Monday, March 31, 2014


My husband, Matt, is currently enrolled in a project management class for his MS in Leadership and Management. As a part of the project, they're working as a team to earn money for a worthy charity. His charity is ShelterBox, an amazing charity that turns donations into lifesaving shelter and supplies for disaster survivors.

Matt's goal is to earn $500 by the middle of April. Please consider helping by donating to his cause or sharing with your friends, or both. Not only is it important for his success in this class, but will more importantly help an amazing organization bring lifesaving supplies to those who need them most. Follow this link, or the one above, and click Give Now link at the top right-hand side of the page.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On the Steampunk Genre...

You may not know this about me, but I'm a huge steampunk fan. The idea of a scientifically advanced Victorian England sparks something in my imagination that I've never been able to fully ignore--perhaps because as an English major I find the Victorian Era's literature particularly interesting. In short you might say that I love it. I have a board on Pintrest dedicated to my steampunk fascination, I've invested some time in a steampunk RPG that's published in Poland, and I follow several steampunk pages on Facebook.

However, I'm having a problem. The more immersed I become in the genre, the most problematic it's becoming for me. I'm sure it's true of any genre, but there seems to be a divide between how the genre looks superficially and how it actually functions as a genre. For steampunk, it may be particularly pronounced because it has a very distinctive appearance and everyone has an idea about what it should look like. Those ideas are not, however, always complete or correct. This is my issue in a nutshell. An issue that started with a picture on Facebook that most certainly can be steampunk, but that many people disagreed is steampunk because it had to do with vampires (which are Gothic, had a very pronounced history during the Victorian Era, and are therefore able to be steampunk under the right circumstances).

Queue teeny tiny little rant: 

I'm of the belief that an admirer should make an effort to understand all elements of the genre. Steampunk fans, for example, should endeavor to understand first the Victorian Era, then the tropes of the science fiction genre (easier than the first, by far), and finally how those motifs work together to make steampunk, a compound genre. Skipping the first step isn't an option. Steampunk is more than just leather, gears, and gadgets. It's more than dirigibles and goggles. It's more than corsets, top-hats, and tails.

Rather, steampunk is a complex genre that calls upon the grittier elements of the Victorian Era, a genre that often exposes the many complicated issues of identity and culture happening during the reign of Queen Victoria. Steampunk is science fiction to be sure, but also relies heavily upon fantasy, particularly since the Victorian Era was one of intense Gothic interest. In fact, the Victorian Era begins a completely unique cycle of Gothic fictions, where science fiction and fantasy work together to create an atmosphere of Gothic tensions that reflected the cultures fears about science and technology. The Victorian Era was a time of immense change, when traditional ways of life were being exchanged for growing industrialization. A time for tension between what was natural and those things that were, decidedly, not natural. Understanding of all of this, and accepting it, is important to fully comprehending steampunk.

However, steampunk is not the only genre that has this problem. A whole host of others struggle with an incomplete understanding of their histories and tropes. The point I'm trying to make here is simple: being a fan is awesome, but being an accurate, well-studied fan is better. I love steampunk fans, but knowledgeable steampunk fans are a thousand times more interesting than those who are not. They're also a thousand times easier to converse with about the genre when they know a little something about the Victorian Era.

image via steampunk wallpapers

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Springtime Blues

Spring is absolutely here in central Texas. The weather is beautiful, if on the cold side some mornings, but it's like the moment it was officially spring the world woke up. It could be that we had some rain this last week, but all the trees are budding and flowering. It's gorgeous, but I'm feeling pretty low lately which, if I'm being honest, is ruining the fun of welcoming spring.

My emotions have been all over the place, but the one thing I'm feeling above all else is completely and totally numb. I'm either bored or tired all the time, my house is a huge mess and I have no drive to clean it up. I'm ambivalent about pretty much everything, except some uncertainty with Matt's job, which is making me a total basket case. I can't remember the last time I felt happy or even content. It doesn't bode well for the rest of the year and that's making me feel a little bit sad because this is supposed to be the best year. This is the year I was accepted as a doctoral student, this is the year that I'm taking risks, and to start out so ambivalent and shaky and sad is giving me anxiety.

It's making me worry about things that haven't happened yet. So, while spring is a season of renewal, all I can do is worry about what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. I want to say that I'm open to making changes in how I see things, that I won't worry about anything anymore, but it's not true. It's not who I am. Worrying is a part of how I function and interact with the world. It means that I never get the chance to make changes and open myself to everything spring represents. I don't think I ever will. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I'm realistic enough to know that this is something about myself that I can't change.

The one good thing about feeling like this during the spring, when I know I should feel differently--or better--is that it's made me think again about therapy. I'm feeling like I could benefit from it, like that's the way I could take advantage of the whole theme of spring thing, but there are moments when I wonder what I would say. I wonder whether it would be a complete waste of time and my $30 copay. I wonder if they'll tell me I'm just being a brat, that I'm lazy and that my life, however bleak it looks to me, isn't so bad. I also wonder how therapy could possibly work when depressed people often can't see the source of depression, which makes it pretty hard to talk about it. Then again, I'm not trained for that and they are. Maybe I should go.

I hope that wherever you are you're having a better spring than than I am. That it's full of the cheer that spring brings and who knows, maybe next week things will look up and I'll start to feel better. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Lazy Spring Break...

