Thursday, February 24, 2011

one of many reasons I will have difficulty getting past St. Peter

Forgive me, y'all, for I have sinned.

I got into all kinds of mischief when I was a kid, but none quite so infamous as what we got into at the church that was adjacent to my neighborhood.

(If you're going to get all church-lady on me and faint over the idea of, say, kids stealing donuts from a Bible study meeting, you should probably stop reading now.)

Growing up in the sprawling suburborural reaches of outer Nashville meant that my little subdivision was surrounded by country roads and cow pastures and other subdivisions and not much else. I liked to read Baby-Sitter's Club books, and I was always baffled when Kristy and the gang would walk "around the corner" to grab a candy bar or walk to the library. Around what corner? All that's around the corner from my house is more houses that look like my house. And a church.

My best friend Bradley and I used to ride our bikes in the church parking lot pretty much every day. On weekends, kid's soccer teams used to play matches in the churchyard. Sometimes they'd leave the refreshment truck parked at the church through the week. Brad and I were fixated on breaking into that truck, perpetually mocked by the enticing Pepsi logo on the side.

Once, we got caught trying to break into it. I tearfully pleaded for forgiveness. Brad rode his bike into a ditch and pretended he was dead. I'm think Brad eventually got into that truck, but I ran away before I could partake in the endless fountain of Mountain Dew.

A whole new world of mischief opened up to us when the congregation broke ground on a beautiful new chapel.

I can't go into a lot of what happened. I do not recall anyone ever rollerblading in the sanctuary while it was under construction. If anyone ever walked in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the sanctuary during Sunday Mass while wearing an elaborate Godzilla mask, I don't know anything about it. And I swear up and down that, to this day, no one can explain how the Virgin Mary statue's missing thumb ended up in Bradley's mom's junk drawer. Our mothers are still horrified over that one.

There is one crime I am prepared to own up to.

Let me set the scene for you.

It is 1989 or 1990. The Simpsons is a cultural phenomenon. And Bradley has somehow managed to secure a can of red spray paint.

We are drunk with power.

We creep over to the church construction site under the guise of riding bikes. I spot the perfect canvas immediately.

Brad hands the can to me. I feel the weight of it in my hand. I squint up at the white construction trailer in front of me, almost blinded by its gleaming blankness. I push my glasses back up on my sweaty nose and take a deep breath.

I write, in three-foot-tall letters, the worst swear word I can think of.

I never got caught.

Discussion Question: What kind of unbelievable mischief did you get into as a child?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

why I decided to leave grad school in Classics

I'm really excited to be guest blogging over at Worst Professor Ever this week. I'll be offering some advice for folks who have made the scary decision to leave university life for the big Other--life outside academia.

What can I say about academia that hasn't already been said by the Simpsons?

After a truly wonderful undergraduate career at Loyola University New Orleans, wild horses could not have stopped me from pursuing graduate school. I loved my close-knit Classics department with its inquisitive, enthusiastic students and supportive, sparkling faculty. With Davina as my incredible mentor, I was on top of the world. I studied hungrily, taking exactly twice the number of Classics classes I needed for my major. I was sure beyond doubt that I was born to be an academic.

Grad school was an ice-cold glass of reality in my face. The University of Texas Classics Department proved to be nothing like the supportive nest I'd left behind in New Orleans. I could (and who knows, maybe will one day) write a book about what a truly terrible experience I had in graduate school. Cultivating special relationships with wonderful people like Mary Jane and Douglass Parker (and other folks--you know who you are) was all that got me through, but it wasn't enough to balance the scales. Parker was retiring and couldn't take me on as an advisee. Suffice it to say that I decided by the end of my first semester that I would stick it out until I finished my master's degree and then be finished.

How could I have so quickly turned my back on a career I had been cultivating so carefully for so long? Was it the total lack of joy many of my colleagues seemed to take in their work? Was it the appalling insufficiency of faculty interest in and attention towards graduate students? Surely a smart, willful young woman like me wouldn't let a bunch of haters keep her from her dreams. Ultimately I found that my decision to leave wasn't about the toxic environment I'd found myself in for graduate school. I realized the whole thing just wasn't for me.

At my father's advice, I wrote myself a letter at the beginning of my last semester reminding myself why I decided to leave graduate school. He told me it would be nice to have one day to remind myself why I had done what I did.

Now, more than four years later, I am sharing it with all of you.

January 16, 2007

I'm leaving for a lot of different reasons.

I'm leaving because graduate school in Classics does not suit my personality. The fact that I am an effervescent, enthusiastic, extroverted, excitable, bossy, innovative person is a major liability to my career as an academic. The ideal academic personality is truly ascetic, valuing hard hours of studying hard Greek in a hard chair with too little sleep and too little to eat in a too little apartment. I am not an ascetic. In fact, I'm a little bit of a hedonist. My desire to spend long lazy weekends doing whatever I please, my desire to spend quality time writing and reading, and my desire to hold my family and personal life ahead of my professional life all make me an undesirable candidate for a PhD. Also, my skills with organization, with people, and with leadership are all squandered in this environment. When do I get to let that huge part of my personality shine in graduate school? Hardly ever. Instead, these truly useful and desirable skills are frowned upon, or tolerated at best. I need a job where my interpersonal skills, my creativity, and my leadership ability are utilized, not ignored.

Getting a PhD in classics is a career cul-de-sac for me. After obtaining my PhD, I would be lucky to be offered even a temporary position at any university. This university would likely be in an undesirable city for me, and almost certainly a city where Nick would be unable to find satisfying work. This job would pay me an insultingly small amount to at once teach multiple classes (many of which I would not be qualified to or inclined to teach) and continue my own research in the Classics in the hopes that one day I might become tenured somewhere by publishing multiple works of nonfiction about minutiae in ancient texts. The best I could possibly do as a Classics professor would be gaining tenure and earning $75,000 as a full professor at a nice private university.

I don't want to be a Classics professor anymore. In fact, I am pretty sick of studying the Classics, period. Latin and Greek appeal to me because they are languages, rather exquisite languages, but not because I have any special connection to the ancient world. There. I said it. I do not feel any particular connection with the ancient world, aside from the one that has developed from studying it for years and years. That's the heart of the matter.

I don't want it, I don't want them, they don't want me, and it wouldn't be good anyway.

You are better off in a real job. It might seem empty and meaningless sometimes. Remember that it is not actually any more meaningful to be studying puns in the Hippolytus. Accounting for minutiae in ancient texts is not inherently valuable in any special way. In fact, it is a waste of your talents.

Don't ever be discouraged or worry that you made the wrong decision. You did the right thing.

I've never had to reread this letter to reassure myself. I've never regretted my decision to leave graduate school for a moment. I so was afraid that life outside of my own research would feel empty and meaningless, but I adore my work. With apologies to the great Nadine Eckhardt--ever since I left academia, my life's been duck soup.

So be sure to tune into Worst Professor Ever this week to see what kind of advice I come up with for people who want to explore life on the other side of the fence. WoPro is a fellow disgruntled former classicist from UT's grad program who is turning her defection from academe into an awesome blog. She's a gutsy woman whom I admire and with whom I enjoy drinking beer and talking noise periodically. Go check her out.

Discussion Question: Have you ever written yourself a letter?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I'm tired of talking about death on my blog. But important people just. keep. dying.

Douglass Parker is gone. My dearest darling Dougie. You already know the story of how I loved him. He died yesterday at the tender age of 256 of injuries sustained from a heated agon with an organ grinder's monkey.

But you oughta see the monkey.

When he saw the effusive blog post I wrote about him last year (here's the link once more for the cheap seats in the back), he emailed me with one of his signature lyrical missives:

You've done me proud, and I'm almost afraid to go out for the mail, lest the crowds of the classical curious crush me in their rush. That "familiarity of friends or lovers from another lifetime," while quite true, could get frantic with the huge readership you must have...

He signed it Best love, doug. I blushed from my head to my toes. I wrote him back with eager tales of my exciting young life, but I guess he really started to decline around then. I wrote and wrote but I never heard from him again.

Readers, I loved him.

I loved to write for him. Translations were my votive offerings to him. So I've unearthed my circa 2006 attempt at a Parkerian rendition of a scene from Apuleius' Metamorphis. If that sounds boring, you have never read any Douglass Parker. Or Apueleius. I wrote this for Doug's Apuleius class and performed it with classmates Steve and Steve for Doug and the whole class.

NB: I do my best to keep this blog appropriate for all audiences. This is ancient literature so it's okay that this entire piece is about sex. Consider yourself warned.

Elbow Grease

an adaptation from Apuleius' Metamorphosis


Trixie, an adulterous wife
Phil, her cunning lover
Marc, her clueless husband

SCENE: It is late morning on a weekday in Marc and Trixie's modest home. Light is streaming in between cracks in closed shutters. A large pot rests in the corner, and a bottle of perfume sits on the dresser. Trixie and Phil are in bed, entirely obscured by covers, candoodling. All is quiet but for giggles and smacking noises. Suddenly, the doorknob rattles; someone is trying to get in.

PHIL (popping his head out from under the covers):
Did you hear that, my darling?
I thought I heard knocking!

TRIXIE (popping her head out from the other end of the covers):
It's nothing, my baby,
just neighbor kids playing.
Now stop all this nonsense
and get back to--

The doorknob rattles again, this time louder.

MARC (from the other side of the door):

TRIXIE (leaping up clumsily, kicking Phil in the process, pulling a robe on over her nightie, trying to smoothe her frizzy hair):
Shit-SHIT-shit, shit-SHIT-shit,
my husband is home!
(Louder, towards the door):
(mumbled, to herself, with raised eyebrows):
I wish.

PHIL (petrified with fear, pacing the room in a robe and shaking his hands):
Oh no oh no oh no.
He's home he's home he's home.

TRIXIE (exasperated, whispering, hissing):
Stop it and shut up and get in my pot!

Phil looks up expectantly and lustily.

(now really exasperated, pointing at the pot):
NO! No no no! In the pot!!

Trixie grabs Phil by the arm and hurls him towards the pot, throwing his clothes in the pot on top of him. She pats her hair one last time, grabs a bottle of perfume and spritzes it on herself, spreads the sheets on the bed hurriedly. She takes a deep breath and opens the door.

TRIXIE (icily):
So sorry it took me so much time to answer.
I'm working on weaving and covered in blisters.
So why are you home at this quite early hour?
Forgotten we've run out of money for flour?
(with increasing hostility, up in Marc's face)
Forgotten your wifey a-weaving all day?
Forgotten the thick stack of bills left to pay?
I wish I was Daphne, the slut-queen next door
With lovers and manfriends and callers galore.

MARC (looking wounded):
Oh darling, my darling, it's not what you think
My boss is in court, I've got it in ink (waves around piece of paper)
He gave us the day off, believe or not,
And I found some poor sucker to buy that old pot!
It's a big useless thing and it just takes up space
And for six smackeroos, it can fill up his place!
(Looking pleased, he starts to walk into the bedroom.)
Would you give me a hand with this big heavy thing?

TRIXIE (jumping in front of him and talking sarcastically):
Oh, my big man, he got him a swell deal.
And for six big old smackers! A regular steal.
Well, let me just tell you, you're dumb as a louse
I sold it for seven without leaving the house!

MARC (excitedly):
Sweet sassy molassy, oh could it be true?
That pot sold for seven by a woman like you?
But the pot is still here, Trixie. Where is the guy?

TRIXIE (nervously)
Old boy jumped in the pot just to give it a try!

Phil pops out of the pot right on cue, wearing only his robe and a tie. He adjusts his tie and pushes his glasses up on his nose, affecting a very serious air.

PHIL (regretfully):
I tell ya, Miss Trixie, I'm not gonna lie
I was willing to give your old warhorse a try
But it might be just a bit too ancient for me
There's cracks and there's chips on the side, you can see
And one thousand years worth of oil residue
And the pot is just covered with sticky black goo!
(turning to the husband, speaking to him as though he were a slave)
You there, dear boy, go do something for me
Give me a flashlight so that I can see
The extent of the damage this pot has incurred
It's too dark in here and my vision is blurred.

Marc, taken aback, pauses for a moment and then scurries off, returning with a flashlight.

