A first

21 June, 2009

I finished the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle! On Sunday! I finished one once before, but it took a few days of revisits.

I am pretty psyched about this. Growing up, the Sunday puzzles (NYT and the Chicago papers) were a family affair. My mom and I would work on one until we got stuck, and then we’d swap. (We’d ask my stepdad for sports clues, but the answer we got depended on his mood–he is prone to making things up. Thanks for giving me the right answer today, though!)

Now to read the, you know, news.

Hi.

7 June, 2009

OK, take two.

So, how you doin’?  Anyone with me still in their RSS, please comment.  Me, I’ve been fine.

Fine! Ha!  Let’s see, my last real post, not counting Cubs angst…around a year ago…hmm, not as bad as I’d thought.

Too much has happened for a wordy catch-up post.  The bullet list of major recent changes:

  • got back with Reaganite, shacked up, moved to new neighborhood, downsized cats to one
  • left job/career/identity of 10 years for new job/career/identity
  • left old job’s 15″ MacBookPro for new iPhone, iMac
  • denouement of family suicide #2 (terminal cancer) included modest financial security
  • sister: bought a horse, moved to Montana, is now leaving Montana
  • parents: both moved to Kalamazoo (that may have happened before my hiatus)

It’s been a lot to deal with. Work is the biggest adjustment. I work for the government now. I’m no longer a Scientist. Work doesn’t have to rule my life–there is just not enough to it for that. But it’s surprisingly hard to change old habits.

While not everyone had to have a blog back in the day, in the last year twitter and facebook seem to have become de rigeur for everyone. I’m there (under this handle, of course). But neither are quite my form. For one, you can’t do them on the Metro with an iPhone. And it drives me NUTS that I can’t categorize incoming updates.  To have posts from good buddies buried amidst posts from people I haven’t spoken to in 15 years is frustrating.  Not to mention the twitter phenomenon of following businesses, blogs, celebrities, etc.  Is there a way to do this that I’ve missed? Can anyone advise?

So back to blogging. I think I will have a pattern of only lightly edited midi-posts, maybe an occasional longer one.  You can expect to see

  • more Metro observations/griping
  • evolving obsessions
  • more work-life balance observations/griping

Rebirth!

What I got

14 March, 2008

In early November of 2000, I was in New Orleans at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference. My boyfriend had come along, and we were staying in a beautiful bed-and-breakfast that, needless to say, was NOT on the conference hotels list. It was the internet boom–we ate so well that, to this day, our friends are sick of hearing about this trip. The election was going on–you may recall the election of November 2000 and how, er, stimulating it was. It was my first conference, my first presentation, and I was utterly psyched. SFN is infamous for its size (over 25,000 attendees) and its scope (“neuroscience” can mean almost anything, and at this conference, it does). All the posters and science to see and absorb…and then in the evening, all the ancillary events. Panels, interest groups, receptions, and I belonged there. Everything was possible.

As was my wont, I went to a career panel. I knew even during my undergrad years that academia was not for me, and that I was interested in an “alternative career” (a disgusting ivory tower phrase for the outside world, IMO). Of course, being an idiot who went to grad school for only the dimmest of reasons, I had no idea what I wanted beyond that. So I tried to go to a lot of panels and read a lot of books about “alternative careers.” This panel was not specifically about that–it was intended to present the diversity of options that would lay before me someday in the distant future. Good enough. I vaguely remember that it had a representative from the classic academia tenure track, a science writer, and somebody else–probably a researcher/administrator from industry or biotech.

But I CLEARLY remember the man who represented science policy. He described his days as a science and technology policy fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He had worked in the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which did what it sounds like it’d do: assess technology for Congress. An intertube describes it this way: “The OTA was created in 1972 to provide Congress objective analyses of major public policy issues related to scientific and technological change.” A Congresscritter would come to them and ask for a report on any topic under the sun. They’d research it and write it up in a nonpartisan fashion. Another quote:

Holt pointed out how many of the OTA reports, from over a decade ago, are still timely and pertinent, including reports like “Retiring old cars: Programs to save gasoline and reduce emissions,” “Renewing our energy future,” “Potential environmental impacts of bioenergy crop production,” “Innovation and commercialization of emerging technologies,” and “Testing in America’s schools: Asking the right questions.”

This sounded like pure heaven. Then, as now, I was a dilettante, interested in too many things, and I was beginning to see just how fucking stupid I had been to go to graduate school, the entire POINT of which is to train you in specialization. The idea that I could grow up and use my prospective science and research skillz to tackle all sorts of different projects–and for a purpose? To a specific end? (I was also beginning to realize that my penchant for efficiency might have been useful day-to-day, but could never have a place in research as a lifelong endeavour.) Turns out the guy was there specifically to promote the AAAS Science Policy Fellowship that had gotten him to OTA. One needed one’s Ph.D. in hand to apply. Still, I took the application packet and read it cover to cover.

I did the same thing at my next conference, and the next, and at local panels, and eventually I was going to panels and I already knew everything they were saying about the fellowships. When I’d network and discuss science policy, I’d hear about the fellowships and how many doors they opened. In dark research moments I’d read about science policy and notice that nearly everything I read was written by a former fellow. While writing my dissertation, I found an ad for a related job in the back of the journal Science, cut it out and taped it in the “escapism” corner of my desk, near the photos of Paris and the ocean at Sharm el-Sheikh (a resort in Egypt where my sister had spent a summer). When considering jobs, the fact that my current job would put me in DC, where I would have top networking opportunities and learn incredible amounts purely by osmosis, was a consideration.

When I got here, I picked every brain I knew, developed my network, picked their brains, and then asked THEM for people whose brains I could pick. And picked them. All of them said the same thing. You must apply for the AAAS fellowship, it’s invaluable, it’s great, it’s perfect experience and perfect for the resume. They all said it was very competitive and then said they had gotten it on the first try. They all took great pride in telling me a particular insider “secret” about the system, such that when I spoke to a new person and I heard them get quieter and conspiratorial, I knew what was coming. I acted surprised each time.

The time finally came: my career had reached a turning point. I was on top of my field and had to either fight to stay there or bow out. The deadlines and start dates and end dates of my commitments and the fellowship lined up perfectly. So I applied. I came out to my boss as an alternative-career lover. I converted valuable research-world patrons into references in fields where they were virtually unknown. I spent valuable research time, time that our rivals were using to do science, writing my application. I doubted my decision when research went well, stood by it when not. I wrote and wrote and wrote about myself (the app was an essay, a CV, another essay, and a biography). I asked for help from aforementioned network. When they started giving me contradictory advice based on their personalities, I knew I had worked it for all it was worth. I sent it in and I waited. I got an interview and one last hoop: write a one-page memo about something and in the interview you will present it and we will ask questions. I sat down to write the memo and I realized that, after all these years of saying “I want to do science policy,” I didn’t know what “policy” meant. I figured it out. I sent it in. I interviewed.

I got the email at noon today: I got the fellowship. Now it’s 8. And I have no idea what to do now.

I GOT IT

14 March, 2008

I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IY I GOT IT I GOT IT I GO IT I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT IG OT IT I GOT IT!

Leadership

31 January, 2008

I signed up for a leadership course, taking place next week, for which I had to take the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter. I went in today for a little meeting thingy where we got the results and got talked to about them. (Very interesting, actually.)

So here I am on the internets, and I am looking at lists of careers for which I am well suited:

  • Bounty hunter.
  • Private investigator.
  • CIA or FBI agent.

So basically, I was meant to spy on people and carry guns. I KNEW IT! Good thing I went to a liberal arts women’s college!

Along those lines, here’s some things I should NOT be:

  • Poet. (Don’t I know it.)
  • Child psychologist. (“GROW UP, KID!”)
  • Video editor. (Should anyone be this?)

