Sunday, October 31, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
As we were walking, I mentioned how impressed I was when I saw this friend’s chest freezer while I was dog-sitting a couple weeks ago (yes, ask me to dog-sit and I’ll riffle through your edibles, inspect your frozen corn, and swoon over your homemade sausage and individual baggies of pesto). Without skipping a beat, she said, “Well, that country living for you.” For a second, I misheard her and thought she said, “Well, that’s good country people for you.” I was thinking about the creepy Flannery O’Connor story of the same name (she was, after all, one of the reasons that I went to grad school in the first place) and wooden legs and arboreal fecundity. I realized that for me there’s a bit of perfect tension between country living and “good country people” that keeps this Kentucky hamlet a gripping place to be.
Mostly, though, I’m cultivating the former. Last night was a butternut squash and chickpea salad from Orangette. It’s a pretty close to perfect salad. I put it over romaine because that’s what we had. It's quick--save for prepping the squash--and I love its warmth and its crispiness.
I then set to battening down the hatches around here. I plasticized the windows last night as J read Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece on the Tea Party. I love it when I get to do a project, like pimping out J's ranch with plastic, as he reads to me. If that's country living, I'll take it.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
It was just wonderfully relaxing. I should have taken pictures, but in the midst of all my unwinding, I kept forgetting. The only evidence of our stay is this shot from one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I gobbled up most of it before I remembered to take the picture, but you can see J delighting in some pastrami miracle.
I read Jeannette Wall’s Half-Broke Horses in the bath (not as good as The Glass Castle, but there’s still something deeply compelling in her narrative voice and I’ll take a half-baked, but compelling memoir any day); we watched the Phillies lose while squirreled up in a bed blessed from above; I knit up a couple birthday treats for a special spooky sister; and I didn’t do one lick of work.
While the tightness in my shoulder seems to have been worked out and I seem to be breathing a bit deeper, we returned to Kentucky and back to the pressures of life outside of the Four Seasons oasis and amidst the job market. Yesterday I officially signed off on all of the pages of my Bryn Mawr book. It's done. Like really truly done. 404 pages; 476 images; 374 texts. Done.
With the book out of the way, I can focus at least half of my anxieties (I do like to keep them well distributed) on finding a job for next year. The pickings are slim, of course, and nothing seems particularly well-suited to my interests (though a position in the Upper Peninsula feels strangely compelling). There's even less hope in J's field, and so it looks likely that we'll remain in Kentucky, at least for another year (unless we're blessed by some unbelievable stroke of profoundly good luck). I'm not opposed to this eventuality, but I'm eager to find fulfilling work for myself here. Unfortunately, it looks more and more like that means filling in here and there, a sabbatical replacement (maybe), some adjuncting, some piecework. I feel like a 19th-century woman who might take in some sewing to make ends meet. I'm actually sort of surprised that I just can't bear the idea of adjuncting at 35, making less money than I did as a grad student and begging--like Oliver Twist--for another section of composition, please. I'd rather teach high school, get benefits, and have my summers really, truly off. And so I'm beginning to try to unlock the mysteries of the labyrinthian Kentucky Board of Education.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I should be working on my job applications, my ACLS letter, my book talk. But alas, I’m thinking about dinner. And it’s before noon! I’m wondering about those two onions, that sack of pinto beans, that can of tomatoes, that bevy of lemons. It’s a very strange feeling, this thinking about making dinner. You see, J is the cook. I’m the dishwasher. He’s the foodie. I’m the rapid eater. In the established order of things, I have two left feet in the kitchen (a convenient reputation when you’re eager for others to cook for you) and he makes magic from canned beans.
