Emo update

So after I posted yesterday, I went to Todd’s office to get ready for class and walk over with him. I was determined not to talk about this with him (I really hate being a whiner), but he asked me directly, really looked at me, and it just came pouring out.

He listened.
And then he asked me about my story.
And then, very gently, he started asking more questions, making suggestions, drawing me out, praising me. He kept listening and questioning until the moment we had to start class, and then brought up the conversation again for the walk back. When he absolutely had to start teaching his next class, he said, “Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I really want to continue this discussion, if you’re okay with that, and I’d love to see your work.”

He built me back up from rubble.

When we parted ways, I finally felt up to giving myself a treat. So I biked to Barnes and Noble, where I discovered that not one but two of my favorite authors had new releases out. I curled up and read for hours, then bought myself a swishy skirt and biked home as the sun set, feeling happy and at peace.

Before this, I’d known that I liked and respected Todd. After yesterday, I realized that he may very well be my rav (mentor) in this program.



There’s this idea I’ve been kicking around for almost a year now, shifting parts around, changing characters, doing more research. It wasn’t quite ready to be written, but I had a deadline for workshop and hey, if not now, when? So I poured it onto the page, deleted one version and wrote another, polished the language, let the characters surprise me, delighted in the symbols that naturally cropped up, and made sure not to run away from tension or conflict, which is usually my single greatest flaw as a writer. Then I turned it in, reasonably proud of myself, and waited for workshop.

The workshop demolished it. This time, instead of complaining that I ran away from tension, they complained that there was too much tension and they didn’t care what happened. They didn’t notice the personal histories I’d carefully seeded through the story, so they complained it wasn’t clear what these two people meant to each other. They hated the setting and found it silly. Their suggestions for “improving” it showed that they hadn’t actually read the story or understood what I was attempting to do; the suggestions were all over the map and useless, instead of being focused on one or two solutions for one or two flaws, like they usually are. It was the single most painful and demoralizing workshop I’ve ever had.

I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what these people want. I feel like both semesters I’ve started out writing beautifully and enthusiastically, and by the end I’m fighting to force something half-baked out by deadline. I don’t see improvement. I see regression. Maybe I’m not cut out to be a writer. Or an academic. I’m apparently enough of a brown-nosing smartypants to piss off my peers, but from the quality of my writing, my lack of a GTA and my growing certainty that I won’t be able to hack a PhD program after this, not enough to actually do any good. I just don’t know what to do, and I don’t see next semester being any better.

Panic updated

After a weekend from hell, going insane trying to do everything at once, here’s the final tally:

1. Apply for residency
2. Reapply to work at the writing center next year
3. Professional development project for the writing center
4. Revise an old story for fiction workshop
5. Two meetings and a required professional growth seminar
6. Turn in a brand new, 15-page story
7. Turn in a six-page essay for science writing
8. Turn in a complete lesson plan for fiction workshop using a published story to illustrate a craft issue

The next two weeks are now so sane and under control that I get to bike to Barnes and Noble tomorrow and read the new Laurie R. King on release day. How cool is that?


It’s about that time of the semester when I have a complete mental breakdown and realize that I am absolutely screwed. How I’m going to get all this done, I have no freaking clue, and I haven’t even started most of it yet.

Within the next week:
1. Apply for residency
2. Reapply to work at the writing center next year
3. Professional development project for the writing center
4. Revise an old story for fiction workshop

1. Two meetings and a required professional growth seminar (don’t need to prepare anything, but I am so not going to have time or energy to do anything else)

1. Turn in a brand new, 15-page story (not one word is written yet)

1. Turn in a six-page essay for science writing (haven’t even started researching)
2. Turn in a complete lesson plan for fiction workshop using a published story to illustrate a craft issue (after a month of searching, I haven’t found a single story that illustrates the craft essay I want to teach)

And this is on top of my usual reading, critiquing, grading, etc.

Deer. Headlights. Panic and mayhem ensue.


The Seder on campus wasn’t home, but it was still lovely. It ended early, I got home late, and discovered a box sitting on my front stoop.

A care package.

Somehow, in the midst of teaching, traveling, cleaning, cooking and generally going nuts, my mom set aside the time and energy to put together a box of favorite movies from childhood, painted tiles from Jerusalem, my favorite Passover tea, the most chocolatey maccaroons she could find, a beautiful note, dozens of little treasures to let me know she loves me and misses me and is so proud of me she could burst.

Just seeing the box, I started crying so hard I could barely open it, and every item I unwrapped set me off again, sobbing until I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. I bawled for half an hour before I finally calmed down.

My mom is amazing. I love her so much, and I don’t tell her nearly often enough.

Here comes the sun

According to Jewish tradition, this morning the sun was in the exact place at the exact time that it was when it was first created, an event that happens one morning every 28 years. I got up at “O-Dark-Thirty” to celebrate it, largely thanks to my cousin Bill, who persistently nudged me about it. It got me thinking, the last time this happened, I was two. The next time it happens, I’ll be 58. Where will I be? What will my life be like?

I know that body parts I take for granted now will be giving me daily trouble. I know I’ll probably be worried about retirement and trying to figure out what comes next. I hope the work I’ll have done in the mean time will have been meaningful and will have made me proud. I hope, whether I’m married, whether I have kids, that I’ll be surrounded by people who love me and know how much I love them. I hope I’ll have spent those 28 years well.

On a related note, Pesach cleaning is done! (Teresa, upon hearing how much cleaning the holiday required, grinned at me and said, “You may not know this, but we celebrate Passover too, so you’re coming over to clean my house next, right?”) As I’ve found myself explaining the preparations over and over the past few weeks, it occurred to me what if anyone else told me that God had commanded them to scrub their house, blowtorch their oven and go on the Atkins diet for a week, I’d think they were nuts…

But it’s the first time I can ever remember not being home for the Seder. No listening to my parents sing Had Gadya and Echad Mi Yodea in Yiddish and Russian. No bellowing “It Happened at Midnight” and giggling over the melodrama of being frightened by a loaf of bread at midnight. No watching the different kids around the table grow up, seeing how their lives have changed in the past year. I’m sure the Hillel Seder is going to be wonderful, but it won’t be the same. This has always been my least favorite holiday, but I forget the good parts, and I forget how much the good parts are tied to my love for my family. I’m going to be missing them tonight.


The English department had a symposium this weekend, which meant that I and most of my friends spent the last week going insane, writing draft after draft of our work and getting together to run different versions by each other. Which led to a wonderfully insane night at the library during which half the Writing Center consultants critiqued the other half, laughing and joking around, and made me feel waaaay better about presenting a paper on libertine poetry to the department. (I realized only after it was too late to back out that presenting the paper I was most proud of from last semester meant talking in public about masturbation!)

There was a blizzard the night before and the roads were a mess, but Teresa was incredibly kind and came to pick me up in time for my morning session. Much as I hate to admit it, there are times when an SUV is the right tool for the job–the roads were really hellish. Despite the bad weather and the early session, a bunch of my friends came to cheer me on, which meant a really huge amount to me. I have some seriously amazing friends out here, I can’t say that enough.

Overall, the sessions were fascinating: people presented on everything from Hawthorne to gym culture, from Watchmen to Moby Dick. James’ Stowe paper felt like a rousing pulpit sermon and gave me goosebumps. Shauna’s paper on House of Seven Gables sounded even better the second time around, and I love how she showed Hawthorne going against the grain of his contemporaries. Raul blew us all away with a mixture of lit crit and memoir. Justin pulled things out of Watchmen that I hadn’t noticed even after dozens of readings. And that’s just scratching the surface of a nine-hour, multi-track symposium. Great day.