Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I have an intense week ahead. I will be going to New York City to pitch my book and magazine ideas to editors and agents at lots and lots of publications and publishing houses. Big ones. Meetings that make me want to implode with anticipation. I have eight magazine ideas and one book idea ready to go. My goals for the trip are to come home with one assignment for a story and one interested editor who wants me to keep in touch. A big dream would be to sell my rugby book. That would be nice. But it is not a goal. As my college rugby coach taught me, you can only prepare for things within your control.

I cannot control what editors think would be good ideas. I can only control how well I prepare my ideas. Consider me prepared. After three years of graduate research and writing, I could market rugby to a Russian ballerina. I just need to find the right ballerina.

In additional preparation for this journey, I have purchased three pairs of trousers in the petites department, so the pants don't drag on the ground from my stubby legs. I bought red shoes, because Patsy convinced me they were necessary. I got my face waxed and I got a hip haircut that says, "This woman can write AND carry face framing layers."

I have an umbrella that doubles as a flash light, copies of every magazine I am visiting, and a bag full of clips of my published work. I feel ready.

On top of these preparations, I have been cleaning my brains out because Corey's parents are coming to visit this weekend. We have some pretty sweet activities on deck, but the excitement and joy of those are slightly dulled by this professional opportunity. I will return to the internet at a different stage in my writing career. Huge, right?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Silver Bullets

Our coach, Brian, showed up to Angels practice one day a few years ago with long, silver, shiny tubes. We looked at them with wonder, as he also made us tackle with socks on our hands and throw lineouts at target brooms.

These little bullets of love are secret sandbags in disguise, sixty pounds of hell. When they come out of the car, we know we'll be doing stationary squats or walking lunges. We might do shoulder presses or stand in small groups and have relay races as we pass the bullets overhead. Most often, we combine all of those activities into a half hour of intense sweat in which the bullets become slippery.

Since we usually practice in a park of some sort, Brian sometimes stashes the bullets in a dark corner. Who would harm a sixty pound sandbag? They usually get stolen or ruined. I almost feel like any thief who is willing to drag something like that away deserves his or her spoils. Each theft brings the tiny glimmer of hope that we have seen the end of the bullets, but they rejuvenate. I suspect Brian has a sand mountain at his house, resting atop a river of duct tape.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I'm in the left lane on Centre Ave, waiting to turn left on Negley. A man driving a silver Lexus SUV (not my father-in-law), talking on his cell phone, begins to honk angrily, even though the light is red. I can't help myself. I turn around.

"What? What is wrong?"

"Get on the [expletive] curb."

"The sidewalk is for walking! Read your driver's manual."

"Get in the [expletive] right lane!"

"I'm turning LEFT!!!!"

The light turns green, I turn left, and begin my way up Negley. There is traffic and many red lights. I move faster, on average, than the cars stuck in congestion. It is the sort of rush hour traffic that makes my dad call cities "the armpits of America." At each red light, I pedal past the angry man and give him the finger, since he is getting nowhere faster than me.

After a disastrous homecoming, locked out of my dwelling, Soupie intervenes and delivers keys to me. I lament my journey home. He commends my tenacity and reminds me that I am a homeowner and a tax payer. Those roads were paid for partially by me and my bike. As I hoist my inexpensive, environmentally-friendly, and speedy transportation into my house, I remember something. That angry SUV jerk is not only polluting the atmosphere, but his karma as well. I will have a good day, and he will have clogged arteries.

[See this great New York Times article, which shares my sentiments with more panache.]

Speaking Their Language

A few weeks ago, the hip students at work all started saying, "What's good, Katy?" when they walked into the lab. At first, I thought they were talking about my food since I'm always eating. I responded, "oh, chicken lo mein." Or something similar. Then I noticed they were laughing at me.

So I asked Gary one day what the appropriate response to and definition of the phrase might be. He told me it has replaced, "what's up?" and I'm supposed to say, "Nuttin. Chillin."

