Monday, November 5, 2007


I have two staplers on my desk. One is sleek, black, compact. The other is nasty brown, wrapped in packing tape, and clunky.

I need both of them because I tent to fixate on anything that secures things to things. I have ample supplies of many tapes, several types of paper clips, a box of various sizes of clamps. And I need both staplers to stay in my sight because they are not just staplers to me.

They, to me, are signs of completion and order. I print a paper, I copy a reading, I stack some bills, basically anything that I can squash down into about a quarter inch, I put under these devices and slam my fist down. Suddenly, with a satisfying thunk and crunch, my life is in complete control for the half second as the sound of the mechanism reverberates against the walls of my desk. It's an almost permanent binding, but reversible if I so choose. In just as prominent a place I have a menacing staple remover-- almost as important to my sanity as the fantastic machines and my arsenal of staples. I can bind. I can loose. All is well.

Nothing. I mean nothing. Disturbs me more than when I can't staple something that seems to me to be eminently staple-able. I begin to perspire. I pace. I create a stack of the failed, traitorous staples at my right hand, just to the side of my mousepad. I stand and begin to pound on the staplers, alternating as my efforts further chew the front and back pages of the document, creating a pocketed battleground of half-hearted holes up and down the top left corner. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal both ways. It has to work somehow. I rip the tangled metal bits from the stack of white pulp. It doesn't even work if I flip it over, as if the loose pages wouldn't notice my flank of its iron resistance to my attempted penetration. I pound harder, I snap the pages straight. The even edges satisfy me, but I have to--I must--freeze them where they stand.

Eventually I punch through, my vision blurring and my palms sweating. It is finished.

Now all I have to do is read the article. Understand it. Talk intelligently about it. Or turn in the paper. Edit it. Review it. Read the comments and rewrite. Over and over. Or pay the bill. Again next month. And the month after.

I need a life sized stapler.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

On the Margins

I felt the impetus to write this blog several weeks ago, but with busyness etc., I didn't. I'm now glad I waited to let it percolate a bit more. This would have been a very different blog a couple weeks ago. Between then, when I was feeling increasingly and (as is always the case) forcibly marginal-ized and now, when I am feeling very comfortable on the margins, much has changed.

My recognition of marginal living came with a phone call, as I have said, several weeks ago. I was, at the time, at Trinity (College, Deerfield), just finished talking to the bookstore people about course texts for next semester, and was making my way to Chicago (that is, University of Chicago) to work at the coffee shop. With the joys of cell phones, I can be reached, even here in my car--my first intimation of the transitory living that I was only beginning to realize.

I pick up the phone call, from a number I didn't recognize, and hesitantly said "hello." Quickly, the voice on the other end says, "Hi, this is JoAnn, calling from the Dean's office about your application. Are you on campus?" Immediately several questions begin swirling in my head: "what campus? I am on A campus..."; "what dean's office?"; and most importantly, "what application?" The only applications that I was thinking about at the time were those I was planning on writing in a couple months to PhD programs. Did someone in the Dean's office of DePaul have a vision that I was going to apply again and manage to find my new cell phone number just so they can send me the important message to not even bother? You may laugh--but I am telling you, this seriously went through my head in those interminably long seconds of utter confusion and panic. I stammered an apologetic, "I'm sorry, what campus are you talking about?"

It turns out that it was Chicago--where I was heading. Ok, but what application? And what was the problem? I had been working at the Coffee shop for some weeks already, and things were going fine. I thought the application was a mere formality.

It wasn't.

I soon found out that because I wasn't a student at Chicago, it wasn't so easy for me to work at the coffee shop. Turns out I wasn't supposed to be there at all. Thankfully, there seems to be some loophole where if I apply for a temporary position, I may work for a time--no more than 6 months. Whether or not I will be able to fill out another temporary application, I don't know. Actually, 3 weeks later, I still don't know. And incidentally have still not been paid. 8 weeks after my first shift.

Needless to say, I suppose, this entire incident got me thinking about what I was doing. I am
a student (but only non-degree, and for only one class) at Loyola. I am a faculty member (but only adjunct and part time) at Trinity College. I am a barista (but only on a temporary worker permit) at University of Chicago's coffee shop. Making this scatteredness even more, well, scattered, is the reality that all of these places are very far away from each other and 2/3rds are very far from home (hour commutes, at least). No wonder I was feeling a bit threatened on the margins. I am going out of my way to be in all of these VERY good places, but exactly because of my outsider status I was called out and my continued employment was in jeopardy.

