Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tiny Little Freakouts

In the building next door, someone has been yelling enthusiastically all day--it sounds like one of those motivational speakers.

While I was putting little slips of paper into my Norton anthology, before I take it (tomorrow) to a copy center, I heard someone singing, in a strange, loud, high pitched (male) and tuneless voice, "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees.

Lizzie's still crashed out on the couch. I wonder if I'm going to be able to wake her long enough to get her into her bed.

My hands and feet and ankles are swelling up in the heat.

I'm afraid to ride in the Jeepneys.

I'm afraid that I don't have the adventure gene in me. There were moments today when I fantasized shutting us up into the apartment and never leaving it. Too bad it's too hot in here for that.

A woman at the Office for Student Affairs is filing the paperwork for my visa. She has our passports right now. That makes me break out into a hot sweat when I think about it. And she'll have them for a month, she says. I'm supposed to call her if I need them, "because I'm hardly ever in the office," she says. What?

People here call me "mam." I look around for the old lady before I realize I'm standing in her shoes.

People here say "uh uh" to mean yes. It was particularly disconcerting when the visa lady kept saying it, after I asked her to clarify the procedure for the nth time.

My fiction writing class doesn't have any students in it at the moment.

My American lit class turns out to be for freshmen. And it's nearly full.

I feel like slipping down the same rabbit hole as Lizzie.


Pardon me while I have a little nervous breakdown.

Last night, Lizzie went to sleep at 4 PM. I went down at 8 PM. Then I was up at 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, and finally for good at 5:00. Each time, my stomach roiled, the roots of my hair froze in my skull, and it felt as if my skin was lifting off a little. God, I thought, what if I've made a horrible mistake for us?

Today, I thought I'd tackle some of my worries. I'm worried about getting Lizzie into this school. So I tried calling the school. Turns out I have to tell the man at the front desk downstairs to call the number for me. Then he calls me and transfers the phone. A woman I could barely hear said a bunch of stuff I couldn't understand. I tried to explain to her that I'd emailed her a few months ago about getting Lizzie into the school. When was that? she wondered. I told her I thought it was in May. Or April. Probably March, I'm thinking. She couldn't find the email. Didn't remember me from Eve. Okay. Could we come by in person, now that we're in town? She was still looking for the email--at least, I think that's what she was doing.

She transferred me to "admissions." A phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, I hung up.

Zero for one.

Then the Chair of the English and Comparative Literature department, Naida, called me to say that it looks as if no one is signing up for the Fiction Writing course. So can I teach another course on Fiction?

"A reading course or a writing course?" I asked.

"A reading course."

Okay. Time to reinvent the wheel. At the last minute. When I don't have any of my books around me. "Sure," I said. "I can do that. I was going to stop by and see you today. I was just leaving."

"I'll be here all day," she said. "But it's lunch from 12-1, so don't come until after 1:00." It was 11:30.

Zero for two.

Now it's pouring. While I was emailing Dave to set up a Skype date for Saturday evening, rain blew into the patio where I was writing and something happened to the internet connection. I got hung up in Gmail. I freaked out. But eventually, I think, I did manage to send the email--Dave will have to tell me if he got it.

Now there are sirens blowing all over, drilling into our eardrums. Sounds like the siren they use in the States for a tornado. Do they get tornados here? They certainly flood.

So, yeah. I'm trying hard to act as if I can go with the flow. But the flow is turbulent.

Reassure me. The worst that will happen is that I can't get Lizzie into that school for a while. She can be a student online. She can hang out in the apartment while I'm teaching, watching ridiculous things on the non-cable TV.


We braved the torrential downpour (and torrential is not hyperbole--the rain comes down in a solid, soaking sheet, and the wind can blow it sideways, so an umbrella is basically useless) and went over to the College of Arts and Letters to meet with Naida. When it rains like this, the streets quickly flood, and so we had to wade across a few curbs. It's turning out that my Earth flip flops are the best footwear for this weather. By the end of 5 months, I should have some wicked developed calves.

Naida took my course packet (it was over 200 pages, I think, and it only cost me 155 pesos, which is about 3 bucks) and showed me where to drop it off for printing. She took my syllabus for the American Lit course and said she'd have it copied.

What if I want to print out a file? I asked.

I need to bring it to the office, she said, and they'll print it out there.

Then we went to meet with the director for the creative writing courses, Cheng Bee (sp?), who turned out to be one of the most fabulous meets so far--she's a young woman with a great sense of humor and fluent (American?) English. I felt, for the first time, completely at ease.

Cheng Bee was hanging out in her office with her friend, Rex. (No one at the university leaves their door open. You have to knock and wait.) Both Rex and Cheng Bee remind me of the people I went to graduate school with--smiling, a little snarky, open. In short order, Cheng Bee volunteered to go with me to the Miriam School tomorrow to sort out Lizzie's situation. Praise Jesus!

Then she started to tell me about the class I'm supposed to teach, a literature course on fiction for writing majors. Okay, I can do this, I thought, as long as I have the right materials to photocopy. Did she have any anthologies lying around? She handed me The Story and Its Writer--fabulous. Then she got the brilliant idea to call Butch, the UP professor who exchanged at SNC two years ago. He's taught the course, she said, and we can get his syllabus and maybe even materials.

Butch appeared like the genie from the bottle, a ray of welcome light from the past. He decided, on the spot, that I shouldn't be teaching a lit course ("The two courses, the American Lit and the Fiction Genre course, are too similar," he said. "You'll be using a lot of the same readings for both courses, and you might have a lot of the same students. That won't work. And we need someone different to teach fiction writing, a taste of another approach. I don't want to give up on that.") Instead, after some strange sleight of hand, I'm going to be teaching a Fiction Writing course for undergrads--just what I'd prepared and planned for.

(Oh, and here's the kicker. It turns out that the course that didn't make was actually a graduate level POETRY workshop, rather than a fiction workshop. Yeah. Can you imagine showing up for the first day and discovering that you're pushing the wrong genre? Thank god that particular humiliation was avoided.)

Butch is also lending us his car and driver tomorrow so that Cheng Bee can take us to the Miriam School. And when that's all over, he's going to the mall with us to get cell phones--if you don't have a cell phone here, you might as well be cut off completely. Everyone texts rather than calls--texts cost about 1 peso each, which is about 2 cents. Lizzie's really stoked about the cell phones. She thought she was going to have to wait until she was 13.

So. Crisis averted. But it's still pouring (oh, and all those sirens earlier? About 15 tiny fire trucks roared past us to a fire that, it turns out, was in a building behind our apartment) and it looks as if we'll get completely drenched if we go out for dinner, as Lizzie wants.

"Welcome to the typhoon," Butch said, as he ushered us into his car for the ride home. "This should go on for--oh--three months."

Good thing we're on the 5th floor!


  1. It sounds like you are weathering the storms -- psychic and actual -- with much aplomb. When Lizzie's pushing 16 we are not going to interior Africa so she can score a car.
    Glad you are settling in.

  2. I just want to say how incredibly brave I think the three of you are.

    I breathed a sigh of relief when Cheng Bee and Butch appeared. We had a guy named Butch from the Philippines in the MFA (fiction) program at Michigan '86 - 88. That would be too great a coincidence...

  3. I think he's one and the same! Let me check with him... (His real name is Jose Dalisay.)

  4. Oh, it's Jose! I remember him--he IS a great guy. Obviously, I was never quite on the ins with him, as I didn't know people called him Butch. But that was my first year here, and I wasn't on the ins of anything, not even SunNiteDins yet. So, there you go.

    Dear El Mac, you did everything you could on this end before you left and everything possible to prepare on your own when you arrived (near miss on that grad-level poetry workshop; sheesh), and now the universe has delivered Cheng Bee & Butch, and you deserve them. I'm so happy your adventure has taken this turn!

    Worst case scenario: if Zi doesn't get into college school right away, I will gladly teach her at a distance. Lucky her!

    I think you should send your post to Earth shoes b'c now I want those flip flops. I wanted them before, too, but didn't pony up the cash. As soon as I'm employed again, though, it's Earthies for me.

    Carry on, my wayward son.

  5. Good thing I read your entire post before rushing to post my own comment that was going to run along the lines of, "Don't worry; I know it's hard--you probably won't believe me, but I'm telling you it will work out." The whole scenario about your schedule is a classic example! You prepared the "wrong" class, which turns out to be the class they want you to teach!! You must be psychic! That kind of stuff happened to us ALL THE TIME when we took students abroad.

    It sounds like now that you've met Cheng Bee and Butch, you are in. The've seen you, spoken with you, they know you--in short, you are real! They're not going to let you flail now. It's fab that CB is going with you to the school--it is good to have someone inside the culture help you.

    It's going to be what it's going to be. You will get better at "going with the flow." It sounds like you're off to a great start, actually.


  6. is the same Butch (Jose)! This is blowing my mind. I doubt that he'll remember me since the poetry and fiction cohorts didn't mix as much as they should have, but I remember him well. He will be an excellent colleague.

  7. The first week is ALWAYS the worst. I swear. It's only going to go uphill from here, because all your serious unforseen crises have probably already happened. It's only going to go uphill.

    Also: I get 'mam'ed too, namely at the mall shortly before being offered a sample of anti-aging cream yesterday.

  8. hi, folks--butch dalisay here (yes, every filipino has some funny nickname, like chingbee for conchitina). and yes, i was at ann arbor for my MFA from '86-'88. moved on from there to UWM in milwaukee for my PhD in english--then, many many years later, went to st. norbert as exchange professor. small world indeed!

    and hi, there, elyse! i do remember you! how've you been doing? i'm twice as heavy and have half my hair from when we last saw each other ;)

    don't you worry about laurie and lizzie--my wife beng and i and the ex-SNC network here will do our best to make sure they're okay.