Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Christmas Gift Ever

So, because I'm a materialistic heathen, I'm going to write about one of my favorite Christmas pressies instead of the joy and love of the season. Yeah!!! I'm like that.

When I was about 8 years old, Cabbage Patch Kids emerged on the scene. And oh holy crap did I need to have one. I neeeeeeeeeeeeeeded one. To add extra pain, my friend, Mandy, had one called Joelle Alicia or something like that. She had blond/brown hair and blue eyes and she wore a yellow dress with white shoes. Not that those details were at all important enough for me to remember 20+ years later.

Obviously, if Mandy had one, I needed one, too. The yearning was unbearable. Torturous. Excruciating. All I ever wanted in life was to become the mother of a baby born in a cabbage. And I was not shy about telling my parents this. I was only shy around other people--my parents and brother saw the true, far more obnoxious, me. So I asked and pleaded time and again for a baby birthed in leafy vegetables.

At one point, my mom suggested that I pray to God for one, because God has a way of answering prayers. Hm. Interesting strategy, I thought. So I tried it, to no avail. I prayed for days and days but no ugly-but-cute nylon doll showed up. Not ever. Things were getting desperate. So I thought about it and decided these times called for strategy as desperate as the need I felt. I decided to use the God Card. I mean, hey. Mom started it, so it was totally justified that I use it, too.

The plot unfurled. I approached my mom one night while she was preparing dinner. I specifically remember looking at the stove while I unleashed my strategy--the top of the stove came up to about my mouth--I was shorter then, you see. Here's what I said: "Mom, I have been praying and praying so hard for a Cabbage Patch Kid, but God STILL hasn't given me one. Why not?" So innocent. So sweet. So conniving.

Mom suggested that I just keep trying, that sometimes it takes awhile. Hmph. God was playing the 'be patient' card, eh? And Mom had a dodge for my strategy. No good.

But then. Not too long later, my grandparents were visiting and I was across the street playing with Mandy. Probably with her treasured Cabbage Patch Kid. Oh, the jealousy. My brother came to find me to tell me that my parents wanted to talk to me.

Yulp. That couldn't be good. They didn't interrupt my play for nothing, so as I walked home, I ran through a list of potential offenses that could be at root of my imminent punishment. I walked in the front door, and there was Mom and Dad with my grandparents. In the room was a big garbage bag. Mom told me that I was getting an early Christmas present (it was probably late summer/early fall), and that it was in the garbage bag.

You can guess what happened next. I got Danya Karlotta, who had red hair, green eyes, and wore a pink knit dress with white shoes. I nearly peed my pants from joy. And it turns out, it was my little plot that had made it all happen. Mom and Dad decided they didn't want me to drift into atheism just because God didn't get me my Cabbage Patch Kid, so they took immediate action and gave me the doll. Sweeeeeeeeeet. They chose not to tell me that till later, and similarly I did not confess my little strategy until after I was an adult. We all lived in blissful ignorance that we had outsmarted one another.

And I got a Cabbage Patch Kid (the first of three, actually). And that year, on Christmas Day, I got a whole bunch of homemade clothes for her. Life was good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another sappy cynic agrees with me.

Found this NY Times article that delves into the complicated feelings about It's a Wonderful Life. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wonderful Life?

So, I'm finally getting around to watching It's a Wonderful Life this year. I'm a strange combination of cynical and sappy, so this movie makes my brain hurt. I can't decide how to feel about it. Do I love that the end shows how important a person can be without fully realizing it--and that being important doesn't involve doing anything grandiose? Or do I hate that it ends with George still never getting to follow his dreams of traveling and architecture?

That's the thing for me. I think everyone should be able to follow their own dream, but that would all too often mean that no one is taking care of anyone. We'd all be so focused on ourselves that those in need would be crushed under our self-centered weight. So that means that someone has to be the one to do the propping up, the taking care of, the seeing to, the watching over. And while I suppose that might be someone's 'dream,' I think it's fair to say that's rare. So that means a lot of people are living George Bailey's life instead of Harry Bailey's. Only who knows how many are ever going to at least get the thanks that George got?

I don't know what any of that really means. I can't in good conscience ask the George Baileys to stop the propping up, but I can no more ask them to sacrifice any dream they sacrificed to make it happen. Where does that leave us?

I guess it leaves me lucky that I've been able to follow most all my own dreams--traveling abroad, becoming a professor, etc. I'm Harry Bailey.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Top Ten Memories of Grandpa Fisher (in no particular order).

10) The fact that he called Happy Joe's pizza "Slappy Ho's." My brother and I aren't sure if he realized how sexual that sounded...or if he just got a kick out of it enough that he took the risk of us figuring it out. Probably the latter.

9) The Dukes of Hazard horn on his old, brown van. It played lots of songs, actually, be we liked that one best. This was before I fully understood the racist underpinning of the song's origins. But honestly, I don't care. It was awesome to pull into our driveway, have Grandpa honk the horn, and know that the Pylelo kids would hear it across the street.

8) When Grandpa and Grandma would come visit us in Sioux City, they would bring all their pop cans with them to redeem at the recycling center. Then Dirk and I would split the money he got back. Jackpot! Grandpa told us we could buy anything we wanted with it. I bought a Ken doll with mine one time.

7) They had this ugly old black dog puppet in their basement toy box. My cousin, Molly, and I would (oh so cleverly and sneakily) put the puppet on our arm and run up to "bite" his arm with the dog. He would carry on dramatically, as if in great pain from the bite. We thought it was so hilarious...looking back, it may be a miracle that we didn't turn out to be psychopaths. Whatev. It was good times, and he was sweet to indulge us. Every. Single. Time. We did it.

6) We used to stay at their house when we'd come to Hamilton county for a weekend. My brother and I used to HATE it when Grandpa would scrape his plate with his fork and knife. He would dig those utensils into the porcelain, making the most god-awful screeching noise, not far removed from nails on a chalkboard. Between that and ketchup on his fried eggs, meal times were an adventure for us. (Though Grandma gave us grape juice, which was a treat we did not get at home....that pretty much rocked.)

