Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ta Da!

I submitted a complete, finished draft of my dissertation yesterday. And what did I do to celebrate?

I cleaned house to the accompaniment of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

So, now you're wondering what I'm going to do to celebrate after the defense?

Well, for one thing, I'm going to have a ceremonial note card burning. Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dead On

I took one of those Facebook quizzes the other day. Usually I ignore them, but this one was “What Literary Character Are You?” So, of course, I had to take it. The answer?


You are introspective, skeptical, and brooding. To you the world is far too complex to be viewed in simple black and white terms. You are artistic, articulate, and intelligent, but your equivocations can sometimes lead you into trouble, which in your case can end up with everyone you know dead while some foreign prince storms your castle.

They left out an important part: everyone you know including yourself

I don’t quite think I’m Hamlet, but a few of those observations might, in some tiny way, be true. But then it hit me. The answer should have been Macbeth. That would have revealed all my inner angst over writing this dissertation. I mean, haven’t I been thinking “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day . . .” every day for the last few months? And haven’t I secretly believed that I would not finish my dissertation til “the last syllable of recorded time”? And deep down, aren’t I truly afraid that my dissertation will be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Winding Down

As regular readers of my blog know, I've been struggling with dissertation burnout lately. But, guess what?

I'm working on the conclusion!

I hate conclusions. By the end of a long paper I usually feel that I've already said all I have to say on a subject. I ask myself the big "So What?" question, and, at first, I usually have no answer. But if I just let it rest, give it time to sit on the back burner, eventually--there it is.

With a dissertation, multiply the aggravation times about a million. I mean, I've already had to answer a "So What?" question at the end of every chapter. Now, I'm faced with the "SOOOO WHAAAAAT??" question. And, true to form but equally exaggerated, at first my brain answered: "I've said absolutely everything there is to say about this subject, I'm tired and aggravated, and I've used up the next twenty years' supply of self-discipline. I really just want to watch movies or read escapist fiction and be LEFT ALONE, preferably fully supplied with some form of chocolate. Enough already!!!"

But ever the good little girl, I couldn't rebel for long. I wrote the first paragraph of my conclusion on Friday, took off for the weekend, and came back strong on Monday.

The end is in sight!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Booking It--Refund Reading

April is Tax Month. If you were to get a refund of, say, $500, and had to spend it all on book-related items, what would you buy?

Well, if someone forced me . . . I don't know. My first thought was a Kindle, but I'm just not sure I'd use it. I like to hold books in my hand, flip back to re-read, underline passages, and write in the margins. But I might like one for reading periodicals. Maybe.

But then, $500 would buy a lot of books . . .

Or a lot of skinny lattes in the library or the bookstore. Skinny lattes do count as a book-related item, don't they?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And the Pulitzer goes to . . .

The Pulitzer Prizewinners for 2009 were announced on April 20.


Fiction - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

Drama - Ruined by Lynn Nottage

History - The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton & Company)

Biography - American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Random House)

Poetry - The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)

General Nonfiction - Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday)

Music - Double Sextet by Steve Reich, premiered March 26, 2008 in Richmond, VA (Boosey & Hawkes)

You can check out the complete list HERE.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Problem with Perfectionism

My writing's been going a little bit better the last few days. One of the problems I've been having (besides my brain turning to sludge) is that I kept finding myself sitting in front of the computer, thinking and thinking and trying to come up with the perfect sentence or the perfect word without actually WRITING anything.

I realized that when I wrote on the computer I felt like I had to produce polished, quality writing, but if I turned to my pad and pencil instead, I could let myself just spill out ideas without that editor's voice taking over the process. Then, after brainstorming all those ideas and letting them flow wherever they wanted to--often to surprising insights, it was not nearly so hard to turn that fertile mess into passable prose.

Of course, I already knew this. I do teach writing, after all. But it's funny. I got so involved in the idea of getting through that I forgot to do what I know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Next Read

I know it’s weird, and I know I have a huge stack of books waiting to be read, but this one’s moving to the top. Elizabeth Bennet chasing zombies? What could be more fun than that? (Except maybe a date with Mr. Darcy?)

You scoff, but this book has sold more than 120,000 copies.

You can read an interview with author Seth Grahame-Smith HERE.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sorry, Barbie

I'm not quite sure how it slipped by me, but earlier this year on March 9 Barbie turned 50. Wow!

Now, I had my share of Barbies. My cousin and I spent untold hours dressing them up, driving them around in that pink car, and having them hold imaginary conversations with Ken. Occasionally, they even kissed him. Don't tell Mom.

And for all you grown-up little girls out there who still secretly feel bad that you didn't grow up to look like Barbie, this should make you feel better:

Real Women vs. Barbie

Real Women

  • Average woman's heigh is 5'4"
  • Their weight is approx. 140 lbs.
  • They wear a size 14 dress
  • Their bust is between 36" and 37" (B cup)
  • Their waist is between 30" and 34"
  • Their hips average between 40" and 42"
  • Their shoe size is estimated to be between 8.5 and 9.5

Barbie (as a human)

  • Barbie's height would be 7'2"
  • Her weight would be 101 lbs.
  • She would wear a size 4 dress
  • Her bust would be 39" (FF cup)
  • Her waist would be 19" (same as her head)
  • Her hips would be 33"
  • Her shoe size would be a 5


Barbie's body would have room for only half of a liver and only a few inches of intestines, as opposed to the usual 26 feet. The result: chronic diarrhea and death from malabsorption & malnutrition.

Barbie's neck is twice as long as the average human's which would make it impossible to hold up her head.

Barbie's waist is the same circumference as her head.

Barbie's legs are 50% longer than her arms, whereas the average woman's legs are only 20% longer than her arms.

To look like a barbie proportionally, a healthy woman would need to add 61 cm to her height, subtract 15 cm from her waist, add 13 cm to her chest, and 8 to her neck length.

If a woman had the same measurements as Barbie, she would not have enough body fat to menstruate (and obviously to have children).

There are 3 billion women on the planet who don't look like Barbie; only 8 women come close.

Barbie would be unable to walk upright (she would need to walk on all 4's): her feet are so proportionately small that her chest would pull her perpetually forward onto her toes.

Now, don't you feel better?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Rabbit or the Turtle

I've really been battling Dissertation Burnout lately. All through the process, I've set daily goals--read a certain amount, take notes and develop an organizational plan today, write X number of pages--and for the most part I met them. I was submitting chapters regularly, and that stack of typed pages was growing steadily higher.

Until I hit the last chapter. Then my brain turned to mush. Instead of writing several pages a day, some days I'd sit and stare at the computer screen and, by the end of the day, be lucky if I'd finished a whole paragraph. Aaaarrrgggghh. I couldn't hold a train of thought, I wasn't sure if what I'd written made sense, and I'd have to keep reading the previous pages to make sure I was going where I intended to. Very frustrating.

But I talked to an old friend who's been through the process, and he gave me some great advice. He said to remember that getting a PhD is like a marathon, not a sprint. By the end, it's not about speed. It's about not quitting. This really made sense to me because I've run a marathon. And I remember at about mile 20 really just wanting to walk over and sit down on the curb. But instead, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and repeating in my head "I will not quit, I will not quit, I will not quit . . ." And I didn't.

And I won't.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Booking It--Library Week

Last week was National Library week, and since my technical difficulties kept me from posting these questions last Monday, I thought I’d do them today:

How often do you use your public library and how do you use it?

I rarely if ever use the city library, but I use the University library (both Harding’s & Ole Miss’s) regularly—mostly for research.

Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library?

As far as sitting and browsing or surfing the internet, yes.

Did you go to the library as a child?

Oh, yes! It was one of my favorite places. I still remember exactly where on the shelves some of my favorite books were. I lived out in the country, so not only did I visit the library when we went to town, but I was also a regular patron of the Bookmobile. Although books, of course, were the main attraction, I still remember how wonderful it was to enter that air-conditioned Bookmobile on a hot summer day.

Do you have any particular memories of the library?

The library was only a block away from my grandmother’s house, and I’d walk down the street, through a honeysuckle-lined alleyway, and across the Community House lawn to get there. Every summer I’d attend the weekly Story Hour, and I remember sitting on the floor in a circle with other kids, listening to the librarian read. The library had high ceilings and was full of polished, dark wood. It always seemed like a wonderful, mysterious place to me.

Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?

I’m thankful for the amenities in the sleek, modern, active libraries, but my heart prefers the older, darker, quiet, cozy ones.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dissertation Blues

You know you're in trouble when you start thinking that cleaning out closets would be more fun than working on your dissertation.

Disclaimer: No, this is not really my closet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Beating the Bible

What do Brits say is the most inspirational book ever? According to London’s Daily Telegraph, it's Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It beat out the Bible, which came in at number two.

Here are Britain’s Top Ten Inspirational Books, as compiled in a UK poll:

1. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

2. The Bible

3. Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It.

4: Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus

5: The Diary of Anne Frank

6. 1984, George Orwell

7. A Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela.

8. The Beach, Alex Garland.

9. The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffennegger.

10. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger.

Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus? Really? Are you kidding me?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm Back!

Well, it's been a long two-and-a-half weeks, but my internet is finally up and running.

Early two Saturdays ago, lightning hit our house. It was so loud, it woke us both up. It threw breakers in half the house, but the only thing it fried was our internet access--both the modem and something out on the satellite itself (although we didn't know about the outside problem at first). I guess we should count ourselves lucky. A couple of years ago, lightning hit our house, took out many of the major appliances, and forced us to have the whole downstairs rewired.

The aggravation began when HughesNet promised to send me a new modem in three to five business days and seven business days later, I still had no modem. I called. "Yes, ma'am. On its way. But no FedEx routing number available." Two days later, still no modem. Another call. Same response. Of course, each call meant half an hour on hold.

