Monday, August 14, 2006


So hubby looked at our joint account and saw that I bought oodles of books over the weekend. I was in trouble because we're trying to save to buy a house. I feel very naughty and should know better. Oops. But I still can't wait for the Daedalus books to arrive; my excitement cannot be dampened.

My friend Greensunflower told me today that I should pare down my book collection by giving her books that I'm ready to part with. That seems like a good compromise, IF I can be convinced to purge. I suppose that I'm not quite ready to let go of my academic collection or my shelves of classics of American and British literature or those French novels that I will read again one day. Shouldn't I at least make an effort to read Sartre in French? Doesn't make much sense if I'm supposed to learn Spanish. What will I be buying next--Don Quixote in the original?

I also have to work on my academic cv tonight to send to the Director of the Center for British Studies at UC Berkeley. I think that having a connection to a group of academics would help me to push forward with publishing another chapter of my dissertation before I forever abandon the field to be a nurse. Perhaps I'm just excited that my article is coming out soon. I will probably be cursing and raging with a sudden onset case of academic Tourette's, and running in the opposite direction in no time.

Special thanks to Greensunflower for saving me and my kids from homicide/suicide today. It definitely helps the day to pass more quickly and sanely when there is another adult around, and it's even better if there is ice cream involved. Moreover, she and I could laugh with each other when my crazed 2.5-year-old son started to say what sounds suspiciously like "douche." I can only hope that he's picked up the German word "Dusch" (shower) from his father.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Confessions of a biblioholic

As one might expect of an academic, I adore books. I have had little time in the past year, however, to read anything more substantial than textbooks and magazine articles. After recovering from the travails of a dreadful summer school class, and having another week or two before I need to buckle down to more academic work, I've spent the past few days dreaming about adding to my book collection. After sending in the proofs for my first article, I decided to indulge my inner glutton. While out shopping the other day, I bought two tomes, one new to me and one old: Jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death Revisited," and Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw/The Aspern Papers." Once I'd gone down the merry garden path of book purchasing, I had merely stoked my hunger for more.

I went through two book catalogues from Daedalus and ordered three more books, two for me and one for the kids. The two for me are a a biography of Gwen Raverat, a granddaughter of Charles Darwin and satellite member of the Bloomsbury Group, and a book by an evolutionary biologist about the Y chromosome. The kids' book presents what looks to be a delightful tale written by Virginia Woolf, accompanied by some charming illustration. Woolf is one of my all-time favorite authors, so I will devour the story greedily and hope that my kids will follow suit.

A terrible blow, however, came when I decided to reward myself with yet another book, memoirs of Diana Holman-Hunt that I had seen some time ago in the beautiful pages of the book catalog "A Common Reader." I went online to buy it, only to find that the company had gone bankrupt in December of 2005. I had from occasionally wondered absently why I hadn't received any of their catalogues for months, but I simply figured that I had fallen off their list after failing to purchase anything for so long. I am positively heartbroken to find that their extensive holdings will no longer be available in one place, and that one of my favorite ways to keep up with new books has evaporated. This only compounds the sense of melancholy I feel after Cody's Books closed their store in Berkeley last month. Where am I to browse? Oh sadness. At least I had the forethought and pack-rattiness to tear out pages from catalogues with books I wanted to buy in the future.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ties that bind

There is a war going on inside me right now, and it's not pretty. I have a large extended family, and my parents are the youngest kids in their respective families of origin. They shoulder a very large burden of guilt where it comes to pleasing said families, and I was "trained" to do the same throughout my youth. Case in point: we NEVER EVER took vacations that were about fun. All of our summer vacations (well, at least 97% of them) were spent in long, hot peregrinations throughout the Midwest, paying homage to this great-aunt or that aunt and uncle or my grandmother. On the plus side, I got to read many books, uninterrupted, while we drove for hours. On the minus side, I spent a lot of time in what my beloved friend Thomenon has called "forced association" with people I wouldn't say a word to otherwise. It could be lonely, and my parents' liberalism and openness were generally not taken in a good way, causing lots of palpable tension.

What does that have to do with today? One of my many cousins (one I haven't seen since my grandmother's funeral in 1993) is vacationing nearby with her husband. They're very nice people, I'm sure, but I have pretty much nothing in common with them. I am a decent conversationalist, so I could probably come up with something, but I am tired. Anyway, my mother must have given them my telephone number, and they called, hoping to meet. The obedient daughter in me agreed, with some reluctance, but guilt won out. So we set a time of 2 p.m. today. I just got a call from them, saying that they're outside my place (I live in a secure converted loft building), and it's 12:30 p.m. My two kids are asleep, and I really don't want to disturb their naps. My excellent boundary-setting husband said that we should just ignore my cousin's message until 2 p.m. Ever in a panic, I called my mom to see what she would do, and like the great placator she is, she said that I should go down and take them to a local coffee shop until the kids wake up. Why, I ask, should I reward their trespassing on my time? I feel guilty about ignoring them, but I didn't ask them to come early.

As my wonderful friend Greensunflower said yesterday, it can take a long time, but saying no will come to feel good and not wrong. I'll let that side win out in the battle and hope for the best when it comes to this afternoon.

This girl has done ENOUGH accommodating for the time being.

Monday, August 07, 2006


I have eleven minutes before my sons' babysitter leaves, and thought I'd ruminate for a moment. I spent today working on my math skills, very rusty indeed, for the GRE (for a career change, more on that to come). I took it last almost 16 years ago--YIKES--and after going to graduate school in the humanities, it's taking quite a bit to get the gears cranking again. I can do all the problems, but I'm excruciatingly slow, something that must be remedied in five weeks, if possible. I feel as though fences have been erected in my head that separate off all my mathematical mental agility, and it takes an overwhelming amount of effort to get over those walls.

On the other hand, I am frothing and seething inside because I am unable or incompetent where it comes to setting boundaries between myself and others. Most of the time this doesn't matter too much, but then there are those who take advantage of my softness (because I let them, of course), and I get out-of-proportion mad once I hit a certain zone. One particular person has been annoying me greatly of late, and I feel such tremendous guilt about putting up a boundary, and yet if I don't, I'll go bananas. My guilt is two-fold: one level is because I hate letting people down (damn that "need-to-please" side of myself), and one level is because the person who's annoying me is developmentally disabled. I just can't take being her dumping zone for the little that goes on in her life. It's too much. I've told her this, and given her more chances than I should have, but nothing has changed. Hence I am helping both her and myself by cutting things off, but it's SOOOO aggravating to have someone call and leave messages four or more times a day. I don't even pick up my phone anymore because I don't want to reward her persistence. Am I bad? No. But it's really hard to let go of the guilt.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Anger management

I'm not really sure that what I'm doing would qualify as anger management for most people, but I'm hoping that it will work for me. I've decided to start a blog as a way to deal with the quivering jelly that is my insides; I tend to bottle things up extremely effectively and then boil over or drive my loved ones crazy by spreading my self-torture to them. So maybe by blowing off steam and practicing witty repartee in cyberspace, I'll garner some strength to engage more actively and assertively in my life.

Why do I think my perspectives are marginal? I've always felt as if I'm living my life along the margins (more on that to come), but at the same time, my experiences in the liminal space occasionally offer me insights that I've come to treasure. So it's definitely an intellectual place with some benefits, although it tends to be rather lonely. I was also thrilled to learn long ago that the margins of medieval manuscripts were lovingly used as places for monks to doodle. The margins were places where creativity and humor could be engaged in an otherwise rigidly defined place. Perhaps I should remember the joys of marginalia more often.