5) Keeping with the food theme, my parents rarely drink, but Dad and Grandpa would share a pitcher of beer when we went out for pizza together. Grandpa called it "barley pop," and claimed it was healthy for him. Who am I to question that logic?

4) When Molly and I were little, we went camping with Grandpa and Grandma in their RV. We stayed at a Cutty's resort and went miniature golfing. Then we went back to the RV and played cards till what seemed to be a very late hour. The next morning, Grandma made us blueberry pancakes for breakfast (there's the food theme again). Grandpa was great about having fun with a couple of silly little girls. One other time when our moms and Grandma were out shopping, Grandpa took Molly and me to Leon's pizza in Webster City. Just the three of us hanging out, having fun.

3) I spent the summer of 98 in France. When I returned to Iowa, I told Grandpa and Grandma all about it. Grandpa was excited to learn that I went to Aix en Provence, which is where he was stationed for awhile during WWII. He kept calling it Aix in Providence, and no matter how many times I corrected him, he kept saying it like that. I just gave up because ultimately it didn't matter. After that, we had several really great talks about his experiences in France during the war and he gave me some really nice photos and memorabilia from his Army days. I have always treasured those things, and will even more so now.

2) Grandpa often said the prayer during our family gatherings, and one thing he always said was, "Thank you for this food. Let it nourish us and give us strength for your intended juice." Or something like that. I never quite understood what that was meant to say. Juice seemed like a weird word choice. But it was familiar and comforting along with his voice, and I'll miss hearing it.

Spazz Alert:
My pal, Sara, pointed out that I'm a bad listener. He was saying USE, not juice. I confirmed with my mom, who got a nice chuckle out of it. She said it's too bad Grandpa never knew that's how I heard it. He'd think it was pretty darned funny. So, Grandpa, if you have Internet access in heaven, go ahead and have your little laugh!

1) Grandpa started emailing about five or six years ago. He took to it surprisingly fast, and in fact was not fearful ENOUGH of the technology, leading to some issues over the years. Anyway, he sent any and all email forwards that crossed his inbox. Sometimes it would drive me crazy that he sent all those weird, wacky, nutty things. But now I won't see them anymore, and that makes me sad. I'll kind of miss rolling my eyes and saying, "Oh, geez, Grandpa."

I am so lucky and grateful that I had my grandpa in my life for 31 years. Not everyone is so lucky. So to my grandpa, I say goodbye, but I'll never forget these and a billion other little things that I got to share with you while you were in my life. I love you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I feel like I'm growing. As a person, I mean.

So, last night I was out with a group of people who put on a storytelling festival in my town, and at the end, a lady asked if I was interested in meeting men. Now normally, my paranoia and fear tells me to be all like, "Well, you know. I guess. I'm single, yeah." Because I don't want to come off as all desperate or needy or like I want other people to do my dirty work of hunting down potentially eligible guys. I'm afraid of looking weak or stupid if I say anything.

But last night, I said, "Heck yeah. I'm new to town and am looking around for someone." Woohoo. I braved it. I risked looking pathetic.

Even if nothing comes of it, I still took the risk of admitting that I'd like not to be alone forever and ever and ever. And ever. Forever. I admitted I'm normal.

Golly, just look at me all grown up.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Recurring memory

As we've all been thinking about the struggles we face with my grandpa who is sick, I've been thinking about the memories of my other grandpa, who had Parkinson's disease since long before I was born. Throughout my childhood, I knew him as a sick man. His body shook, hence his voice shook. He had trouble walking. As grandchildren, we all loved him, but we were unsure how to interact with him because he was hard to understand. As a result, we all too often avoided conversations with him. I'm sure that hurt his feelings as it does mine today when I think back on it. I try to remember that I was just a dumb little kid, and he probably understood that. Still, though, he probably wanted to get to know us as any grandpa would, but we did not make that easy for him.

When I was about 12 or 13, we had to move Grandpa into a nursing home. We would go visit whenever we where nearby, but I still remained shy around him. Maybe even more so because of the nerves that accompany being in a nursing home for most of us, young and old. I have several memories of sitting in the nursing home, listening to Dad and Grandma talking with Grandpa, trying to figure out what Grandpa was saying. Dad and Grandma were much better at that than I was.

The last time I visited the nursing home, when I was 15, was no different from this pattern. We were sitting at a table in the lobby area, talking and probably eating. At one point, Dad, Mom, and Grandma wanted to run back to Grandpa's room for something, leaving me alone with Grandpa. I had no idea what I would say to him, so we kind of just looked at each other and smiled. That was something we both could understand. Then he said the last thing I can remember him saying to me before he went to the hospital where he passed away.

His false teeth didn't fit quite right, making him even harder to understand. But I clearly heard him say this to me: "You're a pretty girl. Such a pretty girl." Then he smiled again.

At the time, I just shrugged, said thanks, and smiled back. At 15, no one could really convince me that he was telling the truth, but it was nice of him to say. After he got sick a little while later, I remembered that moment and realized it might be the last thing he ever directly said to me. My last personal, one-on-one interaction with him was a lovely compliment from the man I had spent too much of my childhood ignoring. I probably didn't deserve it, but I am so grateful that's what I got.

So now as I visit my other grandpa in the hospital, I wonder: what will be the last interaction I have with him? What will those last words be? Will I remember them as vividly as I do with my other grandpa? Will I still cry 16 years later when I think of it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ending good, ending bad

Things end. All of them. And sometimes that's just perfectly okay with me. Other times not.

For the good, my first semester as a prof is wrapping up. Overall, it's been a great semester. I've had almost exclusively good students, the pressure has been manageable, my colleagues friendly and helpful. But I'm still glad it's almost over. I am ready not to be new new new at everything everything everything. I'm ready to start fresh, having learned some lessons during my first run-through at the university where I teach. This ending is good.

