Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graduate School or How to Recession-Proof Your Life

I won't pretend that our current life of thrift is the result of careful planning and strategic investment or budgeting. Much of it is sheer coincidence: we don't buy a lot of stuff because we can't afford a lot of stuff. I think we learned this in graduate school, when we lived way beyond our means on credit cards and student loans. Even still, we probably lived on $30,000. That includes our $10,000 (each!) stipend, some summer teaching when we could get it, loans and credit. Back then it was a good week when we could walk to Junior's Tavern and treat ourselves to a couple pitchers of beer.
Then along came Son and our lives changed. When our government subsidized health insurance ran out, I gave husband the ultimatum: one of us has to get a job. Luckily, I am married to a man who knows how to get a job. He got the first full-time tenure track job he applied for. Try not to hate him: this same luck or skill (you decide) also applies to sports, hobbies, and drinking.
The minute he got the job, we bought a house. At the time, I was teaching part-time for two different schools, meaning my "salary" was not going to help us get a loan. We bought the house we could afford, a tiny (1300 sq. foot) house, the smallest, cheapest house in the neighborhood we wanted to live in. That was 6 years ago. We're still in that house.
What's happened in the last 6 years? I got a full-time tenure track job and our Son has gotten bigger. We got a dog. That car we bought when I was pregnant? It's almost 9 years old.
Two years ago, when our first car was paid off, Middlebrow floated the idea of buying a new car. He was so excited! He's usually the thrifty one, while I'm the one who wants to buy things. But this time, our roles were reversed. We looked at some vehicles, even drove some. But looking at the payment on the handy spreadsheet the salesman drew up for us made my heart sink. I said no, I couldn't do it. Price was one part, but I also didn't want to invest in obsolete technology. Why buy a vehicle when the future of fossil fuel seems so uncertain?
Instead, Middlebrow bought a bike. We make it work. Sometimes (a lot of the time), it's a pain. But most of the time between public transportation (free bus pass from work), our feet, our bikes, and friends, we survive with one car. It helps that we live one mile from the campus where we teach most often.
We don't have: cable, cell phones, shopping habits (aside from books...), expensive hobbies (yet?). I have more to say, but this post is already too long. I'll continue it later.
Suffice it to say, I feel fortunate in these hard times.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Admissions of a Guilty Liberal

Today when I was walking down the street in our neighborhood, I was afraid one of the parents from my son's liberal, eco-friendly, did I say liberal?, school would be driving their Subaru Outback down 9th East and see me (yes, me) carrying my 32 oz. Coke/Caffeine Free Diet Coke trademarked mix and be like, "Is that Dr. Write? I didn't know she drank (gasp) soda!"
And so began my internal self-chastisement/reveling in the guilty pleasures. The things that I don't want other earth conscious, green-lovin', liberal people to know that I do, and not only that, I like doing it.
  1. Shopping for shoes. (I know, it's practically required for women to like shoes, but I don't always buy sensible Keens.)
  2. Capitalism. (I know! It's bad. But it's given us Target. And DSW. And, also, Giant Extra-Large Popcorn and the 124 oz. soda. How can that be bad?)
  3. Sugar (As in, that thick pasty frosting that's made from different kinds of sugar and put on sugar cookies. I love that! Also chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls.)
  4. Potato Chips (and I don't mean the fancy health food ones, though I do like those too. I mean the rippled kind. With white dip.)
  5. Staying inside on sunny days (it's my inner geek. Usually I'm reading)
  6. Getting my eyebrows waxed (and this from a girl who used to not shave her legs! Oh how the mighty have fallen!)
  7. Bad, stupid, bad romantic comedies (no plot is too predictable! No cliche too cliched! No meet cute too cute!)
  8. Mystery fiction (in which bad things happen and criminals are caught. I think everyone knows this about me, however)
  9. Bad pop music (with rhymes like love and dove; think Madonna circa 1985; but I still like it!)
  10. Trashy TV (again, I think everyone knows this, but I just watched "Dollhouse" and I liked it!)
I know...these don't seem too bad. But just picture me in Birkenstocks, a hippie skirt with long hair. Then you'll see.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Happens in Chicago...You Know

