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I have just completed the first year of my doctoral program and I find myself asking: what have I learned?

Not sure….can tell you a lot about information management, computer supported cooperative work, social theories of technology, philosophies on science, usability engineering, and most importantly, please believe me when I say this: graduate level applied statistics is a mother-effin’ beyotch….

Other than that? Dunno. I am unsure how this all pulls together into what will ultimately culminate into a doctoral thesis. I cannot even fathom a thesis right now. Maybe it’s because my brain is fried. Maybe it’s because right now I am questioning whether all of this is a good idea. Maybe I just miss Sailor…a little too much. And maybe, just maybe,  a more normal type of existence seems in order, possibly even necessary.

This is so different from the fall, when I arrive here amped-up and ready to burn. Full of ideas. Full of vigor. Ready to absorb every ounce of information I could handle…

Instead, I’m chronically stressed, tired, and my skin is so dry from living in cold and dusty labs that I can barely absorb enough moisturizer…

I mentioned the possibility to Sailor of leaving after next year with a Masters and he wouldn’t hear of it. He thinks I’m too invested. I wonder if that is in fact the true account of things or whether it is everyone else who is too invested on my behalf?

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I’m not sure what is going with me these days, but I am discovering that I have turned into a passive-aggressive bitch from hell.

Walking on my side of the sidewalk? Better change course, buster, or I will run you down. Standing 10 feet away from the counter and still believe you’re next in line? Not when I walk around you and stand in front of the cashier, sweetheart. Standing with your friend talking in front of the only door exiting the building? I think nothing of just barging in between the two of you so I can make my escape. Taking forever to perform your OCD-like experiment with your coffee at the condiment counter? Then I’m the person blatantly invading your personal space, standing three inches behind you, silently urging you to hurry the fuck up.

Maybe it’s stress, maybe school is catching up to me. I’ve been under the gun for three weeks straight spending 12 hours a day in the lab. Or maybe it’s just that people have no zero sense of tactical awareness to know that they are moving against traffic, are holding up the line, are bogarting the creamer, or just generally in the way of people trying to get on with their damn lives.

I’ve got a week off and in the first two days, I watched 8 movies, read a book, went to the gym 4 times, cleaned the apartment, caught up on filing, and dismantled the vacuum cleaner for a thorough cleaning. You’d think I’d be overjoyed to get out, amongst the crowds, soaking in the weirdness of human society that usually tickles me pink.

Instead, I am moody on the verge of outright hostile and want everyone to eff off.

Off to the gym, again, trying to work off this mysterious anger.

1. If you’re open to the experience, your head will spin with ideas…a lot of ideas…really, too many ideas

2. Over stimulation resulting in mental shut-down makes doctoral students pretty similar to a highly functioning autistic.

3. A smart cocktail can make 300 pages of reading pretty darn interesting

4. Sometimes there’s just not enough booze to get you through 300 pages of academic journal writing

5. “A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint.”

5. Given #4 and my hatred of cardio, I really should have thought about that before doing this

6. Typical lesson plan: read 100 pages, have students write 500 words responding to 100 pages, present class material on 100 pages incorporating student response, then test students on reading, writing, and presentation…repeat.

7. After 8 months on campus, I still only know where to find my building, the gym, and the library, so don’t go asking me for directions.

8. Despite an advisor, graduate advisors, student representation committees, and your cohort, you are really and truly on your own.

9. “First year doctoral students can expect to feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared resulting in a frequent changing of research topics and feelings of inadequacies when compared to their peers.”

10. .If #9 is true, it’s nice to know I fall within the bell-curve…

I recently fell back in love with fountain pens. We’d been on the outs for a while. My trusty AG Spalding & Bros, my companion for many years, was being petulant and non-communicative. I thought it was me and my left-handedness. We ceased to bond. After many furtive attempts to normalize relations, and one smear campaign too many, I put my Spalding away. I returned to my old-friend Sarasa, color mahogany, intimate yet disposable, and I continued on my merry way for the last 2 years.

But in putting away my fountain pens, I had ceased the letter writing that has seen Sailor and I through this marriage. I ceased writing in my journal. I ceased the diligent note taking that has seen me through school.

Quite frankly, I’ve been a bit lost.

A small shop here in State College carries a very limited supply of writing tools, mostly Lamy pens that the engineers on campus seem to prefer, and the inexpensive but reputation as dependable Retro 1951, of which, I was unfamiliar, but always wanted to try, so I bought a stainless steel model with a .7mm nib. I immediately liked the balance, the heft of this dense pen. I also purchased a 3-pack of Moleskin notebooks with kraft-paper covers for the new school term. Good pens with good inks are only truly appreciated when joined to great paper.

