November 29, 2003

To Have and Have Not

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 12:57 pm

Happy second day of the Christmas season. I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving; mine was good and also fairly strange. Good because it was a Thanksgiving dinner, and I was with Julie, and everyone liked the cranberry sauce (I made the cranberry sauce); strange for a couple reasons, mostly because much of it was spent in discussion with Julie’s uncle Butch, who is the archetypal girlfriend’s uncle: army veteran, makes jokes about me and his niece getting married. He’s great. I spent about half of the dinner arguing with him (and the rest of the table, save Julie) about Wal-Mart; I was the lone con in a sea of pros. It didn’t bother Butch, though, since he had already established that I’m a good guy in the traditional male way–quizzing me on sports trivia.

It’s really nice to be relaxing, finally. I really needed a vacation–I spent my last three class periods just staring straight ahead, or trying to draw Homestar in my notebook. Next week is, astoundingly, the last week of classes, then Finals Week, then home.

Your four Finnegans Wake words for today are:

ould lanxiety

Use them three times and they’re yours.

Now go shop!

November 24, 2003

Hey, Man, This Is Babylon

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 1:23 am

Done with my paper, and food is tasting sweeter. This isn’t the end of my work for the quarter–it’s not even the end of my work on the paper; this is a first draft–but it’s the bulk of it. It’s also my first completed grad school essay (I’m not counting the nonsense “reaction papers” for my throwaway Teaching of Comp. class), so the professor’s reaction is an important omen.

Thanksgiving break begins at 11:50 on Wednesday, when my Joyce class ends. I’m eating dinner at Julie’s mom’s house this year. Julie will be there too. My great happiness at seeing her can be taken as read. A less obvious detail is that this will by my first time spending a holiday at a girlfriend’s parent’s house. This may not seem like such a milestone, especially since I’ve been to her mom’s house three times already, but if sitcoms and screwball comedies have taught me anything–and in fact they’ve taught me everything–it’s that Thanksgiving Dinner with your girlfriend’s parents always involves a series of disastrous and embarrassing misadventures. Pretty scary, but luckily I’m destined to save the day at the last minute and win her mom’s approval. So that’s what’s in store for me this week; wish me luck. (Confidential to Julie: Do me a favor and put the urn with your great-uncle’s ashes somewhere out of reach.)

I’ve gone ahead and requested my classes for next quarter. I’m going with Victorian Subjects (we’re reading Dickens along with a number of Victorian social and aesthetic critics and wake up) and Emily Dickinson. The rest of my time will be spent teaching snot-nosed undergrads; my fear is mitigated by my sense of raw privilege. I’ll get an office! I’ll share it with a bunch of other TAs, and I’ll only get it for like two hours a week, but nonetheless: my very own office.

Tonight this guy Matt and I went to go see Mike Doughty, formerly lead singer of Soul Coughing, in Los Angeles. (If you’re not familiar with Soul Coughing, then you know what you’re getting for Christmas.) The most distinctive part of the evening was actually the opening act, which was called Drums and Tuba and was just that. Well, there was a guitarist, too; at times he was playing two guitars at once, prompting Matt to exclaim, “He plays two guitars and he’s not even part of the band title!” Anyway, this was without a doubt the best unknown opening act I’ve ever seen. They were undoubtedly experimental, but they knew how to make a good riff. I guess it was sort of a psychedelic jazz fusion sound, although really it escapes any classification that doesn’t involve the word “tuba.” The tuba worked extremely well; it didn’t dominate the act, but it was definitely a vital part of the music. The tuba player also ran a very extensive electronic music-thingy (a MIDI? I don’t know what those look like); at one point he put town the tuba, played a few notes on a trumpet into a mic, and then the electronic thing repeated those notes for the rest of the song while he went back to tuba. A class act all around.

