Graduate school and the follies of youth

Thomas Hart Benton (a.k.a. William Pannapacker) has a new column in the Chronicle of Higher Ed in his ongoing “why you shouldn’t go to graduate school” series: “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind’.” The key paragraphs, for me, are these:

[T]he problem is that there is still almost no way—apart from the rumor
mill to which they do not really have access—for students to gather
some of the most crucial information about graduate programs: the rate
of attrition, the average amount of debt at graduation, and, most
important, the placement of graduates (differentiating between adjunct,
lecturer, visiting, tenure-track positions, and nonacademic positions).

Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way.
It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and
socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon “the
life of the mind.” That’s why most graduate programs resist reducing
the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and
networks that could enable them to do anything but join the
ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate
students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any

The column has spawned an epically long comment thread. Some of the commenters are in wholehearted agreement with Benton; others complain that grad students aren’t babies and shouldn’t be regarded as pathetic dupes who don’t know what they’re getting into. I agree with that up to a point, but if my own case is any indication, it’s not just a matter of knowing what one is getting into. Sometimes knowing all that still isn’t enough.

I went into grad school with my eyes about as open I could have opened them. I’m the daughter of two academics, and I grew up surrounded by professor-types. I knew firsthand that you could spend years on the market without finding the kind of job you were “supposed” to get. I knew firsthand that tenure didn’t prevent burnout or depression. And I knew, though I was probably in denial about it at the time, that the academic lifestyle could play hell with your personal life. When my cohort arrived for our orientation to our Ph.D program, we were all told in no uncertain terms that the job market was horrific and we should be prepared for the worst. I can’t fault my program for that, though I did hear the “all those baby boomer profs will retire eventually” line from at least one person, and I don’t think I ever saw cold hard data on placement rates.

But. I was a smart bookish kid who’d grown up seeing pretty much only one career path for smart bookish people. I didn’t think there was anything else I could do, apart from a vague idea that I might go into publishing. When I went to my much-admired undergraduate mentors to ask for letters of recommendation, one of them said “Ordinarily, this is where I give a long discouraging speech and tell the student not to go to grad school. But you’re one of the very few exceptions.” (And who knows, maybe he would have been proved right. I only went on the market once. But that’s neither here nor there.)

And, most of all, I was 22 when I went to grad school. The early twenties are not years in which you think ahead in any great detail. I didn’t consider where I’d end up living; a life of extreme frugality seemed adventurous instead of anxiety-making; health insurance wasn’t on my radar yet; and I hadn’t reckoned on the loneliness factor, either. And at 22 I thought I’d be the one who’d beat the odds. Probably everyone thinks that, at that age.

In a way, I was exceedingly lucky to realize that I couldn’t imagine being happy in a faculty position. It meant I had a reason to get out, and it gave me something to say in response to the people who said “You’re leaving? But you’re so good at this! What a waste!” I just knew I had to get out or be miserable for the rest of my career. It would have been much harder if I were still trying to piece together adjunct work.

The ironic thing is that I still believe in the life of the mind, as long as “life of the mind” doesn’t mean “life of the brain on a stick” (TM Bitch Ph.D). I just want to rescue it from anyone who thinks it can only happen within the sacred confines of a tenured position.

Things to do in Edinburgh when you’re conferencing

In a somewhat startling and immensely welcome turn of events, I just found out that my conference paper proposal was accepted, which means that, God willing and the crick don’t rise, I’m bound for Edinburgh this summer. I’m thrilled, not just because the conference looks marvelous, but also because I’ve never been in the UK, and this will be
the biggest trip I’ve ever planned. Given all of that, I’m going to combine the three days of the conference with a bit of a vacation before and after. I haven’t set any dates yet, but I’ll most likely fly through London and take a train to Edinburgh and back. I’d like to spend at least a couple of days in London and at least a couple of non-conference days in Edinburgh, for starters. I might make a stopover somewhere on my way back to London.

And this is where I ask you all for suggestions for things I absolutely must see. I’m already thinking that I can’t pass up the Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, or the Palace of Holyroodhouse. There are more things in London that I want to see than can possibly fit into just a few days, so I’m resigned to not seeing all of them this time around; the British Museum and Library are a must, though, and I may try to work in a bit of operagoing at Covent Garden before
the conference begins.

