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Becoming something

It has been just over a year since I began studying for my Masters in Secondary Education (English). The course work has been grueling, the reading dry and often contentious and the group work more hassle than its worth. The upside of the study has been verification that what I do in the classroom is what I'm meant to be doing, odd since I've changed very little from my days teaching in Cork. It seems that it is possible to transfer university-level instruction to a much younger age; what changes most in those situations are level of output (writing-wise, these students aren't going to produce any groundbreaking literary critiques) and texts (I wouldn't be able to assign Matthew Arnold or George Gissing to a bunch of thirteen-year-olds). That said, I think my students do pretty well with the challenging material that I do offer them, and I think they understand that it's done for their benefit. At least, I hope that's what they're taking away from it.

I just wonder from time to time if I'll ever get the chance to go back to graduate school for the long-sought-after Ph.D. The goal of my education has always been that--to be a tenured faculty member at a research university. I long for, in fact, I desire, that coveted position at the English department of my dreams; could you imagine me expounding on the virtues of reading Joyce to a bunch of Columbia undergrads? (You may, if you want, insert for Columbia any of the following: Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Washington ...) It's just that, every day, that seems increasingly like a pipe dream. The continuing flux of the world's fiscal resources seems to be ensuring that making gains on my student loans will be next to impossible, too.

Rainy Friday

It shouldn't rain on Fridays.

For the first half of this month, we have had unparalleled, gorgeous weather. Unbelievably beautiful weather. The temperatures have been mild, the sun has sparkled in a light blue sky and nary a cloud has drifted across it. There have been lush breezes which pull the perfume from the flowers and float it gently past your nose. There have been blooms a plenty in the garden. All in all, a perfect summer. And then?

The temperatures increased on Wednesday. Wildly increased, upwards of ten degrees (Fahrenheit, that is). The sun grew hot and devastating. The blooms wilted. The grass crunched under your feet. Well. I suppose summer is well and truly here.

It's taken a while, though. In the beginning of the season, we suffered greatly with nearly non-stop rain. Temperatures were rather low for June, too, barely making it to the seventies (we're talking high teens/low twenties Celsius). It was much more like spring than anything. That rain ushered in the spate of incredible weather that graced us for a while. It was such a pleasant few weeks that it was possible to sunbathe comfortably, to sit outside and read for hours on end, to grill, to picnic, to game. It was lovely.

Summer always hits Pennsylvania with a vengeance, though. We don't shoot up to the highest of temperatures like they do in Texas or other areas of the country. We are lulled into a false sense of security, that the humidity will hold off, that the sun won't bleach our lawns, but it's all doom and gloom the minute the dew points begin to rise. Once we hit the mid-60s (Fahrenheit, again) for dew points, we're in trouble.

So the humidity came today. By ten o'clock this morning, it was stifling; air conditioners went on all over the neighbourhood. You could hear them kicking in as you shut your own windows and hit the power button. I watched the digits climb on the digital thermometer (which is set to Celsius): 21.3 ... 24.7 ... 29.5 ... 33.4. That didn't take very long, that sequence.

A crack of thunder split the silence of the early afternoon. Then another and another. The room I'm sitting in darkened as though it were already after six. Drip ... drip ... drip ... deluge.

And it's raining.
This tells you how long it's been since I signed up for, and began using, Facebook. I spend more time on there than I do any other website. I still like Livejournal for obvious reasons, mainly the fact that I can maintain a much larger presence online. It's tough distilling life into a few quick bursts of thought; it's better to be able to write at length about whatever I'd like to.

A week from today, I'll be in Naples, Italy, en route to Rome. I'm accompanying some of my students as they go on a Latin trip with their Latin teacher. It'll be fun, as it's been a veeeeeeeery long time since I've been to Rome--and even then, it was only to drive through it--and over two years since last I was in Venice. On the way, we'll hit Pompeii and Florence, neither of which I've seen. The itinerary is quite well developed. Of course, I'm most looking forward to gelato at Causin and a coffee with an old friend. Perhaps I'll pay closer attention to the Doge's Palace this time, too. I was rather distracted in 2007 because I got there quite late and had to rush through much of it. (I probably spent too long taking pictures of the Bridge of Sighs, too.)