Today I got to test it. I was working with Gary, who is 6'10.5" (I was dwarfed by his thigh, which I decided is the exact length and girth of the 60 pound sandbags we lift at rugby practice). Gary was hunched over the too-small chair with his knees up at his ears, typing on the too-small keyboard in front of the too-small monitor when another student walked in and screamed, "WHAT'S GOOD, Katy?"

I tapped Gary knowingly and told the student, "Nuttin. Chillin." Gary laughed hysterically, leaned back in the too-small chair until he tipped over. Then he lay on the floor with his enormous legs, each taller than me, sticking straight up in the air as he howled.

"Shit," Gary said, "You something else."

An hour later, the angry Beowulf kid came in to write a paper. He had chicken parm with him, a tub of yogurt, and two Power Bars, which he ate in about nineteen seconds. When, two hours later, he got up to go get more food, I asked him how much he eats each day.

"Oh, usually 9,000 calories." Again, he weighs 330 pounds of muscle and was roughly the height and width of a doorway. He needs to eat every two hours to maintain his muscle mass. He's like a highly oiled Ferrari, or maybe a Hummer. While he was getting more sustenance, I noticed that he tended to use a lot of comma splices in his paper.

As he sat down to feast, I told him, "Friend, you are making your commas work too hard."

"What do you mean? What's wrong with that?"

"You wouldn't ask a wide receiver to play left tackle, would you?"

"Well, no. That would be stupid."

"It's the same thing with commas. They get tired and aren't strong enough to carry two sentences. You need to call in the big guns, like the semi-colons or the dashes. Punctuation that needs 9,000 calories to stay strong."

He paused for awhile, contemplating. He nodded, mouth full of breadstick, and said, "That totally makes sense when you put it that way."

Sometimes I get it right.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Best Job Ever

I am writing an article about the Phipps Conservatory Spring Flower show, so I got a behind the scenes tour today. At first, I was thinking, "how exciting can flowers be?" The answer is VERY! The landscape architect who designs the shows is so passionate. I had no idea you could do such things with flowers, feel so impassioned about impatiens. She made me so excited for March when the show goes in.

She also gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how the Chihuly exhibit arrived. Hundreds of hours went into digging the pond for the glass boat, moving soil to rearrange rooms for glass installations. Each little piece of glass comes packaged separately in custom made foam. Five tractor trailers filled with boxes delivered the glass pieces and the steel frames they hang from. I just feel so informed.

The exhibit designers at Phipps are unique because they change out entire rooms of flowers four times per year while most conservatories have permanent exhibits. So Dale Chihuly could come here and say what he wanted the rooms to look like, rather than make glass to fit what already existed like at places such as New York Botanical Gardens.

He took a peek at a display and made a computer generated image of a glass work he thought would be cool. Then the florists designed a garden to go around it. The whole artistic exhibit looked so organic, as if the glass grows from the earth. All because of this rad lady I met (a Penn State landscape architecture grad!)

Man, it is energizing to see someone excited about her work and to get to be a part of that for a morning. The best part was the free admission to the Chihuly exhibit after I was done. I got to see the gardens and glass by day for free!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Be Careful!

Yesterday proved a perilous day for riding. On my way down Negley (going faster than the 71A thanks to the new paved portions of the road!) a woman drove past me in the left lane, beeping and slowing to match my pace. I kept looking over my left shoulder, wondering what she could possibly want.

"Be careful!" she yelled out her window. Thanks. Thanks for that observation. I had my helmet, rear blinker, front headlight, professionally built bicycle from my very own cyclist husband. Yet she was blocking traffic, causing me to look away from the road with her stupid advice. I want her to get a paper cut on her tongue. That's what I've decided she deserves. She will be licking an envelope to mail her cell phone bill and cut her tongue. Be careful!

Leaving work to go to class later, I got the green light on De Soto street. This is a VERY steep hill & I was barreling down toward 5th Ave, not using my breaks because I had the green light. Two feet in front of me, a pedestrian started to walk across the street. On a red light! He didn't even look at me. I just started screaming, "Hey! Oh my god!" as I grabbed a handful of breaks. The wheels locked up. The bike tipped over to the right, but I kept my feet and just stood in the street not believing what happened. The pedestrian didn't even apologize, just kept walking after glancing wide-eyed at his near death.

