Saturday, April 28, 2007
So this is how it's going to be.
The year without a spring, or even much of a summer. It's warm and sunny outside, but I've been on my butt on the couch since about 9:30 this morning, reading and writing and studying. Every time I consider taking a break, today's date announces itself loudly in my brain and I feverishly return to work.
My preliminary exam, sort of a halfway point in the PhD program, is July 2. Between now and then, I need to 1) write a research proposal that is innovative and well thought out, justifies my work's value to the larger world, and describes a project that can actually be done in the next 3 years or so; 2) prepare an hour-long talk on same; 3) do enough sequencing in the lab to demonstrate that my species complex shows variability, for without variability there's no story and no project and I might as well drop out; and 4) read and study and be intimately familiar with all the major areas of biology and statistics that relate to my field. Lucky me, my field is one that is just now being defined, at the intersection of systematics and population genetics known as phylogeography. None of my committee members are phylogeographers, but each represents one of its aspects. I must therefore be familiar with all the contributing fields, and be able to explain how they intersect. On the plus side, maybe my committee will be so confused they won't be able to ask me anything difficult.
I go back and forth between blind panic and a feeling of calm capability, generally on a weekly cycle with the low point coming the evening before my meetings with my advisor and the high point coming the evening after (which I take off if I can). Weekends pretty much just suck. All I can do is look towards July 3, work my butt off, and hope I study the right things.
If I can just get the proposal drafted, I will feel *so* much better. I'm taking some time off tomorrow, though, to get the garden ready for the growing season. It's already growing out of control and needs some tender loving pruning. That may be the only serious gardening I do this year :/
Took Libby to the vet this morning for her vaccinations. It was the first time we'd been in that exam room since the day we left Jazzy there. I felt a little stab of horrible memory when I walked in, but choked it back and focused on today. It's been almost three months and I still miss him every single day. And I miss that interaction between two dogs; that's the other happy goal at the end of my crappy summer: another dog to keep Libby, and us, company.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
DreamAdvisor: Do you have your paper finished? I'd like to read it on the train on the way home.
DreamMe: [remembering that this morning DreamAdvisor asked me to write a paper and bibliography on a topic I'd never heard of before, but not remembering any mention of "Have it done in the next six hours"] Um... just about.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Too lazy to think of a title
After a tiny little meltdown while studying yesterday, this:
I dreamed that I couldn't find the lab. I was in the office, and I told M. that I just needed to run to the lab for a minute and then we'd go to lunch, then I headed off on some sort of electric airport-transit train (?) to a shopping mall with a food court, which apparently is where the lab is (???). Then I proceeded to wander the Mobius hallways aimlessly, positive the lab was supposed to be next to that fast food restaurant, but it just *wasn't* and in fact there weren't any labs at all. I kept begging people for help, waving a slip of paper with the room number in their faces and saying "It was right HERE!" and they would pretend to help the crazy lady but they knew all along that there were no labs at the mall. Meanwhile I was anxious because I knew that M. was waiting, so I checked my watch and discovered that 3 1/2 hours had passed while I hunted for my lab.
