31 May 2009

Remember this story?

Four and a half months after inauguration day, Minnesota still doesn't have two working senators. Norm Coleman has decided to single-handedly decide for all Minnesotans that they shall not have full representation in the Senate by pursuing a legally indefensible and morally outrageous battle to prevent the secretary of state from issuing a certificate of election for the Republican governor's signature to seat Al Franken. Whew! That was a mouthful! The people of Minnesota aren't happy.

Why?, you ask. Consider what Franken represents: a filibuster-proof Congress.
Greg Sargent reports that Dirk Van Dongen, who heads up the "Team Coleman" group of lobbyists raising money for Norm, said that the group is having some trouble getting more and more money as the donors max out. Van Dongen insists, of course, that the real purpose of this effort is to get Norm Coleman in the Senate.

Van Dongen, however, said Coleman fundraisers would press on because of the danger of letting Al Franken put Dems within a filibuster-proof 60 Senate votes. “There’s a strategic dimension to this — the importance of keeping the seat in Republican hands,” he said. “There are people who are providing support to Norm who have never met the man for that reason alone.”

The NRSC has just plowed another $750,000 into Coleman’s recount effort, raising questions about whether GOP donors are funding an effort they know is doomed merely to keep the seat empty as long as possible.

Asked about this, Van Dongen said the goal was to put Coleman in the seat, but added: “Is it better empty than in Franken’s hands? Hell, yeah.”
The DNC isn't taking this lying down apparently, which has written a prescient note to the fair governor of Minnesota.
Dear Governor Pawlenty:

It has now been six months since Minnesota voters went to the polls to cast their ballots in a hard fought election for the United States Senate. No one will deny that the race was incredibly close - but after an official recount, an extensive legal process and a clear and definitive ruling by the three judge panel, it is all but indisputable that Democrat Al Franken won and will be the next Senator from Minnesota.

The voters of Minnesota elected Al Franken, and during every step in the legal process that judgment has been confirmed. By continuing to fight this losing battle - despite the fact that two-thirds of Minnesotans believe its time for him to concede - Norm Coleman is putting his own political ambition ahead of the voters choice and Minnesotas right to full representation in the Senate.

Last month, there was another hard fought race in New Yorks 20th Congressional district. But once Republican Jim Tedisco realized the numbers were not going his way, he appropriately conceded. He congratulated his opponent Scott Murphy and moved on. Now that the outcome of the election in Minnesota is abundantly clear: its time for Norm Coleman to follow Jim Tediscos example. I urge you to use your influence to bring this process to an end by asking Norm Coleman to allow his neighbors and yours, their full representation in Congress.

However, if Mr. Coleman refuses to concede and this case is heard and decided by the Minnesota State Supreme Court, I urge you to commit to signing an election certificate for the rightful winner as soon as the Court issues a ruling in this case. To allow this to process to continue into the federal courts for no other reason than to deny for as long as possible the seating of another Democratic Senator would make what has been a bad situation for Minnesotans even worse. I urge you to do everything within your power and influence to bring this process to an end.

Sincerely,

Tim Kaine
Chairman Democratic National Committee
As Kleefeld points out in this article, there will be political fallout (as if there isn't going to be already) for continuing to delay the seating of a rightfully elected and certified Senator to the United States Congress. My question is: Why isn't the Democratic party suing the Coleman group for that very thing. They have admitted to be acting for the sole purpose of denying a rightfully elected public servant his seat. There are times when intent is everything. This is one of 'em.

The Wall Street Journal is apparently fanning the flames of passion among the Republican base in its editorial prosletizing (versus, you know, real reporting) of the facts on the election and recount. FiveThirtyEight.com has done a great job of detailing why Coleman's legal boat is full of holes and why this is all not going to go well for Gov. Pawlenty. But first and foremost, they have done a superb analysis (actually a series) of why Coleman is pursuing a legal approach at all (long story short, Coleman doesn't have a bat's chance in hell of winning a second recount--his hopes should be pinned on a do-over).

The trial before the Minnesota Supremes begins tomorrow. For a more in-depth analysis of the Coleman Camp arguments, go here. Oh, and in case you were worried that the MSC had the final word, Coleman has threatened to take this all the way to the SCOTUS. I'm sure the people of Minnesota are thrilled.

29 May 2009

Crack for 40 Year Olds


OMG.

It's tasty like whoa.

Key Lime.

Bars.

I have found my new favorite summertime dessert. Trust me, this is a whole lot easier than the Lime Chiffon Cake that takes about 4 hours to prepare from scratch. Homemade smoemade. This took a grand total of half an hour with 26 minutes of that in the oven.

So is 4 bars in one sitting too much for dessert?

Not that I did. I'm just asking.

Racism--It's not just for black people anymore

It's multiple choice.

"Fat, Nigger-Loving Whore"

1. What the asshole screamed at me at the stop sign in my town today.
2. What the racist asshole screamed at me at the stop sign in my town today.
3. What the low-life, mother-fucking, scum-sucking, bottom dweller screamed at me at the stop sign in my town today with the same mouth he kisses his babies with.
4. Proof that we are in post-racial America.
5. Irrefutable evidence that I need to graduate and GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS BACKWATER HELL HOLE.





I am still trying to figure out if it was the Eracism sticker or the Obama-Biden sticker that made him sling epithets at me out his car window. Damn fool.

So if you are driving through my town and see a bucktooth hillbilly driving a gold Saturn, you might want to roll up your windows, just in case.

Speaking of D-constructing D

Therapy is not for sissies. Well, I guess you could go to a therapist and complete ignore your problem or the "hard truths" that come with self-examination, but it would be a waste of money and I would hazard that it would border on malpractice on the part of your psychologist.

In any event, I go to therapy and talk for a bit and then listen to a man tell me about myself. He tells me things about myself I already know and am happy about, things I already know and I'm not happy about, things I ought to know but don't, and things I hadn't a clue of. And yes, sometimes it's hard when someone tells you what your friends won't. I realize that we all have bad behaviors, but when isn't it hard to listen to someone tell you yours? But, I listen carefully when Bill talks because I know he isn't interested in embarassing me or shaming me into behaving differently--he simply wants to give me the tools I need to get what I want out of life.

Today he did a lot of talking.

Psychologist Bill is pretty good. He doesn't let me control the session. We don't waste time. I'm comfortable opening up about my life (at least this situation, anyway). I am confident he will not take advantage of my weaknesses. I feel pretty good about the rapport. He seems to have crafted a program designed to capitalize on my strengths. I like to do things. He gives me things to do. I feel like an active participant in my therapy.

