24 January 2009

Reverse Resolutions

Recently I came across this concept of reverse resolutions or upside-down resolutions. Basically, rather than setting up a big program of total change starting on January 1, you gear up for the change you want to see. I’ve written before about having goals that you work on rather than resolutions you must follow and in many ways these are addressing the same problem. First, it’s really hard to make changes, something that is probably obvious since you wouldn’t really need to make the resolution if it wasn’t already hard. Second, the idea of a goal or a warming or gearing up period allows you to make adjustments as needed to transform your life rather than just setting up rules that you’ll probably break and set aside by the second week of January.

So, I’m gearing up for some changes for the year. I’ve yet to write my resolutions and honestly, haven’t really done much to keep them but it’s not too late, right? I’m just reallllllly slow in the gearing up process.

Without further delay, I hereby resolve to accomplish the following in 2009:

1. Finish the damn degree already!!!

2. Stay on top of grading and teaching prep.

3. Stop intake and reduce the current loads of “stuff” by 10% per category. “Category” here being anything that is big enough to be counted as a group such as skeins of yarn, bolts of fabric, sweaters, socks, and so on. And good grief, yes, I have enough socks to need to reduce by 10%, probably more actually.

4. Reduce the “junk in the trunk” by 10%.

5. Celebrate holidays and birthdays… as close to on time as possible.

6. Cook real food more often… and then wash the dishes.

7. Turn clutter room into crafty room. Possibly only different semantics but at least the sewing machine will be out on a table and I’ll pretend to have time to be creative.

8. Follow the advice of my new office sign: “Today I will be happier than a bird with a French fry.”

9. Follow the advice of my motto for the year: “Get shit done.”

18 January 2009

A Story to Start Again

So classes started again on Monday. I was all a’ twitter Sunday night, laying out my clothes, packing my lunch, determined to make this my semester to stay on top of all grading, prep lectures weeks in advance and generally be an academic rock star. I jumped up with the 5 a.m. alarm, took the dog for a short walk in the snow and made it to the office in time to get all the necessary handouts in order before heading to the classroom. Being the first day, I even had a few nervous freshmen outside the classroom door at 7.45 a.m. Even more surprising, they weren’t hungover or wearing their pajamas. (I give them two weeks to be back to slackerdom, but still, good first impression.)

“How cute,” I thought. “They’re waiting outside the room because it’s dark and they want the teacher to go first.”

I boldly march in, determined to set the tone for a productive and engaging course.

And then I can’t figure out how to the turn on the damn lights.

I have a student hold the door to let in a flicker from the hallway while I search in vain for something resembling a switch. After several minutes, I was able to locate a promising set of buttons and started pushing, sliding, and general fiddling. No luck.

Priding myself on my innovative problem solving, I spy the overhead projector. Nothing like the old school technology to get you out of a bind. Hoping to not further deteriorate my teacher cred, I try to feel my way to the plug without electrocuting myself in the vain search for light. You know when you’re using your fingers to guide the plug into the socket you’re in trouble but desperate times call for much stupidity. Finally, I’m able to get enough of a glare to partially light the room by shining the projector onto the freshly cleaned whiteboard. I try to joke about it being “atmosphere” for our class and go in search of help from wiser college employees.

And nothing sets a good tone with the campus advising office like having to admit on the first day that you’re a recent hire who can’t turn on the lights in her classroom.

I apologize for my incompetence and smile sweetly as one of the secretaries calls the facility office to ask for someone to come up and help the ditzy English professor. Yeah, I can hear the laughs now as the secretary takes down the note for the first facilities guy to make it into the office.

We start class and the students seem willing to just go with the flow, especially since they’re still mostly asleep and rather shocked that I’m actually holding class rather than just handing them a syllabus and telling them to go back to bed. About twenty minutes into my oh-so-thrilling lecture on contemporary “thing theory” and materiality studies, our savior from facilities sticks his head into the door, reaches for the same box I was previously fiddling with and points to the teeny tiny dimmer part of the switch. Without saying a word, but flashing me a “you’re really stupid” grin, he casually blesses us with light and walks away, surely to share cackles with his cohorts about how all that education surely makes us teacher-types a little slow in the real world skills. He’s probably right.

I finished my good, stern warning about all the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos of the class and shooed my students off to their next class before slinking back to the light switch, determined to figure out what this man knew that I did not. That’s “squints” for you, we’re inevitably curious about all manners of things we don’t understand. (Thanks to Bones for the nerd synonym.) Turns out I really did have the lights on the whole time, I just had them excessively dimmed.

