Aural Memories (Or, My Husband’s Play-by-Play Voice)

"Radio" by Flickr user S. Diddy under Creative Commons 2.0 License

I met my husband in New York. He was a play-by-play broadcaster for a minor league baseball team. I was a graduate student whose only connection to the sports world was through her father, a big baseball fan. I learned about the minutiae of baseball through my husband, not just through conversations with him but also through listening to him call games.

My husband’s voice is also the soundtrack of my academic work. It has kept me company through every major assignment of my PhD. Even when we broke up when he first moved to Kansas City, I still listened to his post-game show as I burned the midnight oil researching for my dissertation. I can still see myself in the corner of the dining room, with the paper lamp hanging over my head and over my iMac, the rest of the apartment blanketed in darkness, and his warm voice filling the corners. I would listen to his co-host and him online, this unfamiliar voice interrupting the soothing sound of my now-husband, then-ex’s voice. Even through the break-up, I found the sound of his voice comforting.

Listening to my husband back then was not about nostalgia or longing–ok, maybe a little, but not all of it. I started listening to him as a way to support his career; being a play-by-play broadcaster is his calling, and he has been after a job in Major League Baseball his whole adult life. When we first met, the regular minor league baseball season was over, and his team was nowhere near the playoffs in their division. That meant he and I spent a lot of time together…until college basketball season started a month into our relationship. I would listen to his broadcasts, and found it hard to follow along–basketball is so much quicker than baseball–but I tuned in anyway. Soon, I knew who he was talking about and what he was talking about, and I could tune in while doing other things.

When we started dating, the fall semester was halfway over, so when basketball season started I was nearing the time of the semester when I had to write papers for class. His schedule and my routine clicked. He traveled occasionally, and worked mostly evenings. That gave me time to research, read, write, and prep for class; and when he was at work I could stay in touch with him by listening to his broadcasts. Soon, I was so used to writing and listening to his voice, that it acted like a Pavlovian bell of sorts: I would plan my writing/research schedule around the start of the game because I knew I’d have a few hours where I could zone out and zone in. Hearing his voice on the radio wasn’t white noise, but instead kept me company while I wrote semester in and semester out.

Years later (after we got back together, after I gave birth to our daughter, after I packed up all of our belongings and moved to Kansas City), I found myself trying to get back into the writing and research groove. Tuning in to his post-game broadcast long after my daughter was asleep helped me get back on track. Once she fell into a solid sleep routine, as small babies sometimes do, I could plan my evening writing and research routine: I would listen to the baseball game and then his post-game broadcast, or I would listen to him call a basketball game from two or three states over. For some reason, listening to him soothes me and helps me focus. It might be his tone, it might be his delivery, it might be the familiarity of his voice…or it might be all three. When I was nearing the end of my dissertation, I remember remarking on Twitter that my husband’s voice has been the soundtrack to my work from Day One. I’m only mildly exaggerating.

Kauffman Stadium. Picture by author.

Today, February 23rd, 2013, was my husband’s first broadcast as a major league play-by-play broadcaster. I eagerly purchased my subscription to MLB’s At Bat for my iPhone just in time for the first pitch. I was working an event today, but when things calmed down and my students were hard at work, I put in one ear bud, tapped the headphones icon in the app, and waited for his voice to wash over me. The sound of his voice filled me with pride, with joy, and with relief. It had been years since I last heard him call pitches, catches, outs, swings, and misses. Hearing him today felt like putting on my comfiest sweater.

Like others before, many baseball fans will now associate my husband’s voice with summer, with afternoons at the ballpark, with the joy of a home run, with the bitterness of a tough loss on the road. He will become the soundtrack of their memories of baseball. But for me, listening to his broadcasts will always mean more than just baseball. It means he is here with our daughter and with me, even when he is away, through the sound of his voice.

End of an Era (Or, Concluding My Dissertation)

Today I am defending my dissertation. Or I will have defended by the time you read this post.

When I first started this blog, I was looking for an outlet to keep the creative side of my brain sharp and to keep an archive of my thoughts on different issues. But it was also a way to stay sane while dissertating and while looking for a job. needed something that would make me happy and restore my faith in my writing abilities. I knew that, once upon a time, writing had made me happy. What, at that moment, felt like an academic chore in the shape of a Microsoft Word document that I had to open up day in and day out, had once upon a time made me happy. And so I started this blog.

Now, I am done. Almost. My committee decides today whether I have earned the moniker PhD.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you the last few paragraphs of my dissertation. I have a personal connection to my study (which brings about its own complications). My dissertation topic is as much about my staking my scholastic territory as it is about understanding my affinity for New York City, a city I remembered in bits and pieces when I left for Puerto Rico, a city that comes alive from the vestige of my memory every time I fly into La Guardia or drive along I-87 and see the sign “Welcome to the Bronx.” I know New York as it is now, but there will always be Another New York that lives on in my mind. Lastly, my dissertation is an offering to The City. Will it ever be enough? I will continue writing until I find out.

Wish me luck.

***

Throughout my graduate school career, I have been reading, researching, thinking, and writing about New York City in different contexts. The more I learned about New York City, the more I could talk about its history and society at length, the less I would have to explain to people why I felt like a New Yorker deep inside—at least this is what I believed. Deep down, I felt insecure about my status as a New Yorker because, outside of my family, I lacked the recognition from others of my identity as a New Yorker. When I finally had the chance my last semester of coursework to write a paper about representations of cityscapes in rap, I found the opportunity to take my inner musings to a scholarly level. I immersed myself in how this inherently urban genre talked about cities and the connection between these rap artists and their urban neighborhoods. I found in rap and hip hop an articulation of how I felt about New York City, and I channeled that into my subsequent work.

Therefore, part of this study has been not only a way to understand how others make New York City a home but also a way for me to understand why I think of it as my home. When I started writing, I set out to focus only on the works I had chosen. Nevertheless, as I wrote this dissertation I noticed the boundaries between public and private, between academic and personal turn blurry; I realized later that it was through the personal that I was able to find my way into this topic, and that I could not ignore that.

However, throughout my dissertation research I have realized the different dimensions of home. I have learned to listen to what New York City meant to Willie Perdomo, Ann Petry, Frank Espada. I opened up my analysis to how African Americans and Puerto Ricans can struggle to claim this city. I realized that New York was not always kind. New York was not always willing. Not all migrants wanted to claim New York City nor needed to claim New York City. If anything, this study made it clear to me that New York City, like any other text, is complex and multidimensional. My idealization has made way for recognition.

I no longer argue with people who do not think I am a New Yorker. I no longer feel offended if they do not take me for a New Yorker. But I always smile when they say I have a New York accent. I carry New York with me. I can only hope that this dissertation will lay to rest if not questions about my cultural identity at least my love for [and commitment to] the city that was my first home.

As I Turn 30

New York by Night by Melbow on Flickr

New York by Night by Melbow on Flickr

This week’s post is a week late, but I have a good excuse: I left for New York City last weekend to celebrate my birthday with my family. It felt so good to be back in New York City, my spiritual home of sorts, the one city on my mind all the time (when your dissertation topic is New York City, you can’t help but think about it ALL THE TIME). And even though toward the end of my sojourn (Miss E in tow) I was looking forward to coming home to my boyfriend and celebrating his birthday, I was sad that I had to leave. I always am a little sad when I leave New York. My boyfriend and I would travel periodically to New York City when we lived in Upstate New York, and I’m almost positive that every time we drove there I told him “we would be so happy in New York.” But my New York City dream home is subject of another post…

So I turned 30. The Big Three-Oh. The Dirty Thirties. I hadn’t really thought about it until a few days before my birthday. (I blame the dissertation. I always blame the dissertation.) I hadn’t even thought about what I wanted to do for my thirtieth birthday. Once I realized I was about to hit a milestone, I was stuck on that track: I’m turning 30. Nothing has changed, of course. My hair’s the same length, my bills still come on the same days of the month. But I still can’t help but reflect upon my life at this point.

I don’t remember much about when I turned 20. I probably didn’t care much for it. But one thing I remember from when I first started college was this: I was determined to get my PhD in English. I had a game plan and I was sticking to it. My goal was to get my PhD by the age of 28. As I saw it, I’d be done with my bachelor’s degree by 22, with my MA by 24, and four years for my PhD. Simple. And after that? New York City, baby.

I was focused. I was determined. I was ready to leave Puerto Rico and come back to the United States for graduate school. But one thing I didn’t prepare for was life. 20-year old me didn’t know about LIFE. First of all, that summer I turned 20 I traveled to Austria for a language course. It changed things right away, for I decided to declare Modern Languages my second major right after we returned. (I also thought I’d move away to Vienna to get my PhD in translation, but that fizzled out quickly.) But I was on track again: BA by 23, MA by 25, PhD by 29. No biggie.

After my bachelor’s degree, I started graduate school in Upstate New York. I was one step closer to my dream. I managed to finish my MA by 25, and felt a great sense of accomplishment to know I was hitting my marks. Soon after commencement I started my PhD and met my current boyfriend.  Two years later I finished coursework. One semester later, I finished my PhD exams and a rough draft of my dissertation prospectus. I had exactly one more semester worth of funding, but no problem! I was on my way to being Dr by the age of 29. It was going to happen.

Except it didn’t.

I sat down, early February, ready to start working on my dissertation. I had written a prospectus (admittedly, I did so hastily, but I had a paper on the topic and I had done plenty of reading). I had also finished a field exam that January. I had ideas, Big Ideas. But nothing came out. I didn’t know where to start, what to do. On top of that I had taken a position as an adjunct (in addition to my regular teaching gig, oops!), and on top of that my personal life underwent a major overhaul–the kind of drama only a handful of couples survive.

I now know there was no way I was going to write my dissertation that semester. I was going about it all wrong! But back then? I thought I knew what I was doing. However, halfway through that spring semester, I gave up, frustrated with my inability to juggle all those balls in the air. My life was a nest of chaos. I’d start over the summer. I knew I had the summer to do it. I can do it, right?

I turned 28 that summer. I could hear the clock ticking as I dove head first into my coordinator job. But I was just postponing the inevitable: revising my dissertation topic and coming up with something more manageable, more COHERENT. I was trying to do too much for one monograph. I figured all I had to do was write,  and I wasn’t writing. I blamed everything around me, including myself.

That fall, in a better position financially and personally, I faced my fears head on. I had to start somewhere. Why couldn’t I start? I wondered. Around the same time, I found out we were expecting. Facing my fears about my dissertation wasn’t so complicated in light of the pregnancy: that changed my life forever. What really affected me about the pregnancy was I had to slow down in my work. God, how frustrating was THAT? As I struggled to continue working backbreaking hours and staying up late, as I fought the sleep and the nausea, as I juggled academic research and teaching and doctor’s appointments, I would get angry at myself.

“Why am I so damn tired? I need to grade because I need to read later because if I don’t read later I have to read tomorrow and I don’t have TIME TOMORROW!”

Ah, Miss E. You had other plans.

After I got over the rollercoaster that was the first trimester of my pregnancy, I wrote a rough draft of Chapter 1 at the end of February the next year (2010, if you’re keeping score at home). I wouldn’t touch that draft again until come October, in Kansas City. I tried to start my research for Chapter 2 after sending off that draft of Chapter 1, but I had two baby showers, a job interview for a teaching position, Spring Break in Kansas City, an advanced pregnancy, and grading grading grading at the end of the semester–a semester I couldn’t finish teaching, by the way. Once the semester was over, my apartment was a revolving door of people until we moved in mid July.

On my 29th birthday, I was hugely pregnant and counting the hours until I would go into labor. As I walked up and down the block and propped my swollen feet on pillows, I thought about my game plan. I thought to myself: I was supposed to be done by now. And for a brief moment, dear reader, I felt I had failed.

Miss E and Me

Now that I look back, I don’t regret a thing. I’m right where I’m supposed to be, I feel. I could look at my story and say. “I am 30, and I only have two chapters of my dissertation written. I quit adjuncting and I don’t have another job lined up. On top of that, the job market is so dismal and depressing for PhDs that I’ve quit reading job market articles.” But instead I look at it this way:

I am 30. I have a beautiful, smart, daughter who’s quite the character at the age of 1. I have an amazing significant other who makes me laugh, who loves to share his reads and his tunes with me, and who treats me like his equal. I live in a wonderful city in the Midwest that I didn’t know existed when I was 20. I had the privilege of going to grad school and getting paid to read and ask questions for five years. I have had the chance to travel to so many different cities and share with audiences my writing: Honolulu, Calgary, San Juan, Scranton… I have engaged hundreds of students semester after semester, and gained a confidence in my teaching I wouldn’t have fathomed years ago. And I write. I write! Oh, and that dissertation? I’m hoping to be done by next spring.  On top of that, I had champagne and cupcakes for my birthday.

I don’t know if I’ll be teaching once I’m PhD, but I’m certainly excited about where my life is going. 20-year old me didn’t know much, didn’t she?

Bonus track: Cracker’s “Happy Birthday To Me”