I was so shaken up I had to walk my bike down the hill and eat a pumpkin muffin to calm down. I never fully appreciated how dangerous it is to ride a bike in an urban place. I am in constant danger of cars AND pedestrians. It has only served to heighten my anxiety for when Corey goes out riding.

I am reminded of advice given to me in Driver's Ed by Mr. Shelhorn: SIPDE in all things! (Survey, identify, perceive, decide, execute) In other words, whether on car, bike, or foot, be careful out there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


This weekend my family went to State College. I was introducing Ken Bruffee at the NCPTW conference and Corey was hanging out with his business partners at Freeze Thaw Cycles. I want to introduce the trip by pointing out that I was frazzled and excited. This was the English nerd's equivalent of introducing Bob Barker, perhaps, or maybe Orson Welles.

Friday night before the conference was pretty chill. We stayed with friends and played Scrabble. Obviously I was secure in my lead, well ahead of the competition. By 14 points. Corey was in last place. Then, on the very last round, he emptied his tray and got a triple word score by placing a B and an I next to a G. BIG. Fifteen points, victory by one point. Over me. Corey beat me at Scrabble. This did not sit well.

Upstairs I started to lay out my outfit for the morning, coldly ignoring my smug husband. I realized I had forgotten to bring underpants. No underpants to introduce Ken Bruffee. In a skirt. I began to freak out, lament, tear my hair. Corey just climbed into bed and said, matter of factly, "The only thing you lack more than vocabulary is underwear."

And he went to sleep.

I washed my undies in the sink with Dial hand soap and laid awake in horror at my double misfortune. Fate was not smiling on me that day.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Have a Good Weekend!

I worked with a student this morning who has learning disabilities. He has trouble with words that sound similar. I can't quite figure out if the best way to help him is to sound out words, or sort of draw visually the difference between certain words, or what, but for now there are just some sounds he genuinely cannot tell apart.

Beyond that, his teacher has a terribly disgusting habit of crossing out his words and putting in things she thinks would sound better. Like he wrote, "to answer Gladwell's question," and she crossed that out and wrote, "in answer to Gladwell's question." What the heck? We were finishing up his paper and he just had to finish his conclusion. He was having trouble rephrasing his thesis statement, so I suggested looking at the assignment to see if he could glean any language from there.

He said, "Man, I don't want to use her shit!" Haha! I love that, troublesome and difficult though it may be, he feels ownership of his words and wants his paper to reflect his thinking.

The second student was a mess. I asked him for his assignment sheet, and he started pulling random things out of his backpack. A math book. Headphones. Finally, he extracted an enormous pair of blue brief underpants and pulled a wadded piece of paper from inside them. This was his assignment sheet. He slid it across the table and told me I could photocopy it if I wanted to. I said, "how about you put it in the machine and I go get you the Windex?"

He looked at the underpants and just said, "Aw these are clean! I got to have fresh ones for after practice. You know how it goes!" I still made him be the one to place the paper in the copier.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I am a Malcolm Gladwell fan. My students recently read part of his book The Tipping Point, the chapter on the Power of Context. There is a section in the book where experimenters trick priests into thinking they are late and plant a suffering person on the ground. When the priests think they will be late for an appointment, most of them literally step over the moaning body. I swore that would never be me.

Yesterday, I was tested. I was riding my bike to class, on a tight schedule, and a man was moaning from the sidewalk. He looked like just a raggedy homeless person, but he said, "Miss! Please call the paramedics for me." At first I thought he asked if I could spare a dollar for him, but something made me stop and turn around.


"Please! Call the ambulance for me. Please, god!"

"Are you serious?" But I was already off the bike and digging for my phone. Another lady stopped at this point and saw how long it was taking me to disentangle my phone from my stuff. She called the ambulance and we both waited.

