Thursday, December 31, 2009

The last day of 2009...

What a crazy year this has been!

The best of it?...

1. My preliminary exams are finished and I passed!
2. I spent a month in England and Scotland, expenses paid.
3. I reconnected with some great friends, deepened existing friendships, and met some really great new people.
4. I went on paranormal investigations!
5. I have a Kindle!

Most important: everyone is here and we had a great holiday season.

Here is to 2009 and a great 2010!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I have to say it...

I LOVE my Kindle. It is the best thing I have bought in a long time. Most of the titles that I want are free and it takes no time to download them. Hooray for technology!

A local favorite: Hokkaido

I won't go into too much detail about the Japanese restaurant Hokkaido, because most of the Tuscaloosa readers will know the place well. It is located on 15th St. (where the old Great Wall restaurant used to be). You have to get there by 11:15 or 11:20 for lunch because the parking lot fills up really fast! The bento box lunches are great, the grill is excellent, and the sushi is fantastic. However, these aren't necessarily the only reasons to go. The best reason: Charles. Charles is the manager and he is wonderful. My boss and her husband and I go there every week and Charles often makes a point to come over and speak to us. He knows our names and knows what we like to eat, as do the waitresses. The service is excellent in spite of the fact that they are constantly slammed. Still, Charles is the bomb. Charles is from China. He has the cutest two kids (a boy and a girl) and his wife is pregnant again--and even though we don't know her, we are all excited!

The best thing about Charles is that even though his work is extremely hard (I really admire that he is willing to do anything in the restaurant even though he owns it), he always has a smile on his face and a great outlook on life. He said the other day that as long as he wakes up in the morning he considers it to be a great day. Really, how many people do you meet that can say that? He has such a great spirit and it reflects in his success.

So, if you are ever in Hokkaido in Tuscaloosa, make sure you take the chance to introduce yourself to Charles. Get to know him. He is a great person.

Rethinking Tuscaloosa: A really long post, but not a rant.

I often find myself moaning and groaning about Tuscaloosa. Most of my complaints have to do with the perils of living here my entire life...things like the annoying traffic that inevitably accompanies the return of students and football fans, the insane liquor laws, the sameness and the smallness of many aspects of the town (not just geographically), the gross misunderstanding of those new to the area, etc. Some of my complaints are valid and would apply to almost all of the United States. For example, the history and beauty of a place like Oxford, England, is impressive on a scale that isn't available here. The sense of culture and tradition associated with Tuscaloosa often revolves around football, the university, or a mistaken depth associated with certain social aspects of our town. These things do exist, but they are not always the most in depth experiences...though they can be. In other words, some of these things don't compare to something like my experiences when I lived in Mexico as an undergraduate. The word "culture" attains a very different meaning in a place like that and returning to the States left me feeling empty for a long time.

Tuscaloosa, I have often heard, is not a friendly place for the "outsider." I remember years ago, when I was about 15 or so, I was at a Karate studio waiting for my dad to finish his lesson. A young African American woman and I began to talk and she opened my eyes to how difficult it is to try to move to Tuscaloosa. Now, this doesn't necessarily apply to people coming to school here. The University is its own animal. No, I am talking about those who move here for real life. And this isn't something that is a racially bound argument either. Since this conversation, I have heard from people of all races and ethnicities tell me the same thing. She complained that though she and her family had tried hard to socialize and fit in, Tuscaloosa remained very closed. Her family lived in an affluent neighborhood and her husband had a job of high standing. And, yet, they just couldn't find a place for themselves--even though they had been here for TWO years.

Over the years, I came back to this conversation repeatedly. It is true, I think. Some of those established for a long time in this town hoard their lives, protecting them as if they are sacred. I have been to the parties. I know these people well. While many are lovely and interesting people, there also are many who are impossibly boring and closed. Ultimately, like all of us, they get comfortable in their version of "normal" and don't want to rock the boat with anyone new. The worst part is that they are denying themselves culture and experience. Reliving the same party over and over again is not culture, people. But, of course, many don't care--old family or not. Many people in our town fall into this type of community. And that is the worst part about Tuscaloosa--and other places.