Finally, I call FedEx only to discover they had not yet received the package from HughesNet. All HughesNet had done was print a shipping label. I guess that explains why there was no tracking number. I call HughesNet again--this time an hour on the phone. And I really tried to be nice.

Well, to make a long story somewhat shorter. We finally got the modem only to discover that that wasn't all the problem. When the repairman came to the house, he couldn't believe they hadn't sent him to begin with. He said there was no way my problem could have been solved simply by plugging in a new modem. Why am I not surprised?

Right now, my wireless router's not working. But hey, who ever said life's perfect?

P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Booking It--Movie Potential

What book do you think should be made into a movie? And do you have any suggestions for the producers?
Or, what book do you think should NEVER be made into a movie?

Oh, this is a hard one. I love novels, and I love movies, but often, the two don’t mix very well. If I’ve read a novel and then see the movie, I’m invariably disappointed over what they’ve left out or what they’ve changed. So, I don’t think I’m going to answer this part. A novel I absolutely love that should never be made into a movie is The Poisonwood Bible. Obviously, it’s way too long to fit standard movie length, but also, I see absolutely no way that they could portray all the nuance and paradox that Kingsolver captures in her work. I’m afraid that it would simply turn into an anti-Christian film, rather than an exploration of how religion, wrongly used, can really destroy people.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Playing with Point of View

I thought it was really interesting that the first two plays I went to last week both hinged on point of view. Of course, Wicked tells the Wizard of Oz story from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West, and boy do things look different through her eyes. Three Days of Rain starts off with the adult children's view of their parents, and the second act goes back in time, revealing that the parents' actions and motivations were exactly the opposite of how the children had interpreted them. Plays like this remind me to be more careful of how I judge the actions of others. And it makes me wonder how often my own actions and intentions are totally misunderstood.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Five Plays in Five Days

I’ve been to London twice, and both times I’ve been there I’ve gone to a play every night. It’s absolutely wonderful. The only hard part is choosing which plays to see. Here are the ones I saw this trip:

1. Three Days of Rain, with James McAvoy
2. Wicked
3. Madame de Sade, with Judi Dench
4. The Lion King
5. Enjoy

When we were standing in line to get tickets for Madame de Sade, the people in front of us couldn’t decide whether or not to purchase the tickets. They hemmed and hawed, consulted each other, and finally asked the seller, “What’s the play about?”

She replied (with a smile), “What does it matter? Judi Dench is in it!” I almost laughed out loud because, when I heard them ask that, I had answered in my head with the exact same words. I didn’t really know anything about the play, but as soon as I found out that she was performing, I knew I was gonna be there.

The only problem with seeing all those plays is, now I’m in withdrawal!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lesson Learned

I’m no health freak, but I do try to eat a healthy diet, so when my son was booking our flights and asked if I wanted to make any requests regarding my meal selections, I thought it would be a good idea to select the “Low Fat/Low Cholesterol” option.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Very Bad Decision.

My meals were AWFUL. I mean, they were so bad I couldn’t eat them. We’d had a nice meal at the airport before we left on the flight over, and I had a granola bar in my backpack, so I made it through the first flight okay.

But on the nine-hour flight back, I literally starved. I should have been prepared, but I wasn’t. And they didn’t seat us together on this flight, so I couldn’t even beg leftovers from his tray. By the time we landed in Minneapolis, my stomach thought my throat had been cut and I had an awful headache.

But it’d be okay, I thought. We had a long enough layover to have a meal. By this time, I’m so hungry I’m picturing a couple of courses in a nice restaurant with candles and cloth napkins . . .

Wrong again.

I didn’t factor in Customs—two overseas flights arrived at the same time and they were using only one metal detector. Aaaarrrgggghhh. By the time we made it through, I had to settle for the unthinkable--McDonalds french fries stuffed in my mouth while trotting down the conveyor to our next flight.

Moral of the story? When you fly, just let go and eat the full-fat version.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


When we got to our hotel to check in, the first thing they asked for, of course, was a credit card. I reached into my billfold to get mine, only to realize that the man I’d purchased the electrical adapter from at the airport had never given it back to me.


Now, I don’t know if he did it on purpose (he’d given me my receipt folded to the size of the credit card and I’d placed it in the usual pocket) or if I was just in too big a hurry to get to our train and ran off before he noticed he hadn’t returned it, but either way, I didn’t have it.

Cha-ching. Cha-ching. I could hear charges being made to my account all over the world. I tried the 800 number for my credit card company, but it wouldn’t go through from England. I looked online, but on their whole huge website I could find no place to report a lost or stolen card. I tried calling the phone number on the receipt from the airport to see if maybe they were holding my card and could send it to the hotel, but it went to a central office’s answering machine.

I finally had to swallow my pride, call my husband, confess, and ask for his help. I was really embarrassed to admit what I’d done. It seemed so stupid, and so easily preventable. But he was great. He called and reported it, and we suffered nothing more than the inconvenience of being without our cards for a week until new ones could be reissued.

Whew. It could have been much worse.