Other possibilities:

  • Stop between Edinburgh and London at Kendal, and spend a day or two walking in the Lake District.
  • Alternatively, stop between Edinburgh and London at York. Ascend the medieval city walls, and maybe take a side trip to the North York Moors. Or Whitby, for the Dracula connection.
  • I wouldn’t at all mind stopping to hike along part of Hadrian’s wall, either.

I’d love to go to the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, and the Aldeburgh Festival, but I think both of those things will have to wait. Likewise, there won’t be time for my fantasy recreation of John Keats’s 1818 walking tour (though I can certainly make time to visit the house where he lived in Hampstead). But I still want to do as much as I can in a week and a half.

So: further suggestions for a bibliophilic opera fan who enjoys a good walk? And if any of you can recommend footwear suitable for tromping all over the British Isles that doesn’t scream “American tourist in sneakers,” I’d be much obliged.

Recipe post: the joy of lentils

This week I tested out a recipe first encountered at my family's Christmas dinner, via my uncle and aunt, two of the best cooks in the family. They themselves found it somewhere on the internet (possibly at Good Housekeeping) and tweaked it to their liking. Technically, it's a thick lentil soup studded with butternut squash, but really it's more of a casserole, as most of the liquid gets soaked up by the lentils while they cook.

I made this without the leeks, and with a mixture of leftover vegetable stock that needed using up and Seitenbacher vegetable broth. Nearly everything came from my local food co-op, including all the vegetables, the broth, and the lentils (I used little French green lentils). It was exactly the thing for a freezing January evening, and it made an excellent leftover for lunch today.

The roasted squash is one of my aunt and uncle's tweaks to this recipe: the roasting concentrates the flavor. You can roast the squash ahead of time if you prefer. If you want a vegan variation, you can substitute olive oil for melted butter. If you're a carnivore, you could add a little rendered bacon fat.

Lentil and butternut squash stew/casserole

  • half of a medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" chunks (about 1 lb. altogether)
  • 2 large stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 leeks, diced (optional)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/2 lb brown or green lentils
  • 1 can (14 to 14 1/2 ounces) vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) dried rosemary or two fresh rosemary sprigs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped

First, preheat the oven to 400F while you prep the squash. Brush the squash cubes with some of the melted butter and a bit of salt, and roast for about 20 minutes, until they start to brown. Once squash is done, reduce the oven temperature to 300F.

Meanwhile, rinse the lentils. Boil 2 cups of vegetable broth vigorously and cook the lentils in it for 2 minutes. Take the lentils off the burner.

Heat up the remaining melted butter in a skillet or similar (I used a Dutch oven for both this step and the rest of the cooking). Saute the celery, onion, leeks (if using), scallions, and carrot shreds until the onions are soft.

In a Dutch oven or large oven-proof casserole, combine sauteed vegetables, lentils, butternut squash, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Add just enough extra vegetable broth or water to cover the lentils. Cover the pot with a lid or some tinfoil and bake in the 300F oven for about 90 minutes. Test for doneness and correct the seasoning. Do not, as I did, burn your tongue.

Makes a nice big pot of lentils. Serve as a hearty soup, a side dish, or a main dish in its own right, perhaps with some potatoes or crusty bread.

Other recent culinary successes: orecchiette with cauliflower, adapted from this recipe; boeuf Bourguignon; Christmas lima beans with caramelized onions and bacon. This is the time of year when you really want an excuse to run the oven for hours.

Marie Therese, wie gut Sie ist!

It's hard to believe that yesterday's Met HD broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier was the first time I'd ever seen it performed (more or less) live. I've listened to it a bazillion times, watched at least one film version, and trawled YouTube for bits and pieces of it.* Accordingly, I'm going to go on at some length. Those of you who aren't here for the opera posts can skip this one.

  • In some ways it feels almost too personal to talk about how much I love this opera in front of the internets. I'm not entirely sure why, but part of it is the fear of lapsing into what Terry Castle calls "that 'purple' quality which so often creeps into the literature of sapphic diva-worship."* And Der Rosenkavalier is the greatest Sapphic diva-worship opera ever, which is one of the many reasons why I love it so much.
  • Ordinarily it's the Trio that makes me cry; this time it was the Marschallin's monologue in Act 1 and the scene with Octavian that follows. The heartbreaking thing about it isn't that she's sad about getting older, it's that she's trying to say something to Octavian about what it feels like to be aware of one's own mortality, and Octavian—who's only 17, after all—is just too young to hear what she's saying. They're two people on opposite sides of a hard-to-locate but definite dividing line, and so much of what they say to each other is miscommunication.
  • When I first encountered this opera, at age mid-twenty-something, Octavian was the one I identified with. Now I'm older than the Marschallin, and even though I'm well aware that 32 (or 34) is not in the least ancient, I know what it feels like to have crossed that dividing line and to feel time tricking by faster than I used to think it would.
  • This production made me notice something I'd never noticed before: in Act 3 when Octavian, in his Mariandel disguise, pretends to be drunk and maudlin, he performs what's basically a miniature, parodic version of the Marschallin's "Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding." I felt silly for noticing it only just now, but this production included a couple of bits of stage business that made the parallel clear: Octavian-as-Mariandel holds up a soup spoon and stares into it in the same way the Marschallin looks into her hand mirror, for example. I'm still pondering: does it mean that some of what she said has reached Octavian on some level after all? Or just that it's been baffling him and is therefore uppermost in his mind?
  • Then again, I also only just recently noticed the way the orchestra anticipates the Marschallin's opening phrase in the Trio ("Hab mir's gelobt") just as Octavian-as-Mariandel starts to sing "Nein, nein, nein, nein, I trink' kein wein!" And it was brought to my attention by something I read or listened to…somewhere. I'd link to it if I could remember it.
  • Renée Fleming brought some sharp edges to her performance that I wasn't quite expecting, especially at her first entrance in Act 3. She was letting us see how much of an effort it cost the Marschallin to let go of Octavian so gracefully. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that interpretation, but it intrigued me.
  • I like Susan Graham, a lot, and I thought she and Renée Fleming played off each other beautifully. But I would kill to see Sarah Connolly's Octavian.
  • I'd forgotten how funny the Baron Ochs bits can be. I confess to skipping over some of them when I'm listening at home, in my haste to get on with the soprano-fest. Kristinn Sigmundsson, whose Baron Ochs was so lecherous and self-satisfied as to be strangely adorable, got an especially warm round of applause at the curtain call.
  • This bit of James Merrill's "Matinées" (the sonnet sequence from which this blog derives its title) is on my mind today:

Or Lehmann's Marschallin!—heartbreak so shrewd,
So ostrich-plumed, one ached to disengage
Oneself from a last love, at center stage,
To the beloved's dazzled gratitude.

—James Merrill, "Matinées," in Collected Poems (Knopf, 2001)

* In "In Praise of Brigitte Fassbaender," in The Apparitional Lesbian (Columbia UP, 1993).

** For your listening and viewing pleasure: Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Lucia Popp singing their hearts out in the final scene. What would I do without YouTube?

MLA 2009

The Modern Language Association convention was a weirdly schizophrenic experience for me this year. On the one hand, I got in more happy reunions with friends (from both offline and online) than I've had in the whole rest of the year put together. There were cheesesteak expeditions with the perpetually awesome digital humanities crowd, and drinks with friends I hadn't seen since I left Ann Arbor, and gelato with more recent friends, and chance encounters with lots of old acquaintances. I went to a mixture of panels on digital humanities topics and panels on book history and textual studies, which turned out to be exactly the right mix for where my interests are now; I did go to a few panels on the early modern lyric, but that was more for old times' sake. Among the standout panels were "Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities" and "Book History Matters," both of which gave me a ton of food for thought.

On the other hand, there was the pervasive sense of gloom and doom. The dire news about job non-prospects in the humanities was on everyone's mind. The book exhibits felt smaller and fewer than usual. One of my Twitter friends, Brian Croxall, posted his MLA talk in absentia because he couldn't afford to attend in person — a talk that got picked up by both Bitch Ph.D. and the Chronicle of Higher Education. After a while I started feeling something akin to survivor's guilt: it felt wrong, in some weird way, to have gotten out but to be there in Philly happily schmoozing while things are so grim for so many.

