Monday, March 31, 2008


I "finished" my manuscript. I thought I would feel happier about it. There is this book and I've been working on it for every waking and unwaking moment for the past three years and now I have printed it and stuffed it into a binder. There it is. On my desk. The fruit of my labors.

So why does it feel sad? Not even relief. Now I just have more panic about it than ever before. What if my committee doesn't sign off on it? What if I don't graduate? Worse, what happens when I do and I have to sit in my office all day and be a writer for a living??? What if my brain dries up and I run out of things to say?

I have decided the best solution to this feeling is to make some mac n cheese, eat chocolate, and watch South Park until my brain disengages from the state it is in. I will emerge when I can form a coherent thought.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I forgot that Barack Obama was in Pittsburgh this morning speaking at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. I needed to go into campus to scan some images for my manuscript and decided at the last minute that I was too good for the 71A. Screw nature, I thought. I found four quarters for the parking meter and hopped in the Nissan.

My plan was perfect: I would slip into the meter lot next to University Place, where there is usually one space because the meters there are one quarter for fifteen minutes. I only needed an hour max to use the scanner and go to the bank. It would all be beautiful and painless and I'd be back home hard at work before lunch.

But of course my plans were foiled. The street teemed with reporters and security. Flashing police lights were EVERYWHERE and the Oakland streets had a snarl unlike any I'd ever seen, including when the Rolling Stones concert was on campus. I just banged my head against the steering wheel and put the car in neutral as people honked and nothing moved.

I get so flustered about parallel parking, but all the pay lots were full with angry attendants guarding the entryways. Once the cars finally moved, I tried to find a space on the other side of Bates, but there was just nothing. Obama really drew a crowd, I guess. The only vehicles that moved freely were the darn buses I scorned. I was just about to give up hope, drive home, and get in a bus to go back to Oakland, when I spotted a group of my students. They were piling into an SUV, getting ready to leave for a football meeting. God was smiling at me! They were leaving a spot! An end spot!

I rolled down my window and waved at them. They said, "Hey Miss Katy, you want this spot?"

"Yes! Very badly!" And they vacated it for me. I wanted to hug each of them repeatedly, but I needed to move quickly and park the car. It was a 1-hour meter that took only two quarters. I was so filled with joy, I actually gave the two spare quarters to a pan handler.

I got my work done as planned. But instead of heading home to keep working, I went to Trader Joes to buy a chocolate bar. I spent $104 dollars, because once I bought the chocolate bar I couldn't stop buying delicious things like apple rings and corn salsa. I finally got home around three, angry that so much of my day had slipped away without permission.

But you know what? That chain of events coupled with the 72% dark Swiss chocolate really fueled my fire to keep writing. I can see the end. Everything is going to be ok! I feel it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Schedule Changes

Corey has been on a new regimen. Never in our relationship has he been on a regimen at all, so to even have one is a new thing. This regimen involves discipline, homework, and lots of bike riding. A typical day looks like this: he gets up by 7 at the latest. He does homework a bit, reads the New York Times, and is out the door by 8:30 (approximately when I wake up). Many days he rides his bike to and from work, which means he gets up at 6 to leave around 730.

He works all day, then either goes to class or comes right home to do homework. Tired, full of knowledge, he goes to bed around 930 (approximately when I get home from work/class). We haven't swept our hardwood floors, dusted, mopped, or otherwise taken care of our home since February. The laundry piles spew down the stairs and we are running out of Ziploc bags to pack lunches. I'll tell him to stop and get some Friday night when I see him next.

I have mentioned before how lonely and difficult it is to not see my husband awake. Some evenings I stare at him while he sleeps until he starts in with the sleep talking. Then I just roll over and repeat: This all ends in five weeks. How is it that I feel so separated from the man who uprooted his life and moved out here with me? The man who left behind New York City bagels in exchange for Tram's Kitchen? What is he thinking about while he dreams as I do homework?

My distance from him is really the hardest part of graduate school, and these last few months, when Corey has been in a groove, have been the hardest of all. What happened to the man who stayed up until 5am the night before a project? Who is this person with study skills who does his homework gradually throughout the week? I don't know if I like this new person, because I haven't gotten to spend any time with him.

I don't understand how couples operate in long distance relationships. I also don't understand why people go back and do more graduate school after they finish the first time around. When I got home tonight at 11, he had been in bed for a long time. This time he forgot to leave the porch light on for me and the door was locked, too. I had to fumble my way indoors in the dark.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hard Times

I don't think it's possible to understand how difficult graduate school is unless you are in or have been in graduate school. I feel so completely overwhelmed that I have learned to go outside my own body and watch with fascination as it sits and worries about things.

