Thursday, July 31, 2014

Musical offices

Someone must have heard me saying that it's time for the fun to start because all week I've been involved in a multi-player game of Musical Offices. At various times during the week I have received the following messages from people involved in the transition:

1. I'd better mark the furniture in my new office so the Physical Plant staff can remove what I don't need!

2. The Physical Plant is working on other projects so no one is available to move furniture.

3. I'd better pick out a paint color so the office can be painted on the earliest rainy day!

4. See point 2, only replace "move furniture" with "paint offices."

5. With no one available to help with this move, maybe we'd better postpone it until winter break.

6. Someone else has been promised my current office but can't move in until I move out, so I'd better get moving!

7. See points 2 and 4.

8. Well okay, maybe some people may be available for moving furniture, but I'll have to do the painting myself, so I'd better hurry up and pick out some paint colors! 

This afternoon I'm playing phone-tag with the person who can give me the final definitive word on the topic. At least I hope it's the definitive word. I'd hate to be the last one standing when the music stops.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Open letter to a former student

You threw some words out there--balance, honest living, career paths, extraordinary relationships, and birds--and asked for feedback, thoughts, advice. Big words they are, but I'm not Yoda so guide you I cannot. All I can do is play with words:

Birds balance on a phone line living as honestly as they can, guided by instinct alone (we assume) and never taking a moment to worry about career paths. Extraordinary relationships are hard to balance with career paths because you need to work hard to maintain both or they will fly far away, like birds living honestly. Honestly, living is a journey so circuitous that the path becomes clear only when your feet are so worn out from walking and your heart from pursuing extraordinary relationships that you wish you could fly like a bird to someplace more simple but life isn't, anywhere, simple or balanced. We just do our best. That's life!

Does that help?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The party's over, and the fun begins

I had high hopes for all the things I'd get done yesterday, but instead I walked around the house in a haze, feeling as if I'd been playing all-day whiffleball except I was the ball. Couldn't think straight. Couldn't stay focused. Couldn't keep moving in any given direction without stopping to wonder where I was going. A typical post-party slump, in other words.

Today, though, it's time to get back to action. Classes start four weeks from yesterday (!!) and meetings start the week before that, but I have a pile of things to do before then, starting with moving to a new office!!!! (There really aren't enough exclamation points in the world to express how I feel about getting a real window--and how pathetic am I that all it takes to make me ecstatic is a pane of glass and a little sunshine?)

With short time and many tasks it's time to take stock:

Journal article: waiting for final edits and then it's off to the submission process.

Anthology chapter: lots more research to do; must get to the library.

Syllabi: one done, one needing a few final tweaks, one requiring a final look-through, and one a total mess.

Other course preps: must set up class pages on course management system, post tons of documents, finish a Prezi on deep reading, write paper prompts for two classes, write first-day diagnostic writing prompts for all classes, meet with Learning Community partners to coordinate syllabi and plan events, and other important things I'm sure I'm forgetting.

Committee work: tons of prep work for the tenure and promotion committee (I'm chair, help help!), plus posting a new bulletin board for the English department and scheduling some meetings for the Faculty Publishing Group.

Home: mowing, weeding, cooking, cleaning, the usual.

Fun: a few more canoe outings and a trip to a Cleveland Indians game, hurrah!

That's an awful lot to do in a few weeks' time--and did I mention that I'm moving my office?!!! Must find boxes, pack books, sort through piles of old the time August is over, I'll need a vacation!

But wait: that's just when the guests will arrive for the next party--the one we call Fall Semester.

Monday, July 28, 2014

This place is crawling with cousins

"Ba! Ba!"
They were all over the place yesterday--tossing frisbees in the meadow, eating watermelon on the deck, sharing family stories in the kitchen. Cousins from all over Ohio gathered for the annual opportunity to make me feel really short. The genes for height are well represented in my husband's family, making the merely average feel small.

I'm not sure how many were here (they wouldn't stay still long enough to be counted), but they demolished two and a half gallons of homemade ice cream. A few even helped turn the crank on the old-fashioned ice cream churn. It's always fun to see some strapping young person say "I can do it!" and attack the crank with great gusto only to poop out pretty quickly. 

