Friday, November 30, 2007


I'm going to see my J-Lui-Poo this weekend in Chicago! A wee Penn State Rugby reunion will descend upon the Windy City. I can barely express how excited I am for this experience. I have had the most rough semester of my life. The first six months of my marriage have been a blur of stress and responsibility. Grad school caused me to miss, in fact, a full blown rugby reunion in State College.

Seeing the people I played with in college, the women who formed me into the person I am today, always makes me feel refreshed. As I just wrote in a chapter of my manuscript, it is my college rugby teammates who have helped me make all the positive choices of my life. They suggested graduate school. They suggested Corey was a keeper. In every difficult thing I do, they are in the background supporting me. This weekend will not be about stress. It will be about, as the great Robin Williams says in Dead Poets Society, sucking the marrow out of life.

So this weekend, I am going to put on my beer pants and tackle a new city. I can only hope that, despite the cold, we will play a wild game of spoons. I call wood paneling!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Back to the Garden

I had one last interview for my article at the Phipps Conservatory yesterday. This time I remembered to bring my camera. Each time I go to that place, I am reminded that there are indeed good people in the world. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma I really felt like there was no hope for the world, what with all our industrial corn and nitrogen runoff. Not so! The Phipps folks will change it!
They have their own fuel cell in their rainforest!
They make their own power!

Without revealing too many of the goods from my article, let me assure you these are truly GREEN gardeners. They have all these visions for the future to make their offices and buildings completely off the grid. Each innovation they make for the better sets off a wave of the staff suggesting more green ideas.
The green construction in the welcome center, with sculpture

Like waterless urinals. They have these magical urinals (which I was not privy to examine) that don't flush. The urine sinks down the drain into this tank that has a liquid on top. The liquid is lighter than urine, so the urine sinks and it creates a sanitary seal. Plus, the urine isn't mixing with water, which evidently creates the odor. So it doesn't stink. It all sounds pretty nifty.

They have a new sun in their desert room

And new plants trying to grow toward it...

No matter how many times I enter that space and examine both the innovations for technology and the amazing exhibit, I never get tired of looking at it. Every time I round a bend, I am totally surprised to see:
This IS the boat where, in my dreams,
I sailed afar into the Land of Nod

This is definitely my favorite article of the year.
This is the first thing you see when
you enter the room. Hello!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Timmy the Barber

Corey's barber is a dude named Timmy who operates down the block on Morningside Ave. He keeps limited hours and is the only barber in his little shop. Corey likes him because he is cool and only charges $9, and Corey gives him $5 as a tip. Even though he knows Timmy will be getting $12 from him, when he goes to the barber Corey takes a twenty, has Timmy make change and asks for two fives and a one. He then hands one of the fives back to Timmy.

Men, apparently, get into routines with their barbers that cannot be altered. Because of Corey's work and school schedule, he can only make it in to see Timmy about once every six months, so his hair is about a foot long and his beard looks like an upside-down Irish man with dreadlocks. He won't go see another barber, either.

Corey could trim his own beard at home, but he has lost the chargers to his various sets of clippers. We have a cabinet filled with clippers and clipper parts, that we are not allowed to throw in the garbage but will nonetheless not trim the wad of hair growing out of his face.

This only bothers me for one reason. It's not that he scratches his chin with the back of his hand like an Italian person signing a swear word. It's not really problematic that he looks shaggy, because who doesn't like to hug a cave man? No, my problem is with the mustache.

It curls over his lip like baleen, touching his teeth, moist with saliva. "Give me a kiss!" he says when I walk in the door, and I feel like a little piece of plankton swimming for my life away from that horrible set of whale teeth.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Working Through Vacation

I show up to work Tuesday night, after all the students have left campus except the football and basketball teams, who have games. Every door to the Peterson Event Center is locked. Apparently security misunderstood the building's role as a University building? The University is open until Wednesday at five, even though the students are "on break." I am already flustered because, somehow, I shooshed my very famous professor in class today. He talked while I was talking and I forgot my place in the world and I shooshed the man who is quoted in literally every composition textbook in existence. I shooshed, he laughed, and I began to sweat profusely. Then I go to work and the doors are locked.

I begin to panic because I know my students. They are already sad and pissed that they have to be here over break. They tend to give one tug on a locked door and head home for the PS3. I have to call my big boss in order to get the doors unlocked. Crisis #1.