I mean, in three years, I have written a book. A book! While working and taking classes full time. That is not an easy thing to do.

Now that the book is due on Tuesday, I am trying to "finish" it. This has been the singular most excruciating and rewarding task of my life. When I was seven, I wrote a two-page book beginning ,"I have led such a terrible life. My little sister won't eat enyfing..." Now, twenty years later, I have written a much longer book that my mother will probably also stuff in a Rubbermaid container under her bed.

It feels very strange to say I wanted something my entire life and then to do it. I am at this challenging cross-roads where I know I have six weeks of torture left, but I also see the glowing diploma at the end and then, beyond that, I have this scary space where I have to go about the business of doing what I wanted. I have to stop dreaming of being a writer and actually deal with being one.

I'm not sure it will get easier. Now I have to actually take my book and send it to people called "agents" who will ultimately control whether my book remains a pile of computer paper or gets a bar code and an ISBN.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Peas Out

The package of my pea seeds says to plant them as soon as the soil can be worked. I took that to mean today. It was so therapeutic to go outside and dig around in the dirt. I decided to plant the climbing peas in the front of the house where we have a trellis on the porch. I can just picture the pea vines climbing the red lattice!

To get ready, I had to hoe out the flower bed and scrape out the old crap the former owners had planted there. I got beside myself because I saw tulips growing under the smootz from last year. Tulips! Almost ready to bloom! I didn't even have to do anything, which was the best part.

After I planted the peas, I went out back and did the same with the spinach because the package had the same instructions. A few weeks from now, I hope I have some hearty, cold weather vegetables. I could just have a big mess...but it felt amazing to give it a whirl and that was exactly what I needed this afternoon: Hope of life.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Booger King

I was in the bathroom at work today, the one we share with the food court workers, when a woman swooped her apron up and over the stall door and it fell. "Oh, man! That didn't go in the toilet did it?" she yelled.

We got to talking after I assured her it didn't. She told me she was all upset because she had spilled food on her uniform shirt. She works at Booger King and they only give her one uniform. Well, she works 6 days a week and can't always get to the laundro-mat on her day off since she has children. So not only does she have to wear the same greasy french fry shirt every single day, but she often has to wash it in the sink and let it air dry overnight just to have something clean to wear to work.

It made me remember when I worked in the dish room in the Penn State dining commons. I, too, had only one shirt and it always had ketchup on it. I hated that I couldn't wash it in between shifts, and I only had to wear it for a few hours each shift.

The woman, Sharee, also told me the pants they gave her are much too large and she has to wear extra pants beneath them so they don't fall down. I don't think belts are allowed with the uniform, since she wasn't wearing one. Perhaps she can't afford one. Maybe she doesn't look good in belts. Either way her pants don't fit.

I just felt awful about my own whining. All week I've been complaining about things. I think God sometimes sends me these experiences when I'm having a selfish week so I am reminded to appreciate all my blessings.

Ravings of a Mad Woman

My thesis is due in two weeks. These are the things I think about while I revise:

1. When I went to work with the fish people in the Strip, there were two remaining spots in the parking lot. An elderly woman of Asian descent pulled into the lot in front of me and parked directly between the two spots. I thought she'd back up and readjust because I often miss like that. But no. She just got out of the car and went shopping. Why did she do that?

2. How will they ever begin to fix the potholes that have eaten the streets of Pittsburgh? I have to get off my bike and walk it on parts of Negley because the potholes are so deep I can't navigate them. On my mountain bike.

3. Why would Microsoft invent something like the new Word that can't be used on a Mac and why do students keep emailing me final papers that are .docx? When they do that, I have to go to campus and WAIT IN LINE at the computer lab for a PC while all the open Macs stare at me and whisper, "If you were cool, you'd use us! But you're a nerdy PC person. Bwahahahahahahaha." They do that. They judge me. And I can't even tell them, "no! I am a Mac person! I just have this file I need to convert!"

4. My rugby team is doing something involving decorated paper bags tonight and I can't participate because I have class. What if there is chocolate involved and I am missing it? For class? About Susan Sontag? I don't even like her book. I want to be on the field with the bags.

5. How should I conclude my thesis? What is the ending? How will it end and, when it does, will I also die?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Hot Sunday Date

3pm: I say, mostly to myself, "I'm putting a chicken in the oven to roast for dinner." Corey sits on the sofa and starts doing homework, showing no evidence that he has heard me.

