Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm moving!

Hey folks! I finally did it, I decided to move this blog here. There are some features that I really miss when I'm not using WordPress and I was tired of my current blogger template. Please update your bookmarks and let me know what you think about the new digs!


Gender, Gender, Everywhere

Does anyone else out there ever get tired of talking about gender? I'm experiencing feminist fatigue, it's sort of like chronic fatigue, only caused by having to explain basic concepts of how to treat women like people to someone over and over again.

Right now I have an especially bad case because our roommate, lets call him Viking Boy, is strangely obsessed with gender, as if women were some sort of strange aliens. He will regularly say things like "This is man food!" or "I don't want any of that girlie salad!" with little or no irony. So I feel the need to try to explain to him that everyday activities like eating or (last night) pumpkin carving are not particularly gendered.

I attended a pumpkin carving party last night and carved a very scary bat into my pumpkin. 

Then again, I feel obligated to point out to other men that gender might be affecting how people interact with them. For example, the professor and two other TAs I'm working with this quarter are all men. I get 6-12 people showing up for my office hour each week and they get 1-2. Now there might be other factors involved like the fact that I chose a time the middle of a Thursday afternoon or that I have emphasized repeatedly to my students that they should ask for help. But considering that I get some of their students too and that another grad student (also a woman) has been helping another female student from the class with her homework, I think there is a good chance that gender might be influencing who students ask for help.

So now I'm wondering if there might be a link between men who can't seem to notice when the dishes need doing and men who can't seem to notice how gender influences their lives?

Would it help if they read Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I love Katharine Hepburn!

Your result for The Classic Dames Test...

Katharine Hepburn

You scored 14% grit, 33% wit, 62% flair, and 7% class!

Anyone else want to take the quiz?


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welfare for Grad Students?

Here's my basic question - Under what conditions would you (as a grad student) consider applying for welfare programs like low income housing or foodstamps?

Here's my situation. One of the main reasons that I decided to switch programs and go to Crunchy U. is that they offer the option to buy health insurance for your spouse and dependents. Ever since last summer when we were living in an attic filled with black mold Beorn has been developing unexplained health problems. He is always exhausted and his blood test show that he is anemic. He also has constant joint pain and a high "rheumatoid factor." We are having more tests done. Needless to say, having continuing health coverage for him is essential.

He feels fairly bad on a day to day basis and so may have trouble working full time unless we figure out what is wrong. In the mean-time, we are living on my stipend and student loans. Last night we discussed applying for disability for him and investigating the possibility of food stamps. I'm having some difficulty with this because if I dropped out of school with my master's degree I would likely be able to find a job that pays more than my TA stipend, so it seems somehow wrong to apply for assistance. On the other hand, I have no way of knowing what kind of work I might find or whether my new job would offer health insurance for Beorn. Most likely it would be difficult for me to support us on one salary and pay off my monumental student loans.

If I stay in school I know I have a job for the next three years at least and health insurance. Given the unstable state of the economy at the moment taking risks doesn't seem wise. Mainly, I want to stay in academia. I love my new department and love the privilege of teaching and researching topics that interest me. If I was to quit school I know I wouldn't find a job I love that would pay me what I need to be paid, at least not right away.

I know many people would never consider applying for welfare while in school, but apparently there is a long tradition of graduate students on welfare, judging by this thread on College Confidential. But here are a couple of vignettes from my week to fuel your thinking about why someone might consider it.

While riding the bus home this week I overheard a conversation between a couple of undergrads. They were discussing the stock market crash. One young guy was telling the other how bad it had gotten for his family. His dad had told him that he might have to get a part time job because his stocks had been so devalued. I sat there shocked that his dad wouldn't require him to a least work a few hours a week for spending money.

Later in the week I ran into one another woman in my cohort - a woman of "non-traditional student" age who had returned to school to earn a masters degree. She told me a little about her background -- how she started living on her own a week after her highschool graduation. She had dropped out of school because her parents hadn't been willing or able to help her pay for college. This attitude is common in working class families and yet there is no way for students under the age of 25 to prove that they aren't getting help from their families. So she dropped out of college and went to beauty school. She joked that she should have just got married or "knocked-up" because then at least she wouldn't be counted as her parents' dependent. After a number of years supporting herself doing manicure and pedicures she decided that she was really tired of massaging strangers' feet. Since she was now 26 she could qualify for financial aid as an independent. She went back to school, got her B.A. and a job she really enjoyed. Now she's supporting herself working as a research assistant in a lab while she gets her M.A.

I also know a number of international students who are in a financial pickle because their spouses don't have work visas. Back in 1998 in the Chronicle, David North from the Department of the Interior urged universities and graduate students to admit that grad students are the working poor.

It is interesting to compare two populations being supported by Uncle Sam: Buck privates in the Army and graduate students working as research assistants on federal grants. While the compensation packages for both groups are complex, unmarried first-year privates receive an average of $17,000 a year, and married ones about $1,000 more.

In comparison, the median stipend for the 41 unmarried graduate students whom I interviewed (in 1996-1997) was $14,000. Universities do not grant larger stipends for students with families; in fact, the median stipend for the 46 married students I interviewed was actually smaller -- only about $12,000.

Most graduate students have to live on their stipends; a few have help from their families or from a working spouse. Many, particularly U.S. citizens, go into debt.

He goes on to advocate that universities should counsel graduate students to use public assistance that they qualify for:

As a policy matter, I believe that universities should pay their graduate assistants at least as much as privates in the military earn -- a step that federal agencies could encourage by slight increases in their formulas for calculating research grants.

Failing that, graduate schools should accept the fact that their Ph.D. candidates are members of the working poor and help those students figure out how to use federal assistance programs. Perhaps graduate students in social work could be hired part-time to help the Ph.D. candidates apply for those programs. Why should the working poor among our graduate students continue to lose out on benefits that they are legally eligible to receive?

The issue of graduate students taking public aid has also been extensively debated on MetaFilter. More recently, an article on the US News site reports that the number of college students receiving food stamps in Florida is up 44% when compared to last year. Considering the current state of the economy, I wouldn't be surprised to see this trend continue. Given the number of low income and working class students that drop out of college should we really begrudge these students some extra help?


Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Oriented

Had a not very satisfying orientation/assessment meeting with the departmental chair last week in which she told me that I needed to take a bunch of classes because I don't have the proper "breadth" classes in my field. This despite my master's degree. Apparently, if the courses don't have the correct three letter prefix, despite their content, they are of no use.

Luckily after that I met with my advisor, who maintained that no one would care one bit what courses I had taken during my job search, but rather what I will know and what I will have (is that the proper tense?) written. Thank the gods! He suggested that I avoid taking classes just to fulfill requirements, and came up with ideas for more interesting things I might take. He even offered to come up with a reading course for me tailored towards some of our joint interests. Yay!

Now I have to get to bed. Teaching a "lab" tomorrow morning at 8AM. Fun, fun, fun!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

PhD requirements

I am very grumpy after my "entry evaluation" with the faculty graduate adviser of my new program. Despite having something more than 72 credits of courses through my program at BA U, it looks like I will have to retake many classes. The problem is that most of my classes at BA U, weren't officially listed in "head studies". That's because there was no department of "head studies" so now they want me to take five out of seven breath requirement courses as well as the language requirement. Seriously, it's like my MA doesn't count at all. Arg. I thought I had researched this.

