Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear future Dr. Self,

Remember that when people ask you for recommendation letters, they are asking you to advocate for them during a process in which they are extremely invested. Therefore, when your grad student asks you to write recommendation letters for her PhD applications, 6 weeks in advance, then reminds you and sends you e-mails and a Facebook message and also the online links to the applications, you will do her the common courtesy of a response. This will be important, especially if you have flaked out on her letters twice before, costing her a grant and an internship. No, Dr. Self, you will not put anyone through this the day before their applications are due. You will promptly send in recommendation letters, or in the very least, let all implicated parties know that really, you're on it, even if you are intending on submitting them at 11:58 pm the day they are due.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Well, since I didn't actually set goals until Nov. 11th it's evident that my progress is....well, is not. The goal is to get halfway through the V#$^ meter at right, and all the way through the 21 hours of GRE study time. Hopefully this round will go better than the last. This is my last chance to take it (all the Nov. dates were taken, drag. December 3rd) before my PhD apps are due, and actually it's kind of pushing it that the new, improved scores will make it in time. I guess I didn't consider that all the November dates would be taken. Meh.

Booker turned 30 on Saturday and has now caught up with his sexy older wife. We celebrated by using wedding gift money to buy a DSLR camera. And on this Veteran's Day, he has only 8 days left in active duty.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I just discovered that our local food bank accepts magazines. I'm pleased to have found a second home for my 3 years + supply that I couldn't bring myself to recycle. Still so readable!

For awhile my Mom was saving her shower warm-up water to flush her toilet. It was as simple as putting a bucket in the tub, and it only was really enough for 1-2 toilet flushes a day. She got her water bill from that month and it was fully HALF of the normal, even with 2 extra people in the house for that week Booker and I were visiting. Dang! Gonna get me a bucket.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


On what was...

I lived in a very foreign place for 2 1/2 years. I lived there, I did not visit or pass through. I had a house and pets. I had work and friends. I grieved the deaths of two family members in this far-away home. I got sick, and recovered, and got sick, and recovered. My favorite time of year was the Harmattan. I discovered an allergy to mango peel. I saw the beauty and elegance of voodoo, real voodoo, not a Hollywood cartoon which vilifies animism. I built a life for myself. It was very hard to do. And then I came back, back "home." Home in Easyland, home to all the privileges America offers her prodigals.

And I lost everything about that life I'd built. I know that it was my choice. I know that many people lose everything, and they are powerless. Let me be very clear in saying that I am not comparing my grief to theirs.

But I did grieve, and I still do, 4 years later. Nothing is left. I don't know how to explain how different it really was. I knew about the big things- the language, the other language, the weather, the climate, the living conditions. But it was everything else, the sand in the cracks, which made it so hard. If I was talking to you in a room, sure, I'd know this: the items in the room are different. We are not speaking English. We do not look the same. But I never thought of everything else. The clothes I'd wear. The way I'd sit. Whether or not I would make eye contact. How it feels the whole time.

I couldn't bring any of it back with me. I left it all behind. I send letters. I don't know if anyone reads them. The postage for a letter from there to here- well, it just isn't practical. Too much to ask, really. I called once, about 3 years ago. It took several phone calls, and letters moto-taxied 7 km away, to arrange. They were to get a phone in my village, so maybe they have one now. Probably not.

One of the worst things is that my life there has become the conditional tense. "I would eat igname pile with Papa every night....I would visit Philomene at the petrol station." A series of anecdotes.

So I came back. I moved to DC with other people who had lived in the same far-off land. We had parties where we made igname pile. We spoke French. We temped and complained. We plotted ways to leave Easyland. Grateful bunch, eh? I flirted with promiscuity. I started grad school. Time moved on and it was easier to be around people. I didn't feel as awkward and I figured out what to do with my arms. I built a life here, again. It took me a long time to realize how sad this transition was for me. Everyone acted like I was supposed to be happy because I had plumbing again. It's still sad for me. I don't even know if Papa is still with us. Did you know he was a WWII vet? He survived a Nazi camp. Did you know that many African WWII vets never received their rightful pensions? I wish I could talk to Philomene.

But that's the thing about moving on. If I'm still a little sad, it's because my life there is still real to me. Turns out, that's the only thing that survived the move. So I would never, ever, give that grief up.