Reality check: the lab is two doors down from the office. No trains necessary, though I wouldn't complain if the university decided our hallway needed a Taco Bell.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Today is the most gorgeous spring day imaginable. I of course am spending it on the couch, reading papers and trying to become smarter, but all the windows are open, the birds are chirping, and the dog is snoozing in a patch of sunlight. If I must be stressed, this is a nice way to do it. And then the BUS FROM HELL parks two doors down and sits there with its engine running for TWO HOURS. It was a big white charter bus, there to transport people for a wedding at the church on the corner. It was LOUD. I had to close the windows but the noise was still distracting and I got no work done the whole time it was here. I imagined various scenarios in which I a) confronted the bus driver with a highlighted copy of the "don't leave your bus engine running" city ordinance, b) called the giant phone number on the back and gave them a piece of my mind, or c) crashed the wedding and made people cry. Anything I did was sure to reveal me as a marriage-hating, church-hating, family-hating crazy woman, possibly with a lot of cats, so I silently nurtured my rage and took excedrin for my (exhaust-induced?) headache. They're gone now and hallelujah, the neighborhood is lovely again.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
#9 Dream (or however many it's been)
When I was able to sleep at all last night (I seem to be unable to stay awake when on the couch, but when I drag myself upstairs and collapse in bed, my stupid brain decides it's Wakeful Party Time), I had a dream about the lab. Several people were industriously working in different parts of the lab, as was I, but the light above my bench was off and it was hard to see what I was doing. I went to the lightswitch but instead found a bank of maybe 10 light switches, some labeled, some on and some off. I flipped them all on and the lab went dark. "Sorry, sorry!" I hastily called, and flippped random switches to "off" so some lights would come back on. I proceeded to screw with combinations of on and off, occasionally pissing off my colleagues, and never successfully getting *all* of them to be on.
Today: painting the trim in the guest room, so we can put the house back to rights. Tomorrow: going to the lab, where there is in reality only one light switch for the whole room, and I'm pretty good at operating it by now.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
More of the same
Memorials sprouting up all over the web, but PZ Myers reminded me of the Vonnegut quote most fitting to the occasion, which I'd forgotten:
"I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.
So: Kurt is up in heaven now.
So it goes.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. passed away yesterday, April 11. He was a true original, an outspoken critic of incompetent leaders, an advocate for the joys and benefits of maintaining extended families, a semi-Luddite who thought the Internet depersonalized society, a secular humanist (and heir to the throne of Asimov himself) who reminded the world that atheists are as compassionate and moral as everyone else, a defiant smoker of Pall Malls, a creative and talented writer not afraid to dip into the surreal or the grotesque to make a point. Nobody else wrote like Vonnegut.
He and I go way back to my high school years. I discovered him in a used book shop inside the Rockford Public Library, though when I picked up the book I had a vague impression that "Slaughterhouse-Five" was going to be about a gang of five very tough men. I remember reading about the time travel and the Tralfamadorians and being generally boggled by the whole experience. But despite the surreal plot, parts of the book stuck with me forever. The blue and ivory feet, the Tralfamadorian applause, and the vitamin-laced syrup and the post-firebomb cleanup operation. Other bits of his books stuck with me forever, too. I remember actually gasping in amazement when Rabo Karabekian finally revealed the mysterious object in the potato barn. I laughed hysterically about the visitors from another world who attempted to share their simple ideas about how to achieve lasting peace, but could only communicate via farts and tap dancing. And I was amused to learn that the purpose of humanity is actually to relay messages to Titan regarding an ensuing rescue operation. His stories were laced with truths and events and characters that were startling in their clarity and sadness and joy--but always, always gut-punchingly real--that I often felt compelled to go back and savor paragraphs again. There are not a lot of authors I can say that about.
I skipped out of work early one day in October of 2001 and scored a front row seat to see him speak at the Chicago public library. I was engaging in a bit of awestruck hero-worship throughout the event, and although I did have my camera, I managed only two bad pictures of him: Vonnegut at CPL
I remember being too shy to take pictures when he was looking directly at me holding the camera; I was afraid to distract him or annoy him, so I waited until his attention was elsewhere. He talked a lot about his writing and about current events, and any follower of his works had heard most of what he had to say before (he tended to reuse stories and even specific phrasing, which to a virgin audience sounded fresh and eloquent, and to the experienced Vonnegut devotee were old gems), but hearing them in his own voice was a rare treat and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to go.
Now to go pull Slaughterhouse-Five off the shelf and read it again. I leave this with a couple of quotes, exactly the same quotes everyone else is putting on their own blogs, but I never claimed to be original:
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." -from Mother Night
"We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane." -Kilgore Trout's epitaph, Breakfast of Champions
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
What, me, worry?
