A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Musings on Graduate School and Marriage

Graduate school is a world unto itself, with terminology, protocols, expectations, and events not quite like anything else in the world. Get enough graduate students together to talk about their personal lives, and eventually someone is bound to bring up the fact that her family doesn't understand what she does.

It isn't so bad during your first years of graduate school, because anyone who has gone to college has some idea of what coursework is like. (However, it may be difficult to explain to family members that no, there are no tests: it's all about writing seminar papers.) I think it's also easier to talk about graduate life when you're teaching, because everyone experiences teaching, at least from the perspective of the student. But most people do not write dissertations, or take comprehensive exams, or have to submit a dissertation prospectus and pass a proposal meeting. The work that makes up the life of a graduate student past the coursework stage, then, is a complete mystery to most people.

This isn't just a matter of an "us and them," where "us" is everyone who has gone to graduate school, and "them" is everyone who has not. It's much more complicated than that, because it's about life in a unique subculture, one in which there are many sub- sub- cultures. Even those who have master's degrees may not really grasp what it is like to produce a dissertation: master's work often has a different focus, even if the coursework is similar. You might think that people with Ph.Ds would generally be able to understand the plight of the graduate student, but this not always the case, particularly if those Ph.Ds were earned in other fields, in other eras, or even simply from other universities. There's a generation gap in the Academy as elsewhere (though a good director can do a great deal to bridge it), and on top of that, every discipline has its own culture. (If you need convincing, compare the life of a biology researcher to that of a student in the humanities. Their experiences will be worlds apart.) For that matter, every department has its own culture: my life as an English graduate student in my department may not quite correspond to someone else's life in a larger state school or an Ivy League school.

It is, therefore, a great boon to me that my husband is also a graduate student in English, in the same department I attend. We can complain to each other about our work, and understand what we are talking about. Or we can rejoice over minor milestones, likewise understanding without exaggerating their importance. Not only do we work with many of the same people, we have to deal with the same sometimes insane beaurocracy. We have shared frustration with the absurdities of first year review, anger at unfair changes in policy, concern for the same friends or acquaintances who we fear are being dropped through the cracks in a competitive environment. We have also shared the relief of passing exams, receiving summer funding, or getting praise from an often-critical committee member.

But alas, the environment IS competitive, and at times, we are competing with each other. At perhaps no time has this been more true than now, when we are both on the job market. True, there aren't very many jobs for which we are both applying, since we fortunately work in different time periods and on different subjects. But that doesn't mean we aren't competing in other ways. I can't speak for my husband, but on my part there is, unfortunately, an tendency to compare my progress with his. What if he gets more favorable response to his job applications, more requests for materials? What if he gets an interview, and I don't? What if he gets more interviews than I do? What if he gets an on-campus visit, and I don't? Most threatening of all: what if he gets a job offer, and I don't?

This is not how I want to look at the situation. I want to look at the situation and say: "See how fortunate we are? Since we're both on the market, there are much better odds that one of us will get a decent job offer, or a good postdoc. Then the other of us will be able to adjunct until a better situation comes up. We don't have to worry as much as singles, or couples who are in different years, or who already have children to care for." This is what I do say, most of the time. But it's not how I'm thinking when I'm worrying about the job market at one a.m.

Originally, I was going to call this post "The Curse of the Academic Marriage," and it was simply going to be about how hard it is for two spouses on the job market at the same time to support one another fully. I changed the title in part because it seemed to be negative, but the truth is, it would have been an inaccurate title. In the end, my problem has little to do with the specific demands of graduate school or the Academy, and everything to do with a crucial principle of marriage: the idea that when one is married, the primary good to be concerned with becomes the good of the household. One's own good is still important, since individual well-being is fundamental to the well-being of groups one is in, but personal goods, personal desires, sometimes have to be subsumed into working for the good of the household.

There are wrong versions of this principle, of course. I heard one of them in a particulaly bad sermon I once heard on the subject of wifely submission. Submission, according to this pastor, meant that when a woman marries a man, she joins her husband's team. His goals become her goals. She works under him to achieve his goals.

I believe this metaphor to be fundamentally wrong insofar as it treats the married couple's goal as if it were the pre-existent goals of the husband. It treats the team as a pre-existent team which the wife joins, as if her life and work were just an addition or appendix to her husband's life and work. I don't think wives simply sign up to be on their husband's team. I think it is much more accurate to say that when a couple marry, they form an entirely new unit, an entirely new team, an entirely new family. And it is for the good of that family, that unit, that both husband and wife work. Their primary financial and spiritual goals become the goals of the family, not the career goals, spiritual goals, or personal development goals of either spouse as an individual. "Male headship" does not make sense as a Christian doctrine in any other context than this-- at least, not to me.