Other endings? Not good. Not in the least little bit good. My grandpa is really sick, and I fear the end of his life is going to approach sooner rather than later. The poor man is in pain, and it probably won't get better. So it's not like I can ethically or humanely ask him to stick around forever. But dang it. I can't emotionally allow him to go. I can't emotionally accept that the inevitable is inevitable.

I've heard all of it: without pain we wouldn't know joy. Blah blah blah. That does not change the fact that pain and sorrow suck. Suckity suck suck suck. Suck.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fave new Obama quote

Two posts in one day: unprecedented. But I found this quote from Newsweek, and I laughed my ass off. It's another reason to like Obama, IMO. Here's the quote with a setup from Newsweek before it.

The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'.

Ah, honesty. If only he could have said it live. Maaaaaaaaybe without the f-bomb, though I personally find that to be the piece de resistance.

Link to full (and interesting) story:

I will not tolerate change.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not the world's biggest fan of change. And when you're not a big fan of change, little insignificant things can remind you in a big way that change is all we know. It's just that we quite often ignore changes in order to provide the necessary illusion of constancy.

I went to visit my cousin, Molly, this weekend (Hi, Molly.), and we had a nice time visiting, shopping, and eating (eating--now there's an actual constancy in my life. Seriously...I'm eating right now. It's not even anything good, but I'm still eating it.). On Saturday we shopped, mostly for household stuff--not anything fun or exciting. I didn't tell Molly at the time because I wanted to process it, but at one point, while we were looking at fruit, I had another gut-slam moment. We were buying stuff for our own houses. Little household necessities and food and stuff. We were buying our own stuff with our own money for our own houses. With each other--we used to play house and pretend to do all that stuff. Now we were really doing it--no more pretend.

Of course, I've become accustomed to buying my own stuff for my own house. I've been doing this for more than 10 years. But once in awhile, particularly when you're with someone you've known since before your brain could even process rational thought, you think about it in a different, long-term-implication kind of way, and that's what happened to me. And after that, all weekend long, I kept going back to it...I was visiting Molly at her house. I drove myself there in my own car. I was using Molly's shower, sleeping in her spare bed, eating her food, and using her dishes. Goofing around with her kids. It was not her mom's stuff. It was Molly's stuff. Her own stuff.

When the heck did we become the adults? And when did it become so normal that we were the adults??

And when will it stop? I want my illusion of constancy back, please.

Monday, November 3, 2008


A bunch of people are going to be happy, and a bunch will be unhappy. While I hope I'm in the happy camp, I do worry about what happens next. Will we be able to come to some understanding as a nation? I have expressed my fear of the angry and violent rhetoric that has been spewed in this election, and my greatest fear is that the anger and fear will continue to overpower at the expense of the greater good.

No matter who wins, we have to trust that we will be okay as a nation. Neither man is perfect, but neither man is the devil the opposing side has made him to be. I believe both have the best interests of the country at heart, even though I disagree with some of the views of what that means...frankly, on both sides. No candidate is ever going to match us 100%. Neither matches me 100% this time, for certain.

I just have this sinking feeling that we have built too many fortresses around ourselves. In an age where we can get the news filtered through any and all lenses to match our ideological perspective, we lose sight of the fact that there may be reason and legitimacy in other perspectives. When we don't seek out information that opposes our own view, we stunt ourselves intellectually. And I have seen an awful lot of people in this election season stick to their ideology, forsaking all others. The result is a poorer, less rational, angrier, and less capable society.

And that is what makes me terrified for the coming years. If we continue to allow ourselves to hole into our ruts at the expense of reasonable, logical discourse with others, we will fall as a nation. No president can do what we will do to ourselves if we don't try to understand one another. No president can destroy our nation--only we can do that to ourselves.

So, whether you're happy or sad tomorrow, my genuine hope is that you'll look on the positive side and try to intellectually engage your brain with different perspectives. Let's see each other as the human beings that we are, not the monsters we've created.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Jim Wallis's commentary

Now I always say no more politics on my blog, but then I go and do it anyway. I'm hopeless.

My dad (who rocks, BTW) recently sent this via email, and I kinda liked it. So I thought I'd link to it, too. Why not? No matter what happens next week, I hope all sides can agree that we should not use fear or hate to persuade people. It's too easy, too shallow, and too far beneath our standards.

End of rant. Read the link. :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Warm fuzzy photo

(Taken from a fun site:

I don't think a photo should sway anyone's vote, but I dare you to tell me this photo isn't the freaking sweetest thing you'll see today. I actually cried a little...though actually that means pretty little, given that I cry all the time. Whatev.

Just look at it. I dare you not to be touched a little bit. I double dog dare you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Point of comparison

So, while I deal with my own little crazies I came to a realization, and it is this: my failures are my own, and I will not blame others--either particular others or generalized, societal others.

I truly believe that people are generally cruel and competitive--no other animal destroys its own like the human animal. If other animals could talk, they would tell us that they hate us, and they think we suck. Even the crazy mean animals would say that. We are (to quote Perry Cox on Scrubs) "bastard coated bastards with bastard fillings." So that's the sunshiny outlook that underpins my personality. Nice, huh?

So. These past few weeks, I have noticed plenty of people who play up on this idea. These people live up the idea that they are victims of this world--of oppression, suppression, etc etc. And, yeah. Society's like that. Our history is not about helping others up, but about finding others to tear down--in the name of god, country, or moral/intellectual superiority. Every time we stop oppressing one group, we find another group to oppress. Or at least we find new ways of oppressing the same groups. We're so effing clever that way.

But what I have come to realize is that people actually like to use this cruelty as an excuse for not succeeding or for being douchebags. They argue that their failures and attitude problems are out of their control--it's because people are cruel and oppressing. And I realized that that's not completely okay with me. I am sensitive to the fact that people are continually marginalized in our society, but what better way to shove their crap right back in their faces than by succeeding and being a rockstar of a person?

I realize that by doing this, I risk seeming insensitive to the oppression of others, but the reality is far from it. I'm entirely sensitive to that. I feel like shit about how my race has treated people of other races. I feel like whites have a lot more to account for before true equality can be reached. But at the same time, I don't think it's helpful for anyone to give those in power MORE power by accepting their oppression and making it so central a part of their identity. That's ultimately what moved me from strident feminist to normal feminist. I realized that the far-out feminists were only giving power back to the "white male" by telling them how powerful they were at our expense.

What better way of telling them to stick it than by saying, "Your power over me is not that important to me. I acknowledge it exists. I think you suck for using it. I think you've always sucked for using it. But I'm not going to let you tell me what to be. I'm not going to let your bullshit determine my successes. So screw you."

Playing the victim will not get us past anything. Acknowledging the unfairness and giving it the old finger might. So while I deal with my insecurities, I feel some comfort in the knowledge that I take personal responsibility for them. The cruel human race has played a role in shaping who I am, but I'm not about to let them tell me it's right that I dislike myself, or that they have the power to continue their oppression on me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Little thing...

So there was a dumb little moment in my day that made me think about how seldom I enjoy little things. I was heading to the bathroom at work--that's not the aforementioned little thing, though I do enjoy a nice tinkle--and there were two girls walking down the hall.

They were enjoying their conversation. As they got to the stairs, one girl asked where the other was going. The second girl said she was going home. So the first girl said, "Hey, do you want to walk together?" The second girl said, "YEAH!!!" in the most excited voice imaginable. That girl was living in the moment, man. She was All. About. Walking home with her bud. I loved that moment, for its meaningfulness in its relative meaninglessness. I need to be more excited about things. Even the little things like walking with a friend.

Did I learn a tiny moral lesson today? YEAH!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Figuring Me Out

I've been trying to figure out the root of my insecurities. Easy task. Ought to just take an hour or two, right? Yes. Right.

The first thing I did was think about the moments when I felt least secure and most scared. The second moment that came to my brain was the day I was leaning against the brick wall of the old school near my 6th-grade building. It was recess, and I was watching the class nerd being teased by her classmates. They were pretending to be her friend, and she was taking the bait. Really, really taking the bait. She thought they were her buddies, though it was obvious to the rest of us that it was all a bust.

I was feeling bad for this girl for not getting the fact that she was the butt of the joke. Then I got one of those sucker-punch feelings. A series of memories from my previous elementary school in a different town rushed through my brain. I remembered the time Brenda pretended to be my friend for several days, then one day suddenly laughed at me for thinking we could play together at recess...laughed at me along with the "popular" girls who had not been her friends the day before. I thought of the very very cold morning during safety patrol when no one would relieve me so I could go in to warm up--they relieved the other person out there with me several times, but not me. When I went inside at the end of patrol, they all laughed at me. I remembered the time when I gave a small report in front of the class and they laughed at me for reasons I could not figure out.

As I watched my 6th-grade classmate being mocked without realizing it, I figured it all out. That girl was me. I had been that girl at my old elementary school--the butt of the joke. Not once, but repeatedly. And like the 6th-grade girl, I had not known. I had not suspected my role was the class dork to be laughed at. It made me sick to my stomach when I realized it. What a dupe I had been.

I was now a new girl in a new school, trying to find my place in a new place, all while adolescence loomed. And all I could ever think about was, "Am I going to be that girl again? How can I prevent myself from being that girl again?" My primary strategy became to doubt everyone. Every kind gesture was suspect. Every attempt to be friendly was seen as a ruse to mock me when I wasn't looking. I was friends with my (still very good) friends for about four years before I started to let myself believe that they might actually like me. That they weren't my friends out of pity or (worse) because they needed someone to laugh at and make fun of.

I grew out of adolescence, and some of that paranoia, too. But it lingers. Since that 6th-grade memory came to me earlier this week, I have been listening carefully to myself as I interact with people. And, boy does it linger. I doubt without even fully realizing it. I question every motive, and I doubt every act of kindness, every compliment, every laugh. Even among people I know care about me--my family. I wonder whether they think I'm a loser, too. That's probably not okay, huh?

Probably not.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I am not a conspiracy theorist!!

But the problem is that I have to keep telling myself that lately, because it's harder and harder to believe it. I watch the news, read the news, and hear stories about things happening in our world that make me feel like one.

There are increasing signs of unfettered rage in the political world. Shouts at political rallies of "Kill him!" and "He's a terrorist!" and "He's an Arab!" are coming out of the mouths of citizens of America. We have always had our share of zealots and crazies, but this kind of mob mentality is something our history books (smugly and self-righteously) told us was the stuff of lesser nations.

I'm scared of mobs. I've seen and read about what they can do. The only thing that scares me more than mobs? The martial law that follows. The kind of law that beats people down, doesn't pick them up, and scares everyone else into toeing the line and participating in further crimes against humanity.

I read a book called "The End of America" that described the easy descent into fascism and police states. The author compares our current climate with the early days of the rise of Nazism. At first I thought the author was being overly dramatic, but the end of her book describes things Americans should be on the lookout for in the coming years. Guess what?

She's been right. The things she predicted would happen are happening. We are slipping into a quagmire, and my fear is that we will not pull ourselves up in time.

So when you hear the McCain campaign (particularly Sarah Palin) use folksy rhetoric to turn Barack Obama into an unhuman monster, think about that. Consider whether you want a potential president who can so glibly and whimsically tear another human being down, and in so doing incite people in a crowd to shout for blood and murder. Think about whether you want to be on the side of a campaign, and a candidate, who is willing to whip people into an emotional, and irrational, frenzy for her own political gain.

When Mussolini and Hitler did that, it was fascist. It's no different now...unless we reject it outright. McCain's attempts to calm the crowd (which was angrily booed down by the crowd) was half-hearted, given that he continues to air commercials that further the cause of violent hatred. His response does little to slow the kind of madness reverberating through his crowds.