Yep, a little dim sometimes...

So here’s to starting a new semester and another attempt at blogging. Hopefully my goofball beginning will lead to smooth sailing for the next few months, with only embarrassing but benign moments to bring to you all. I’m just hoping I can get through it without falling on the ice (something I managed to do at the end of last semester), falling in class (something I fear every time I start walking around the room or falling hopelessly behind, buried under a stack of papers and overwhelmed with an office of angry students.

31 May 2008

Where's my Carrie Necklace?

Last night I had a crash course trip through the last five episodes of Sex and the City. We have a ladies night planned on Monday to see the big/Big movie and I couldn’t go in without doing all my homework. I was always a little late to the party on this one, watching it mainly via DVD box sets that my friends received years after the seasons were actually finished. But, as an age-appropriate single gal in NY, Buffalo that is, I was up on the lingo of Carrie et al. In fact, I even took the “which girl are you?” quiz and proudly sported a tight little “Carrie” t-shirt for one summer.

Just in case you’re rusty on the details, in the final episodes, Carrie takes to Paris with her older artist lover and spends her days shopping the City of Lights and eating enough pastry to stuff four of her tiny little bodies. Despite all the luxuries one could imagine, she’s miserable and just wants to come home to trusty NYC. In one tragic moment, she falls flat on her face in Dior, spilling her purse across the marble floor. When she’s bemoaning her losses back in her fancypants suite, she realizes that she’s lost something far more valuable than her credit cards… her “Carrie” necklace, the gold (or not so gold) trinket that she sported in many a scene, one of her fashion statement pieces that girls everywhere adopted (nope, couldn’t go that far, but I did have several floral broaches so I’ve earned my bandwagon stripes). She calls home to complain to Miranda, as she is wont to do as a true whiner, and reminds the viewers, who may not have all their trivia fully in mind, that she bought the memento at a street fair she attended with the girls and so, it is a symbol not only of herself (obviously) but of herself with them… in NY.

Later in the episode, when said fantastic lover makes her miss the one event she’s looking forward to in Paris, a book party for her French fans, and then ignores her once his own insecurities have been mitigated, she forlornly sits and attempts to smoke, digging through her vintage bag with the unfortunate rip in the lining. And we all see where it’s going… she finds her necklace as an overly wrought metaphor for rediscovering herself, she runs through the streets in what look to be 8-inch heels, missing her book party and discovering only a stained copy amidst the spilled wine and cigarette butts. She immediately ends the relationship and leaves to find herself again… only to be rescued by another man.

So, ultimately, the whole finding yourself lesson is a might bit chucked out the window or perhaps into the Seine in the show’s overly romantic ending which leaves the foolish girl unable to even find her own damn hotel room. And as to being alone in Paris with nothing to do… um, you’re supposed to be a writer, you silly dolt, pick up a pen and set thyself to work. But of course, that wouldn’t capture the attention of single girls everywhere who have to daily get themselves up, do their own work, pay their own bills and not rely on the Prince Charming to inevitably come along when there is big trouble. TV is fantasy after all, and when we’re schlepping to work in our Target shoes and Old Navy wardrobe, we all prefer to daydream about the Manolos and the Chanel and the man who will arrive in his black shiny car and pay for all those regular life nuisances like heating bills and groceries, not to mention great apartments in the city and carriage rides through Central Park.

But, putting all that aside and running with the painfully obvious symbolism the show throws our way, I was wondering where my own Carrie necklace is… and even what my Carrie necklace is. This past academic year has been wonderful, tumultuous, frightening, exhilarating, exhausting and super duper stressful. I resigned my own writing job, flew around the country doing job interviews and conferences, experienced some difficult family health situations and yet, at the start of my summer, I’m in the same exact place in a lot of ways. While there are still many concerns for those around me, for the most part, people are healthy, I have a job in Buffalo and I still have to finish my damn dissertation. To some degree, I have my Carrie necklace all around me in that nothing has changed, my life as it has been for years is with me, all around me every slow second of every day sitting with my books and computer. I haven’t lost who I am at all…

… or have I?

