14 May 2022

Yeau Claire

No sense in quarantining the TP
When I left Lehigh on March 20th, 2020, just before they sealed it up like a giant stone Tupperware, none of us knew how long we’d be gone before things got back to normal. It was my first full-time academic job, as a VAP the year after I’d earned my PhD there. Closing the door on Drown 303 felt like a change, like the end of something, like the beginning of something, like a surreal suspended animation or like I’d walked out into the spring air of an alternate universe—but I didn’t imaging I’d never be back.

Leaving my beloved home on the north side for an academic conference the following summer felt much the same. I packed, blithely told my kitties I’d be back soon, printed out the paper I was giving, and headed up in the general direction of the Mass Pike. It was there that I got an unexpected phone call offering  me a multi-year position eleven hundred miles away—with a catch. I needed to be there in a month.

Thirty-seven days. That’s how long I had to pull up the roots that had been growing for a decade, find a place to live, fly out for three days to attend in-person training and sign a lease, and transplant myself and everything I owned. But the truth of the matter is, I’d been uprooted several times in the intervening fifteen months, even while mostly locked in my cherished 650 square feet of sunny, pre-war space: unimaginable life changes for my beloved that still weigh on me, a failed contract renewal due to Covid, eight and a half months of increasingly debilitating symptoms that took seven infusions (that nearly damn killed me, thank you very much Affordable Care Act for forcing me to use a drug it turns out I'm deathly allergic to) and a surgery that ended up being not nearly as simple as anyone expected. The loss, again, this time irrevocably so, of a dearest, precious friend with whom I had finally been able to make amends, due to things beyond either of our control. An incredibly hard year of online adjuncting, half of it at a school I still haven’t set foot on the campus of. I’m still not entirely sure where it is beyond the exit sign off 22. Five weeks of filling in for parental leave at Lehigh after the Dean managed to screw me with my pants on one last time.

So moving to Wisconsin never felt like a choice. It has always felt, in some ways, like a desperate loss, despite how happy I am here in the larger sense of fulfillment. It still feels like an amputation, a bewildering exodus by night. A flight from something. I still don’t know what. I'm still mourning the old life that I'm just now starting to accept would never have returned even if I had stayed there. 

I can't believe I get to work here.

 But it's full spring here, finally. I haven't been down to the river since my sister came to visit me in October, when I took this picture, but finals start next week and I have many many riverine plans (not to mention a deep-seated call that I now recognize as not just the Chippewa but also
Anishinaabewi-gichigami, Lake Superior), and I'm slowly starting to put down roots here, even if they're mostly just herbs in the window boxes. Part of the joy of my presence here is tempered by the knowledge that I'll be here less than five years. And I think that's part of the problem too. That I forgot that, on top of everything else that's happened in the past two years, my very presence in Doodlehem was always supposed to be impermanent. 

And so I continue in this liminal, limerent space, in this not-quite-reality that I know will end, because everything around me the past two years has pointed towards that in a way that it never has before. And at nearly fifty, I'm not sure how I should feel about that. While Covid cases continue to rise, a recent email from university administration characterized the pandemic as "distracting." Students continue to be exposed but no longer mask. My partner and I continue to be in the holding pattern brought on by both our situations. I plant annuals in the garden, because I know I'll have to dig up anything perennial I want to take with me. I continue to agitate and protest and advocate for BIPOC folks in my community because my students are freaked out and my colleagues and friends are furious, and it matters deeply, and I love them so much--but I also subconsciously know that at some point I'll have to quantify that for my academic future, which is something that feels both totally gross and absolutely necessary. 

I'd stay if you'd have me, but I know that's not how this works.

17 June 2020

Watch Out for the Key Change at the End of the Second Verse

I feel like I'm supposed to be having some sort of socially relevant commentary about 2020, and y'all. I just can't. Life with a chronic illness means I have very little energy for extraneous things like thinking when things are going well, and I feel like I've been in a low-level flare ever since *gestures vaguely at universe* all of this started thirty seconds into what was supposed to be spring break but turned into an extended dance remix of never seeing my beloved students again and mostly being locked in my apartment. Which fortunately I adore. Because gurrl.