Out of practice, I was holding my hand in an angle that assured everything I would would be smeared. I wasn’t crazy about the ink that came with the pens. Mostly because it was black ink from Private Reserve (a brand I not fond of) and the color black should be relegated to little black dresses and Edward Gorey drawings.

I decided to change the cartridge and found a tin of J. Herbin ink lurking in my desk drawer. I flushed the pen of the black plague and replaced it with the Lierre Sauvage color that Sailor likes to use. Further scrounging awarded me a lone cartridge of Terre de Feu, a particularly Moroccan shade of red I’ve always been mad about, and suddenly, I am pulling out my old Spalding, giving it a thorough cleaning, inserting the cartridge and it is love reborn.

Writing for me has a very tactile quality. As much as I like blogging, without my preferred shade of red, I don’t seem to recognize myself. Recognition is strong sentiment with me when I write or read the works of others. Blogger, Suicide Blond, clearly thinks in pictures and her recent forays that incorporate that element more thoroughly into her posts makes her recent scribblings seem more complete to me.

Memory has always been a hallmark of Girlgriot. She travels back into the recesses of her recollections and you are right back there with her, every step of the way. I always wonder at how she manages to capture that feeling so perfectly.

Twisty Faster at I Blame the Patriarchy can always be counted on for the invention of new words or the re-invention of what you thought was a word and is now your new mantra. I read her posts and those unusual but still perfectly grammatically correct sentences just jump off the freakin page…

Sigh…slightly jealous I am.

But at least I’ve been blogging more recently. That’s a start. Maybe I just need a blog redesign. Again. Maybe I need a redesign. Again. Although I think a blog with a Terre de Feu font color would be simultaneously both awesome and obnoxious to read. If there was just some way to combine my actual writing life with my online writing life, I’d feel more at home.

 

After a raucous holiday season road-tripping across Hell’s Half Acre, fighting with family, and imbibing entirely too much booze, Sailor Man and I decided to enact the old “Booze Free January” to kick off our new year.

So, here I am, booze-free for exactly 31 days now. I’ve tried this little experiment before. Unsuccessfully. Now that the deed is said and done, here’s some observations I noticed during my month of respite from the spirits:

  1. Drinking, in some sense, is second nature. The last time I tried this experiment, I was amazed to find myself no sooner walking in the door after a long day and mindlessly pouring myself a drink before I could consciously ask myself “What the hell am I doing?”
  2. In my attempt to be more conscientious about drinking, I could feel a sense of anxiety welling up inside of me. It honestly took me a few weeks to analyze this sentiment, but it came down to feeling as though I was missing out on something by not having a drink. A sense of loss. It’s weird, but I have no idea where this comes from.
  3. Related to the anxiety and sense of loss is also a feeling of paranoia. Why am I feeling this anxiety? Am I an alcoholic? Why am I thinking about booze so much? Do I want a drink that bad? Do I need a drink that bad?
  4. Of course, after the first week, #2 and #3 went away and was replaced by a feeling of indifference.
  5. Celebrations are the single largest contributor to falling off the wagon. Be it a birthday party, getting into a PhD program, football playoffs or some other event that inspires the need to have a party. Celebrations in general just seem to go hand-in-hand with alcohol and it is darned difficult to separate the two.
  6. In declaring my booze-free status on any sort of social media, I immediately was flooded with emails or comments in the nature of “Why?! Are you okay?!” Which then kicked off a stream of responses in making people understand that, no, I’m not an alcoholic, I just wanted to give booze a break for a spell. Also, I had hoped that by sharing my booze-free mantra for the month, that friends would be more encouraging and less apt to tempt me.
  7. Friends who were aware of my drink-free vow were less inclined to want to get together. I frequently heard “Maybe after your month of abstinence is over…”
  8. Without changing my diet or workout regiment, I have lost 6 pounds. Now, I don’t usually drink that much, maybe one drink 5 nights a week, so the loss of those six pounds is mighty telling. I know that when, on occasion I drink a lot, I also tend to snack unjudiciously, but since that happens so rarely, the 6 pounds is something I’ll have to look in to.
  9. Now that the proverbial bar is now open, I find myself less incline to have a drink. I’m actually considering extending the little experiment. I do have friends coming in town next weekend and belated birthday party to attend, so naturally, there will be a glass or two consumed, but maybe I’ll start a plan to save this for the weekends…

With the resolution now resolved, I am left with a feeling of meh. Maybe some time to digest this past month will reveal some new insights. Maybe I’m over thinking the whole thing. Maybe I should just chill-out and have a drink…

Oh, Vladimir…

Like any proper former lover, I naturally engage in a bit of Facebook stalking…just to see what you’re up to…you know, to keep a weather eye out…

And I must say, lately things were rather tame with you. There was the cute and cuddly thing with the tigers, so presh! Of course, I seem to remember you shooting one of those little darlings in the not so distant past…and I also seem to remember something about a whale…or was it a polar bear?…whatever! Leonardo DiCaprio was at the summit and the magical power of Leo, my dear, smooths over all past sins! (we should all have such mojo…)

Then there was the nasty business extending the prison sentence of a former oligarch you broke parted ways with, and really, while I don’t approve, I find myself once again thrilled over the civility of our own relationship’s demise.