I run into my hungry student from last year and he gives me a hug. I ask why he has such a huge beard, one that would make a Sikh proud. He tells me there aren't any good "black-folk-barbers" in Pittsburgh, at least not ones that are open during hours he has free. He has to wait until he goes home for Christmas to get a shave. He is very disgruntled about his facial hair and said that I have drawn attention to it. Crisis #2.

My first student of the evening is an enormous student. A doorway sized person with hands the size of my face, thick as a New York bagel. He chooses to hand write his assignment and I ask him, sticking my foot right back in my mouth, why he holds his pencil so awkwardly. He shakes his huge hand in my face and says, "my hand's too damn big! Look at my hand!" I realize that the pencil hides between the folds of his fingers like a sewing needle would in my own paw. Of course he can't hold the pencil properly and of course his fingers, bigger in circumference than a keyboard key, make typing awkward. I have made him aware of his unusual penmanship and he gets frustrated that nothing is his size, from the tiny chair he spews over to the standard door frame that smacks his forehead when he doesn't pay attention. After a few minutes of lamenting, he decides to leave and write his paper another day. Crisis #3

I end the night working with a Floridian student who misses his aunts' cooking and is jealous that I get to see my family when he can't go home until mid-December. He is writing a paper about class in America and doesn't know how to describe adequately the experience of growing up in a poverty stricken neighborhood outside of Naples, wishing all his life for a beach house or at least access to the pristine sand the rich people seem to never let get dirty. The paper and the holidays overwhelm him. He takes frequent bathroom breaks, but discovers the doors to the bathroom have been locked again by security. He wants to give up and go home for the night. We start talking about being left handed and smile that we don't have to switch seats, because neither of us will bump or inhibit the other. He decides to stay for awhile and writes most of his paper. I end the night on a high note.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

True Love Indeed

Sometimes, I get really naggy and I make myself think that Corey is a dirtball. I look around the house at heaps of underwear and dirty Pasta Roni dishes. Then, I walk into the basement and I see my helmet all hung up properly on the chamois tree and my bike, which he carried in from the car for me because he knows I struggle on the stairs, propped up nicely against the wall. Then, my heart skips a beat when I see that he has taken my headlight and charged it for me, so I don't have to ride home in the dark. He doesn't want me to get run over by a car! He really and truly loves me and takes care of me the best way he knows how.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I spent a long, long time at the library today working on a project for a big famous professor whose class is really hard. Every few minutes, someone would stand near my reading heap and be on the cell phone and be really annoying. Most of the time, I stared daggers at the person until they shooshed. One time, though, my study buddy and I were distracted by this tall, over-dressed freshman-looking girl who was having a super loud conversation. It went like this: "So am I ok about how I acted last night? Cause I would hate to think I was bothering anyone."

Kathy and I looked at one another and whispered, "You're annoying us!!"

The girl kept talking and talking and I noticed that three tables of people were staring daggers at this yatch. I knew something had to be done.

I shooshed her. Loudly. Simultaneously, Kathy said, "PLEASE BE QUIET!" The girl turned red and hurried into the stairwell.

An hour later, I had to seek help because I was too darn short to reach the book I wanted from the top shelf. After I walked back to my table recovering from that embarrassment, I was bummed to find out that the girl had come back from her conversation and gave Kathy the bird. I was so jealous that I missed that! It would have given me hours of martyrdom to use to procrastinate and instead I had to do my stupid homework.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Two Selves

I feel more and more like I am two halves of a whole person, and one of the halves is a sad girl.

On one side is the energetic rugby player, freelance writer, wife of Corey. She does great things like help with her team's Brewfest fundraiser, explore once again the Phipps Conservatory, or play intense games of speed Scrabble with her friends. Last night, this half of Katy got a ride from a dude named Nickel after a rugby meeting and went to a vegan feast. It was awesome. We played a board game called Screwball Scramble. We had fun, we laughed, we cheered when people beat a hard section of the game. Everyone was straightforward and nice.

On the other side is the graduate student, who hates just about everything related to school. This Katy can't believe how anti-student academia turns out to be. This half of me feels shocked that "the system" is broken and that nobody really seems to care much about teaching at a large university. Not one but two faculty members cancelled meetings with me today, citing reasons such as not having read my manuscript. I turned it in a month ago. How am I supposed to feel welcome here? How am I supposed to revise 363 pages in time for the spring graduation deadline if I can't get feedback? This half of Katy cowers in fear from strange mental politics she doesn't understand. Her mind reels at unwritten rules and goes crazy with the strange competitions created at school.