Last week, my assignment was to describe the problem I was having with my advisor, to articulate why it was a problem for me, and to establish end goals by which I would consider the problem resolved. What was missing from this assignment was the hard part...the actual "how to" of resolving it. The act of remembering these interactions and crafting a narrative about them had two effects. Foremost, it made me angry to think about the interactions again (I realize that I detest being the object of injustice--I just get incensed), but it also made me anxious to think about the problem and STILL have no idea how to get from Point A (the unprovoked attacks on my character) to Point B (making the attacks stop). The thinking about it, dwelling on it, and having it still be unresolved caused me to become anxious. When I feel anxious, I engage in repetitive behaviors to calm myself. In this case, I rewrote and recrafted the written assignment in an 8-hour marathon in which I didn't move from the couch. It lasted until 5 am when I finally emailed the assignment to Bill to render further revisions pointless. The fact that my repetitive behaviors have absolutely no direct bearing to the problem doesn't seem to matter. As Bill told me when I sought some relief for a particularly acute attack of the OCs in the past (that's obsessive-compulsives for you newbies), "if you could make yourself stop by telling yourself the behavior was pointless, you would have stopped already." It's not that I don't recognize the OC behavior, it's that I can't seem to stop engaging in it. And when it is really bad, I have to make deals with myself that I won't let it interfere with major life activities. I'll tell myself that I can spend 4 hours writing a 2-paragraph email, but I have to quit at 2 and go to class. And if I didn't make these deals, sleep, work, friends, and dogs would all have to wait until my anxiety was fully pacified. I guess it's better than kicking the dog. I'm really not doing much more harm than wasting my time.

Bill seems intent on making my get in touch with my feelings. Sometimes I think I've never been properly introduced to my feelings. Bill claims I start every sentence with "I think...." =] In any event, today we had a discussion about identifying feelings. Bill says that anxiety iand anger are responses to fear. So that me, being both angry and anxious, must be experiencing fear. I maintain that anger and anxiety are a response to frustration. There is quite a bit of distance between fear and frustration I think. Either that or Bill and I have quite different ideas about fear. I am not afraid to tackle this problem. I am not prevented from acting by fear of my advisor or the consequences. I am angry because I am frustrated that I have to tackle this problem at all. Because in reality, I'm not the problem. And I think I am anxious because this is a tricky problem and it demands skills that aren't very well practiced in me: patience, calmness, and political awareness.

In other words, I'm not crippled by a fear of the interaction. I am anxious because there is another person in this who can respond to my approach by crying, becoming angry, becoming belligerent, and possibly making my life more of a living hell. I am anxious because I find myself having to tell a person lacking in self-esteem that they are behaving like a major league butthead. It wasn't obvious to me, but seems obvious to others that my advisor is somewhat intimidated by me. I mean seriously, I didn't see it. But if that is true, how much worse is it going to be to have the person who intimidates you force you to deal with your bad behavior?

Sheesh.

But I will address it. And I think after today and talking with Bill, I might just be able to handle it well. I have to remain calm. I have to remain calm no matter how off topic she goes, no matter how she tries to poo-poo it, no matter how much she yells or tries to deflect this back on me. The thing that I'm actually afraid of here is that she won't change and I'll have to tolerate this behavior until I finish. Or that our relationship will be strained because of it. Or that it will escalate because I dared to call her on it. Because any of those scenarios would truly make my remaining time here unpleasant.

27 May 2009

The International Nature of Graduate School

One of the things that I have always admired about academia is that it tends to be tremendously diverse. I can scarcely think of a single graduate program that isn't populated by an international cast. Except maybe mine. Oh, we are international, not terribly racially diverse, and somehow we have failed to integrate.

Our faculty is young. Since I came in 2003, we have hired 6 new faculty members. Every hire was to replace an retiring white botanist or ecologist. Aging, white, male botanist or ecologist. All but one of the new hires were straight out of college. Four women. Two men. All white. Despite the strides the department has made in bringing gender equity to the faculty, they have failed miserably to post any gains in racial diversity. All the faculty in our department are white. All are Americans save one Asian. Seven men. Four women. One male and one female emeritus faculty.

The graduate students are far more diverse. We have students from Korea, China, Senegal, Nepal, and Colombia. In the recent past, we had students from Panama, India, Argentina, and Ghana. I've met people from California, Utah, Tennessee, but mostly from the Midwest. We have one Hispanic American. Here's the thing. With one notable exception, all the international students hang with other international students. They may or may not be from the same country, but it appears that their common bond of being foreigners binds them greater than any desire to integrate. We have an extremely active international student union, so successful, in fact, that I feel I miss out on the potential that a diverse cohort offers.

There is a Chinese man in our department. His English is so good that at first, I thought he was Asian American. It floored me to learn that he only learned English 5 years before I met him. It totally caught me off guard when he spoke of how he hated being touched. He particularly hates having his head touched. Americans are rather touchy. When we sit around bitching about things that have happened to us, he invariable includes a story about someone touching him unexpectedly. A salesperson in a store. A graduate student who teasingly tussles his hair. He finds it terribly offensive. Just a little cultural difference that I have come to accept even if I don't understand it. The Chinese student is the only student I know that regularly invites the Americans to his house for parties. The rest of the international students only hang out with other international students.

I find that quite sad. Now, I've accepted that some of the straight-out-of-undergrad grad students (the very early 20-somethings) really don't want to hang out with me. I accept that. I hang with D-friend Bek and somewhat with D-friends Liv and Melissa. I understand the 2-year cycle and realize that students are going to cycle in and out and some cohorts are tighter than others. But I find other cultures incredibly interesting and I ask our international students a lot about their culture and their homes. People usually like to talk about themselves, especially the South Americans.

But I am sorry to say that the students I am most curious about are those from Africa. Several countries in Africa are on my bucket list. I would LOVE to talk to these students about their cultures and their homes. But more than any other students, the African students flat out will not socialize with the rest of us. They don't generally eat lunch with us. They don't go to the international parties. And I have wondered for some time whether this sort of elective segregation is part of their culture. I just don't know and it appears I won't find out.

26 May 2009

Houston, we have a problem.


Aphids.

I think these speak for themselves.



Can you say malathion?














Oh, and those damn ants are tending the aphids.

25 May 2009

In America's new Obama-forward, post racial world bluebirds follow me around all day

Recently, I decided to take my frozen food on vacation. Ok, there was the little matter of an inland hurricane and my determination not to lose hundreds of dollars worth of steaks, vension, and chicken in my freezer, but regardless of the circumstances, I recently visited D-bro Don in suburban Chicago.

I'm just going to lay it on the line. D-bro is racist. In fact, both D-bros are racist. Why they are racist is a mystery to my sister, mother, and I. My parents did not raise us to hate. It wasn't like my brothers had negative interactions with black people. My grandfathers used to use ethnic slurs, but mostly while watching basketball games on television. I don't recall there being any sort of hateful indoctrination or even overt racism anywhere in my childhood. I mean, who knows, maybe my grandfathers were conducting a covert program of race-hate for my brothers while they spent time together in the garage.

Our community was extraordinarily white. The closest we came to a minority in our grade school was a dark-complected kid who may or may not have been Hispanic or Native American. One African American family attended our church (Episcopalian), and I actually had something of a crush on the boy in that family. I was in grade school and he was in high school. His name was Kevin. Oh, first love. Deep sigh. But I digress. We grew up in a world free of racial strife. Our first interaction with other black students was in junior high school, and by then the politics of adolescence dictated who you hung with (people from your hood), and interracial dating was still strictly taboo. The lunchroom was wicked crowded and I don't remember ever noticing who ate with whom. I ate with kids from my all-white grade school. But the summer between sixths and seventh grade, a black family moved in the house two doors down and all hell broke loose.