My husband was in his element presiding at the grill and then leading a garden tour while the young folks tossed the frisbee. "Ba," said my adorable granddaughter, but it didn't bounce like a ball. She enjoyed having multiple dogs to pet. Hopeful was initially reluctant to welcome a visiting cousin's dog into her home territory, but they got along fine after some mediation. Isn't that just the way with families?
So maybe I'm not the only one feeling small.

The young men are happy to give their uncle a turn at the crank.


Not quite the first tomato from the garden, but close.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't call the headhunters!

If you're looking for the skeletons in the closet, I've found them. Or parts of them, anyway. Just the skulls. About six of them, I would estimate--but don't call the headhunters! They're plastic skulls, leering gleefully and decorated in bright red and yellow, the sorts of things you'd use as table decorations for a display about the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Q: Did you find them in a storage cabinet in an office formerly inhabited by a Spanish professor?
A: Yes! And if he gets to the other end of his cross-country move and starts looking for his skulls, he's going to be disappointed. Maybe he should call a headhunter.

Q: What were you doing gazing into a skull-infested storage cabinet in your former colleague's former office? 
A: Trying to determine whether to transform my lamented former colleague's former office into my future office.

Yes, I realize that I just moved to a new office two years ago, and if I move again, the skull-infested office will be my fifth office--in 14 years. Of course, some of those moves where mandatory: the department chair must inhabit the chair's office; the Center for Teaching Excellence director must inhabit the great big new wonderful office in the library; the ex-director of the Center for Teaching Excellence must move to the only office available at the time, even if it's in the dungeon--er, basement.

I've been in the basement for two years now and I've worked very hard to love my office, but I just can't. It's dark, damp, cold, and clammy, and nothing I do to cheer it up makes it feel comfortable. If I can't fall in love with an office in two years of trying, it's not going to happen, so when the Powers That Be suggested that I might want to move upstairs to my former colleague's office, I jumped at the chance.

First, though, I had to have a good look at it. On the plus side: good location, built-in wooden bookshelves, big window with lots of light. On the minus side: skulls. And not just skulls, either, but all kinds of stuff left behind in the desk, on the shelves, and in the storage cabinet: computer printers, books, boxes, party favors, maps, and piles and piles of other stuff. Including skulls.

I told the PTBs that I would be delighted to move upstairs into the skull-infested office, but only if it gets thoroughly cleaned and painted, but now I wonder whether cleaning is enough. Can anyone tell me which campus office is responsible for exorcisms? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer sun fun

A brief round of summer fun before we get back to yard work, weeding the garden, and house-cleaning: a softball game last night and a canoe outing on Seneca Lake today. The mosquitoes were out at the softball game last night but a bluebird kept swooping around to snatch them. Today on the lake we paddled amongst lotuses and pulled up to a secluded beach to explore an island. All that sun and sweat took a little something out of me, so I have nothing the least bit interesting or witty to write. But here are some photos to show that the world remains a strange and wonderful place.

How long are you in for?

Lotus seed pods or alien invasion?

Lotuses blooming everywhere we looked.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Now she's playing with dolls?

A million things I should be doing and I'm sitting here washing a rag-doll's face.

She's not just any rag doll, of course--she's the three-foot-tall Raggedy Ann I made for my daughter around 25 years ago, but poor lonely Raggedy Ann has sat in a little red rocking chair in the corner of the basement fun room gathering dust since my daughter grew out of playing with dolls.

Now that particular corner of the basement has over the years collected a hodgepodge of stuff too inconsequential to keep close by but too sentimentally valuable to throw away--old trophies, children's art projects, knick-knacks collected in our travels, and, of course, Raggedy Ann. Looming over that corner, though, and threatening to take over the known universe is my husband's collection of very tall and spiny cacti, frequently decorated with cobwebs and providing a welcoming environment for various types of bugs (and, once, a small bird). 

I don't clean that area often because the cacti hate me and manage to insert spines in my fingers no matter how carefully I attempt to avoid them. This coming weekend, though, we'll be hosting an onslaught of in-laws as it's our turn to host the annual Hogue Ohio cousins' reunion, which means I'll be doing some deep cleaning and prep work every day, so down I went to the basement fun room to dust and vacuum and clean windows. 

Did I mention that the cacti sit right up next to the big French windows? 

So I ended up with a few cactus spines in my fingers, but as I was cleaning, my eye fell on that little red rocking chair. "That's just the right size for my granddaughter," I thought. "I should take it upstairs and clean it up, but then where would Raggedy Ann sit?"