I'm pretty certain that I just had the laziest week ever. Like, the laziest... ever. I did almost nothing all week and it was awesome. Now, though, I feel kind of horrible. I'm stuck in lazy and can't seem to kick back on to work-mode, which is a problem since I'm back to work today. Granted, I only work two days a week (for about five hours each day when I'm not grading and a solid 8-10 when I am), but I need to be able to actually work on those days. I'm starting to believe spring break was created to destroy me and people like me, and students, too, while we're at it since they also seem to be unable to want to get back into the thick of things after a week off in the middle of the semester. It literally makes no sense to me to take a week off right when you've built momentum and gotten into a steady rhythm, but that doesn't make me any less grateful for it, nor any less groggy afterwards.

Yeah so, I pretty much spent the whole week laying on my sofa watching Hart of Dixie on Netflix--and then on Amazon, because I couldn't bear to miss most of season 3. I never was one for partying during spring break, something that has clearly not changed with age. I also spent time gaming with Matt, which was really nice but, as always, very time consuming--it's what we did all day yesterday, too. I used my green dice for St. Patrick's Day...

One day last week we went to Fort Worth to the Kimbell Museum to see the Samurai exhibit. This was actually the highlight of my week, it was absolutely awe inspiring, and I honestly wouldn't mind seeing it again. There were moments I literally just stood and stared at the face masks and weapons. I wish I could have taken pictures, but as with all exhibits on loan, that wasn't allowed. Instead, we bought the book which is also really beautiful and full of information. We also did our usual Fort Worth things, like Red Lobster and Central Market. This was my favorite work from the part of the Kimbell's permanent collection we stopped to see while we were there...

It's a work by James Ensor called "Skeletons Warming Themselves." And, as usual, the slightly morbid look at the human condition has won me over. We didn't see much else from that collection this time, but will see bits and pieces as we see other exhibitions being hosted there.

And Now, speaking of the human condition, I'm at work doing office hours. I'm caught up on my pre-spring break grading, I've planned out my classes for the day, made all the copies I needed for today's class, and am waiting for 1:15 p.m. to get here so I can go to class. I'm sure today will be an exercise in trying to kick myself back into gear, but right now I feel just sort of okay. Hopefully Thursday will be better, but that's questionable partially because right now, Matt's work schedule is all jacked up. His place of employment is changing from 12 hour shifts to 8 hour shifts and things are pretty hectic. When I don't know what his schedule is doing, I have a hard time feeling settled, which is how things have been lately. Unsettled, but slowly getting better.

Oh, on a final note, I got my official acceptance letter from TWU in the mail this last week. I'm so thrilled and getting the letter only cements the whole thing. I'm really going back to school. I'm really going to be a doctoral student. I'm really pursuing my Ph.D. It's so surreal!

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Years Book Exchange #1

I mentioned in December that Matt and I were considering a new tradition. That we would buy one another a book for New Year each year that the other was bound to read. Not a book we might want to read, but one we thought the other should read. Though I had reservations, mostly that this particular tradition could crash, burn, and cause a storm of hurts feelings along the way, I agreed. After that, we were off, but the first year's results were predictable (as in, I predicted them in the above linked post). For our first ever New Years Book Exchange I got him The Great Gatsby. It was an obvious choice, a book that I love and find valuable, but one he's never read though I've tried for years to encourage him to do so. He got me Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath.

Okay, I saw this coming. We were in Barnes and Noble, we split up to get one another a book, and before I even saw the cover I knew what he'd gotten me. He loves Gladwell, has read most of everything the man's published, so this was a natural choice. The book came, however, with an explanation that kept me from completely rolling my eyes when he gave it to me--I admit, it was difficult, but he wanted me to read it so badly. He said that the book is about battling giants and overcoming insurmountable odds that may not have been that insurmountable to begin with. That's premise of the book, that being the underdog may not be a bad thing. He told me I'd battled some giants to get as far as I've gotten with my education and that I was about to battle another. He wanted me to see that I had it in me, that I could do it, even though I feel pretty overwhelmed. There was more, but I won't elaborate. It was a beautiful explanation that said a lot about how much faith he has in me. So, I took the book, a little less begrudgingly than I might otherwise have done.

It has taken me two months to finish it. The book is only 275 pages + acknowledgements/notes. It's pretty short, but I had a hard time wanting to pick it up. I'm not a big non-fiction reader. Where I devour fiction, this wasn't my speed. That said, Gladwell is a beautiful writer with a penchant for telling a well-told tale. By the time I decided to really dig in, this last weekend, I had only read about 60 pages. I finished it this morning, mostly because I really want to go on and read something else. Since I only read one book at a time, and I would have felt guilty about reading something else with this book hanging over me, I got it finished.

By the end, I was pretty impressed. Gladwell had made his case, but I was left feeling like he may have stretched his evidence to make it work for him. He takes a lot of flack for cherry-picking his evidence, which I certainly see, but it's honestly something I don't think is a problem. He's not trying to make a scientific case, he's just arguing a point which he manages to do, even with anecdotal evidence. Besides, you're so drawn in by his essayist-style that you hardly notice unless you're looking for it. The stories he tells are compelling and, for the most part, uplifting. The way he tells them, with each chapter devoted to the story of a person, or group of people, bothered me. It made the book feel less cohesive.

Now that I'm done with it, I'm certain I won't be seeking out anymore Gladwell, but I'm glad to have read it anyway. New experience, I learned quite a bit, and ended up enjoying it (for the most part)--I gave it three stars on GoodReads and am now onto Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Most of all, it made Matt happy which is what matters. Now he's saying he wants to do several of these a year, but I'm holding him to just New Year for now. While I felt a little bit less than enthusiastic with his choice, he seemed to enjoy Gatsby quite a bit. He says that next year he's going to chose fiction for me, but that's almost scarier than the predictable choice. Who knows what he might turn up with? I suppose that's part of the fun.