I see you you haven’t fully resolved that horrible business of thugs running amok over there. Interesting choice words, dear heart, “inevitable retribution”…not that I have any problem with the retaliation part, hell’s fury and lover’s scorn, yadda, yadda, but the inevitability of it all…as sure as the rain’s fall and the sun’s setting, one can always be sure of your wrath…maybe you should consider talking to someone about that…

And speaking of scorn, don’t think for a second I didn’t notice you whoring around with that ugly and dreadful Kyrgyzstan! So what if they name a mountain after you?! They don’t know, they don’t care, they don’t appreciate you like I do. And at the end of the day, their heart will always belong to the Ghosts of Leaders Past, whereas, my heart will always belong to you, ‘kay? Glad we have that settled.

And in full disclosure, I did place my bobble-headed replica of you in a place of honor…my desk…so that we can always be close…and so I can keep that weather eye out for you…naughty boy…

love you. call me…

I renamed the blog and I feel its quite appropriate given the how often I utter that phrase. Like when I am asked for directions, asked if I am related to someone local, hell, asked if I am a local, or mistaken for someone, somewhere, sometime, in the general vicinity.

I am new here to State College and my status has an expiration date. I hope it is May 2014. That’s when I would present my dissertation for defense. Whether this will happen, only time will tell. In crazy and weird little increments. As of now, I am a doctoral student. Hopeful by end of the next summer, I will be a doctoral candidate (and no, this is not up for general election). Following, I will propose my thesis, hopefully it will be accepted. All the while, I will have been taking classes. Two years worth. Once classes, candidacy, and proposal are finish, then come the comps! Following competency exams, one becomes an interesting acronym: ABD. All But Dissertation. If you get that done, then you present it for defense, gladiator style! Swords and battle axes for all! Not really, but rules change, one can dream…

So I am one day-ing it at a time.

I have a new living space. It’s like being in Maine with how I am able to walk everywhere, but not like Maine in that I’m in a valley and hundreds of miles from significant water. It’s like Northern Michigan, in that there is elevation, hills and nearby forests, but not, since there’s this massive university here. It’s a lot like Maryland with the asshat frat boys living the neighborhoods prohibiting any sort of restful sleep but not since the police actually show up and do something when you call. It’s little like Erie in that N. Atherton Street is a lot like Peach Street in all its obnoxious retail-awfulness and the wonderful historic homes, but not like Erie in that there is also a cultivated and bustling downtown.

My gym situation is significantly better. I already have developed a status as the new resident freak show with my powerlifting-female-ness. However, I haven’t had harsh words for a single soul in months. If you’ve read this blog over the last few years, you know that I regularly go to war with meatheads. Just because it’s a gym does not grant cause for asshattery. My gym is peaceful and serene. After years of abuse, I am unused to this. I find myself constantly waiting for some proverbial show to drop. So it’s like the Glenwood YMCA with all its shiny new equipment and windows but not like the Glenwood YMCA in its absence of a-holes and an indifferent and untrained staff.

And I developing a new cadre of friends although in most cases, they feel like a reiteration of older, trusty and better versions. For instance, I have a new ALP – Androgynous Life Partner. My ALPs all have similar characteristics: love of bizarre cartoons, crazy pop culture, actual history, real politics, weird music, weirder books, WWII, gaming, and all things that go boom! My old ALP, Fox and Maus back in Maine, is version 1.0. Despite the distance between us, the crazy bonds us for all eternity. My current ALP is actually version 4.0. He’s an improvement over version 3.0. And truth be told, 3.0 is actually 3.5 (after he got a job, a girlfriend, started watching Dancing With the Stars, and became decidedly less interesting). But 3.5 is not as good as 2.0 (who kinda lacked a certain joi de vie) and no one was or nor ever can be as good as The Big 1.0. He remains the Gold Standard for all ALPs. Something in that hard, Maine water with the ridiculously high mineral content…I suspect I am being unfair to all the ALPs that follow, but thems the breaks kids.

Sailor Man is on a boat somewhere. That’s nothing new. I am hoping he has time off soon to come visit me and see where his stuff currently resides. We shall see.

