Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hour 5

Oh the beauty of the empty seat on a Thanksgiving bus

Is there anything more glorious than an empty seat to stash your bag and pleasure?

Travel begun

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Today may be one of the last quiet days until after the new year. There are holidays, weddings, conferences, papers, talks, planning, and trips to come. But today there is quiet, crepes, orange pekoe, reading about readers, yoga, knitting, perhaps some meditation. I'm trying to keep my brain at peace, to store up a bunch of calm for the days and weeks ahead. You can store most things in a crepe, so why not tranquility?

Saturday, November 20, 2010


It's a very quiet morning around these parts. Since working a "real" job over the last year and a half, I've come to relish silent Saturdays in my little urban nest. I have a whole pot of tea steeping, three projects on the needles, two new promising books about panic, a tiny bit of reassuring news about next year, a stack of books to skim for next semester's class, a craving for more lentils, and all day to flitter between them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

{This moment}

{This moment}: When I'm getting better, getting grounded, getting calmer, I start to see more and see better. I think these are weeping cherries and if not, they're just two of the most beautiful trees around.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Note to self

I don't know why you keep forgetting this Anne, but when you can't bear to write a sentence, when there are no thoughts in your head, when you can't stand even the idea of arguing for anything, it's time to turn off the computer. Turn it off. Unplug it. Ignore it. Walk away. It's that damn white screen that's doing it to you.

Now go and find the stack of yellow legal pads. Even the kind with flimsy paper will do. Then dig for your favorite pen, or even choose two. Now it's simple. Just put pen to paper. Don't bother with complete sentences. Don't worry about structure or organization or weak verbs or tentative qualifications. Just scribble. Pretty soon those pretty yellow pages add up and before long, you might just have that talk written. But not if you keep babbling here. Go. Go back to it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shuttered from the schoolhouse

As I sent off my most recent application to Eastwestern Praire State University in Somberville, I could help but feel that this is a very good year not to get a job. Imagine it was four years ago and I was brimming with enthusiasm over the 63 jobs in my field, and imagine how disappointing it would have felt not to get even an interview, let alone an offer. That would have been a horrible year to not get a job. This year, though, it’s great. I can fail to get a single MLA interview and no one will dare tell me that it’s because I’m not good enough, because my project is inherently boring, or because I didn’t publish enough. Failure is built right in. With maybe two jobs that really match my interests, I’m almost guaranteed to fail. Oh what a joy!

Somehow I take tremendous comfort in this lousy market. It’s as if all the forces in the academic universe are conspiring just for my benefit, to ensure that I find something better to do with my time. There really seems to be no reason to worry about not getting a job. The real concern is actually getting a job and then having to do all that work of writing lectures, finding new research topics, revising that mildewing dissertation of mine.

So instead of bemoaning this situation, I’m going to embrace it. From now on and for good. Here’s to a great year of not getting a(n) (academic) job.

Monday, November 15, 2010


When you live in a studio apartment, you get just four corners of a home. I guess that technically I have eight, if you count those in the bathroom. With what little space I have, I need to be able to nest in new ways. On Saturday, I decided my lonely windowsills could use some color. A selection of left-overs from my rapidly dwindling yarn stash (could anyone ever have too much of a stash?) did just the trick.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

z bread

I’m always trying to explain to J just how limited the midwestern palate was circa 1983. Dinty Moore beef stew, jell-o molds, casseroles; hard-shelled tacos were considered exotic. But he grew up in L.A. He doesn’t really understand.

I’m also always trying to explain to him my mother’s relationship to cooking, which has essentially remained non-existent for as long as I’ve known her. When her husband, Don, goes out of town, she gets most excited not about having that liberating extra room in the bed for a couple days, but about not having to “think about meals.” That’s an exact quote. She’ll probably be mad that I’m telling you this, but it’s true: she doesn’t like to cook. I’d even venture a step further: she doesn’t really like the kitchen to get much use at all.

This proved challenging to negotiate as a child. Somewhere along the way she—or maybe it was my stepdad Paul—coined the frequently-used phrase “Let’s just do a G.Y.O.” Get Your Own.

I’m not kidding.

Fortunately, we all survived. This wasn’t the great Irish famine or anything. We ate a lot of cheerios, relished fresh toast for dinner, and became rather proficient prep cooks on our own. I don’t hold it against her, at least not anymore. It makes for a good story, the one about growing up in the wilds of northern Michigan with a mother who never fed us.

But none of this is really, totally true.

She made at least two meals, or rather two dishes, again and again and again. For her, each of them constituted a meal of their own: strawberry shortcake (with ice cream, of course) and zucchini bread.

I’ve remained a devotee of all things strawberry. I’m wild about them, and in early summer, buy quart after quart, eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even a bedtime snack. I don’t go in for the shortcake as much, but I eat the berries until they come out my ears.

The zucchini bread, though, never held the same appeal. So you can imagine my surprise this morning when I woke up to an intense craving for it. I was dying for that slightly metallic quick bread taste, and I also really wanted the sensation of grating all of that zucchini. I wanted the white flour and that white sugar that I rarely taste these days. I wanted to scrape the hot loaves out my old pans.

I dug out my trusty Bread Bible and set to grating.

And then I set to eating. A lot of eating.

I think it might be wrong, but it was lunch and dinner, a pre-walk snack and a post-walk snack, and now, a bedtime snack. Fortunately, I froze the second loaf, so it's officially off-limits, at least until it thaws.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

seven day candles, voodoo, or the just the sound of silence

If you hadn’t noticed, I tend toward the rosy in my writing. Even my academic prose inevitably morphs into hagiography. Without fail, I fall into narratives of progress. I become Hegelian without really understanding Hegel. I don’t know why this is. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m a fundamentally poor thinker incapable of sustaining complex thought. Or maybe it’s just because I’m an optimist at heart. It's not a little galling.

In all the rosiness in this space, I don’t reveal as much as I should--or could--about my struggles with panic and anxiety. This is especially glaring because there’s too little support for people suffering with panic, even in a big city like Philadelphia. I know this because I’ve been seeking it out for nearly two years. I keep hoping to stumble upon an AA-like group for panic, a network of the afflicted who could gather together and prop one another up, who could together learn to be different people altogether.

Though I don’t have such a group, I do spend a lot of time trying to get better. Recently I was rereading Reid Wilson's Don’t Panic, a kind of user’s guide to the disorder. A couple years ago, I did cognitive behavior therapy at Wilson’s clinic in Durham, and for a while, I got much better. But the last three months have been very, very tough. On me. On J. On my family. On my friends. Part of having panic is feeling like no one is going to catch you when--not if--you fall. 

One of Wilson’s suggestions is that you try to track where your mind goes just before you begin to panic. You try to identify a pattern, a set of thoughts that habitually trigger an attack. I’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to do this, trying to be conscious of the moments--seconds, really--just before everything begins to feel utterly terrifying. In the process of listening to those moments, I had a major breakthrough.

My panic is almost always proceeded by the sound of silence. And this ain’t no Simon and Garfunkel melodic silence (save, perhaps, for my own “restless dreams of walking alone”). It took me a long time to figure this out because I couldn’t seem to identify a common thread of thinking, and then I realized with a start that I couldn’t identify a common thread because there was no thinking at all. Panic was filling up my spaces of silence.

One of the least intuitive things about panic is that it has to be conquered head-on; the “I just need to relax” approach almost always fails. The “you just need to relax” approach that friends and family prescribe will always fail.

The “bring on the panic” (a kind of perverse mantra repeated in the moment of panic) is what works. Sitting and allowing--inviting, really--the panic to wash over you is what takes the wind out of its sails. 