The Whiteheads were your standard black middle class family. They had moved from Cincinnati with the major employer in town. Their children were the first people of color to attend the neighborhood grade school. The first ones EVER. In fact, they may have been the first black people to step foot in that building. Even the janitors and lunchroom ladies were white. Neither of their kids was in my class, so I have no idea how they got on. I imagine it was pretty damn tough to be plunked down from Cincy into lily-white backweeds Kentucky and stay above water. And the parents in our neighborhood practically had a fucking coronary. The kids seemed far less distraught. I tried to make them feel welcome--like I would have done for any other new kid. To this day I don't know why, but Paula (the girl closest in age to me) refused to interact with us. For all I know, some parent may have threatened her to stay away from their kids. Her younger brother was like an overgrown puppy dog who just wanted to follow the action around, but as he entered junior high school I think the fact that some parents didn't want a black boy in their house probably limited how close he could get to kids in the neighborhood. Eventually, he gave up as well. Probably with some relief for Paula and Chucky, our junior high school included the "black neighborhood" and was integrated.

Then, when we were all in high school, a curious thing happened. I noticed that Paula had black girlfriends over to her house. They were always from out of town. Her old neighborhood chums? Cousins? I have no idea. But I remember sitting outside with the gang on the block and staring at the Whitehead's place and wondering what the hell Paula did in there all day. Staying inside all summer would have been like imprisonment to me. I wondered why she never wanted our friendship. I supposed that she didn't feel included and didn't want to try. And I remember feeling like a failure because she didn't. I always felt is was OUR neighborhood and that included Paula and Chucky.

But my brothers were a bit older than me and they were too old to hang on the block by the time the Whiteheads moved in. Boys their age were more concerned about getting drafted into Vietnam. I sure don't remember there being any racial issues in our high school in the 70s. My brothers never had a black friend that I knew of, but I never knew either of them to spout racist rhetoric either.

But when I went to visit D-bro last, he slung racial epithets as easily as saying "good morning". It is clear that this is a comfortable part of his vernacular. I started a conversation with, "You know what I don't understand...." and he interjected, "why there are so many niggers in Chicago?" It was clear to me that saying something like this among his friends is considered high humor. I was also clear to me that he realized he had fucked up before it even finished coming out of his mouth. I gave him one of those "you have to be fucking kidding me" looks and we moved on, this time with a little bit more of a check on his language. I can hardly lecture a man on how to think in his own home. But having kicked him out of my house (when we were both in the Chicago area) for using such language in MY house, he is very clear on where I stand on the issue.

I have written before about how my brother and I disagree on social programs and politics. I have also written recently about how he does seem to have an open mind. So this racial bias perplexes me. Granted, he hangs around with lesser educated, country music lovin', gun totin' bubbas, but I grew up surrounded by them, and I'm not racist. Neither is my sister. Or my mother. I am looking forward to the day when he turns to me and asks me that relevant question about race and I can finally answer him. And I have decided if and when he does, I'm going to ask a question back. I'm going to ask him why, what possible justification could he have for discriminating against someone based on skin color?

I desperately want to help my brother on the road to getting the hell over himself. But like all people with screwed up thinking, they have to be ready for the message. When he's ready, I will be, too.

24 May 2009

Empathy doesn't always increase with age

I had this intuitive sense that people become more empathetic as they get older. Apparently, that was just wishful thinking on my part.

Consider this guy, who at 66 pushes a potential suicide off a bridge because he is fed up with blocked traffic.

BEIJING — Chen Fuchao, a man heavily in debt, had been contemplating suicide on a bridge in southern China for hours when a passer-by came up, shook his hand _ and pushed him off the ledge.

Chen fell 26 feet (8 meters) onto a partially inflated emergency air cushion laid out by authorities and survived, suffering spine and elbow injuries, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.

The passer-by, 66-year-old Lai Jiansheng, had been fed up with what he called Chen's "selfish activity," Xinhua said. Traffic around the Haizhu bridge in the city of Guangzhou had been backed up for five hours and police had cordoned off the area.

"I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish. Their action violates a lot of public interest," Lai was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities' attention to their appeals."

Holy shit.

I guess it is only me who find myself much more tolerant of alternative opinions, human frailty, and personal foibles as I get older. Maybe it's because I would hope that others are more tolerant of mine.

Therapy is not always theraputic

So I have begun seeing a counselor again. Same fellow as last time, completely different issue. Nice guy, my therapist Bill. The thing I like about him is that he is straightforward, doesn't let me dump all of this on someone else's doorstep, and gives me discrete things to think about or do that move me toward solving the problem. I quit going last time when our conversations just began to devolve into me just rambling. Just talking isn't my idea of taking an active role in moving forward. In any event, I'm back in trying to deal with issues of trust and betrayal in a professional relationship.

My first assignment was to write out a description of a couple of interactions with my advisor that I found objectionable, and to detail what happened and why I felt it was a problem. I then outlined specific results I'd like to see, how I wanted to feel about me after the dealing with it part was all over, and to identify any potential conflicts to achieving those objectives.

What I see missing from this puzzle is the "how to deal with it part". In large part, the anxiety over the situation arises from knowing that if I don't do something about it, it is likely to continue and to escalate. Obviously, in a situation that I already feel as gone way the fuck over the line, escalation is not an option. The thing that pisses me off is that despite having done nothing that I can recall to deserve becoming my advisor's punching bag, I have to put my neck on the chopping block by daring to call her on it. My experience with her and with most people is that when you approach them with a serious problem with their behavior, they seldom take the news well.

Ain't it grand to be me?

In any event, writing out my objections and having to articulate why, specifically, these interactions are problemmatic, and what I feel should be done to make it right only served to inflame my passions about these events all over again. This inflammation does not just subside because the assignment is over, but has caused me to have to re-write and re-read the homework sheets again and again. Finally, at 4:53 am this morning, I emailed them to my therapist hoping that this would make further revisons pointless. I was able to get about 5 hours of sleep. I am trying to find my good karma again.

23 May 2009

Five reasons D-fav J should Twit


Twitter. It's simple. It's 140 characters. It's entertaining as hell. D-fav J thinks it is just another distraction from work.

He's absolutely right. But those distractions can be fun like woah. =]




So here I present 5 of the many reasons that J should twit.

5. Rachael Maddow
4. NPR Politics
3. food_democracy
2. MMFA
1. Daktarii

Come on. You know you wanna.

22 May 2009

Speechless


Patagonia Women's Capilene Hipster Briefs

$20.00

Superbly styled for warm weather running and fashionable summer casual wear, Patagonia's Capilene® Hipster has a stylish low rise and features a new blend of new soft and stretchy Capilene® fabric. Mini rib fabric throughout the crotch gives you better breathable comfort than traditional base layers.
  • New soft 4.6-oz. fabric consisting of 96% nylon/4% Spandex and treated with Capilene® technology
  • Highly breathable mini-rib fabric through crotch
  • Form-hugging construction
  • Low rise fits well with yoga and hipster-style pants
Honestly, I'm not sure which I find more disturbing. A $20 pair of panties or the fact that there are FIFTY-EIGHT reviews of this product and that it has a 5-star rating on Altrec.

