Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another book report...

I recently finished the above book, Sarah's Key, as part of my crazy book reading blitz lately. This was a book that apparently is quite popular, I think a movie is being made out of it? MSD just picked it up from amazon for me a while ago when he was buying books he thought I might like. So I'm game to read a lot of different things and this novel presented some interesting story lines. So I read it and I now I'm kind of undecided about my overall opinion. On one hand I really like the way the past and present are woven together and function as a key part of the plot. Additionally, the historical context (Jews, Nazi's and deportation/death) in France was fascinating to read about. I enjoyed the novel's critical analysis of how human's can easily forget their participation in genocide even against their own people. It offered quite a critique of the larger human tendency to "move quickly past" items in history that are painful (hello! slavery in our country). Anyway that theme of what does it mean to remember is present throughout and I found that pretty interesting.
But the novel over all didn't feel that compelling. I still can't quite place my reasons why not but my gut feeling was that I didn't feel that connected to the characters or inhabited by the story. Perhaps it was the main character- she had this drive to find out about the little girl, Sarah, but aside from a few chance contextual factors it didn't seem that this compulsion was well explained. The reader is just sort of left to assume that this is a normal thing for a woman to simply drop everything to chase after this child's story. Now the story is interesting and certainly complex. But I wasn't drawn in to the storyline as I normally feel that I am in a novel. I would say that while interesting it wasn't a book that I would hand over to others to read- so I'd give it about a B overall.
There's another 5th grade book report, I'm sure there will be more to come but I have to turn my attention to preparing for the three classes I'm teaching this fall... oy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

a new rhythm ...

This is the first autumn season in a long time where nothing new or life-changing is on the horizon. Last fall I was preparing to have a baby and the one before that I was starting a new job, and the one before that was spent acclimating to internship and finishing my dissertation. But this fall is just me and some familiar routines (i.e. jobs I've been doing for a while and some semblance of order in the rest of my life). Nemo is big enough to be ready to explore areas of our city or simply run errands around town. She's also getting into a schedule, aka slightly more predictable (though now that I wrote that it will change tomorrow). So this fall I'm looking forward to crisp weather and making applesauce. But mostly I'm looking forward to simply living without any major tasks on the docket.

That isn't to say that I haven't been considering all the projects I'd like to finish around the house and professionally. There are always plenty of things to do! MSD would tell you that I've always got five more things planned than I have time to complete. But for the first time in a long time I feel more ready to slowly tackle them at whatever pace I need to. Maybe it's having passed the licensing exam and feeling free of that worry hanging over my head, perhaps it's the great rest we had on vacation in Montana that is re-energizing me for the school year ahead. I know that it's partly to do with MSD being done with his tenure process and his simply going into a school year not burdened by extraneous projects. Things feel a bit simpler, more low key and for that I'm grateful.

I do have to teach several classes this fall, two of which are new preps. So that will take time and energy to manage and prepare for well. But even there, I know the institutions as I've taught at them before and I know the material since I've just been through a lot of it again in preparation for the licensing exam. It's nice to feel as though there is not some big looming newness out there that I have to ready myself for.

So a new rhythm is at work here in our house, my hope is that it plays for a long time. I am looking forward to the events of fall and beyond that to the holidays. Perhaps it's because we are both teachers but autumn always feels like a fresh start and a new beginning (even though from a calendar perspective it's really the end of the year). Here's to all the crisp fall weather ahead of us!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Not much to say tonight, I spent the weekend teaching graduate students. A good weekend that I think yielded growth for my students and myself. After an entire weekend of teaching I always feel EXHAUSTED on Sunday night. The introvert in me just wants to curl up in bed and read or watch mind-numbing TV. Tonight it was reading, I'll post some thoughts on the book I just finished soon. (It appears that my blog is turning into a perpetual 5th grade book report.)

Anyway teaching is a paradox for me. I always dread going to teach, I feel anxious and run through several scenarios of why I don't like teaching. I get stressed and find myself ruminating on lesson plans and worries about running out of things for my students to do in class. But then I get to class and I start talking with my students about the subject matter. And all my anxiety goes away, the dread is replaced by excitement and energy. I can honestly say that I enjoy the process of talking with my students and engaging around the topics. They ask questions and offer good discussion points and I find myself totally invested in the conversation. My mind is spinning in several directions as I also stay close to the conversation at hand. We go through lectures and do role plays. I feel intellectually alive and refreshed. It's just really good.

Then I head home and recount to MSD all the interesting things that students said (sometimes we also laugh about the somewhat crazy things that were said). We discuss teaching and get into it over classroom details (sometimes we have very different opinions about how to handle classroom instruction). But it always yields some good conversation. And then I am totally and completely exhausted. After some brief discussion I usually have to head to bed with a book because my brain is fried. For example, right now my head feels incredibly full and tight. I am overwhelmed at the thought of having a conversation about anything. Writing actually feels easy since there is no need to exchange ideas with anyone. I am so tired that trying to think of responses to someone's questions feels impossible.

All of this reminds me yet again that I am a complete introvert who needs time to recharge her batteries. I need time to sit and just let my mind rest since being with people taxes my resources. Thankfully after teaching all weekend I have a few days to recover before going into the office to do therapy. I plan to spend those days wisely and somewhat quietly.

And now a gratuitous picture of Nemo who I plan to spend most of my time with:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back to Anna Quindlen

It's been a while since I've read anything by Anna Quindlen. I followed her column in Newsweek pretty faithfully but once she stopped writing that I haven't found time to read many of her novels. But since I've now passed the licensing exam I have no excused not to read for fun anymore! (Not that I'm complaining, reading novels is one of my truest joys and pleasures in life.)

Around Christmas time MSD picked up a slew of novels for me by authors he knew I like (most of these books he found at the thrift store). And I've been picking my way through them (hence the musing on Kingsolver in the previous post). I just finished, "Black and Blue" by Quindlan.

Now when I first started this book I thought, "Why am I reading this???" Because as the title implies it's about a woman in an abusive relationship who's body is "black and blue" from beatings etc. The reason I questioned my read of the book is simply that I work with people's pain for a living and a book like this brings back the real examples I've seen. But on the other hand since I do the work I do I am always striving to understand a bit more of another person's experience in order to empathize.

So I pressed on with the book. It's main narrative is told by Fran whose emotions, experiences and thoughts drive the overall story. Quindlan does a good job with her characters, Fran is credible and conveys the overwhelming sense of fear she has toward her husband. The book starts with her taking her son and leaving her husband secretly. I felt her nervousness throughout the book and understood her constant vigilance over her son. Additionally, while reading I felt pretty much on edge the entire time. While not a relaxing read, certainly a more accurate one. This is not a pretty tale of escape and happy endings. I found myself wondering throughout the entire book when her husband would find them. It seemed inevitable.

In the meantime I was also impressed with Quindlan's portrayal of a woman trying desperately to make a home for her son and herself in a completely foreign environment. She finds ways to be resourceful and doesn't shirk difficult conversations with her son. She makes friends, finds a new life and starts to find herself in the process. That's probably the other reason I stuck with the book- I can appreciate a narrative where the main character is on a journey of self-discovery. In Fran's case this self-discovery is crucial to her survival not just personal growth.

Her husband does find her, but what happens after that isn't the most important part of the story. The critical part seems to be the act of leaving, of standing up and saying to herself that she wasn't going to take his abuse anymore. That she didn't deserve it. The other important part is her struggle to redefine herself and craft a new life. She is basically without any help and Quindlan doesn't glass over some of the more difficult aspects of her new life. The book feels real, raw and the emotions reflect that.

Overall a good read, but the emotions are challenging.

Monday, August 15, 2011

So what does lacuna mean?