So in thinking about my own silences and their proclivity to turn toward panic, I feel a compulsion to sit with my silence. I bought a candle in a tall glass jar (it was the only unscented one in the grocery store on my block) and have sat on my floor each of the last three evenings, lit the candle, held a kentucky acorn in my nervous palm, and let the silence come. I invite it in. The first night, I lasted about three minutes before I needed to get up and move. Last night it was fifteen, and as I went to blow out the candle, I noticed a label on its side: “Seven Day Candle.” 

It turns out that Seven Day Candles are ritual candles, used for hoodoo and voodoo, by Christians and Pagans, Greeks and magicians. It seems perfectly appropriate, then, that I’ve been casting a spell over myself, that I’ve been cleansing my ailing mind without really meaning to. I’m hopeful about this new approach, this getting comfortable with my silences.

One of my closest friends is coming this weekend, and I’m eager to share this process with her, to make it something about which I’m not ashamed. Panic wants to be hidden, but when you force it out into the open, it can’t really survive, at least not in that very moment.

See, damn it, I can't help but write about  progress, once again. Surely it's a sign of feeblemindedness. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

{This moment}

It may be neither bucolic nor beautiful, but it's early morning commuter knitting.

from soulemama: {this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A discovery

When I returned to Philadelphia on Saturday night, I found a changed season. Kentucky had been flirting with fall, but Philadelphia had embraced it several weeks back while I was away. I felt a bit like coming into a party sober when everyone else is already drunk. The people on my street had begun donning their hats and mitts, woolen scarves were already wrapped to earlobes and I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was jumping fall’s gun. But sure enough, I awoke at 10 am (!) on Sunday to a decidedly autumnal sniffle that I suppose may be more airplane than autumn, but that slowed me nonetheless.

My postnasal drip, though, did have its positive side. I was determined to fish out my cold weather clothes, finally take my coat to the cleaner, and stash away summer’s sandals and dresses. As I was scrounging around under the bed––among long-ago-moth-eaten cashmere that I can’t bear to part with for sentimental reasons, even though I have just 20 square feet of storage––I lit upon a strand of pure white, or rather, not pure white, but perfect white. Yanking it out, I discovered this sad, little gem.

Hello old friend. The last time I saw you was on a couch in 2002––or was that 2003?––just after a relationship that had lingered throughout much of my mid- to late-twenties in miraculous fits and starts and with moments of clarity and then long bouts of confusion came to its final and ugly conclusion. I still have the scar on my left calf, from the moment I crashed my bicycle on Yom Kippur when he called me to tell me that he was seeing someone else. The cell phone and I both went over the handlebars, and as I lay sprawled out in front of the graduate library at UNC, my leg bleeding, my head pounding, the spine of my Sensational Designs broken, my cell phone split in two, I knew that my relationship was finally and decidedly done.

As my leg healed and my ego gradually regenerated, I cast on this sweater. It’s beginnings were auspicious, it’s fibers almost bouncy. After all, I had bargained for eight of its enormous skeins on a cold, but sun-drenched day in Patagonia in December 1998. I had gone to the end of the continent to see my sister Molly, who was spending the year in Argentina. It was a funny trip--my father and I unlikely travel companions--and I was obsessed with just three things: seeing Patagonia, finding the kind of perfect wool that I knew had to exist (even as this seemed unlikely in a period dominated by Brown Sheep and Cascade 220 in the U.S.), and uncovering the truth about the country’s Dirty War.

On an estancia outside of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares––where we watched the Perito Moreno Glacier advance in crumbling chunks of iceberg that plunged into Lake Argentino––I came upon this wool. Molly and I met its sheep. And then on a tour we found ourselves inside an enormous sheep barn listening to a farmer’s description of his process. I couldn’t understand his Spanish and so I left Molly to listen while I snuck out the side door. There I found terrific mountains of raw wool roughly the size of four double-wide mobile homes. When I later got Molly to ask the farmer about this wool, he said that it was surplus, that the estancia simply couldn’t process all of its wool profitably (this was a meat producing place, not a knitter’s paradise). They couldn’t even seem to give it away. It was there to rot. In a flash, I decided that if I had half a nerve, I’d rent a few semi-trucks and drive around Argentina picking up this wool, importing it, and ta da, I’d have a life’s work. At 22, I didn’t have the nerve.