I say this as someone who has always lived here. I don't mean to imply that this is all that there is to my hometown. Obviously, there are many communities here--and new ones developing every day. There are religious communities (definitely a whole different animal sometimes, depending on the community), communities of students and professors, athletic fans, various athletic communities, communities based on hobbies, etc. These communities, though I wouldn't want to be in some, are alternatives to the "one" community that seems to dominate the lives of those who grow up here. It is terribly naive to admit to, but when I was growing up, I really didn't think that there was much life in Tuscaloosa. I am a second generation citizen of this town, well familiar with the established canon and codes of thought offered here. God bless my mother who took me out regularly as a child to cultural events at the university. Still, in a way, I guess that I thought that these people were just visiting. I was part of that very closed society as a kid.

But the good thing is that now I see the richness available in Tuscaloosa, a hidden town that is out there for people to experience. Unfortunately, the mind set of most hasn't allowed them to notice that these aspects of Tuscaloosa exist. It is the same as the creative writing student who comes to our campus, convinced that the South with inspire him or her to write, only to end up spending his or her time bitching and moaning about the fact that they can't understand this third-world place. They came here to experience the South--and, yet, they don't. For example, I once knew a student who complained about the idiots in this town and the fact that all vegetables served in this town were cooked with and served with meat. The entire class joined in the discussion and it soon turned toward Tuscaloosa bashing. Now, don't get me wrong, as you have read in this post, I do think that there is quite a bit wrong with this town, just as there is always much to be improved anywhere in the world. Oxford isn't perfect either, as much as I love it. But, I am amazed that these people think that experience should just fall into their laps. Why not explore the history of Southern cooking and find out why meat is included in vegetable dishes? There is a reason. And, get yourself out into the real community! Not the Mimosa-drinking, plantation-party crowd, but the real the little barber shops around town, or the coffee shops (not the cheesy ones on campus or at Barnes and Noble), or even talk to the people in small businesses around here? There are all kinds of fascinating people and stories in this town waiting to be told. And people ignore them because they are annoyed (rightfully so, in some cases) by the surface. But, if you stay in your little land of friends that feels comfortable, then ultimately you are participating in the same system that you are complaining against.

So, why do I go into all of this? Because I am going to try to make a real effort over the next year to not only blog more about my thoughts (because it is good therapy) but also to blog about Tuscaloosa's hidden stories and people. Whenever I encounter someone or something interesting, I am going to make an effort to blog about it. I don't know how successful this will be or if I will have that many entries...I am writing a book, after all. But, I think I should try. So, there it is. I will do my best to shed some light on the complicated place that is my town.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My new favorite magazine...

I have seen the BBC Knowledge magazine in my bookstore for a while now. I thought about buying it several times, but only today did I actually pick up a copy...and I am really glad that I did. This magazine is great for anyone who just wants an eclectic mix of subject matter. I guess that in some ways I could compare it to something like Mental Floss (another magazine that I like), but the articles in BBC Knowledge appeal to me a bit more just because of the subject matter. Here is the URL, but, unfortunately, their Web site really needs improvement:

In this issue, there are articles about US television, Somalia, the death of language, the Holocaust, space, polar bears, etc. Basically, the magazine has sections dealing with Science, History, and Nature. The "Update" section is especially nice because it provides little bits of information about breaking news in the three major categories mentioned above.

Anyway, just thought that I would share. Recently, I have lamented the fact that the print magazine is going downhill. I came about in the Sassy generation (God, I loved that magazine). Sassy gave teen girls real information (at least while Jane Pratt headed things up) and made me decide at age 14 that someday I would work for a magazine. Well, here I am, 33-years-old, and I have worked for two magazines now. Sassy Power! However, like I said, recently, other than the publication I work for (of course), magazines haven't been doing it for me. I like Vanity Fair's articles and some of the food magazines, but nothing really excites me anymore. I used to be obsessed with The New Yorker, but even that hasn't impressed me much lately (and I am not sure why).

So, if you just want some fresh info in clearly written, short articles, then check out BBC Knowledge. As my Uncle Marshall was famous of saying: "Do it. Do it now."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Anne Rice's Facebook Post:


ADVICE TO A NEW WRITER: There are no rules in this profession. Do what is good for you. Read books and watch films that stimulate your writing. In your writing, go where the pain is; go where the pleasure is; go where the excitement is. Believe in your own original approach, voice, characters, story. Ignore critics. HAVE NERVE. BE STUBBORN.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I have to say it again...


