot if I didn't seem flexible. What seemed like a pretty bizarre turn of events has blossomed into a completely new career path for me and I will become a full-time Latin teacher this fall for the first time in my teaching career.

Yesterday, I presented a picture book (only text) on the ABCs of Roman mythology/history/culture. For the first time in that class I felt that I was in my element. I knew that material backwards and forwards and I enjoyed sharing a few little tangents with my classmates. My perfect job will combine my love for that subject with what I teach each day to my students.

And those students... They are truly why I teach Latin at all. I wouldn't be as interested in the subject if I didn't feel like I was making a connection with my audience. Unlike when I talk about the beauty of the end of the Catcher in the Rye and see blank faces in front of me, I can see my students' amusement over Romulus killing his brother because he jumped over his trench. I can hear the click in their brains when I explain to them the parts of a sentence and why Latin has all those endings. I can see them making connections from the past to the present when I teach them about Saturnalia.

My students are delightfully quirky and I, despite the fact that I am financially shooting myself in the foot by teaching the subject (no National Boards possible and my master's won't be relevant), I don't think I'll ever be able to let go. I know too much now. I've had too much fun planning lessons for it. I love that people don't know what to make of it.

Despite the fact that I love literature and love discussing it, I don't think I'll stop being a Latin teacher anytime soon. I can't give up on Aeneas and Lupercalia and the Forum. I need puella, the 3rd declension and the perfect passive subjunctive. Latina est mea vita.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Living in a Fish Bowl

Last year when I was here there were days when I just wanted to scream because I had to spend 6-straight weeks doing nothing but reading and writing and thinking about reading and writing. My "normal" life is full of different diversions--husband, family, school, students, book reviews, sports, exercise, etc.  Here, besides my brief interludes with Bryan, I am constantly faced with whatever it is I have to do.

So I've reached the screaming point again.  I find myself obsessing about things that I honestly cannot change, but we are always faced with our work here.  I live in a dorm room where my books line the shelves near my desk, where I wake in the morning to find my class journal next to my bed, where my computer is always just an arm's distance away (and constantly on).  My schedule revolves around due dates and class meetings.  I exercise, not just to stay in shape, but to keep my sanity so that I can expel some angst on something other than a picture book or the latest chapter of my "novel."

Part of my problem is that I cannot control everything around me, and if anyone would like to send me to a hypnotist for my birthday next year so I can be cured of my academic issues then I will be a very grateful lady.

OK, enough of that rant.  I have good news!  Robin is coming with our group next year to London.  Now I will have a travel buddy because she lives close enough that we can leave out of the same airport and an automatic bunkmate should we have to share.  We get along famously as they say and she is even willing to let me drone on about my neuroses whenever the mood strikes me.  And I can't even begin to explain how much help she has been with that picture book class.  She's awesome, and I now have even more to look forward to next June.

Also in the good news department was the fact that I had a much better go-around with my picture book dummy this time. However this one didn't involve pictures so maybe that should tell me something.  It was an ABC concept book.  Here are the first few letters:

"A is for Aeneas, a Trojan man who fled his burning city on the last day of the Trojan War in order to fulfill a prophecy that one day his descendants would start the city of Rome."

"B is for Bacchus, the god of wine and theater who had such devoted followers that they would gather in the woods and dance in his name."

"C is for Ceres, the goddess of the harvest who helped farmers' crops grow and was the mother of Proserpina, the queen of the Underworld."


Easiest picture book I have ever written because I teach that stuff every year and if I have anything stored in my head, it's Roman mythology/history.  

Time for bed...only 12:30AM tonight!  Last night it was 4AM, so I'm getting better.