Seeing Doughty was bittersweet, in a word. He hasn’t lost his sense of humor–after finishing his last pre-encore song, he said, “Thanks, LA! You’ve been great! I’m going to go stand over there and pretend the show is over!” And indeed he did just that. And a lot of his solo songs–almost none of which I had heard–were really great. It was just him and a guitar, no band, and so the songs had a very folky quality to them; they tended to be on the introspective side, kind of like “True Dreams of Wichita” (which he played). He ended with a big sing-along of “Jeanine.” So definitely a good show.

But…you know…he needs a band. Specifically, he needs Soul Coughing. Like I said, the music was good, but it wasn’t necessarily the sort of thing you would break a November CD boycott for. There were so many songs where I thought, “Hmmm, this is a pretty good song. It’d be even better if you were a band rocking out rather than just a guy with a guitar.” Come on, Doughty, is this what you want to be doing? When I first saw Soul Coughing live, it was at the Warfield and you played to a near-capacity crowd. During the performance tonight, a member of the audience sneezed, and you said, “Bless you.”

So, this is an open appeal: Soul Coughing, get back together. Do it for me, guys. Do it for my happiness.

November 22, 2003

What words rhyme with “buried alive”?

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 11:31 am

I’m in paper hell right now, so I don’t really have time for a real entry. However, I do want to get you guys started on this one so it can be ready for the holiday season. From the creator of “That’s Not Cholera!” (new friends: ask me later) comes a new game that will change the way you look at movies: the Universal Drinking Game!

The problem with traditional drinking games, as I see it, is twofold. First of all, in an effort to be hilarious, such games tend to suffer from sprawl–more and more rules proliferate, getting more and more specific, until each participant has to be responsible for twelve rules each (the Star Wars drinking game, running some 6 pages, is the worst example of this). Second of all, at least with movies, drinking games are (pardon the pun) one-shot dealies. Once you’ve played the Labyrinth drinking game, that’s it. You’ve already drunk for every David Bowie crotch shot; playing it again doesn’t lead to any variety.

The Universal Drinking Game, on the other hand, is infinitely re-playable. As long as there are mediocre movies, there’s fodder for the Universal Drinking Game. The Universal Drinking Game will consist of a small number of drinking prompts–ten or less–that can be found in a wide range of movies. You don’t get a bunch of friends together to play the UDG; you’re playing whenever you’re watching a movie and you have a drink handy. (Theoretically this means an alcoholic drink, although if you watch a movie with a soda in your hand you may want to practice.)

In order for this new sensation to sweep the nation, I need some help from you all. I’m asking everyone to submit possible rules for the first edition of the game. Post them here; after I’ve gotten a few good ones (I’m going to keep it small for ease of memory), I’ll decide on the final list. You’re welcome to play your own variants, but the ones I pick will be the official terms of the game. Here are two to get you started (these aren’t definites yet, they’re just examples):
1. Drink whenever someone is bitten by a snake (or stung by a scorpion, etc.) in an embarrassing part of the body and needs someone else to suck out the poison.
2. Drink when one character says he or she has something to tell another character, but is prevented from doing so (by the other character saying, “Tell me later,” say, or by the sounding of the Emergency Alert).

Submission guidelines:
–The rule can be specific to one genre, but the more universal it is, the better.

–The rule has to be a moment–something taking a minute or less to develop. “Drink whenever two people who initially didn’t like each other fall in love” doesn’t work.

–The rules should be specific, and it should make fun of illogical or ridiculous conventions. “Drink for every car chase” is pretty banal. “Drink every time a car jumps off a ramp that for some reason is on an ordinary city street” could work.

Get to it!

November 18, 2003

The harpsdischord shall be theirs for ollaves

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 12:42 pm

Joe’s birthday was on Sunday, and a bunch of us from the program got together to celebrate. (Party by Alex. Awesome also by Alex.) Drinking, carousing, the works. Checking my e-mail the next “morning,” I discovered that Joe (and his Joyce classmates) had gotten the best birthday present of all: the deadline for our papers was pushed back from Wednesday to the following Monday. This means I’ll have time to make it halfway decent; it also means that I have time to do my reading for the Joyce class: Finnegans Wake.