On what is...

I came to grad school expecting to be single for a good long time. Forever, really. It had been such a long dry spell (four years) that I accepted it. A lot of the time, I enjoyed it. So of course (you know what's coming) I met Booker, and within a year and some change we'd gone to the courthouse and I was a real true Army Wife. I hear the first year of marriage is hard because you have to adjust how you do things. It was really easy; I did everything however I wanted because he was in Iraq. When he left we thought it was for 9-10 months, no more than a year. His brigade was extended to 15 months. Sometimes I picked a phone-fight with him just so we'd have something to talk about. For awhile the Sears commercials made me cry, especially the one where the girl loves clothes and is going to a public school, so the mom buys her a new wardrobe. Sometimes I used coping skills I'd already developed, like knowing when I needed company and when I needed to be left the fuck alone. Coming home from far-away place taught me that. I couldn't sleep for weeks at a time, so a doctor helped me out with a prescription sleep aid. I guess new challenges call for new coping skills.

He came home. Sometimes we bicker. For awhile there we forgot how to talk to each other in person. He gets out in 3 months. Three and a half, actually. We're pretty sure he won't be called up again. He has 3 years of inactive duty after this. We're waiting 3 years to have kids. We're watching the election very, very carefully.

We bought a house before he left, and in our property virgin naivete we gutted it. Now we are faced with finishing what we started. In a lot of ways, actually. I finished my research and am slated to defend this fall. We are having a wedding in October. I am to apply to PhD programs. He is to look for a post-Army career. We must finish the house, then sell it. We will move to...?

I'm afraid this will be too much for me. The defense may get pushed back in lieu of sanity. The transition is ongoing. More to come?
Thanks for seeing through what turned out to be an incredibly self-indulgent post.

Purpose and Consequence

This morning I'm listening to the Bob & Sheri show (www.bobandsheri.com) per routine. I never thought I'd be into a morning radio show enought to listen every day but it's witty, engaging, and plenty snarky to match my a.m. mood. Anyway, the topic for the day is Your. Purpose. There's the volunteer firefighter. The middle school art teacher. The Army officer. The Dad who is scapegoated by his kids. The woman who must learn to care for herself. That one smacked of therapy-talk. Don't get me wrong, I love me some therapy, and have been in far too much of it to ever judge. But I don't like the therapy-lingo coming out of non-therapists' mouths. I also don't like gum.

But.What.Is.My.Purpose. I don't know, and I'm okay with that. If you know, good for you. I hope you also know that you are lucky. I think for most of us, it changes with the phases of our lives. At any moment, we are probably fulfilling the grand purpose for our 80+ years in incremental ways. I hope that when my pulse falls that the amalgamation of my efforts will at least have a neutral impact.

So far, my purpose has involved writing, tree-hugging, listening, observing. A theme has been wanting to use writing to make realities clear to those who may not be experiencing those realities. I linked biology and journalism because I think science needs to be made more accessible to non-scientists.

But something I've been struggling with is how to express both my own experience in the Peace Corps (I served in Benin for 2.5 years), and the reality of how people must live in developing nations. At least, the reality that my limited understanding and privileged position could grasp. I do not want to contribute to the many stereotypes about Africa. When we dismiss an entire continent as Disease/War, we are guilty of a certain kind of bigotry. Ask yourself this: what role do we as Americans play in the problems of other nations? After my experience it became very clear to me that our hedonistic lifestyle is responsible for the poverty of much of the rest of the world. I'm sorry if that upsets you, makes you feel judged, or infringes on your belief that God gave America the thumbs up to be an asshat to the rest of the world. Reality is a mean, ugly warthog. What are we going to do about it? How do I express some of these realities without giving in to platitudes and stereotypes?

What is your purpose?
PS: Dr. Free-Ride talks about the implications of good-intentions here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On looking the other way...?

