Archive for October, 2009

October 30, 2009

Lois Lowry Helps Me Write A Paper and Other Exasperations

I haven’t written one of these literary criticism papers in weeks, and I can’t decide if it feels easier now, or harder.

Easier, because, my grades, while somewhat disappointing, haven’t been so low that I need to Buck Up And Get Some 4.0’s Already. I know that if I do as good a job as I did last time… well… I’ll be passing.

Harder, because I’m out of practice. Maybe this is an easier tactic, but yesterday, in order to squeeze a draft out of my lazy, afternoon self, I tried something new. After writing and deleting the same opening sentence a few dozen times, I gave up on trying to sound academic. I took a cue from Lois Lowry, who said in a lecture (I don’t remember to who or when, my professor quoted it in class on Wednesday), that in order to write a book, she has to pretend she’s writing a letter to a friend. This frees her up from the pressure of CREATING FICTION and writing feels like telling a story to a friend.

So I pretended that I had some whack-job friend who was REALLY interested in a Narratological reading of Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.


But now I have a paper with following eloquent opening line:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a strange novel.”


I find myself longing to crack open my gigantic Literary Theory book and just read. To forget about Narratology, move on, leave it behind! I’ll never understand it! Please please just let me forget about you and bury myself in endless chapters of difficult theoretical text!

And then, Lois Lowry returns again, these words simply flying off the page at me this morning while I rode the T to work –

One thing I’ve observed is that people whose parents want them to get all A’s all the time get nervous and fidgety if they have to use their own judgement about stuff. Because they worry that their own judgement might be a B instead of an A.” ~ Lois Lowry, from Rabble Starkey

Sigh. Say it, Lois.

P.S. Another bit of Grad School Loveliness: an ongoing assignment for the semester is to keep tabs on Ms. Lowry’s blog (which is awesome, if you’ve never visited) and comment on her topics and writing style as we read her work. Yes, this is the kind of stuff I get graded on. That and impossible papers about difficult literary theories.

October 29, 2009

single can


Can you believe that, 6 days out of 7, this is my only caffeine fix?

One single can.

This is Jessica, speaking. Jessica. Jessica who orders a triple shot if she’s feeling extra groggy in the a.m. Jessica who could drink two Rockstars in one day. Jessica who was identifiable at the gas station on the corner, the Beaners, the Starbucks. Jessica who could drink three Rockstars in one day.

I haven’t had a little canned Starbucks Doubleshot since August.

Oh, so much has changed in so little time!

I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

October 28, 2009

sad sack

I’ve never been one who could control my tears. I cry in class about once a year. I’ve cried during work hours at every job I’ve held. I used to cry a lot in my car, while I was driving and now occasionally find myself wanting to bawl as I walk home. 

But I’ve also never been one who could cry at the drop of a hat. Most of my tears are shed during times of exhaustion, confusion, stress or sadness. Books, movies, commercials with puppies? I’m immune.

Or I was.

For awhile I said “hormonal,” and got on with my day. But then week after week, month after month I’m crying at the end of EVERY. SINGLE. GREY’S. ANATOMY. EPISODE. and then yeah, it’s not hormones. Unless I-Don’t-Know-That-I’m-Pregnant, or something. But that is unlikely, being that I am not a complete idiot. (Although my periods HAVE always been irregular….)

Stress is the logical factor. Yes, I feel stress in my every day life. The back aches, the shoulders twinge, the jaw clenches and the migraines ensue. But I’m crying over commercials with puppies. I’m crying walking down the street because suddenly I can’t stop thinking about my mom dying, and yes, she will die, and how awful that will be. Or how I’m going to get cancer. Actually have to go through chemotherapy, lose my hair, my livelihood, be sick and weak and then die myself.

Sometimes tears well up because I’m just so freaking satisfied with myself and my life. I’ve done well. I’m doing fun things in an interesting place. I cry because six months ago, I was crying every other weekend when I had to leave Lance in his driveway, and now, even when I try, I can’t remember how I like to sleep when I have the bed to myself. 

Sometimes I cry after he goes to bed because it feels tense and hopeless between us. And I am exhausted, stressed, and sad to no longer be a child in my parents’ house.

So I think it’s just a new personality trait. I am now Girl Who Cries At Puppies. 

So much can change in 12 weeks.


I miss these people. I miss the girl I was twelve weeks ago. I miss the way my life used to run and sometimes I cry because we all have to leave and readjust and it’s not fair, can’t we all stay in our homes forever? Can’t we grow and be independent at home? 

So I bought a plane ticket. On December 23rd, Lance and I will drive home for Christmas. On January 3rd, Lance will drive back to Boston so he can go back to work. 

I will have until January 11th to recapture my lost youth.

I hope I won’t spend the whole trip crying.

October 22, 2009

Phillip Hoose

Phillip Hoose is a nonfiction author of eight books for children and adults. He lived in Indiana, has a degree in Forestry and Environmental Science from Yale, is a founding member of the Children’s Music Network, and now lives in Portland, Maine. He just got married and bought a house with a view of the Atlantic. He is also National Book Award nominee for 2009- his second time being honored.

Mr. Hoose spoke to my class yesterday, after we’d read all of his books, and it was really great to chat with him about his books, about writing, and about what it’s like to be a career writer in such a rapidly changing world. His editor also joined our conversation.

Some things I learned:

  • Although a sensational story might seem like an easy path toward a successful book, topics such as racial injustice and other “finger-pointing” stories are shyed away from in the publishing world. This was the case with his book Necessities, which was a commercial failure, but an AWESOME, saddening book about racial issues in sports.
  • Mr. Hoose chooses his books based on the story he can tell – it has to be personally compelling, important to children, and fairly untold. For his latest title, he learned about Claudette Colvin and was immediately interested in her story – she was a teenager when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, was sent to jail, and later testified in the seminal Supreme Court case, Browder vs. Gayle. But she’s not a hero. In fact, nobody had heard of her. According to history, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, not Claudette Colvin. Hoose was interested in the woman’s bravery as a teenager and how her story was lost over the years, from her point of view.
  • The tenets of writing great nonfiction is the same as writing great fiction, in Mr. Hoose’s eyes. Strong characters, interesting problems, and important relationships. His editor agreed. When asked if, when researching stories for his history text, We Were There, Too!, he chose some stories over others, he answered, “I am only interested in narrative tension.”
  • His writing process starts a little like this: What is my thesis and what kind of stories and format can sell this thesis? His first book, Hoosiers, started off dry and journalistic, but when he decided to tell his story in stories, anecdotes, and narratives instead of essays, he managed to convince even some of our sports-hating classmates that yes, Indiana basketball is crazy and amazing.
  • He emphasized writing about topics you are passionate about, but from our discussion, I interpreted this comment a little differently than you might think. I don’t think you – or Mr. Hoose – should write only about things you love in your life. I don’t need to write a book about baking or reading or Arrested Development or whatever. It seems that Mr. Hoose chose a topic that touched his life in some way, and sometimes the research inspired the passion. Or sometimes, the passion lies in the book’s larger implications in the world – he admitted that We Were There, Too! was a very difficult book to write but he was passionate about providing a historical narrative for young people in society, which is why he wrote it. You can be passionate about a person’s story, passionate about conservation, or just passionate about opening discourse on a certain topic. Yes, you need passion, but it need not be something you are ALREADY passionate about.
  • It’s hard to get ahead writing nonfiction for children. All of chidren’s literature is very award-driven. If only 10 or so books can be awarded any large honor in a year, hundreds of other books then go under the radar. And nonfiction is even worse. At the National Book Award ceremony in 2001, Hoose said he met his nominators and they acted as if nominating his book was a very bold move on their part. His reaction? It was a great book, whether or not they were ‘bold’ enough to nominate it, and why didn’t it stand a chance of winning.
  • His most commercially successful book is his only picture book, Hey, Little Ant!. He wrote it in an hour with his nine-year-old daughter, Hannah, and it has sold over a million copies.

Mr. Hoose is remarkably grounded and humble for his recent success, but not afraid to challenge the book-world, discussing how it sometimes fails many authors. He is anti-Kindle. He is a mix of creative and business-saavy that is probably a marker of a successful author. Even though we imagine authors as dreamy and devoted, offering pithy sentiments about stories and characters and blah-blah-blah. He wasn’t like that at all. He didn’t have answers to some of our questions, because he’s too busy writing and researching to sit around and analyze his own work.

Phillip Hoose’s website

It’s Our World, Too is a collection of true-life child activists, both from history and today. It also includes a handbook for how young people can start a revolution social change themselves.

We Were There, Too! is almost an alternative history text, covering Christopher Columbus all the way to the present, featuring so many interesting stories about kids. It was spurred by a girl telling Hoose that she felt like she wouldn’t even be a person until she turned 20, or so, because anything she did would never be in a history book. This is almost a reference text, and would be a great gift for a brainy elementary schooler who is a budding history buff – or just one you’d like to persuade into becoming a history buff. This was a National Book Award nominee and featured a blurb from Studs Terkel.

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird is a book about extinction – in particular, the extinction of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. The book follows the bird’s history back to our nation’s start, and slowly unfolds the various ways that humans revered and abused the bird to its probable extinction. Really good book, even for those not interested in birds or conservation. A Boston Globe – Horn Book Award winner.

Phillip Hoose is the cousin, once removed, of Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Perfect, Once Removed is Hoose’s memoir of his childhood as a baseball addict who was crappy at baseball, an admirer of his distant cousin, and growing up in suburban Indianapolis. Think A Christmas Story, with the humor but not bawdy humor, and if the movie was called A Baseball Story.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is a biography of an unsung civil rights hero – a teenage girl who was thrown in jail for refusing to give up her bus seat, but who fell out of history books all together. Although civil rights books have been done and done again, this book gives a fresh perspective by including actual commentary by Colvin herself, presenting her teenage-girl perspective, and really showing both sides of Jim Crow in a way that gives the civil rights leaders a respect I never saw, even reading more seminal texts on the historical period.  A National Book Award Nominee for 2009.

October 21, 2009

dream life

Already scheduling for next semester. Collegiate 16-week calendars are fun like that.

And I love what I’m seeing, on both sides of my dual degree.

A semester spent learning about Reference Services? Youth Media in Libraries? And top it off with The Picturebook? Yes, please. 

Adjusting to grad school life after being away from academia for so long has been rough, but come ON, my schedule for next Fall may very well include courses on Information Organization, Library Services for Young Adults, and Fantasy and Sci-Fi. I don’t even LIKE Fantasy and Sci-Fi that much and my heart’s fluttering.

Even now, as I scramble every week to read, struggle to remember how to write, and come home many nights ready to weep, there is something awesome about learning from professors whose passions are my passions, and who have made respectable careers out of pursuing them. I am reading so many books they are coming out of my ears – 40 or so books so far in the semester – but I am so happy to be FORCED into reading these books that I would have overlooked, that I always “meant” to read, that made those awards lists so many years ago. I’m meeting with authors. I get emails informing me of publishing internships available.

Even if I’m in debt until I’m 50, unemployed until I die, I will look back on these intense years and think “DAMN I learned what I wanted to learn and it was awesome.”

And for two years, my life was difficult,  but in a glamorous kind of way.

October 20, 2009


I’m unsure if I should try to write a novel next month.

All of my reasons for not writing are complete bs. I don’t have time (well, when will I EVER have time?), I need more time to prepare (well certainly I can make SOME time), I will fail and feel bad about myself (but I won’t fail if I committ myself to success), I am a crappy writer and I shouldn’t even try (this may be true but is not particularly productive).