 It's also made my response time weaker than I'd like about the racial injustice we are (maybe) finally beginning to address as a nation. Tiny Doodlehem has so far had two protests and a community prayer service in front of City Hall, with a third protest planned for next week. Fortunately the Plaza is two easily walkable blocks from my home, so I've been able to participate at the fringes. Which, frankly, is my place right now as a white woman. Both days were also unbearably hot, so putting my white female body on the line for these protestors happened in a different way than most people might imagine, and involved days of rest after both events. Police presence so far has been substantial and visible, but largely benign, relatively speaking. Mostly directing traffic, but definitely there.

There's also been some really difficult conversations taking place at my place of (prior? current? It's hard to say. More on that as it becomes available) employ, led by our actually quite remarkable Chief of Campus Police. The retired City Chief and a former Marine until he was injured, he seems to be having a come to Jesus moment, none too soon. But the university itself has a long way to go to even be benignly un-racist, let alone anti-racist. Meanwhile, they're eager to have students return to campus in the fall, confident that they'll all wash their hands and wear masks and take their temperatures diligently. These are students I can't even convince to stay out of class when they have an upper respiratory infection, no matter how many emails I send them that say pretty much, "Y'all fixna kill me by doing that. Please cease." Most of my department's classrooms are very small, and located in a basement. I do not see this going well for vulnerable populations OH WAIT A MINUTE THAT'S ME.

And all of this at a place I'm not even sure is going to hire me again in three months, and if they do it will be as an adjunct, which means financial and academic precarity and oh yeah, no health coverage.

I'm not saying this to bitch. I'm saying this to take a long, hard look at where we are right now as a community, and where I am as a white woman with a (slightly dysfunctional) body, and how all of these things intersect with an eye towards what has to change.

17 May 2019

Into the Great Oh God Now What

I've just submitted final grades at the end of another semester, and after I hit submit on my Hamilton class (another post entirely because omg) I realised I'm seriously feeling a little adrift here. This semester was in many ways like every other semester--I didn't give them as much in-class writing time as I wish I could, multmodal "unpapers" alternately knocked the socks off me (I'm looking at you, "Burr Book." You go, Glen Chlo-Chlo) and bored me halfway to tears (how many PowerPoints can one woman take?)--but in many ways it was also way, way different.

This semester, I finished my dissertation and I'll be awarded my doctoral degree this weekend. I ran another cycle through the job market--rinse and repeat--and have had some interesting results, which I am not currently at liberty to share (more on that soon).

But this has been my life for eight years. It has been everything. When Robin died, when shit went to hell and back with M and my mental health....through all of it, school was my constant. More than that, my dissertation was what I had, even in the moments when I thought I had nothing else. To suddenly not have that—even because I’ve seen it through to completion and am about to move on to something bigger, whatever that turns out to be—it’s a little disorienting, it turns out.

I mean, it's not going anywhere. I've written what I hope is a hell of a project, and there are next steps to be taken for sure, but just for a minute, sitting here in my gorgeous blue ikat armchair, gazing at my kitties curled into weird shapes on the couch--seriously, dude, who sleeps like that?--I had a moment of panic, that vertigo that comes at the edges of things, when one is deciding to jump to see if they will fly.

And this time, maybe I will.

23 December 2018


Learning to manage life with a chronic illness means I have to let go of the housekeeping guilt. I didn't vacuum, but I did the dishes and unloaded the dishwasher. I didn't get to Wegman's, but I got the presents wrapped and my bag packed to head to Alien Boy's and then my folxen. I didn't get to travel to see my aunt in New York, so I could have a chance of making it to midnight mass (not to mention my mother was making noises about the weather, even in my Subaru). It's a challenge to not feel disappointed at what I didn't do, what I could have done, what I think I should have done. I didn't even muster up the energy to revive the Sarah HB Mostly Annual Christmas Tree Extravaganza for what may well be my last year in Bethlehem.

But it will be Christmas just the same. The candles will be lit in my parents' windows, the hymns will be sung. The snow may or may not fall; it may be slush. We may burn the first waffle again this year--some traditions always hold. But the Christ child will come: whether you believe in the story or not, a reminder of what really matters.

And that I have, in abundance.

26 November 2018

Who's the Turkey Now?