Also? Photographer. Hey! What’re you trying to say, anonymous poorly-designed webpage??!

Interestingly, the “yes” list has “professor” while the “no” list has “English professor.” How very true.  (It was because of an English professor that I majored in the sciences.)

I am also not meant to own a bookstore.  THAT I don’t get.  I mean, I’d get to keep a gun behind the counter, wouldn’t I?  For all those bookstore holdups?

I reeeeeeeeally try not to rag on DC for its weather-related skittishness. It’s just too goddamned easy, and boring. But, come the fuck on. Did people always make this big a deal out of 20 degree weather? 20 DEGREES. We’re not traversing Antarctica here. Wear a fucking hat.

It’s times like these I feel most Midwestern. I have five trusty Weather Dashboard widgets set up, one for each place in the country where I have family. The “Stepfather” one tells me that it’s 10degF in Michigan. The “Grandmother, Aunt, Uncle, and 3 Cousins” one tells me that it’s 1degF in Wisconsin. Now THAT is some weather, people. One fricking degree. My cousins — ages 7, 5, and 1 — are being raised RIGHT. That’s not “you can’t go out and play, because I’m cold” weather. That’s “you can’t go out to play because you will get frostbite” weather.

I am sure my sister disagrees. She never felt the cold to be character-building, although that may have been because in the Midwest she bark-coughs like a seal from November to March. So she moved to Northern California. Where it’s now 20 degrees. Neener, seester. (And to round everyone out, it’s also 20 degrees where my mom is. She was raised in the Midwest but is now in Connecticut. How bout it, momb? Are they wimpy about 20 degrees there too?)

I was unfortunate this evening, when, failing to turn the football game off in a timely fashion, a local newscast bounced some photons off my retinae. No worries, first-degree burns only, I changed it quickly…but not before I got a nice strong dose of schadenfreude watching a newsperson interview a shivering frat boy, wearing on his head only a baseball cap, who admitted that it is too cold to wear on his head only a baseball cap. I hope his boyz don’t see him on the news, because based on the aggressively-worn T-shirts I saw the frat boys sporting on the streets last night, admitting to feeling cold practically makes him gay.

In very sad news, my text messaging appears to be broken. I’m not sure how many days now. I am lost without text messages. Seriously. My Google Calendar texts me reminders (and God knows I need a lot of reminders, what with this sieve I call a brain). I already missed at least one, and I suspect two, social engagements because people are used to not having to call me. So, I apologize to all of youse whose messages I have missed. It probably hurts me more than it hurts you!

PART ONE

No point in regaling you with the story of my holiday travels. You don’t care, and nothing bad/funny/interesting happened to me, anyway. So I’ll just tell you about the wine bar at BWI that restored my soul:

Wine bar at BWI

Click through and you can also read about how much I love Southwest. I even love the unassigned seats!

PART TWO

As I deplaned* at BWI, a boy no more than three years old caught sight of me. His eyes went wide, he pointed and yelled at the top of his lungs “aaaaah!!” Disconcerting. Then again, each time more and more excited: “Aaaaaaah!! AAAAAH!!”

I was the first adult around to figure it out: I was wearing my red Incredibles logo shirt.

I saw it last year, but you know, you forget exactly how it goes, and these things make bigger impressions on kids anyway. Having happened to catch it on network tonight**, however, I had a new appreciation of just how impressed that kid was.

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*What a dumb word.

**This is the first time I have watched a non-“Ten Commandments” movie on network this millennium. Or longer.

F’reals!!

The knitted brain–holy shit. The quilt is groovy, but I’m a knitter, and I love the 3D aspect. No experience has been as important to my understanding of neuroscience and neuroanatomy as dissecting a brain in my first year of graduate school. Which is kind of “duh”, I know…but to handle a human brain every week, cut away pieces and really see how it was put together…

OMG! A zipper as the corpus callosum (the structure that links the left and right lobes of the brain). Bril.

There is a disclaimer:

While our artists make every effort to insure [sic] accuracy, we cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of using fabric brain art as a guide for functional magnetic resonance imaging, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, neurosurgery, or single-neuron recording.

Good thing they covered their asses there!

I found this page through MindHacks, a fun blog based on the O’Reilly book of the same name; both aim to provide “neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what’s going on inside your brain.” And they do it well–I haven’t bought the book yet, but I paged through it a few years ago for a friend who asked me to vet the neuroscience, and IIRC I was impressed. Hardly a shock considering the publishing house, which is known in the tech world for its high quality.

Today the MindHacks folk featured Blue Jean Brain II by artist Lee Pirozzi.

Which reminded me of LAST week, when they had me humming “if I only had a brain handbag”:

Designer Jun Takashi has created a high fashion handbag, shaped like a brain. Why? You ask. Why not? I answer.

At this point I would like to make it clear that the idea that we only use 10% of our handbag is a myth.

Scientific studies have found that all of the handbag is in constant use, although some parts may be more active than others.

(I like how they debunk the ridiculous 10% myth. It might be true in the Angel from Montgomery sense*, but not in the neurological.)

The Wizard of Oz joke up there is that I have a lot of bags. By which I mean purses. I blame the DSW Shoe Warehouse in Chicago on Clark and Wellington, which was not only within easy reach of public transportation but had free parking. (I got a lot of shoes there too, but those are more socially acceptable, and I tend to purge shoes more as they age, but bags don’t wear out as fast.) I remember one day when I came home to Chicago Ex and said, “Look at this bag I bought!” “Oh good,” he said, “You needed more bags.” I was flattered that he’d noticed, a second later I figured out I was being teased. These days, with every new bag I acquire, Reaganite slightly-sardonically asks “So….is THIS one the Perfect Bag?” I have to explain that the perfect bag is a platonic ideal**, and that different needs require different bags, so no one bag can ever be perfect, so it is not an answerable question. He laughs at me anyway. Perhaps he has never taken philosophy.

Here is the ironic part: I have a dearth of luggage, the most useful type of bag. I also have no professional-looking bags for interviews and other sorts of days when I need to look like a grownup. Purses, purses everywhere, and not a one to take to San Diego for a conference.

I tried to take a picture of the closet that has most of my purses in it, but it didn’t really get the point across. I have them all hanging on racks and hooks on the back of my front/coat closet door, and well, let’s just say that the door basically has to be forced closed.

Maybe I should shoot each one and make a grid of them, or something. That WOULD help me purge, as some of them are probably embarrassing, stylewise. I could try to do them chronologically, then I would have an excuse.

You know, because I don’t have enough to do.

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*”How the hell can a person/Go to work in the morning/Come home in the evening/And have nothing to say?

**Have you ever noticed that every time the Platonic ideal idea is explained pedagogically, the teacher uses the example of a chair? 4 out of 4 times in my academic experience. Bizarre.

About every other lip gloss I try smells like frosting. It’s distracting.

In other news, the government has returned flickr to the land of the open internets. Whew! There’s a meetup tomorrow, first one in a long time. Dr. B, will you be there?

I am sorta taking pictures again, but my latest mental block seems to be editing. I get bored before I even begin. Well, not bored, but I feel guilty about using my work computer for photo editing. I hope to get over it soon.

Speaking of guilt, I had a dream last night wherein I was in charge of a beehive (this was inspired by a recent New Yorker article from Elizabeth Kolbert about the bee collapse). I know exactly which line inspired the dream; it’s been bouncing around my unconscious for a week:

I set up my hive at the edge of a small brook that runs through the back yard. Within a day of being installed, my bees—Italians—were hard at work. They could be seen zipping out of the little opening in the front and returning with yellow wads of pollen stuffed into the baskets on their legs. Even my teen-age son found the sight of their proverbial busyness hard to resist. On returning home from school, he would lounge against a nearby tree and watch.