Roll Tide!!! And how my mom has taken football to a whole new level...

Today, we played against Florida...and, holy crap...we WON!!! Ever since my mom retired, she has become a football fanatic. It is really hilarious. She can't move from the television and has to scream as loud as she can for every good play...and curse as loud as she can for every bad play. It cracks me up! So, tonight, I made dinner while she and dad watched the game. I had to take their food to them in the living room because they wouldn't move at all! All my life, we have NEVER watched football. However, starting last year, they became crazy fanatics. So, from their mouth and mine:


Monday, November 02, 2009

To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo...

...that has been the question. However, I just don't think I can do it this year. If I do, I will have to get started in the next couple of days and write a lot! But, with the prospectus on the table and all of the reading I need to do right now...well, I don't think I can write my trashy novel just yet. Still, part of me really wishes that I had the time.

Not much new is going on. I am guest lecturing in another professor's class tomorrow, so that should be fun. I hope I do well, anyway.

My biggest problem is trying to stay motivated this semester. I had so much stressful crap early on that now I am just exhausted and don't feel like doing anything. It took all of my energy to get up in front of my students today and teach Thomas Hardy...and I love Thomas Hardy. Ugh. Anyway, maybe it will get better.

I will have a little bit of a break this weekend (from school, anyhow). My friend, Melissa, is getting married and the wedding is in Mississippi. So, I will leave on Friday and go to Natchez for the weekend. I will be happy to see her and her family, but I hope that the wedding will provide some much needed recreation in my life. Comps (amongst other personal things) just about killed me between September and mid-October. I am still not recovered completely, but I could get there with a little leisure time.

Anyway, think about me this weekend when I attempt to dress up. We all know I am a fashion victim.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Susie + Darwin = dissertation!!

I hope, anyway! So, I am getting all up into Darwin these days, hoping that my suspicions about the connection I see between his work and the work that I study is actually accurate (wow...that is a bad sentence). Anyway, I am excited about it. It is actually kind of nice to read his stuff after reading the other literature. So, from the depths of evolutionary study, I sign off.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I have to say it... family rocks. Celebrating passing comps is a great thing. My family has been great!

On another note: as I mentioned to a friend today...I really think graduate school is an experiment in masochism. You have to be crazy to do this.

Sylvia Parker's article about my dad:

Here it is:

The Original Crazy Teens:

My dad (far left, standing with guitar) posing with his band, The Crazy Teens, when they recorded "Crazy Date"...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One hoop down...three to go

Well, I passed my qualifying exams so that is one burden off of my shoulders. Now, I have the prospectus defense and the dissertation and dissertation defense to look forward to!

In any case, though it was an exhausting experience, at least the exam is over. I was completely exhausted after writing for four hours and really couldn't relax until I found out that I had passed (a few days later).

Now, I am in the process of trying to figure out exactly what I want to say in prospectus. I think it is starting to solidify more in my head, but I am still tired from the exam and all I can think about is getting sleep!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Panic Attacks: The New Black

So, as far as the title of this blog is concerned, basically I am trying to say that panic attacks (not the clinical kind, just the "susie" kind) have become a regular part of my wardrobe/lifestyle. I am feeling very stressed out. Ultimately, everything will be okay. But, for now, I am losing sleep and getting sick and feeling miserable in general. Of course, once Oct. 15 passes me by, I will feel somewhat better. I am trying to get in plenty of exercise (in attempts to maintain good health and to exhaust me enough to sleep). However, last night, I was wide awake until after 4 a.m. Ugh.

Anyway, other than that, I really don't have a lot to say. I am getting over the usual fall virus/funk that circulates on campus. I am reading way too much literary criticism. I am trying to be a good instructor, but it is hard on certain days! I think I just need some time to decompress.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yet again....another rant.

Please cover your mouth when you cough. I am sure we all know this, but I sat across from a grown man in the library this morning who hacked up a lung for over an hour and just didn't care that he exposed the rest of us to whatever funk he had. Can I ban him from the library? Please?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I need another summer break.