My students had a very simple written assignment. They were to write a proposal for a scientific expeiment. They were to use published literature to justify the hypothesis, but the experimental question and design was to be a unique creation. In grading these (which amounted to 3 pages or less), it has become apparent to me that what about a third of them did was look up a published experiment, paraphrase, and pass it off as the original idea. I have no interest in wasting my time looking up all their sources and vainly trying to prove the academic dishonesty, only to be countered with some kind of drivel on misunderstanding the assignment or however else they justify cheating. (My two cheaters last semester, boyfriend and girlfriend who turned in word for word the same lab report, said it was because they worked together. No shit Sherlock, you sure as hell worked together.) Usually these papers are crappy in their own merits so none of them are getting by with an A on the assignment.
Maybe I'm selling out. Probably. Another post coming on the overwhelmed-ness, and the justifications for selling out. I have them, I do. My students? As my friend M. says,

"That's her chicken to fuck."

(or his.)

Friday, June 20, 2008


We took down the Iraq maps the other day. I'd kept them on the wall while hus-biance (hereafter referred to as Booker, for his love of reading and thinking and arguing all sides of an issue.) was gone. We had no interest in saving them and it felt really good to run them through the shredder.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Catching Up

I guess that's about it.
The biggest news is that hus-biance came home in late March. Even as we get to know each other again and plan for the future, we're keeping one rightly suspicious eye on the possibility of stop-loss. (Hmm. I guess we are each keeping an eye on that, for an n=2 eyes, but not 2 eyes from the same head.) Stop-loss is when you are supposed to get out, you've fulfilled your contract, but oops! Uncle Sam does have enough people to deploy and fight for oil aherm, establish Iraqi freedom (sectarian violence and insurgents of all stripes. They must feel so very free.)...uh, where was I? Okay, stop-loss is when you are supposed to get out but they make you stay in, then they ship you off to Iraq or Afghanistan for another year. It's the back-door draft Kerry was talking about. Yeah, he was right about it then and it continues to this day. Of added concern is that hus-iance is of medium rank, which is the void the Army needs to fill. (What, you don't want to re-enlist after 2-3 tours?)

In 10 days we leave for our Midwest oddyessy soujourn to visit both of our families. I am dreading this for several reasons:
- For leg 1, we will be staying with his parents. In their house. For 24 hours a day. I sooooooo don't want to do this, for reasons I won't entirely go into in this forum but also? Isn't it always awkward to stay with your in-laws? Especially if they may try to convert you?
- Leg 2 will be my family, and for all I know he may have the same concerns about staying with his in-laws. Except you can tell my family no.
- I have to be at the second destination for a full week, for a wedding and my sister's graduation. This means that...
- By the time I get home (he may have to fly home ahead of me), I will have been gone for just about a full 3 weeks. This will seriously derail my work progress (see sidebar.) I really heavily on momentum, which I now have and will have start from scratch after 3 weeks. My field season will be over but my raw data is a wild pony to tame. Actually, it requires much more monotony...my raw data is a hearty fungus to tame. It doesn't go anywhere, and yet it multiplies and multiplies such that the colony itself EXPANDS. Such data-whispering will take 3-4 weeks at least, which puts me into July before I start any actual analysis. I'm trying to finish in the fall, and I just don't like the way this timeline is shaping up. I can bring some of the wild fungus with me, but lets face it, that never works. I'm just way to high-strung about my work space, plus having really poor concentration, to mess with it.
- That was a digression.
- Finally, this will be my 4th trip to the hometown in 12 months. I can't afford so much running around, both financially and for the negative effects on my progression. To be fair, one of those trips was reversed. My Mom and sister were coming here until about a week before they bailed. To make up for it, Mom paid for my flight to go there. That was nice. However, because it was last minute, the school year and my teaching responsibilities were starting and I could only get away for 2.5 days. Hardly the best use of that airfare. Another trip was a family emergency. I do not in any way regret this trip. It was absolutely the only way to do things. And hopefully it will be the last time I buy a ticket 2.5 hours before the plane takes off.

So, the catching up has been on a very personal level, work level, and pretty soon the family level. Oh, and planning the wedding!

This last part is to remind me later of some posts I have planned:
-Police Officers Memorial week
-Violence in Entertainment
-Jealousy in the workplace
- In-laws: why they are not immediately your family and it shouldn't be forced!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

International Women's Day

...was March 8th. I celebrated by inviting people over for food and the movie 'Iron-Jawed Angels,' a true-story dramatization of efforts of activists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. As someone born in the late 70's, it's painful to imagine an American society where women were so blatantly marginalized. Films like this are important for women and men to watch. The preview below is decent, but kind of...I don't know, frothy? The movie itself is intense and illuminating.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

This may be gross to the uninitiated

Any parasitologists out there?

