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Visited the sister and her family in DC last week. Thought I could stick it out on campus and get ahead of the work load for once, but a few days in, I found myself seeking the last one-way rental car out town, braving the public bus to Bellefonte, and getting the hellllll out of here.

It’s strange that I can go to my sister’s and mindlessly play, watch Sponge Bob, and wrestle with the dog for hours on end, but am completely unable to do so in my own apartment. Most of the week was spent on Molly, or Hurricane Molly as we often call her, at six-years-old she is teaching herself to read and driving her mother crazy.

Of course that craziness was transferred to me before I could even get in a morning cup of coffee. Molly is there, in front of the coffee pot, demanding to show me the latest book she learned to navigate. The afternoon consisted of at least a half hour of Molly insisting on flipping through flash-cards and getting mad at me when she could not sound out certain words correctly. She yelled at me that I was “changing the rules” because she could not figure out when to use a hard or soft “th” sound. I realized for the first time how damn hard it must be for foreigners to learn English.

Every night with Molly was a negotiation of how many books I would read in accordance to how long I could get her to brush her teeth. I’m not her mother, I’m not opposed to bribes. We settled on a short book that she would read and two longer books that I would read. Normally Dr. Seuss, she thinks it’s hilarious the way I fly through the books (she doesn’t realize I have them mostly memorized).

We’re all pretty clueless where Molly has gotten this drive to read. She ferocious about it, really. She is quick to learn and beats herself up over her mistakes. This is odd for a kindergartener whose own class is just learning their ABCs.

My sister is trying to reel her in and I’m ambivalent about the process. We’re first generation Americans. Our grandfather lived during a time in Ireland when the idea of just a proper education, forget a higher one, was a pipe dream for many. My great-grandfather, after the laws changed allowed advanced degrees for the Irish, went on to write a mathematical textbook and a history of Ireland, his brother translated Alice in Wonderland into Gaelic and was published (previously against the law in the country), and my grandfather became an engineer. All spoke more than 9 languages between them.

Education was a treasure, an honor, a gift, and a duty if you had the least bit of access to it. I’m loathed to read school work over spring break, but my niece is determined to read anything she can get her hands on, including the National Geographic where she only picked out a few words. A hundred years ago, a flash in the pan of time really, was a whole other world for the Irish, one of neglect, denial, and state mandated ignorance. So I suppose if Molly wants to read the contents of the known universe, we should let her be, and be thankful for it. She certainly comes by it honestly.

My mother always said “You gotta get them on the rug before you can pull it out from under them”. And never have truer words been spoken. Until that is, you are the one on the rug and The Powers That Be decide said rug should operate like a roller-coaster.

The Powers That Be, forthwith to be referenced as “TPTB” are starting to piss me off.

Let me clarify: TPTB are the are college elders who decide your provisional fate in the doctoral program. In the best case scenario, they guide, they advise, they extol academic wisdom and virtue; in the worst case scenario, and that’s exactly what I am talking about here, they fuck with your very existence.

In the last 4 months, the TPTB has decided:

  • That the “roadmap” or document stating “things you can expect from u while you are here” (a basic agreement issued to any student in higher education) is null and void
  • I now have an extra class to take
  • I also have an internal realignment where I will now take up to 4 methodology courses
  • Where in the past, if you fail candidacy, you can do a maters thesis and based on its success/failure, you can/cannot continue on to a doctorate, now, if you fail candidacy, you risk being tossed out wholesale
  • The document I signed that guaranteed 4 years of funding is null and void
  • That candidacy, which is supposed to occur in the fall, is now, after securing internships and other travel/moving arrangements, occurs in the summer

TPTB, in short, have decided to become a bunch of bastards. TPTB, additionally, have made it pretty clear that I cannot trust them in any way, shape, or form. Which sucks rocks when you’ve hitched your wagon to them for 4 years.

Not that all the changes are bad, these are tough times, I understand the funding crisis, and another class won’t kill… But when we signed, what essentially is binding agreement, and TPTB has reneged on half of it within a 4 month period, I have to wonder what the bloody hell I have gotten myself into.

Seriously, this is beyond the Pale.

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’m coming up on final exams, going out of my mind trying to keep up with the workload and all the while saying to myself: Just two more weeks. Just two more weeks.

And as crazy as it sounds, even though being around a bunch 20 years olds all day is not my idea of a good time, I am going to be applying to PhD programs in the fall.

The logic for this is simple: I enjoy my field of study, there’s few of us out here who do it at a collegiate level, and probably most important: at my age, if I don’t do it now, while I’m in “school mode” I won’t do it. Ever.

This is a pretty recent decision on my part, and recently, I have begun sharing my decision with others.  My father responded with the question “What do you not like about real work that you have to hide in school?”

A close friend responded: “Dude, when are you going to get back out in the real world?”

Another friend: “Who needs that much education in their head? You’re obnoxious enough as it is.”

I’m a little thrown by the reactions I have been receiving. Since when did becoming highly-educated become the mental equivalent of being a slacker? How does trying to become an expert in a field automatically equate to one being a boor? Okay, I’ll grant the obnoxious part, but only out of my friend’s jealously of not being able to beat me at Trivial Pursuit.