Other excuses cycle up. I will feel some sort of latent Shame for participating, because I haven’t tried to write a book since LAST November (which I never completed) and haven’t completed one since the November before that. I am, therefore, an impostor writer who only writes books when it’s November and should give up the dream already. It’s just not working out. And the implied “You Are Not a Serious Writer Because Serious Writing Takes More Than 30 Days” is lurking around.

I do hear positive  notes whispering in my ear. NaNoWriMo is FUN. It is Productive. It is Possible, Useful, and Better Than The Alternative (which is to not write a book in November)

I guess I want to.

There is a large possibility that this will be a painful, painful experience. I do have priorities that NaNo Can. Not. Supercede. I have a few thousand pages to read, a handful of papers to write, and I’m getting my 8 hours of sleep every night so help me God.

I’m flying on false confidence here. Yes, I’m having a few easy weeks. Yes, I am ahead in my reading. Yes, I rocked my 90 minute group presentation on Marxism and I came home to a 3.6 on my Archetypal paper (A 3.6! I’m not getting worse! My stingy-with-praise professor even used the word “excellent” to describe something within it!). I woke up yesterday with a chest-cold thing and felt like crap all day but I made it. I didn’t lose consciousness in front of my classmates and I came home to some shrimp scampi cooked up by my one and only.

So I’m feeling like the impossible could be within reach.


October 18, 2009

in my tiny kitchen

My father and I had the following conversation over the phone:

Me: “We had some broccoli rice casserole for dinner. It was really good. You should have Mom make it.”

Dad: “You’ve been cooking?”

Me: “Um. Yes?”

Dad: “Well! I’m happy to hear that! I didn’t think you would be cooking?”

Me: “Uhhh… how else do you get food, Dad?”

This is also a Dad who ate my cooking at LEAST once a week for the past two years, always being sure to compliment the chef. He’s a little clueless. I have been doing some cooking, though, and I thought I’d share with you what was delicious.

Photos mostly belong to the recipe-makers, as I sometimes can’t figure out where my camera is before I’ve eaten everything.

Perfect Broccoli and Rice Casserole

Lance made me a traditional, canned green bean casserole – a delicacy foreign to my family’s kitchen – and suddenly I am obsessed with anything containing a can of cream of mushroom soup. I got my recipe from Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen website, which I find useful but not as revolutionary as I thought it would be. This one was quite tasty. I used fresh broccoli because I had some, and I skipped the bread crumbs because they are a pain in the butt. Click here for the recipe.

Salmon Pesto Burgers

This sandwich will really rock your world. I love Nienie’s recipes – always simple, healthy(ish) and delicious. You can get 5 salmon burgers for 5 bucks in the freezer at Trader Joes, but you could easily use chicken instead if you can’t find any. It’s the other stuff that really makes the sandwich. Oh, and if you are at Trader Joe’s, you MUST find the ciabatta rolls. They will change your life. Recipe found here.

Rice Pudding

This is easily the most delicious thing I have ever made. And really easy. Pudding from scratch (or heck, from those little Jell-o boxes) can be intimidating! Anyway, this is the best dessert to have in a kitchen with no microwave because it tastes delicious at all temperatures. It was good fresh from the pot, and maybe even better from the fridge. I might make some more today. I made a minor, but probably important, alteration. I subbed half the milk with whipping cream. Hey now, don’t judge. Sometimes you just have to get rid of somethin’ in the fridge, ya know? Recipe from Simply Recipes.

Also in my kitchen:

  • Nutella Poptarts on the panini maker
  • Fried eggplant and marinara sandwiches
  • Boiled/baked potatoes
  • Banana whole wheat pancakes
  • Lots of fried eggs
  • Lots of cinnamon toast
  • Lance’s Sunday Night Chicken Salad

This week, I’m making some freaking apple sauce. Even if I have to buy TWO giant bags of apples at the store today. Also, we have some shrimp! Oh, when you only spend money on food, this kind of thing can really get exciting.

October 15, 2009

black holes and revelations

For the past two years, I dragged my ass out of bed at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. It was painful. I never wanted to wake up, I was rushed, I forgot things, and by the time I hit I-94, I was falling asleep at the wheel

I wasn’t getting 8 hours of sleep

Apparently, I NEED 8 hours of sleep.

