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beginnings. [May. 24th, 2015|08:06 pm]
[Current Mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]
[Current Music |walking on the moon//the police]

i thought i'd be better at writing here or elsewhere during the last nine months. i remember coming to LJ often to record my thoughts, especially during times of confusion or transition. it was an outlet on which i could rely, a way of connecting with friends and just getting out my feelings. i guess FB is the place to do that now, but you can't write entries like this on FB, can you? and if you confess too much, you're berated for "getting too personal" or not being "professional" enough.

i guess i haven't been writing here because i've been writing The Beast, aka the dissertation, and that is quite enough writing for one person to take on, thankyouverymuch. still, i've missed the intimacy of LJ - which is markedly more intimate now that hardly any of my friends write here or keep up with each other's lives through this forum. and that's fine. even if this is just for myself, pretending i have an audience keeps things a little bit neater, maybe, and makes me think things through a little bit better. that's the goal, at least.

i could write longhand in an actual material journal, but like almost everyone i know, i'm way faster at typing. writing longhand makes my muscles cramp up. a sad state of affairs.

anyway, so i thought i'd be writing here over the last nine months, as the time has marked one of the absolute biggest transitions in my life.

i'm about to become a mother.

everyone says i already am. and for sure, all my decisions the last nine months have been centered around Z. and what she needs. what's weird about that is that i thought it would feel like such a sacrifice. but it doesn't. and that's not because i'm some kind of noble maternal creature, either. i just feel like my body is really fucking smart, and has told me point blank what i should and should not eat, drink, do, etc. some things i've had to look up, of course, but for the most part, my body has just sort of known and, like a really slick salesman, has made the rest of me - mind, heart, little tastebuds - willingly agree to the prescribed regimen. so it hasn't felt like much of an adjustment, to be honest. no, i've finally just checked in with my body and found that it is way more spectacular than i'd ever given it credit for. way to go, bod. you are awesome.

so yeah - i've been pregnant for nine months. over nine months, actually, because may 18 was my due date, and now it is may 24. whew! but that has been, well, really wonderful. there were some scary moments at the beginning, and some intense pain about halfway through. but Z. kicked ass and made space for herself. and walked a lot and slept more than i ever have, and felt strong in my body and soul. but it felt so natural that it's hard to think of myself as a mother as i am right now. for me, i think, the turning point is going to be seeing her face for the first time, telling her her name, and holding her against me.

that, i think, is when i will really feel like a mother.

as of now, i just feel pregnant. and pregnant is good! i've never felt more beautiful or competent in my life. i thought it would be much different. oh, expectations. or at least, anticipations. i could be as wrong about when the feeling of "motherness" will set in as i was about what pregnancy would feel like, couldn't i?

anyway, these nine months have been full of transitions - getting bigger, feeling Z. kick and roll inside me (what a glory to be someone's first home! i could never have imagined how honored i would feel), and thinking a lot about how i want to raise her, what sort of guide i'd like to be.

i don't have any answers for that, except that i want her to feel secure, grounded, and empowered. how i'll help her to feel those things remains to be seen. i've heard that people just make it up as they go along, and, despite the deluge of parenting advice i've read/heard/been subjected to, i'm inclined to believe that is the case. a doctor told me that if you get it "right" 33% of the time, you're doing great. that's an actual number. that doctors go by. and it sounds like that might be a realistic goal.

so in the midst of all these thoughts about Z. and what i want to give her and who i want to be for her, i've also realized that there are parts of myself with which i really need to reckon. i'll probably get into these more in the coming days and weeks. or maybe i won't. i'm a fickle blogger, obviously. but there are things about me with which i need to come to terms, things i'd better well work on sooner rather than later, patterns i'd be happy to break before she can trace them out.

this is not to say that i expect, or even want, to be perfect. but i could stand to be a fair bit better than i am. it's going to take some conscious work, and some rewriting of my script.