Stupid question. I took the chair and the doll upstairs and gave them both a thorough cleaning, washing Raggedy Ann's clothes and giving her a thorough sponge-bath. (In case you ever need to clean a large rag doll that can't go into the laundry lest her bright red yarn hair turn everything pink, here's the secret: Oxy-Clean.) I even got out needle and thread to fix the loose threads hanging off of Raggedy Ann's nose. She's not perfect--in fact, she's just a little raggedy--but you look at that bright red hair and big broad smile and the little embroidered heart on her chest that says "I love you" and you can't help smiling right back.

My whole house, in fact, is just a little raggedy despite all my efforts to fix and patch and clean it up, but when all those cousins come this weekend I hope they can look past our flaws when they see our big crazy hair, beaming smiles, and open arms that say "I love you." There isn't enough red thread and Oxy-Clean on the planet to prevent us from being the Raggedy Hogues, but I hope they will enjoy our home anyway.

Extra-credit trivia question: The title of this post is a slightly altered quote from an obscure piece written by a long-dead Ohio humorist associated with my favorite magazine. Bonus points to anyone who identifies the author! Super-extra bonus points if you can identify the context of the quote!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Road rage derailed

I left the house in a great mood this morning but couldn't get five miles down the road without wanting to pull over and scream at someone--and not just anyone, but this one particular dude who was trying to drive his pickup truck right up my tailpipe.

I was driving fast enough--a few mph over the speed limit, which is plenty fast for that road. Moreover, he had ample opportunities to pass me but decided that he'd rather ride right up on my tail instead. It got really scary when we approached a 35-mph zone and I started slowing down but he showed no signs of doing likewise, so I finally swerved off the road into a driveway and let him pass.

He went by so quickly that I couldn't read the name on his truck, and I didn't recognize the company logo. It wasn't an ODOT truck or one of the county road crew trucks, which tend to proliferate on our roads this time of year. Then I saw him pull over into a convenience store parking lot and I was sorely tempted to drive over there, take down some details, and call the business to report his bad driving.

Who am I kidding? I wanted to scream at him right there in public, to let him know how unnerving I found his dangerous driving. Teach him a lesson!

But them I was reminded of a time when I was riding with a relative who got angry at a woman riding a bike across a road. "She should have stopped!" insisted my relative, and then, "Someone ought to run her over! That would teach her a lesson."

Yes it would, but seriously: we were driving about 15 miles an hour at the time and she was far enough ahead to be out of danger. If someone gave her a ticket for failing to stop at the stop sign, that might teach her a lesson, but to suggest a serious maiming seems a bit extreme.

In that case I was alarmed by the force of my relative's anger, but this morning I felt that anger bubbling up within myself. I really wanted to hurt someone simply because he made me uncomfortable. But I didn't--and not just because I'm aware that many people around here carry guns for various reasons, legitimate and otherwise. No, my reason was much more elemental: it's a gorgeous day out there and I simply didn't want this annoying old coot to ruin it. 

And so I drove on and didn't hurt anyone. I'm left, though, with a nagging doubt: if this guy's aggressive driving ends up hurting someone else, must I carry a small share of the blame?     

Monday, July 14, 2014

Postcards of my pretties

What I loved this weekend:

The drums--on Front Street Friday evening, where my daughter and granddaughter briefly joined a drum circle at a street festival, and at Lilyfest Saturday afternoon, where my granddaughter proved her proficiency as a percussionist by pounding on her mommy's head.

The people--whose dinner we interrupted, whose baby we admired, whose hugs we accepted, with whom we shared ice cream while dulcimers rang out from under the trees.

The pretties--sparkly handcrafted jewelry, a row of carved bears whose noses my granddaughter had to touch, lilies in every imaginable combination of colors plus some unimaginable ones.

The pinecones--the tiny ones my granddaughter picked up from under the trees and held tightly as if they were krugerrands, and the gigantic one that sits on our mantle and inspired my granddaughter to lift her arms and say pinecone (or a close equivalent).

The words--the words she knows multiply every time we see her: pinecone and up and mama and dog and cat (while pointing to a miniature pinscher) and birds.

The hummingbirds--so many hummingbirds that no longer seem afraid of my presence and zip so close to my bench while I sit taking pictures that they feel like bullets whizzing past my face.   