In the dream, I was in my boss’ backyard, in a rush to catch the train to southern England. (This trip was a whole other thread of the dream which I’ve mostly forgotten.) I have this hive and I take it out of the fridge, where it is resting, cause I am too curious to see the bees, real quick before I leave. I open it, trying to ignore the tickly on my hands from the bees walking on me, reminding myself that these worker bees have no stingers (dunno if it’s true, but it calmed dream-me enough to proceed). I’ve never been stung (in my waking life) and I don’t wanna start now. As I get used to the feeling I look and see that the bees are leaving legs and antennae on my hands as they land, which continue to tickle even when no bees are on there.

The hive seems almost empty. I put it down and turn it over and see the queen (cartoonishly large and colored) but I see that the nurse bees are prepping another queen, to replace it since that one isn’t working, I guess. I feel sorry for Old Queen for half a second, then I get distracted by the activity around New Queen. They are attaching all this stuff to her posterior (think the queen in Aliens, but smaller) and I can see it growing right before my eyes. How cool is this! I marvel. New Queen is swelling, she’s all soft and gel-like as if she’d just molted and is hardening. I can’t resist touching the queen even though there is an insistent dream-voiceover, as in a nature documentary, lecturing that touching them when they are soft like this is likely to kill her, especially (as I touch the wings) if I touch the wings. The voice is about a half-second behind my actions, but even if it weren’t I probably wouldn’t have reacted in time. I am sort of compelled to touch her and, having touched her, to put her down gently, which is when I touched the wings. I put her down and hope the universe didn’t notice and that she will work the odds and survive.

The hive gets wet somehow — I think due to my actions, not sure. I go inside. Everyone is washing dishes and cleaning up before the train. I think I’ll wrap the hive back up and put it in my boss’ fridge while I’m/we’re gone, I hope he won’t mind but I don’t plan on telling him anyway. When I go outside the hive is a soggy mess. Note here that I have NO idea what I am doing what with the apiary maintenance, and I am acutely aware that I am totally winging it. (I’m not too anxious about it though, they are only bees.) I pick it up anyway and set it on the counter next to the fridge and begin looking for Tupperware to put it in…but before I find anything it spills or decomposes or something, and honey runs all down the side of the drawers and into the drawer I had open. The drawer was on the bottom, was only around 8 inches square, and it had a chef’s knife (pointing up at about a 45deg angle, oddly) and some other utensils (strewn along the bottom) in it. Not a large volume of honey spilled, just enough to make it sticky, not enough to pool up or anything.

So much for the hive. I mentally write it off (I am even relieved that it took care of itself and became a non-problem, instead of needing more care from me) and turn my mind to getting the drawer unsticky before the train arrives, so when Boss returns he will not find a mess. This is everyone else’s objective also, but MY mess wasn’t in the normal course of things, it was extraneous to whatever had been going on to produce the other, more manageable mess, so I feel extry-responsible while they all just feel the obligation of the post-get-together guests. I take the drawer to the sink but someone is there. They seem almost done but there are only 5 minutes before the train.

I think the moral of this dream is that I should get back to work.

Scroll down for the cheesecake. Keep reading for some meat.

Got an interesting idea from this post:

When people speak of losing a part of themselves when a loved one dies, they are speaking quite literally, since we lose the ability to effectively use the neural patterns in our brain that had self-organized to interact with that person.

What a great and accessible application of a neuroscientific idea to explain a psychological phenomenon — and it doesn’t even rid that phenomenon of its substance and depth.

I recently read Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, which is an extensive exploration of the psychology of grief and loss (I recommend it). If you read it with this thought in mind, I think it will give you an interesting angle on why grief can take the shapes it does. This certainly makes me think of how the same book could be written about the neurological changes Didion underwent in that time…and how that’d be a completely different but also valuable book.

I, for one, have gotten value out of both approaches, at different times. In difficult emotional situations I fixate on coming to an understanding of WHY — what could lead a person to do act X? Only later can I process them at a more emotional level. In the train ride to my parents’ house the night we got the news of my aunt’s suicide, I read this book like a novel. It provides an exhaustingly comprehensive psychiatric perspective on suicide’s origins, from the personal all the way to the epidemiological level. It’s written by a clinician/researcher and popularizer who’s respected in both areas, which is no easy feat. It’s later now, and so Didion’s book has been important to the current stages.

While I’m making book recommendations, I found the suicide book a bit too depressing before I had a particular reason to read it. On the other hand, Jamison’s memoir of living with bipolar disorder is gripping and of general interest.

The rest of the ideas in the post are the standard kind of annoying “we’re so close to developing supercomputers that we can download our brains to, and therefore use to live forever” crap we can expect from a certain stripe/era of AI research. Oh, so many issues I have there. A few:

1) One of my favorite neuroscientific truisms is “if the brain were simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand it.” Where would a bit dump of our brains/minds even BEGIN? The upper-left-hand neuron? (What about cultures that read right-left?) Memories (“I was born a poor black child”)? And which historical point in time to capture? Should we do backups to keep it current? Save older versions, perhaps to retain health, and ditch the body once deterioration sets in? Not to mention the utter meaninglessness of a consciousness without physical input. Just look what sensory deprivation can do to an embodied brain.

2) Metaphors squelch understanding and new ideas, and all the more so when they try to cover more complex phenomena. “The brain is a computer” squelches understanding of its function because it ignores a lot of the types of connections made between neurons.

In fact, it’s just this disconnect between computer simulations of brain function and the actual functioning of the brain that switched me from computer science geekery to neuroscience, lo these 10 years ago now. In a Neural Networks class, I kept trying to make my network’s neurodes more like biological neurons, and got more and more impressed with the impossibility of the task and how it revealed how little we knew about the brain. Considering that each year of biological education teaches you more and more about what the last class didn’t even get near, to have finally run up against the limits of knowledge in a field was heady stuff. I switched majors posthaste.

N.B., the metaphor of DNA as blueprint/book of life is similarly harmful to the understanding of genetics. But that’s another post.

Yeah, I fully and humbly acknowledge that these objections may someday seem as hilarious as “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible” and other statements are today.* In fact, one of the coolest things about extended lifespans, to me, is getting to see so many new things developed and so many old things proved wrong. Not to mention the chance that I could see the Cubs win the World Series, although my brain may need to be in a computer for that one.

In other news, vote for me for DC’s Sexiest Female Blogger. Here is some cheesecake to encourage you.

No, I have no idea who nom’d me (Reaganite swears it weren’t him), why I care, or why I would be OK being associated with some of the most gossipy damn people in the DC internet tubes. Since becoming aware of the Best DC Blog site on Monday, I tried to figure it out by reading a few comment threads there and “DC blog wars” posts on BigHeadRob’s blog, and I tell you whut: I’m never getting that two hours back.

Here’s another perspective though. While I had fun comparing the bizarreness to junior/high school on Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday we spent an hour in lab meeting discussing some psychiatric-genetics-research-field politics. And as any DC resident knows, politics is high school. When I tell him some of my hair-raisers, Reaganite assures me that scientist politics is not substantially different in form from Hill politics. So when we tell the poor kids who find themselves at the bottom of high school food chains that “it’s not always like this, it gets better, people grow up,” we are lying. Lying lying lying!

Other reasons I care. Well, I’m self-centered. Show me a blogger who isn’t. Heck, show me a human being who isn’t. I’m competitive too, in weird indirect ways that are hard to describe: more against past versions of myself than other people. In my defense, I think people who know me will agree that these are not my mortal-est sins. (Guess which is!)

Also, as a child, I was an ugly duckling. Glasses filling half my face, feathered hair, not grown into the nose yet…maybe if I win I’ll post a photo of those days. Yay for the exorcism of childhood demons. And how better to prove the old saw that DC is Hollywood for ugly people? ;)

Also also, it’d make a truly hilarious addition to my imaginary business card. Dr. Scientist. Photographer. Sexiest Blogger DC 2007. OK, only sorta hilarious.