Problem #1: They might be right. My transcripts look horrible, they are filled with independent studies and group studies, courses that don't say anything on them. So it might be better for me to have a transcript that looked like I went through an actual program.

Problem #2: I will likely be very bored sitting through all these requirements and I don't tend to focus well when I'm bored.

Problem #3: This will slow down my time to degree and I have already spent waaaayyy too much time in grad school.



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bloglines vs. Google Reader: How to Manage the Information Overload?

For the longest time, I used Bloglines to manage my RSS feeds. I'm not sure why I chose Bloglines, maybe Trillwing recommended it. I think I read some positive reviews.

Back in those olden days (2006) I started out manually adding other blogs to my blogroll. Then I discovered BlogRolling. BlogRolling makes it super easy to add blogs to your list and for a while I was happy. But soon, I discovered another problem...The blogs I was reading on Bloglines and those I was linking to on BlogRolling often didn't match. Periodically I would go through and match them up, but often I would forget to add some nice person's blog that I was enjoying.

I haven't research it, but I think different folk have different philosophies about their blogrolls. Who you include depends a lot on what you are trying to do with your blog. Are you trying to make money? Become popular with the "in-crowd"? I just wanted to write about my struggles in academia and hear about how other academics were doing. My graduate program was so without community that blogging about my troubles really helped me get through difficult times. (You guys, if anyone is still reading, helped me survive to get my M.A. and get into a better program! Yay!)

The point is, I wanted the blogs I read and the blogs in my blogroll to be the same. Now I could probably do some pruning, since I'm sure some folks I don't really read that often, but it was nice to just sort of keep up with the events in lots of folks' lives.

Then I discovered that I could create a blogroll using Bloglines and specifying only the blogs in my "academic blogs" folder. "Hooray!" I thought. This all Bloglines system lasted me for quite a while. But this summer I was tempted by Google Reader. Certain internet "experts" recommended Google Reader because it has a feature called "list view" which allows you to scan just the titles of the articles. "The Expert" claimed that this would save you hours each day and so I exported my subscriptions to Google Reader and tried it out. Unfortunately, I haven't been keeping up on my blog reading this summer and so I'm not sure how I like this new system. It seems that I'm back to my old problem- with Google Reader I have to maintain a separate list as a blogroll.

Then there is Bloglines Beta, which seems to have many of the same readability features a Google Reader. Now I'm just not sure what to do!


I'm Alive!

In case anyone was wondering, I am still alive. I haven't felt much like posting since I spent most of the last six months doing web design for the office I work for on campus. This summer was my break from academia and with it a break from my reflections on the academic life. I have been considering the future of this blog, as I'm now a wordpress expert and not sure I want to stay with blogger. Any thoughts my webby friends? I think my blog could have a much nicer look and be more usable if I moved it to wordpress. Actually, I don't think I would move it so much as start a new blog there and link to it from here. Make sense?

In other news- We are all settled in our new home in Crunchy Town. At least all of our stuff is moved and the piles of boxes have been whittled down a little. I'm going stir crazy here with Beorn and our new roommate, Beorn's buddy and best man, who I will call the Viking Boy. Neither Beorn nor the Viking Boy have jobs here yet, so they just hang around the house watching sci-fi. Orientation for Crunchy U. doesn't start until next week and our bank account is down to its last $40, so I'm pretty much stuck in the house as well. Viking Boy will be stay with us for a few months at least, maybe longer if he can find work. Luckily we have gone from paying $790 for a one bedroom apartment, to $775 for a three bedroom townhouse. Too bad my TA salary will also be smaller. The point is, all geek boys all the time is driving me a little insane.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chris Abani on TED

If you haven't seen the TED talks, watch this now. It's Chris Abani, an African writer talking about his experiences in Nigerian prison and growing up with his British mother in Africa. Only watch out if you have mascara on. I love it when men are feminists.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Climbing Cats

This summer I'm staying in a rather nice townhouse or row-house type of place with some roommates. Beorn is away learning his new trade so I'm staying with roommates. Our kitties have been staying inside, but there is a lovely courtyard type backyard. The problem? The princess likes to climb. The courtyard has a sort of trellis or pergola over it, made out of wood. The cat can climb straight up six feet and then get onto the top of the pergola. Then she wanders around on the top rails and sometimes disappears. My fear is that she will see something interesting in someone else's courtyard and jump down. This evening BOK followed her up to the top. Since he weighs twice as much I was somewhat concerned that he might not be able to get down or might hurt himself. Now I have a nice big scratch on my arm. He wasn't too confindent in my ability to safely hold him while standing on a step ladder. I had to forcibly drag him down. Damn cats!


Friday, July 18, 2008

Dr. Horrible

Just paid $4 for a "season pass" to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along, Joss Whedon's latest project. What a bargain!

FYI, I also paid $5 to This American Life, as I listen to their podcast all the time.

I can't wait till I can just pay for the media I like rather than paying $60 a month for a bazillion cable channels I don't watch. If I have to pay $60 I would rather it all went to support quality programming.


Nellie McKay at TED

If you have never heard of TED, you are missing out. Start here, with Nellie McKay singing "Feminists." For some reason it won't let me embed the video.

In other news Breena and Beorn had a great time at the beach. It's been years since I went body surfing. I love the ocean.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

A break from Academia

Since I graduated (yay!) I have been filling my life up with getting ready for our move in the fall and avoiding any academically oriented work. Since this blog is often about my struggles with academia, I have been avoiding posting here. But that's just silly! Kitties and I are all settled in to our summer gigs. We are sharing a largish townhouse with two roommates, who are also somewhat crunchy, so it works out well.

Beorn survived his first three weeks of field school, but just barely. Monday of the second week they were directed to hack through some vegetation to get to a survey point, only no one had brought gloves. Guess what happened next? About a third of the class ended up with poison oak! Beorn had it pretty bad and so was miserable and rightly pissed about it. Beorn is a computer geek, not an outdoorsy type and grew up in the Midwest, so wasn't familiar (enough) with poison oak. That stuff can be really tricky, it grows in so many different forms and vines itself into the growth of other shrubs and trees that it can be easy to miss. Frankly it never occured to me that the field school organizers wouldn't have it together enough to help him ID poison oak, that kind of seems like lesson one in these parts.

Luckily he is mostly through it now and we are enjoying his break. Field school starts again on Monday. Until then we are relaxing and heading to the beach for the weekend. I'm trying to get in as many min-vacations as I can this summer. We rarely have enough money saved to take trips and it can be difficult to get Beorn interested in leaving his comfy home and computer. Other than our honeymoon I can't remember the last time that we have taken a vacation. I do take days off here or there, but those are more like mental health days and involve catching up on laundry or lying in bed with a migraine.

Don't worry though, our regular schedule of complaints and bitching about how much academia sucks and how crazy everyone is will return in September. Just kidding, I'm very hopeful about my new program.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Scribefire- Firefox 3 bugs?

It seems that Scribefire may be having some issues with Firefox 3 as my last couple of posts arrived at the blog somewhat incomplete. Hopefully it was just a glitch.