I had a disappointing doctors visit today. We didn't find what we were looking for, something that may or may not still be present. I was hoping we would find clear evidence, making it easy to treat.
(A) organism + (B) medication= (C)elebrating life without an intestinal parasite.

For those who don't know me personally, or from whom I've had enough tact to withhold this detail, allow me to put it this way:

I finally unpacked my last souvenir from my years abroad.
Unpacked it from my butt!

(Cue laughtrack.)

There was a worm. I saw it. And then I flushed it. So now the question is: is it gone? I keep turning in samples that come back negative. I have taken some medication, but it may not have been a strong enough dose to kill ....it. The only way to be certain is to, um, eliminate the organism (ga, enough with the vagueness- it was a tapeworm. A fricking tapeworm.)...where was I? Eliminate the scolex or head, which is how those guys latch on to intestines.

That hasn't happened yet so I just don't have confidence. This is quite understandable, considering I played host for at least 3 years before I was clued in. There's no way to tell if the medication was strong enough without properly diagnosing the species of tapeworm. And yet nothing shows up in the samples. My doctor suggested that the earlier medications may have been effective, killed it, and then my body absorbed it/ it disintegrated pre-elimination. Yet, some possible symptoms persist: lethargy, skin problems, digestive issues.

At what point do I give up and pursue other possibilities for my symptoms? Or do I keep pushing and look for a third opinion? I WANT TO BE SURE THAT IT IS GONE.

Has anyone out there ever dealt with this issue?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I have various and sundry items in the posterior receptacle.

Or, as one of my students so helpfully noted, "they had junk in the trunk."

Yessiree, it's that time of year! Fall student evaluations have been processed and handed back to the instructors. There's always a gem or five in the batch. My first semester teaching, unstable problem student said I was "the most miserable person alive." Yes, the evaluations are completely anonymous, and typed by a third party so teachers can't identify handwriting, handed back after grades are in, the whole shebang. But, only unstable problem student (who ended the semester by standing in my office doorway screaming at me) would say something like that. The other gems from that semester were the pair who said I should "get a personality and stop talking like Ben Stein." I'm sorry, precious little snowflakes, that I failed to make cell division and osmosis *sparkle and gleam* to your stringent standards.

Anyway, this semester on the whole I was pleased with the feedback I received. A fair number of my students thought that I was enthusiastic, well-prepared, and approachable. In each of my four sections the students who began the course as 'having no interest in the subject at all,' had at least upgraded to 'have a minor interest in the subject.' I attribute this to Super David Attenborough, who was in several of the YouTube videos I showed the class. "Yes, mitosis may not be exciting, but you haven't seen strangler figs! Rapid cell division and growth, yeah baby yeah!'

But of course, when dealing with young adults of variable maturity, there must be one gem, one precious, glittering emerald, one pinnacle of character who must say, when asked if the course or instructor could be improved:

"They had junk in the trunk."

Pronoun issues aside, I must point out that if these evals were not anonymous, we'd undoubtedly discover this person had handily earned a D or F.

Mostly it's funny, but the part that makes me mad, (aside from them not paying homage to my glorious rack:)), is that a comment like that, reducing me to my fabulous ass, would never show up on the evals of my male colleuagues.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Here we go, always with the too much of the information

I may have just created negative consequence for myself. For the past 2 summers, I have taught a summer intensive as part of an enrichment program for high school students. It's only a month long and classes are in the am, so it fits in well with other activities. Until this summer, possibly. For reasons unknown this morning I was trying to figure out my summer employment. I'd like to request a teaching assistantship in my department for this summer. I have seniority and am trying to finish up my thesis, which are usually the requirements to get this position. Unfortunately, the term which I would request overlaps with the last week of the high school program. I talked to my boss who oversees the labs and TA's to find out the requirements. Turns out, with the sections on the schedule right now, I would have one morning class so no, I could not do both.