It was Thanksgiving in Three Feathers a few days ago, which meant not only the usual hilarity about a misplaced grand piano (apparently my mother, my two sisters, and I are the only people on the planet ever to have read Home Sweet Homicide, because this joke makes precisely zero sense to the rest of the populace), it also meant that my mother had bought several boxes of Advent candles. I am forty-five damn years old, and I have never once bought my own Advent candles. The two years I lived in Spokane, my mother actually mailed them to me from 2600 miles away. Because, you know...moms.

I pointed this out when my dad called the week before Thanksgiving to find out if I had recently acquired any orphans who would be joining us for dinner (don't laugh, it's happened. More often than not, actually. One year the orphan was trapped at work because an NPR party don't stop, so I brought Thanksgiving to him, but that's another story entirely). Before ringing off, he added, "Oh, and Mother has bought you Advent candles."

What? Of course she has. It would only be news if she hadn't. Between this and Home Sweet Homicide, sometimes I wonder how my dad puts up with us. Then I remember that for five years he and I had a standing date Thursday nights to take out the trash and hold hands on the walk back--our driveway is quite long, so it's enough of a walk to catch up on stuff--and that every time I visit them to this day, I still try to arrange it on a Thursday. When I realised somewhat belatedly that Thanksgiving was a Thursday yet again this year (how does that always happen? And how do I always manage to be surprised by it?) I actually said, "Ooo, it's trash night!"

So yeah. Maybe he's in with the right crowd.

That crowd, however, had a bit of a malfunction this year surrounding the Advent candles. When my mom found my set and tucked them into my briefcase, there were four of us in the room, not counting the turkey. Among the four of us there are five master's degrees, one juris doctor, and fully 9/10 of a Ph.D.

I mention this because it wasn't until two days later than anybody noticed that for the past eight years my Advent wreath gets stored at my parents' house. Which meant it was still in the attic when I left Thursday night, laden with candles and three different kinds of leftover pie.

Every year Solstice manages to forget how fire works.
Also, how the dining room table works, which is by not having cats on it.

22 November 2018

You're Welcome

As I take a breather between pie crusts I am thinking about the way Thanksgiving is in my family. We take our Robert Frost and our Dorothy Day very seriously in these parts.

I think about my senior year in high school when Betsy's family left for Long Island before we got back from marching band, and as we sat down to eat the doorbell rang and there was Betsy holding out a bouquet of flowers she'd stopped at ShopRite for because she didn't want to show up empty handed. "Hi, I'm Betsy. Sara said it was okay to come over?"

And I'm reminded of the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted (my second Thanksgiving away from home; Daryl and I went to Brodsky's our first year) and suddenly calling Meg's mom and saying "Jane, how do you actually cook a turkey?" And five minutes before dinner, Kary and Georgia showed up with a Mrs Smith's pumpkin pie and some whipped cream and said, "We decided we wanted to have Thanksgiving after all, is it okay?"

And the one and only Thanksgiving I was married, when we had Thanksgiving on a Saturday because that's what you do when you're a chef, and all four of our parents and at least a couple of our siblings and some waitstaff from his restaurant and of course Robin showed up and it was a madhouse but it was our madhouse, and Robin just took over everything that my husband wasn't doing without asking if it was okay because he was Robin.

And I think of the night a few years ago when I loaded up my parents' cooler with leftovers to bring to the station for Alien Boy and the desk guard on duty and as I was leaving I heard my dad tell my mom, "I put in the rest of the apple pie to make sure there was enough, was that ok?" and my mom answering, "Good because I was worried that just the pumpkin wouldn't be enough." It was okay. It was more than okay.

It will always be okay. That's what it means, that phrase. It's not a formality when someone says thanks. It's what this house has always stood for, and will always stand for, no matter who occupies it.

You are welcome.

22 February 2018

It Seemed Worth Mentioning

I've been pretty open recently about my struggles with depression and self-harm. This afternoon I had to fill out the NCHA survey--and remind me to tell you how funny it is to fill that form out as a 45-year-old. All of the sexual health questions are geared toward people half my age, and don't take into account that my partner is in his fifties. All of the alcohol-related questions are geared toward assessing binge drinking and hazing-type behaviours--and while I greatly appreciate this at a university that saw four students brought to the ER last semester for alcohol poisoning, I can't adequately convey in my answers the part where mostly when I drink, it's with my parents. At the dinner table. Or occasionally to celebrate someone's retirement. We are dealing with a whole different set of relationship issues, here, fellas.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is this. I thought some of you might like to know.