It turns out Ronald is a dialysis patient and has a fluttering heart (his description). He had come from treatment and was just having some sort of episode. Sweating profusely, feeling nauseous, freaking out. He needed to get to the hospital. When the ambulance arrived (driven by his niece, in a strange twist of fate), I stayed just long enough to make sure he was going to be ok and then rushed to class, where being late was certainly not the worst thing that would have happened to me had I not stopped.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I turned it in. I turned in my thesis!!!! Three years of fretting and staying up and not sleeping are nearly gone. I will revise for six months and then be done with graduate school. Only revision is my secret pleasure. I love doing it. Getting the words on the page to begin with is the agony for me as a writer. But that's all done with.

Last night, I celebrated with my classmates at the nerdiest party ever. One of the other third years decorated her whole house like Hogwarts and we had a sorting hat party, since the first years in our program were sorted into committees yesterday. There were deviled dragon eggs and cauldron cake and I made butter beer thanks to a recipe from Carl. I was so light hearted I practically floated around the party. If only it weren't too hot to wear my Gryffindor scarf.

This morning, despite my homework for other classes, I've just been skipping around the house singing the Irish national anthem (because it's a fun one) and making turkey soup. Nothing could go wrong now. I have submitted my thesis!

The one cloud in my sky is that my rugby team travels to playoffs this weekend and I cannot join them. I am speaking at a conference and just can't get myself to Milwaukee. I am trying to just sing a little louder and not think about it because I know they will be victorious. We have worked too hard to fall now!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Not Good

Today I feel terrible. I have done a bad thing to a person who has been a great friend to me. When something unusual happened at school, rather than just ask my friend directly to alleviate confusion, I gossipped about it with some other students. Because I wasn't up front with my friend, her feelings were hurt hearing about things second hand. I hurt someone who has never done anything but be good to me.

Today I called to apologize and talk to her about it. I feel much better about this specific situation, but still sad that I allowed this to happen. So much of my graduate school program is shrouded in secrecy. I so often feel like I have been thrust into a complicated dance, and nobody will tell me the steps so I have to struggle to follow the music. I feel like I let myself get caught up, not thinking of other people's feelings but only my own need to keep going and I don't like that. I don't want to be someone who contributes to rumor mills, I don't want to be someone who hurts feelings to get ahead.

I am reminded of the ending of Mean Girls, when Tina Fey drags all the girls into the gym and makes them share why they feel hurt. I think we need a meeting like that at my school. I am sad today wondering who else I have damaged. It would be nice to just know and get it all out there so I could begin to make amends.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hooo Boy!

George Saunders was in town a few weeks ago and the students in one of the comp classes are writing essays about him. The assignment asks them to write letters to him, feeling free to express all their feelings in language he might use. Here are some samplings of some conversations in the writing center this week.

Student A: George, you are fucked up! What was that shit all about bricks on penises? That's so fucked up.

Student B: Man, I think you are a huge pervert. There could have been kids in the room!

Student C: I was tired as hell that night and your sexy reading woke my ass right up.

Student D: What's up with your short stories, man? They all about doing nasty sex. Don't you have a life? Why'd they give you a genius grant?

Then, poor Student E who was working on a different paper, felt the need to chime in with colorful language. His assignment was to write about something that didn't meet his expectations. He told me, "I thought learning to drive would make me a pussy magnet. Turns out, all I did was work my ass off for gas money and I looked nothing like The Fast and The Furious. I might as well have grown a mustache."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yard Freak

We have lived here for 4 months now and today, I got sick of being the family with the yard growing corn instead of perfect grass. Despite my father's assurance that the Round Up will eventually kill the weeds I sprayed it on, I got out of the shower today and decided I had to harvest my lawn.

The first things to go were the corn stalks. I'm sorry, but they just aren't a front yard crop. After I yanked those out, I got angry at the dandelions coming up through our sidewalk. And then the waist high grass in the flower beds. And suddenly all I could see in every inch of pavement or each speckle of my yard were weeds, weeds, weeds. I forgot that I was wearing wedding pearls and dressed for a meeting with my professor. I just rolled up my sleeves and yanked out two black trashbags full of yard crap.