19 May 2009

Age isn't subtle

Today, I made an appointment at the optometrist and they had an opening later in the afternoon. So I go. They make me hold a paddle over one eye and read the last line on the chart. Then over the other. Puff air in my face and then put me in front of the eye machine. The optometrist stands up and informs me I have 20/20 vision with my glasses on. All is well in Daktariland right up until she informs me that I don't need new glasses per se. I need trifocals. That's not BI, that's TRIfocals.

Age is a wicked mistress. Right now she's more dominatrix than anything else.

Remember the whole letting my hair grow out and if it's grey, it's grey dammit? Well, it's grey. OK. I really never did like the way the hair color turned my hair red, and my natural color lacks that, but it almost feels like I'm watching myself age. It's not exactly salt and pepper at this point, but there are more than just a few grey hairs streaked in with the natural dark blonde. It's not quite the pretty grey hair my father had, but then again, I think I might have been devestated by a head full of grey hair at 46.

And while I'm at it, that whole Coca Cola Classic thing that I had undertaken with such gusto? It turns out that Coca Cola Classic was only a big treat when I had it just every once in a while. Drinking it regular takes that away and I was losing a small part of the joy of having a Coke.

Gotta run. Have to go shopping for walkers and support hose.

Two Roads, One Destination

Today, I recalled something D-friend J (not to be confused with D-fav J) said to me not too long ago. He was speaking about his difficulties in initiating his dissertation research and noted that he struggled to design an appropriate research project, and in the process began to doubt his abilities and strength as a future scientist. He mentioned that he spent nearly a year in despair and thought seriously of quitting as he worked through the process. I can now happily report that J came out the other end with a viable project that was eventually funded, and he now sees a silver lining in the experience. He was glad that he stuck with it and that he hadn't been handed a project as some of our own colleagues have. To D-friend J, the struggle was part of the process.

This got me thinking about my graduate experience and that of those around me. There really are two different graduate experiences. There are those who walk into a well funded project designed by an experienced researcher, and those who don't. Now, I will leave J to his opinion, but I have given this some dichotomy some thought and I have come to quite a different conclusion.

The merits of walking into a project are many. Obviously, you don't have to worry about designing a project. You hit the ground running. Don't underestimate the value of skipping this hurdle because graduate school has a timer on it. Your departmental support will run out and some departments, mine included, have unreasonable expectations for when the finish line should be reached. Second, you don't have to write grants in support of your research. Designing and getting support for a project is time consuming, stressful, and virtually guaranteed to send you to the brink of depression. Finally, there is another merit that is often overlooked. If you are walking into a funded project, especially if that project has NSF funding, it is most likely that your advisor is an established and respected researcher. The importance of training with a successful researcher should not be under-emphasized.

The young professor seems eager, and in fact he or she is. They are eager to get a mini-me in their lab so they look and feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, they don't tell you that their one big accomplishment as a professional scientist is in getting you to work with them. They probably haven't established their own research program, haven't got a handle on their teaching assignment, and are going to be entirely too busy on those tasks to appropriately mentor you during the first months while you are struggling. Let's face it, a naive graduate student is a young professor's meat and potatoes; they are the first rung in the tenure ladder. The professors are untested as mentors, and often haven't quite made the mental adjustment from worker on someone else's research program to designer of a research program. That crap they have up on their web site--total bullshit. It is as simple as that. Whether or not a young professor will have the ingenuity and creativity to establish their own research program remains to be seen. Aligning yourself with such a researcher is a crap shoot. Are you willing to bet your future on a crap shoot?

The problem with graduate school is that no professor, young or old, is going to tell you this.

Looking to shift the emphasis of my research program, I elected to work with a professor that was better established than the one I had worked with on my masters. After one semester, I proposed my project to my committee. Imagine my dismay when my committee told me it wouldn't work. I wondered why my major advisor hadn't pointed out the problems with my research design. It was back to square one. That was when my master's advisor stepped forward and said that I should work on a project similar to my master's project and if I chose to do that, she'd be happy to advise me. Crushed by my initial failure and lured by the seemingly easy project design, I switched labs. Yes, this put me on a path that went away from where I wanted to go, but it was better than having no project at all.

I assumed a lot in that switch. I assumed that my advisor would offer the same level of support she had during my masters program. I assumed that my advisor would help me secure funding for this project. I assumed incorrectly.

I spent the next semester designing the project and forming a new committee. My advisor offered little to no guidance on the scope of my project. In fact, she expanded it in ways that made me uncomfortable, but assured me that no one ever finishes the project they propose and we would just "cut that part out at the end". My committee liked this project, noted its amibitious scope, and each member assured me that it was a fundable project. Never doubting my grant writing skills, I was poised and ready to work with my advisor to secure funding.

I wrote a few small grants which were promptly rejected. I approached my advisor about writing an NSF grant, but she had already obligated herself to submitting to the very same program as a co-PI with a better established researcher outside our university. Ultimately, that grant was never submitted, but I was never informed. No mention was ever made of submitting for another deadline. In fact, my advisor seemed to think that funding my project was entirely my responsibility. I wrote eight grants in my first year. I had no field season for lack of funding. I wrote twelve grants in my second year. I had no field season for lack of money. I wrote nine grants in my third year. Most of these were to fund a research project that supported the new direction my advisor wished to take her lab, but that had nothing to do with my dissertation project. My advisor felt that this was an exciting new direction and that funders would jump on the project. They didn't. I went back to writing grants in support of my project. I was able to get out to do some field work by paying my own way and piggybacking on the research of a lab mate. I owe her big time for that. In my fourth year, I wrote five grants. In four years, no grant I wrote was funded. To this day, I have no idea what the problem is with my project. One of my committee members suggested that I have someone other than just my advisor read over my grants before submitting them, but when I asked two professors to look at them, both claimed they didn't have the time. Finally, at the end of my fourth year, I received a two-year fellowship for which my major advisor claims that I am ill suited. So much for faith in me. The fellowship pays well enough that I will be able to pay for my own research. I will be able to finish--that is if they let me have both years of the fellowship.

When I received the fellowship, the chair of our department expressed his displeasure because he feels I should not have been awarded support that would necessarily include a sixth year of university funding. Honestly, I am incensed and confused by this attitude. After struggling for four years, after writing more than thirty grants in support of my research, I finally got the support I need to pay for my own research out of my own pocket, and I am being told that the money came too late? WTF?

Imagine how different my experience might have been had I walked into a predesigned, well funded project. I would not be facing my fifth year only now getting my field work underway. I would not be facing the pressure of trying to finish a four year degree in one year. Honestly, I don't think it can be done. If they strip me of the second year of funding, I have every confidence that I will be walking away from this project empty handed. Had I had funding at the beginning, I would probably be finished by now. I would not be the laughing stock of my department. Instead, I spend every day trying to cope with the stress that never seems to end. I stare at the bottom line on my student loans and wonder if I will ever be able to afford the minimum payments. I wonder if I will ever own a new car or my own home once I move away from this place. I feel humiliated nearly every day that I walk into my building. I'd quit, but I can't. I can't afford to walk away with anything less than a Ph.D. because that is what it is going to take to pay off those loans. All in all, in this economy, I see nothing but economic ruin for me.