Vote against fascism. Please, for the love of god, don't vote for fascism.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Midterm, mid-crazy

I feel as though I'm kind of losing my grip. I was told that I would very likely hit a kind of depression once I finished grad school, and I think I've made impact. I took a little online test thing through my employer, and it said, "Woah, Nelly! You've got depression." Okay, it didn't say exactly that, but yeah. Basically it did.

So I was thinking about it all day. Am I depressed? Because I feel like it's really just a more acute version of what I always feel--moments of happiness surrounded by moments of hating it all and thinking I suck and wishing I could figure out what I REALLY want to do with my life. Will I always be alone? Will I ever be happy? Blah blah blah. But if I've always had these mood swings, is it any different now? Is it worth even trying to deal with it again? Or should I wait for the downward slump to end, and the upward slope to begin?

So am I just a "depressed" person? Could I ever really be happy when I'm always so centered on not being good enough, being a failure at stuff? Is that too hard-wired in to overcome? Do I just suck it up and live with being unhappy much of the time? Because what is the alternative? I have tried "positive thinking" and all that, and it will work for awhile, but then it wears off, and the more "natural" me returns--to thinking I'm a fraud, that I'm not good enough for what I have, etc. I don't want to take meds--so what the hell can I do?

I have no reason to doubt myself, or even to really be unhappy. I have led a relatively easy life, no gigantic drama, no calamitous failures, no....real problems. So it's not like I have any real reason or "right" to be this way. But what can I do to change it? How do I rewire myself after 31 years?

Friday, September 26, 2008


So. Now I know. For certain. I kept trying to tell myself that I was imagining the critter sounds in my attic. Two people looked up there, and I looked up there--no sign of anything.

And then tonight, I hear scratching again. This time, though, not in my attic. This time it was in the ceiling of my living room, which is vaulted (i.e., there is no attic space). At first I thought, SCORE! This proves that the sounds I hear are critters on my roof, not in my attic. Awesome! So I confidently took my big flashlight and went to my deck to gaze upon the bastards running around on my roof. But alas, there was nothing. So then I optimistically thought that it was just that I scared them off. So I went back inside to verify, only to hear more scratching sounds. I gave it one more go, looking on the roof...but there was nothing.

So, what that means is that I definitely have something living in my walls/ceiling. On the upside, now I know I'm not crazy. On the downside, I have something living in my walls/ceiling. I think the downside trumps the upside.

I have no idea what to do next. Two people have looked around and found access point possibilities. There is also the fact that I share attic space with the neighbors, whom I don't know. Do I go ask them if they're hearing things? Will they think I'm crazy, filthy? If the pest control people come, and the access point is on their side, will they pay for it to be fixed? What the crap am I supposed to do???

I hate owning a home. I hate it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Favorite Debate Partner

I try hard not to be materialistic. I really do. It's just that I kind of suck at it. I like stuff. And I like buying stuff. And I like having stuff. And I like having NICE stuff. And I like having LOTS of NICE stuff.

The problem is that my life has not been very conducive to having stuff thus far. I've pretty much always lived on a student budget, and I was pretty much used to it. This summer has been the tightest of my relatively short life--I went three months without a paycheck and had my first two mortgage payments to pay. As a result I have been living pretty sparsely. I've felt guilty for spending $40 on a headboard for my bed, felt guilty for buying name-brand food instead of generic--that kind of thing.

Now, though, my first paycheck is imminent. Soon I will have money. Like....real money. Sure a lot will be eaten by my mortgage, student loans, winter heating bills and so forth. But I'll have money. Like...real money. So. Does that make it bad that I am already spending it?? Is it bad that I can't wait till Oct. to buy stuff?

Yeah. But I'm doing it anyway, and finding lots of creative ways to justify it to myself. I'm smart...I like arguing, even with myself. The best part of arguing with me is that I always win.

It started on Monday when I convinced myself to buy a really cute little accent chair for my living room. I wanted two chairs in there, and I had bought one at Ikea this summer. So now I have two, and the new one was not much more money than the Ikea one (but cooler).

That is fine and good, but now I have decided that the Ikea chair looks really bad next to the new, pretty one. The new one is antique-looking, the Ikea one modern and sleek. So I am in the process of convincing me to buy another accent chair and moving the Ikea one downstairs. I have been thinking about getting a chair for down there in case I want to watch TV down there--or if a guest staying down there wants to watch TV. That has been my main selling point for me, namely that I'm doing it for the convenience and comfort of my guests! It's not about me at all. No! Of course not!

I'm also thinking of telling myself that I'm doing it to keep the economy going. If I can convince me to watch/read the news, I'm pretty sure I can win me over that way, too.

It's like a double-assault on my own reasoning.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hearts and Giggles

My mom and her younger sister, Sue, were here this week. We had fun seeing La Crosse, eating, and playing cards. They agreed to teach me how to play Hearts (the card came), and that hour or so of playing demonstrated something that I rarely think about.

My mom and Sue were little girls together. I mean, duh, right? Of course they were. But because I have known them as adults my entire life, it is so easy to forget that they lived together in a house with their parents--and they were little girls. And they played together. And they fought together. They weren't always Mom and my cousins' mom.

At one point during the game, Mom passed three terrible cards to Sue--as it happened, the same exact terrible cards that Sue had passed to her the previous round. Mom passed them over, face down, with a neutral face. No big whoop. As soon as Sue turned them over, she made a groan and started to laugh as she realized what Mom had done. And that is when my mom laughed harder than I have seen her laugh in I don't know how long. I mean, she Laughed. And she couldn't stop. It made me so happy to see it--I love to watch her laugh, partly because it's not easy to get a full belly laugh out of her.

And that was the moment I fully realized it. That laugh has a history. It is the laugh of a little girl who pulled a trick on her even littler sister. For more than 50 years, that laugh has been there. It went with them to the lake each summer and to their grandparents' farm.