More importantly: What the hell is it that Americans have against education anyway? We elected a President 8 years ago on the qualification of his beer-buddiness and looked how that turned out. Said same president appointed a director of FEMA whose greatest qualification was being president of an Arabian Horse association, and on that note, may I remind you of a little event called Hurricane Katrina?

And what about college does not reflect the real world? I have conflicting personalities I have to navigate at all times. I work my ass off 60 hours a week reading, writing, and producing projects that are used outside academia. And I still have to prove I’m as capable as a man, if not more. I’m not some 24 year old who decided they didn’t like getting up and going to work at 8 am. I put in 15 years of professional experience and decided I better make change in my life before I died of an ulcer because I hated my job that much. I don’t study in some Ivory Tower. I work in a grubby, dirty, sticky lab with bad flourescent lighting and inconsiderate labmates. I rarely see my husband, I see less of my dog, and I have no life. Sounds like effin work to me.

And to father I respond: Are you freakin kidding me? I do believe you have a 30 year old sibbling of mine living in your basement, who has been down there since his teens by the way, and who is one step away from joining a Star Trek convention.

And to my friend I respond: read a newspaper once in a while, or better yet, a book. That, or stop challenging me at trivia. Some people know cars, other people know geography, I know tons of random and ridiculous facts of useless information. Sue me. My winning the game does not make me obnoxious. Obnoxious would be me calling you a drooling idiot because you didn’t know who wrote The Carpetbaggers. Which was Harold Robbins, but that’s not the point.

So enough bitching. I have to get back to work here. I have a paper due.

It’s appropriate that the Sea of Tranquility is located on the Moon: within site but forever out of reach…like Michaelangelo trying to touch fingers with the Old Man “Dammit! Stretch! Reach!

Life in general feels like that right now. In exactly 20 days I have 12 papers, 3 presentations and 3 final exams coming home to roost. You know, if it weren’t for all the damn busy work these professors load on me to justify their existence and make it appear like they’re doing something, I might actually learn something.

I’m screwing around tonight. I should be outlining a paper or four, performing analysis or some such crap, but I’m on strike, for the next 12 hours anyway. I ordered pizza, I’m drinking wine (I make it a rule not to drink the last month of term), and I just discovered my next Future-Mr-Inmate-If-I-Wasn’t-Happily-Married-Husband-Man in the form of Nathan Fillion in a crazy little show called Castle. And dammit, where has that been all my life?

Tomorrow it’s back to work. Crazy like a fox. Nose to the proverbial grindstone. The next couple weeks are going to be the most hellish I have seen yet. But it will pass, hopefully my GPA doesn’t take too hard a hit, and then I’ll settle back into my summer time bubble and try to enjoy a little down time.

For the next 12 hours I’m just trying to remember how to float. And breathe.

So finals are over and I’m sitting here a little numb. Crazy amounts of information is still pin-balling around inside my noggin. I’m now in a place where I find myself mentally performing the post-mortem of the term.

The strange thing for most adult students I know is that we all tend to go overboard in the amount of work we put towards school. And at the end of every term, we all promise ourselves not to be so crazy about things next time. Not to take it all so damn seriously.

Yeah, right. Even I don’t believe that one.

redbrstRegardless, the brain will calm down. Eventually. A healthy pour (or two) of Red Breast 12 year whiskey that fantastic human being gave me to celebrate the end of term will certainly rectify that situation. As will sleeping in, reading a trashy book that is NOT about Azerbaijan or anything relative to the Caucasus region, seeing some films at the dollar show, and waiting, patiently, for Sailor Man to come home next week.

The dog is getting a bath, the house is getting a good scrubbing, laundry will be done, and grocery shopping will commence. In a word, life will go back to relative normal.

And it all starts right now as I file all my papers from the term and sit and stare at the wall for awhile.

Hell, yeah.

images1It’s final exam time and per usual, I am appalled at what I find myself consuming after 12 hours in the lab.

All those healthy habits you pick up as an adult after college? Out the window!

With limited facilities at my end of campus and only a drug store and a fast food chain within a reasonable walking distance, I’ve been having odd negotiations and rationalizations with myself in front of the vending machines after having been in front a computer for 8 hours straight…

Payday or Snickers bar? Payday has peanuts and peanuts have protein, but then, maybe, Cheezits? Less sugar? But more salt. How long has that gronala bar been in this machine? What the hell are Soy Flakes? Hmmmm….

And so it goes. I don’t drink soda, but exhaustion at this time of term has me guzzling Dr. Pepper like it was the 1970’s. Caffeine induced paranoid delusions inevitably follow with the obligatory sugar crash. But I use the time I have productively in a frenzied wave of energy. A lot gets accomplished.

I try to bring food from home to the lab, but I haven’t been to the store in weeks. No time. Too many papers, projects, tests, and study sessions. Just as well, we have no refrigerator or microwave available.

And don’t get me started about the pooch. She’s always pissy this time of term. She barricades the front door by moving the couch in front of it. More than once has her dog bed ended up in the bathroom and chairs have been drug into the kitchen. There’s nothing more stressful than a crabby mastif.

Not that I blame her. But she doesn’t listen to reason. I followed her around the house last night begging for just 2 more days  of patience and then everything will get back to normal.

She doesn’t believe though.

Sometimes, neither do I.

My late, womanizing, family leaving, chain smoking Uncle Don somehow was awarded the job of classifying me and my siblings with nicknames. Like a fungi or a plant or an animal, my uncle, who upon first meeting me or my sibs when ever he happened to blow into town, named us to a Kingdom, Phylum and Sub-phylum with the clever use of a single word or phrase. And then he blew right back out of our lives. Why my parents ever took moniker advice from a man who littered fatherless children across the US like Johnny Appleseed confounds me to this day.

But bygones being what they are, the nickname I acquired at the ripe old age of 4 was “Broad”. Of the Kingdom “Mouthy Dame”, Phylum “Feminist in Training”, Sub-phylum “Skirts Who Grow Up to Be a Problem”. Considering what my other sibs are called, I think I got off rather easy. But it gives you an idea how far back my trouble making ways date themselves.

I can honestly say that that nickname has somehow defined my life. It gave me an odd sort of guidance. It provided me with a very distinct center early on about what kind of girl I was and what kind of woman I could expect to be. The fact that I was discovered, tagged and released by my misogynistic uncle truly goes to show how much a bitch fate can sometimes be, and it also gives a queer sort of validation to it all.

So as a Mouthy Dame, I find I’ve only ever been drawn to my own kind. I have little tolerance for other women and their obsession with window dressings, chick movies, and all things girly. After moving, yet again, for what? The 12th time in the last decade? I came across a small treasure from my early teens. My “Broad Box”.

In this box are articles, pictures, notes, trinkets and other paraphernalia about strong women who inspired me as a young girl. And as I go through this memorabilia during Women’s History Month (yes, it coincides with Black History Month), I am shocked and pleased that these women still hold a strong influence over the woman I am today. They are as follows:

Dorothy Parker, writer, wit

Katherine Hepburn, actress

Mae West, actress,

Heddy Lamar, inventor (and also a famous actress)

Nina Simone, singer, songwriter, woman extraordinaire

Janis Joplin, singer

Eleanor Roosevelt, human being extraordinaire

Margaret Sanger, nurse, activist, founder of Planned Parenthood

Jeanette Rankin, politician (first woman elected to congress and worthy of note for having voted against US entry into WWI and WWII)

Babe Didrikson, athlete extraordinaire

The Yale Women’s Crew Team of 1976

It’s a small list to be sure, but I was only 13 at the time. I am happy to say that if I were to re-do that box now, it would be the size of a cargo container with all that I learned about women’s history and their contributions to the world at large.

What really pisses me off though, is that after all these years, that kind of knowledge about women in history is still something you have to seek out on your own time and at your own inclination. I learned nothing about any of the women on that list, or the women who would be on my list today, in school. While I received a first-rate education growing up, by the looks of it, you’d never would have guessed that women accomplished anything in the entire history of the world they way they present these things in the educational system.

My sister has a daughter in the fifth grade. I asked her to look through her daughter’s social science book and point out how many women are specifically studied. The answer? Five. And the men? Seventy-two. Yup, you’re not reading this wrong, women merit a big whopping 5.

So I ask: How is it that women, who make up half the population of this planet, still miraculously don’t make up half the written history? How do we as women justify telling our daughters they can accomplish anything when we barely provide them with any written evidence of such? How do we call ourselves educated women when we only receive half the story?

A 13 year old girl has been suspended for hugging a friend.

Right, because it’s so much better when the kids are shooting each other.

I’m thinking I’ll be chalking this one up as another reason not to have kids. This world is messed up.

People all over the country are flipping out that a Maine school is offering birth control to students in an effort stop a pregnancy epidemic.

While I can understand (a little) that some people are aghast to think that a school would side-step parental control in this manner, please keep a few things in mind when discussing this issue:

1. Not all parents are present. They work, they drink, they do drugs, they leave town, whatever, they’re not around and they have no idea what the hell their kids are doing and with whom they are doing it with.

2. Not all parents are loving. An 11 year old so sexualized that they are having intercourse at that age tells me they are severely deprived of emotional and physical affection at home. That, or they’re being taken advantage of in which case refer back to point #1. 

3. Not all parents participate in the education of their children, scholastically or sexually. Sure, hold the teachers and administrators of the school responsible for your child when they fail a course, but do you hold them responsible when your kid comes home knocked up? Is the parent making sure that homework is being done every night? Is the parent making sure their child has all the very necessary information regarding sex education being made available to their child?

I lived in Portland, Maine, I know  this school. I know  the neighborhood this school is in. Put aside the act of the school board for a moment and consider the events this school witnesses every day in the lives of these children.

Common sense ought to tell that us if you insist on having children and also insist on not raising them, then you shouldn’t be surprised when someone steps in and does it for you.