I have to figure out how to reconcile the halves of myself, or at least make the fun half of my life strong enough to tide me over until April 28. I had no idea graduate school would be the thing to turn me away from academia and make me despair. I always, on the other hand, knew that rugby and other healthy competition would increase my love of life.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Work Never Ends

Many of my students have ADHD. I have worked enough with the diagnosed students to recognize the symptoms of the undiagnosed ones just as readily. What does that look like during a tutoring session? I will show you:

I worked with Bob (name completely changed) last night on his English paper. Bob has diagnosed ADHD. He doesn't medicate or use any other sorts of intervention techniques. He came in and paced around the cubicle for ten minutes whining about life and using avoidance tactics to not write the paper. He finally sat down to write, asking me a question before and during every sentence. He took frequent bathroom breaks, bought a smoothie and a burger, and kept checking his Facebook. After two hours, he had a little over a page written, threw down his pencil and said, "man, I don't know. I hate this shit." He started text messaging for a long time until I could convince him to keep working a bit longer. The cycle repeated.

So then I came home to wrangle Corey into thank-you-note mode. We, after six months, are starting to field angry phone calls questioning our gratitude. It had to be done. Corey paced around the living room for a long time while I started writing. "What should I say?" he asked. Repeatedly. He asked if, instead, he could just address the envelopes. He fidgeted with the DVD player. He finally sat down to write, and asked me questions before and during every sentence. "Did I spell your grandma's name right?" "Is this ending too harsh?" "Do I thank them for coming to the wedding? It's ok to say I want to catch up at Thanksgiving? Can I talk about the house in here?" He took frequent breaks to get snacks or drinks, helped make bruschetta, and got a PBR. He became so distracted by the movie that we had to turn it off. After two hours, he got a handful of cards written but forgot to lick the envelopes. I realized that I was having deja vu.

We have talked often about Corey's certainty that he has ADHD. Such is his disorganization that he says I have to make the doctor's appointment for him to talk about it or he'll keep forgetting. Instead, I spent another shift tutoring my husband in thank-you-note etiquette and now I'm about to leave for work to tutor football players again. How does this happen?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Married Life in November

Beneath the large letters are smaller words, which contain the following phrase: "...with its' many bridges..." I wanted to burn the whole puzzle for the typo, but Corey encouraged us to drink beer to make assembly more fun and the glaring error less noticeable.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bus Drivers

I eavesdropped on the most fascinating conversation on the 54C today. The driver was chatting with a grumpy passenger about life. The driver was encouraging the passenger to join a company that was unionized, talking extensively about how unions can take care of him while he worked and after he retired. It seemed to be news to the passenger that unions could help set a fair wage, ensure health benefits, and eliminate (or attempt to eliminate) unfair hiring/promoting practices.

Then the passenger started bitching about doctors making too much money. The driver said he was using his union benefits go to night school and was about to graduate with his nursing degree. He felt that doctors earned a lot of money because they work really hard and the real enemy is hospitals and insurance agencies and pharmaceutical companies, who are profit monsters. The passenger grumbled. He tried to change the subject.

The passenger was outraged that EMTs were being fired and firefighters were expected to fill these roles. But then, he felt, firefighters were overpaid and mostly sat around all day.

The driver has a brother who is a firefighter. The driver feels they deserve lots of money because they put their lives on the line on the occasion they do get called to work. He, the driver, wouldn't want to enter a burning building and was glad his tax dollars were supporting people who were braver. The passenger grumbled.

He felt, then, that women should have no place in a firehouse. Well, the driver pointed out, he met a woman who was physically stronger than many men he knew. She and another Pittsburgh woman had passed the fire test years ago, when women and men had the same standards. The passenger thought he finally found an in, something to officially declare unfair. "Aha! See?? Women have all these loose standards! I don't want them coming to rescue me if they aren't as strong as the other firefighters!"

"Well," said the driver, in the same level and patient tone he had been using for an hour, "To be fair, activists are saying it would be pretty simple to design lighter air tanks, axes, and equipment that would enable more women and even more smaller men to work better as firefighters. I think things could be changing pretty soon."

It was just so remarkable for me to hear this amazing man, with his amazing world view and fantastic intellectual curiosity, educating the entire bus. Each one of us left realizing that context is everything and the only thing bitterness will get us is tight shoulders. I can't wait for this driver to be my nurse someday.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I needed to move my body and also relax after a week of rushing around with intense nerves. I got up early and went to a yoga class in the Strip District. It was in an old warehouse building that was really decorated snazzily, and you access the studio through one of those glass elevators that lets you look down on basically the whole city.