in the midst of all THOSE thoughts, or actually right smack dab in the middle of them, is another change: i'm finishing my PhD. my committee has a draft of the full dissertation, which clocks in at 270 pages, and is not yet finished, nor have i bothered to compile the works cited bit. i'm not proud of this document, but i AM proud of the work that went into it. i started from literally zero when i began this program nearly eight years ago. i've built an international network, put myself out there again and again to learn and grow and understand, spent money i didn't have to explore and to learn, and risked a lot emotionally and physically in the course of it. this is not to pat myself on the back. well, okay, maybe it is. i spend so much time disparaging my work and how different i wish this dissertation were, and how much better i expected myself to be. but then anders reminds me of aforementioned work and progress, and it doesn't seem too shabby. most importantly, i connected with some downright fucking beautiful people. those ties do not fray. i'm so grateful for the chance to do what i did.

and this is all well and good, and i am glad that i have moments (few and far between, but still they are there) when i feel like a bit of a badass. (this is definitely one of the qualities i'd like to value more in myself, not least of all for Z's benefit.) the thing is, i don't know what's next. and that scares me.

in the course of being pregnant, i've had a lot of conversations with my mom about these anxieties - about how i don't want to lose myself by being a stay-at-home mom, etc. and at some point she said, "sometimes i think you think i gave up by staying home." i didn't want to hurt her; that wasn't what i was thinking of or what i meant at all. then this weekend i realized that our situations are quite different: when i was born, she'd been a nurse for several years. she loved her job, felt competent, and had a professional identity. she had rewarding work that she could go back to. i'm still in grad school, have no idea what is next in my academic career, or, honestly, if i even want and academic career anymore. very different experiences. i told her this today, and she said, "you have a point. i never thought of that."

anders reminds me that in denmark, being a phd candidate is the start of a research career. it's a legit position, and is treated as such. it's not studentship, but rather is a professional post. so, he says, you've been working on your career in an entry-level position for the past eight years. that's a good place to be.

i like this sort of thinking.

i am also a bit of a control-freak, and so am finding this kind of thinking hard to embrace when i feel that i am staring into the void. don't they say that things come in threes? well, my void is the vastness opening before me in terms of motherhood, career, and home. because not only am i becoming a mother and finishing a phd with little idea of what comes next, but i am also moving to denmark come september. threes.

and yet, i have to say, i'm glad it's happening all at once, in a way. protracted change can be a bit harder than just jumping in from a great height, stark naked and screaming.

more on this next time, perhaps. a little note to myself on where i want to go with this train of thought: process and progress. and trust. and myths about accomplishment and success. and putting one paw in front of the other (even, perhaps, if you don't know the trail at all).
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(no subject) [Jan. 31st, 2015|12:28 am]
Today was one of those days when not much got done on the dissertation, but so many other things did. And I feel the need to record them here, just for a moment, to hold them in this prism today so that I remember. Because while things have been going well with writing, I also know that the goodness is fleeting and before too long, I’ll be banging my head on my desk again. The reassuring thing is that I have been doing this for long enough now that I know that when that moment comes, after a few moments of really feeling just down in the dumps about it all, I’ll be able to grab hold of some perspective. The badness has its limits too.