I've been trying to remember when I was first introduced to Barbara Kingsolver's work. I think it was through reading "The Poisonwood Bible" in my early 20's. My most favorite librarian, Mary Post, loaned it to me along with a stack of other books. (If I am recalling correctly I was also reading Kingsolver's work in a college course titled "Wild Women of the Natural World." Excellent course for my budding feminist self!) For me there is an excitement to finding a new writer whose stories you can get inside and just experience. For me Kingsolver is that kind of author. I have devoured her novels and read several more than once. The Poisonwood Bible is actually not my favorite, I'm more a fan of The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams. Those stories have invited me in and seem to unravel effortlessly before me. I just finished reading her latest story, The Lacuna. I'll confess at first I had no idea what that word meant. But after reading the story it does seem to fit. And that's the thing about Kingsolver her work is deep and layered. Now another confession, it took me two different attempts several months apart to successfully start and finish this book. The beginning is somewhat "different". Not bad or good, just slow to get into. Perhaps part of the issue is that I could just step into the other novels and feel the storyline. With this book I had to wade in and then come out and get my bearings, at least in the beginning. There are so many details, most of which made very little sense to me at the beginning. So I'd read a bit, stop for a while and then go back for a bit more. I think it really started to flow when Frida Kahlo's character begins to occupy a central role. At that point I felt invested in Harrison and more than a little curious of what might become if him. Kingsolver wove this story more contextually into history it seems than her other works. So my US history knowledge was also tested! Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the life of Trotsky. The tenderness with which he is portrayed seems to balance the chaos of Harrison's life. However, throughout that entire portion of the narrative I found myself anticipating tragedy. When the main character is working for someone whose whole life is spent avoiding assassination it can't end well. Interestingly this portion of the book seems like the most at home Harrison feels throughout the entire story. And yes the section does end tragically.
When I finished this portion of his life I found myself a little surprised that almost half the book still remained. Where else would she take Harrison I wondered?
The last part of the book takes place in the US during the Red Scare. Having not lived through that part of history myself I have to rely on my history books to help me understand the power that an accusation of communist activity carried. Kingsolver's book brings this reality to the forefront. It struck me how easily an individual could be made into a suspect or seen as "the other". I wasn't necessarily surprised as this still goes on today in our contemporary society pretty frequently (think accusations of terrorism). But what is striking in the novel is that Harrison is really nobody, perfectly normal and average. Yes, he writes bestselling novels but they are "fluff" fiction according to his own words. He is not a threat in any capacity to the US government. And yet it is so simple, perhaps deceptively easy to identify him as a communist without evidence. Makes me think about what it means to find someone guilty of such unobservable crimes.
The book's slow introduction isn't a precursor to it's overall storyline. I found myself enraptured as the tale unfolded. I also felt pressed to pick my own brain to see what historical facts I could pull up for context as Harrison navigates the US and Mexico, famous artists and communist leaders. I still need to read up on central american history and it's relationship to the SSSR/Russia in order to really understand all of her references. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable read with an important twist at the end that I had to re-read to make sure I got it.
Also the word lacuna means- gap. This is due to the gaps in the storyline and an important physical place Harrison discovers in his boyhood.
Thanks Barbara for another great story!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Becoming a psychologist

On July 12, 2011 I finished a journey I started in April of 2003. This eight year commitment is so far the longest single commitment of my life. (Though I'll be married 7 years this year so that's getting close.) When I started this endeavor I was 21 years old and just about to graduate college. At that time I was eager to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I had been plotting, planning and praying that I would get into graduate school.
Then I did.
I thought getting in was a big deal. I remember getting the letter offering me a position in the doctoral program. I was so excited that I ran across the quad at IWU to find a few friends to announce the news. I was so excited to be an undergrad going right into a phd program.
Let's be real here, I had no idea what I was getting into. None.
I started graduate school in 2003 and somehow became a pyschologist by the time I graduated in 2009. Along the way I learned a lot about how to understand human behavior and emotions but mostly I learned about myself.
I grew up in grad school. Some people spend their twenties exploring the world, having kids and building their careers. I spent mine taking evening classes, having supervision sessions and teaching undergraduates. It was a lot of school. And there were plenty of times I wondered if I was spending my twenties in the right place.
When I finished each step of grad school I felt so accomplished. But before each step I also felt as though the process would never end. Particularly during the dissertation process I battled a feeling of despair that I would forever be in graduate school. From my anecdotal research this seems to be a fairly common feeling among doc students.
The day I defended my dissertation was a good one. My family attended and for the first time I was able to show them my grad school world in a really authentic way. They also got to hear the supportive and encouraging comments my faculty members offered. I simply remember feeling incredibly relieved after the defense was over. That feeling most characteristic of my experience throughout grad school!
The last leg of this journey was the part I blocked from my mind the longest. I always knew I would have to take a final licensing exam but I managed to put off thinking about for as long as possible. I got a job and even had a baby before I was finally recovered enough from grad school to think about taking the next step.
So I started studying and generally freaking out about the test. I took practice tests and tried to drill myself on random psychology facts. I really hate studying for multiple choice tests. I went through a cycle of emotions ranging from anger to hopelessness.
I was pretty convinced that I would fail the test the first time. But I went ahead and took it despite my doubts. After a grueling several hours I left the testing center feeling as though I had most certainly failed.
But I passed. And I'm told that my license is in the mail.
So there it is, eight years later and I'm finally a licensed clinical psychologist.
So now on to the next adventure!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The beginning

So why my own blog?

To be honest, I'm not sure. I was perfectly content posting over at Minimal Spin Daddy. And I'll probably still post over there sometimes. But for some reason I was itching to try out my own platform, something just mine. A room of my own according to Virginia Woolf.
Woolf's story about a woman needing her own space is a feminist classic that I often referenced when teaching in Women's Studies. I guess it applies to the blogosphere as well. What also comes to mind is the episode of The Cosby Show where Claire Huxtable gets her own room. Here is this fabulous mother who is also a successful lawyer and all she wants is a space that's completely silent! Of course they handled it in a humorous way but the essential point still remains, how do we get our own space?
What's important to me is not the separating from someone or something else but rather the creation of a unique space, reflective of oneself. The space to think, be honest and create. It's so easy for me in this stage of my life to simply surround myself with people and action all the time. I certainly don't have a shortage of things to do! But it's crucial for me to start writing and thinking on my own again.
What attracts me to other blogs is seeing what people do with their creative space. The really interesting and engaging ones are authentic. They give a representation of the individual's unique personality.
For example, Girls Gone Child, authored by Rebbeca Woolf, feels free and open. I get the feeling that she's like that in real life (though I have no way of knowing this for sure). I always look forward to seeing her new posts pop up in my google reader.
Another woman with a different feel is Meghan Francis, of The Happiest Mom. Her posts feel well thought out, motivated and honest. There's not a hint of pretension or showing off. She feels real and pretty normal. (again I have no way of knowing these things for sure.)
These two women are also writers, not just on their blogs, it's what they do for a living. I think that's another reason I enjoy their writing, it's well done.
Maybe I also enjoy their work because it reaches beyond themselves, they note the funny and enjoyable things going on in their lives but with a kind of larger lens that stretches out to connect with the reader. That's a tricky skill. It's one thing for me just document my life and my family but quite another to write something bigger than my own personal experience. Yet I would love to cultivate that skill in myself.
The truth is I'd love to be a writer. But I am horribly insecure about it. So instead I bluster about not having time and being exhausted when Minimal Spin Daddy asks me what I've been writing. So the thing I hear about writers is that they write every day no matter what. I don't know if I'm capable of that but I can definitely do better than I am now.
So this is an effort to create "a room of my own".