4:30pm: I take the chicken out of the oven and begin making gravy and noodles to eat with it. Corey walks into the kitchen, sticks a finger into the meat to taste and says, "I thought we were riding bikes. Why did you make dinner so early?" He is, of course, correct. I had agreed to ride bikes with him after whining all week that we never do anything together. But then I totally forgot. It is snowing outside and barely above freezing. I say this. He says, "We can ride downstairs and watch Dexter." He looks so cute that I want to explode. I tell him I'll make the gravy, stick everything in the oven to keep warm, and he can set up the materials.

5:00pm: Corey has discovered a flat on my bike, decided the chain on his Surly needs to be repaired, and the basement floor is strewn with laundry and water bottles. There has been no progress on our ride together. I have completed the gravy and am lying on the kitchen floor in my chamois, waiting for hell to freeze over and urging myself not to pick at the chicken with my fingers.

5:05pm: Corey asks for help. We begin to set up to watch Dexter. Since we do not have cable we watch tv on the internet, usually sitting on rolley chairs in Corey's basement office with food propped on our laps. Today we decide to set up his monitor on a tv table in the middle of the room so we can see from the bikes. This involves careful rigging of extension cords, maneuvering of woofers and speakers, angling of monitors on top of bike equipment setup to enable indoor riding. For example, I have to wedge the phone book under my front wheel and Corey has to line up his gear so his head finds the gaps in the drop ceiling. Otherwise his hair scrapes because he's so tall.

5:15pm: We have the gear set up. Dexter is streaming on the internet. The fan is blowing, the speakers are loud enough over Corey's rollers and my trainer. We are in love and riding bikes in the basement. Things are great. We look at each other with mushy faces and almost hold hands.

5:16pm: Corey has to readjust his junk because it gets smooshed on the seat. My butt bones hurt and I want to stop riding. My hands hurt. He wipes his sweaty forehead on my arm for fun and instead of retaliating, I just get angry and complain. I want to stop riding. It all seems like a terrible idea, and I get really angry that I ate all the chocolate in the house while I roasted the chicken. We forget that someone needs to jiggle the mouse or the computer screen goes black in the middle of the episode. Corey leaps off the rollers to turn off the screen saver.

5:45: I tough out the trainer for a half hour in my lowest gear and go finish making dinner. Corey rides rollers a bit longer and relocates the entire home entertainment center into his cubicle so we can eat on the rolley chairs and watch another episode. And another one. And the one after that.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ah, Rugby Season

This morning in the shower, I was frantically scrubbing my thigh, unable to get off a long, brown piece of dirt. I kept wondering where it had come from. Was I composting too furiously? Perhaps it was animal poop? And then it dawned on me. This wasn't dirt at all. It was a long, slender bruise from a rugby cleat. We had done tackling on Thursday at practice.

I knew then that spring had really arrived. My muscles are getting tighter, my clothes are getting dirtier, and my legs are getting bruisey. The weather may be a tease for a few more weeks (it snowed today but will be 50 degrees tomorrow...) but there will remain one constant reminder of nice weather to come: black and blue thighs. Only two weeks til my first game!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Meanest Holiday Ever

I usually don't do much for St. Patrick's Day. Because it's not a real holiday. Yes, in college, senior year I staggered jet lagged, fresh from a rugby trip to France, to a bar at 7:30 in the morning only to stumble out again a few hours later not knowing what day it was or what language to speak in the sunlight. But that was once. When I was 21.

St. Patrick's Day is becoming a bigger and bigger deal and I like it less and less. Everyone in Pittsburgh said to me yesterday, "Are you going out for St. Patty's Day tomorrow?" Today is March 15. It's not St. Patrick's Day. It's the Ides of March, when Cesar died, which is a more accurate metaphor for what went on today. But enough grumpiness. In three years, I have not really celebrated this "holiday" in Pittsburgh, and I decided I needed to go out and live a little. The rugby girls were meeting downtown for the parade (and Hillary!) in the wee hours. I found them buzzed in Market Square at 1pm and did not think I would survive.

My first glimpse of the caged in, drunken masses was of an undercover police officer dragging a screaming girl by the hair. He kept flashing his badge and hollering, "It's ok! I'm a cop." I'm sorry, but no. It's not okay to drag her by the hair. Ever. I don't care what the hell her crime was, he should have been using her arm OR put her in cuffs or zip ties. Not ok to drag women by their hair. Ever.

Then I got irritated that nobody was recycling the millions of cans and cups scattered around the square and I started talking about my bus ride down there--the 71A at it's finest. It was crammed full of drunken people, even a few of my students, which made me hide my head and want to explode. At Atwood, a wheelchair-man tried to get on. The driver walked back and shooed everyone out of the flip-up seats and as soon as people made their way back the aisle, this princess girl with big nails and big hair and vapid eyes said, "Oh!" and sat in the seats. Like they were cleared just for her! Magically! The driver really yelled at her and everyone nearby started screaming: Get the hell out of the seat, asshole!

A few minutes later, people started fist-fighting on the bus and Corey kept texting me that he wanted to come retrieve me and save my life. I thought I would make it, so I soldiered on. In Market Square I had a few beers bought from some dude in a tank top with a cooler and actually had a good time once I calmed down. There were rugby people, after all, and that made it all ok.

It all went downhill again when cops shooed us out of Market Square at 4pm and into the bars of Station Square. It was so full and smoky in there I couldn't hear my heart beating. I started freaking out and beat it over the Smithfield Street Bridge. A drunk man tried to kiss me, actually put his arm around my shoulder and leaned in for a smooch, and I punched him over and over again until he went away. I was glad for my boxing lessons and gladder still to get home to Corey and the silence of my house. We ate miso soup and spied on our neighbors. I'm think I'm getting old, and I actually like it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Boar's Head

Giant Eagle doesn't carry Boar's Head brand lunch meat. They have this crappy alternative that almost tastes pretend. So, whenever I go into the Strip, I try to get Boar's Head honey maple turkey if I have time. I know my order by heart, and I am pretty sure I enunciate because I'm often teased for my careful pronunciation of all syllables of all words.

Yesterday, after the fish folks gave me my surprise (a styrofoam tub of something called Strawberry Delight in the purse this time, plus brownie bites while we worked), I walked up the block to Penn Mac for sandwich supplies.

I was excited because there was no line, where on a Saturday I've stood for an hour waiting my turn. I got up to the counter, stood on tip-toe so I could make eye contact, and ordered my 1 pound Boar's Head honey maple turkey, sliced thin. The dude handed me a pound of pepper turkey. I sniffed it, read the label to be sure it was wrong. I bit my lip. It was the wrong meat. I hate that. I don't want to make this man's life hard, but I don't like pepper turkey and I was severely jonesing for that honey maple. I told him about the mistake.

"Oh no! Hey, don't worry about it. I can sell that. Tell me again what you wanted?" I told him again. He sliced it again. Thin. He asked what else I wanted and I said a quarter pound of white American cheese. When he came back with my sliced yellow American, I didn't have the heart to ask him for another do-over. I wonder what Corey will say when he sees the strange cheese in the drawer. I hope he doesn't think I've lost my mind.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Circle of Life

I took a five day vacation with my sisters in Arizona. It was incredibly restorative. Even though I got no work done and my thesis looms larger than ever upon my return, the break in the action has given me so much energy to soldier on. It's impossible to detail five days of sun, heat, and fresh air in manageable bits, but there were two instances that blew my mind.

First, we traveled to Sedona to hike in the sacred grounds of the Native Americans. My sister knew of an amazing hike to Shaman's Cave, not in the guide books for those wishing to replicate. As we made our way through the red dirt canyon, we looked up the sheer rocks at a face in the stone--two eyes and a nose gazing down on the nature below.

The left eye of the Shaman, for those who venture closer, is really a sacred womb cave. This sounds new-agey, but it is in fact a womb, with all the pieces in the right places.

In the middle of the womb is a tiny mini-cave, a perfect circle of meditation that my entire family eagerly scrambled into to enjoy the peace. From the circle, I hear you can see the whole valley, feel the vibrations of the wind, enjoy the energy of the sun, and be restored. I did not feel these things because I was too terrified of heights and sliding down the sheer rock face. I made it to the mouth of the womb and fought my fear for a half hour before giving up.

Upon giving up, I realized I was too scared of death to climb back down. I stood again paralyzed with fear. My sisters yelled that I was reliving my birth, that I needed to just let go and slide down as my nephew kept doing. He yelled, "Wheeee!" and slid on his belly down the smooth red rocks. Instead, I sweated and cried, terrified to relinquish control and fall into emptiness. My brother-in-law tried reason: You won't die. The worst that will happen is you'll slide to the mouth of the cave and break a bone. At WORST.

But I couldn't let go. Eventually, Betsy and Richard had to climb up and get me, physically yank my foot and draw me from the womb. This reminded me of my actual birth, where I was in distress and pooped inside my mom. I was almost a forceps baby. The similarities are stunning. I'm so type-A control freak that I couldn't even relive my own birth for spiritual growth.