Yeah, I’m in Florida. Reaganite’s mom and I get on fine, as I knew we would. But we are all tired and stuff, and R. has to do some work, which is why I have all this goddamned time to blog. Shouldn’t have much more until I get back–going to Disney tomorrow, for the first time ever.

Vote for me!


*As you may know, Bill Gates denies saying “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

uh…I’m nominated…

9 April, 2007

UPDATE: OK, I wasn’t eliminated. Time for my ego and I to check out, especially as now it becomes clear I AM filler (of the innocuous kind, which is fine by me). Indeed, it’s hard to escape the impression that the whole BDCB site is filler for the “DC blog wars.” I was vaguely aware of them when I was attending more meetups and happy hours, last winter and spring, and I thought they were a fluke of some kind, or something that people had outgrown…apparently not. Anyway, the less said about them, the better. My snark skills are NOT up to the task, esp not at midnight.

Don’t vote for me right now, because it’s an elimination round.

Apparently the nom procedure is not as rigorous as all that. Whatevs.

Scarily, the competition is now for “the BEST and the SEXIEST.” Now that’s a higher bar.

I only half-follow the Best DC Blog site. I should RSS it, it’s often amusing — I haven’t so far because it’s so often got that slam book snarky vibe that reminds me of the junior high whimpering on the bed that I used to do. Anyway, this morning I noticed a link from it in my logs. How odd, I’m not a commenter there or on their blogroll. Well, it seems I have been nominated for Sexiest Female Blogger. By Michelle Malkin no less! (OK, really a Michelle Malkin hater. That’s 2 points in your favor, Michelle Malkin Naked.) Another mystery wrapped in an enigma. Have we met, MMN?

Perhaps I am meant to be filler for the list, and would be crossed off at an early stage with a snarky comment. Crossed off eventually would be OK, as I’m unlikely to win where there are far more exhibitionist types in the DC female blogger community. But to be first to go….ouch. The junior high bed-whimpering instincts are strong, but I got the psychological and physical chops to play this game now: confidence in myself, 20/20 vision, boobs, relatively flattering clothes, all the stuff I didn’t have back in the day when “She’s Like The Wind,” “Together Forever,” and “I Wanna Have Some Fun” were on Z95* and vests and bubble skirts were in…the FIRST time.

So, let the objectification begin.  Or, rather, resume: I have after all already posted/blogged this image.

Poolside

That’s about all that’s PG rated (or is cleavage PG-13 now?) that I will share, image- or story-wise. After all, my mother reads this blog. Hi Mom! (Although she gets far less grossed out by these things than my sister does. Hi sister!)

Would it help to make an appearance at a blogger happy hour, in a nice little v-neck and heels? (I Blame the Patriarchy readers: they will, of course, be comfortable heels. I don’t own any other type. Hey, I never claimed to be a radical** feminist. Unfortunately for me, Katie Roiphe was an influence at this tender age too…although I’m also not a lipstick feminist.)
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*I owned all of these songs. If you wish to mock me, I’d like to hear YOUR Worst-Of of what you were listening to in 1988. Anyway, I mark this as a dark era of prehistory to my musical awakening which began in 1991 with REM’s Out Of Time and Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Also, during the late 80s my mom played a lot of Leonard Cohen and WXRT, which was at its peak then. This made me much cooler later on.

**I typed “radial feminist” at first. Heh.

LASIK notes

8 April, 2007

Immediately afterwards, the difference was apparent. Instead of focus dropping off over distance, the blur was the same throughout the range, like I was looking through Vaseline’d lenses. Direct light glows like a chintzy wedding portrait artist’s filter. The effect diminishes every day. Despite night vision complaints being the most common at this point in recovery, I haven’t noticed much difference. I always saw a lot of glare at night, especially when inside a car. I suppose there is more, but irritating is irritating, y’know?

The morning after I was 20/20 at least, in fact I’d say they were 20/20 the first night. I wasn’t tested any higher, although to be honest I am hoping for overcorrection and super-vision. The painful bits of the experience were only the stinging as the anesthetic drops wore off post-surgery. That’s where the Valium really helped, in getting me to sleep when I got home. When I got up things were fine.

Note my eye hickey, from the machine that immobilized my eye to make the flap:
LASIK eye hickey

OK, you all think that’s the height of gross, but at least it’s not a decapitated rat’s head. You should thank me, Dr. Scientist, for small favors. Like not showing you both eyes.

It feels a bit anticlimactic, to be honest. I feel absolutely no different, except every 2 hours I have to put eye drops in. It’s like wearing contacts. I imagine the differences will accumulate as I get used to the lack of the contacts-specific drawbacks. For example, I’ve never liked naps much, because taking them in contacts means you wake up with your eyes all natty gross, and even wearing glasses the last few years, my habit against naps is sorta engrained. It’s a lot easier now!

I wake up at night and read the clock to my boyfriend. Because I can. I’m really looking forward to the week point when I’m out of the danger zone of sweating into my eyes and can go to yoga and be able to see the instructor.

And that’s my LASIK report, submitted on post-surgery Day 3.

random acts of kindness

22 February, 2007


prezints

Originally uploaded by techne.

Got a package in the mail today from friends on the left coast. They are normally very good about birthdays and such, but I have nothing like that going on….it turned out to be a care package filled with silliness, peanuts and hie-larity! Thanks K!

The magnet (which is Bush’s famous “I know how hard it is to put food on your family” line) will go well with a magnet of the same design that my sister got me a while ago:

What a fine addition this will make. Laura Bush with salad on her head…priceless.

The froggy thing was made up of a half dozen lengths of different colored crepe paper, and had toys and confetti inside. The streamers are now decorating my desk, wafting gently in the ventilation breeze.

The book is lots of shots of signs of various types where particular words have been covered over by stickers that say “FUCK.” Apparently there is a website, but for some reason the government won’t let me see a website called “FUCKTHISWEBSITE.com.” Prudes. Anyway what’s particularly hilarious about this is that my friend J. and I used to drive around and play this game with signs we saw on the road**, JUST LIKE this. I’m sure I’ve played this game with K. at some point, but doubt that’s what inspired purchase of this book, which makes it all the funnier.

The card says “and Fuck the whole winter of 2007, right in its ear!” There is a diagram of an arrow of “FUCK” going into a little ear of “2007 winter”, just in case I am feeling like a more visual learner today.

Yay random acts of kindness, yay snail mail, yay short-week Thursday, and most of all yay friends! Thanks K! You really brought a smile to my face, and annoyance to my cubemates as I unrolled the frog thingy.


**It is the ultimate in-car punch-drunk game. The trick is finding the word whose fucklation would produce maximal hilarity. For example, “No fucking, tow zone” or “No parking, fuck zone”? Surely a question for the ages, and that’s not even considering the lovely tangentialness of “No parking, tow fuck.”   But my favorite one ever is when J. stopped at a stop sign, put up his hand all Diana Ross, and said, with great care, “FUCK.” If you don’t think that’s funny, well, you would have when you were 16.

What to say

3 February, 2007

I’ve returned to blogging, but I have been meaning to address my aunt and cousin’s deaths more directly, to try and get something more meaningful out of it than the shock in my last post. Here’s my attempt.

First of all: thank you, commenters and emailers and callers, for your words and thoughts. It meant, and means, a great deal to have the support of friends. It’s a month now since we buried them. Life is externally normal; I’m back in DC, work, winter, yadda yadda. A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me with condolences, and also regrets that she hadn’t done so earlier. It made me think of a public service I could provide.

“I don’t know what to say”

We heard this a lot. It’s a lot simpler than you think. First of all, if you are saying this, it probably means you have the sort of mind that is not full of platitudes in the face of tragedy. This is good as IMO they can be the worst things to say (although not necessarily bad — see below). We didn’t get any “you should accept it as God’s will” sort of talk, I think for several reasons: 1) We’re Jews and it’s not the most Jewish of concepts. 2) In the murder of a child, it’s a hard one for anyone to really believe, I think. 3) The communities my family lives in are not the sort of communities that deal with tragedy that way.