Sometimes, I wish for a swift and painless death. And I'm not kidding. I'm not suicidal, but I would welcome an end to the stress if it befell me. I don't feel my future holds any real, well future. I made a mistake--not in coming to graduate school--but in aligning myself with an untested researcher who, either through lack of experience or lack of interest, didn't take a vested interest in my success. I still feel that my advisor should have taken a more active role in seeking funding for my project. Instead, she has distanced herself from me. She has certainly taken greater interest in the projects of other students. Whether it was through gross incompetence or willful negligence, I paid the price for my choice and no one else. And I will continue to pay for it for the rest of my life.

I used to be considered one of the top students in our department. Now, I feel as though I'm something of a departmental joke. Professionally, I wonder if this is something that I will ever be able to overcome. Unlike D-friend J, I woud not recommend designing your own project. I do not feel like it will make me a better researcher. While he came out feeling worthy, I'm four years in and my confidence is shattered. My only suggestion to others is to go for the pre-designed, well funded project working with an established, tenured professor. Don't put yourself in this boat with me. If it sinks, no one will save you, and others just stand on shore thanking their lucky stars they aren't you.

17 May 2009

It's a small world after all

17 May 2009 -- As of 06:00 GMT, 17 May 2009, 39 countries have officially reported 8480 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection. From the WHO. Click on photo to enlarge.
So now what? It's the little pandemic that couldn't. Swine flu, H1N1, or whatever you want to call it appears to be spreading slowly, causing much fewer deaths than anticipated, and while I haven't heard anyone talking about it fizzling out, the World Health Organization is not recommending any travel restrictions anywhere.

I did a little bit of reading and have learned that H1N1 is a novel influenza virus, meaning virtually no one has any acquired immunity to it. There is no vaccine available and it seems to be of normal communicability. The fact that there have only been 4 deaths in 4714 confirmed cases in the US (in other words, only 0.085% of all cases ended in a fatality), seems to be reason enough for the media to let the pandemic scare slide.

Africa is either an insulated place or this tally is incomplete. Then again, after ordering the slaughter of 300,000 pigs, Egypt may be reveling in their responsibility for averting disaster.

U.S. Human Cases of H1N1 Flu Infection
(As of May 15, 2009, 11:00 AM ET)
States* Confirmed and Probable Cases Deaths
Alabama
55 cases
0 deaths
Arkansas
2 cases
0 deaths
Arizona
435 cases
1 death
California
504 cases
0 deaths
Colorado
55 cases
0 deaths
Connecticut
47 cases
0 deaths
Delaware
60 cases
0 deaths
Florida
68 cases
0 deaths
Georgia
18 cases
0 deaths
Hawaii
10 cases
0 deaths
Idaho
5 cases
0 deaths
Illinois
638 cases
0 deaths
Indiana
71 cases
0 deaths
Iowa
66 cases
0 deaths
Kansas
30 cases
0 deaths
Kentucky**
13 cases
0 deaths
Louisiana
57 cases
0 deaths
Maine
14 cases
0 deaths
Maryland
28 cases
0 deaths
Massachusetts
135 cases
0 deaths
Michigan
142 cases
0 deaths
Minnesota
36 cases
0 deaths
Missouri
19 cases
0 deaths
Montana
4 cases
0 deaths
Nebraska
27 cases
0 deaths
Nevada
26 cases
0 deaths
New Hampshire
18 cases
0 deaths
New Jersey
14 cases
0 deaths
New Mexico
68 cases
0 deaths
New York
242 cases
0 deaths
North Carolina
12 cases
0 deaths
North Dakota
2 cases
0 deaths
Ohio
14 cases
0 deaths
Oklahoma
26 cases
0 deaths
Oregon
94 cases
0 deaths
Pennsylvania
47 cases
0 deaths
Rhode Island
8 cases
0 deaths
South Carolina
36 cases
0 deaths
South Dakota
4 cases
0 deaths
Tennessee
74 cases
0 deaths
Texas
506 cases
2 deaths
Utah
91 cases
0 deaths
Vermont
1 cases
0 deaths
Virginia
21 cases
0 deaths
Washington
246 cases
1 death
Washington, D.C.
12 cases
0 deaths
Wisconsin
613 cases
0 deaths
TOTAL*(47)
4,714 cases
4 deaths

*includes the District of Columbia

**one case is resident of KY but currently hospitalized in GA.

This table will be updated daily Monday-Friday at around 11 AM ET.

International Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
See: World Health OrganizationExternal Web Site Policy..

NOTE: Because of daily reporting deadlines, the state totals reported by CDC may not always be consistent with those reported by state health departments. If there is a discrepancy between these two counts, data from the state health departments should be used as the most accurate number.

So for those keeping score at home, here is the latest tally from the CDC.

Still, I find it a little disconcerting that Illinois has the greatest number of cases of any state in the Union, including those with high rates of immigration from Mexico, and with NYC, which was thought to be ground-zero for the US cases.

And me having just gone to Chicago....

I'm not taking this sitting down

I used to be in fund raising. I wrote grants to tax-funded organizations. Sponsored Programs it was called at the time. But I worked with other people who did other kinds of fund raising, including "direct mail marketing," which is nothing more than a fancy term for junk mail. I would just like to say that I flat out do not believe in direct mail marketing. I detest it as much as you do.

And when faced with a never ending stream of junk mail from one organization I became associated with, I decided to strike back. I would like to show you a letter I wrote to the President, Head of Development, and the Registrar of the University of Kentucky recently. Amazingly enough, I am no longer receiving junk mail with the University of Kentucky logo on it.

Power to the people, man.

Dear Dr. Todd, Ms. Hager, and Mr. Richey,

I am writing you all with a serious concern of broad interest, I'm certain, to many UK alumni and to your three offices as well. In 2003, I requested that a copy of my transcripts be sent to my current university so that I could enter graduate school. The Office of the Registrar required I provide my name, current address, and telephone number. Although I am not a member of the Alumni Association, I began receiving an alumni magazine from the College of Arts and Sciences shortly thereafter, despite never having contacted anyone in that department. Just as quickly, I began to get offers from credit card companies, insurance companies, cable television companies, satellite television companies, digital television companies, cellular telephone companies, and God knows what else, all prominently labeled as "special offer for University of Kentucky Alumni". I have been contacted numerous times by the University of Kentucky Office of Development asking for contributions. Each time I have politely asked that I be removed from the calling list. Every week for the past 6 years, I have received junk mail prominently labeled with the University of Kentucky logo.

I am sending you an electronic letter for a reason. I am a biologist and I work hard to lessen my carbon footprint. I am on the national Do Not Call list and have worked hard to get my name and address removed from junk mailers' rolls. But UK has done me in. You have sold my personal information to the highest bidder and I can't stop the hemorrhage of paper no matter how hard I try. The pennies you have received from selling my personal information has undone years of vigilant conservation. I PAID to have a transcript sent. I did not grant you permission to sell me out to the highest bidder. I did not pay to begin an insidious trail of junk mail, unsolicited phone calls, and never-ending aggravation that is, apparently, part and parcel of being a UK alumnus. Ladies and gentlemen, I am not your latest fund raising opportunity. I am a person of exceedingly little means. Thanks for opening up my life to constant aggravation and harassment by your "advertising partners" and for making a degree from the University of Kentucky one of the most unlikely sources of a negative environmental impact.