Not for fun. I need the break to finish my reading list without cramming the last things in like mad.

My head is going to explode.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My new pet peeve...

People who are talking on a cell phone, take it into the bathroom with them, and continue to talk on it while, um, doing whatever they need to do.

This happened in two different public restrooms today.



In what universe is this appropriate?

There isn't a conversation important enough that you can't take a break to take care of business. The only time this would be appropriate would be if you fall in the bathroom and cannot get help in any other way. You don't need to talk about your date, your parents, your sister's deadbeat ex-husband, or your kid's teacher. You NEED to put the phone down. I am quite sure that this even violates the most redneck version of Emily Post out there. DON'T DO IT. I BEG YOU. It is disgusting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Close to having...

...a panic attack. This semester is already stressful and it is just the first day. Things keep changing and I need stability, people!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The new semester approacheth...

Well, I have been back in Tuscaloosa for two weeks now. I am very happy to see friends and family again, but I REALLY miss England. I miss the walking and the food and the depth of my surroundings. Super Wal-Mart just doesn't do a thing for me after enjoying high tea in the same surroundings as Jane Austen or reading in a library surrounded by countless illuminated manuscripts. I feel sad.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Final Banquet and the hell of Atlanta

Friday night, our group had its final banquet. Friday afternoon, I wandered Oxford and spent two/three hours reading and typing in Duke Humphrey's Library. Good thing too...I found out that they are planning on closing it as a reading room and opening it to the public for the tour. It is a shame because the mystique will be totally gone!

Anyway, final banquet began with drinks in the Provost's garden. It was a lot of fun. The weather held up well and it wasn't too cold for a change. We had our Pimms (many of them) and enjoyed the beauty of the garden...

Here is the Provost's house and part of the gardens...

More of his private can see the college behind...

Me, looking tired after typing/reading tiny print...

Allen and I in the garden...

After drinks, we went to the hall for dinner...

At the high table for the final time...

Leaving Oxford was sad, but, thankfully, basically uneventful. We did have to call for a second bus because there wasn't enough room for luggage. The airport and plane ride went very smoothly and we arrived in ATL 20 minutes early. Unfortunately, that is where the luck ended.

We sat on the runway for over an hour, waiting for ATL to get its act together. When we finally got in, a passport control officer called me and another person an idiot. Nice to see that she was our representative of the USA...and my tax money at work. Then, my luggage was delayed (along with one other student's). So, while the entire bus group was waiting for over an hour for me, I was waiting for my luggage. It finally came and there was more chaos and bad organization from the ATL customs and airport. It really is ridiculous. I didn't see one person taking pride in his or her job. The passport control people got off on acting like complete asses. I understand that you don't need to be friendly or smile at me, but calling me an idiot (because I was waiting for her to call me to her station...they yell at you, too, if you cross the line ahead of time) is going too far. Of course, with our system, if I write a complaint, I will probably be put on some kind of list. American customs and passport control need to take a hint from the British. They aren't friendly either, but at least they have their act together and are organized and efficient. Atlanta airport is a complete joke and completely unprofessional.

Also, though they left cookies and other items in my suitcase, they took my totally manufactured and wrapped granola bars. I have some other things missing as well. So, add theft to insult.

So, I am back in the states, trading the Bodleian and Kensington Gardens for Wal-Mart and McFarland Mall, efficient service for laziness. Still, I am very happy to see my family and my dog...and to avoid wearing my green or brown sweater.

Here's hoping I don't have the Swine Flu.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

An afternoon at Duke Humphrey's

After visiting St. Mary's this morning (see post below), I met up with Allen at the flea market. Then, I picked up a cup of coffee and met Allen's class for a walk to Keble College (founded in 1870). Keble is amazing for a Victorianist. Its design and architecture combines everything that symbolizes the era...especially in the chapel. The thing is, people want to define the Victorians, put them in a little spot and say: "This is what makes a Victorian" or "This is what defines Victorian." But you just can't do it. As my director says, the Victorians are just "messy"...and it is true. But that is what makes them so great. You can find something for everyone and just when you think you have them figured out, well, they completely contradict themselves. The architecture of Keble reminds you of gothic/Middle Eastern/high church. Here are the photos from Keble:

Detail above the chapel door:

Inside the chapel (sorry that it is so dark!):

The hidden treasure at Keble's chapel...Hunt's original "The Light of the World"...I LOVE the Pre-Raphaelites...