MARC (hesitating):
On second thought, friend, leave the looking to me
I'll scrape out the goo for a nominal fee.
I'm just kidding, good man, I will clean it up right
and we'll have it to yours by the end of the night.
(Marc moves towards Phil, pulls him out of the pot and shuffles towards the door.)
Now, thank you for coming, and if you would please--

PHIL (assertively, leading Marc towards the pot):
No, tonight is no good, sir, I need it today
My-–uh--mother, who needs it, is in a bad way
I'll just stick around while you give it a wipe
And take these few moments to talk with your wife.

Marc shrugs and climbs into the pot with the flashlight.

Marc (from inside the pot):
This jug is so filthy--this black goo, it reeks!

TRIXIE (leaning over the edge of the pot, facing the audience):
Mind if I take just a few little peeks?
(Phil creeps up behind Trixie on his knees and lifts up her robe. His head disappears under the fabric. She is visibly surprised.)
OOOH! O-oh my god, that's dirty as hell.
(She realizes she's spoken out loud and tries to recover.)
I mean, uh, the pot, um--clean it up well!
(With increasing intensity)
It's been months since it's gotten a good proper cleaning
So keep at it boy! (whispered, to Phil) If you get my meaning.

She gasps loudly. Marc pops out of the pot and turns to look at her. She straightens up quickly and you can hear Phil's muffled yelp as she suffocates him.

Are you okay, Trixie? You're getting worked up.
(Starting to climb out):
You want some tea? I'll make you a cup.

PHIL (muffled): I CAN'T BREATHE!

TRIXIE (horrified, trying to recover):
I CAN'T BREATHE! I CAN'T BREATHE! You're stirring up dust!
I need to lay down. (aside): 'Cause I'm shaking with lust!
(Marc looks up; he's heard her aside)
I mean must! I mean rust! My god, is it hot?
I think right down here on the floor is the spot.

Trixie sinks down out of view suspiciously behind the pot. While Marc bangs away inside the pot, Trixie's legs slowly rise back into view from behind the pot and they move around suggestively.

MARC (calling up from inside the pot):
So, Phil, my good man, just what do you do?

PHIL (poking his head up so it is visible above the pot):
I'm a personal trainer at 12th and Magoo.

Phil's head disappears as Marc's rises out of the pot. Marc looks perplexed, looking around.

MARC (cautiously, confused):
Say there, dear sir, why are you on the floor?

I'm, uh, showing her stretches!

Never done these before!

Marc sinks back down into the pot with his brows furrowed. Trixie's legs rise back into view. Her legs move in time with the banging in the pot. Suddenly a clamor arises from inside the pot.

MARC (explosively):
Oh, dammit, goddamn it, I've done it again!

Trixie leaps up and looks over the edge of the pot. Phil leaps up behind her and starts going at it vigorously.

TRIXIE (exasperated, even pained):
Oh Jesus, you dumbass, you're scraping too hard!
Ouch! Stop it, you'll hurt it! You're scraping too hard!!
(Phil stops his wild gyrations. Trixie looks relieved.)
That's better, much better, oh thank you, my dear.
But I'm thinking you missed a spot right over here.
Just a little bit left, and a little bit south
Just do it the way you would do with your mouth!

MARC (confused, still down in the pot):
Just do it the way I would with my mouth?
What on earth in the world are you talking about?

Trixie takes a moment, still bent over, grasping at what to say. Phil's eyes roll back in his head and he makes the face of la petite mort. He stops and smiles and wipes his brow and dusts his hands off, rewrapping his robe and stepping away. Marc rises slowly out of the pot as soon as Phil is safely away.

Um, Trixie, you're acting a little bit whack.

Marc sets down his tool.

TRIXIE (explosively, speaking neither to Marc nor Phil):
So you're stopping and thinking I'll cut you some slack?
You're worthless, just quitting whenever you're through,
Didn't think of the pot, what she needs, did you?

Trixie pauses, thinks, and turns on Phil, assuming a cool demeanor.

Well, I reckon she's got just as clean as she'll get
Just seven denarii and we'll be set.

She pauses again as Phil fumbles for his wallet in the robe. She picks it up off the floor.

Here's your wallet right here, sir, I'll get it right now.