Instead, I found renewal from the orange trees that blossomed all over the southwest. My sisters and I picked oranges. I hoisted Sami on my shoulders and we jumped and yanked down the citrus fruits. It was amazing. We peeled them open in the yard and just let the juices run down our fingers and chins. We just threw the rinds in the grass for the kitties to eat. Later, we took our haul back home and made juice. The taste was explosive, unlike any grocery store orange I have ever had. There was a sweet, sweet zing to the juice and as I turned orange halves into the juicer, I got a real appreciation for the work that goes into one cup of juice. Forgetting the labor nature put into growing the orange in the first place, just creating one cup of goodness took about four oranges. Almost an hour of work to make juice for the five of us. I have learned to never take small things for granted and to slowly savor such delicacies.

So I return to my graduate work a little tanner, a little banged up, but filled with the zest of my own hard work. The end seems a little more reachable.

Friday, March 07, 2008


On Sunday, my friend Tricia started mentioning the Shamrock Shake she was about to drink. I got very excited about the prospect of that drink, but then I remembered I stopped supporting McDonald's years ago. Still, the nagging for the shake lingered and all week I've been searching for a McDonald's. This morning, I realized that I was really excited because I have no idea where there is a McDonald's near my house. I know there's one in the Strip because I hate that it's there among the independent businesses. Other than that, who knows? I love that! I've boycotted so long I've ceased to be aware of the stores.

Which is a good thing, because I don't need a Shamrock Shake right now. I was on the verge of despair before rugby started, such was my off season lack of tone and fitness. While I'm not entirely sure how it got that bad during the months were I either rode my bike to work or had a 2-mile round trip walk every day from the bus stop on top of Capoeira class and dodgeball and power yoga, baggy and flabby my body did get.

Do you have any idea how different your body can feel after one week with six hours' exercise? I rode my bike up cardiac hill twice this week and we had two great practices. I feel so amazing. Like this is how my body was meant to feel inside. I'm so thankful to be exercising again and not drinking Shamrock Shakes, wherever they might be hiding.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Baggy Feet

Yesterday, rugby practice began! I wish I could put a whole line of smiley faces to express how I feel inside about that! Instead I will just use exclamation marks!!!

But really, it was super cold yesterday. We got to the field and two thirds of it were covered in a thick sheet of ice. The other third was a boggy quagmire. As we sat in the bleachers putting on our cleats, I noticed that one of my teammates was tying Giant Eagle grocery bags around her feet before sticking them in her cleats. I started to make fun of her. Then I saw some other people doing it and made fun of them, too. It looked stupid.

By the end of practice, my own feet were so soggy and frozen that I could barely move my legs anymore. It was, after all, pouring and 40 degrees. Despite driving the entire way home with the heat on full blast at 90 degrees, pouring on my feet, I still hadn't really regained feeling when I got back. It took a long shower and several steamy rice buddies to get my feet back to working order.

I'm thinking I'll try out the grocery bags inside my shoes on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bike Power

It seems silly to write about this on the day when we return to snow, but yesterday I took advantage of the 65 degree sun to ride my bike to work. It was awesome. I was cruising around Shadyside, taking my time. I came to a four-way stop and stopped, looked for a minute, and began to pedal.

Suddenly, an enormous Ford F150 rolled through the stop and revved through the intersection with it's windows down. A man sitting in the middle seat stuck his head out the window and said, "You do NOT have the right of way!"

I tried to brush it off because it was so nice out and I clearly did have the right of way, but when I happened upon them at the next traffic light, I noticed they were not parked behind the white line, and also that their windows were still down. I couldn't control myself. I looked in the window directly at them and said, "Actually, I approached the intersection first and, even though I was turning left, I did in fact have the right of way."

They stared. One of them laughed nervously and said, "Oh, I was talking to the radio."

I said, "Also, you are pulled up past the white lines, so you are just breaking laws all over the place." The light turned green and I rolled past, making better time than them anyway in rush hour traffic.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I can't stop playing online Scrabble. I have almost ten games going at once and I seem to be losing all of them terribly. Science people who I challenge just to make myself feel good end up beating me by over 300 points because they bingo off words I never heard of. My first Scrabble guru taught me that it wasn't about what words you made, rather what tiles you placed on specific colored squares. As it turns out, this is all a lie. The real secret is to get a bunch of bingos on words that sound made up and rack up over 500 points before your enemy gets the Z on the triple letter score.

I must keep playing until I get better. I just have to be better at this.