In summary:

  • Mockingbirds singing at 12:30 AM = annoying
  • The Guild = funny
(The mockingbird photo is from jessicafm's photostream on flickr, used under creative commons license. Thanks Jessica!)


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Return of Gaming and Sci-fi to Breena's mind

Since turning in my thesis and moving, I have had a chance to relax a little and catch up on some of my other interests. The kitties and I are settling in with the roommates and dog at "yoga house." I have been running into many old friends from college and high school on facebook. I'm looking forward to watching movies and reading novels all summer. Yoga House now has high-speed internet so I can download all the podcasts I want! The first one on my list is The Guild. If you have ever played online games


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Web Misogyny

I'm sure that this-Men who hate women on the Web | Salon- is old news to most of you, but I just wanted to point out that misogyny directed at female writers on the web isn't what we should be focusing on. These incidents are just the tip of the f*cking iceberg when it comes to hatred of and violence against women in this country. True, these guys on the web feel free to say whatever crap comes into their heads because they can hide, but that is what is allowing us to see a bit of what is going on in their f*cked up minds.

On the other side, I am so frustrated that intelligent, successful women like Joan Walsh are still questioning whether or not they should respond or get upset when this kind of crap happens. These guys aren't going to stop just because we ignore them. This country needs to face up to the problem instead of hiding or minimizing it.


I Have Attained Mastery!

Of what? I'm not sure, but my thesis is signed and submitted! Yay! I don't think it has quite sunk in yet. Now Beorn just has to finish his finals and we will both be graduated and ready to move on. Beorn will be out of town for most of the summer at "field school." I will be sharing a house with some other women and their pets. It will be an adventure. In September Beorn and I will head off to Crunchy U. I still won't be posting here much for the next week because Beorn is leaving tomorrow and most of our apartment still isn't packed. He will be back next weekend for graduation and we will move the furniture then. Yuck! I hate moving.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ack! When "Issues" Attack!

This whole thesis process is driving me insane. To clarify, my program doesn't require a "defense," my committee just has to sign the damn thing. After my adviser having read and reviewed it, in sections, I gave the full draft to the two other committee members. Requesting that they give me feedback within two weeks. I would have liked to get the three of them together in a way, it would have meant that I had one dose of feedback and then could have revised. My adviser said they should send her their comments. Committee member number one is on sabbatical, so I had to mail him a copy. He read it the day he received it and requested a meeting with me. The meeting was somewhat painful since he pointed out many of the same problems that I see in the project and my writing of it. Unfortunately, I can't write what I would like to because it would be a serious critique of my adviser's work. Committee member number two is also my current boss on campus. I don't see him often because he is only in the office 1-2 days a week, but I'm now convinced, since it's been two weeks and I haven't gotten is comments, that he must not want to talk to me about it because it's so bad. (See, I have "issues.")

The thing is I know it's crap, but I promised my adviser that I would write something in exchange for her employment of me as a research assistant for a year. I have tried to gently point out to her the problems with this project. She isn't interested in hearing about it. My committee members are two of the smartest and most senior professors on campus. I'm sure the problems with the project and the things I'm not saying are obvious to them. I just want to get out of here and move on, preferably without having to burn bridges with anyone.

If I ever get the signatures from everyone, my second problem will be the fact that my adviser wants to publish an article from my thesis. We had talked about this, back before I understood the depth of the problem. I really, really don't want to have to tell her that I don't think this is publishable, but I also don't want to have my first publication be something I'm so embarrassed about.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Learning to Write

I made it through a meeting with one member of my thesis committee this morning. Now this may not have been the best strategy, but in order to get through the process in a timely fashion, I left my thesis somewhat incomplete. I knew that there were issues I wasn't addressing, but rather than try to address all of the inconsistencies and incomplete points, I decided to see what my committee members wanted me to add and what points they would bring up. Normally this wouldn't be my preferred mode, but these are two very senior professors who's opinion I trust and this project is so screwy that I am trusting them to help me straight it out just enough for them to sign off.

The meeting this morning was the first outside feedback I have gotten on it. The big issues he brought up were all expected and so didn't feel too threatening. The worst part was his comment on my lack of editing. He went through the thesis finding lots of small grammar and editing problems. His comment was that I should work to eliminate these from my writing before I hand stuff in to professors because people will judge me negatively because of these small errors.

He makes a good point, but I'm still somewhat frustrated because I would have appreciated this advice during my first year at grad school. If this is a pattern, why hasn't anyone else mentioned it during my four years of grad school? Also, I already showed the thesis to my adviser and apparently she didn't catch these errors. Maybe the problem was more prominent in my thesis because I dislike the project so much that I did a poor job of proofing, but I suspect that I have some blind spots when it comes to grammar. For example, I'm aware of the misuse of "it's" and "its" but in my own writing that isn't something that stands out for me as a glaring error. Split infinitives? I know they exist, but how to spot one? I'm not sure. (This makes my editing of undergrad papers somewhat ironic. Often I can tell them that a particular sentence is incorrect, but couldn't explain to them why.)

I need an editing buddy, someone who is willing to trade drafts with me. Beorn and I do this sometimes, but I would prefer having a backup person. And I need to come up with some additional strategies to improve my editing of my own writing. Generally I just take a break from whatever I'm writing, leave it for a day or two and then reread it slowly for errors. I know people say reading it out loud helps, but the best I manage is mumbling it under my breath.

(Blog posts are posted as is, so I'm sure they are riddled with grammatical errors.)


Sunday, May 18, 2008

This applies to academics as well...

Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor - (37signals)
"Forgoing sleep is like borrowing from a loan shark. Sure you get that extra hours right now to cover for your overly-optimistic estimation, but at what price? The shark will be back and if you can’t pay, he’ll break your creativity, morale, and good-mannered nature as virtue twigs."

David writes about this in relation to work in the private sector, but his point applies to academics as well. Doing good intellectual work requires we be at our best, not fuzzy-brained and grumpy. Yet anyone who admits to relaxing once in a while and getting enough sleep risks being viewed as a slacker as less than ambitious, not worthy of accolades.

I have been meaning to post a link to A Blog Around The Clock : A 40-hour workweek?
which links to posts by academic bloggers on the 40 hour work week. I don't think everyone should maintain a 40 hour week any more than I think everyone should work 12 hour days all the time. Everyone has their own limitations, but I don't think working long hours necessarily means you are more productive. Alternately, you might produce lots of product, but the quality might not be what it could have been had you had time to rest and reflect.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Testing Contribute

Hello blog readers! I'm testing out a software program called Contribute, that works with Dreamweaver. Contribute is suppose to allow WYSWIG editing of web pages and blogs. We will see if it has any benefits. Ironically, the Contribute spellchecker doesn't recognize the word "blog."


Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Have I told you how much I love ScribeFire? The more I use it, the better I like it. For example, you can right click on whatever page you are browsing and then click "blog this" and the ScribeFire window will open with the link in it. You can choose which blog you want to post to, without having to log out and log in to another account. Also, if you browse to another page and want to link to it, when you click on the link button, the link to the page you are on pops up without you having to cut and paste. I'm using it right now.


Gender Confusion

This piece, "Two Families Grapple with Sons' Gender Preferences : NPR", on NPR pushed gender issues into the front of my brain again this week. Listening to the radio this afternoon I was struck by the parent's stories. How difficult it must be for them to find that their child, at two or three, cannot accept the gender role assigned to him/her. Knowing that your child might face a lifetime of discrimination and violence, what would you do?