I don't think I'll be at the next couple of MLAs, to be honest, unless I end up giving a paper, and there are other conferences I'd rather try for. It's good to keep up with the profession, especially now that I'm a literature subject librarian; but I don't see the schizophrenic weirdness going away any time soon, and I kept getting the impression that people were baffled to see a librarian in attendance. Sad but true.

For more on MLA09, see also: Amanda French on Twitter and the MLA, with Spinal Tap metaphors; Kathleen Fitzgerald's take on the whole experience; Mark Sample's archive and word cloud of MLA tweets.

And with that we return to your regularly scheduled poetry and operablogging. (I'm going to the Met's HD broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier next weekend! One of my favorite operas of all time! And I wish they were also broadcasting their production of Ariadne auf Naxos, because I have just discovered the wonder that is Sarah Connolly, who's in it as the Composer. We love the trouser mezzos here at chez Household Opera, yes we do.)

A New Year’s revelation

I started writing this post on New Year's Eve, at the end of a decade that started with Y2K panic and only got weirder from there. I'm not going to write a year-in-review post, much less a decade-in-review one, and I'll post a longer wrap-up of the highlights of MLA 2009 in a day or two. For now, I just wanted to share a thought (in the way that I used to do on this blog all the time; New Year's resolution #1, stop neglecting the blog). Here goes:

MLA got me to thinking—particularly after some very interesting comments by Laura Mandell, in the "Collaboration in the Digital Humanities" panel, about how Renaissance people don't really fit in the modern university—about a not-quite-paradox of academic life. When you decide to be an academic, you choose a discipline and a field and a specialty, and chances are you stick with it for the rest of your working life. You may branch out into related specialties, but plenty of scholars' research interests stay remarkably stable over the course of their careers.

At the same time, you can expect your personal life to be profoundly unstable: no settled place to live until you get tenure somewhere you want to be, which, nowadays, is looking vanishingly unlikely for most people pursuing academic careers (at least in the humanities). You may adjunct in multiple places at once. You may migrate from job to job for years, picking up and moving every time you start to settle, keeping up with the people you're closest to only long-distance.

What I realized was that I want precisely the opposite: a reasonably settled personal life, in a place of my own choosing, with a community of friends and neighbors who aren't perpetually transient, and whom I can invite over for dinner. And I also want the freedom to move from one research area to another without the pressure to devote my entire career to becoming one of the world's foremost experts in early modern British lyric. I've had serial research obsessions ever since I was a child; in retrospect, I'm not sure why I ever thought a life of specialization in a single area would suit me. In short, I'm a Renaissance person still in search of my 18th-century salon.

I'm immensely grateful to have found a job that allows for the pursuit of serial research obsessions. There are few better places than a library for a curious Renaissance person to wind up. As for the other half of the picture, I'm working on it. As I said to a friend (who, alas, lives too far away to come over for dinner) at MLA, I'm making the settled personal life part of my five-year plan for the first half of the new decade. By the time I hit 40, I want to be rooted among people and places I love.

Anyone going to MLA this year?

The MLA convention is in Philadelphia again this year, and the prospect of revisiting one of my favorite cities, plus catching up with old friends from grad school and newer friends from the blogo- and Twitter-spheres, was more than I could resist. For those of you who'll also be there, here's some of my provisional schedule (subject, of course, to change at the last minute for any number of reasons, including "Must not miss book exhibit" or "What the hell was I thinking when I decided to go to all those 8:30 a.m. sessions?" or "I hear the siren call of Capogiro's gelato").

On the opening Sunday, the 28th, I'll most likely be at the "Geocriticism: Spatial Practices in Literature" panel. I may go to the "Shakespeare as Theory" panel that evening, but more likely I'll just want to decompress and enjoy being back in the city. On Monday morning, "Locating the Literary in Digital Media" looks promising, as do "Making Meaning: Manuscripts and Material Culture Studies," "Media Studies and the Digital Scholarly Present," and "Book History Matters" that afternoon. Monday evening, I may go to Cole Swensen's poetry reading, or I may just crawl off somewhere and put my feet up. If I have any energy left later in the evening, I'm considering either "Beyond the Author Principle" or "Looking for Whitman," but I'm not betting on it.

