A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mario Vargas Llosa vs. Zac Efron

Although I’m already feeling very loaded down and a little overwhelmed, trying to adjust to the schedule of my (fairly) new full-time job, I’ve done something that is perhaps a bit foolish for someone who wants to have some free time: I’ve taken on a second job.

It’s only for eight weeks, though, and how could I resist when my former thesis adviser and friend asked me to help him teach a class about one of my favorite Latin American authors? I know that this probably doesn’t sound like an irresistible offer to many of you, but I love to teach, I love Mario Vargas Llosa, and I love my thesis adviser… so despite my instinct to duck and cover, then run from any added responsibility, I HAD to take the opportunity to teach Mario Vargas Llosa with Jeff. It’s an online course, so while Jeff and most of the students are signing on each week from the D.C. area, it’s not a problem that I’m signing on from New York, and I’m not the only one geographically displaced from the rest of the class – one girl is signing on all the way from Rome! You’ve got to love how technology is making it easier for me to accept extra responsibilities that will contribute to the high blood pressure problem that I developed during graduate school.

And things keep on piling up. Deadlines to meet at work, things to re-read to keep up with the students, assignments to grade, and a couple of papers that I am supposed to edit for publication, plus my blogs – which obviously aren’t work, but are important to me anyway. Most of these things are trappings of my “former” life as a professor – papers that I had submitted for publication when I was trying to build my resume as an academic extraordinaire, a part-time teaching position that lets me play with the students again. Once I’ve accepted these responsibilities, I shouldn’t complain – I’ve brought it all upon myself.

But then, in the midst of all this work and weekend visitors as well, I get sick. My throat is sore, my head is fuzzy and I can’t breathe through my nose. I can’t focus on the reading I need to do, and I can’t get the grading system to let me log in and write up evaluations on the students’ assignments. It feels a lot like a landslide, with everyone coming down on me at once. So what do I do?

In my misery, I succumbed to a strange whim – I watched High School Musical.

And not just High School Musical, but also High School Musical 2 and High School Musical 3: Senior Year. I laid in bed all day long watching Zac Efron, Vanessa Hughes and that horrible screechy Ashley Tisdale. I had never been one to succumb to the High School Musical fad – I’ve never seen any of it before, even though I was an elementary school teacher when all of the movies came out and my students would skip around the playground performing entire routines and scenes from the movies. Despite some curiosity, I had managed to avoid the feel-good teenage musical sensation of the early twenty-first century up until now, and I’m not exactly sure what has happened to my good judgment today that made me devote the entire afternoon to the movies – I think the fever has started to affect my brain. I guess I figured that if I was going to procrastinate, I should really go all out. But once I began watching the first one, it seemed as though I might as well seal the deal and go for all three.

So while I should have been reading a very serious novel about military cadets in Lima, Peru, I was lying listlessly on the bed, watching a bunch of tweens bop all over their too-large, too-bright, too-clean high school wearing too-large, too-bright smiles.

And what do I have to say for myself?

That Zac Efron is kinda cute.

Or is that the fever talking? I don’t think I’ll be able to tell until I get a good night’s rest.

Meanwhile, maybe the High School Musical “any dream is possible” attitude and the “you don’t have to choose between your dreams, you can have it all” message of the movies will help me believe in my ability to juggle everything on my to-do list for the coming week, which includes not only all my reading, grading, editing, and grant writing, but also includes picking my mother up from the airport and teaching her how to use the subway system in New York City. According to High School Musical, of course I can handle it all, if I just work hard enough and keep reaching for my dreams...

Honestly, though, I think I’m going to have to make some choices about what to prioritize and what to leave by the wayside. I’m sure that I’ll probably have to make a lot of choices and sacrifices over the coming weeks to make sure that I get the work done for my two jobs and unfortunately, this blog is going to be the first to suffer. Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) may be able to win a basketball championship and star in the “spring musicale” at the same time, but I just don’t have the kind of juice that it takes to be playing more than one or two roles at the same time. I’ve picked up the teacher hat again while still trying to be a non-profit superwoman, and so I’m going to have to temporarily hang up the blogger hat.

Never fear, though. I have far too much to say to be gone for very long. Keep checking back with the blog, read my Reading Recommendations Posts on Mario Vargas Llosa, or follow me on Twitter (@SLaurenAlise) – I tweet the URL whenever I post on either one of my blogs.

Alright. I’m going to bed and dealing with the military cadets on my lunch break tomorrow… during which I’ll probably be humming “We’re All in This Together” – God help me.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Yesterday was Mother’s Day – the first Mother’s Day since my grandma passed away, the first Mother’s Day that my own mom had to celebrate without her mother. The first year that we didn’t need to buy a card for grandma, or make an extra phone call. The first year that my mom and I put up memorial photographs as our profile pictures. (Yes, my mom is Facebook-saavy.)

And another grieving milestone: Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. It will have been a year since I sat in (old) apartment in Maryland, numbly staring at the clock on the living room wall and waiting for a phone call from my mother to confirm that my grandpa had actually passed. A year since my husband told my mom to whisper into my grandpa’s ear that he had gotten a job in New York; that my grandpa could rest easy, knowing that Jeremy would always take care of his silly, precious granddaughter (me).

And where I am? Not at home in Michigan with my mother, trying to ease her grief and celebrate how much of a wonderful mother she has been – and she has been a wonderful, very giving mother – to me, my brother, and (more recently) to my husband, her son-in-law. I’m not at my grandfather’s gravesite at White Chapel, leaving flowers and honoring his memory. I’m not even able to go visit the WWII memorial in D.C., another fitting place for me to honor the memory of my grandfather Sargent Henry White.

No, I am in New York, attending seminars on financial database literacy, running to the Human Resources Offices to fill out extra I-9 forms for the Latin American Literature summer course that I am helping to teach, researching and writing up information on high school graduation and drop-out rates in the Bronx and Westchester counties. I am not with my family – I am at work in new York. No matter how much I like my job, it’s difficult not be upset about the fact that I can’t be with my mom, who has lost both of her parents within

the last year, and with my brother, my dad, and my grandpa’s brother Uncle Mike, as they all grieve for the loss of people who were so wonderful, so important.

I wish I could comfort and be comforted by them. I try to be there for my mom and my brother whenever they are upset and want to talk, especially my mom – who stayed close with her parents for her entire life and used to talk to them every day. But it’s just not the same over the phone, especially on the anniversaries, the milestones.

And although I know that my family understands that I live 500 miles away and I have a full-time job – although I know that they don’t expect me to be able to come home for every holiday, anniversary, memorial – I still feel not only sad that I am not with them, but guilty. I used to be the kind of person who would drop everything to comfort a friend in crisis or to support a family member. While earning my Bachelor’s degree, I used to put aside my school work, disregarding a lower grade as an unimportant consequence in comparison to supporting someone who needed help in a crisis. But then, as I was working on my Master’s degree, grades and achievement became a lot more important, and I had to start setting aside people, not papers. In undergraduate school, I used to tell people to call me whenever they needed – even if it was at 3 AM. Now I grumble when the phone rings at 10 o’clock at night. I feel as though I’ve become a very selfish, self-involved career person.

I know it is not all selfishness – I need to keep my job, and so my hands are tied by circumstance and necessity. But I still feel guilty – in the end, the bottom line is that I am not with my family for the big moments and milestones that mark my grandparents’ passing, the loss that has forever changed the dynamic of our family. My father and brother sent me pictures via text message of my grandpa’s recently-installed veteran’s headstone when they went to visit my grandparents’ graves last week (illustrating some of the more odd uses of technology), but obviously that isn’t the same as if I were able to lay the flowers on the headstone myself.

I am 500 miles away in New York, unsure of any way that I can grieve with my family or honor the memories of my grandparents. I have nowhere in particular to lay flowers or whisper a prayer into the wind – and so I write, hoping that it is enough to honor their memories by sharing my thoughts about them with other people. My grandparents were always very supportive of my writing and were convinced that I would publish a book some day – and so perhaps my writing is the best memorial I could give them anyway. Somehow, though, it never feels like enough.

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