Even if we had, though, it need not be inherently offensive–it’s all in the sincerity, intent and delivery. This was made clear when we met Ryan’s paternal grandfather, who was estranged from his son — Paula made it a point to have him meet Ryan over the summer, and it was clear he was eternally grateful. We got the impression, through the particular expression of his religion, that he had been saved from the sort of life which leads one to be estranged from one’s son by his church and by the fellowship there. But not even THOSE people talked about God’s will. They talked about praying to try and understand, which is a whole other thing and I wasn’t in the least bothered by it. If anything I was jealous of the structure his faith gave him for his grief.

Basically you don’t want to tell people how they feel or how you think should feel. I daresay that’s not too big a problem for the internetizens who read my blog.

Now for some specific guidelines. I imagined a person who had genuine feeling for the bereaved, but no experience themselves with such an event, and who would worry that she’d say something wrong that will upset them even more. If it’s been a while, she might also worry that saying something will be a reminder just when they’ve started to move on. Someone who’d like to help but doesn’t know what to do. Well, person, here’s what to do.

1) As soon as you hear, make contact. You need merely say “I heard about [thing/person], I’m so sorry.” There is no expiration date on this — do it as soon as you are able. They know what happened and have not forgotten so don’t worry about “reminding” them. In fact, as time passes, the initial outpouring of sympathy wanes, but you still remember, and it’s particularly comforting to get these sorts of messages when it seems like the world has already moved on.

2) Can you not possibly imagine what they are feeling? Say “I can’t possibly imagine what you are feeling.” Or say “How are you feeling?” Listen. They want to talk. Help them talk. Ask questions if you have any. If it seems appropriate, physical contact is nice.

2a) Try not to say “I don’t know what to say.” At least try not to have it be the last thing you say. (There’s a difference between “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to say, I can’t possibly imagine what you are feeling” versus “I’m so sorry, I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, I don’t know what to say.” No, it’s not hurtful, but it changes the dynamic in a subtle yet powerful way. Having it be the thought you want the person to respond to makes you upset and more focused on yourself, and it makes them upset because they feel they have to take care of you and it’s hard enough taking care of themselves. Really you’re better off just not saying it at all, replacing it with “it’s such a shock” or “how are you doing?” or something.

3) Share your experiences.* We heard about many people’s experiences with suicide and attempts, from strangers to very close friends. Because of my area of specialty and the people I’ve met within it I already knew that suicide was common, but this made the knowledge a lot more concrete. And more importantly, it really opened my family’s eyes. I’d been worried that they’d perceive a lot of stigma, blame it on the antidepressants, etc. but this really showed them the reach of depression and suicide. I think it helped them a lot.

4) Early on someone said, “tell me about Paula.” This was pure genius! You should all remember it and use it when you can. They want to talk about the deceased, so help them do it. Now, they may say anything at all when you do this. Esp in our case, we were — are — all pretty angry at Paula for doing this, on top of the grief. Don’t judge if that sort of thing comes up.

5) About “let me know what I can do.” Many people say this, but do they all mean it? I wasn’t sure. These times are so odd, you’re outside the normal fabric of life and some people will go outside that fabric with you and do amazing things for you — but not everyone can do that. Figuring out who will and who won’t takes a lot of energy. If you really want to do something for the person, don’t make them spend that energy on figuring your intentions out. Offer something specific or, better yet, just do something without asking:

5a) Visit them. Call, email, let them talk.

5b) Provide food, storebought or home-cooked, comfort/junk or real meals.**  If you are worried about dietary restrictions, that’s nice of you, but don’t worry yourself out of action.

(I guess some religions do flowers. It’s not a Jew thing to do, we are more with the food. So maybe it belongs on this list, but I have no experience with it.)

5c) Take care of some obligation that you are in a unique position to handle. Contact mutual friends. Reschedule appointments at work. Help them arrange travel. Housesit. Petsit. (Thanks again C., but especially thanks to B.  It was a huge load off my mind.)

5d) Take care of something that will relieve them of some stress. I’d say “clean their house” for this, but honestly for each death in my family the houses were so farking clean due to all the family members hanging around with nothing to do. So I can’t think of a good example here, but it will likely be very situational anyway. (oh, I know an example! Watch their kids. I wasn’t involved with this, but the kids in the family, 6 and 4 years old, were far too young for a lot of the funeraly stuff. If you have childcare skills, using them to give the adults room to grieve is really helpful.)

5e) Bring them books about [thing]. Easiest to do if you’ve been there and have some you’ve leaned on, or know someone who can recommend some. (n.b. don’t bring a bible. Either they have one, or they don’t want one. If you really must evangelize to people who may not be receptive, save it for after the funeral and so on — you’ll have more of their attention anyway.)

5f) Write a letter. The person you know is unlikely to be the only one affected by [thing]. Content either “I’m so sorry, awful tragedy, etc.” or specific reminisces about the person if you have them. For example, we gave many people my grandmother’s address (the mother and grandmother of the deceased). (If you’d like it, let me know.)

5g) Make a donation. In our case we are directing people towards the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

6) It’s not over when it’s over. The funeral, or surgery, or whatever is only the beginning of the rest of the person’s life dealing with [thing]. This is why it’s never too late for 1) above. And clearly a lot of 5) are relevant to the immediate situation only, but you can think along those terms for a very long time. What you can do is keep in touch and let the person see that you know that [thing] is a part of their life. You can also keep track of anniversaries–they will be, whether they like it or not, and hearing from you on one would be a nice touch.

7) This is more a general “don’t be an asshole” piece of advice, but it has to do with death so here it is. If you’ve never been to a funeral, maybe you don’t know that usually there is a procession of mourners’ cars that follow the hearse from the funeral home to the cemetery. They are clearly labeled, signs on all the windows, etc. If you see one: do not cut it off. DON’T. You wouldn’t interfere with an emergency vehicle, even with no police around, because it could affect another person, right? Well, same principle here: have some politeness and respect for your fellow anonymous human beings, dead and alive. (It didn’t happen this time but it did for my grandfather’s in 2000 and we almost lost the procession. We didn’t know where the cemetery was and it’s not like we could have called the limousine. One of the most stressful half hours of my life, and eternal thanks to P. for some of the craziest driving I’ve ever seen all for the sake of keeping up.)

That’s about all I can think of right now. Long story short, say something, do something. Even if it’s “I don’t know what to say”–although with these tips you should have an idea now.  Show the survivors that they are part of a community.

And to all those who said or did something for me and my family — and those who will — thank you.


*People to whom this point is relevant will hardly need it to be said, they will know from having been there that this helps, but hey.**Two meals I remember: a homemade lasagna from my stepdad’s business manager, and some Thai noodles and dumplings from a neighbor of my parents’. There was tons more food, but we ate those two after crowds had left, and so it was an extra level of feeling cared for by the community–even when they weren’t there, they were there.

hail to the end of January

29 January, 2007

UPDATED: added Liz’s recipe, so people can get it straight from their RSS.  It’s below.

ALL HAIL WORDPRESS: I’ve been Latest Obsession for a year. My anniversary passed in a whirl of family crisis and January has been so busy I haven’t yet processed a single photograph. (OK, I did take the breast cancer ad picture, but that was a cameraphone.) Let’s not discuss how depressing that’s been, although my eye seems to be too tired to see anything, so it’s not like I’m feeling pressed for time, just not all that creative. Despite last week’s post about the protest, when the day actually came I realized I didn’t want to go down to the Mall and deal with it. (I’d had about 7 hours of sleep over the previous 48.) “So you’re pro-war then?” a friend asks. Snicker. (I have to say though, of all the major protest actions around this war, this one felt the least useful. When a war is incipient, new or popular, marching aginst it seems more purposeful than when it’s unpopular. )

ALL HAIL BRAINPOWER: One thing I have been able to do is read. This is notable because my dissertation seemed to stunt my attention span so much that I didn’t even have the patience for a New Yorker. Yep, my dissertation, as in the thing I was working on TWO Januarys ago. My ability to read for pleasure has been growing back, it seems; I didn’t notice at first but I’m actually reading a NOVEL right now, and it wasn’t even written by Kim Stanley Robinson. For some reason I started keeping track of the books I’ve read this year, and I realized I was on pace for one a week. So I think I’ll make that a goal.

ALL HAIL SECOND-GENERATION ANTIDEPRESSANTS: In other happy news, my cat Sue is a lot better than he was last fall. My vet put him on Prozac and it is really doing the trick. He’s pleasant to have around, even, as he hasn’t been since he was an only cat. So he’s off the market, but thanks for your interest, everyone, and your help. Oddly now it’s T-Bone who is a little anxious. He does this thing where he’ll lightly claw me (to get my attention) and then act like he wants me to pet him, but when I do he merely tolerates it and then walks away. You’d think a brain my size could figure out what’s going on in a brain his size…maybe I should slip him a little drugs too…

ALL HAIL WHOEVER RECOMMENDS ME SOME GOOD NEW MUSIC.

ALL HAIL RESALE STORES: I need new clothes. The effects of last January’s Heartbreak Diet (main effect: size 4) are disappearing, and all the skinny-person jeans I had to buy for that are now a weeeeeeeee bit tight. And the stuff I’m growing back into, well…it was old when it fit me the last time, and is painfully unstylin’. I prefer in my sartorial life to be at worst wincingly unstylin’. So a two-pronged approach. 1: The HD weight loss came about through eating too little, not exercise: even well after the H was repaired, I had quite literally forgotten how to eat and shop for groceries. And then I went home for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Family Crisis, all of which basically mean: carbs. So now if I want my skinny ass back I have to do it the hard way, by like, moving my body around, and stuff. I’ve been wimping out and waiting for the bus lately on my commute, so I’ll cut back on that. And I’m half-considering training for a long race, but considering how hard I find it to make time to run and how much I hate running in the heat, I doubt it will happen. Enter Prong 2: shopping. In my pursuit of Prong 1 today I was in Bethesda for a dance class, and stopped by Mustardseed on my way home, where I dropped over $100 for about 12 items of clothing. You gotta love numbers like that.

ALL HAIL DA BEARS: I may be having the world’s least likely Superbowl party. So: a Muslim, a Hindu and a Jew (2 of 3 vegetarians) are analyzing some genetic data. It comes out that they all have plans to watch the Bears in the Superbowl next week. We decide to watch it together, but all I can think about is: what the fuck are we gonna eat?? Is it the Superbowl without my friend Liz’s unbelievably yummy bacon dip? I don’t think so….speaking of which, hey Liz, how bout that recipe?

Liz, comin ‘through, posted this to comments:

Man, I’ve been outed.

The EVIL DIP – AKA BLT dip.

1 lb bacon (i like a good quality thick cut bacon, but use what you have.)
16 oz sour cream (yeah i use light, but if you’re hard core, don’t)
1 cup Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE)
4 – 5 Fresh Roma tomatoes
1 tsp garlic powder
Fresh ground pepper

Fry the bacon crisp (i bake it on a jelly roll pan at 400 for 10 minutes and keep an eye on it). Drain on paper towels and chop up.

While that is cooking – slice the tomatoes on the y-axis in half and scoop out the brains. Dice those up into ~1/4 inch pieces. I somtetime salte and drain these in a sieve. soemtimes i don’t – it’s fine either way.

Mix the sour cream, mayo, maters, bacon and garlic powder in a bowl. Add a healthy grind or 5 of fresh ground pepper. Pop it in the fridge for an hour or two and serve with Ritz or Town House crackers.

Yes, I did have a post about family crisis-related stuff, but I pulled it to work on it some more. Of course, I haven’t had the time or desire, so I may just put it up as-was. The topic was what to say to newly grieving people, since I heard a lot of “I don’t know what to say” type comments, and it’s actually not as difficult as people think to say the right thing. (Hint: let THEM talk.)

Constructing the narrative

3 January, 2007

7

About a year ago I was betrayed in love. My boyfriend had been lying to me–even about his name–because he knew I’d never have looked at him twice if I’d known he was married. I found out relatively early, but it was already too late emotionally, and the situation was messy for some time.

One silver lining of betrayal is the social feedback you receive. It was almost a compulsion for me to tell the story. I told it often. The shock of others made it real, more real than confronting him had, and the different perspectives of friends and strangers triangulated the event in my social space and my personal history. It gave me both support and distance. Slowly but surely, the telling decreased the need to tell.

I’m reminded of that narrative’s construction the last few days, amidst a much more grave experience. It’s also emotionally complex, but like with the lying married ex-boyfriend, the pain is easy to convey: you need only describe what happened, people can fill in the blanks. So? let’s describe it. Last week, a sister and daughter, my aunt, a wife who was also a mother, killed herself and her child. His picture is the previous post to this one and of course they are both in the family portrait above, made a week ago on the day after Christmas.

I am at my parents’ house. Her brother is a son and uncle, and my stepfather. My parents are key figures in their community and what is helping them is the flow of visitors to the house. There have been dozens. They must tell the story often. I can see it making it real for them. I’m welcome here, but it’s not my community. Here the story is theirs to tell. So I turn to my community, always in virtual proximity. My friends from the 1990s, scattered across the nation. My friends who would be local, if I were at home. My listserv friends, most of whom I haven’t met yet, who express their sympathies to me from around the world.

That’s why I’m posting this even though it feels really freakish and wrong to use the internets for this. Aren’t I supposed to keep the tubes clear for porn?

I’ve been thinking about mental illness for half my life or more. It’s been my professional interest for a decade (almost to the day, in fact). This has been a surprising boon to the current situation. I have a lot of useful things to say to myself, family and visitors about what has happened. (I’ll save them for another post.) I spoke to a friend yesterday on IM; one of his brothers shot himself last fall. An excerpt:

me: I feel lucky compared to some. I have a framework I can fit suicide into.
friend: yeah, I have managed to stop myself from trying to think about the “why” (it’s _not_ logical)
me: in talking to ppl like you and others I see how many answers that gives me, the mental illness angle. All the why, etc. I’ve already resolved, in a sense.
me: “why? I’m on it. Already dedicated my life to why. Case closed.”

This is about narratives right now. (Will it always be?) They are floating, arguing, gelling around me. When the family gets together tomorrow, we will compare the narratives we’ve come up with. In this house we’ve been affecting each other’s for days, and outsiders have been influencing us too, as we retell and hit on key thoughts and turns of phrase. (My mom hit on a good one early and has been using it for 3 days, on almost everyone: “All [widower] wanted was a divorce.” Today my stepfather said it first. I was amused.) But this is only preliminaries to tomorrow’s reunion. I am fighting strenuously against one of the narratives that’s emerging there… But that’s for another post. I’ve been writing this one long enough. I need to pace myself.

I miss blogging…

26 October, 2006

and working on my photographs. September and October have been a complete blur (with the summer not much better) of work. Our data started coming in in June and it has. not. stopped. In the months since I’ve learned shocking amounts about genetics, statistics, computer wrangling (I’d call it programming but mostly it’s data massage). It’s tremendously exciting, but it’s been a roller coaster. In the spring I was in tears over how badly research was going, and now I’m at the forefront of my field and have only to write the papers to prove it.