On Tuesday, I'll be up bright and early for "Strange Encounters: Meetings between Students and Scholarly Editions in the Twenty-First Century" followed by either "Piracy" or "Between Poetry and Psychoanalysis: Creative Conversations." Tuesday afternoon I'll be torn between "Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities" (hi, Bethany!) and "The Metaphysics of Objects in Early Modern English Literature." Then—assuming I can find people to go with to allay my phobia of social events where I don't know anyone—I'll probably to the GLQ Caucus cash bar, followed "Three Ways of Looking at a New Variorum Winter's Tale," or possibly "Early Elegiac Modes and the Material World."

And on Wednesday, if I'm still in the mood to get up early, I'll be at "Making Research: Collaboration and Change in the Age of Digital Reproduction" first thing in the morning, and then either "Sonnets, Intimacy, and Loss" or "Writing, Walking, and Freedom." And after that I'm going to peel off to the Library Company of Philadelphia or possibly the Rosenbach for a little research on the ongoing anthology/commonplace-book project.

I'm also planning on being at the as-yet-unscheduled Twitter meetup. If any of you want to hang out during the conference, send me an email or say something in the comments and we'll figure something out.

Autumnal dreaming

I went to see my family in Baltimore for Thanksgiving weekend. The day after Thanksgiving, we went for a walk up and down Roland Avenue, one of the main north-south streets in Hampden, where I spent most of my childhood. Just as we were leaving, I remembered my camera. I took a bunch of pictures, and one in particular stood out. Through a gap between the houses near 38th Street, a yellow ginkgo tree stood out against a dark cloudy sky:

Dark and stormy day, golden tree

You can't see it, but one end of the Johns Hopkins University campus lies between the houses in the foreground and those tall brick apartment buildings in the background. My mother and I moved to one of those buildings (the Ambassador, which also featured briefly in a Homicide: Life on the Street episode) during my first couple of years in high school.

It's far from the best picture I've ever taken, but I've been staring and staring at it since I got home and uploaded it to my computer. There's something about the light that I managed to capture — that oblique late-fall light that you see at three or four in the afternoon this time of year, not yet winter sun but getting there — that brings back every fall from those years in Baltimore. The shortening days with the golden hour stretching earlier and earlier into the day, the somber sky and the last bright leaves, another school year well underway, another Halloween retreating into the past, the promise of snow somewhere in the near future. The little rowhouses transformed for a moment. And the unimaginable farther-off future like those buildings in the distance, with their windows glinting in the late-afternoon sun.

It's a mood I associate with the endless reading I did at the time, the trips to and from the public library as the evenings got darker and colder, and, a few years later, reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot and any number of others. Around the time my mother and I moved to the Ambassador, which you can just see a bit of in this photo, I was reading The Great Gatsby at school and starting to forage through the "serious" bookshelves at home. Looking at the gold tree and the far-off roofs brought a bit of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" (another school reading from those years) to mind: "Fall made him clinch his hands and tremble and
repeat idiotic sentences to himself, and make brisk abrupt
gestures of command to imaginary audiences and armies. October
filled him with hope which November raised to a sort of ecstatic
triumph." And even though Fitzgerald's hero strikes me as kind of irritating on rereading it twenty years later, I remember the feeling. It hasn't entirely gone away, either.

All those years in the Midwest made me hate November, which was always drizzly and gray and signaled the start of another endless, dark, depressing winter. But I think I just rediscovered what I always loved about it.

Writing projects: update and non-update

So. Instead of being Insanely Productive Writing Month, November has turned into a cage match between my NoNaShoStoWriMo story and my embryonic Material Cultures paper project. The latter has been winning; the former is stalled out and sitting forlornly on my hard drive, waiting for a month when I can give it my undivided attention. It’s been a long time since I wrote fiction, and I’ve gotten self-conscious about it, too aware of when I’m veering into genre cliche, too worried about the depth of my characters and whether certain plot elements are overly contrived. It was more fun when I was a teenager and would have an idea for a story and just write it without fretting over it. Just sign me up for my “I Never Finish Anyth” t-shirt.