1. At lunch at the Loft today with Pawan: I was lamenting how sometimes I just don’t know why I’m doing this work. It won’t change anything, least of all for the people about whom I am writing. My therapist said, “But isn’t it enough that it’s all red tape? This is the thing you have to do so that you get those three little letters after your name, which will magically qualify you to teach at a university, which is what you love to do. You love teaching. That is where you change minds.” And Pawan added this: we do this because it is creative work, and is one of the only ways for us to both live well and ethically, and to create. And the creativity is what makes it so rewarding, and so hard. In that moment, I realized that yes, this is all in all both an intensely creative project, and an ethical one. It is creative and ethical work. It is creative AND ethical. And there is so very much to love about it. I was suddenly overcome with this feeling: I really, truly, deeply hope that I can make a career out of this. Though I have been plotting what-to-do-next and so necessarily vocally disparaging academia, this is what I want to do. It has been a long, such a very long, time since I felt that way. But the possibility positively rang out through my being today. I felt filled with light.
2. Outside Elana’s office, waiting for our meeting: Fernando, a recent hire in our department, saw me waiting in the hall and stopped to ask how I am feeling. I told him about the joys of you, Ziggy, and the harder, more uncomfortable parts. How you are growing, and coming so soon now. How I am trying to get the dissertation finished before you do. He said, “Don’t worry about it. What you don’t know, what you cannot possibly believe right now, is that you are already finished. The dissertation is just a form you are filling out to meet a requirement. Five people are going to read it, and every single dissertation is bad. Don’t be hard on yourself right now. Rest when you need to. Take good care of you.”
3. In Elana’s office, talking about my second chapter: This “disaster chapter,” as I’ve been calling it, referring to its very scattered brokenness, turns out to be not such a disaster, nor so broken, after all – at least in my advisor’s eyes. We spoke at length, and so honestly, about the work and what it does, and where it will go – the musts and the mights of it. There’s plenty of editing to do: more theory, and better introduced, for example. But she loves the writing itself. What a relief. She spoke about “the book.” At one point, we were talking about the tension of my being able to leave Beirut, and the perpetual grappling with that – in my fieldwork and in my writing. She looked at me and said, “Yes, but you were hardly a tourist, Erin.” And she recounted for me what I always question and yet know to be true: that this work has caused my life to rub up against great joy and great tragedy; that I have changed. I started to cry and she held my hand. I told her my dreams about you, Peter, and of Beirut. How friends have started going dark on Facebook, how worry and fear gnaw at me, daily and nightly. She said, “This is hardly just a social science dissertation.”
4. At the Social Justice/Arab Spring talk tonight: The speakers were wonderful. Mark Levine and Asef Bayat featured. And so many of my thoughts and feelings were justified by their observations and arguments. The importance of everyday spaces for resistance and protest, for example. Foucault’s call to look in the unexpected places for the richness of things. I felt keenly that I could justify the somewhat disparate case studies of my dissertation, even the ephemerality of them, with confidence now. What a great relief! What a wonderful feeling!
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writing. [Jan. 15th, 2015|03:32 pm]
sometimes listening to interviews from beirut, making notes, trying to write about this...
oh, i am so humbled.
and so pained.
sometimes this project feels equivalent to digging out my heart. i just want to curl up and cry. so many people have suffered, in the name of what? so many people continue to suffer in more and more barbaric ways, why?
cheryl strayed wrote in her "dear sugar" column about finishing her first book, and how it felt like taking a second beating heart out of her chest. and that is all well and good. and i think i understand that. but what the fuck, man? how am i supposed to account for the lives and the triumphs and the suffering of people whose experience i appreciate but will never fully understand?
i am still stumped by this question. i have 4 months to finish this thing. and i don't suppose i will ever be able to answer it.
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p.e.k. [Dec. 31st, 2014|01:27 pm]
i dreamt of you for the first time last night. i'd just been thinking yesterday: "i wonder when i will dream of peter." you must have heard me, or my heart/psyche just needed so desperately to connect with you.
in this dream, our friendship and your disappearance were much the same: brief but intense, and traumatic but not entirely unexpected, respectively. we were in berkeley for some reason, and you were living with a bunch of syrian immigrants. we saw each other around town, at the gym, our friendship covered in layer after layer of everyday americana. your voice drawled, drawing horizons of cornfields and plains, the only sound i could hear in the dream. besides wheels on gravel when the car that would take you away pulled up outside your house.
in the dream, i had suddenly remembered it was october 3, the day this year when ISIS named you as its next target. in the dream, i knew i had to get to you, i knew this was bad. i ran through a door in your house, but you were already answering the knocking at the front door. i just saw the back of you - your buzzed hair, the white shirt you always wore for nights out in Beirut - before they pulled you into the black car waiting outside. you didn't struggle. you seemed to know this was coming. and the men who lived with you did too.
i hated myself for waiting so long, for not getting to you sooner and warning you of what was coming.
i woke up crying, missing you, so sorry for all i left unsaid: both the encouragement and love i should have given you in more abundance, and the gentle warnings i should have persisted with when i saw you. in the face of your beauty and bravery, peter, i cowered, not wanting to encourage too much or warn too often. i know that no matter what i'd said, you still would have gone on ahead. that was your way, and it is something i love(d) most about you. so let this be a lesson then: in the face of a fierce spirit, let only love speak. and let your spirit be carried forward by those of us lucky enough to have enjoyed the gorgeous complexity that you were.
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slip sliding away. [Aug. 30th, 2013|07:25 pm]
i'm back in san diego. i've been back for two months, actually, and it's good. life here is good. that sounds banal and boring, but considering what i left behind, the goodness is a relief in a few specific ways. first of all, i was nervous about leaving beirut. beirut sometimes feels like a lover with whom i cheat on My American Life. this lover is nuanced and passionate and difficult in terribly sexy and revealing ways that my home life just isn't. it opens me up, keeps me present, peels away the dullness and the defenses and the self-pity. being back in sd, i feel far away, as i knew i would. some days the poignancy of that distance is sharper than others. some days i am very much in-the-moment here. i credit beirut with reteaching me how to do that. life is simply different there, and i'm sure as i write more, i'll trace out the small and big stuff of this difference. but some days i feel like i'm walking around with a wound that looks like a mediterranean sunset, my ears aching to hear the muezzins call out at prayer time from their turreted nests around the city, my feet bored by evenness, missing the chaos of beirut sidewalks. sometimes i want to cry, but can't.
because something else i learned in beirut is that life is hard. it is so fucking hard. it is hard in ways that i had never imagined or experienced, that i still cannot imagine and have not, thankfully, experienced. but beirut also taught me that life goes on and on and on in spite of these difficulties, that the dark days and too-quiet nights, those nights of waiting punctuated by fire and shots - bullets, and alcohol to dull the staccato rhythm of a heart that feels the danger closing in....these things keep you present, keep you both tentatively but deeply grateful, and so exhaustively angry. yes yes, you can be both at once. my lover beirut taught me that. my lover beirut recalibrated my neuroses. i can breathe again, the dissertation doesn't feel like such a big life-or-death deal anymore. my hands and heart have opened. and open they remain. so i don't cry. but i am trying to write.
and yet every time i hear about another shooting, another bomb, how my friends are waiting (and, in some cases i imagine, readying their arms stockpiles), all i want to do is return. i know my family is relieved i am home. sometimes i am relieved too. life is good. life is good. but i cannot express what it is like to live - to wake and eat and sleep and dream and dance and kiss and drink and write and read and walk - in a city and country where the sounds of joy and war are equally recognizable. where one quickly figures out the difference between fireworks and gunshots (not at first apparent, i promise you), and knows that gunshots can also be sounds of celebration. i miss the rooftops, the quiet conversations, the hopeless laughter and drinking, the hopeful connection. i miss it. i miss it i miss it i miss it.
but life is good. i am "home," whatever that means now, and i am here with the love of my life and my family. and those things, those things are good. they are *beyond* good. they are rich and quiet. they are sustenance.
and so every time i see an airplane cross the night sky towards the east, and every time i feel my heart following its bright light across the blue-black darkness, i focus on my feet, solidly rooted, safe on this ground on which live the people i love most in the world.
but the wound still reopens, bleeding its salty sea out of my fingertips because exiting through my eyes is not an option anymore. i wear it. i wear it with pride.


tangent: i've been thinking so much about this concept, this idea of "return," and what it means to me now, midway through my 33rd year, facing down the prospect of this long-ass document, facing down the prospect of jobs or no jobs, of getting married and, once again, moving away.
there are physical places one returns to, or longs to return to. these places are sometimes shifting homes. "home," in fact, can be a hard place to pinpoint.
and there is the home you carry inside you. does that sound trite? oh i don't care.
because what i have realized is that there are rooms in my home, in the sense of this portable home - my soul, my heart, my psyche, whatever it is you want to call it - that i have closed off, boarded up, walked away from.
these rooms include: solitary time, writing (this writing), daydreaming, and God.
these rooms are dusty. they need a good sweep and polish. they need some sunlight. i want to give them that sunlight.
days go by so quickly, and are so fraught with the expectations of one's profession, relationships, duties. one feels beholden, obligated, worried about what others think.
i will not blame my profession for my choices, conscious or subconscious, to close these doors. but i will say this: it hasn't helped. writing has become a difficult enterprise on which so much depends. sometimes it's like my mind is trying to swim through an old plastic jar of play-doh to get one thought out. so difficult. so joyless. so exhausting.
and there is this stigma about God in the academy. friends have expressed shock when they've come across my Bible and my Book of Common Prayer. one former roommate, upon entering my room and finding both of these on my bed, said, "That's a bible." "Yes," I said, and smiled. he had nothing else to say.
i mention God specifically because I have been meaning to go back to church on the regular, but i have not. i have been meaning to pick up my bible and read it, and i have not. and i don't know why. i just don't know why.
and then last night, combing the academic wikis for postdoc and job listings, i came across a position at a Lutheran university in indiana (a place that is definitely one of the very homiest homes i carry around with me). the listing called for applicants from a wide variety of academic disciplines, but specifically those who were interested in teaching at a faith-based school. and i thought, yes, that's me. that is something i would like. within limits, of course. i could not teach at a catholic institution. i've gone to school/taught at one, and the gap between it ideology and my own was far to wide. i would not be happy, i would not do my job as well as i could if i felt i could not speak my mind. but other than that, yes, i could be at a faith-based school.
and so i thought, yes, i want to apply.
and my next thought was: my advisor and my department are going to have some big questions for me about this. they're going to discourage it.
because on the whole they, following marx of course, believe religion to be the opiate of the masses. it is not freedom, or warmth, or a loving community to them. it is the wool over the eyes, the genie in the bottle, the snake oil salesman.
i'll never be able to convince them otherwise, and nor do i want to. some of the things i've seen have made me feel the same way.
but it's not all like that.
and so i feel it: here comes my first big hornlock of post-postgrad life. neuroses be damned. life is too good, life is too sweet, there are too many bright lights in the dark night to follow to really care about this.
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just some thoughts... [Jan. 17th, 2013|08:16 pm]
i spent much of the day in hamra, at Cafe Younes, which is the better part of 100 years old and was my favorite place to work or just fuck about when i lived in qraytem, a neighborhood nearby.

on the way there, in a taxi, the passenger in the front began arguing with the driver as he drove us onto bliss st, which borders the american university of beirut, and parallels hamra.

as usual, there was a lot of traffic, and apparently this passenger was going to approximately the same point my backseat companion and i were.

he asked, in arabic, why the driver had gone this way. there is always so much traffic there, and it didn't make sense.

then the driver said something to the effect of, "you're not lebanese. you should be happy to be here."

now, my arabic isn't that great AT ALL, and i'm not very good at sussing out people's accents, but i'm pretty sure this passenger was syrian. there's an influx of syrians in the city right now (for obvious reasons), and the lebanese are pretty divided on their presence, and more frighteningly, whether or not assad should fall.

and i had this thought, as i was walking home tonight: i have been in love with beirut for a while now. but it's key to hold in mind that part of my enchantment may have had to do with issues of both space and time. space: the fact is that i've not really approximated any semblance of fluency in levantine arabic. and there's a distance that comes with that, a comfortable distance. what i mean to say is that there's a certain level of romance in which one can indulge when one cannot speak the language of the place one is living/visiting. time: unlike so many of my friends, not to mention my family, who live here, i will not likely end up living here for the rest of my life. i'm embarrassed to admit this, but i sometimes catch myself in these moments where their everyday frustrations become my little amusements. all that traffic? oh well, at least i get to catch a better, more evenly-paced view of the city. expensive flats? ha! not by american standards. slow internet? keeps from fucking around on facebook so much, God bless it.

and that's just it, isn't it? i live here, but it's more like an extended visit. and as much as i love the idea that i am doing fieldwork, that i am connecting and making friends....well, eventually i'll leave. and this makes me sad and ashamed.

but this moment today, in the cab. well, it was a crack at that shiny veneer beirut has always held for me. because i *am* getting better at the language, and so people's everyday conversations are becoming audibly legible to me. and with that audible legibility comes an intellectual legibility. and sometimes what i read there isn't pretty.

but maybe those unpretty - and yeah, those downright ugly moments - are where something beyond enchantment can happen, where connection lies. like i wrote about here: http://erininbeirut.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/snapshots-of-an-afternoon/ the context of the moment is being built up for me in different ways every single day.

anyway. i transcribed today, and in the 15 minutes i got through, so many interesting issues came up. tonight: art opening, hanging with roommates, going to hear a friend play in a bar just down the street.