Mom has known Sue longer than she has known me, my brother, and even my dad. They go back. In my vanity, and the vanity of the younger generation more broadly I guess, I rather casually blow off the first 20-odd years of my mom's life as being insignificant--a bit of trivia, a few stories, that kind of thing. But to her, those memories and relationships are as vivid and important as my memories growing up with my parents and brother.

It's particularly odd of me, given my research is so focused on the importance of family history. But it's easier to see the generational connection amongst other people's families, maybe. My mom, though---she's just my mom. The person who exists so that I could exist.

So I had a reminder this week that I need to change my perspective when I look at my mom and her sisters. I hope it's not something I'll forget in my self-interested focus.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One negative comment...

can ruin a day. I don't know why four compliments can be so easily erased by one criticism. Maybe it was because of the way it was worded. This morning, a student with a very obvious chip on his shoulder asked for a clarification from me by telling me I explained an activity badly and he and his friends didn't know what was going on. I instantly assumed it was because I was crap and a horrible teacher and hopeless. It only occurred to me later that maybe this kid is just a shit with an attitude problem who sits in the back of the room and barely pays attention on a good day. And that maybe I had a right to check him on his disrespectful attitude, even if he had been right about my bad explanation. Another kid had asked for a clarification, so I probably should have explained better--I know I'm not perfect and that sometimes I ramble. However, the first student who asked merely said, "Can you explain it again so I'm sure I understand what you want?" That's the polite way to ask for help. His comment made me realize I should have explained better, but it did not disrespect me as a person. Not to mention that most of the groups seemed to have no problem completing the assignment as asked (in both sections of the course).

I could go on a rant about the entitlement that so many kids exhibit today, but the reality is that most of the students I've talked to here have been far from that. They are really great young adults, actually. Maybe that's another reason this kid today made such a negative impression. It doesn't match what I expect from them.

So, despite the inroads I've made in self-confidence the past year, I still find myself vulnerable to those moments of self-despair. I wish I could change that faster.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008 anti-drug

There is nothing quite like getting a bargain. I decided to go to Goodwill tonight to see if I could get some plates to take to work (so I don't destroy trees by using paper plates--golly, I'm a good person, aren't I?). So I found some with yellow tags, which meant 50% off. $1.50 for two plates. Booyah.

And being me, and being Goodwill, I decided to meander over to the clothes section. Sometimes Goodwill is filled with nothing but crap. Other times, though...other times it's stocked full of the most perfect crap in the perfect (chubby ass) size. Despite the fact that I have no real money right now, I decided I'd take a gamble on today being a chubby ass gold mine kind of day. Lo and behold--chubby ass clothes aplenty, and all with yellow tags!!

So I got a skirt, a sweater, and a jacket, plus my plates for $11. This was just after my last mall-clearance-rack stockpile two weeks ago when I got two pairs of pants and two skirts for $14. I'm a freaking sale genius!!

So, I guess you can say I'm pretty smug. Only I'm the kind of smug that we Huismans are proud of: smug about our ability to stretch a dollar. Oh, yeah.

I'm not a junkie, because Goodwill is my anti-drug.

P.S. Just to further clarify the depths of my cheapness...they had a really cute sweater there that looked really good on me. But I didn't buy it because it didn't have a yellow tag and was a whole (gasp) $5! The outrageous prices people ask for things these days!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Follow up, and why I love Jon Stewart

If only the media would actually call these people on their B.S. Instead, they leave that kind of investigative and insightful work to comedians. Shortly after writing my blog entry last night, I watched this on the Daily Show:

They call liberals hypocrites (and they are), but it really does take one to know one, I guess.

I promised myself I would not make this into a political blog, and here I've posted three already. I wouldn't do it if there weren't so much infuriating crap to think about lately. We're all screwed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Smoke Screens

The media are incompetent, ridiculous, scandal-obsessed jackasses. However, they are not being overly sexist to Palin. Honest to holy crap, if I hear too much more about sexism against Palin, I'm going to implode. I have been inhaling media coverage of this whole thing, and all I have heard is questions pertaining to her qualification as VP. That is not sexism--that is asking questions pertaining to her qualification as VP. The fact that she is a woman does not mean she cannot be evaluated thoroughly, especially given that so very little is known about her. And this comes from a pretty strident feminist who sees sexism in lots of places most people don't...

A few ridiculous liberal bloggers are making minced meat of Palin's daughter's situation. That's annoying and inappropriate. While I do find it a little bit ironic that the anti-birth-control, abstinence-only advocate (Palin) is dealing with a pregnant teenager, I don't find that to be particularly relevant to her potential VP-ship. I do find it to be entirely relevant to the larger issue of the failure of social conservatism to live in what I like to call "reality." I wish the daughter all the best, but I also wish it would teach her mother that comprehensive sex-ed and access to birth control may have prevented her daughter from having to grow up sooner than they imagined (as she said). Telling hormone-addled teenagers to ignore their addling hormones is a bit unrealistic, and has been since long before several sets of my great-grandparents "had" to get married in the early 1900s.

Lastly, what of social conservatives' view that women should stay home to take care of their children? I hear regularly that putting children in childcare so Mom can work is a bad idea, and women who do it are selfish. And now Palin's career is about to completely overtake her life, leaving her family to fend for itself...and suddenly this is a good thing? I am all for women working or staying home according to their choice, but...really? No one in the social conservative movement seems to remember all that baloney now that they have a fellow social conservative in the running for VP? I guess it's kinda like the famous conservative Phyllis Schlafly and her ilk leaving their families behind to advocate women not leaving their families to go to work. What's good for the gander is only good for some of the geese, I guess.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Movin' on up.

School starts on Tuesday, and I finally got around to walking over to the building where I'll be teaching my early morning classes on Tuesday/Thursdays. To get there, you have to walk past one of the dorm buildings, and today is move-in day. Students and parents were unloading trucks and trailers full of bean bag chairs, futons, plastic drawer storage containers, bags of clothes, etc. Everyone seemed to be a very familiar blend of excitement and frustration, combined with overheating.