I came back to the room briefly after the tour at Keble. Then, I met Louise (the young daughter of one of the professors here) and we went back to the flea market. I think she had a good time! I know I did. Afterward, I had my biggest moment in Oxford...a chance to enter the Bodleian as a Duke Humphrey's library...I may collapse as I recount it.

Duke Humphrey's library is the oldest reading room at the Bodleian. It is also where the library scenes from HP have been shot. In any case, I had a little children's pamphlet (circa 1780) sent up there last night. Today, I swiped my card and made my way up the side staircase. I felt like I was going to get hauled out any minute because I was by myself! Anyway, I went up to the man who checks you in. He was very nice and then I retrieved my item. I was told that I could sit anywhere, so I sat in the old stack section! I was in heaven! I am going back tomorrow to type up the material that I found. I didn't want to haul my laptop over there if what I had checked out was crap. However, I loved it and I can use it. It is a poem called "The Orphan Boy."

After my surreal time in the library, I ended up at Blackwell's to spend my gift card. I bought things I would never buy for myself--and all Oxford related. I ended up spending all but six cents! My favorite purchase: a beautiful photo (very large) of St. Mary's in the snow. I am so sad to leave.

Anyway, I browsed around the Broad St. for a while and now I am back in my room awaiting dinner. It has been one of the best days ever!

"Keep out of my way, people!"; Or, How to run to the top of St. Mary's tower in under three minutes.

I will get to the title post in a minute...

Anyway, yesterday, it rained and rained and rained. In the morning it wasn't raining and I went on a really cool tour of the Bodleian, going through the Radcliffe Camera and the underground stacks.

Side note: Actually, today, I am going to Duke Humphrey's Library to read. Here is a really quick video (I don't know who did it, but you aren't supposed to video or take photos!):

Then, I ate lunch at Edamame, again. It was fantastic. I got soaked walking back. Later in the afternoon, Allen and I went to the famous Eagle and Child pub for coffee. Here I am at the famous C.S. Lewis and crew table:

We got back around 6:30 and dressed for dinner with the Provost. It was wonderful. His house is here at Worcester, of course, and it was completed in 1776. He is a charming man and makes everyone feel quite welcome. It was all very formal and beautiful. We had drinks for half an hour and then dinner at a beautiful table, surrounded by gorgeous paintings. The meal was fantastic. All in all, it made the day nice again!

Now, to this post:

Today, I decided that I wanted to do my absolute most favorite thing to do in Oxford: climb St. Mary's tower. St. Mary's is the university church and is VERY old. The tower is very high and difficult to climb. This video (not made by me, obviously) shows a bit:

The passages are narrow and the standing room at the top is even more closed, you want to make sure that you don't go on a crowded day because only one person can climb down the spiral medieval steps. Last year, it wasn't too bad; but there were still lots of people around. So, I got there 10 minutes before opening time this morning (beautiful morning). On the way, I passed through empty little streets...I love it...

(no one outside of St. Mary's...the entrance is in Radcliffe Square...)

Everything was fine until I noticed a group coming. So, as soon as the doors opened, I payed my 3 pounds (already had it ready) and ran (literally) to the top. I made it in under 3 minutes just to avoid the crowd. I thought my chest was going to explode when I made it to the top. You have to understand how complicated this can be! There are passages and narrow staircases and the final challenge is a medieval spiral staircase with teeny tiny steps--and only a rope to hold on to as you go up and come down! But, it was totally worth it because I had 15 minutes all by myself!

My favorite area is the final side of the tower. I call it that because you can only go one way around and then it is blocked....

My camera died right after this photo was taken...but, I lit a candle in the church and, suddenly, it allowed me to take about 10 more photos inside of the church. There wasn't any battery energy left (I had tried to use it, but the screen just kept going black.) I don't know...I am just saying that it was a very good thing to light the candle...