When I was a little, little girl my parents did their best to raise me without gender biases. Despite this, I loved frilly pink dresses, fairies, and princesses. My grandparents and other kids didn't help, but since we didn't watch TV at home I can't really blame the media. It wasn't until junior high that I grew out of my girly-ness.

In college a good friend of mine was a cross-dresser. Antioch was probably one of the few places in the country where a trans-gendered person could be out without (much) fear. Still, I was too embarrassed to really talk to him about it. When he hit on me or my other women friends I just felt confused. I had no issue with friends who were gay or lesbian or bi, but I didn't "get" his identity.

These issues get really confusing. For example, last week at a party some folks were discussing the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and Osento Bathhouse. Apparently the Womyn's music festival only allows "womyn born womyn" to perform meaning that transgendered male to female performers aren't welcome but transgendered female to male performers are allowed. Osento on the other hand permits male to female transgendered patrons, which makes some other female patrons uncomfortable.

All of this still confuses me. How can someone who is two be confused about his/her gender? Could the desire to be a girl arise from some trauma? From the recognition that the way that men are socialized in this culture leaves many men disconnected from their emotions and unable to connect with other humans? Or are some people born with an innate desire to wear frilly pink dresses? Can anyone talk us out of this desire? My parents certainly couldn't.

Update: NPR has more on this today. Now transgendered teens can choose to get hormone treatments that allow them to fit in better as adults. Never having gone through puberty in the opposite gender, as adults they are more like other people of their chosen gender. Somehow this comforts me, and yet I wonder how much of this has to do with the need or desire to hide one's transgendered-ness. Could more acceptance help transgendered people feel comfortable with their in-between-ness?

As a woman who doesn't fit the idealized image of what women should be, I wonder about transgendered male to female people and their desire to fit that mold. My college friend tended to wear make-up, high-heals, and short skirts much more than my hippy women friends. As a young woman I felt a lot of pressure to "fit in," yet in some ways my transgender friend stood out as more feminine than the women she was friends with. I hope we were both "being ourselves" and not bowing to outside pressures or internal anxieties about who we "should" be.


Thesis Progress

Finally had a meeting with my adviser today. I was horribly nervous because I had written the entire thing, submitting sections of it to her as I went, but had had no feedback about it. No feedback is fine, if you are in agreement about the general plan, but there was no agreement about the plan. Adviser is very nice, but not terribly consistent.

She gave lots of comments, but they were all clarifying points. Nothing wild. Yay!

Now I just have to get it through the committee and filed.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Update

My decision to attend Visitation U. coincided with my trip to Big Conference, so I forgot to tell y'all. I would have liked to go to Great White North U. Did you know that Canadian TA's only work 10 hours a week? Union rules, ya'know. 10 hours a week and short semesters, I would recommend it to other grad students.

If it wasn't for Beorn I would have jumped on the chance. Beorn will have to find his way, either way, since he didn't get in where he applied last fall. I think he didn't put his best effort into his applications last time, so I'm hopeful that, if he really wants to do grad school, he will put in a stronger effort next time. Leaving the country under uncertain conditions just didn't seem reasonable. To get residency we would have to prove something like $12,000 in savings, which isn't going to happen anytime soon. Too bad.

I'm excited to be going someplace new though. Visitation U. will now be called Crunchy U. Hopefully there are enough "crunchy" places for that to be less than obvious.

Did I mention that Beorn will be graduating soon and then attending a "field school" over the summer? He will have to live away from me for the summer and spend a ton of time being active in the sunshine. Hopefully he won't need to yell, "The sun, it burns!!!" Or collapse from heat prostration. Computer geeks aren't known for their enjoyment of hiking. I'm crossing my fingers for him.

I will be continuing my current job on campus over the summer. I have a ton of work to catch up on in that vein. Don't tell the administration that I'm actually leaving.

I don't feel that excited about starting over at a new place, but I'm hoping the excitement will build. Getting away from my current entanglements would be nice though. My father has called twice (once while I was in Boston) in the last two weeks for help with Grandma. I don't mind helping, but it's always last minute and an emergency with him. If I have to say no, I feel anxious and stressed. It probably sounds horrible, but I don't think Grandma will be negatively affected by my absence, but being a little further away from family will help me get my degree finished.


Happy May Day!

Workers of the World Unite!
Jump the Beltane Fires!
Make Love Not War!
Etc! Etc!

Saturday we are going to the beach to celebrate May Day. I can't wait.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008


A while back Wil asked how I was liking Foucault's Pendulum. The truth is I started and then couldn't concentrate on it. I had too much grading and work and worrying to do. My father got it for me for Christmas. On the 23rd of December he called me to ask what I wanted for Christmas. I referred to my Amazon wishlist. I don't actually order from Amazon, but it's an easy way to keep a list of books I want.

He also bought me the Island of the Day Before. I read to page 150 and still couldn't get into the story. The imagery was amazing, but a guy mysteriously stuck on a sailboat with no one else around, doesn't keep the pages turning. It felt like he was doing some kind of writing exercise, to see if he could weave the stories together, make it interesting.

I returned to Foucault's Pendulum, since I had only read a few pages. Now that I have had more time to avoid writing by reading, I'm enjoying it. It's taking much more concentration than the rest of my recent reads. I recently joined BookMooch, which has allowed me to mooch books I would never buy for myself. For example, Jane Goodall's autobiography, Reason for Hope was nice and had some interesting points, but was written for a popular audience. I haven't read anything non-fiction quite so fluffy in quite a while. Jan Goodall is one of my favorite famous women scientists, along with Rosalind Franklin, the discoverer of DNA. A third awesome woman scientist is Dr. Lynn Margulis, who despite seeming to get no credit, is the person who actually provided evidence to support the Gaia Hypothesis. Margulis is the scientist who worked out Endosymbiotic theory, the theory that we are actually symbiotic organisms, the mitochondria in our cells were at one time separate organisms. I also read Neil Gaiman's book, American Gods. Neil Gaiman is my new favorite author.

Now that I have gotten into it, I'm really enjoying Foucault's Pendulum. It's my only distraction from the hell that is my thesis. Until my thesis is done I'm not allowing myself to work on any other projects. No working on my dissertation proposal, no starting fun projects, no, no, no. Must motivate to write the damn thing. I'm terrified to give it to my committee. I'm being silly because my committee members are both awesome, but I'm frightened.


My First Time

Just Me and I had our first blogger meetup at Big Conference. We could have used a better venue, but I really enjoyed our talk. I think I talked too much, but hopefully she will forgive me. We didn't take any pictures. It turns out we know people in common. Weird. It made me feel much better to meet with someone so friendly and strangely familiar. Big Conference was starting to wearing on me. I'm not outgoing although I can sometimes pretend. Now I won't be so nervous before my next meetup.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Academic Appearances

My recent trip to Big Conference gave me a lot to think about in terms of how academics present themselves. Apparently Girl Scholar has been having similar thoughts.