That probably sounds like the definition of a dubious privilege. Well, it seemed that way to me, too, and all the moreso when I looked at that first page. But you know, I’m loving this book. Not in the normal sense of the phrase; I don’t have the slightest idea of what’s going on, or even who the characters are. (Some guy Finnegan fell of a ladder, that’s all I get so far.) But some of the language is just so much fun to read. As per everyone’s advice, I’ve been reading it out loud–much to the wonderment of my roommates, I’m sure–and I’ve been underlining everything I understand, plus everything I just like (a far more populous category). I’ll leave you with my favorite passage thus far; don’t forget to read it aloud:

“The wagrant wind’s awalt’zaround the piltdowns and on every blasted knollyrock (if you can spot fifty I spy four more) there’s that gnarlybird ygathering, a runalittle, doalittle, preealittle, pouralittle, wipealittle, kicksalittle, severalittle, eatalittle, whinealittle, kenalittle, helfalittle, pelfalittle gnarly bird.”

Back I go!

November 13, 2003

Cut ’em off at the past!

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 11:28 pm

My last catchup entry:

Monday, September 29: My first taste of class, and it sucks. This is E398, the class I’m required to take as a first-year TA. Veteran grad students have already suggested that this is going to be something of a throwaway class, and from my week of TA training I know that the directors of the composition program (all of whom are involved in teaching the class) are not the least annoying people in the world. But nothing could have prepared me for what I get today: a class taught by ALL FOUR of the comp directors, SIMULTANEOUSLY. I’m sure many of you have been in a class where three or four students are vying for power and talking over each other; now imagine the same situation, except they’re teachers and they haven’t planned out how they’re all going to teach the class. It was like a panel discussion put together by the devil. It does serve one almost-purpose: even though the class is going to prove to be pretty uninteresting, all future sessions will seem good by comparison.

On the other hand, my Joyce class (Wednesday, October 1) and my Romanticism class (Thursday, October 2) make up for it. Both of them are like Sarah Lawrence seminars at their best. (Well, usually they are.) I’m not going to go into huge detail here, but in a future entry I’ll have to tell you more about the Joyce class, in particular about the lunches afterwards and about the nugget of sanity named Lisa.

Friday, October 3 I’m on strike! It’s a one-day TA/Lecturer strike, and as I am a member of the union, of course I show up. (The union that covers TAs, by the way, is the UAW. That’s right, I am a member of the United Auto Workers. Union Yes.) Of course, what I’m on strike from is unclear, since I don’t start teaching until January; basically my show of solidarity was waking up in order to make it here at 9 a.m. Best chant of the day: “Is the UC capable/Of coming to the tapable?”

Friday, October 10-Monday, October 13: Julie visits! That’s great in its own right; it’s also nice to introduce her to the Gang. While we’ve missed each other badly, the visit also confirms that it was the right decision for her not to move down here with me–there is simply nothing to do in Irvine. As we’re driving around Irvine, passing apartment complex after apartment complex, she makes a sobering comment: “I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but South County is more boring than North County.” This is so backwards: how can a college of 23,000 people be located in such a desolate place? Thank God I’ve got homework or I’d just leave.

Thursday, October 23-Monday, October 27: A weekend at home. And a good one, despite the rushed nature of it. (There were a number of Berkeley folks I didn’t get to see, for which I apologize; I’ll be back December 13 and will make sure not to miss anyone.) I got to see Julie’s workplace (a pirate store and tutoring center and pirate store), and the Chagall exhibit at the MOMA, and “American Splendor.” But most of all it was so nice being back in a real place. I know I sound like a hippie/aesthete snob, but I mean it when I say it felt like a breath of fresh air to walk around in neighborhoods with unique houses, independent businesses, and gardens (as opposed to lawns). God, am I going to savor my summer vacations.