This is probably a strange thing to learn after almost 25 years of life, but it explains a thousand dollars spent on Rockstars and Mochas and why I am so much happier on the weekends than the weekdays.

This also might be the answer to the argument my father and I have once every six months or so, the one that goes “You’ll grow up and love work,” and then I say “No way, work sucks.” Well get THIS people…. work sucks a lot less if you’re not completely EXHAUSTED.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is because I got 8 hours of sleep the night before last, and yesterday morning I was so dang CHEERFUL it was kind of weirding me out. Last night, however, I got 7 because somebody kept snoring in my ear. So this morning, right now, if I were driving I would be a hazard to my fellow driver. I’m beat. I’m looking counting down minutes until that exciting 5 minute walk down to Starbucks, even though it’s really cold outside.

Yeah, you heard me. I had the chance to move whereever my heart desired, and I desired to move somewhere else where October means 35 degree mornings. 10 years of Michigan just wasn’t enough for me. What’s really tragic is my lack of proper winter clothing. I left a suitcase full of winter garments at my parents’ house, and they are just now making it into the mail. I also desired to move to somewhere where the mail is slower than cold molasses. The box was in the mail two Fridays ago. My sweaters, my long-sleeved things, my winter coat are in USPS limbo. I got so cold even as to buy ANOTHER coat, which is a little silly, since it now is also in USPS limbo. The Gap sucked me in though, with it’s 20% off sale, ending THAT NIGHT, and it’s Tall sizing for ladies over 5’9″ which means I could order a medium without worrying about chilly wrists.

I am glad I have two coats in the mail. Because in the meantime, I’m rocking the Gigantic Man Coat

Which complements most every outfit.

Before I go, I want to share two nice things that happened to me yesterday.

Nice Thing #1:

Tuesday night, I read a book for class. It was a pretty cool book, I thought.

Wednesday morning, it got nominated for a National Book Award

“Wow!” I said. “How strange that I read the book about 12 hours before this announcement.” I went to class, and my friend Elena and I got to break the exciting news to our classmates. It was a fun little moment of my day.

Then I remembered, “Hey, that’s they guy who’s coming to my class next week to answer all of our burning Phillip Hoose questions!”

So in 6 days, I get to mingle with a two-time NBA finalist.

That’s the life I lead these days. Glamorous. To go with my Man Coat.

Nice Thing #2:

I got my Woodson paper back and got an A. My first A of grad school! Yippee!

Probably because I got 8 hours of sleep, don’t you think?

Now? Off to find that elusive Shot of Espresso…

October 14, 2009

what will i read on the train?

Through a strange twist of scheduling, I am free of reading obligations for the next 7 days.

This seems a lot longer to me than it does to you, I’m sure.

What will I do with 7 full days of not reading?

– Prepare for my 90 minute Marxism presentation on Monday, as to wow my student audience alongside my groupmates?

– Take the opportunity to read a Non-Required book? Like this one sitting on my shelf?

– Get ahead on my reading? This is the logical step, but getting too ahead could be bad for business. A little bit ahead, maybe, but not too much.

– Embark on a non-school related project. Plot out something with which to attempt NaNoWriMo (which could be the worst idea I’ve ever had)? Perhaps a decorating-type craft? Cook up meals to freeze for the long winter? Train for a marathon?

– Relax, catch up on TV, call everyone I haven’t talked to, or maybe even Lounge?

It’s a strange feeling. Yesterday was an academic holiday for the undergrads, so I was excused from work. The first weekday since the semester began that I didn’t have to be on the train by 8:30. I woke up at 8:00, and, after I had breakfast, found myself wondering if I should just go to school anyway.

My gears are officially shifted. I am a strange grad-student person who doesn’t know what to do when her assignments are taken away.

October 13, 2009

Walden Pond

Just in case some of you couldn’t make it to New England this autumn.