The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar: Keeping up appearances
"Really, though, my question is: when did academia become a glamour profession? It seems to me that there was a time when professors were expected to be a bit dumpy. Sure, there was That One Professor that everyone had a crush on, but that was exceptional.
One of the funn(i)est things about Big Conference is guessing what people specialize in by their dress and personal appearance. I guess what fascinates me is whether or not it's a good idea to imitate the dress of important scholars you admire. I'm sure that if you are the student of an important scholar s/he would be flattered to find that you take after them in terms of dress. I'm going to give you some of the obvious categories for my discipline, which I think I will call "head studies" in contrast to my earlier attempts in the field of "hairdressing." Please don't think I'm making fun, my observations about people's appearance do not lesson my impression of them as scholars. I'm just insecure about my place in academia and my identity, so I make these observations:

Old School, Old Boy: This is an older gentleman in a full suit with tie (sometimes a bow tie.) Grey haired and confident, he and his cohort chat while relaxing in the lounge areas of the conference. In "head studies" this person is always a white male.

The Techie: This is our version of the geek. Khakis and a blue shirt, glasses. A neat, short haircut. Also invariably a man, although younger.

The Outdoorsperson: S/he is unconcerned about appearances. Clothing tends towards jeans or khakis and flannel shirts, all slightly ill-fitting. This person doesn't get haircuts frequently. Her or his hair is long and looks slightly unkempt. Beards are common for men. You can also tell this type by their skin. They tend to have slightly leathery or freckled skin from spending a lot of time outside.

The Rock Star (male): This guy is smart and he knows it. He has lots of hair gel, tight black pants, sunglasses and a leather jacket.

The Rock Star (female): She could be old or young, but she always has a short, spiky haircut, usually covered in gel. Like the male Rock Star, she tends towards fashionable, tailored clothing. She generally wears close fitting pants, black boots, a tailored jacket (often red) and an elegantly tied scarf.

I know there are more types, but those are the ones that stand out in my mind. Each of these types is associated with a particular sub-discipline, but I won't go into that.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Privilege is difficult to see, especially when you have it.

Check out this post from YoungFemaleScientist: Insidious, hard to quantify, Gender Discrimination. (It's long.)

I don't know why we keep expecting men to get it. Seriously, it's rare for a white man in a position of power, even those who are supposedly enlightened to get their privilege. It does happen, for example, my current boss is an awesome mentor to graduate students of all genders, races, and so on, but it's rare. In some sense I don't blame them, privilege is difficult to see. As a white woman I rarely notice my white privilege, except when a person of color talks about their experiences of discrimination.

It really isn't that mysterious. Imagine older, male mentor and young, somewhat geeky, but still "nubile"(I hate that word) female grad student working long hours together in the lab or slaving over ancient tombs. If this was a movie, what happens next? William Deresiewicz knows.

If you were an older male professor faced with uncomfortably attractive young grad students, what would your reaction be? Make sure the office door stays open. Whatever you do, don't go out to drinks after work. Keep things professional. Would the same be true with your male grad students?

I know, I'm being hetero-normative, but it's not a question of actual impropriety, it's just appearances. The point is the privilege is invisible. You are a male grad student and you "hang out" with your adviser. Your adviser thinks of you as a younger version of himself, people who are different, who think differently make him uncomfortable. Most likely he doesn't realize this. He can't help his feelings, but they affect his attitude towards his students, how much time he spends with them, how enthusiastic he is.

I happens, even when there is no conscious intention to discriminate. Networking opportunities become limited. Older faculty are uncomfortable. Young men and women don't see what's going wrong.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Questions for the Academic Blog-o-sphere

Some grad student friends and I (my work buddies) were having lunch this week and began discussing the expense of going to the major conferences in our fields. Now, each of us is in very somewhat different fields, but their conclusion was that going to the major conference in your field each year wasn't that important. Last year I attended the large conference in my field for the first time and a very small conference, not directly within my field, but related to my master's research methodologically.

Attending the large conference was stimulating because I was exposed to sub-fields and "star" scholars that I never would have understood otherwise. I got much more of a sense of what is hot in my field than I could from reading journals. The large conference was mostly a total bust in terms of networking though. I felt terribly out of place the entire time. The paper sessions didn't allow enough time for questions and people weren't very open to people waylaying them after their talk. The conference was so huge that I felt completely lost and dwarfed by the event.

The small conference was much more fun. My friend and I got to talk to some experienced researchers using similar methodologies. People actually attended our paper session despite the fact that it was scheduled for the last afternoon of the conference.

This year I'm going to major conference again, only this year it's going to be much more expensive since I have to pay for travel and airfare. This year I'm presenting my thesis research. So in the coming years, as I'm developing my dissertation research, how often do I need to attend the major conference in my field?

The thing is, it's fr*cking expensive.
$500 for airfare
$300/night for a hotel room (Ok, you could share, but still.)
$20+/day for food
$75 clothing to make me look less like a homeless person

Total= $1300 (minimally)

That's almost a month's wages for me.

Second question. There's small conference coming up in June at Visitation U. It's interdisciplinary, but very much related to my interests. I emailed the organizer to get more info about cost. He suggested that I might moderate one of the panels. How worth it is moderating? I guess it would give me something to do if I want to go to the conference anyway. If I only have money and time to attend one or two conferences a year how should I choose? This small conference seems like it would be better for networking, but it seems that I'm going to have to sample a variety of small conferences until I find the few that I really fit with. Last year I attended one small conference I really loved and one that I never want to go to again. I never would have guess which was which without attending each.


More on Great White North U.

I talked on the phone the other night with my potential adviser at Great White North. I really like her. I wish it wasn't so intimidating for Beorn and I to move out of the country because I have a feeling that she would be a great adviser. JustMe makes a good point about the risk of going out of the country in terms of funding. GWN has offered me good funding for the entire degree, more years than I want the PhD to take me, but being married complicates things. It might take a while for us to establish residency and until then Beorn couldn't work. He didn't apply to any schools near there, so he would have to reapply and get funding because we certainly couldn't afford international student fees without help. Either way his future there would be very shaky.

At least I'm not facing having to return to my home country for 3+ years without my spouse. A friend of a friend here at BAU has to leave the country once he finishes his PhD. If he was straight he could just marry his long time partner and stay, but instead they face years of separation. This is why gay marriage is an important issue. Marriage is making legal in the eyes of the state your status as a family. It gives important legal rights. Separating voluntarily to pursue career opportunities is difficult enough, imagine having no choice. Being deported.

Maybe I'm feeling a little dramatic tonight because I just listened to This American Life. The latest episode includes a segment on the bug adminstration deporting widows because their spouses died before they could have an interview with immigration. That is the kind of crap that makes me want to leave the country.


Twitter-esk Update

Here's what I have accomplished so far today-

1. I wrote up some more of the "results" section of my thesis. The thesis seems to be looking up. Earlier in the week I felt I didn't have anything interesting to say and my committee was going to be bored to death, now I have found a least a few interesting insights. Yay!

2. I spent a ton of time investigating WordPress. I'm starting to get the hang of it and there are a ton of plug-ins that allow you do a sorts of fun stuff. This makes me feel productive, because my job on campus is considering using WordPress to manage their website.