Of course, it turns out that I picked just the right weekend to be in Northern California–that is, the weekend when all of Southern California caught fire. Irvine was untouched, thankfully, but the effects are obvious as soon as I landed: the sky is hazy, there’s ash on the ground (my bike is covered in it), and at its worst it hurt a little to breathe. Also, the ash and smoke in the air affect the sunlight; between that and Daylight Savings Time, it seems like the sun is setting at 4:30 in the afternoon. I decide to spend as much time inside as possible, which puts a Bubble headline in my mind: “Grad Students Urged to Stay Inside, Avoid Physical Exertion; No Change in Social Life Reported.”

Friday, October 31: Halloween. I go as Waldo; I’ve got a good costume (the glasses in particular are good), except that, in an ironic twist, I can’t find the hat. (At least he’s been known to lose the hat in the past.) Best costume of the night was Pat, who shaved his beard in order to make himself a perfect Hawkeye. (Richard Dreyfuss, not Alan Alda.) I’ve got pictures, which I’ll post when I have the slightest idea how.

Thursday, November 13: Present day! Yes, I’ve skipped over a few events, but mostly I’ve been in a groove (rut?) since classes started. Friendships have been proceeding apace, the weather’s gotten very slightly cooler, and most importantly, work is starting to get bad. The biggest thing is the paper for my Joyce class, 20-25 pages, first draft due next Wednesday. I’ve got a great topic, now if only I could find a talented essayist to write it for me. So you may not hear that much from me in the coming days. (If you do, it’ll be my own procrastination.)

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through time. From now on my entries will concern only the present–and, curiously, I won’t have to write in the present tense anymore. Enjoy your weekend.

November 10, 2003

Parallel Entry: Remember the Alamo?

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 12:21 pm

Everyone knows that getting put on a listserv is the equivalent of infesting your inbox with headlice, and the English department listserv is no different. I’ve deleted scores of messages of several recognizable types: Upcoming Conference, Upcoming Lecture, Does Anyone Have This Library Book, Furniture for Sale, Political Opinion, and that staple of all mailing lists, Extended Argument Over What This Listserv Should Be Used For. (Actually, I didn’t delete the latter e-mails; they were too funny.)

Occasionally, though, something comes my way which is kind of relevant. A couple weeks ago, an Upcoming Conference e-mail appeared; I took the time to actually read it, for once, and saw that the conference concerned something I know a little about–to whit, blogging. They were looking for abstracts for papers to be read at the conference; they specified that non-academics and graduate students are welcome (presumably because the average English professor doesn’t know what a blog is). Well, this sounded like something I could do. I spent the week tinkering with an abstract (how the hell does one write an abstract? I had to ask), sent it in on Friday, and yesterday got an e-mail saying they accepted my paper and would I like to come present it at the conference in San Antonio in April.

When I read the e-mail, I honest-to-God let out a little squeal. I’ve been a student for a little more than a month, and I’ve already been asked to read at a conference! That’s like if I decided to convert to Catholicism and they offered me a spot as Bishop. Of course, that’s just my ego talking–in reality this isn’t as significant as I’d like to think, since this isn’t some hot-button, heavily-competitive academic topic; they even specified that grad students were welcome. It’d be more impressive if I was invited to read a paper on Conrad, say, since that’s a heftier and more populated field. Still and all, it is my first conference, and I am going to read a paper to an audience. Wow.

This means a lot of money to spend–registration plane tickets hotel–and a lot to do. I have some logistical things to work out to make sure I can go, I still have to come up with a title for my paper (how should I know?), and, further down the line, I have to write the damn thing. What I’m going to be writing about are small blogs, or as I call them, “localized” blogs: blogs which are primarily read by the blogger’s own friends. This blog is an example: almost all of the readers are people who I know personally, and many of the readers know each other. This means that whenever I post an entry, I have (or think I do) a good idea of what the other readers are going to think about it; the same is true when someone posts a comment. What I’m going to be looking at is: What happens when the private issues of friends are put in a public sphere? Many of you who have been reading blogs of this type are familiar with the kind of sticky questions and conflicts which can arise when the blogger posts an entry that some readers wishes he/she hadn’t, or when an entry that is “directed” at one reader is picked up by the others. I’m interested in looking at the kind of unique problems a localized blog causes, and the possible social purpose to those problems (e.g., perhaps blogs serve as a “safe” space in which social tensions can be aired with less guilt or awkwardness). Most of all, I’m looking at how the blog affects the friendships of its readers, and how those readers affect the blog.