Friday, July 11, 2014

A horde of herons

The Licking River enters Dillon Lake at its northwest end, carrying silt and depositing it over a wide delta where fish spawn and birds wade and canoes run aground in the muck, but no matter. We pushed our way off one sand bar after another in our attempts to observe a horde of great blue herons. I fear being accused of exaggeration, but at one point we counted at least 50 herons feeding in various parts of the delta, and we saw many more in other parts of the lake, in addition to a bald eagle, a pair of egrets, and some kingfishers. I've never seen that many great blue herons in one place, even in Florida. 

Of course, it took some effort to get there. We'd never been on Dillon Lake before so we consulted the official park map and put the canoe in at the boat ramp on the south end, so we had to paddle for more than an hour before we got to the river delta. There we encountered a friendly and helpful kayaker, one of only about a half-dozen boats on the entire lake, and he filled us in on the deeper channel that avoids the sand bars (good to know) as well as a rudimentary boat ramp that's not marked on the official map. It's steep and muddy and offers little room for parking, but it's very close to the river and would allow us to reserve some energy for paddling further upstream than we were able to manage. That's a project for another time, though. Four hours of paddling is quite enough for one hot day.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


I spent a few hours this morning writing a sentence—that’s right, just one sentence, but it was a doozy, over 500 words long, and yes, I know  the word count isn't as important as making every word count, making sure every word is the right word for the job, but  I think these are the right words, most of them, and if not, they wrongness of the wrong words will reveal itself over time as I mull over the sentence some more.

I started writing the sentence (or the sentence started composing itself) in the middle of my morning walk. I was thinking of writing about butterflies, how sparse they are this year and last year too, how puzzling the fluctuations of their populations, how I used to be able to stand near a patch of blooming butterfly weed and watch half a dozen fritillaries and swallowtails and the occasional monarch vying for position on the intoxicating blooms, but now I have to content myself with seeing one or two, and rarely a monarch (although I may have seen one at a distance yesterday but it flitted off too quickly for me to be certain).

So I was walking up the hill thinking intently about butterflies and noticing little to nothing around me, but then at the top of the hill the sun peeked out from behind a cloud and lit up a haymeadow where great round brown bales sat scattered around a field of green glowing with the intensity of Grant Wood’s “Spring Turning,” a painting that when I saw it in person for the first time seemed to light up the entire gallery.

And as I looked at that haymeadow I forgot the butterflies and I wondered why I can’t put that field into a sentence, a simple sentence that would somehow contain and convey the brilliance of the colors and the peace of the moment and the evocation of Grant Wood, plus everything that surrounds the moment—despair over the dearth of butterflies, for instance, and concern over the passing of time and the need to get right down to work the minute I got back home—the sentence would have to include all of that too, as well as all the people and houses and roads and lives that radiate outward from that haymeadow, and yes, the sky and the sun and the distant stars and planets and everything.

How can I write a single sentence that encompasses everything? I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. It is a doozy of a sentence. One of these days I’ll share, but for now it needs to rest a bit and wriggle around so I can see the parts that stick out funny. It took a lot out of me, putting everything into one sentence, but if I anyone asks me what I accomplished today, I can say proudly and unapologetically, “I wrote a sentence,” and that will be enough.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Slouching towards completion

I trudge up the hill toward the house, my hands caked with dirt from pulling weeds in the garden, and I want nothing more than to shed my sweaty gardening clothes and get into the shower, but I have to pause halfway up the slope and look back down the hill. There it is—the row of squash I just finished weeding. When I’m bent over the weeds, surrounded by masses of dirt and vegetation, the garden feels unruly, chaotic, but from above I see the orderly rows, some cleared of weeds and some still calling for help. I need this moment and the new perspective it provides: visible proof that my hard work has accomplished something. That row is done! The others can wait.

This need for completion motivates but also haunts me as I consider the calendar—halfway through summer break! Taking the long view, I see one project nearly done, one barely started, and many in various in-between stages. I've cut 500 words from my long article but I probably ought to cut 500 more, and I’m still dithering over where to send it; meanwhile, I’ve ordered a bunch of books for my next research project but haven’t started reading. I’ve fiddled with syllabi, dipped into new textbooks, pondered the eternal problem of freshman composition, but none of these things are close to complete.