Hadn't had an anxiety dream in a long time but I have a feeling they'll be much more frequent in the coming months. A few nights ago I dreamed that I was at a YMCA with Mark. We brought a beachball and another ball and played with them in the pool, where we were alone except for a young black woman. After a while, we left our toys in the pool and went shopping for clearance golf items, still in our swimsuits. When we returned to the pool, it was totally crowded with people playing with beachballs provided by the Y; our balls were floating around, ignored. I jumped in to retrieve them, but just as I approached the beachball, the young woman took it and swam off with it. I pursued and explained nicely that it was ours and I wanted to take it home. I even offered her a replacement ball. She refused to give it up and I was overwhelmed with fury at the injustice of it all. Nothing I said would make her give me the ball or even really acknowledge that I was there. So I stormed off and loudly called her a bitch, much to the horror of the mommies. When I got to my pile of clothes, five men dressed in 19th-century police uniforms were waiting for me.
Of course, the meaning of this dream is clear: It's time to buy golf stuff!
I have much to say about school but I need to organize my head. I cleaned my desk but entropy is my destiny and I am awash in scraps of paper again. I bought a new cube of post-its the other day (wow, those things are expensive!!). As always, I operate under the misconception that if I acquire the right mix of office supplies, my life will be perfect. I may be just one binder with color-coded index tabs away from a dissertation and not even realize it!
Monday, April 09, 2007
Final tally on marshmallow eggs: 3 dozen. Although, I did stop at Walgreens this morning to see if they had any on clearance. (they did not.)
Leftover ham and side dishes are in the fridge. Is it very pathetic to skip grocery shopping because I know Grandma's leftovers are good for two days of meals?
I made cheese enchiladas. They are really really good but I left them in the oven too long, reheating, so they became a sort of cheesy mush. Luckily, there's enough filling for another half dozen so I can try again.
I also got the crazy urge to color eggs, something I haven't done in years. I had to look up in a cookbook how to hard-boil an egg. I am truly the master of all things domestic. :/ The eggs were pretty though. I ate one and tonight will devil the rest. That should fulfill my egg needs for the next six months or so...
Thursday, April 05, 2007
1) Finally completed a gorgeous brick of chloroplast sequences, beautifully sequenced, carefully edited and aligned (well, they aligned themselves, but still), for 13 samples of Tilia from all around the continent. End result: for this marker, they are absolutely freakin' *identical*. This is not good!! The evidence I need to prove to my committee that this project is doable is just not coming. Dropping that marker like a hot flask and going on to the next one, which will definitely work better. It has to.
2) Finished watching Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica last night. Blonde chicks fighting! Cmdr. Adama bleeding out! Pregnant cylons! !!! Was puzzled by the general response to Boomer's gunshot wound through the cheek. Not "Um, Lt., I think you need to see a therapist," but "Hey, how you feeling?" like officers with self-inflicted gunshot wounds are an everyday occurrence. In any case, I need to hurry on to Season 2 ASAP.
Monday, April 02, 2007
The Desk of Dorian Gray
I like to think of my desk as the portrait in the attic. As it accumulates teetering piles of books and stacks of notes scribbled on the backs of Far Sides, the information in my head grows in an orderly, well-indexed way, and my thoughts self-organize like amino acids zapped by lightning.
At least, that's the theory. I think I'll straighten up tomorrow.
1) The Serbians are gone! Our house the last two weeks had the highest population of Serbians outside of Belgrade, but as of 9:00 this morning, the renovation was finished. Our upstairs bath is now lovely (except for the wallpaper that I have to strip), our shower and tub faucet actually work, and we can include "new plumbing throughout" when we sell the house someday. Also, the guest room no longer threatens to drop plaster on unsuspecting sleeping guests, so if you plan on staying with us in the future, sorry, no adventure for you.
2) It's Opening Day!!! I celebrated with the ritual listening of "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request". Also: the Tribune is being sold, and the Cubs will likely be sold off separately. Anybody want to buy a baseball team?