Which brings me to: a plea for help. Many of you are bloggers (I use “blog” here to include LiveJournal, OpenDiary, etc.), and all of you, by definition, read at least one blog. Can any of you think of any examples, on your own blogs or on someone else’s, of entries and/or comments fitting the model I described above? If so, would you give me permission to use them in my paper? (If they’re yours, that is; if you point me towards a friend’s blog I’ll ask the friend for permission.) All names, usernames, identifying details, and so on will be changed, of course. Anything you can provide–especially permission–would be a huge help. If you have any links you think are relevant, please e-mail them to me. If you have any deleted entries that you think would help, you can e-mail those to me; again, I promise anonymity. Thanks for helping out with the quest for knowledge.

November 8, 2003

Parallel Entry: Run to the Window and Say

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 12:25 pm

Walden O’Dell, chief executive of Diebold, recently wrote a fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans, in which he pledged that he was “committed to helping Ohio to deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Why is this GOP-loving CEO more interesting than any other?

Because of the company he runs. Diebold does more than make the card readers for laundry rooms at places like Sarah Lawrence. They also manufacture democracy’s hip new thing: voting machines. And at the time O’Dell wrote the letter, Diebold was bidding for the contract to make the state’s new voting machinery. The (Republican) secretary of state, despite the publication of the above letter, has put Diebold on the state’s list of preferred voting-machine vendors.

The more you read of this, the scarier it gets. Here’s an article from the London Independent (reprinted on a different site, since you have to pay for the Independent’s online material) that gives a good overview; here’s an article from the New York Times about internal Diebold memos which reveal just how shady–and incompetent–the whole thing is. Both articles are fascinating, and really terrifying. The scariest details:
–A standard part of the contracts states sign with the companies that make the voting machines makes it a FELONY for the state to examine the voting machines in any way. Only the companies can control the machines.
–A number of private citizens have been able to examine the code for some ov the voting machines, and have found it to be a mess, full of elementary programming errors and suspicious bits of code.
–There have already been a number of conflicts of interest akin to O’Dell’s letter, the most egregious one being Chuck Hagel, the new Republican senator from Nebraska; 80% of the votes cast in that election were counted by machines owned by his own company.

Luckily, there’s a bill in congress that would require all these machines to provide a voter-certified paper trail that could be used in the event of a recount. Here’s the site for the bill. Please, stop whatever you’re doing right now (which couldn’t have been so important, since you’re reading my blog) and email your congressman; tell him or her to support HR 2239 to safeguard our right to free and fair elections. You can find your congressman here; you’ll need your 9-digit ZIP code, which you can find here.

You’ve heard hippies like me talk about how corporate America is ruining democracy; well, this may be an exact case of that. Write your congressman now, while you still have the power to elect one.

November 6, 2003

It Seems History is to Blame

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 5:18 pm

The continuing story continues:

Wednesday, September 24
Finally, it’s time for department orientation. After two and a half grueling–or, not grueling, just irritating–days of TA training, a half-day of talking about the English department, the whole reason I’m here, looks refreshing. The other nice thing about this orientation is that there’s no input expected from us, as there is at TA training; we just sit there and listen to what we’re going to go through while we’re here. Oh, sure, there’s a bare-bones “let’s meet folks” thing, where we go around and say our names what we’re interested in studying,  but that’s just a formality–this is first and foremost about making sure we know what we’ve gotten into.

Which is a kind of scary thing. Nothing I didn’t know, but still scary. The major things that resonated with me were:
1)The Ph.D. qualifying exam, which we take in year four; it clears the way to start work on the dissertation, consists of a written and spoken test, lasts two or three days, and was aptly described by Brian as “a demented decathlon”; and,
2) The sheer length of the program. 6 years, hopefully; 7, if we really need that much time. That means I might be an ordinary person again in 2010, but if I don’t work hard it’ll be 2011, at which point I can just get back to Berkeley using my laser jetpack. It’s simultaneously really comforting and really scary to know what I’ll be up to for the next six years. It doesn’t help that, after a month and a half here, I’ve basically exhausted all the entertainment options Irvine has to offer. Well, I guess I have to make my own fun, or D.H. Lawrence will have to make it for me.

Anyway, that evening there was a party at the trailer park. Forget everything you know about trailer parks: this is not a collection of the hopeless lower class, but rather the last vestige of interesting housing in Irvine. It’s a campus-owned space, occupied by grad students living in the trailers, which they own and can therefore decorate. This is important because, like that freaky town in that one X-Files episode, Irvine has an honest-to-God law about what colors buildings can be painted. I’m not sure how exhaustive the list is, but based on my observations living here I think that they give a tax incentive to homeowners who go with beige; so seeing trailers painted purple, or decorated with light-up santas was a breath of fresh air, even after only four days in town. This little aesthetic enclave is on its way out; the University is going to reclaim the land and pave it over at the end of this year. Everyone assumed they were going to put a parking structure there, but it turns out they have no immediate plans for the land–they’re paving paradise, but are holding off on building the parking lot. There are lots of more important things to make me sad, but that one does it for me regardless.

But, it’s a fun party. I get into a long (partly drunken) conversation with Joe and his roommate, Alex (short for Alexandra), which is pretty awesome–I’ve come to the conclusion that the most reliable predictor of a future graduate student (at least in the humanities) is a tendency to quote things without warning. I also get to talk to a number of the third- and fourth-year grads, who, worryingly, seem a lot more pessimistic and bitter than the first- and second-years do. (They do, at least, reassure me that everyone finds TA training really boring.) I head home around 1 (gotta get up at 9 for TA training…), and am improbably able to find my way home on the first try. Social Event #1 is in the bag.

Saturday, September 27
Welcome Week is over, classes has begun (my first one’s on Monday). By now I have a phone (I finally caved) and a new computer (17″ iMac, it wuvs me). I’ve made the furniture and put up the posters. It’s time to make some friends.

I invite Joe and Alex over for dinner. They say they’ll come. I keep it simple, put out taco fixin’s, coax them into my apartment complex (it’s difficult to find at night), and we just have a really fun evening. Quote of the night: they’ve brought white and red wine. Alex asks which we should have, and Joe asks me, “Well, are we having pinto beans or black beans?”

We watch “Jules et Jim.” We talk a lot. It’s a good time. This just might work out.

Sunday, September 28
I spend the day doing my homework for my composition class tomorrow. At the end of the day something feels strange, and I realize what it is: I never went outside today. I’ve spent 36 hours without shoes on. There just wasn’t any impetus to leave; what was I going to do? Clearly I’m going to have to work to keep this from happening too often.

Next entry: Tom leaves the house! To go to class!

November 1, 2003

Parallel Entry: Party for your Right to Fight

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 10:43 am

Meanwhile, in the present:

My friend Joe, mentioned in the entry below, is doing something I think is pretty cool. He and some friends have a webpage,, which is organizing a boycott of CDs for the month of November to protest the music industry’s war of attrition against its customers. So, unless you bought CDs since waking up this morning, you still have time to join this boycott.

Now, my reaction when he showed me the URL–this is pretty early in our friendship–was, “Oh, great, a pro-piracy advocate. Just what we need.” But I was wrong, because the site is not about getting music for free–it’s about getting a reasonable product for a reasonable price. So, those who sign on to the boycott also pledge not to pirate music during the month of November. (Go to the site; the FAQ section can clear up these and other doubts.)

I think all of this is great; I’ve signed up, and I hope you’ll do the same. There are other ways to listen to music than by paying $16 for it or stealing it. I’d go on, but the site puts it better than I could. Think it over.

Phase One, In Which Doris Gets Her Oats

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 10:30 am

Wow, twelve comments on my introductory entry! I’m tempted just to sit back and let you guys write this thing for me. But I can’t procrastinate that way, so let’s begin our chronicle of Tom’s First Month-and-Change in Irvine. By the way, contrary to what I said before, I’m not going to do this in one monster entry; it makes more sense to do it in installments. Okay, here we go:

Saturday, September 20
The Great Departure, the Great Arrival. We (me, my dad, my step-mom, and Julie) stuff the station wagon full of my accumulated junk. Amazingly, we get it all in, bike included; of course, it helps that we’re not bringing any furniture down, or anything else required to live in a new place. My dad and I say goodbye to Julie and Catherine and begin the seven-hour journey.

There’s never anything to tell about I-5, so I’ll skip right to our arrival. After emptying the boxes into my blank slate of a room, we go off to Ikea, where I become, for the first time, the owner of furniture. I even match furniture styles (my desk and bookshelf are the same shade of blue, it really ties the room together). Back “home,” we find that Don, my roommate, has arrived; I met him a couple weeks before, when I came down here with Julie. He’s a fifth-year undergrad studying for the LSAT; he’s a nice guy with whom I have nothing at all in common. He’s even a Dodgers fan. More on him later, I’m sure.

So my dad and I build furniture until he has to leave. That leaves me standing in a mostly empty room, the floor covered in boxes and plastic bags and Allen wrenches. I finish building the bed and promptly sleep in it. Welcome to the next seven years.

Monday, September 22
School Starts. Today begins my “welcome week,” which consists of four days of TA training and one day (Wednesday) of grad student orientation, in case you were wondering what the department’s priorities are. Needless to say, I’m apprehensive as I go into the crowded room that morning. I’m about to meet my colleagues, and hopefully my friends, for my tenure here. Will they like me? Will they think I’m interesting? Am I going to be outpaced intellectually? While we wait for things to start, I say a few cautious hello’s to the folks sitting around me, trying to keep my mind keyed up. Finally, the head of the composition program says a few words about how important we are to the department and to the university as a whole. Many of our students will be taking their very first college classes, and our teaching abilities will make up their first impressions. I swallow and hope I’m up to the intellectual challenge.

Then they break us into groups and have us play the name game.

I’m not kidding. This is a room full of grad students. Some of the students are married and have kids. Some of them are over 35. The name game. Christ.

And I mean one of those embarrassing name games, where you have to say your name along with an alliterative adjective that describes you. So I pick “Talkative Tom,” which at least is apt. Of course, at this time I have no idea that over the next three days the composition directors will be calling us by those names. “Yes, Talkative Tom?” I’m already composing my list of things I won’t do when I start teaching.

But it’s not so bad. The best part is, I get to meet a few of my fellow TAs. I’m an unusual (though not unique) case in that I don’t start teaching until winter quarter; most PhD students start teaching at the beginning of their second year, not partway through their first, and all the MFA students start teaching at the beginning of their first year. I don’t know how they chose me to start teaching this year, but I’m not alone–there are four or five others in the same situation–and anyway, it’s a pretty agreeable situation. I get some time to settle into the year before I have to plunge into grading papers.

After TA training, I head over to University Center, the shopping center across the street from campus, for an informal meeting of the first-year English grads. A few of these I recognize from training, but most are new to me. I’m pleased to find they’re a smart, engaging group, and I once again hope I can measure up. I spend most of the time talking with this guy Joe (you’ll see more of him later on); he’s from Sacramento and went to Stanford. As with every conversation I’ve ever had, we talk about movies and books. At one point he says he doesn’t like Faulkner; I say I do, and I have a moment of intellectual panic when he asks me (not confrontationally, you understand) why. I ineffectually stammer something out, realizing that this is the kind of thing I’m trying to eventually get paid for.

This concludes installment number one. When we come back: orientation continues; and, 36 hours spent without wearing shoes. Happy Día de los Muertos.

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