I never lived in the dorms, but watching all the commotion reminded me of moving into my first apartment in Ames 11 years ago (oof) so I could finish my Bachelor's degree at Iowa State. I remember being so excited to have my own place. I bought kitchen and bath stuff, some fun decorations, and spent all summer imagining where I would put it all. Then the day came to move. It was fairly easy work considering the apartment was just one room, but enough work and heat to wear us out. That evening, we drove an hour north to visit my grandparents.

It was on the way back to Ames that it hit me. I was not going back to Creston with my parents, and I was not going to be sleeping in my room or my bed. I was going to a new place, and Mom and Dad were going to leave me there. I fought as hard as I could, but the tears were stronger. I just remember blurting out, "I don't want to go there. I want to go home with you!" Of course, that made them cry, too.

But they did leave me there, and I cried myself to sleep for the following several nights. A few days later, I wanted to bake some chicken but didn't know how long to leave it in the oven. I decided to call Mom to ask. I started out fine, asked my question and got an answer. Then she asked how I was doing, and the tears came again. I still just wanted to go home where everything was familiar and I wasn't alone. It happened the first few times I went back to Creston, too.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable being on my own. I have always suffered from homesickness, and this was the biggest trial of that feeling ever. But eventually, I became used to it, and now I don't bawl every time I leave my parents' house. Though I do admit to some tears after they left me in Onalaska in June...I'm a cryer. That's what I do.

Anyway, the point is this: I saw all of those students moving into the dorms today, and I realized that some of them would probably cry themselves to sleep tonight because they are homesick. They look brave and confident now, but after Mom and/or Dad leave(s) the reality will sink in. They're grown-ups now--they don't live "at home" anymore. They'll get used to it the same way I did, but I am sitting here in my office crying because I feel so bad for those out there today who feel what I felt 11 years ago. It's no fun growing older, but it's inevitable. We all get used to it eventually.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


At a faculty retreat today, we had to write down a secret no one in the room knew about us, then everyone else had to guess who "owned" the secret as each was read. I figured no one would guess this: I have to eat my M&Ms in a particular color order. No one guessed, but then they've not known me very long either, what with my being a newbie and all.

When I 'fessed up, people were surprised, and asked if I was really organized and stuff. Nope. The opposite. I'm a mess most of the time (physically and mentally). But for as long as I can remember, I have eaten my M&Ms in color order, even though they all taste exactly the same. That's reasonable behavior.

If it's a big bag, I just sort them for each serving portion. I dump some out, sort them out, and eat them. Simple. Easy. Not at all weird.

It goes like this: Green first, then yellow, orange, red, blue, and brown. That's my order of color preference (least to most), except brown, which only goes last by reason of brown being the color of the chocolate inside. It deserves an honored place for that reason. That's entirely logical.

There are three times when I don't follow the rules: 1) when they are holiday colors, but that generally just jacks up my psyche so I don't like those as much; 2) when I'm eating them while driving (because I don't want to crash), but that is why I rarely buy them when I'm on the road; and 3) when I'm really afraid people will think I'm a giant ass for eating them in order. This last one has a high-threshold, though. Mostly, I don't care what people think--I ate them in color order during class all the time, blissfully careless that my classmates mocked me. In that situation, we were all grad students and therefore all freaks of nature. There was little risk in outing myself as a weirdo in a room full of weirdos.

The same goes for my work colleagues now. Professors are notoriously quirky and weird, so I don't care that they know. They all laughed at me, but it was the laughter of people who kind of understood in some way. In fact, a couple of people approached me after and said they understood. So there. Perfectly. Rational. Behavior.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Egads. I have unwanted roommates.

There is a critter--or there are multiple critters--in my attic.

There is a critter--or there are multiple critters--in my attic.


I heard the tell-tale rustling this morning while eating breakfast. I thought I heard something a few days ago, but chalked it up to my paranoia. I know myself--I always imagine the worst of things. This time, however, I was right. The old joke is true: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you."

There is a critter--or there are multiple critters that are--AFTER ME!!

So I'm sitting in my bedroom all morning, listening for more scratching sounds so I can help the exterminator locate the critter or critters. Every creak has become the definite proof that a (wo)man-eating wild boar is living upstairs, biding his time till he can come down and devour me from toe to head. Slowly, so as to inflict the greatest amount of pain on its poor little prey--me!

There is a critter--or there are multiple critters--who want to destroy me.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Information Overload

After 11 years of college (shut up--I know that's way too many. I don't need to be reminded), you'd think it would be difficult to overload my brain. I'm used to taking in all kinds of information in a hurry.

But today at faculty orientation, I learned about all my work-related benefits, all the things I gotta do to get tenure, and who does what for whom at the university. And my brain wants to explode. POP!!!!

Then there was a reception afterward, which was very nice, lots of nice people and good food. And every person I met was just a classic academic type. Nice, friendly, accessible, but with just that certain nerdy something about them. I love that quality--I HAVE that quality.

It got me thinking, though, about how I see myself and who I am. It occurred to me that this was a place where I could talk about being a professor without feeling weird about it. Most of the time when people ask me what I do, I say "I'm a student" or now "I'm a teacher." I never ever say, "I am a graduate student" or "I'm a professor." You know why?? Because I don't want people to think I think I'm better than them, or that I think too much of myself. Because I don't think that, and I certainly don't think too much of myself most days (on the contrary...).

But at orientation and this reception, we were ALL professors who spent way too many years in college! So I didn't feel like I would be braggy to say I finished my Ph.D. or that I am a professor.

