Word Lists

Favorites in Sound and Meaning:


Least Favorites, Because Apparently I Hate the Letter U:


Words my Students Need to Look Up:


Typos I Cannot Stop Making:

sotry for story
explainging for explaining

And as a Related Bonus, my Least-Favorite Currently Overused Phrase, Because Please Stop Trying so Hard:

an historic

What are your words?

Case of the Parallel Universe Career

In response to my plea for topics to write about, my friend Golightly comes through with this question: What is the job you would want if you did not do anything literary and why?

“EASY,” I thought to myself, after not really reading her question adequately, “novelist, of course.”  But then I looked at the question again and realized I am not allowed to choose anything literary. That is very tricky of you, Golightly!

At the moment I’m not sure I can pick just one non-literary job, so I’m going to back it up for just a minute and give you the list of what I call “parallel universe jobs” — the jobs other Vagues have in universes parallel, but not identical, to this one.  Some of these are literary, but most aren’t. Please note that this list includes my parallel-universe-job ideas reaching back to around high school, so take them with a grain of something.

Baker / Pastry Chef



Rock Critic

U.N. Translator

Private Detective


Greeting Card Designer

“Artist” of Undifferentiated Type


“Head” of a Hip Magazine (I was never exactly sure what this entailed and still might not be)


But which of these would I choose today?  Let’s see…I’ll have to scratch off Novelist, Poet, and “Head” of Hip Magazine because they violate the non-literary requirement. I suppose Rock Critic is also at least semi-literary, and we all also already know that I can’t actually write about music for shit, so that goes too.

“Artist” of Undifferentiated Type has to be eliminated, since that’s obviously more of a concept than a job. U.N. Translator is unrealistic — I didn’t realize way back in high school how difficult translation/interpretation is in general, let alone on-the-fly speaking translation. No way.

Spy is a no-go (or at least that’s what I’d have to tell you guys, right?), because I have a deep suspicion that the actual spy business is not what shows like Alias and Chuck would have us believe, what with the sexy disguises and handler-on-asset action.  Heh.  HANDLER on ASSET.  Get it? Ahem.

So that leaves: Baker / Pastry Chef, Greeting Card Designer, Photographer, and Private Detective.  All four of these are things I already do, to some extent, at home.  I take pictures, as you may have seen on flickr.  I make a mean greeting card and an even meaner batch of yuzu-ginger wafer cookies. But what do I do most often? INVESTIGATE, bitches, that’s what!

I am always investigating shit!  Where are my keys? Investigate. What is the source of that unpleasant smell? Investigate. Could this paper be plagiarized? Investigate.  There is a neighborhood commotion? Investigate. (Well, fine, in that case I did more lurking and peeking than actual investigating, but I think you see what I am saying here.)

Thus, your answer: Private Detective

Case Status: Closed

Now I have a question for you: What jobs would you have in any parallel universes?  Inquiring minds must know.

2007, i am through with you!

This has been one of the most eventful years for me so far, and I don’t really know how to sum it up. As my sort of year-in-review thing, I have taken this questionnaire from one of my favorite bloggers, Linda of Sundry Mourning. You should do it, too! Go on, you know you love a good questionnaire!

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?

I wrote and defended a dissertation, was called “Doctor,” got a full-time college teaching job, drove across the country alone, and lived in New Wye, a bizarre and temperate state with far too much pleated khaki.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I rarely make resolutions for the new year, but I seem to recall pledging to make my bed every day or something random, unnecessary, and trite like that. Needless to say I did not follow through on that ridiculous plan. Bed-making minutes are precious minutes that could be spent sleeping, or perhaps applying some under-eye concealer to approximate the appearance of having slept.

One thing I did do, without really thinking about it or planning it or trying, was quit eating fast food. No more McDonald’s sausage biscuits for breakfast, no matter how magical their hangover-curing properties, if the fuckers have, like, 500 calories. Just no more. That was a good (and surprisingly easy) decision.