Thing is, I could have just asked about the scheduling and teaching load, and have all the information I need. But, me being me, I had to go and explain and explicitly state that I would be trying to do both. I have a pretty good rapport with my boss and don't entirely think this would go against me. And it might not. But then she asked if I had to pick, which one would I pick, and when I honestly answered that it depended on money...

then I remembered, too late, that that could be used against me. A lot of people request a summer TA and they might not want to give one to someone who is enetertaining other options. And I think employers don't like to think of their employees working other jobs because of the possibility of shoddy work. At least I knew enough to point out that I wanted to teach at high school program because I already have all the lesson plans and it would be easy. I know I could easily handle both; the overlap is only for a week.

Another grad student in the department lost funding last fall for being too honest. She told the chair that she was interviewing for outside jobs, and he used that as a reason- "due to your job prospects"- to give her TA to a new incoming student. Is this the same kind of thing? I guess one difference is that this is so far in advance. It's not even time to request TA's yet, so I can still request a TA and make it clear that that it is my preference. And, there's a chance they will add sections, which would make it possible for me to do both because I maybe wouldn't have that one am class to teach on the lab side. And, the other grad student in mention had also dropped some balls the previous year, so there might have been another logic at hand.

Still, I could have avoided all the worry if I had just answered "Oh, of course I would rather work here..." Which, actually is true.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back to it

I can tell it's almost time to face my work again by the condition of my teeth. I have been grinding at night and clenching during the day. It hurts to pass any food or liquid over the right side of my mouth, and my unstable tooth near the front is a little loose again. (Yeah, I'm almost 30 and I have a loose tooth. It's the result of an accident about 4 years ago during my Peace Corps service. The impressive part is that it hasn't fallen out yet.)

Tangent: It is very hard to get used to in-laws.

One of my committee members asked how my research is going by saying, "I haven't heard anything since the meeting...gosh, that was a long time ago." Crap. I don't think she was saying it in a pointed way, because she is not an asshole. More of a "oh yeah, that was a long time ago," than a "that was a long time ago and why the hell don't you have your shit together?" Still, I spent some time stressing over the second possibility, that my committee all thinks I am a massive failure and waste of time and will never, ever, pass me on this degree. Clearly, if that is what I am thinking then that is the reality, yes? More tooth-grinding. The unstable tooth is now wiggly when I swallow. I chatted with her a bit about my field seasons last spring and fall, and my intention to pull together some graphs for the committee before the spring field season. (See sidebar on Dec-Jan to-do list. Note that that task is not crossed off because I spent my break watching 'The Office' on Netflix on-demand.) She was quick to add that we don't need to have another committee meeting - I guess no one enjoys those- but that we should just meet over it individually. I've mostly calmed down but am still spending 5 15 50 minutes here and there thinking about my not-having-shit-together-ed-ness.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

WTF?!? Wednesday

Welcome to a new feature here at MTPS. I'm trying to focus a little less on negativity in 2008, but I'm also mindful that sometimes you need to get pissed off to get things done. One of my grad colleagues reminded me of this last summer. I was whining to him about how I just don't like my project anymore, was losing the battle against lazy, and was generally uninspired. And I had split ends and new acne, on which he didn't have much comment. But for the other stuff...he told me a story about almost losing a key-Friday-Night-Lights-football game in high school. His coach told them to play with hate in their hearts, not so much for the other team but for their own lackluster performance. They went on to win the game, and he gave me the same advice. Don't wait for inspiration, just get pissed enough to get shit done.
So WTF Wednesday will spotlight issues which are important to me, and which might be important to you to. Our inaugural story:

Calif. sues EPA over greenhouse gas rules By SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for denying its first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs, challenging the Bush administration's conclusion that states have no business setting emission standards.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't federal non-interference one of the core tenets of the Republican Party? This is hardly surprising, given this administrations' approach to our tiny blue dot. Equally predictable yet disappointing is that neither my birth state nor my current state are among those who have or plan to enact stringent statewide standards. The only justification for the EPA's decision would be to discourage states from enacting legislation which would set lax emissions standards. However, the proposed California legislation actually bests the federal guide.


Proposed Action: Write letters to representatives of implicated states (and resident state) expressing support for emissions legislation, as well as for challenging an EPA decision which is to the detriment of our global community. Spread the word.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


We must be better than what we have become.
Narrated by Carl Sagan; found on Getting Things Done in Academia.