It'll be good to be back in Europe, if all too briefly. I miss it there terribly. I miss the pace and quality of life, the access to fresh food, the emphasis on culture ... you just don't get that here, at least not where I live. There's something truly discouraging about the number of people who do not know what a libretto is, for instance. Even the coffee is better.

And did I mention free incoming texts and phone calls to your mobile? Again, you just don't get that here.

I've been doing more job searches in Europe, but there are precious few employers who were willing to take a chance on a non-EU applicant before this recession, meaning that there are even fewer still who will do so. I sometimes think I really wouldn't care where I was so long as it's Europe. I know that's not true: for example, there are plenty of 'teach English abroad' positions in Romania and Serbia. I haven't signed up for those.

Who knows? Maybe I'm meant to be here even longer than I'd ever planned for some purpose known only to someone else. I wish I did know. Don't know what I'd do with that knowledge, really, but it may be somewhat comforting given the almost perpetual funk I find myself walking through.

So yeah, Europe.

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Words for Blue

Just spent a while emailing S, to whom I haven't spoken since his visit last July. In the composition of the email, and in checking my friends' Facebook updates, I realised that I am nowhere near where I thought I'd be at this stage in my life. I do not have a husband and children, as I thought I would; I am not tenured at Oxbridge or the Tower of Ivy; I have not written a critical treatise on the human attributes of James Joyce's Dublin and I live once more in the same part of Pennsylvania where I was born and raised. So of my dreams and life goals, I've accomplished precisely zero. How wonderful is that?

Oh, if you distill it into its component parts, my life in the last ten years hasn't been that bad. No. Take, for example, the living away from PA part. Ten years ago, I was in my second year of residency in Seattle. From there, I lived in Glasgow and in Cork, Ireland. I spent a few weeks each year travelling round Europe, sometimes visiting friends, sometimes with a friend and sometimes, on my own. Tenure at Oxbridge or in the Ivy League? No, but I did teach university classes at UCC for four years. Husband and children? Ah, now ... that's where I come nowhere close. Still waiting on that. The critical treatise? Still waiting on that, too. It won't be an academic text, because no one's going to publish a scholarly work by an ABD teaching Middle School English. And really, when I think about it, the one thing I never liked about Academia was the Publish or Perish rule. So maybe, not finishing the doctorate was a good thing?

Maybe not. Mountain of debt, low self-esteem, feeling like I'm stuck? I'd trade it all for having met at least one of those life goals fully. What's the lesson here, kids? Don't reach too high. Reaching for the stars is all well and good, but don't forget that it's outer space and the air is thin up there. You might get dizzy waiting for things to happen.

Back to School

We can't REALLY be back already?

I just finished my first week of Staff Development. Staff Development is rather like torture. You're forced to go do something you really don't want to do for someone else's benefit. There probably were some good points--spending time with the rest of the faculty was actually a blast--but to have summer end so abruptly when it's still in full swing is disappointing. It's the one drawback of being in this profession. Once you get that summer break, you never want to go back to work. Of course, that's a big draw, too: two months free and clear while getting paid.

Planted new flowers in my garden today, which I'm really excited about. I'm finally making some headway getting these things to look nice. The Japanese beetles are killing my hibiscus, though. I'm not thrilled about that.

The view from (t)here

And now, a distillation of ten days in the American West:

Weather: we had a variety, from a white-out snow storm in Wyoming (through which I was driving about 70 mph) to almost 80F/27C, clear and sunny (which left me badly sunburnt) in New Mexico. We had ten rain-free day, for which we were very thankful, since the lion's share of what we wanted to see was outdoors. Some of our pictures have heavy clouds in them; out west, snow storms appear on the horizon up to a hundred or more miles away. They should look quite dramatic against the Rockies and S. de Cristos.

Food: bad, bad bad bad ramen noodles in our hotel room in Manitou Springs, CO was the absolute culinary low point of the trip. There were several high points, including the guacamole in Taos, NM; the entire MEAL in Albuquerque, NM (we ate at a Mexican restaurant and not a single dish disappointed); Einstein Bros. bagels in Denver; the spicy green curry in Denver and the dessert in Salt Lake City. We tried to eat as healthy as we could; we made salads in Moab, UT since it was 9pm before we got to a hotel. And we didn't gain any weight on the trip at all, so we must've done something right.