I don’t think I will resolve anything for next year. I think I will do whatever I fucking like! (Wait, was that a resolution?)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes! My lovely total BFF just had a baby boy in May, and he is glorious.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Not this year, thank dog.

5. What countries did you visit?

The U.S.A., baby! Everything in between Zembla and New Wye, which unfortunately included Nebraska, my most hated of the fifty states. I loved doing the drive myself, in spite of my passenger tendencies. It is one of my favorite things I have done.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?

More money.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

May 4th – My aforementioned friend’s baby was born — I remember constantly checking my messages all day, going, “Is he here yet? Is he here yet?”

July 15th – The day I left Zembla. Most of the day was spent driving through the Eastern Zemblan desert, which is a really lovely place to drive.

August 1st – The first day I had to show up to my new job. It was about 100 degrees that day, and one of the professors ambushed me as I got to the office and took my picture for the school website. I looked like a sweaty mess.

October 8th – The deadline for my dissertation draft. The week before this date was spent working on the draft as well as grading about 100 student papers and being observed in class. On October 8th, I finally put the draft in the mail and drank and slept the week-long caffeine buzz into oblivion.

November 19th – The date of my defense. I was wearing pin-striped pants.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

The PhD, of course. Not that I passed so much as that I didn’t give up before finishing. There were times, people, times.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not keeping up with running (or any other exercise) when I got to New Wye. It’s just that there are no sidewalks here. Damned backwards redneck town! This isn’t such a big “failure,” or anything but it’s all I’ve got for this question. It’s been a good year.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Just a few running-related injuries – my old plantar fasciitis acted up again (fucking plantar fasciitis, I hate it SO MUCH) and the damned shinsplints.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A tie between my souped-up MacBook or my iPhone. Also, never in a million years would I have thought I’d answer this question so geekily. Sigh. I accept my nerdy fate.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

The dog’s. He stopped peeing on the carpet and barking at night. He also was very generous with cuddly lap time when his owner was feeling stressed, which was at least once every hour for a while there.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The cat’s. I had a mailer bag from Old Navy with a jacket I was returning, and before I could send it off the damned cat took a damned shit right in that bag. Fucking cat. She also bit the hell out of me in a hotel in Nebraska when I tried to get her out from under the bed. Hey, anyone want a cat? Um, she’s real nice?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Other than the usual bills, I would say it went mostly to the moving expenses and wine and cigarettes.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Graduating and starting my new job, the birth of my friend’s son, the graduation and new job of my other total BFF. The three of us have had a great year and with all of these events I spent a lot of time feeling proud, happy, and excited for someone. It was a good year, I keep saying!

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?

Can I pick a whole album? If so then I pick Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous. I started listening to them this past year and fell in love, and this album was almost always on in my car or on my ipod. “More Adventurous” pretty much describes my year, too (the title, not the song/album itself).

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? Happier. I was depressed and hiding under a blanket the year before. Thank dog that’s done with.

b) thinner or fatter? About the same, I think, but it’s hard to say since I don’t have or use a scale. I’m wearing the same size, though. You would think that the no fast food thing would have made me lose weight, but the no running lately thing balances it out, I guess.

c) richer or poorer? I make more money now, but only marginally more. I am still always completely broke. Metaphorically speaking, I suppose I am richer, though.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Running, hiking, visiting the Zembla Coast, non-dissertation-related writing and reading.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastinating and wasting time.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

At my parents’ house with them and my brother. It was nice to see them all, but it was nowhere near as relaxing as my “grown-up” Christmas alone in Zembla the year before.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?

No. I also didn’t fall out of love or get my heart broken, though. It was a completely uneventful year on the love front.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

That I watched this year: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hands down. (HOW did I not watch this before?)

That actually aired this year: Veronica Mars. I was so sad to see that one go.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No. My hate levels remain constant. Constant, fiery, and seething. Heh.

24. What was the best book you read?

That I read this year over all: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by my boyfriend, Vladimir Nabokov.

That I read for the first time this year: either If on a winter’s night a traveler… by Italo Calvino (I’m not sure I didn’t first read this in 2006, though) or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Rilo Kiley and The Decemberists. Both groups I had heard before, but I only really started listening to them this year. Love love love. At the moment I cannot stop listening to The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife. It is so fucking good. Hey, I think I’ll put it on right now.

26. What did you want and get?

Materially: a new laptop, phone, and car.

Really: A job, a PhD, good friends at the new job.

27. What did you want and not get?

Materially: Great knee-high black boots.

Really: Respect from the head of my graduate program. I am so glad to be rid of her shit.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

I can’t say I have seen any that great so far this year. Instead, I give you the three movies I have not seen yet, one of which I am sure will wind up being a favorite: Juno, No Country for Old Men, The Darjeeling Limited. Without seeing them, I guess I would say The Namesake or Volver, both of which, um, came out in 2006. I am just so slow to see new movies — I usually wait for the DVD.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

On the day itself I went out with a handful of friends and played pub trivia. We won a bunch of stuff: appetizers and free drinks and such. Then on the following weekend, my friends threw me a big surprise party with the jumping out of corners and the shouting and everything. It was nice. I was 30.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Sex, I assume. Hard call, though, as I only foggily remember what it is like.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

Blazers and Heels Make Everything More Professional. Essentially it is the same concept I had in high school: jeans and tee shirts and a jacket. Chuck Taylors make frequent appearances, too, but, on teaching days, for the clack of true authority, one wants heels.

32. What kept you sane?

Friends, whiskey, caffeine, writing, music.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Along with the budding Buffy obsession, it would be either David Boreanaz or James Marsters. Milo Ventimiglia and Nigel Barker are frequent favorites, too.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Shamefully, I have been politically inactive all year. I vote and shit, but I avoid the news and most political discussions. When I think about the ridiculous insistence on this war, though, and the endlessly mounting toll of deaths because of it, I suppose I am “stirred.” Stirred to a tasty mix of nausea and despondence.

35. Who did you miss?

All my Zembla friends and my two aforementioned college BFFs. I miss them all a lot. Moving across the country tends to do that to a person.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I can’t name one, but there is a solid bunch of fellow instructors and professors I have met here in New Wye who have made the transition so much easier. These are the ones who have been planning trips to Nearby City and nights out and surprise parties and the like. They’re all brilliant and fun and we all consider ourselves lucky to have been hired as part of such a good group.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.

My old favorite, qui patitur vincit, really held true this year.

There was also the discovery that college students everywhere, North, South, East, and West, are all equally whiny, self-centered, coddled little shits. Most of them. There will always be a handful who make it worthwhile. (The exception to this rule: my 8:00 class last semester, where NOT ONE OF THEM got an A. That has never happened before.)

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

I generally think quoting song lyrics is a bit lame, but here’s something not unlike my last year, and, hey!, it’s from my own album of the year, too:

Any idiot can play Greek for a day
and join a sorority or write a tragedy
and articulate all that pain
and maybe you’ll get paid.

But it’s a sin when success complains,
and your writers block don’t mean shit.
Just throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Gotta write a hit
I think this is it.
It’s a hit.

— Rilo Kiley, “It’s a Hit”

Dude, you should really get that album; I swear it’ll change your life. Or your week, at least.

Happy New Year, y’all!

stress, lists, and pie

I think I’m done with the Pillow Book posts — those were fun, and I muchly enjoyed your participation. I mean, who doesn’t love a good list-making session?

Currently I am in the throes of list making as it applies to my upcoming trip to Zembla, and by “upcoming” I mean I am leaving tomorrow night. (Also “upcoming”: my dinner. Oh, the stressful tummy!) That’s right, y’all: it is the moment of truth. I am going back to defend my dissertation, at which point they will either make me a doctor officially, or they will uncover the horrible fraud I have been perpetrating over the last seven years — finally realizing I am not an academic at all but merely a lame lump who spends more time thinking about TV than literary theory — and kick my round butt to the curb.