3. Went shopping for the pets and some groceries. Beorn and I also got some smoothies. Yum.

4. Now I'm cooking some dal and rice while drinking a glass of Zin and playing Lord of the Rings Online. In a little while I'm going to heat up some nan from Trader Joe's to go with the dal and rice.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008


That's the answer to whatever question you are about to ask me. No, my thesis still isn't finished. No, my work computer isn't fixed yet. No, I haven't decided where to go to finish my PhD.

The department at Visitation U. is smallish, but seems strong both academically and socially. I like that. The gossip, which I can't say much about, has to do with the personalities and advising styles of particular professors there. I like the fact that the grad students were willing to give me their perspectives on the problems. In a way it was funny, because they were so dramatic about revealing the problems and then the problems seemed so minor, so run of the mill, considering my experiences at B.A.U. and what I read about in the academic blog-o-sphere, that I almost had to laugh.

Visitation U. is in a nice, smallish city or largish town, depending how you look at it. Rent and living expenses there would be around 2/3 of what we pay now at B.A.U. Of course, my TA salary there would be 2/3 's of what I make now at B.A.U. There are lots of recreation opportunities, good Asian restaurants (have I blogged about Beorn's addiction to sushi?), and it's in the same region I'm proposing to study for my dissertation.

The alternative is Great White North U. They are offering me significantly more money, but they are located in a large city, rent and expenses would be higher. Also, at least for the first year, a significant amount of that money would have to be spent paying international student fees. The department there is larger, which could be a major benefit for me: more grad students interested in similar issues, and a more dynamic environment. The climate, latitude, and large urban environment make it a less appealing place to live though. Also, it's not in the region I'm planning to study, meaning my research would have to involve extended, expensive trips to that region.

I think what is making me so grumpy these days is a mourning process. I had planned to stay here at B.A.U. to finish the PhD. If I was staying I could start studying for my comprehensive exams any time now. Starting over is going to cost me a year, at least, possibly two. I feel sad about all of this, sad that I wasted so much time trying to make things work here, and sad that I'm leaving. (Oh god! I'm breaking up with my university.) Does that mean that whatever new university I choose is a rebound relationship?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blogging Backlog

I don't know how people find time to blog everyday. I frequently find myself with a major backlog of things I would like to blog about. If I don't catch up on my posts within a week I usually let them drop since timeliness seems of the essence in blogging.

Upcoming posts...

1. Tips for professors on how to work with TAs. (If you treat your TAs nice, word will get around, people will want to work for you. Good TAs can do things for you, things you probably haven't realized you need someone to do for you.)
2. Ideas for how to grade papers/essay exams efficiently.
3. Reflections on Articulate Dad's comments on the insanity that is academia.
4. More on my PhD program dilemma.
5. Thoughts on the place of blogging in academia.

When these posts might happen is a mystery. The rest of this week will be filled with work and grading. Sunday I'm leaving town for a few days for a retreat. Yay!

Maybe spring break will be a time for blogging?


The gentle art of letter writing

On the grad school application front, I have now heard back from two universities besides Visitation U. "Great White North U." has made me a very nice offer, which would most likely involve Beorn and I applying for permanent resident status. Their program is excellent, but I'm not sure it's realistic for us to move to such an expensive city and try to emmigrate and all.

On the other hand, one of the top rated programs in the U.S. sent me a rather strange acceptance letter. It went something like this...

Dear Breena,

Thank you for your application to the graduate program of the "Head Studies" Department at "Top State". You are in the top third of the application pool. As a result, we are recommending to the Graduate School that you be admitted to the program. Congratulations! The fact that we let you in means you must have had a good application.

Although admission is good news, we haven't worked out a financial aid package for you. Although we have already made some TA and RA offers, it is unclear how many more admission-with-aid packages will be available. You are among a group of 20 students who didn't quite make the cut. In the next two or three weeks, I hope to contact you to make you the offer that you are undoubtedly waiting for!

We know you may have had good offers from "lesser" programs, but if you have independent funds to support tuition and living expenses, you are welcome to consider coming anyway. There is some chance that over the summer – or in subsequent semesters – we will be able to find an assistantship for you. But as of now, it is a case of wait-and-see. Thank you for your interest in
"Top State".

Dr. So-and-so
Chair, Graduate Admissions Committee

Jane Doe
Graduate Assistant

I modified the wording of the letter somewhat to protect the not-so-innocent, but not much. The tone is fairly true to the original. Notice that while the letter is officially signed my Dr. So-and-so, it was sent from the account of his graduate assistant. This letter has to be the worst acceptance letter of all time. It does not make me want to join their program, no matter how highly rated. In fact, I would like to email the chair and gently mention that I found the letter off-putting. Seriously, someone should learn how to write an acceptance letter. I know it isn't a good idea to go telling tenured professors in my discipline how to do their jobs, but really, I could write a much better letter than that.

More realistically, I would like to write them and let them know that I have firm offers from other places and if they would like me to consider their program, they should up their game, but I'm almost certain that email would come out sarcastic. In any case, I think I should contact Dr. So-and-so directly rather than his staff person. To me it seems very rude for him to not take the time to write himself, at least for the first contact. It would only take a few minutes to cut and paste the letters. And twenty students on the waiting list? Frak, how many students did the let in?

Any suggestions?


It's time to hate being a TA

Almost any term, there is a day, a moment maybe, in which I lose the will to go on working. I think the moment has arrived. Beorn's birth-daughter has been visiting all weekend, Saturday was a friend's 50th birthday party, and the grading load has been ridiculous. Last Thursday I gave a mini-lecture in the class I'm TAing and then Friday a presentation to faculty on how I use technology in the classes I TA.

Most days I like being a TA. I usually like the professors I work with. Often though, I'm frustrated with instructors that don't talk to their TAs about plans for the class or let us look over the assignment prompts before they hand them out.

I'm so tired of grading at this point it's not funny. Yesterday I read 20+ essays. I should read another 20+ tonight. By Saturday night I need to grade another 50+ take-home essay exams. The grading load for this course has been insane. Bleck!


Saturday, March 08, 2008

My visit might be unbloggable

Damn, I'm tired. I was so nervous/excited the entire trip that I could hardly sleep. I hate not being able to sleep. Also, I grit my teeth. Usually just a little, but now my jaw hurts.

I'm never sure how to disguise my identity or the identities of those I blog about. It's one of the most frustrating things about blogging. I'm not good at office/departmental politics and so I want to blog about those things to get advice.
The situation at Visitation U. is extremely interesting. It's the kind of the thing that confuses me and makes me nervous.

In my previous career, I did something that people either envied, or were repulsed by. I consider teaching a calling. (Interesting, I just realized I that.) My friend, who is a nurse, said to me one time, after I had talked to her about my thought process, in deciding whether or not to go to nursing school, that nursing is a calling. Her view was that people who get into nursing for the wrong reasons grow to resent their patients. Teachers who don't love teaching, I believe, experience something similar.

When I taught outdoor ed, I had to wrangle the energy of 20+ elementary students all day. I had to keep them safe and entertained and learning. This was a lot of work, but something I really enjoyed. I liked being outside and talking about science and nature and trying to show students how learning can be fun. I miss my old job.

Many people, on the other hand, did not want my job. They didn't like the idea of herding large groups of children, of teaching the same lessons, over and over. I got sick teaching elementary students, over and over. I got paid very, very little, because there was a constant stream of young college grads willing to take my job. Never mind that they didn't know how to teach like I did, that I had worked years to learn how to teach well, that wasn't important.