And everyone here blogs! Not fun blogs mind you, but academic blogs. So the local blogging community is present but it’s not as diverse and as lifestyle oriented (or as coordinated) as the Erie blogging community.

I mentioned once while writing about Iceland how I noticed a personal tendency to view a country through the lens of the last country I visited. For example, I visited Ireland prior to Iceland to I tended to observe Iceland through my experiences on the Mother Ship. State College is largely like this for me. I find myself viewing it through the lens of Erie since I spent the last 4 years there.

So I’m here and I’m not. I’m in State College but I’m also in Erie…and Michigan, and Maine, and Maryland…I’m everywhere at once and no where in between….

This is too weird a way to live. I really need to get my State College house in order.

As I am not currently spending any quality time in Erie, PA anymore, I think it best to rename this blog.

I have yet to come up with anything good but the current list of “also-rans” center around central Pennsylvania and my PhD program.

I won’t promise that I will clean up my act. It is highly likely that I remain a spotty and uneven blogger writing about whatever the mice in my brain tell me to.

That being said, I am open to suggestions!

The suitcase is still sitting in the middle of the kitchen in State College, unpacked, contents spewing about. I haven’t bothered to put things way because of a lingering feeling I have that I am supposed to be somewhere else.

Which isn’t surprising, really. In the last two months I have been shuttling back and forth between Erie and Penn State, with visits to Ireland, New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Washington DC, and North Carolina in between.

Conferences, obligations and any opportunity I have to see Sailor have turned my life into a revolving door of airports, shuttles, hotel rooms and this crappy little suitcase that is falling apart at the seams. I haven’t the time to find a proper new bag to carry my stuff so I have proudly resorted to duct tape.

I think there’s an honor in duct tape as a means of repair, something akin to scars. Scars that show you’ve experienced something and have lived to tell a tale. When I arrived in Erie four years ago, I was peaking on a wave of self-destruction. I’ve spent that time piecing back together pieces of myself I forgot existed.

So now I’m in State College working on a PhD. I have this crappy little suitcase securely bound, full of my daily essentials, staring me down every time I walk in the door. What does this say? That I haven’t yet settled in? That I don’t see myself here? That the Little Hater in my head doesn’t think I can do this? Or does it remind me to pack light and stop trying to take this all so seriously?

I’m proud of this crappy suitcase. I’ve had it forever and it has become dear to me. However, each application of duct tape becomes a hindrance to the bag’s functionality. As much as I love it, I am thinking it is time to unpack and let this one go.

Freshly Skinned Bunnies! Good Eatins!

This was the sign I saw outside of Strattanville, PA as I drove to State College to settle myself in for school…and a new life…again. I took Hwy 322 out of Meadville and meandered my way down because I felt like taking a road less traveled, and damn, if that sign didn’t exemplify that sentiment.

I expect no small amount of weirdness out of central PA: the barn advertising tobacco chew; the beautiful, charming, historic town where I heard no less than 3 racial slurs while grabbing a cup of coffee; or the area just north of here called “Snowshoe” which is oddly enough the name of Samoyed dog my parents rescued when I was 10.

I take it all in. Slightly amused, a little annoyed, and completely mystified as to what I have gotten myself into. And by into, I mean the 600 sqft apartment I find all Sailor’s and my stuff crammed into. I haven’t lived in an apartment in 20 years. The neighbor above wears stilettos. The hallway is a weird amalgamation of smells from the cooking by the various ethnicities of its occupants.I have to swipe a card key to get into the building and use a real key on the apartment door. I haven’t lived with a locked door in the same amount of time since I last lived in an apartment.

A cozy little downtown with nearly everything one needs is within comfortable walking distance. The football stadium, thankfully, is on the exact opposite side of campus. Apparently beer pong begins on the front porches promptly at 5pm. College kids shuffle along in their chewed up flip-flops which they manage to walk on despite half the foot not even remotely touching the foam bed. And everywhere here: rabbits, squirrels, and rabid ducks! There’s no lakes, no ponds, no river that I have seen, so where the hell do these vicious little water fowl come from?

I’m keeping to myself here. I have a bike and walking trail just outside my door. Within 50 yards I can be outside of campus proper and spend an hour or two bouncing around like I am in a pinball machine which my current view of living on the valley. Too much outside of town is farmland where people, quite literally, are only functionally literate and those freshly skinned bunnies are being served for supper.

Sailor is in Chicago this weekend. He wants me to escape and come visit. As much as I would love to, I have meetings with my advisor, another meeting with a professor whose research I am interested in, and no less than 400 pages of journal articles to read before classes next week. In the valley I shall stay.

Stranger in a strange land. Visitor from another planet. As I type this, I’m looking out my window and on the lawn is a full upright rabbit staring me down.