Objects of Beauty

(Remember this movie? No? No surprise; I’m ancient.)

I walked by my “first love house” today. We had given an offer on it in the first year here, but it had been declined. It is for the best. The house isn’t all that pretty and it’s on a busy-ish street, but it was the first house I’d fallen in love with. Its layout (two-story/tri-level) had been what I’d always wanted but never knew that I had.

The following year, we had been able to put a larger downpayment, get a better interest rate, and I’d found a house with the same layout and all the other stuff that I’d loved in the first one but none of the downsides (e.g., shaggy dark green carpet). The offer had been accepted and the rest is history. We’ve been in this house for 12 years (almost 13) and I love it. We use all of the space (3,400 sqft).  I often dream how we’ve sold this house and bought a new one and I spend the whole dream lamenting that decision, trying to make it work with the new house, not understanding why we’d have ever given the house up.

But my love for our house wouldn’t have been possible without the one that got away, so today I took a few seconds to appreciate it. It’s in the same general neighborhood and has changed owners at least twice in the years we’ve lived in ours. I hope whoever is in it now loves it. Houses need to be loved.

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People say that, if you really want to do something, you can’t wait for accumulate the perfect gear in order to get going. I used to believe that, too, but now I beg to differ. After years of very mixed success with bringing lunch to work, I bought a lunch box and it changed everything. I love it; I never forget it, and its very existence is a gentle and welcome reminder that I need to pack lunch. Honestly, since I bought it, and it’s been months now, I’ve become so much better about taking care of myself at work, about bringing good food and good beverages along. The lunch box made everything better. Btw, it’s this one. You will recognize the black and purple color palette, the same as on the blog. Because nothing — nothing — is cooler than black and purple (said every sci-fi movie set designer).

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Dear readers, are there any inanimate objects you love? 

Drafts and Guts

jls asks: 

I would really love to hear your (further) thoughts about writing drafts with students and in particular how you go about teaching students to write. I know this is a subject you’ve touched on often, but right now the work I need to get done is almost 100% editing student drafts, and let’s just say I can’t help feeling that there must be some ways to improve this process.

Writing with graduate students is a perennial challenge. I have written extensively (and I mean EXTENSIVELY) about it, probably more often than about anything else, yet it never ceases to be a problem. (Check out Academaze, where a whole chapter was devoted to this particular circle of hell.)

Dear readers, there are no static solutions for anything in life, at least not for anything that means anything. Or at least no solutions that guarantee you will always be at peace and not, you know, blow your lid with some regularity at the hopelessness of your predicament.

I spend a lot of time editing students’ writing. And I know the only way for them to improve is to practice.

But, holy $hit, if it isn’t annoying as all f*ck!

I feel that working with students on their writing is the canary in the coalmine for my general grumpiness about work (can’t wait for sabbatical next year, honestly). When I am grumpy about work, editing the messes that I am usually given becomes completely unbearable.

There’s a book chapter that a postdoc and several of my students (one a native speaker) have drafted together. I have been sitting on this draft for months. I have picked it up and put it down dozens of times. I hate this goddamn document with a passion usually reserved for my flesh-and-blood nemeses. My hatred toward this document stems from a combination of: a) not wanting to look at that bloody material ever again; I’ve written so many papers and proposals on it, and if I have to now write this stupid intro for the millionth time, someone will lose their head; b) the fact that it really should look better than it does, considering I have a postdoc on it and I provided them with a ton of raw material they could work with (papers and proposals).

Today I talked with a colleague who says he and his collaborator write most of their papers; they don’t really have students draft them. I understand why they do it, but it still constitutes a failure of an aspect of graduate education.

On the other hand, so many students don’t want to write or don’t improve fast enough or don’t particularly care to improve (just do it to appease advisor and get out of here) or maybe they have limitations or for other reasons find it hard to write to the standard that I expect, that I worry the whole process of teaching them how to write (read: forcing them to write and me to edit) is not very helpful and instead just extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

Still, teach them how to write I must.

This is what I have always done: A student  drafts a paper on the work where they’re the lead junior researcher. I pull hair over it for days or weeks until I manage to get through the whole thing. The student and I will go back-and-forth several times (I mark up a hard copy, we discuss edits, the student enters them) but eventually I take over and clean up. This ensures the paper gets out in a reasonable time and the student gets writing practice.

People have suggested hiring external editing help; that’s not for me. First, I have been unimpressed with the input from the university editing resources and I am too cheap and distrustful to pay for external work. Second, I want the papers from my group to look a certain way; I would just end up rewriting everything regardless.

***

My big issue with people (some of them in my family) is that most aren’t as intense as me. I feel like they move slowly through the stress-light molasses of their lives and I wonder how they don’t just explode with the pressure that built up from boredom. In turn, they probably think I am downright nuts; I know many in my family do.

Same with work. I will never understand how someone just doesn’t want to LEARN EVERYTHING JUST EAT EVERYTHING UP JUST GIMME GIMME MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE!

I mean, obviously I understand all this intellectually, but my gut rolls its gut eyes and rejects — as guts do — that there is any other way to be than how it itself is.

Guts, man. Guts.

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In far awesomer news, lyra211 just had a baby! Go say congrats!

15-Minute Stream-of-Consciousness Post

12 min to write, 3 to edit, then post:

  1. Going with Middle Boy and another family (mom and twins who are MB’s friends) to watch a monster-truck show. I’m so excited! I am trying to embrace all my interests, no matter how lowbrow they seem. In fact, the more lowbrow, the happier they seem to make me. I will take burgers and beer in a sports bar over fancy cuisine any time. Next: flannel shirts and a pickup truck. (I’m only half joking. I think.)
  2. I will be taking Middle Boy to two NBA basketball games in nearby cities over the coming few months! Again, I’m really excited! It will be great bonding and I love watching basketball. The tickets are really expensive, though. Even the not-so-great, relatively inexpensive ones.
  3. I have decided to reconnect with people who are important to me. I contacted my sister and dad, a good friend from graduate school with whom I’d lost touch (will see her in a few weeks!), and I invited a local mom on a girl date.
  4. I found a speculative-fiction discussion group that I plan on joining. They meet monthly, and I will see them all for the first time in a few weeks!
  5. I have also decided to embrace “Forget those who forget you.” A few people to whom I’ve maintained an ever-so-slight connection mainly by pinging them and wishing them happy birthdays will be out completely.
  6. I’ve been walking 5k+ nearly daily for the past few weeks. The fresh, crisp air does wonders. The plan is to gradually include more running and maybe even run some 5k races in the spring.
  7. I tried joining a nearby kickboxing-focused gym. I enjoyed a couple of workouts, but I cannot take the constant intrusion of the trainers — boy, do young fit men enjoy patronizing flabby middle-aged women! Everyone in the gym is so damn fit, I feel like an ogre. Us out-of-shape people need our own spaces to pant and sweat in peace. The point is, I went twice and I already feel anxious about going again and it’s not exactly cheap or easy to get out of the membership. I don’t want to waste time or money on stuff that stresses me out so I decided to terminate while I am still within the three-day grace period after enrollment. I might try the YMCA for some classes where I can be reasonably incognito and surrounded by schlubby brethren.
  8. Last but not least, I just got nominated for the Pushcart Prize for one of my short stories. The award is a big deal and it’s an honor just to be nominated. So I’ve been in pretty good spirits and celebrated as I’ve been doing the last few months —  spreading the joy by paying it forward: I pay the bill of the person behind me in the Starbucks drive-thru line.

What have you been up to, blogosphere?