But in recent days, all sorts of shifts have been perceptible around here. I’ve been making dinner—red cabbage and lime salad, butternut squash gratin, shrimp tacos (my culinary heart throb), basil ceasar—and J has actually been eating my creations with tremendous relish. It’s gotten me thinking that so much about relationships is about that peculiar mix of well-worn patterns and new flexibility. Last summer, as I gradually lost my mind with too much work, J cooked carefully considered dinners that greeted me when I warily came in from the office. Now I find myself doing the same for him. Instead of feeling like an unpleasant push and pull, it feels wonderfully natural to find these rhythms together.
Four months of marriage have begun to suggest that there may really be something to this commitment thing. Instead of feeling emotionally bent by indecision and second guessing (oh, how I don’t long for my twenties!), I’m loving watching these synchronizations unfold. Now only if I could convince—or rather, not have to convince—J to pick up the sponge after dinner.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I’ve always thought that in the realm of life’s major decisions, geography mattered most. Living on the east coast for more than a decade counted heavily in some equation of myself. But, as with most things, this began to shift in my late twenties and now it feels phenomenally less important. The cracks in the east coast allure began in North Carolina. I came to love the South, its easier ways, its kindness, its patience. A trip to Columbia, Missouri several years ago revealed a different midwest of hip college towns and affordable living. Summer visits to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have been both restoration and revelation. And now Kentucky.
It seems like geography, for me, has come to be about a certain feeling. Because surely in a list of pros and cons, Kentucky is never going to win. It’s poor; its public schools stink; it's overwhelmingly conservative; it's unhealthy; it's powered by coal; it’s far from the friends that I love. But when I’m here, I’m calmer. I’m slower. I’m not as nervous or as worried.
That has to count for something in my latest equation of self.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Serious runners take a couple extra laps after each race. It’s part of a recovery process that reregulates one’s natural rhythms. It lowers your heart-rate and protects your muscles. I’ve been a runner for more than a decade, but never really subscribed to this logic. I also resisted the whole pre-run stretching fad until I was about 32 and had already wrecked a knee and faced the end of my afternoon gallops through the woods. Until then, I just slipped on my asics and went long and hard until I collapsed in a heap at my doorstep. But warming up and cooling down, I’m starting to accept, are essential.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the last ten days: cooling down. For the last five or six months, I’ve been sprinting to get through it all--a book project, a major conference, a wedding, an article, job materials, teaching, a long distance relationship turned marriage--and in the last eight weeks, I’ve been doing it at such a pace that I was just starting to crumble. So when I finished (!) my institutional history on Monday and sent it to the printer, I turned off that part of my brain and have slowed to a crawl in the cool Kentucky sun.
There are things to do, lots of them, but I’m letting my body and my brain begin to recover. The first step was a quick retreat to Florida with J’s family. We spent the weekend snuggling our nephews (and maybe feeling just a bit like the odd ones out without a babe of our own) and visiting with J’s great aunt Bea, a 94 yr. old firecracker who still hits half a dozen card games a week and chauffeurs her friends about because they’ve aged-out of their privileges behind the wheel. We ate fresh seafood, and I got to float in ocean until I shriveled up like a dried apricot. We lay on the hot sand and whispered about how strange a world south Florida can seem.
En route to Florida, I caught up on some long-neglected knitting. This scarf began a year ago and just came off the needles last night. It's entrelac in Noro. I can't remember what the colorway was called. It was supposed to be a gift (both last year and this), but I'm becoming quite certain that I'm not going to be able to part with it. Usually I'm happy to knit and give, but this one--maybe because of it's lengthy residence in the basket by my bed--seems a bit too close to my heart to send off. Is that wrong to admit?
Since getting back to Kentucky, I've tried to restore some balance in my life. I slip out the door in the afternoons for long rambles behind J's house. Right now we're dog sitting and so I've got a lively pooch to trot ahead of me. The autumn woods are ten times more splendid with a dog in tow. Yesterday we came across this little guy:In the woods I breathe just a little bit better. Actually, a whole lot better. The gravel beneath my shoes and the cascading vermillion leaves settle me. They remind me of my attachments to the earth and my connections to all beings. And off to those woods I now go (after I stretch, of course)...