Thankfully, the seeming marginalization of earlier this fall has given way to my current contentedness with this marginal existence. I can imagine no better places than Trinity, Loyola and Chicago to meet the best collections of students, professors and staff to meet me exactly where I currently have need. My engagement is, necessarily, limited in all of these places, but it is enough, for now, as I am figuring out my place in several conversations, and preparing to succinctly state what that is, exactly, on PhD applications.

Margin living is good. It gives me an interesting perspective on myself, with various hats (or aprons, as the case may be), and institutions.

Borrowing privileges at three great Chicago-area libraries is pretty good too...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Hello, Autumn, my old friend

Nothing says, "Goodbye, and hope to see you real soon" to summer like a cloudless, warm day with family, pizza, new friends, cheap books and half-price gelato at midnight. It makes fall in Chicago--the harbinger of never-ending winter--a little easier to take. Thankfully, that is precisely the kind of solstice that Mike and I were privileged to celebrate this past Saturday. Beginning late, as do all the best Saturdays, we listened to our favourite radio programme--"Wait, Wait, Don't tell me!", cleaned and had a leisurely lunch of delicious leftovers from the gourmet dinner the night before, when Mike's parents came by to begin the afternoon's festivities.

We walked through the tree lined, sun spotted streets of Hyde Park to U of C where we met up with new Div School friends from the previous night's downtown excursion. Loading on to the yellow school bus, we headed up LSD to Navy Pier where we met up with some of Mike's siblings and took an architectural boat tour to find out the history of Chicago's very distinctive skyline. Faces kissed by summer-feeling sun and the reminder-wind telling us that fall was right around the corner, it was a wonderfully pleasant and informative trip with fascinating history of may buildings that were before nameless to me.

Leaving downtown, we all went back to Hyde Park and continued our architectural sensitivity by looking around U of C. After a bite to eat at Giordano's we were all pretty tired. However, after the family left, midnight madness was only beginning. 57th street came alive after 9:30 where Powell's had a fabulous 50% off sale, and so did the Istria cafe. We got to scope out and enjoy the deals and deliciousness that was the last few hours of summer in Hyde Park with some of our new friends from the Divinity School. Now that is the way to ring in the fall, summer style!

So after just over a month in our new place, we are finally settling in to our fall routine with Mike in class full-time and doing work as a research assistant. Not the first day of school, but it was close...:

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Venturing out in Hyde Park

Well, for maybe one of the last days before it got pretty cold here, we took a long walk around the neighborhood. We got as far south as 57th street, under the Metra tracks where we tried out a coffee shop/cafe' that we had heard a lot of good things about--The Istria Cafe'. And let me tell you, it was worth the wait and worth the hype. Here is us enjoying some FANTASTIC gelato--I got coconut, and Mike, lemon...

Then, since it was such a great night, we went for a walk along Promontory Point, and saw the sunset (of course it wasn't over the lake, but it was nice nonetheless). Here are some shots by the lake, and of the skyline...

Friday, September 14, 2007

two months, three moves, four jobs, and 1 international trip later...

Yes, it has been awhile. And yes we have had several requests to post. But after all this time, too much has happened to fit in a blog. We are going to get better about posting, and when I say "we" I mean, undoubtedly, me. So, here is the skinny.

Two months--
In the last post we showed you pictures of our future place, just about a month before we moved into it. Now we have been here for a month and are all settled in and loving it. Here are some pictures of the view:
And here are some pictures of the sunrise near our place:
Three moves--
Leaving our DeKalb sublet situation in the beginning of August, we moved briefly into my former boss' house (also in DeKalb) while they were on vacation and we were otherwise homeless. Unfortunately, the wanted to come home much before we wanted to leave their very comfortable, spacious and quiet house, and we moved for the second time in two weeks to my very generous in-laws home for a couple days. Then comes the discrepancy about the third move--two days later, we moved all of our stuff (REMARKABLY) into U-Haul's very biggest trailer, and a truck bed, and an emptied out van (and the trunk of our car, and another couple trips...). While I just count this as step one of the final BIG move into our Hyde Park home, you may differ, and are welcome to it--it helps the pitious sounding-ness of the end of our summer. Finally, on August 15 we moved into the apartment that we have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Here are some move pictures:

Four jobs--
And that's just in the last week! After saying good-bye to the sweet situation at the Laundry Lounge and Tan (and with it my fakey tan), I have been in high job-search gear--maybe a little TOO high. Of course, I have been teaching at Trinity College ever since August 23, but this was still going to leave me quite a bit of time on my hands. So, I started a job dog walking near where I am taking a class (at Loyola) in Rogers Park. Realizing at just about the same time as I got another job as barista at The Grounds of Being coffee shop that it was a huge toll on me and the car to have the burden of a daily additional commute to the entirely opposite side of the city, I, not so gracefully, backed out of it just recently. This takes away some of my car-dependency and allows me to stay nearer home, two things that I really like (especially since "home" means Hyde Park). In addition to these permanent situation jobs, I also joined Mike and the Fay's crew at the yearly Sandwich fair this past weekend as table-wiper-upper and meat server. What a fun, though very tiring couple days. I can't complain though, since I was only there for part of the day, and got to be inside the tent--not near the fires outside for the whole day like Mike. Anyway, next week, dividing my time only between the coffee shop and TIU, should be just right--for now, that is...

1 International trip--
Yes, for those of you who haven't yet heard, this was the trip to Toronto to finish my MA with my MA defense. Thankfully, it was just days before I needed it done-- to teach undergraduates at Trinity. Our next Canadian trip is planned for Mike's defense in early November--how exciting! Here are some pictures of Ontario, but not the defense:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

As of recently...

Hello, friends...
My mom informs me that we have not posted recently, and she is absolutely right. So, here is a quick update on what we have been up to since in DeKalb, IL (beginning June 1).

Hanging with Bob. As a celebration of our return to the States (I'm sure), Bob Phelan threw a BBQ at his house just days after we arrived. Even though it wasn't really for us, it was a great excuse for everyone to get together to kick off the summer!

Writing our respective theses. Yvana has sent hers in, (yeah!) and will traveling up to TO sometime in the next five weeks to defend. Mike is plugging away, working on chapter three currently and on schedule for finishing before he starts at UofC.

Attending the CRC's yearly Synod meeting. Yvana had the joy of being able to go with Lori Evenhouse to Grand Rapids in June to join with hundreds of women in support of overtures for women (and men) in the CRC. It was a wonderfully encouraging time with fellow women in the CRC.

Listening to the DeKalb Municipal Band. Bob and Paul came out to visit, and we took them to several DeKalb specialities--the free concert in the park, Ollies' frozen custard, and Borders right before closing. It was quite the night, and I even learned how to waltz...

Watching the Evergreen Park fourth of July Parade and Fireworks. As has become our yearly tradition, we journeyed out to the south suburbs once again for fourth of July festivities in Evergreen Park. Together with the Reppmann family, we watched the parade over a picnic dinner and then enjoyed fireworks. We had wonderful weather, and, as always, great company!

Working at our respective jobs. Mike is currently in his eleventh summer/year at Fay's, still catering deliciously MSG-ed porkchops and chicken for hungry mid-westerners. Notably, he has cooked for former speaker of the house Dennis Hastert. Yvana has been working at the nearby Laundry Lounge and Tan and in between cleaning and closing, working on her tan and catching up on reading.

Working out our many moves. As many of you know, we moved from Toronto to DeKalb early in the summer and have been enjoying immensely the city here and the proximity to the library! We are also preparing for our new home in Chicago (facebook us--see sidebar--if you would like our address as of August 15). Unfortunately we need to move out of DeKalb before moving into Chicago and will have a week or so in various houses while our stuff is in storage before the big move in the middle of August. If anyone is free on the fifteenth and willing to help for a first look at our new Hyde Park apartment and some pizza, let Mike or I know! (In case you are confused about how classy DeKalb is, the above pictures are of our Hyde Park apartment)

Preparing for the GRE. Yvana is taking the GRE once again in just over a week. Hopefully my vocabulary and writing has improved enough through thesis writing to help my verbal score... Prayers on July 26, please!

Visiting with Family. Yvana's mom, aunt Norene and cousin Blake came for a visit just recently where we went out to eat, visited extended family in Rockford, got lost in Northern Illinois, and went furniture and yarn shopping. It was a full 36 hours!

Well, it will hopefully not be another six + weeks before we post again, but if it is, bug us about it (it works!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Traffic interview

We were sitting in the Hindsdale Oasis, enjoying the feel of ice cream sliding down our throats and the sight of steady traffic passing into the shadow beneath the underpass of what could only be called a combination of American's two lasting monuments to humanity: the superhighway and the mall. The experience was made complete by the conspicuous McDonald's and Mobile Oil corporate logos placed before the exits that no doubt thousands of cars passed in the twenty minutes we sat observing the cardiovascular pulse of logistics in the early afternoon--before rejoining it a short time later.

Back in the USA. I was in the midst of chauffeuring Yvana back from her interview at TIU--her second of the day.

"It was a good experience," she said as she mixed her half of the TCBY sundae until the sprinkles blurred into an ovular rainbow. "I think the conversation went well."

"From what I saw of it, you got along great with everyone." I moved to segregate my half of the ice cream bowl, preserving the integrity of the sprinkles before she could blend them all into a nondescript pudding. "Once that other guy showed up."

"Yeah, but it was good to catch my breath a little after the first two. But really, I don't think anything will come of it." She looked up as a break in traffic collapsed in on itself, the slower cars of the advance wave falling to meet the faster cars of the next.

"The other interview at U of C went great though, wouldn't you say?" The process that just occurred in the southbound lane repeated itself on the northbound; I observed while I scraped the smooth dessert off the spoon and enjoyed the crunch of the candies. She was trying not to get her hopes up, since we had done this often enough, and failed in supposedly easier situations, to know that nothing was worth remaining either excited or depressed over for too long. "And the phone interview at UIC was pretty decent."

"They both went better than I expected, except for that weird U of C setup." The stream of motion in both directions reached a crescendo, and breaklights reflected a pool of red on the right. We both had high hopes for U of C, since that would mean we would both live and work in the neighborhood, which would among other things allow us to renounce car ownership for at least another year. True, we didn't want to get our hopes up. But it was certainly better to balance expectation between hope and disappointment, maintaining secret ambitions and untold terrors reflected in the horrifyingly mute future we both foresaw.

"Still," she said after taking another bite. I was surprised to hear a crunch when she chewed her sprinkles. I assumed they would have dissolved. "Still, it would be something if I got the Trinity job. Now that would be an affirmation."

"Would you want to live on the north side then?" One lane sped up, the cars quickly disappearing after a quick turn down the road, obscured by the sound retardant cement walls on either side of the tollway. Then it slowed, and the northbound lane seemed to take its cue to go faster. The play of cars was tempting my belief that the same few cars simply circled our vantage point, performing the same dance with each other on an endless cycle.

"Not really. I--we--were so excited about living in Hyde Park." We both hated commuting with unbridled conviction, cars in general nearly as much. Two years as dedicated cyclists and TTC'ers entrenched a distaste for single person automotive travel rivaled perhaps only by a U.S. border guard's hatred for pretty much anybody. But the opportunity for her to have her own classroom, teaching two foundational courses at a respected institution like Trinity College would certainly do no harm to her CV. She bit down on another sprinkle that she had picked out of her molar.

We sat in silence for a while. "Something will work out," I chirped over the hum of vehicles passing under our feet. Maybe something would, but if it did we both were haunted by the anticipation that it would be less than ideal. Hopes raised too often: Southwest (both times), Timothy, Mishawaka, Charlotte. Even Borders. Didn't want to add Trinity to the list.

I thought of the first time we went through the process. We were lying on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, trying to hold down the few days we had left to enjoy the Pacific surf, forcing myself to forget about the waiting messages from principals back in Illinois. Other things pressed themselves onto my waiting memory while the ocean drew me into a trance of motion and sound. The soft, pebbly sand held your footprints for only a moment before they vanished into the surf, the foam slowing at your toes before rushing under the cuff of your pearl white wrap back into the steady turmoil of the deep water. When I saw you laughing, the strands of your sun bleached hair prying themselves free of your ponytail, holding the camera as I emerged from the wave that surprised me with the force it used to knock me over, the concerns of our new life seemed far from my mind. They were thousands of miles from that beach, that ocean, but only a few hours away from the moment you would get a phone call while we were still in bed from one prospect telling you that the school had decided to hire someone with more maturity.

Two horns cried foul when a small Toyota decided to pass through two lanes of traffic, seemingly on a whim. I took my last bite of ice cream, and let it turn to liquid in my mouth while I preserved the last few sprinkles on my tongue. "But what if they do offer? Do you want to accept?" The flow of incessant cars and trucks soon corrected the Toyota's faux pas, absorbing the disturbance moments after it occurred.

"I think so. But I doubt it will happen."

"Yeah." We threw the small dish away. She ran to the bathroom before we headed out, and I walked through the sparsely utilized lot to our borrowed car, savoring the flavor of the candies still lingering on my gums. When she came out, we merged into the rush of other cars, holding each other's hand.

Just at dusk, two weeks later, we heard the Ice Cream truck approaching on St. Clarens. Like a sucker, I ran out to the sidewalk and stood in eager anticipation. She emerged moments later with an accusatory smile. "I wish I had a camera to show you how ridiculous you look."

I suppose I did have time to put on my shoes instead of slippers, and don a more appropriate shirt, but on this sleepy sidestreet, cars rarely passed, and I didn't care what they thought anyway.

When it finally arrived, we each ordered a cone, and our friendly ice cream man dipped them both in a dish of multicolored, sprinkle candies.

"A congratulatory ice cream to you." I raised my cone.

"Thanks." She took the first bite. "I deserve it." We walked back into the house. She had already checked out several logic textbooks, and was perusing philosophical anthologies that focused on ethics. The melody from the truck faded into the quiet evening.

Those sprinkles were delicious.