Well, I am maybe partly recovered from Chicago. Enough to tell you my news, which is that on the first day of the conference of famous writers and writers who want to be famous and graduate students so naive and eager they still believe they one day they will be famous, I saw not a famous writer, no, but a famous actor, yes, lo behold, it was Helo (known to people who know him as Tahmoh Penikett, wha?) . I spent some time on-line trying to find out why he was in Chicago (it turns out, he's Canadian), and all I can figure is that he was doing press or it was for the big premiere of "Dollhouse."
So the rest of the conference was gravy. And what gravy! I had three delicious lunches (citiocafe, Epic Burger, Chutney Joe's) and three delicious dinners (Green Zebra, MK, Tamarind). I drank, well, a lot. I bought so many books, that my suitcase tried to escape from me while I was zipping it (like, hey, get away from me. Carry those books yourself, etc.).
I saw lots and lots and lots of people I love.
Also: one friend, who shall remain nameless, asked me where my husband was, then said, "What happens in Chicago, stays in Chicago." Was he flirting? Possibly. But we had just had a conversation about some delicate matters concerning the groinal region. Here's a hint. If you're trying to pick up a woman, don't tell her that stuff. Tell her, "I'm your husband." That's really (with me) the only way to guarantee success. (And yes, I'm forgetting about the waiter I kissed four years ago. I'm old. I forget stuff.)
I reignited my love for Jack & Ginger (even non-Jack Jack) and boy did I get tired.
Also: I had a conversation with Charles Baxter in the elevator. For what it's worth.
I also saw a guy who didn't give me a job in a small, Midwestern town four years ago. He said he did me a favor. He now lives in Alaska.
Had a free drink, didn't go to a Jeff Tweedy concert. Drank way too much on the first night. Will I never learn? No, apparently not.
Now, do I have tons and tons of work to do. Plus I'm sitting here in my running clothes. Apparently dinner is NOT going to make itself. Damn dinner.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

HB, R!

Believe it or not, today Son is 8. Eight! I swear I just gave birth to that boy, carried his 10 pound body around inside my body, felt him turn and twist my guts.
He still twists my guts, but in different ways. He's adorable and smart. He's argumentative and a pain in the ass (where does he get that from?). He reads like crazy now (again, wherefore?), and he's getting so tall, he reaches my shoulder. I can still pick him up, but barely.
I love that he loves to watch "American Idol" with me, and we even voted last night. Why not? He loves The Beatles and REM, he got his first stitches last year (something tells me, not his last), he loves The Hardy Boys and Captain Underpants, he's an artist and a writer and a thinker.
I'm worried about going to London for 3 weeks, leaving him and Middlebrow. Oh, I know they'll be fine, but what about me? When I see a painting in the Tate, I'll think, "Son would love this." I hope I get to go back with both of them someday.
For now, I'll cherish the tiny moments, like last night, watching AI, when he pulled my arm around him, or when we speed-decorated 24 cookies for his birthday during the commercial breaks.
Happy Birthday, Son! Now please stop growing up. I can't take it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

This is What I Have the Energy To Say

I am home. From Chicago. I am tired. I bought lots of books. So much talking. Not enough sleeping.
So. Good. to see many and various friends from graduate school and other places and what not. Talking to editors who were kind enough to publish my stories or essays. Talking to other people who always, always reject me. Seeing new, cool magazines.
Talking to Charles Baxter in the elevator. Hearing Stuart Dybek read. Seeing William Gass.
Had to get up at a crazy time of the morning to catch the plane, but then it is worth it, when one is home.
Son likes fancy Diagram shirt I bought him. Husband likes NBA socks. Son likes miniature handcuffs and miniature squirt gun.
So much laundry.
Being irritated at pretty much everyone after the first two or three panelists. Note to self: more than 3 panelists is too many (except on the panel I was on, on which everyone was brilliant and succinct and interesting).
Ate so many meals. Yum. So much wine and beer. Ginger ale.
So many books.
Good to see everyone. Tired. So Tired.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I have not been blogging because my life is crazy. But I got a haircut and I am off to Chicago to eat a lot and to observe writers from afar and anear. I also plan on having a few drinks and maybe relaxing. I SO look forward to seeing my friends. You know who you are. And going to a few readings, a few panels, and wandering in the book fair.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In these dark times....

This makes me feel better.

Return to Life

I have been busy:
  1. Not sleeping
  2. Too much emailing
  3. Swimming
  4. Eating
  5. Drinking
  6. Worrying
  7. Job hunting? Maybe?
  8. Obsessing
  9. TV Watching
  10. Hulu Watching (my brain is more gelatinous)
  11. Not doing various of my teaching duties
But now I'm here. I'm here for you. Really I am. I must go.