I've been doing yoga on and off (mostly off) for almost ten years, but have never taken a class that was quite so hard. It was called Intro to Ashtanga Yoga. It was insane. I loved it. There were only seven people in the class, including two pregnant ladies and a pair of men, one of whom was a superstar. The other man kept looking over at me while the class formed their bodies into impossible postures. We sat in our "preparation poses" breathing through our noses and raising eyebrows at one another as if to say, "Maybe the word intro means something else to this crowd?"

The teacher didn't bat an eyelash, however, and was very hands on. And feet on. She went at a slow pace and explained everything patiently. Then, she used all her appendages to correct postures, including leaning her back against the wall and using her feet to push my "sit bones" into the right place. I guess she needed more leverage because my sit bones were a bit mightier than she anticipated.

Usually in yoga class, I have to force myself to focus, to calm down my thoughts which run a mile a second ordinarily. Today, I was so intently focused on being in the right place on the right breath, I forgot to worry about stuff. My mind forgot to wander and my body, apart from falling down or pinching its own fat pockets, began to shed its tension.

I want to go there every day, even if I never get my down dog right. I have never felt so light and airy. It makes me want to eat cupcakes.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I am back! I am exhausted. I have seen more publishing professionalism in one week than I will probably see in an entire lifetime. We had over four appointments each day, and when you are sitting there pitching your livelihood to someone younger than you and better dressed with the power to shoot you down, that can get intense. Again, and again, and again.

If I divide the appointments of the trip into categories, here is how I felt after each one:
AGENTS: nobody seemed really that interested in my project. They all kind of nodded and said, "mmmhmmm," before moving on to the next person in our group. This is a problem because agents are the gatekeepers. I need one to even really begin to hope I will see my book proposal slide across an editor's desk. Everyone uses the word "platform" and talks about how I have to build one.

EDITORS: I saw two of these, and both seemed really interested. Even said the words, "that sounds like a great idea. Get an agent." Promising, yes! Still work to be done? Enormous amounts.

MAGAZINE FOLKS: We went to some big smoking guns. New York Times Magazine. Harpers. New Yorker. I didn't expect any sparks to fly in these places, and none did. We also went to some more manageable guns, where my pitches seemed to generate a wee bit of interest. This week, I am frantically revising my written proposals to their suggestions. We'll see! I feel good inside about two publications and feel confident that others will at least offer me solid advice.

I think I want to make this trip a sort of annual thing. A few writers will still be around Pittsburgh next year, and we have decided that as a group, if we contact these folks and say we are writers coming to town to discuss ideas, they will let us buy them sandwiches and listen to us for a second.

I also learned that new writers shouldn't really be that bothered by the big editors/agents in an organization. The person to look out for is the 26 year old with the word "assistant" somewhere in her job title. This lady/dude is the up and coming star, looking for new talent, wanting to show the boss a hot new writer. These are the people I am following up with and these are the people I vow to woo with my sharp ideas and professionalism.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why I Don't Miss New York

I walk along 45th Street today, headed toward the bagel cart with my mouth already watering. My arms stick straight out from my sides and my elbow accidentally bumps a man.

"Oh, gosh! I'm so sorry I bumped you!" I say to him.

He turns to look over his shoulder, the cigarette dangling from his lips, and says, "Fuck you!"

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I had to tutor until 9 last night and thus missed the Trick-or-Treaters. I had to leave Corey in charge. Here is what I was able to gather from the event from my monosyllabic husband. The following bullet points are the result of literally hours of questioning:
  • The neighbor kids did come. They were wearing costumes. One had a shopping bag with a hole in it and refused the offer of a replacement bag.
  • The grandfather and great-grandfather of the neighbor kids refused the offer of beer for their treat.
  • Patsy held out the pumpkin and let the kids reach in on their own. Corey feared their "little arms weren't even freaking long enough to reach in"
  • GW handed out some candy. Dave didn't
  • Corey didn't know pumpkins were supposed to be lit for this event. Thank God Patsy was there to take care of business
  • One older kid came without a costume. GW made him sing for his treat an act as if he were driving a bus. The kid had to drive a fake steering wheel, make engine noises, and beep the horn. For this, he received ridicule and a Snickers bite-sized chocolate
Who knows what else happened? Who is to say what amazing costumes there were or clever disguises? The world may never know what happened last night, but I'm sad that I missed it.