As far as I'm concerned, your actions in selling my personal information without my permission is tantamount to fraud and harassment. Whatever you have to do to remove my name from anything having to do with the University of Kentucky is preferable to this. And I can tell you right now, UK will not be getting one penny of my money in the form of donations.

Stop selling out your alumni. You should be ashamed.


Ms. D
UK College of Arts and Sciences Class of 1986

15 May 2009

Is it hot in here?


NSF just published a comprehensive paper, combining the results of 60 years of NSF-sponsored research on the climate. The press release indicates that from all corners of the globe, researchers have found evidence of climate change, and for the first time NSF has compiled this data into one comprehensive report.

I guess I see the future of my research and everyone else's. Looking forward to reading the whole thing. Figure you might be, too.

Click here.

This time last year

Liv's wonderful past reflections reminded me (albeit, I'm a day late posting this) that last year this time, I was making a drive from Grosvenor Arch to Beaver Dam, with a stop along the way at a veterinarian, who supplied us with this....Jake was a champ about the splint, but it was his own fault, after all. He was the one who decided to roundhouse Jack. Silly rabbit.

14 May 2009

Why I talk to people who disagree with me

I like my brother. D-bro Don has an interesting mind. He is intelligent--as everyone in my family seems to be. And like the rest of us, he has strong opinions on things. My brother and I disagree on virtually every aspect of politics and social programs, but amazingly enough, we have a lot of common ground around gun issues. He is a die-hard Republican. I'm an aging and increasingly centrist Democrat. He revels in poking fun at "Obamalama". Finds it almost as amusing as I did poking fun at our former mental lightweight of a President.

On many issues, my brother can speak with some authority. He reads his local newspaper daily. He seems to have a handle on the national news. He is something of a student of the stock market. And he is extremely well versed on legislation concerning gun laws. Now neither of us is a trained economist or political scientist, so I figure that we both have a right to our respective opinions on the economy, wars, fossil fuel, and approaches to social programs. But my brother is a project manager for a large, urban contractor. He has worked on a variety of public projects, including the building and expansion of schools, hospitals, and public housing. In his job, he has come face-to-face with bureaucracy, Chicago-style. It didn't improve his concept of Chicago politics. He cares about his community. He reads the newspaper and scours the news for stories that affect his community. I suppose in his school district, the administrators are well paid. In fact, he told me that the superintendant of the Joliet public schools earns a half million dollars a year. This fact, which he supported by actually scanning and emailing me the newspaper article describing it, has sent him into a tizzy.

A half million dollars for a public school administrator is about $450,000 a year too much in my brother's view. D-bro has unusual ideas about academia, mostly formed from what others have told him and an ardent distrust of tenure. He can't believe that teachers are given an "lifetime prohibition on firing". Claims that tenure makes teachers lazy. Claims that it breeds bad teaching. I will admit that he would have no trouble finding ample support for his claims. However, in part of his rant this time, he turned to me and said in exasperation, "Can YOU explain why the hell they even give teachers tenure? What possible purpose can that serve."

To which I replied, "I sure can" and I proceeded to explain how tenure assured that professors (and I suppose also public school teachers) could teach controversial subjects without fear of being replaced by disagreeing administrators. I explained how researchers HAD to probe the cutting edge of areas like medicine, biology, astronomy, and physics, and how they often had to push up against borders that some might feel violate their moral or ethical standards. I explained why it is important for the advancement of knowledge that professors be granted autonomy in their work, and that public funds not be hamstrung by the vagaries of the political moment.

He did not concede the point, but I could tell he listened.

We talked about the future of education. I told him stories of the older faculty and their ideas about academia and how I believe they are the last of an old school mentality that professors are the keepers of knoweldge. We discussed my ideas that a college education is becoming just another commodity, and that the ivory towers are going to become an increasingly competitive marketplace where second-tier universities were going to be competing with student-focused community colleges, which have, in some states, begun offering bachelor's degrees. He listened. I could see him absorbing it all. In that mind of his, he is arranging all this information into an evolving opinion and outlook about education. I found that interesting. Interesting as hell. He listens.

The same way he listened after his rant the last time I visited. He was talking to me about the Endangered Species Act--specifically, the reintroduction of grey wolves into the western US. Understand that my brother is a lifetime member of the NRA, a hunter, and a subscriber to a variety of magazines that detail the issues from an "other than scientific perspective". My last visit, I remember quite clearly my brother saying, 'There is a reason they removed wolves from that environment in the first place."

I let that moment sink in for a minute. I wondered whether my brother really believed that wolves had no rightful place in the wild places of the United States. I wondered whether my brother had actually considered that he was, by all appearances, advocating for the extermination of an entire species from the face of the Earth. In a turn of events that shocked me more than anyone, I responded very softly. I shook my head and admitted it was a difficult issue. I expressed my empathy for ranchers who with a razor-thin profit margin were losing stock to wolves. I surmised that it didn't help that wolves were "smart" predators who worked in packs and seemed to be effective, efficient and deadly hunters. It is hard to believe that predators need help. They work with such precision to cull livestock herds. Yet, I explained that scientists have to consider the health of the ecosystem, the rights of the animals to space and land and respect for a natural history that took millenia to evolve. I explained that it didn't seem prudent to think of this strictly from an economic perspective. It didn't seem right to think of this strictly as an issue of property rights. It doesn't seem right to purposefully exterminate an entire species. I told him the truth. I told him that I didn't know what the best course of action was. Was it to compensate ranchers for their losses? Was it to raise prices of meat so that the consumer paid the price for the lost stock? Was it to raise prices on grazing land to fair-market value and then set up a compensation fund for stock losses? But there was one thing I did make clear. I told him I was fairly certain that the wrong thing to do was to shoot wolves into extinction. I just shook my head and told him, "Presumably humans are the smartest animals on the planet. Does that give us the right to make such a drastic and permanent decision? I'm not sure who among us has greater rights than the rights of an animal to exist. Who gets to make that decision for us? What if, after exterminating wolves, we figure out a viable solution to the problem?" In the end, I asked more questions than I answered, but still, he listened. And listening is one great habit of an open mind.

It is sometimes quite useful to talk to people who disagree with you.

13 May 2009

Credit where credit's due

A shout out to D-Mom. I know. You're thinking, "WTF? D is praising her mom? Did hell freeze over?"

OK. OK. I know I'm hard on my mom, but that's mostly because she's hard on me. But I realized something in this whole episode of D-friend Bek's marital difficulties. Bek can't talk to her parents. She can't tell them her life is falling apart. At least I used to be able to talk to my mom. We don't go that route so much anymore, but if I was having some serious shit, I'd at least feel comfortable opening up the truth. So go Mom! And yesterday she gave me some solid on dealing with Bek and offering up some advice. Which, following up on my earlier post about toxic relationships, got me to thinking about love.

When I was married, the thing that gave me the greatest stress was not the way that my husband treated me in private, but the way that he treated me in public. I suppose if I'm honest about it, in my mind one of the great sins is to behave badly in public. A spouse necessarily reflects on you. They are the one you chose to spend your life with (presumably). And when they berate you, do stupid shit, get shit-faced, ask to kiss your best friend at midnight on New Year's Eve, dirty dance with your boss (all things that have happened to me by less than well meaning boyfriends or spouses), well, you get my drift. It is embarassing to look everyone in the eye once dipshit has sobered up or come down off whatever high he was on.

My father was a model of temperance and restraint. I suppose he is the archetype. But there aren't many men out there like my father. He seemed to be predictable without making it look like a challenge.

Bek's husband flew into a rage, ran off to his mother's house, drug everyone from his step-brother's girlfriend to the pastor's wife into his marital problems and after three days thinks he can leave a voice mail message on her phone, apologize and come home and all is well.

Oh hell no. Bek couldn't even call her parents and tell them she was having marital troubles because she is such a private person. If it was me, and my spouse went slinging our business into the marketplace, there would be no reconciliation. Fuck. That. Shit.

I'm never going to be one of those people who can just say, "yeah, well, he's a free spirit that significant other of mine. He _____________ (flies off the handle, drinks too much, dances on tables, chases the cocktail waitress around the pool, etc.). Ha!" The problem with getting my shorts in a knot when someone I am with behaves badly is this: it suggests that I am responsible for another person's behavior and we all know that is balderdash. While I'd love to know my other completely, be in complete agreement with him, be able to count on the constancy of his behavior, and to trust him to know what to do in all situations, I don't think it's gonna happen. HOWEVER, I do think that if your spouse is so unpredictable that you dread going to places with people you care about, you have a problem. If your significant other is habitually behaving outrageously (this is the second time Bek's S.O. has run home to mommy and gotten EVERYONE involved), you might just want to consider that particular red flag a little gift from God and a great big sign that you should cut your losses and move on. I know that if I don't have some measure of behavioral predictability, I can't relax and be happy.

I remember the incredible betrayal I felt when my husband made a bawdy joke at my expense to the landlord. He actually embarrassed the landlord. I was humiliated. I felt betrayed. I felt like my husband was a man I couldn't trust. This is the man who should have been the protector of my honor and instead he was the one tearing it down.

I actually want the kind of relationship where I never have to worry whether my spouse is going to humiliate me in front of my family, his family, my friends, his friends, or the general public. And you know, I sort of think if I find that, that's half the battle. Because if someone respects me enough to behave in a manner acceptable to me while around me, it suggests a level of compatibility that shouldn't be discounted. And yes, I do realize that my standards have devolved to "I'll settle for someone who just won't embarrass me in public". Oh, I don't think that two people are ever going to be in complete agreement on how we are going to conduct ourselves in public at all times. But I don't think there is anything inherently unreasonable in having reasonable expectations. I didn't have it in my marriage, but I always thought I should have.

So anyone who is single, tall, dark and handsome and fits that description, well, just drop me a line.

Avoidant Personality? Meet Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

D-friend Bek is going through a hard time. She and her husband are having problems. She called me up tonight and told me they had a fight about pizza, he packed up a bag and went to stay at his mother's. Bek called me in tears today because her husband claimed he has filed for a divorce.

Ok, just between us chickens, this guy needs to grow some damn cajones and kick his fucking mommy out of his marriage, go home and deal with his wife.

Ahem. I just had to get that out.

We all know the problem may be about a lot of things, but it sure as hell isn't pizza. The last fight before the breakup rarely has anything to do with the problem. Because the problem has become the way the two people view one another and the habit they have adopted for dealing with one another. It has to do with who has their ear and what sort of nonsense outsiders are feeding them. It also has a great deal to do with the way people deal with stress.

Some people deal with stress on the spot. That's Bek's M.O. and I'd have to guess that also is mine. I mean, I've tried to figure out how I deal with stress. Ok, I bitch a lot. That is to say that I lean on friends and vent. I think venting has its merits. Bek has been venting a lot lately. I just sit and listen. Sometimes that is all it takes to be helpful. By the way, all you people who listen to me vent? Thanks, dude(s). But in my more intimate relationships, I'm not likely to let it build up. I stand up for myself. I don't allow people to walk all over me. I don't think it is healthy for a relationship to allow anyone to get into a habit of treating me poorly, so I point out when I think I'm being treated poorly. The other person can fall in line or move their happy ass on down the line. But not everyone deals with problems like me and Bek. Some people avoid their problems like the plague. My brother is one of those. Apparently, so is Bek's husband. He'd rather get a divorce than even have the conversation about why he is unhappy. People like me and Bek have problems dealing with people like my brother and her husband.

People who avoid conflict at all costs can't deal with an honest examination of the problem. In general, they also can't deal with the fact that the conflict may arise out of their own behavior. I have noticed the most unusual thing when dealing with avoidant personalities. When you call a turd a turd and tell them that this is, in fact, their turd, they tend to look away and say, "hey, there's a much larger turd over there (gesticulating wildly) and that turd is YOUR TURD."

And if you tell them you aren't talking about THAT TURD at the moment, but this turd right here, they will begin to generate a map, with amazing detail, of all the turds in the yard that belong to you.

Because, avoidant personalities can't have the problem be about them. They will wiggle and squirm and justify and deflect and the only thing you can do is nail their happy asses to the wall and walk away. At least, I haven't found a reasonable way to deal with them.

And in trying to accommodate a person who can't deal with conflict is frustrating. I mean, how are you supposed to deal with problems with someone who can't even deal with the fact that there is a problem? And if you insist on talking about the problem, they feel cornered, and either get angry and lash out or cry? I just sit there mystified in such situations. I have no Plan B. I have no idea how to approach the problem other than my way of approaching problems. So when I can't, I find myself doing things like writing about the problem over and over over and over.......and re-writing about it over and over .....and writing emails to the person that I will never send, and obsessing about it. And how do I know this? Because that is where I am now. And you are witnessing an example of it right here in this post. I can't have the conversation with the person with whom I'm in conflict and so I'm writing everything I'd like to say to them here. Stress is like water. It will find a way out.

Which brings me to my problem. I'm involved in a work relationship that has become entirely dysfunctional because I am dealing with an avoidant personality. Normally work relationships are low on my radar, but this one can't be because it is with my advisor. In relationship terms, we need to break up. It is time to move on. Recognize that the relationship isn't salvageable. We are simply incompatible. Problem is, I'm not ready to graduate . So the state of the relationship is that there is a lot of seething and bad feelings (mostly on my part), and I get pissed at the sight of her. Amazingly enough, she seems to be blissfully unaware of how she is treating me and how it is making me feel.

That part is my fault. Well, it is and it isn't. When someone with whom you have worked for nearly 5 years and with whom you thought you had a good working relationship suddenly begins 1) making fun of you, 2) accusing you of unbelievable and unfounded offenses, and 3) treating you like a second-class citizen relative to the others around you, well, excuse me for being caught off guard. When these things have happened, I have basically stood there with my chin on the floor in disbelief. And when you don't speak up right away, the moment has passed. Do you bring it up later? Will you be able to do so calmly? Is later the best time or is immediately the best time? Those who know me know that I am unlikely to handle that "later" conversation well. Especially after the offense against me has had time to sink in and fester. Which leaves me where I am. Pissed and muted.

And all of that is, in fact, why she thinks our relationship is aces. She tools through life making extraordinarily inappropriate comments, catching people off guard and because no one speaks up, she thinks there isn't a problem. Add to this the complex mix of advisor-graduate student relations of academic life and we are talking about a potentially career-changing problem. I have learned to tolerate things in graduate school that I NEVER would have tolerated in normal life. I sort of accepted that I'm her bitch until I graduate. So despite an exceptional 5-year relationship history, I find myself powerless when she decides that being nice isn't a professional courtesy of which I'm deserving.

It wasn't always like this. Oh, we've had a bobble or two. And the bobbles that I didn't let pass--like when she took a 6-week hiatus and I couldn't get any work done for lack of supplies--I found her completely unwilling to hear that she was the cause of my troubles. In her world, nothing bad that ever happens has her hand in it. And I have let a great deal pass. I didn't sweat the small stuff. I didn't sweat some of the medium sized stuff. In fact, there were some real whoppers that I should have sweated, that I didn't. Because, you know, I always felt that this person had my best interests at heart. I no longer think that. When you realize that someone is not simply blissfully incompetent, or potentially professionally negligent, but openly manipulative, well, that's the moment when your tolerance tops out. Which is exactly where D's bullshit meter remains.

The icing on the cake is that, lately, she has taken to insulting me in public. She has made comments about my ability to interact with children. She has made comments about my love interests. She has been trying to defend her actions by saying that sometimes advisors have to say the hard truths. What sorts of opportunities I pursue, how I spend my leisure time, what rocks my boat is ultimately none of her fucking business.

I live by one mantra. Do unto others. I wouldn't dream of offering my advisor unsolicited career advice or making fun of her interests. Neither would I ask my advisor for life advice because--honestly--I'm not a fan of her judgement. Her life is certainly not a model for mine. And I don't mean to suggest there is anything wrong with her life, but I don't want that to be the path mine takes. She has led a sheltered life. She doesn't know the pressures of divorce, or murder attempts, or five-figure student loans. She doesn't know a world where there is no one to help you when you are going through a hard time. I'd hazard she's never been homeless. Her life has been a virtual cake walk compared to mine. I have had quarries-full more experience than her and I can't think of a single judgement that she could offer that I would give greater weight than my own. I worked in the world for 15 years BEFORE I came to school. She's been out of school for 5. One job. At a second tier school. Yeah. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat for THAT career advice. In fact, when I have opted to listen to her advice, it has rarely gone well for me.

So instead of apologizing (which would have been the humane thing to do), she chose to defend her actions as some sort of self-help program for D. A self-help program that I neither asked for nor desired. In any event, this recent habit of talking to me like I'm some sort of young punk and putting me down at will and in public has destroyed my faith in and respect for her. I am angry. I am incensed, in fact. And I am afraid that I am going to unload on her and it is not going to go well. At this point, I just want to finish and get the hell out. And if she could keep the fucking insulting comments to herself in the mean time, well that would be gravy.

What I am not is confused. I'm not really sweating the "why is she doing this" because honestly I don't give a flying fuck. I just know that if she doesn't stop there are going to be repercussions. I am not going to put up with this crap much longer. I'm at the point where I could care less about accommodating her conflict resolution style. One more comment blasting me out of the water and fur is going to fly. I can't tell you at this point whether I will handle it well or handle it ill. I guess we'll both have to wait and see.

So yeah, I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately, particularly toxic relationships. What makes relationships toxic I think has less to do with the circumstances than the personalities and how those personalities mesh. When you find yourself in a sphere with a personality that is incompatible with your own, my experience is that the best course of action is to get away from one another as quickly as possible. Some relationships can not be salvaged. And certainly one where the mere thought of having to deal with the other person gives you heartburn is one of them.

Has anyone seen my Rolaids?

12 May 2009

Roads Not Taken

Road trips have a strange effect on me. You wouldn't call me a people watcher. I rarely sit still long enough to watch anyone else. But when I am confined inside a car, driving alone, I occasionally will become fixated on trucks. Trucks carrying plumbing supplies. Trucks carrying windows. Trucks carrying caskets. Yes, now and again I will see the truck carrying Batesville Caskets. And all these trucks moving all these products just gets me thinking about a different life than my own.

I think of all the possible careers I could have pursued but didn't. I think about what life as a casket salesman must be like. I think of how that salesman knows every single feature of wood versus metal caskets. I think about how they have to describe the fabric on the inside. Personally, I've never had to buy a casket. When my father died, I was put in charge of picking out his cemetery plot. I suppose some might have found it in poor taste when I laid down in the grass on the plot I chose, but, you know, I had to see if it felt right. After all, that was for his eternity. But I'm sure selling caskets is a very serious business.

And what if I was in the plumbing business. I'd know all the ins and outs of copper versus PVC. I'd know all about soldering and u joints and relief valves and god knows what else. I also am fairly certain that I would be bored out of my mind. I dont think there are many things that I care enough about to sell.

Except maybe bread. And plants. I could sell plants. I could sell the shit out of plants.

But yeah, I could bake bread. I could do that. I think I could have been a musician. A violinist. Although secretly I wish I could have been a drummer. I don't think I could program computers or repair things or push papers. I need problems to solve. I need outlets for logic and reasoning. I need challenges. I suppose designing a plumbing system might do it, but I tend to think that most plumbing projects don't have deep design issues. Maybe I'm wrong. I do like working with my hands.

I think I could design games. I think I could train animals. I don't think I could be a truck driver. I could be a landscaper. No to doctoring. Yes to veterinarianing. No to day caring. Yes to teaching. There are a lot of things I could have done. I am pretty sure I have picked the right profession this time. Almost certain.

07 May 2009

Home Repair 101

It's been a banner week for home repair in the good down of Do-well.

First, I discovered that the sump pump had issues. Actually because the hose clamp failed and the hose had become disconnected causing the water in the crawl space to spurt up like a fountain and circulated continuously, I was damn lucky that the sump pump didn't burn out. But, I got a new hose clamp and it seems to be working well. Cost of repair: $1.38.

Then my brakes went out and I had to have new brake pads and rotors. Ouch. But, I have to maintain the pimpalicious ride. $182.50.

Cutting the grass today (which is sky high thanks to days and days and days of consecutive rain), I noticed one of the wheels was wobbly. Thinking it just needed to be tightened, I took a closer look and noticed that the entire wheel was cracked. Cost to replace? $15.50. Part will be coming directly to the house in 10 days. Hope the existing wheel hangs on that long.

I guess I shouldn't complain. I just put 5300 miles on my car on my research trip, and the sump pump has been getting a workout with all the rain we've had, and one can hardly blame the lawn mower for my being hard on corners. However, I can't afford many more weeks like this one, either from a time perspective or a pocketbook perspective.

Oh, and did I mention that the doorknob on the back door came off in my hand Monday morning? And the Argentine ants are back.