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oh hai. [Jan. 17th, 2013|12:01 pm]
[Current Location |Lebanon, Beirut]
[Current Mood |peacefulpeaceful]
[Current Music |foxygen - san francisco]

15 days later...

i was talking to anders last night about how i'd decided to start up my LJ again, and about all the reasons why. here are a few.

i write a lot these days, or rather, i should be writing a lot these days. i am in the throes of dissertation research, and you know, dissertations are kind of long. so i write. not least of all, here: http://erininbeirut.wordpress.com. but dissertations are also rather anxiety-producing. over the last few years, in the midst of diss research and lots of changes in my personal life, i've noticed a really annoying trait of mine: i spiral. when i start feeling nervous or insecure or anxious about one thing (ex: diss), that feeling picks up speed and whirls about and touches down in all other parts of my life (ex: love life), some of which are not terribly related to the issue causing the feeling.

and sometime in the not too distant past, i realized a couple of other things: one - i love writing, but it's become this big scary chore for me. and two - writing used to really anchor me to reality, or at least allow me to explore my feelings, to externalize the spiral, which was consequently rendered not-so-scary-after-all.

i also remembered that livejournal used to be my place to drop that anchor. when i was feeling any range of big emotions, writing here helped me to suss things out a bit more productively, and also to reach out to friends in a way that, let's face it, facebook just doesn't let you do. because while livejournal always was a performance of a kind, at least a lot of that performance had to do with actual thoughts rather than bright photos and witty quips. don't get me wrong: i'm the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to indulging the social media vending machine that is facebook. but just now, i'm in the mood to sit down to a real journaling meal. know what i mean?

and i'm not just in the mood. i need this. because at the end of the day, i write my diss, i write in my other blog, but all that writing brings up so many feelings that i cannot necessarily deal with in the texts themselves. and besides, my life is more than my diss, and more than being erininbeirut.

so i'm back. and i was so, so glad to see that so many of you are still here too.


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i'm back. [Jan. 2nd, 2013|11:47 pm]
and at it. i don't even know how long it's been since i've written here, or if any of my friends are even writing here anymore, but i've decided i miss this. so here we go, 2013. the year i returned to livejournaling.

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i think... [Aug. 13th, 2011|03:01 pm]
[Current Mood |uncomfortableuncomfortable]

i have the loveliest friends, and was so touched by the fun responses to news of good test results about two weeks ago.

unfortunately, i had a less than fun phone call from my doctor yesterday. because of scarring from another operation, she may not have been able to sample cells from the area she needed to access. that "normal" test result may not be valid after all.

this is crushing. people here are telling me that i need to focus on all the good things in my life, which makes me feel like an ingrate. obviously my life is a ridiculous abundance of blessings. i can't even count them all! but dealing with the same health problems for two and a half years is a heavy weight to carry. i am emotionally exhausted. and this news was especially hard for the earlier news of (apparently errant) normalcy.

i am trying to keep my wits about me and move forward, but they're now talking about wheeling me into an operating room for a procedure that is usually done in an office. because of scarring, because it's so painful to bust through (they did it once while i was totally awake and had not had any painkillers. it was pretty awful). i am supposed to be leaving the country in about a month and a half. and i just want this drama to stop. i just want to get on with my life.

i know there is a lesson in here. i know that self-pity is not attractive. i know that compared to others' problems, this is absolutely nothing, and that i am lucky to have access to great healthcare. but sometimes it's the hardest thing not to wallow.

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"the waiting is the hardest part" [Aug. 1st, 2011|02:45 pm]
[Current Mood |uncomfortableuncomfortable]
[Current Music |tom petty, obvs.]

again i find myself waiting for test results, this time to see if the dysplasia is clearing up, as it seemed to be last time. or if the combination of qualifying exam stress (and the attendant late, late nights and shameful amounts of red velvet cake) and prednisone for another condition i've been fighting were enough to set me back.

my doctor should be calling sometime this afternoon. and what is so hard about this is how much other stuff hangs on what she tells me, not least of all my chance to move overseas in the fall and begin my research on the ground.

of course, i'm also waiting for news about opportunities to fund said research. it doesn't look as though my "alternate" status for the Boren Fellowship will change anytime soon. and i am waiting...and waiting...and waiting to hear back about the teaching job at the American University of Beirut. i'll be calling the English Dept. chair late tonight to see if we can touch base. and there may be a freelance gig in denmark! but that's not for sure, either, and i'll probably have to figure out the greencard sitch there if it pans out.

in short: so much of my life is out of my control at this moment, and i am having a really, really hard time with that today. i know that the sense of control we feel over our own lives is mostly an illusion anyway. today it just seems particularly unmanageable.


EDIT: test results are in. NORMAL!! normal for the first time in two and a half years!! HOORAY!! oh happy happy day. :)
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