I’d write about the work–it DEFINITELY qualifies as the latest obsession–but I feel a bit paranoid about it. While it’s almost certainly ridiculous, it’s fairly easy to identify me within the field, and you never know just what sort of info is bad info for others to know. I promise after I publish I’ll tell all…I could speak generally about the work, about where genetics is going and so on, but I think others do it more completely, and this blog is broad enough.

I just can’t find that hour needed for good blogging/photo-editing. I get home and my mind is in a million pieces from all the little things I have to do, such that I can’t pull the pieces together to concentrate on anything before I get too tired. I’ve decided not to reread and edit this post beyond spelling and typos, just in the interest of getting something out there.

I had about 10 ideas just now as I was loading the “compose” page for what to say, and now I can’t remember them. Fuck you, brain.

I leave for Sardinia on Friday. Lest you get too excited for me: it’s for a conference, and like last year when I went to this conference (in Boston), I’m going into it less than healthy. I’m also worried about bringing my new work laptop and my camera–how can I leave either behind? But that’s a lot of crap to carry/keep track of in a country known for its grabbiness. Yeah, you’re feeling really sorry for me about my trip to a beautiful Mediterranean island, I know. I’ll shut up now.

One thing taking up my time that I won’t be complaining about is Reaganite. He’s had his own trial by fire this summer, but always found time for me, and was never short (or worse), as I am in stressful times. Considering the circumstances we met under (I was on the very worst rebound you can imagine), and some things that happened later…well, tenacity paid off on both sides. So I spend as much time with him as our scheduls will allow. And that’s time spent offline–although now that we’ve both convinced our employers to get us MacBook Pros, and we are completely enthralled by their sexiness, maybe we will blog together ;) Also he really needs a new name. Maybe he will start a new blog and I can refer to him that way. Eh, babe?

(Seriously tho, the MacBook Pros are sexy as hell. How on earth does Apple do it? The other night I was not feeling well and he brought his over and we seriously got out his laptop, put it at the end of the bed, and Front Row’ed a DVD with the included remote. I don’t recall drinking the Apple kool-aid…maybe it was so long ago I’ve forgotten.)

Yeah, how scattershot am I? I wrote this last night and fell asleep before I could post it. Sheesh.

that untrustable age

6 September, 2006

I’m a few days away, and looking forward to it. For one, I always seem to be on the young side of every crowd I’m in, so changing that first number will be a small but psychologically significant change there, for both sides. More importantly, though, the decades seem to just keep improving:

THE FIRST DECADE: Sure, the first few months are rad. You live in the Eden neighborhood of Utopia. You’re the entire world and the entire world is you. Nice! But it’s got nowhere to go but down. Primarily, you get born, which is no fun for anybody involved. That leads to a whole new realm of uncomfortable states like being cold and tired and hungry and poopy, and not only can none of your caretakers really tell the difference but they also seem disturbingly unable to read your mind. As you develop, you reach “cognitive milestones,” known to you as “huge ego hits”: your mom isn’t the same person as you, other people have their own minds and wills and don’t always give you exactly what you want, if something breaks or is lost or dies it stays that way forever — stuff like that. Less existentially, the small indignities are legion. There is a long period of run-ins with the toilet, which your caretakers won’t stop hyping the awesomeness of. You’re too small for everything, height-wise (including said toilet). Sometimes your Disney Princess spoon and Disney Princess fork and Disney Princess plate and Disney Princess cup are put on the table in a haphazard configuration, which really fucks with the fabric of the universe something awful. There are silly rules everywhere you turn (you suspect they might be arbitrary or at the least ad hoc); rules like “we keep our clothes on all the time” and “we sit on our butts while we eat, and use utensils” and “we don’t roar or growl or bite the table” that make NO sense for those times when you have to be a dinosaur to eat your dinner. Yep, if you ask me, people tend to forget how frustrating it was to be a kid. Talk to one sometime–they can’t wait to be older, bigger; they barely know why, but they know they are missing out. Heaven may lay about us in our infancy, as a famous Bill once wrote, but good luck calming a hysterical child with Intimations of Immortality. Maybe you can distract them for a minute if you hit yourself in the head with a copy while making a funny face and saying “BOINNNNG!”, but after that they just keep crying (trust me on this) and you have to remedy whichever uncomfortable state they are in to make them stop.

THE SECOND DECADE: Any decade that features 8th grade, puberty, being a freshman TWICE, and arbitrarily defined maturity thresholds that vary by country, state or even municipality has a lot to answer for. Still, it’s a lot less confusing than the first one, and you are learning so fast that it makes more and more sense every day. In fact, the world starts seeming so manageable that by about halfway through the decade you have it TOTALLY figured out, which is a nice feeling while it lasts. Also nice? Your invention of sex (good idea!) as well as all the myriad forms of musical, sartorial, cosmetic, recreational, and chemical rebellion, all of which make the later teens a time that you will remember fondly even if you can’t remember them or hated every minute while it was going on. On the downside, well, again I feel I must mention puberty and all that it brings, but the area has been covered pretty well already. Socially, this is when you discover how the world works. You think it’s just how high school works, but your adult self learns otherwise, and if it develops an interest in politics or moves to DC it learns even sooner. (It’s interesting, people always think they are the victims here. Exhibit A, Molly Ringwald movies; even the cute, rich, popular girl is unhappy. Exhibit B, the Christian Right in December, who think THEY are the targets of the season’s discrimination.) You may make it through this with a shred of self-esteem, but even if you do, at some point — at the end of this or the beginning of the next decade, in my observations — the world will deliver you a smackdown, showing you that while you indeed may BE all that and a bag of chips, you have to prove it, and by the way that bag of chips is mostly air.

THE THIRD DECADE: Freshman years of high school and college get due credit for being tough reality checks, but if you ask me one’s freshman year of life (whenever it may happen, but early in this decade seems to be it for most people) is underrated for being its own brand of directionless overwhelming sucktastic. Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Why aren’t you doing it better? You had these questions before, perhaps, but now the answers start to matter, and answering them is not a smooth process. But answer them you do begin doing, and with respect to your self-control and how the world sees you, things are definitely an improvement over #2. The independence rawks, and for the first time it’s rarely questioned (when it maybe should be — US consumer debt, anyone?). Nostalgia becomes possible, and can be a lot of fun, even when it’s for the worst bits of the previous decades. (I couldn’t begin to count how many times my 20something self said “I’m so glad I’m not a teenager anymore!” Usually this was prompted by hearing some song that had soundtracked a particular period of turmoil, and feeling bemused instead of turbulent. My 2005 front-to-back relisten of Pretty Hate Machine during one crunch-time dissertation all-nighter stands out as a particularly satisfying moment.) The key change here, though, is taking on the mindset of an adult, which is disorienting. An early example: on one overly anticipated day, you experience the mindfuck/anticlimax of full US-adulthood. The day before, drinking 5 alcoholic beverages in an hour make you a pathetic example of misguided youth, but on that day it makes you so normal that NOT drinking them is the pathetic thing. As the decade wears on you discover that not only did the emperor never have any clothes (those anti-dinosaur rules? They WERE ad hoc) but that there is no emperor (that Disney Princess place setting? An early hint about just how little the universe cares about your opinion). Your parents are just people doing their best. Your teachers were pretty fricking young. etc. etc. Once you get the hang of it and start redefining your relationships to people and things, it’s exhilarating. Once you get the hang of it.

THE FOURTH DECADE: Given all the regularly scheduled upheavals in the rearview mirror, I have a rosy outlook on the upcoming decade. There will of course be individual, personalized smackdowns on the menu, but this post isn’t about those. WRT the institutionalized, culturally and biologically scheduled smackdowns, it seems that this decade may have the fewest of any before or since. Even if that’s not true, I’m starting it in a far better position than I did the previous three. Sure there will be a biological clock and sure there will be aches and pains and sure there will be more and heavier responsibilities and less and less time. On the other side of the sheet, well — I’ve heard a few rumors:

1) There is a degree of resolution of the life-direction issues of the third decade.