All this unfinished business makes me a little nervous. I keep thinking back to my new faculty orientation, with a wise colleague offered the best piece of academic advice I’ve ever received: “Finish things.” So right! My wise colleague died a few years back, but toward the end I hope she had a chance to pause and look back over the years to see evidence of all the impressive things she’d finished. Today when I find myself in the middle of a bunch of unfinished projects, I’m tempted to call together my current colleagues for a little motivational talk: let’s help each other attend to all those niggling little details that prevent us from completing our projects. In honor of our late colleague, we can call our group Jackie D’s Finishing School. Tuition is free but the homework is outrageous.

Let’s finish things! And then step away, pause, and look back to see evidence of what we’ve accomplished before we continue trudging up the hill.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Beating the odds by breathing

An important anniversary seems to have slipped right by me, and that's not entirely a bad thing. It's true that I was once obsessively aware of certain dates in 2009--the date of my surgery, the date I started chemotherapy, the date of my final treatment--but at some point cancer stopped glowering in the center of my mind and slunk off to hide in the corner of a dusty closet.

Nevertheless it's worth remembering that if you had asked me five years ago what I expected to be doing in 2014, I would have said, "I'll be happy just to be alive." Sounds morbid now, but the five-year survival rate for my diagnosis is just a bit better than 50/50, and the horrors of chemotherapy and radiation made 2014 seem like an even more unreachable goal.

And yet here I am five years later, fat and sassy and enjoying a full head of hair. It would be crass to boast about beating the odds when so many others don't--and besides, my survival was a group effort that drew on the strength and expertise of a whole host of people. But perhaps this event calls for a small celebration, which could be called a Celebration of Life if that didn't sound so much like a funeral.

How about this: join me in taking a very deep breath and letting it out slowly. Now do it again. And again. Doesn't that feel great? Still breathing! That's worth celebrating today and every day.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Not at all petuniaesque

Weeding, reading, writing, meetings: that's the story of my life right now. The soundtrack of my life, however, is another thing entirely, provided mostly by towhees and kingfishers and this annoying little ditty that popped into my head while I was weeding a row of onions today (and the fact that it took me a full hour to get through half a row of onions suggests that we planted too many onions (again) or that I'm working way too slowly (as usual) or that we postponed weeding that row way too long (a likely story)).

But back to that other story, the story of my life, and more particularly the current soundtrack accompanying the story of my life: I'm standing amongst the onions pulling weed after weed, sweat pouring down my face and dirt flying everywhere, when I suddenly a snatch of song--"I'm a lonely little petunia in the onion patch"--just that one line, nothing more. Is this something my mother sang to me as a child? If so, why am I hearing it in the voice of Elmer Fudd? No one in the universe is less Fuddlike than my mother, and no one is less petunialike than me when I'm pulling weeds. But there I am, not lonely, not little, and not at all petunialike, but ensconced in the onion patch pulling weeds accompanied by the voice of Elmer Fudd singing "I'm a lonely little petunia in the onion patch," the soundtrack of my life.

The aroma of my life is oniony with a side of compost and an occasional hint of earthy tomato wafting over from the next row, where my husband is weeding the tomato patch. He promised to plant a smaller garden this year, as he does every year, but I'm afraid to count the number of tomato plants out there. Gigantic garden producing more weeds than two busy people can possibly manage: story of my life.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Keeping the info humming

To anyone wondering why it takes me so long to respond (to e-mails, Facebooks posts, blog comments, whatever): my home internet access stinks. Weather patterns affect coverage and summer is the worst, so I sometimes go days at a time unable to access the simplest thing. I owe a ton of people apologies but I'm hoping they're too relaxed to notice how inaccessible I've been.

This is, I remind myself, one of the drawbacks of living in the part of the county that every available internet company covers under the clause "coverage not available in remote areas." Remoteness and inaccessibility go hand-in-hand, but most of the time it doesn't matter much because I'm on campus. Summers, though, are difficult. I sit staring at the little circle spinning on my laptop, hoping that the alleged "loading" taking place will actually result in something readable, but before too long I get bored with waiting and go outside to check on the hummingbirds. They're much quicker and more satisfying than my internet access--so why not enlist the hummingbirds to carry bits of info from here to there? 
C'mere, little hummies. Let me make you an offer you can't refuse!