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.