The necklace, after all, is more than just her circumstances. Yes, she could write and shop and go out for dinner and drinks anywhere, but not without her joie de vive, her spirit, her thrill for taking a mundane encounter and turning it into a self-reflective column… slightly like the one I’m writing here with the noted self-indulgence and fast and loose liberty takings with the symbolism and adaptation. I feel like I’ve been searching for my own joie de vive for far longer than she mourns her missing bauble. There’s nothing wrong at all and in many ways things are great and wonderful. Yet, there’s just something a little off.

But I’m looking in my holey handbag of life and don’t even know what I’m looking for underneath the silky lining of mundanity. Perhaps this is just the existential damnation of life, always wanting some new thing, some new experience, some new thrill to keep us bouncy and buoyant and not thinking about the futility of it all. But really, while I may be misanthropic, I’m not that morose. And similarly, while I’m sure my spiritual well-being could use some polishing, it’s not an emotional or intellectual or heart thing at all… for once. Sorry, U2, but I don’t need to be all emo to know that what I’m looking for isn’t a grand notion of the meaning of life. I think it’s actually a quality of life thing. My necklace is tarnished from not being used. Aside from the regular walks the little pooch has recently added to my day, I spend most of my time working on my diss… or procrastinating at the computer because I don’t want to work on the diss yet knowing that I really shouldn’t do anything else. That’s a lotta sittin’ and bein’ grumpy… even for me.

But perhaps I am just being a dolt in Paris myself. I can look at her experience and say that she is being whiny and childish, missing out on a wonderful opportunity to live in grandeur and use her days to do new writing or reading or pursue new interests. I could certainly be fine with Paris at my fingertips and hours of solitude a day.

Or could I?

While no one will mistake Chez Leslie for a grand hotel, I do have hours of solitude at my disposal and my own book to write, even if a diss isn’t exactly as fun as writing a book on fashion and boys and silly pseudo-psychological questions. But then again, I’m currently writing about a man who wore velvet pants, loved harems and wore too much bling. Um, that really can’t be that boring, can it?

I guess it’s a matter of perspective. The life that I’m looking for is shiny and happy and silly, a little carefree and giggly, full of pretty clothes and new shoes, apartments with cool furnishings and social outings that require multiple clothes-changing episodes and the consideration of at least twelve possible pairs of earrings. I just don’t know where to find the thing, the symbol, the object, the memento or experience to jump start my attempt to get that life going. I’m like a junkie jonesing for a hit of something but I just don’t know what it is.

What would a Leslie necklace represent exactly? What identifies me and the life I’m creating?

Well, I know there’s no Prince Charming pulling up anytime soon and really, I also know that I don’t want that kind of salvation. That dream kinda turns my stomach, to be perfectly honest. I wouldn’t even know what to do with an offer to be a kept woman in Paris! (Not that I couldn’t figure it out, should such offer come my way…)

I do think the key to the whole symbol in this little TV image turned into life lesson is actually the holey handbag lining. She finds the magic necklace while emptying out her bag of the latest Paris crap, namely the cigarettes that she repeatedly mentions are killing her. When the detritus is out of the way, she feels the strange lump and starts really poking around in there. I’ve started cleaning out my proverbial handbag already and think there just may be treasure stored beneath the dust bunnies and my own versions of cancer sticks. While I won’t get my own movie or book deal out of the discoveries of the material and written kind, I’m looking forward to pulling out the Leslie necklace.

16 May 2008


Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Bark

... not that she's spoiled or anything. Just to give all the details, she's a 7 month Pomeranian that came to stay at Chez Leslie Wednesday night. So far, she seems pretty calm, not a big barker (thank goodness), is house- and crate-trained and at least has some concept of following commands. Granted, it's pretty easy to master "come, Duchess, come" when she doesn't like to get more than two feet from me. And yes, she does have her very own doggy bed right at my feet beside the desk... and an old afghan that she claimed... and her stash of toys. She may be a bit of a hoarder as she likes to hide her dental bones down in the side of her bed (as if I'd want to take the nasty things) and spent a good 45 minutes yesterday working on burying her toys under the afghan. Fetch works about three times before she gets tired and takes her toys back to her stash rather than to me.
The leash is a new thing and she only took an hour and a half to walk the three and a half blocks to my friends' house last night. I was worried that she was going to be such a handful I'd never get any knitting done, but after her big expedition, she was so tired she didn't even want to be held. She took one long, dirty look at me for dragging her out that far and curled up on the other side of the couch. And no, I haven't started knitting her sweaters or anything... yet.

04 May 2008

Birthday Bag

My latest go-to birthday gift for the girls...