Places: Thermopolis, WY hot springs (water temperature: 104F/40C) on Easter Sunday; the very top (all 14,000+ ft) of Pikes Peak, CO (temperature: 16F/-8C); Arches National Park, UT (total driving time through the park, including pictures and hiking: 3 hrs.); Four Corners Monument (try the Navajo fry bread! It's fun being in four states at once); Grand Teton National Park (snow in the forecast; watch out for ski bums).

High point: swimming in the rooftop pool in Denver at 7:00 am on the day we actually picked up the car. It was a heated swimming pool, and thank God, too: outside temperature was 40F/5C.

Low point: realising that we weren't going to make it to Grand Canyon, Roswell (NM), Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas because too many little things went wrong.

Weird coincidence: we took an unexpected detour and wound up on Route 66!

Even weirder coincidence: stopping at the Family Research Centre in Salt Lake City and having our worst nightmare come true: Lori and I are related. We're either 9th or 10th cousins (can't remember which). Which means our dads are also related, and if you've heard us tell the story of their twisted youth, you'll understand just why we are so freaked out.

Scary moment: people throwing beer bottles for fun across the road from our Salt Lake City motel. Or possibly being accosted by many a Mormon in SLC, too.

Moment of elation: just driving the open road.

Moment of sadness: seeing just how desperately poor Native Americans are. Reservations are terrible places; we must've driven through at least ten of them. The 'best' one was probably the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. At least there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. The 'worst', by far was the Navajo reservation near Farmington, NM. I have never seen so many drink driving and anti-drug signs in my life.

Wildlife: we encountered bison, antelope, deer, jackrabbits, a lone prairie dog (soooo cute!), wild turkeys, a field mouse and bighorn sheep.

Strangest souvenir: a Wyoming number plate.

Best souvenir: a Larimar ring bought in Manitou springs, said to have the power to draw one's soul mate to them. I see him now ... he resembles Dr. Jack Shepherd ...

... and finally ...

Trip theme song (discovered on trip): two, actually: Luka Bloom's "I Am a River" and Gary Louris's "Black Grass". Luka Bloom was playing as we drove towards Jackson Hole, WY and Gary Louris was playing during an especially desolate chunk of New Mexican road (near Shiprock).

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Things to do in Denver ...

Lori and I are truly certifiable.

We should know by now that road trips are, despite being our forte, completely, totally and utterly perilous to us; yet, in just over a month, we're going to be doing one again. They are addicting: that's the problem. They are positively addicting, and since I desperately need time away from here and she desperately needs time away from here and we BOTH desperately need time away from our parents, this is precisely the thing to do. We're jumping on a plane to Denver, picking up a hire car a day later and then driving through Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and back up to Colorado. In seven days.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: why on earth, oh eejits of the universe, would the two of ye, who have experienced countless difficulties on previous trips--for whom Wyoming is especially bad, given the loss of brakes and an alternator in one lone mountain pass--be going again, particularly after last year's debacle with the auto accident ye witnessed; or the time in Georgia where the fan belt's ball bearing was coming loose and threatening the integrity of the engine; or that ill-fated trip to Alberta when ye were driving around on fumes looking for Manyberries and missing the 24-hour border crossing; or even when you hit the Swindon roundabout on a very busy afternoon and had to circle the dreadful thing not once, but three times?

Well, because we're stupid. Or maybe, we rather enjoy tempting fate? Right, we'll go with the latter.

We are, after all, talking about two fairly well-educated, bright females with spectacular travel instincts. Or am I praising us too much, given that we somehow always manage to scrape by out of those pickles we find ourselves in? Well, in any case, the countdown to spring break has begun, with only five weeks left to go 'til our departure. The travel books have been ordered, maps have been printed, hotels booked for a few nights, potential sites to see duly noted. The only thing missing is the money to pay for it all.

I may be skimping at Starbucks for the next few weeks...

Noisy study halls

There are something like 30 kids in my study hall right now. There are only to be something like, oh, 14? ARGGGGH! I'm losing my marbles.

Trying to prepare a lesson in the midst of people discussing permutations and calculations, or Spanish verbs, or French grammar ... I swear ... There is no peace. I would love to be able to get my work done before I leave here just once. I never can.

I need to buy some high quality ear plugs.

And how are you?