And I believe this. (See, after all, that old post on the Proverbialist Manifesto.) The problem is that this reprioritization of goals it is hard. It requires thinking in terms of "we" rather than "I." As if it weren't hard enough for us to die to ourselves so that we can live in Christ, we must also die to ourselves so that we can live in right relation to our families. And that, whether or not you'll pardon my language, is damn hard to do. I think for many of us, it is the struggle of a lifetime. It is the work of sanctification-- and believe me, it's no fun to be trying to work out one's salvation with fear and trembling while also trying to get a tenure-track job.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Catholic Worship

For the past year or so, I had had at the back of my mind an entry I wanted to write about liturgical differences between the Catholic mass and Protestant Sunday services. I was going to focus on the use of music as a way of getting at a broader feature. Then Amy Welborn went and did a whole series on how the music I'm used to as a Catholic isn't really what is intended for the liturgy anyway. And suddenly, my post seemed pointless.

I still have, at the back of my mind, some thoughts on different views of worship. But it would take too long to organize them coherently and type them out. I'll save that for another day. I do, however, want share some links with readers. The first is a sort of introduction to the Mass, for Evangelical Protestants who are unfamiliar and potentially wary of it. Then there's this link , which is a copy of the text of the modern Roman Catholic (that's Roman as in "not Eastern," people) liturgy, with a sidebar listing biblical texts supporting each action. Between these two references, there's a good deal of practical information about what goes on in the Catholic liturgy, why we do it, what it means.

In general, I think there is a lot of merit to the Eastern approach to worship, which simply says: "Come and see." Want to know what our religion is like? Come and see for yourself. But there are some people who not yet ready to "come and see" what Catholic life is like. These resources may be excellent for them.

(Thanks for the links, my sister!)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mystery Stuffing

There are three points I want to make in this post. First, an apology. Second, an explanation. Third, a Mystery so Mysterious that it needs capital letters.

1) I have not been blogging with new and exciting slow-cooker recipes very often in the last few months (barring yesterday's chili recipe) and I apologize for that. I have also not worked on the index of recipes that I've been considering for some time. As of now, it's impossible to find old recipes on this site unless you know what month they were published, or unless you use the handy-dandy search feature. I've been meaning to resolve that problem by creating an index and posting a link to the Crockery Recipe Index on the left-hand side bar. Not only have I not done that, I don't know when I will do that.

2) Here's my explanation. First, I am trying to write a novel in a month, and let me tell you, I am already several thousand words behind. I am strongly tempted to give up. But just this week I received an email from the NaNoWriMo people telling me not to give up until week three! So I shall try to persevere.

The other and more serious reason for the relative dirth of recipes is that I haven't been cooking many new dishes. Instead, I've tended to make old Tuliphouse favorites, such as kielbasa in white beans, or beef merlot. When I have tried out new recipes, I've often followed the directions scrupulously, which means that I don't have a unique "Crockery version" of the recipe to post here. (You see, I really am trying to follow the copyright rules for recipes. I don't want to post a recipe which I do not have the right to publish.)

So anyway, that's why there haven't been many new recipes lately. Don't hold your breath waiting for much progress, unless, of course, you wish to hold your breath until the month of December. (There might be a post about violent nineteenth-century children's literature coming up, but only time will tell.)

3) And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: my culinary Mystery revealed! Some weeks ago, I found a recipe I wanted to try. It required a bag of seasoned bread crumbs, such as are sold by Pepperidge farms. I purchased such a bag of bread crumbs. I placed said bag of bread crumbs in my cupboard. And then, for reasons I don't remember, I completely forgot about it. Every now and then I notice the bread crumbs and wonder "What were those for, again?"

And that's what I'm asking you: what the heck could I be going to make with a bag of seasoned bread crumbs? I honestly have no clue what kind of recipe it was. It might have involved chicken (we always have lots of chicken) or it could have involved pork chops. I find it highly unlikely that it would be a vegetarian meal, but who knows what it was? In order to figure it out, I'd have to skim through all of my slow cooker cookbooks until I found a recipe that required several cups of seasoned bread crumbs. But I don't want to do that. So I'm asking you, my loyal readers: what kinds of recipes might call for those?

Now, I don't expect anyone to come up with the exact recipe. After all, you'd have to have the same cookbooks I have in order to do that. But if you can think of a general class of recipes that might require these ingredients, that'd help. And if you have your own favorite recipes which require bread crumbs, feel free to post them. I have to use up that bad of bread crumbs somehow, and at the moment at least, I am disinclined to exert much effort finding the original recipe.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Best-ever Lentil Chili

Did you know that you can make chili with lentils? You can! (You can probably do anything with lentils, if you cross your eyes, tap your nose, and just wish hard enough.) To tell the truth, I haven't tried anyone else's lentil chili recipe, so I can' t say that I have empirical evidence that mine is the best. However, I believe it must be the best, because it includes kielbasa. Chili and kielbasa. . . two great things that go great together, believe it or not.

1 lb of kielbasa
1 cup of uncooked lentils
1 cup of rice
1 medium onion, chopped
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 14.5 oz can of diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained (your choice)
1 can of corn, drained
1 can of diced green peppers (or, omit this and use a tomato-and-pepper mix)
2 cloves of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
water: ~4 cups, more or less, to desired consistency

Optional garnishes
shredded cheese (Monterey Jack or fiesta blend)
Mexican table cream, or sour cream
favorite salsa
hot sauce

1) Slice the kielbasa in half, then cut each piece into one-inch chunks. If desired, brown kielbasa in a skillet with chopped onion.

2) Add all ingredients except salt to a large slow cooker. Mix well. Note: you may wish to adjust the paprika, cumin, and chili powder to taste. You may also wish to adjust the water level to make certain that the crock is between 1/2 and 3/4 full.

3) Cook on low for 6-8 hours, depending on your slow cooker. Add salt to taste (try 1/2 tsp) at the end of cooking; stir well.

4) Allow diners to garnish the chili as desired. This will be a fairly mild chili, so you may wish to offer hot sauce to those who like their chili hot. Serve cornbread or cheesy Texas toast on the side.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Auctionious Culture

Suppose you found a bag of unopened letters to God. What would you do with the letters, once you'd figured out what they were, where the came from, etc.? Would you:

1) Try to discover who wrote them, and return them to their senders.
2) Burn them, or otherwise dispose of them respectfully.
3) Bring them back to the church setting where they were deposited, so that the church members could deal with them as they see fit.
4) Put them up for auction on E-bay.

People complain about how we live in a commercialized culture, a litiginous culture, or even a libidinous culture. I think it's sad that we live in such an "auctionist" culture that the first thing people think of doing when they find something unusual or significant is to sell it to the highest bidder.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

National Novel Writing Month, Again

Some of you may recall that November is National Write a Novel Month, or some such thing. (I may not get the abbreviation correct, but trust me, my heart is in the right place.) This year, I've decided to write a book. Some of you may also recall that I am already supposed to write a book, otherwise known as Teresa's Dissertation. And some of you may be aware that the month of November is supposed to be dedicated to sending out application letters and materials to various colleges and universities. You are all right. I am supposed to be writing my dissertation. I am supposed to be on the job market. And I intend to continue doing both those things. But I haven't written a novel in years, and I'd like to give it a shot again. You see, I have this tiny hope that maybe I've somehow magically been transformed into a better writer since my college days.

Unfortunately, if there is any change in my writing, it's that I've become a more painstaking writer. I write a sentence, look at it for a moment, and erase it. I write a paragraph, then change my mind and decide that I don't need that I don't need to "tell" that much information, but should hold something back to reveal by "showing." In short, I edit as I write.

Editing as you draft is a good thing, I believe. I like to think that this is how I was able to whip out seminar papers in just a handful of days back in the day, while still bringing in the A, or at least the A-. However, editing while you write does NOT work at all well when the goal is to produce 50,000 words in a mere 30 days. You do the math. (I don't want to. I prefer writing to adding.) That's a good chunk of writing you have to do every day if you want to complete the book. And, of course, since there are bound to be days when I simply can't work on the project, that means that I'll have to scramble to catch up on the weekends. But I mean to try. I mean to undo years of mental programing if that's necessary to convince myself that quantity is better than quality. I mean to write a book in a month, darn it! If other people can do it, I can too. If I can produce a 19 page paper in seven hours, surely I can produce 175 pages in 30 days. Right?

How will I find the time, you ask? In theory, the plan is to cut back on my message board time, my general goofing-off time, and yes, my blogging and blog-reading time. My hope is that this November, when I find myself sitting in front of my computer bored out of my mind but unwilling to work, I will turn to my brand new novel project. Perhaps, lo and behold, it will become a brilliant work which bring me instant fame and fortune.

At the back of my mind, a little voice whispers that this is unspeakably stupid. I recall that one of my committee members even TOLD us that the year you are on the job market is not the right time to decide to write a novel. But I tell myself that she was speaking of the summer before you go on the market, not the November during which you are actually applying. I have already wasted my summer. Now it's time to waste November. And I say unto the month: November, thou art wasted!