Pattern: Amy Butler's Frenchy Shoulder Bag

Notes: Two for others, none for me. Gonna have to get greedy on the next one! And gonna have to get the first birthday bag pictured in action as it got away before I got its close-up.
Easy to sew, although some of those finishing seams look a little bumpy because my machine has a hard time with all the interfaced layers. More incentive to save my pennies for a good one!

Well, after I go fabric shopping for a purse of my own...

03 May 2008

The Shawl that Broke my Elbow

Pattern: Zetor Shawl (found via Ravelry)

Yarn: 2/6 Merino 100% Wool, Made in Canada; 380 yds/skein – 2 skeins; purchased at Kitchener – Waterloo Fiber Festival, Fall 2006

Needles: Sz 4 Addi Lace

Notes: This was one of those projects of obsession from start to finish. For some reason, the lavender yarn was calling out to me this spring and it really, really wanted to be something lace... right! now! I went on a Ravelry hunt, found about 12 patterns I just have to knit someday, and finally stumbled on this shawl. My only modification was to knit only 8 repeats instead of 9. I don’t really blame the shawl for breaking my elbow, rather my obsessive desire to finish this as soon as possible paired with a big batch of rebellion against work I should’ve been doing. Add in a Law & Order SVU season I hadn’t seen and *poof* broken elbow.

I really enjoy having lace out of a heavier yarn. It doesn’t feel so “precious” and delicate, yet is very, very warm. When not serving as a complement to my decorative schemes, this has already been a good shawl to toss over my shoulders while reading or wear as a scarf under a jacket.

Thumbs up for mystery yarn and Ravelry pattern hunting!

02 May 2008

Starting at the Beginning

Once I knew I'd be staying in Buffalo for another year, I wanted to undertake some apartment re-do's. I moved into my current apartment under two conditions that aren't exactly conducive to good decorating: (1) Following a nasty break-up with the fella with whom you shared the last pad and (2) falsely believing that I'd be graduating and leaving the area... in just another year. Yeah, so that was maybe three years ago. Three years of just going with whatever, just dealing with the furniture in a liveable arrangement, just moving clutter from one room to the next to avoid actually dealing with it.

Well, I'm dealing with it now.

Actually, I've been dealing with the clutter a little bit at a time, tossing out a shirt here, a pair of shoes there. Some has gone to ebay, most to charity, some straight to the trash. After years of reading FlyLady, I'm finally starting to see some changes. I keep the apartment much neater, although there are still problems. I'm resistant to bring anything else into the space, at least most of the time. And most importantly, I'm finally inspired to take the time to decorate.

In part, this inspiration came about from one of the biggest sources of anxiety taking me away from decorating. I've been telling myself that there's no need to waste the time with HGTV-inspired nonsense, there's a dissertation to write, a job to get, a move to make. The irony here is that the dissertation that I'm constantly bellyaching about... it's about decorating.

Yeah, I know.

So while I've been out there trying to get that job with research based in part on interior decorating practices, I've had people constantly asking about my own living space. If I write about objects, what kind of objects do I own? If I'm obsessed with how authors create mood through design, how do I create a mood through design? It's pretty bad when my only answer was that my personal aesthetic was pretty much grad student trashy chic and honestly, the only mood you'd get from walking into my messy space is "freaked... out..."

I tried to avoid the actual words "freaked... out..." but you get the point.

So, I'm trying a slightly new approach. If I make a writing goal for the day or week, I get to play with decorating projects. Of course, these re-do's come with a catch just to make it interesting... no moolah.

Being all organized and anal, I started with the entryway. Symbolically, redecorating to allow new opportunities into my life, starting fresh, etc. Or maybe just because it's the smallest space with the least to do. 'Cause I'm lazy like that.



So this is partly deceptive in my cleaning practices as I just packed away the scarf collection for the summer (in a stupid move which I now regret it being quite chilly and all). I've got a functioning space for organizing mail, sunglasses and stacks of library books to be returned and get to show off some of the Fiesta dishes.

I get to brag about the curtain a bit as it came entirely from the fabric and ribbon stash. Sewing French seams with a double layer of that filmy stuff was a bit of a pain in you know but I'm pretty pleased with these. And the shawl tossed atop the mirror... coincidentally matching recent finished object which I'll post about tomorrow.

And the thing I get to brag about the most...

There's an empty drawer in that dresser. Shocking, I know!

Total Costs: $8.93 for the paint, American Accents Smooth Satin Finish in Espresso