My point is, my previous career wasn't competitive. I worked hard because I wanted to be an excellent teacher. I always hoped to move up, to run my own program and make enough money to pay off my loans and buy a house. When it became clear that it might be years before that happened, I realized I would have to go back to school and get some training. Maybe it was my naivety, I didn't think of being competitive, I just wanted to do my job well.

Academia is competitive. Visitation U. is very interested in me, at least by the standards of my discipline and their middle level status. I'm not used to people paying attention to me. Frankly, it made me nervous. It's all well and good to be a star student in a small department, but then you have to keep that up. You have to be smart and say the right things and kiss up to the right people. I'm more of the say what's on your mind type.

That's one reason I think it might be a good idea for me to change programs. I wasn't very circumspect when I started the program here a B.A.U. I didn't act respectful towards profs who I thought were "phoning it in" or just plain wrong. As an experienced teacher it was frustrating to see people who I wanted to admire, act as if they didn't care, as if teaching was the least thing to them, as if their ideas must be the best and everyone else wasn't worth listening to.

When I started the program at B.A.U., I didn't understand the need to "look smart" and my friends who were nervous to speak up and ask questions confused me. I didn't have something to prove. Now, with this new department, I feel I have to prove that I'm worthy of their esteem. I know it's weird. Who wouldn't be happy to get into a supportive department? They even offered a small scholarship, which I think will continue as long as I'm there.

I have to suppress my desire to tell them I'm not who they think I am.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why did I sign up for this crap?

I have finally caught the illness that has been going around. When I'm sick I just want to sleep and tend to get depressed. As a recovering workaholic, not being able to work is difficult. Getting behind in numerous types of work is frustrating. My thesis is progressing, but far from complete. I'm treading water at my "research assistant" job. And I haven't managed to finish grading the latest batch of papers, partly because I found two cases of plagerism.

Tomorrow I'm going to visit the one PhD program I have heard from, which won't help me catch up. I'm excited, but nervous.

What has made me extra tired today is my students. They aren't reading. I tried to lead them through constructing an argument for their next paper, which is due Monday, but since they haven't read most of the case studies, there wasn't much for them to say. They are tired, it's near the end of the term, and this is just a Gen Ed class, but their apathy discourages me. I'm tired of making an effort, when they are doing the bare minimum.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Graduate school plans, a review

The process of transitioning from a master's program to a PhD program has been a bumpy one for me. Officially, I'm listed as a PhD student here at B.A.U. despite the fact that my master's thesis is not complete. At this point I have completed more than enough credits to be done with classes and preparing for my qualifying exams. My thesis has been lagging for a number of reasons. (I'm trying to convince myself that this isn't a sign of my lack of suitability for an academic career.)

1. Last year I agreed to work with my adviser on a long term project and take part of the analysis to create my thesis. This cause no end of trouble because (I later found out that) we fundamentally disagree about what kind of analysis should be done with that data. Then the data collection process wasn't very successful.

2. I have had all sorts of bad luck and family issues in the last two years: a broken foot, relatives in need of care, a stolen car, my grandfather dying, Beorn's cat disappearing.
There has been some confusion about what discipline I want to be in and what degrees was pursuing. This was my fault. When I started, I thought I would pursue a dual degree in "hairdressing" and "head studies" because there are jobs for "hairdressers" outside of academia, which would have taken me 31/2-4 years, so really I'm exactly on schedule. (Right, right?) I always felt that I ultimately wanted to teach and so might want to pursue a PhD, but I didn't communicate that very clearly to either my professors or friends and family outside of academia. I think Beorn understood, but other people not so much.

Last year, when it became clear that my Adviser and I weren't meshing, I started thinking about who I might get to advise me on a PhD project. I met with professors from all over the campus looking for a good match, but while several people were encouraging about my project ideas, none of them seemed appropriate considering my degree will be in "head studies" and none of them come from closely related disciplines, so Beorn and I started thinking about applying to other grad schools.

I could stay at B.A.U. because things seem to be looking up for the "head studies" program here. Its interesting how many people seem threatened or upset by my choosing to leave. Friends from my cohort make pressuring comments, despite the fact that I rarely see them, and they know I have good reasons for leaving. Professors here keep emphasizing how great other professors here are (I think will little actual knowledge of the person in question.) Friends and family outside of academia mainly seem puzzled. They think I should be done already and start making money. They are probably right in one sense. Pursuing a PhD doesn't make much sense financially, but I'm surprised, because these are people who didn't choose their careers/jobs for their money making potential.

I understand not wanting a friend to move away, particularly one who you see frequently, but I have a feeling that many people just aren't comfortable with my decision. Either they don't see the value in pursuing an academic career or they are uncomfortable with my dissatisfaction with the current program. In my mind, if I'm going to pursue an academic career, I need to pursue it full force, not settle for a program that doesn't suit me.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two good things and one bad

Bad news first:

I'm spending my weekend grading exams. These are essays, so each one takes a while.

Good news:

1. I found out this week that at least one of the PhD programs I applied to wants me. They said I was "on top of their list", or something like that. They offered me three years of guaranteed teaching fellowships, which I think is the best they have to offer.

2. Pineapple guava jam is good. Beorn and I made some last winter and now I'm enjoying it on buttered toast.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cat Update

Big Orange Kitty is doing better now. His tail has survived the ordeal. I'm very glad we got him to the vet when we did. He's such a beautiful cat and his whiskers and tail are his best features. I would hate for him to lose either one. He is amazingly good natured about getting treated and taking his medicine. I can give him a pill without much trouble and he mostly didn't mind as looking at his tail. He didn't want anyone to touch it, but he would just try to get away, not bite or scratch.

On the down side he is amazingly persistent when he wants in or out of something. We call him "the kitty to whom no door is barred." We have an Ikea bed with storage underneath and he insists on opening the drawers so he can hide inside. His ability to slip out of his e-collar is impressive. We have had trouble sleeping all week because we keep waking up to check on him or because we heard him trying to scratch.

Beorn took him to the vet today. No more stitches or collar, just another week inside with the antibiotics.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

External Fellowships & Grading

Last week I applied for my very first external fellowship. I know, I should have been applying for them from the start, but damn, that was a lot of work. I don't know how people do it. They could have asked for a C.V. but instead I had to put everything in one field at a time. It was exhausting and took up a bunch of time I could have used for something else, but I'm proud that I got it done. I don't think I'll get this one, but it's good practice. It made me write something up.

After that I spent most of the weekend grading papers and worrying about Grandma. For whatever reason her dementia or depression seems to have gotten worse. She wanted to stay in bed all weekend and have me bring her food in bed. Sounds fun, but not when you are 80+. Getting up and walking around is key at that point.

Paper grading was frustrating because the prof I'm working with decided that we should grade the papers, then give them back to the students for revisions, then only record their final grade. Guess what happened. Lots of people turned in papers that read like they had been completed in 1-2 hours the night before. Yuck.


Crazy Weekends and Cats

Beorn and I stayed with Grandma with weekend so my father could have a weekend away with his wife. This meant we weren't at home much all weekend and the cats were stuck inside. When we got home, exhausted from sleeping on someone else's bed and being woken by strange dogs at 5 AM, we discovered that Big Orange Cat was acting strange. He had been feeling down for a week or so but we had assumed that is was digestive trouble from a hairball and would work itself out. A downward facing tail and complaining when we tried to touch his back end indicated something more serious.

Luckily, we live in a university town with an all night veterinary teaching hospital. We called after his wound started seeping something foul and they said bring him in. Mind you, late night vet care is not cheap, but it was fast and efficient.

It turns out he had been bitten three times on the tail. The bites had become infected, so the vets had to cut off the dead tissue and stitch up what was left. Sunday night they told us he could lose his tail, we would just have to wait and see.

Tonight I brought him back in for a checkup and they said it looked better than expected. I am grateful because a kitty without a tail is basically disabled and he was already running away when they bit him. He is a very large kitty, but not very brave. His mild temperament means he's a good patient though, he takes his pills and tolerates warm compresses very well.


Real life sucks...fantasy is much more fun

Beorn has been playing Lord of the Rings Online again. A while back we quit WOW and got into LOR, and then we had serious real life issues and gave up gaming for a while. I'm still way too busy to really game, but tonight I'm taking a break.

Getting use to gaming after a break is frustrating. If I haven't gamed in a while I get disoriented and can't keep up with other players. Usually everyone is level 50 anyway, so whatever area we are traveling through is very familiar to them. Also, I have forgotten all the commands, so I'm not very good at anything.

Tonight we went on a raid with our "kinship." Raids are confusing if there isn't a clear leader. It's difficult to keep up and keep track of everyone, especially since our internet connection is somewhat slow. Everyone expects you to know what quest we are doing or who to attack or not attack. Since our connection is slow I fell into a ditch/ravine which was filled with giant spiders. Not good. Everyone tried to jump in an save me, but it was too late. Ah well, c'est la vie.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Meme

Look, K8 tagged me!

1. Name one book that changed your life.
The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen

2. Name one book you have read more than once.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
(I read all those books over and over again as a kid.)

3. One book you would want on a desert island.
Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools

4. Two books that made you laugh.
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, Spider Robinson
The Princess Bride, William Goldman

5. One book that made you cry.
American Primitive, Mary Oliver

6. One book you wish you'd written.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

7. One book you wish had never been written.
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
(10th grade English class was torture for me. No more boys coming of age!)

8. Two books you are currently reading.
The Weather Makers, Tim Flannery
Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco

I tag Beorn and Trillwing.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

I'm tired of the cold and rain...

so here are some photos of my trip to NY last summer....


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When did middle class white mothers become the bad guys?

Last year I saw three movies with the same antagonist, the "uptight" upper middle class white mom. Seeing them in temporal proximity brought the theme to the forefront of my mind and for some reason, I started ranting about it to my friend today. The movies are American Beauty, Spanglish, and Radiant City (a "documentary.") Each of these movies focuses around a particular family and in each, the uptight, controlling mom is portrayed as the cause of the stress the family is experiencing. I know blaming the mom is hardly a new theme in American culture, but this is demonization of a specific type of motherhood. I can understand the urge to critique the style of parenthood that involves living in lifeless suburbs and shuttling your children from one activity to another in your over-sized minivan, but can all this dysfunction in American culture really be placed on the shoulders of middle-class soccer moms?

Although I'm not a film scholar, I am very tempted to write seriously on this theme, because I'm convinced that suburbia has negatively affected women and children to a greater extent than men, but moms in particular are often portrayed as the driving force behind the current configuration of suburbia. The writers of these screenplays might want to read some Dolores Hayden, to learn a little more about the relationships between gender, housing, and family life.

My question to you, dear readers, is, "Can you think of any other movies critical of suburbia and motherhood?"

the wife in The Truman Show
Claire Wellington in The Stepford Wives (2004 version)


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I have been working day and night and sleeping little, so there isn't much fun to report. Since Jan 1. I have worked out seven times! Woohoo! And I have been taking vitamins! Yay! My big excitement this week has been the successful creation of Elderberry Jello. A few years back I bought this book on how to make your own herbal concoctions. It contains all sorts of recipes, but the most fun is the idea to make your herbal teas into jello. Yum!

I combined Elderberry juice (Beorn and I juiced some elderberries last summer and froze the juice in our chest freezer), much loved for it's supposed antiviral properties, with sugar-free black cherry jello to create a semi-healthy treat. Tonight I had some with a little cool-whip.


social theory and the irony of grad school

Today I had a meeting with Potential Adviser. This person makes me overly excited and nervous because strangely enough, after three years of graduate school, this person is the first to truly engage with my research ideas. His questions and expectations that I actually engage with theoretical questions in my field scare me. (In fact, I ran into him over winter break at the grocery store and my first reaction was to run away.) I think this is because my graduate program is much stronger in one subfield and weak in the subfield I'm most interested in. Strangely, the program at B.A.U. appears to have a number of faculty with expertise in my subfield, but none of them are currently effective in advising students (several of them retired this year.) This excitement and nervousness results in insomnia and a tendency to overwork myself. I need sleep, yet I can't seem to relax and feel tired. After several years of graduate school in which professors gave me A's and failed to give me any meaningful feedback on my writings, someone actually demanding more of me is terrifying.

Anyone remember the Seinfeld episode about who has "hand?" Apparently it was called "The Pez Dispenser."

GEORGE: I have no power Do you understand? I need hand. I have no hand.

KRAMER: Break up with her


KRAMER: You break up with her. You reverse everything that way.

JERRY: A preemptive breakup.

GEORGE: A preemptive breakup. This is an incredible idea. I got nothing to lose. We either break up which she would do anyway but at least I go out with some Dignity. Completely turn the tables. It's absolutely brilliant.

In my case, I'm not sure who has hand. Potential Adviser seems very interested in having me stay at B.A.U. In our most recent meeting, he again pointed out new developments at B.A.U. and their potential to positively impact grad students in my program. Yet I'm convinced (maybe because of my total lack of self esteem) that my weak dissertation ideas and inability to distill them into a coherent and concise proposal mean that at any moment he may decide that I'm not worth his time. Oh the anxiety!


Monday, January 07, 2008

Internet.....slowing down....can't write.....

I didn't realize how long it had been since my last post here until I logged in again today. Beorn and I have been in internet purgatory and so doing anything online has been interminably slow. (For a full explaination check out Beorn's Den.) Since our internet was essentially dead, I spent my winter break applying to PhD programs and playing Civ 4. I really wish I had never installed RescueTime, because now I have a pretty good idea about how much time I waste on the computer each week.

The good news is my grad school applications are mostly done. We got an extra futon mattress to layer with our crappy Ikea mattress so now Beorn doesn't walk so funny all the time. This morning we bought Beorn a new bike (on the credit card) which will be worth the expense if he gets some exercise. We bought a cheap used computer for my mom whose old IMac was giving out on her.

The bad news is fellowship applications are due in a week and I have a lot of work to do if I'm going to turn something in. I don't want to wait another year to look for funding, but I don't really have the time to spend on it right now since the university approved my application to work two 50% time jobs this quarter. That's right, I'm insane.

Tonight I started doing internet research related to my dissertation topic and found out some really interesting stuff through newspaper articles and online newsletters. Isn't in great when a topic is all fresh and new to you?