So I just stuffed my backpack with about ten pounds of dirty, smelly raw wool. It’s a wonder that I got through customs without getting searched. I can’t seem to remember what happened to that pile. I suppose that it got tossed during some cross-country move when it seemed a poor idea to keep toting it along. But in any case, I emerged with this white magic that I then looked at lovingly for about five years before an atrocious breakup set me on to this sweater. (I also bought some heavenly midnight blue silk and wool that I squandered on mittens for another boyfriend who then broke my heart, but that’s another story).

I can’t remember why I put this one down. I suspect that as the sting of my breakup lessened, I got off the couch and returned to my reading and my running.

When I discovered it the other day, I had little faith that it would still fit, but indeed, it almost seems that I made it for my 34 year old body instead of my 26 year old one. It had no sleeves on Sunday, but as of last night, it has half of one. It’s riddled with funny, inexplicable mistakes that I suppose I could try to correct, but I kind of like that it’s an index of my younger knitting self, an autobiography in stockinette stitch.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


LEX to PHL via DTW. Just as the cold Kentucky nights arrive, I depart, back again to my commuting life and the city of brotherly hatred (née brotherly love).

Friday, November 5, 2010

This moment

A final Friday in Kentucky. The laundry mat, packing, a bourbon party tonight, anticipations of another absence.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

chicken and flesh

I made a roast chicken last night for J’s department chair and his wife (who is also in the department). I was stewing about which recipe to use for most of the day, flitting back and forth between the famous Zuni Cafe roasted chicken or the simpler Jamie Oliver one. I salted the bird beforehand, leaving open the possibility of the Zuni recipe, but when J’s electric oven refused to play nicely, topping out at a respectable-but-too-cool 425º, I had to switch to the Jamie Oliver one. I worried that the salting would screw up the prescribed basting, but I found that I really never needed to baste it. I had planned to photograph the whole process, from bird to bite, but alas, my camera battery died and I don’t have my charger in Kentucky. Argh. I couldn’t find my phone for most of the day and so I’ve got little proof that splitting the difference between the recipes yielded a rather tasty meal.

When our guests arrived, I really droned on about how horrible the chicken was going to be, about how I was a poultry novice, about the damned oven, about my playing fast and loose between recipes. I’m a firm believer in the magic of lowered expectations. That way when the first tentative bite makes its way into your guest’s mouth, you can watch the palpable relief wash over his face. It’s a real treat, even better than cake.

That first bite, though, was delayed by my grabbing the 425º skillet with my bare hand.* It was just one of those quick and scorching moments of mindlessness. I spent the rest of the evening with my hand plunged in a bucket of cold water because whenever I tried to pull it out, I was beset by a shocking amount of pain. As we strategized our job situation with our guests, talking about ways to better position myself here, I couldn't help but feel my heart beat in my developing blisters. You know that feeling, when you're so attuned to the pain that you can listen to your heartbeat right there.

I tried to fall asleep with my hand in the bucket but--surprise--it just wasn't working. J insisted on strapping frozen peas to my hand with an ace bandage. It did the trick. I slept most of the night and awoke to a slightly-shriveled-but-hardly-worse-for-the-wear hand. Now if I could only remember all the advice his colleagues offered...

*It took a relaxing jog in the woods to jog my brain toward the obvious: yesterday I was flip-flopping between recipes because I was obsessed with getting the skin of the chicken just right. I wanted it super crispy, the way my father used to make it, and the Zuni recipe promised just such a thing. I was crestfallen when the low temps of the oven prevented my using that recipe. I burned myself--duh--in a moment of obsession about charring the flesh. It might as well have been intentional now that I think about it. And then what does that say about me?