As far as the list making goes, I have already crossed off such items as “fret,” “worry,” “stress,” “revise last chapter and bibliography,” “subtly probe committee members as to what their tough questions might include,” and “arrange a dog sitter.” I still have to find the perfect blouse and do my nails. Let’s not forget the crucial things, shall we?

It’s going to be a busy week, starting with my leaving for the airport at 2 a.m. tomorrow night (OK, technically Sunday morning, but since 2 a.m. is before my usual bedtime and I won’t be going to sleep first, it will feel like tomorrow night, and that’s what counts — how things feel to me, for I am the center of the known universe.  Of course.). After the defense I will fly back to New Wye, arrive the night before Thanksgiving, then leave the next morning to go up to my parents’ house for the holiday. I plan to spend all my time there happily consuming turkey, pumpkin pie, wine, and their adulation. Monetary gifts are also welcome, of course.

What are you doing for the holiday break, if you have one? I hope it’s something a little more relaxing, and I hope that wherever you are (and whether you’re doing Thanksgiving or not), you have plenty of pie and wine.

pleasing things

The sound of a well-hit tennis ball or baseball.

Soft, droopy ears of a small hound dog.

Making the first cut into a roast chicken.

Walking in sand without shoes.

Unlocking one’s front door at the end of the day and knowing that no work awaits one inside.

The heavy feeling of unread pages in one’s right hand when beginning a new novel by an author one loves.

Pulled pork barbeque.

The sharp outline of deep orange October leaves against a perfectly blue four-o’clock sky.

Fresh basil.

Hot coffee.

A laughing baby.

(See: The Pillow Book)

hateful things

The cost of travel.

A pimple on the edge of one’s nostril. This is hateful in the extreme.

Any person with a knowing or superior tone, attempting to pontificate on subjects he does not understand.

Hit-and-run accidents.

Students who request appointments on days when one does not normally come to campus, and who then fail to show up for the appointments.

Fake British accents.

Fake American accents.

Hearing popcorn squeak between the teeth of the person next to one at the cinema.





People who pull out their cell phones in the middle of a pleasant conversation to send a text message to someone else.


Headlights shining into the front window of one’s apartment from a parked car outside.

Clogged pores.

Lipgloss that is so sticky it catches an errant hair and glues it to one’s mouth.

Bad plumbing.

A driver who refuses to use a turn signal correctly.

That one person in the restaurant whose voice carries across the room, above all others, and infects ones auditory environment with self-satisfied chatter, as if the rest of the room cared what he had to say.

(See: The Pillow Book)

depressing things

When a student works with his teacher very closely on an essay revision and has many promising ideas, yet turns in a revised draft that looks almost identical to the first draft.  This is depressing in the extreme.

Student loan debt.

Growing old without seeing anything of the world but the town in which one was born.

Being greeted by a friendly, grandfatherly old man working at the entrance to the Wal-Mart.  Such a man speaks and moves slowly, with shaking hands and deeply sad eyes.

The idea of one’s parents aging.

Re-runs when new episodes are anticipated.

Empty storefronts, ramshackle houses, clotheslines overburdened with rags.

Voicemail for the wrong person, spam, hand-addressed letters delivered to the wrong address.

(See: The Pillow Book)

things that give an unclean feeling

Absent-mindedly scratching the inside of one’s ear only to notice later a thin film of ear wax on one’s fingertip.

Touching sticky food or newsprint.

Noticing the aroma a cat leaves behind in the litter box.

The sweat of yesterday’s whiskey or garlic.

The wet feeling of trouser cuffs that have been dampened by a stagnant puddle on the sidewalk.

Accepting praise one feels is undeserved.

The smell of a zoo.

(see: The Pillow Book)