The beds look barren now, but I feel like that is better than overgrown. Also, the front yard looks like grass instead of a cornfield. Next step: back yard. And then I'll get ride of all the cinderblocks and scraps of rotting wood the previous owners left for us. Thanks, guys!

Thesis? Forget it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More Corn

We have corn growing in our front yard. I noticed the stalk a few weeks ago and said, "Corey, we have corn growing in our front yard."

He took one peek and said, "No, silly, that's bamboo." Thinking I had no idea what bamboo looked like and knowing I had not planted corn in my front yard, I believed him.

Only now there are ears on it. Actual ears of corn in the front yard with silk and kernals of yellow juicy corn. I feel like Michael Pollan is following me around somehow, encouraging me to not consume.

Our soil seems to be magically fertile. Maybe I should just dig up the whole yard and actually plant some food. I could get a goat to eat the grass and fertilize my crops and have my own complete food cycle in Morningside.

Monday, October 08, 2007


I rode the bus today because it is too hot to ride my bike. This is not nonsense. I would have to bring a whole change of clothes or work soaking wet, and with the weight of my day already on my back it's just too much to carry.

So I was on the 71A, happy to be back. The passengers squeezed in at the normal places, still refused to give up seats to blind or elderly people. Then, a young man got on the bus wearing no shirt. I know it's hot outside. Very hot. Like 90 degrees and awfully humid. But no shirt? On the bus? He just leaned up against the seat and started reading Dante's Inferno like he was at the pool on a bench.

I would wager that this lad was a high school student, not in school for Columbus Day. But where was his shirt? I had no idea these things were legal. Clearly, I was very jealous and wished I were sitting on the bus not wearing a shirt. Or pants. I sat under the weight of my bookbag, suffering from lower back and crotchal sweat in the failed air conditioning, totally green with envy.

When he got off at Thackaray, I almost chased him down the street to shake his hand.

Friday, October 05, 2007


I turned on the radio today to 93.7 and heard "Walkin in a Winter Wonderland." I at first thought this was a joke, because it was 92 degrees outside today. Haha, snow jokes in the abnormal heat. Look out for global warming! But then, White Christmas, Blue Christmas, Jingle Bells and other Christmas songs came on during my drive home from Shadyside.

I almost rear ended an old man as I stared at my radio dial, convinced I had dipped into a time warp. It is October 5. October! This proves to me at long last that our society has become inextricably immersed in consumerism. There is no escape. The only hope is to send our children to Waldorf Schools or move to hippie communes at the Rainbow Gathering.

When I worked at K-mart, back in the day, they didn't get out the Christmas stuff until the day after Thanksgiving. As I was telling some teammates last night during our rugby carpool (see? Some people like to reduce their resource use!), on Black Friday, K-mart switched from the regular K-mart Radio Network music to the Christmas loop, about 18 songs heard again and again through New Year's. Shelbie and I used to stand before our registers and sing along to Bing three, four times per shift.

Because I was young and didn't have children yet at sixteen, they often scheduled me to work on holidays. I worked one Christmas Eve until closing at 8pm. Desperate shoppers flooded the store until the last seconds, screaming at us for being sold out of almost all items. "Wal-Mart would never treat me this way!" they would yell, and Beth the register supervisor would scream back, "Wal-Mart closed at 5!!!"

Teenagers just shouldn't have to work until 8pm on Christmas Eve and radio stations just shouldn't play Christmas music on October 5. I think my sister and brother-in-law have the right idea. They go away every year to a yoga retreat over Christmas. They have a magical spiritual experience with their family unit while the rest of us feed the corporate machine.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why Do People Like Me?

It is flipping hot today. Over 85 degrees. In October! So I was riding my bike to work and sweating profusely. All of a sudden, my back started to feel really wet. I thought perhaps I had just finished a tough interval. It was, after all, very hot.

As it turns out, the soup (chicken corn chowder) in my backpack had come open and spilled all over everything. My copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma. My planner. My shirt. The other food in my lunch parcel. When I got to work, I had three students waiting at the computers already, so I had barely any time to blot. I just sort of stood between their large legs, like a Liliputian, scraping creamy gook from my shirt and possessions.

My boss came in and saw my pathetic state. She sent me off to clean up and mopped out my bookbag for me. I was able to save the apple and plum and trail mix and convinced some lady in the bathroom to help me scrub the back of my shirt. I am that girl who somehow gets soup on her back. Who spills soup on her back?

As I walked back into work, a man near me said, "Tired, huh?"

I thought, how can he know that??? but said nothing. He said, "Cause you made that little sigh. You know."

"Oh!" I said. "That."

As it turns out, he had caught me not amidst a sigh but trying to conceal a very large burp. You see, I got excited after I rinsed off the trail mix and ate it along my walk. It had raspberries AND chocolate in there!

So I'm the tutor with the 6'7", 310 pound students who has soup on her back and burps up almonds in the hallways. What a fine example I set for them.

Cat Fight

Every morning, a ginger cat walks up my driveway and looks at me through the dining room window. He seems to say, "I hate that you moved here." I think he spits on the driveway and then leaps up into my garden, where he shoves the soil around and then climbs into a sunny space to lay and stare at me for a few hours.

Right now, he is out there howling. Loud, obnoxious human baby sounding howls. What the hell is wrong with him? Is he angry at my pine bark mulch (a 4-inch layer over thick newspaper covering that is a failed attempt to halt weed growth)? Does this cat know that I have squirted Round Up on the neighboring leaves?

I kind of want to shoot it with a pellet gun, but we do not have such things at our house. It's standing right now with it's back arched like a Halloween cat howling its brains out. I just want it to go away.

Shoo! Get out of here! I think now we need a dog for certain.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Crunch Time

The thesis is due in 12 days. I am actually writing a bit today, which is good because I still have like 30 pages to go. I realized, when I almost opened the door to get the paper, that my writing habits are kind of disgusting.

I wake up at 7 and sit on the sofa with my laptop and a bowl of cereal. I don't put on clothes, so I'm usually wearing what I went to sleep in the night before. I don't brush my teeth or wash my face, either. You can imagine my horror when I looked down at myself and paused with a hand on the door knob. I was about to enter my front porch with bed head, moldy mouth, wearing just a tank top.

I'll be honest, on writing days I don't shower or do any hygiene things until about a half hour before I have to leave for work. Which leads me to fear the professional life I am choosing. When grad school is over, every day will be a writing day. I'll be a writer. Does this mean I'll stop showering and wearing clothes? I don't want it to be a big day when I put on socks.

Sometimes, I'll be doing a phone interview for my thesis or another project and giggle to myself, wondering if the person on the phone could possibly imagine the writer, me, at home with Cheerios stuck to my face grease. Why am I so disgusting? Maybe I should get an office somewhere just so I have motivation to put on pants in the morning.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Round Up

Upon visiting our house, my dad took one look at the wilderness in the backyard and declared I needed Round Up. "You got locust trees back there! You don't want anything to do with locust trees, Katy, " he said.

I have tried hacking and sawing away at the wilderness with an axe and a hoe and a rake. I got the low lying stuff. But the big weeds that have grown trunks and become trees? Those have to go.

I felt hesitant at the thought of using a chemical back there. A weed killer sounded to scary next to a plot of land I intended to plant full of food for my family. But I did a bit of research (not an exhaustive amount, but some) and felt as my dad did that Round Up would be ok.

So I bought some and squirted my wilderness on Sunday during the Steelers game. I was supposed to notice results within hours. Now, two days later, I sit in the dining room and stare at the back yard waiting for the weeds to fall. I think they have become a dim brown, but this might be my hopeful imagination. When will they turn yellow and crumple? What will I do with their carcasses? Is Soylent Green People????

I just can't bear the suspense.