Archives for August 2013

Random paragraphs, end of summer edition

Island hopping

I step back to the classroom tomorrow to teach two courses with ridiculously sweeping titles: U.S. History to 1877 and Women in America: Colonial Era to the Present.  Fortunately, I’m not one to fret about coverage.  As I’m sure I’ve explained somewhere on this blog or its predecessor, I take the islands-in-an-archipelago approach to teaching history.

My dad asked if I would be covering the relationship of Prohibition to women’s suffrage in the latter. He said in his day, women’s history wasn’t included at all, and this seemed a good topic.  I reminded him that I am, ahem, me, and thus the course would cover instead reproductive health in the Revolutionary era, women’s Transatlantic abolitionism, adolescent sexuality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American Indian Movement activists, Chicana feminism, and Asian American popular culture.


There’s a hole in mommy’s car where all the money goes

It’s been quite a summer.

The Big Dog needed a new knee.



He won’t stop licking the damn leg, and he won’t wear an Elizabethan collar (“Cone of Shame”) or doughnut (“Life Preserver of Shame”), and he doesn’t seem to mind bitter apple, so we’ve been forced to keep the wound covered, sedate him, and keep an eye on him at all times.  I’m happy to report, however, that tonight he took me on an honest-to-goodness pull around the block, only two weeks after surgery, using all four legs, including one that is technically broken:


The rear-ended car that the insurance company said they’d be able to repair ended up being totalled.  Because of this massive damage:



Of course we didn’t get sufficient cash back to buy a decent car, but our friendly credit union gave us a little loan to make up the difference, so now we have this:



. . .which is basically the same car we had before, only six years newer, and with all the styling my inner 60-year-old woman appreciates, like automotive-primer-gray leather seats, a prominent digital display of the cardinal direction the car is pointed, and a faux wood burl dash:


But hey, I can’t complain.  It’s the third time I’ve bought the first car I test drove (and I’ve only bought three cars).  I’m one of those research-research-research-OK-let’s-get-this-DONE buyers.  (It’s the academic writer in me.)


Second grade

The boy heads to second grade next week, and a couple days later turns eight.

I’m a bit worried about the whole second-grade thing.  In 18 months, he’s gone from struggling with Hop on Pop to blazing through Eragon.  Phonics is going to seem reeeeeeallllllly boring.  He’s also drawing and filling out multiplication tables for fun.  I need to budget for a math tutor, as he’ll soon be surpassing my meager knowledge–once letters and numbers begin to mingle, I’m pretty useless.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping him busy.


Program prioritization

Idaho universities must prioritize all their programs.  Our administrators are tossing around words like “metrics” and “analytics,” terms that typically elicit two responses from faculty in the humanities and social sciences: (a) tuning out or (b) anxiety.  I’m gathering some metrics I think should be included in the discussion; expect a blog post on the topic soon.

To do (fall semester edition)

  • Finish (finally, for realz) the prison artifact article
  • Revise zoo director article
  • Give feedback on WordPress plugin
  • Finish wolf essay
  • Launch Stories of Idaho
  • Support fellow interns as they launch that neat thing we built this summer
  • Get LLC and insurance for launch of side hustle

Whew! I have a fellowship in the spring to work on one (!!!) project and forgo teaching and service (!!!!!!!!), but I’ll be occupied as well with pulling together a tenure portfolio, as I’m eligible to submit it fall 2014.


What’s keeping you busy or anxious at the moment?


None of this would be possible, of course, without Fang

All my big dreaming, all my traveling hither and yon, with or without Lucas (but especially without), would not be possible without Fang’s steadfast support.

How amazing is he?  Check out his latest post, in which he braves wildfire to get the dog to surgery. . .

. . .and then realize he’s spent just about every minute since then trying to keep the dog calm.  The dog is normally pretty unflappable, but thus far, he’s in full freak-out mode:

  • The dog has eaten his sutures, which is quite a feat, as they were under his skin, not outside it.
  • The dog rejected the Cone of Dumbness that would have prevented him from eating his sutures–Fang hypothesizes the freak-out was part from the dog’s dislike of collars, and part from a belief that his body may have disappeared since he can no longer see it.
  • Fang tried bitter apple spray on the dog’s wound, but the stuff aerosolizes, which means Fang has had bitter apple taste in his mouth for days (not pleasant, I assure you).
  • Fang has taken the dog to the vet for additional wound wraps and sedatives.
  • When all other measures didn’t work, Fang sat on the floor with the dog, which was the only thing that kept the beast from hyperventilating.  The dog now will only sleep with his head on Fang’s lap.
The big dog, briefly in repose.

The big dog, briefly in repose.

Here’s to Fang, who was supposed to have a vacation from family responsibilities this week, and instead has all the responsibilities of a toddler’s parent.

The Leslie multiverse

When I returned home from the final day of my short, grossly underpaid stint as a staff writer for a newspaper named for a fish that climbs out of the water to mate, Fang–then the art director of the paper—sent me an e-mail in which he expressed his delight in working with me and announced that “in a parallel universe, we made a terrific couple!”

My first thought—after shit shit shit! (because I had harbored a crush on him for a couple months, and in ten days I would move from Long Beach to Iowa City)—was, “Wait a minute; I live in a parallel universe.”

That sentiment emerged from my experience as someone who was socially awkward and thus lived intellectually and psychologically on the margins of my world even as I seemed to bodily inhabit it.  I like to think I’ve overcome most of my social awkwardness (ha! more like embraced it), so in recent years I’ve seen myself as on a sometimes unconventional path through Earth Prime.


But then, suddenly, this summer has been all about parallel universes.

I’ve spent almost as much time outside Boise as I have in it: a dozen days or so in the Bay Area and Davis, California for a women-in-technology unconference and archival research; two weeks in a village just north of New York City for my internship with Seth; and ten days in Long Beach visiting family and trying to recover from what turned into a summer in which I worked a lot and accomplished much, but none of it what I projected in my faculty activity plan.

I stayed in Davis long enough to feel as if I had moved right back into the town. My evenings and weekends were packed with visits with friends and former colleagues, and it was downright charming—perfect, in fact, except for the absence of Lucas, Fang, and a bicycle. And indeed, in a parallel universe, I never left Davis, never landed a job in the ultra-collegial history department at Boise State, never met all the funny and awesome Boiseans whose friendships I treasure.

Then there was the internship with Seth Godin. As you know, I’m still processing it. But for two weeks I inhabited a parallel universe in which I wasn’t an academic, in which people valued my expertise and skills differently (more highly! more openly!) than in my everyday professorial life.

And Long Beach. Honestly, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with this city. It would take a lot of therapy, and a lot more writing, for me to distill what exactly it is I believe about Long Beach—typical, I suppose, of any place where one’s family has lived for nearly a century. But this trip has been delightful thus far. I’ve spent lots of time with my sister, helping her with her business, but more importantly hanging out with her mercurial two-year-old daughter and absolutely charming three-month-old son.

Today, for example, I breakfasted with Lucas and my parents, then headed down to a local saltwater lagoon because my parents said with its restoration, it’s possible to stand on the pier that runs across it and see jellyfish.  Lucas and I saw huge moon jellies, yes, but also lots of fish, an egret, crabs, a skate, and an octopus that put on quite a show of locomotion and camouflage. Then we went down to Newport Beach, where, just as I settled into my beach chair, a pod of dolphins swam near shore and stayed for a while to play and feed.  I headed out into the waves with Lucas and my parents, and we took turns body boarding in the excellent surf. We were amused by the biggest, fastest fish I’ve ever seen in such shallow waters—maybe three feet long and six to eight inches tall. I finished out the day with my sister and her family at a concert in a park featuring a really fun 1980s cover band.  We dined on some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had.


It would be easy to dismiss such relaxing, delightful experiences as a vacationer’s indulgence. And for me, at the moment they are. And the story I’ve been telling myself all these years is that Long Beach is too expensive a place to live on an academic’s salary—hell, Boise is, too—yet millions of people manage to live in Southern California, and probably hundreds of thousands of them end up at the beach each day during the summer, even on a weekday. The secondary narrative is that even if I did see an academic job advertised here that paid sufficiently, the applicant pool is too competitive because the weather is nice and the cultural resources are plentiful.

With these thoughts running through my head, I count down the days—three, now—before I must return to Boise for the new semester (at a job, remember, I love—but whose salary is insufficient). I look at the news and see that much of the country immediately outside Boise is on fire, which means horrifying air quality (Lucas and I both have asthma). I think about how unhappy Fang has been in Boise, and how few connections we’ve been able to make in the city because everyone else at Lucas’s school seems to have deep family roots in town and established social networks that can be difficult to penetrate.*  And I wonder why the hell I’m going back there.

Because despite my mild-mannered academic life, the truth is, I fully inhabit a parallel universe—one in which as a professor I apply for stuff that seems crazy, like two weeks of 7 a.m.-to-1 a.m. days as an intern for a mystery project with a marketing genius on the other side of the country.


During that internship, Seth dedicated the last couple days to not only tying up loose ends, but to having individual conversations with each of us about where we’re headed next.  My private meeting with Seth lasted only a few minutes, but what emerged was this: I’m way too intelligent and talented to feel underappreciated, and I’m too smart to stay somewhere I’m not adequately financially compensated for my work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, later that day, during the business brainstorming session, I tossed out an idea I had no intention of following up on myself, but which a room full of frighteningly bright people seemed to think was a perfect fit for me.  I began reading the websites of other people in this professional niche, and I realized—I admit, to as much horror as delight—I would very likely succeed in it.

I pulled Seth aside and asked him what he would do if he were me, in an academic culture that (a) expects us to give 110% of our waking hours to the job and (b) doesn’t usually smile upon professorial entrepreneurialism unless it directly benefits the university.  As I remember the conversation, Seth pressed me: Was I worried people wouldn’t like me if I took on a side project that had a high financial return on a small investment of my time?  Yes, I said, I was.  Then he asked which was more important to me: making six figures or being liked by my colleagues. I averted my eyes and said, “Making enough to fully support my family.”  To which he added quickly, “They’re going to like you anyway.”

I ran this conversation by a friend and colleague, and she confirmed that yes, indeed, this narrative of doom-and-gloom was mostly in my head, and not based in reality.  The university, she says, wants faculty to be out in the community, and now that she knew about this potential side hustle, she’d think I was crazy not to pursue it.

And it is crazy not to at least give it a try. It shouldn’t prove much of a distraction from my university duties, nor a conflict with them. So I’m spending the final evenings of summer researching the field, creating a website, and filing the appropriate paperwork with the state to make everything above-board.

Worst-case scenario?  I fail, and I learn to survive on a professorial gig I love and at which by all accounts I’m excelling. Somehow, I find ways to make Idaho life less corrosive on my family’s individual and collective psyches.

Best-case scenario?  I try this for a couple of years, I’m crazy successful at it, and I get to pick which path to take: an intellectually rich but financially unstable life as a tenured historian in a state for which I’ll never be a booster, or this other thing—I promise not to be coy about it much longer—that would allow me to live wherever I want (read: near my extended family).

So here’s to parallel universes, as confusing as they can be when they become less-than-parallel and intersect.  This should be fun.

*When complaining thus, I need to acknowledge my gratitude for Lisa V. and Bert V., who have been so generous with their kindness and their Thanksgiving dinners. Without them, we’d feel completely alienated from non-university life in Boise.


Post-internship processing

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.  I arrived to an insurance company’s decision to total our rear-ended car for an amount that won’t allow us to buy a similar vehicle in the region, a dog needing an expensive outpatient surgery that’s only available halfway across the state, and other assorted household emergencies.

I wanted to share a few thoughts before the internship with Seth Godin recedes too far in the rear-view mirror.  Sharing isn’t easy, however, for three reasons: the experience was intense–many days I worked from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.–and densely packed with learning, it was marked by incredible emotional dynamism, and we all agreed at the outset its details would be off the record. Therefore, I can’t share anything beyond my own experience, though I will certainly point to the result of our efforts if and when it becomes public.

If you had told me five years ago that I’d find a two-week internship with “America’s Greatest Marketer”* to be life-changing, I’d be incredibly skeptical.  And yet that’s what it promises to be if I follow through on its lessons.

Seth assembled an amazing team of interns, and there’s definitely a sense going forward that we have each other’s backs. I have new friends I can lean on if I need help with design, user interfaces, development, branding, communication, law, business management, and all manner of other things.  It was refreshing to have my skills and expertise be acknowledged and valued so openly by so many people, every single day.  So much generosity!  (I must remember to infuse my workaday academic life with more of this quality.)

The whole internship—and Seth himself proved particularly adept at this—held up a mirror that showed me not only what I’m capable of, but what stories I’ve been telling myself that are limiting my growth professionally and personally. At one point, we were brainstorming, and I tossed out an idea for a service somebody who is definitely not me could provide, and over the next hour just about everyone in the room leaned toward me and whispered yes, that’s absolutely something YOU SHOULD DO, and Seth provided some very specific ideas about how to launch such a project. I had never considered this particular endeavor before, but it might be both financially and geographically sustainable for my family, and it sits at a pleasant and convenient intersection of my experience, knowledge, skills, and interests.

Alas, that’s all the information I can offer you at this moment.  (If you’re interested in the big concepts, Barrett Brooks provides a distillation of the common lessons many of us learned–or, more likely, relearned–during the internship.) I’m still processing everything, though, so undoubtedly bits of my learning will seep onto the blog over the coming months.

Overall, I’m profoundly grateful for the opportunity. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


*His renown in this arena aside, Seth is so much more than a marketer. If you’re not familiar with his work, I recommend three recent posts of his: