Washer and dryer. Or how every cloud has a silver lining.

The washer and drier on their way out

The washer and dryer on their way out


Everybody I tell this story to tells me to write about it. So here it is:

When I first moved to my little cottage in Chapel Hill it lacked a washer and a dryer, although there is a perfect nook for them in the kitchen, there are no electric, water or drain installations for them. After watching Craigslist like a hawk I found both units from an older lady who was moving to Florida. Helmut could only carry one machine at a time, but eventually, they were both home.  Updating and hooking up the electrics, water and drain and air exhaust was going to cost well over a thousand dollars, which of course was much more than I wanted to spend. As was to be expected, the landlord wanted nothing to do with all this.

Smoking a cigar with the boys that were my neighbors, I mentioned this. Lo and behold they had all the necessary hookups in their basement but without the machines! and the basement had an outside door. We quickly realized that if I put my machines in their basement, and put a lock on the outside door we could all do our laundry, it was a win/win for all, and so we did.

This set up continued my second year here. The new neighbors were a great group of girls, including the daughter of one of my department’s professors!

But this year, the house changed ownership, management company and tenants, with the new girls being a group of sorority princesses. They wanted nothing to do with our standing set-up, nor with the machines! They had the landlord install new ones. Pleading with the management company led to nothing, I had to take my units out of their basement and sell them.

Fortunately I found a good home for them in the house of a friend’s newly married son.

So now I have to go to the laundromat.

Recently, a new home “stuff” shop  opened next door to the laundromat. The other day I stopped in to kill some time. Sally, the owner, is the funniest lady! Within minutes of walking in she was playing Andrés Segovia in the shop and we were sipping an extraordinary tequila, apparently made by George Clooney! A friend of Sally’s then walked in… and he is interested in Spanish tutoring. Next thing you know I have a new tutoring customer. Which goes to prove that every cloud has a silver lining.

PROSPECTUS (and its defense)

Apologies for my prolonged silence. Getting my prospectus passed took some time. As you can imagine, maintaining my blog was not a priority. But that hurdle is over with, so I can tell you all about it.

The prospectus as I have said somewhere before is the document that says what you want to write your dissertation about, so it is kind of a big deal. Getting your prospectus approved requires a few pieces to fit together like a good Swiss watch:

First you must get five professors to be your PhD committee*. This step requires strategy, finesse and diplomacy. You want to have experts from your field that know what you are talking about and experts from outside your field that know how you should be talking. You want to make sure that you know these professors and that you can work well with them (and that they can work with each other). I cannot say how blessed I am with my committee, it is an all-star team! Like the 80s Celtics. My director is Irene Gómez-Castellano. I love her enthusiasm, her vision, knowledge and overall awesomeness. We meet once a week for coffee, and those meetings more often than not run well over an hour. During that meeting Irene will go over whatever I have written, whatever I have read, and whatever I have to read and write, and then we connect the dots, and talk strategy.

In alphabetical order my next professor is Frank Domínguez. The guru of Medieval Spanish lit. There is little I can say about him that has not already been said. He literally wrote the book on Medieval Spanish lit. More than that, he is an awesome editor, advisor, and scholar. But most importantly he is the nicest person: patient and understanding.

Juan Carlos González-Espitia is basically the reason I am at UNC. If you go back on my blog to when I visited UNC for the first time, he is the professor that welcomed me, showed me around, and gave me excellent advice. Although Prof. González-Espitia is a well-known 19th C. Latin American scholar, he is now spending more and more time on the 18th C. How lucky could I be? And how perfect for my committee.

Prof. Rosa Perelmuter is an authority on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, I have been working with her for three years now. I love her critical eye, her honest advice and how she knows everything! And to top it all off, she is hilarious.

Ana Rueda is a world renown 18th C Spanish Lit. scholar. She is the head of the department at University of Kentucky. In an uncanny and wise move, Irene asked me to pick up Prof. Rueda at the airport when she came to give a presentation at UNC three years ago. Little did I know that she would one day sit on my PhD committee. Although I have stayed in touch with her since then, to get to know her better, I recently read one of her books: Cartas sin lacrar: la novela epistolar y la España ilustrada, 1789 – 1840. If you scroll down you can see all the places I read her book!

At the same time as your team is set up, your prospectus should be ready. I started working on this document in July so by August I had about 60 pages! I had to cut it down a bit to 40 pages – which is probably still a tad long, but it will all percolate into the dissertation anyway so it is ground already covered. You can find my prospectus attached in case you have problems falling asleep. A couple of pages of this is better than a handful of Ambien!

Of course the real magic happens when you put the dissertation committee in a room with the prospectus and the poor author of said prospectus. For me this happened on Friday. Prof. Rueda came in loud and clear through Skype and there I sat for an hour and a half while we reached two main conclusions: I write like a horse’s ass (which of course was not a surprise for me, sorry if you are reading this) and second, Padre Isla uses more than satire in his work, and I should embrace all his narrative techniques. This second bit is a massive relief as I was having a tough time limiting myself to the satire and I was struggling with the definition of satire.

There you have it, if you are lucky you get to pass your prospectus defense, and move on to writing your dissertation…

(Remember that this is an uncorrected document. If you are going to use it, cite it)

* This is at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Department of Romance Studies

Balson Prospectus 10-1-14

Cartas sin lacrar waiting for Rocinante's check up

Cartas sin lacrar waiting for Rocinante’s check up

Cartas sin lacrar at Five Guys

Cartas sin lacrar at Five Guys

Cartas sin lacrar at the Carolina Inn

Cartas sin lacrar at the Carolina Inn