She counts out a few denarii, starts to hand it back, pauses, opens the wallet again and takes out all the money, pauses, and then takes out a credit card. An ancient Roman credit card. She hands it back to him with a hearty clap on the shoulder.

That should do it! I tell ya, that's a deal sir, and how!

She smiles and walks over to the pot, pulling out Phil's clothes.

And, honey, ya see, I got you new pants!
They'll look fabulous Saturday night at the dance.

She hands the pants to Marc and kisses him on the cheek, looking over at Phil pointedly.

Well, pack it up boys, and take her away,
I've got lots of weaving to finish today.
It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr.--What was your name?
Well, it's been lovely to meet you, dear sir, all the same.

She stops and checks her watch.

Okay then! See ya later! I hope you can manage!
Watch out now! You don't want to add to the damage!

Marc and Phil dutifully scoot the pot towards the door in silence. Phil is glaring at Trixie. They walk out and shut the door. Trixie checks her watch. After a few beats, there is a knock at the door.

Trixie? You here baby?

Trixie smiles and pats her hair and spritzes on some perfume and walks over to the door.


If you'd like to read a proper obituary for Douglass Parker, there's a lovely one here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tips for Southerners on Surviving New England Winters

This mixtape is brilliant. Download it free here.

In case you haven't heard, Boston sucks during the winter. How much does it suck? Almost as much suck as Shaq is awesome.

Boston's Shaq-o-metric snow-measurement system

Yep, that's 60+ inches of suck already this winter, with more falling as I type this. Even my devotion to Shaq is not enough to shake my long-established skepticism of New England winters.

So how is this sun-ripened Georgia peach dealing with her first winter in the frosty hinterlands of Massachusetts? Well, I have a few tips for all y'all on how to survive this nonsense.


That pert little wool peacoat you've always worn straight through the winter? That's Aprilwear up here, pahdnah. Head to Land's End or Eddie Bauer or one of those other outdoorsy stores that choked your mailbox with catalogs straight through the 90s and find you a big, warm down coat.

I went with this one from Land's End, and it is so warm that I could wear it with nothing else under it and be comfy all winter long:

I also urge you to consider buying 2 or 3 subzero sleeping bags and having a tailor fashion them into a sort of hyper-warm adult snow onesie.


Nothing says EFF YOU, SNOW like a pair of colorful wellies. I bought these ugly red and yellow ones from Marc Jacobs for a mere $28. I can tell the snow is already offended.

And hey, you've gone this far! Why not go further?

Thanks Racked

Take a cue from fellow FHS alum Ke$ha and put some kittie ears on your hat.


It's totally just as good as the sun.


Don't try to fight it. Just buy a plane ticket to somewhere, anywhere warmer and more hospitable. I hear Chernobyl is lovely this time of year.

...Assuming your plane can take off.


There are only two places in the whole city that feel like the South during a Boston winter. One is your shower and the other is your local gym.

Listen, listen. I know you're a Southerner and your idea of a vigorous workout is fishing the last RC Cola out of the cooler. Just trust me. Even if you never burn a single calorie, it is worth the monthly membership fee just to go bask in the 80 degree heat and 95% humidity. It's sweaty and smelly and if you bring your own bucket of chicken it basically feels like home.


I mean, just check out this video of me and Nick and our friend James tearing it up skiing and snowboarding at Nashoba Valley:


Since you haven't felt sunlight on your skin since September, it's time to start taking some Vitamins. Vitamin D will help you feel less like a zombie. Now I finally have some use for the 200 bottles of Vitamin D I bought at Publix last year!


This is the most valuable advice I got before I moved to Boston. We have free radiator heat in our apartment and THANK GOODNESS. Our apartment is so warm that we--no joke--sleep with the window partially open so we don't suffocate.


When all else fails, close your eyes and go back to your happy place: The South. For me, that will entail FINALLY finishing my blog series on our amazing Southern summertime road trip. Catch up with the entries here:

one: we're on the road to nowhere
two: "Spectacles in the Surf: Seeing and Not Seeing on the DePalma Family Vacation"
three: miles covered
four: you got a fast car: drivin through the mountains

DISCUSSION QUESTION: How do you beat the winter blues?