Everyone I talk to back home is so excited for me, and my family is proud of me and my accomplishments. That makes me feel really great. No one has ever made me feel like I should feel guilty or bad about who I am. I guess it's just that Midwestern egalitarian spirit or something that makes me afraid to be proud of myself. Weird. But, then, at the same time, I'm glad. I don't ever ever ever want to be the kind of person who "thinks herself so much" (to use my grandma's phrase). If only I could balance being proud and confident with being modest and humble. For now, though, I'd rather err on the side of modest. I hate arrogant jerks!

(You'd think a professor would be able to write a more coherent blog entry than this. But you'd be wrong.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Birth control is not abortion

I try to be a sensible person, and I try hard to be understanding of differing views, politically and socially. I have lots of family and friends who differ from me on all kinds of views, but I respect them and their views. I keep my opinions to myself most of the time.

But not today.

There's a movement afoot to call birth control a form of abortion ( Okay, I disagree, but fine. I'm willing to accept people's belief that that is the case, and I accept their decision not to use birth control. Where I draw the line is when these people try to push legislation through that says my friends and I are not allowed to use birth control because it's a form of abortion. And they are attempting to make it so that employers and pharmacists can flat-out refuse to even mention the idea of birth control. You'll notice that these are often the same people who will not accept welfare for mothers. They seem more interested protecting unborn babies than taking care of those who are out of the uterus....interesting.

I'm willing to live and let live. I try to keep my mouth shut about stuff. But any single person who tries to justify this asshattery to me will not experience a rational Dena trying to understand. I will be a bitch about it. I am DONE with these right-wingers and their right-wing ridiculousness. I cannot and will not respect people who try to tell me to they have the right to prevent me from using birth control.

If I have become an obnoxious pushy liberal, then it's because I was pushed INTO it by people who have been obnoxious pushy conservatives without enough pushback. The pushback begins now from me. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and let these people dictate my life.

So there, screw it all. I'm a mouthy, obnoxious liberal from here on out.

P.S. This may have something to do with the fact that I'm reading Sinclair Lewis's "It Can't Happen Here," which is about the rise of a totalitarian government. I might be a little on edge about that. It's possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Far from Orwellian, 1984 was the first year that I really remember in full and vivid detail. Memories before that are plentiful but more general and vague. When I changed my iPod collection the other night (because I have a smaller one, I can't fit all my music on it, so I change it up now and then), I decided to add some songs from the Footloose sountrack (you must remember that my license plate sums me up: NRD). I added the song "Almost Paradise," the cheesy ballad one. That song brings back a very specific memory for me, and one that made me bawl for sentimental reasons.

In 1984, the Chicago Cubs nearly made it to the World Series. This, for my sports-obsessed brother (as he remains to this day), was B.I.G. The equivalent, for me, of meeting one of my celebrity crushes and marrying them (or at least having a torrid affair)--equally improbable and equally delicious to imagine. Haha. Anyway. So, my brother. He was freaktastically excited all summer. Then, of course, at the end of the NL playoffs, the Cubs tanked very much like they did in 2003, but without the help of that one fan dude who pushed the ball back into play in game 4.

The 1984 Cubs were my brother's Great Hope, and then his Great Disappointment. One evening, shortly after the defeat, we were going to the mall as a family. We heard the song "Almost Paradise" on the radio as we pulled into the parking lot, and my brother, quite dejectedly, said, "This could be the new theme song for the Cubs." Almost to the world series--almost paradise. Almost.

So, now in 2008, I have that song on my iPod. And when I heard it again for the first time in awhile, I thought back to that little (and relatively insignificant) memory. And, being me, I started to cry. Not because of the Cubs losing, but because I felt one of those occasional and acute pangs of reality that time moves on and we grow old and everything changes. My brother and I aren't kids anymore--we're in our 30s. My parents. Well, they aren't in their 30s anymore. We don't live in the same house. We talk frequently, telling jokes and offering and hearing advice. We still love one another and are lucky enough to have each other in our lives. But we aren't That Family now--the family that lives together, watches TV together, and vacations together (to destinations with baseball teams to appease my brother!!). I don't fight with my brother over the front seat (he always gets it!), and I don't get to cuddle with mom at church or eat those pink mint candies from her purse.

One stupid, cheesy pop ballad from a cheesy 80s movie and suddenly I'm an emotional spazz. A therapist once told me I tend to blow things all out of proportion. Maybe, JUST MAYBE, he was right. But still.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I went to the DMV yesterday, which was one of the more hellish experiences of my recent past. The final result (after much biting of the tongue and barely repressed rage) is that I now have Wisconsin license plates. It's a weird feeling to see another state's name on the back of my car--almost like it's not even my car anymore. I always wanted to leave Iowa, and now that I have I feel a little like I lost something. Sentimental? About Iowa??? Eesh.

Anyway, what made me feel all better about it is that my plate ID is three numbers followed by the letters NRD. Nerd. It's as if the state somehow knows me already. That must be a good sign.

Monday, August 4, 2008

For no particular reason at all.....

I decided to start writing a blog. I don't expect a lot of readers, even though I am, of course, absolutely right about everything. The world is not ready for such easy perfection. This is my curse.

But mainly, I just like to write. I've always been too scared to show most people my writing outside of the occasional flip email. That changes now. I plan to use the blog to force myself to be more courageous about putting my writing out there. As such, I will probably do a little creative stuff along with a lot of ranting about things that make me mad. I like ranting as much as I do writing. And believe me, a lot of things make me really mad!

The name of the blog comes from an Ani DiFranco song that I liked a lot when I was in my mid-20s (many short eons ago). It's about growing up and trusting yourself to do what you want to do, not what you're told to do. I always tended to be a go along person, not wanting to disappoint anyone, always taking the safe path. I'm not saying I'm a revolutionary now (far from it), but I guess I've learned to go ahead and do whatever I want even when it makes my family and friends lovingly gawk and balk (e.g., traveling alone to Europe and going to college for 11 years and writing a book-length dissertation). Luckily, they still support me even when they think I'm weird.

So, yeah. I'm writing a blog. For no one but me, really. Deal with it.