On the other hand, the paper proposal has led to a couple of really, really interesting trips to the John Hay Library at Brown University, and to a collection of 19th-century American poetry anthologies and verse commonplace books of which I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I’ve already found the makings of a fantastic project. Months ago I started thinking about the anthologization of minor poets, and then earlier this fall it occurred to me that it would be useful to have some actual data about which poems appeared in which anthologies, and when. Maybe, I thought (flashing back to data modeling and entity relations diagramming from my first year in library school), I could start building a database to track the movement of poems from one anthology to another and the rise and fall of poets’ reputations.

I soon realized that the database side of the project would be massively labor-intensive, though I still want to do it. Preliminary WorldCat searches turned up tons and tons of forgotten anthologies, many of them geared toward classroom memorization and recitation. At which point I remembered that I’d written a bit about memorization practices in 19th-century America in the coda to my dissertation, and I started wondering if there were differences between the poets most often memorized and the poets most often featured in other kinds of anthologies. At the same point I also discovered that the Hay Library’s Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays includes a huge collection of 19th-century poetry anthologies. And off I went on the train to Providence, an hour or so away, delighted that I could actually research this so close to home.

On my first visit, I noticed that quite a few anthologies were constructed more along the lines of the commonplace book than what we think of as the standard anthology format. “Hmm,” I thought, “I’m interested in commonplace books too. I wonder if there are any here?” And sure enough, there turned out to be a big, endlessly interesting collection of 19th-century New England commonplace books as well.

So now my project involves comparing the formats and content of commonplace books and anthologies, with a focus on poetry; I’m going to argue that each of these types of collections reflected the other.* And I’ll probably tie it back to my earlier research on memory, because stocking one’s memory with useful quotations and worthy sentiments is a constantly recurring theme among the anthologists. And, if you can’t tell already, I’m really excited. Here’s hoping this project won’t turn into another for the Never Finish Anyth Archive!

* I found an absolutely amazing manuscript poetry collection complete with an introduction (with copied-out quotations on the power of poetry) and an alphabetical title index. And another, apparently by a Harvard student, with cut-out engravings pasted onto the front and back endpapers and a section of poems by “Professor Longfellow.” And another in a beautiful copperplate hand with lots of little decorative rulings and flourishes (and the occasional manicle) after each poem. And another with an index of first lines. And that was just on the first visit!

NoNaShoStoWriMo update the first

As day 4 of NoNaShoStoWriMo (explanation here for those of you just tuning in) draws to a close, my as-yet-untitled story stands at a commanding…1101 words! At this rate, the end product may turn out to be more of a short-short than a short story. My mantra, for the time being, is “You just have to get a draft done.” Also, in the words of Neil Gaiman’s helpful NaNoWriMo pep talk, “One word after another.”

Some initial observations: Journler is working out quite well for this project — automatic word counts, for one thing, and I’ve set up a separate linked file for story notes, into which I’m dumping relevant images, like pictures of apartment buildings in Chicago, where my main character — first name Lucia, last name as yet unrevealed, profession: computer scientist at a made-up university — lives and works. I haven’t yet quite worked out what neighborhood she lives in, but I’m leaning toward somewhere around Wicker Park or Bucktown or generally in the vicinity of Logan Square.* A small nugget of Plot depends on what El or Metra line she takes to work, and I’m waffling a bit about where to put her workplace as well, but I at least have a sense of the beginning and the middle, if not, at this point, the end.

So far, my favorite line is “What the hell are we going to do? We can’t just say to the [fictional name] Foundation, ‘Please don’t continue this project because it’s making ghosts appear on street corners.'”

It may have been ill-advised for me to take on this project during the same month I’m using to pull together a paper proposal for Material Cultures 2010 (of which more in a future post), but I figure that if all the switching back and forth between brain hemispheres doesn’t drive me nuts, it might help. We’ll see how it goes. (Which is another of my mantras for this month.)

* I haven’t lived in Chicago since I was an undergrad, and I lived in Hyde Park the whole time. Research for the Chicago-related parts of this story keeps tipping over into “ooh, look at that beautiful vintage apartment!” procrastination.