2) There are more orgasms. And they are better.

These have been verified by well-placed sources (and I encourage more sources to reveal themselves in comments). So who gives a damn if youth don’t trust me. Thirtysomething, here I come!

…No pun intended.

my trip to Miami

29 August, 2006

Last Thursday, the prospect of a weekend trip to Miami came up. I packed and everything, but in the end it was another DC weekend for me. Bummer! I’ve never been to Miami. And I finally have a South Beach-worthy bod, too. (Well, as much as one can while still maintaining one’s health.)

When it failed to pan out, I took my newly awakened desire to go to the beach to H&M, where it bought bikinis, and on Saturday, beachy desire and I went to the pool at the Marriot Wardman in Woodley Park, which is sometimes open to the public.

Poolside

Tease me with prospects of exotic travel, will you? OK. I shall send you cameraphone pics of my cleavage. Who’s sorry now?

On Sunday, the teaser returned from Miami, and we finally made it to the beach together. Teasing and counterteasing aside, it was all for the best. I would never have been inspired to plan it otherwise, and doing it as a day trip, and not a weekend half of which is spent in airports being annoyed at security, was a much more relaxing option.

Miami

Chalk another one up on “places I have of course been, but not as a photographer, so I had fun of the normal type associated with [place] but also had fun looking for shots.” (Also I went to Annapolis, but beyond “lots of seafood, lots of midshipmen” there is not much to say about that.)

Thanks to flickr friends furcafe and bsivad for further inspiration and ideas. And speaking of flickr, check out flickr’s newest feature, automatic geotagging!

uh oh

12 August, 2006

I’ve been put on notice.

I deserve it for not posting the location of my get-together last night. But it was just that kind of week, folks. I apologize to those I didn’t manage
to contact in time, although in truest DC fashion, I did run into friends
I hadn’t made plans with. Really, I think, in DC a night is noteworthy when that DOESN’T happen.

Saw Goth Mena Suvari in the laundry room this morning. Wondering if I should make a print of my shot of her and give it to her. Is that creepy? Probably makes me look like a stalker, yes? Although if she ever finds this blog, she’ll pretty much know all, stalker-wise.  I’m That Girl either way.  Hmm.

SAVE THE DATE

8 August, 2006

Friday. August 11. It is my one-year anniversary of moving to DC. And what. A. Year. It’s. Been. I’d love to celebrate with you, the responsible parties, on Friday night after work. What say you, readers? Are you in?

I’m taking suggestions for venue–leave them in the comments please! Last celebration I had, for my doctoral anniversary, was at Toledo Lounge. Now I love the Lounge but would like to mix it up some. The place should have space and reasonably-priced drinks/nothing resembling a “door policy” and perhaps food. Velvet Lounge has been suggested….never been there, though. Does it qualify?

If you cannot make it, don’t worry….we are also coming up on the first anniversary of my 29th birthday. Now I personally have no problem with turning 30. Rumor has it that a woman’s thirties are…..exciting. But this would make me older than my grandmother and my aunts, who are all 29. (My mom might also be 29, I forget her position on the matter.) So if you can’t make it now, I’ll catch ya then.

Suggest a venue below!

birthday?

1 August, 2006

A year ago this week, I was packing my Chicago life. A year ago next week, I was starting my DC life. Not sure how to celebrate this yet. Since finishing my degree I’ve never been so busy, and there’s no end in sight. Oddly, realizing this — that I have no experience having this much responsibility — has made it easier to handle.

And that’s why no posts, these last two weeks have not given me the chance. And when I do I have little to say that seems of interest. Maybe it’s time to go more photoblog — I’ve been feeling good photo-wise lately, although it may all be because two weeks ago I took what instantly became my most popular picture ever. Someone actually managed to cheer me up from an 11-hour day of science and heat exhaustion simply by mentioning it.

southbound

Oh and in other obsession news, the Cubs totally kicked Cardinal ass this weekend. Another sweep, like the one I saw in April but better because it was a 4-game series and weirder because in the real world of baseball it’s the Cubs who suck and the Cardinals who are good. Hey, I will take the weekend of endorphins any ol’ way, thanks, and you’ll do well to not remind me that Maddux got traded to the Dodger.

How about some kid stuff? That’s for sure an obsession after a weekend with them. Here’s some advice from my nephew D. We went bowling yesterday (god, was it only yesterday? I was up at 5 today to fly back and am putting a full day in at the moment). D. and I were chatting in the car on the way over in that “I’m-almost-10-times-your-age” way that one chats with kids. I forget the topic. Whatever it was about it had nothing to do with bowling. “We’re here!” called his mom as we pulled into the parking lot. “Yay! We’re here!!” said D. Then, he pointed at me and said very sternly, “And DON’T EAT THE BOWLING BALLS!”

The extended form of the rule is: I cannot eat bowling balls, or I’ll turn into a, a, a, a bubble, er, a bubble gum man. No not a bubble gum WOMAN, bubble gum MAN, and and and I’ll *pop*! and be dead, so don’t do it. I might also turn into a bowling ball. As those of you who know 3 year olds know, in this are the seeds of a great way to drive them crazy all day, as you pretend to eat bowling balls in front of them, or to be a bubble and blow up, or ask if you can eat cars, or guitars, or the man from Mars. That answer was no, you can only eat food, but later that day we had Mexican for dinner, and I was told if I ate a tortilla, I will turn into a tortilla, and they will eat me and then I’ll be dead. Even though it’s food! What’s an aunt to do?!? “It’s OK, you can eat it,” says his older sister J. reassuringly. “You can just come back to life.”

A clinician labmate described psychosis to me recently, in minute detail. Talking to children can really be bizarrely similar.

(Not the funniest kid-ism ever, but it cracked me up. D. is very much the vehicle-obsessed type of little boy. Although he’s moving onto dinosaurs now, his first love, the ambiance, will always have his heart:

an ambiance!!!Anyway, last night as I was packing D. excitedly asked “Are you going on a AIRPORT??“)

We taught J. how to leave voicemail messages. I think it opened up a whole new world of phone fun to her. Right now at home I have waiting for me a message of her singing “twinkle twinkle” to my cats. I had to leave so early this AM I decided not to wake her up to say goodbye — mistake! She was … sad to have missed me. I understood the whole scene — the bursting into tears at the empty Aerobed, the incomprehensible sobs from which one can manage to pick out maybe “aunt” “bye” “left” between the gulps for breath, right down to Daddy making it all better (Mommy was taking me to the airport) — when I deplaned in Detroit and received this text message.

From: (J.’s Dad’s email addy)

Subject: Miss you already

Body: Hi (Techne), sorry I missed you this morning, I hope you have a safe trip. I really miss you already. There are a lot of itches on me, maybe they are from the sky. Maybe the bugs from the sky have itches like me. Maybe the trees have the itches too. I had a really fun time with you. Love J.

(I called in, the freak-out report was confirmed by Mommy who said she came home to J. sitting in her dad’s lap at the computer, gulping out “wan” “say” “bye” “one” “more” “time” “aunt” “techne”.)

I’m not so much with the biological clock (see above re responsibility; can barely feed MYSELF, yo) but being an aunt really suits me. It’s sad that all the kids I know are back in the Midwest. I have absolutely no kid outlet here (‘course I have a ton of things here I didn’t there, which we won’t get into.) At home, I am that friend who becomes honorary aunt to a slew of friend’s kids, and who at times prefers the kids’ company. Here, I take pictures of strangers’ kids on the bus to get a smile out of them. Sigh.

Exhibit 295 or so in “super-wide is the kid portrait lens” is below. D. is also showing us his tongue color, but has not yet realized that white popsicles don’t do fun things to your tongue.

popsicles

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