So, here is my candle (the one on the right):

Again, this is my absolute favorite site in Oxford. I don't know why, except that there is an imaginative energy to it. It is also very important historically, but I will let you read about that here:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blackwell's giftcard!

The faculty just gave me a Blackwell's gift card! I am in a new happy place!

London: Part 2

After yesterday's ordeal, one would suppose that I would stay away from the train stations. However, dealing with Americans who feel a sense of entitlement drove me to the brink and I needed a day away. So, this morning, I hopped a train to London. I originally planned a morning at Harrods, but I was feeling impulsive (big shock) and decided to go further up the Circle Line. I got off at Victoria Underground Station and used my fabulous map. I walked all over, seeing Buckingham Palace, the parks, Parliament, Downing Street, Big Ben, the London Eye, and, best of all, Westminster Abbey.

I can't say that I found my happy place right away. Traffic wasn't too bad and I am prone to walking in the middle of roads (actually, I am pretty used to it now). So, I walked down Buckingham Palace Road (Street??) and made my way to the palace. I wanted to see it and the Queen Victoria monument (of course). But, I saw little at first...It was PACKED. I hit it right at the changing of the guard. I didn't watch the whole thing, but this is what I did see:

A very nice policewoman:

The changing of the guard. I didn't stay for all of it because I felt so closed in...and that wasn't a bad thing because eventually the band started playing music from Star Wars...that is where I draw the line...

After crawling away, I finally got my first photo of the palace...

And here is Victoria...

A new happy place...

Big Ben through the trees...

Next, I walked around the park and came upon the Horse Guard House. See the passage in the middle? I decided to walk through there and it was a good me right where I needed to go...and I saw some interesting things along the way...

Like this poor guy. He looked miserable...

I ended up at Westminster Abbey (they don't allow photos in there and my one photo of the exterior isn't blog worthy). After I came out, I was lost (you come out in the back). I walked and followed the noise. Eventually, I was back in front! Then, I decided to go all the way back to my original tube station. I just wanted the walk...So, here is another Buckingham Palace shot!...

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Bath Adventure!

So, today I went with a group to Bath. We had a late tour (at 2:30), so we left Oxford around 12:45. All was well on our trip to Bath. Our tour guide was a sweet little old lady who promptly informed us that the tour would last for over 2 hours. (We thought that it was only about 1.5 hours.) I ducked out after about an hour because I had reservations at the Pump Room for High Tea. I had a little time to kill, so I went through the Bath Abbey. It was lovely.

High Tea in the Pump Room...a wonderful (and wonderfully expensive) experience. There was a lovely trio playing music and I really enjoyed myself. After that fun time, I went on a tour of the Roman baths. I have to say that it was a bit smelly down there this afternoon...

Anyway, after that, I made my way back to the train station. I shouldn't have bothered because all of the trains were canceled due to signal issues. So, a couple hundred people gathered outside of the train station with the assurance that a bus would take us to another station. This went on for about two bus. I had pretty much decided not to fight the situation and just enjoy the time watching a crowd lose its mind over something you can't change. I didn't have to wait long. I had already sent my students off into the city of Bath, telling them that there was nothing to do but give it time. There was no way all of us would fit on one, two, or even three of the buses being sent to us. They went away and I stayed at the station just in case more students came along. Eventually, one bus shows up. This one is to Bristol (opposite direction from what we needed). I just watched the chaos evolve. People swarmed the bus. The bus couldn't move or open its doors. There was all kinds of yelling and shouting and cursing. You would have thought the freaking world had ended. Armageddon can't be this bad.

Anyway, it went on like this for about two hours. To make a long story short, all of us ended up in the line for another bus. I (and about seven students) made it onto the bus. Then, they stopped bus service because they just decided to send the others by train to Bristol and reroute them...hmmm...why didn't that happen earlier??? Oh well. We all made it back to Oxford safely, I am happy to say. I was the only faculty member with the seven girls, so I was really happy that I was on the bus with them. are my photos...

An image of an old view of the Roman Baths:

Images of the town of Bath:

Bath Abbey:

(the candles...ironically enough, I lit one for a safe journey)

The Pump Room, where I had high tea:

(my tea tray...sorry...I had already eaten the little sandwiches!)...

Roman Baths: