June 29, 2009 at 9:12 am (school, this and that, writing)

I am going to take a few minutes to be frustrated about something.

I really don’t understand what the heck is up with people trying to tell me it’s a bad idea to leave grad school, causing me to have to endlessly justify my decision over and over and over again and making me feel increasingly vexed about my choice. I don’t see really what the difference is between grad school and any other job– you work, you get paid (kind of), you deal with co-workers. In fact, grad school, and academia, to those who aren’t in love with the culture, is even more of a hassle than other jobs. Just like anything, it is fun for people who love it and annoying and terrible for people who wish they were doing something else. And for me, grad school has been interfering with my other goals and aspirations, and I don’t desire to work in an academic department. Or deal with writing papers. Or deal with department politics. So what is so terrible about leaving? I can go back if I want to. When I got my Bachelor’s degree I graduated with one of the top five GPAs in my entire graduating class. My GPA for my Master’s is a 4.0, and though I haven’t gotten my grades from this summer I assume I’ll have around that for my year of Ph.D work. I have fantastic teaching evaluations, professors who would write me letters of recommendation. I’m not leaving with my tail between my legs, failing my classes and skulking away because I can’t teach. I’m leaving because I want to leave grad school, I’m not enjoying it and I want to do something else for a while. My “family of choice” thinks it’s a good idea, as does one of the biggest deal professors at FSU, an awesome person who has guided me with the combined skills of a mentor, a father, a professor, an advisor, and a friend, thinks that my decision to try something else for a while or maybe forever is an awesome idea. I have another friend/professor who thinks I am following a “calling” by leaving and maybe that’s the case. It certainly feels right to leave. Why can’t everyone else just see that?

There is some sort of weird stigma with quitting school, as if choosing to leave an expensive, high-stress environment with uncertain payback, that I don’t enjoy, and don’t want to do for a living, is crazy and must mean I have some sort of psychological issue or some other tragedy. As if I am failing as a person because I am leaving. Any job has opportunities, but most people who quit a job because they feel unfulfilled aren’t met with “but you might have been promoted!” or “But you might have gotten a raise!” or whatever. Usually people who quit a job are met with “Congrats, awesome! Such great opportunities await you!” But with quitting school you get the concerned brow-furrow and the personal questions. “Is everything OK?” “Are you sure you want to do that? You’ll lose so much work!” “Why just give up now?” Let’s take stock of things for a moment: I have one year, and not even a complete year, of Ph.D work. I have a Master’s degree, which of course in this day and age is the consolation prize of degrees, chump change instead of a respectable effort. I dislike the elements of academia that are unfortunately its defining characteristics in this day and age. So where exactly is the tragedy?

And so I have to go through the whole rigamarole over and over again: I’m too mentally exhausted at the end of most academic days to write, and I want to take a few years to try my hand at the writing thing. As a grad student I never have time for other things I love in the world, like painting, cooking, writing, knitting, whatever. I have to do those things on breaks instead of frequently. I want my evenings and weekends to myself again. I don’t enjoy writing papers. The fields I work in are currently dominated by academic trends I find unproductive, disingenuous if not (occasionally) downright despicable, and uninteresting. 

Grad school was an awesome experience for me. I can parse academic writing. I have boss research skills. I can read (to some degree) ancient Greek. And I am going to use those skills, hopefully, to write. I know it is an insane crazy dream and I will most likely fail at it, but I don’t want to look back at my life one day and say “I really wish I had taken the time to try the whole writing thing. I had an opportunity and I squandered it.” So that’s what I’m doing. I feel fine in this decision, except when I have to endlessly justify it to everyone I’ve ever met. So everyone just leave me alone!

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writing again

June 28, 2009 at 3:57 pm (this and that, writing)

So I finished my DISes for the summer, and turned in my grades this week. This means I am free and able to concentrate on packing, getting tattooed in various places, and writing! Actually I’m only getting one new tattoo because my backpiece is officially finished and I will be posting pics soon. This Wednesday I’m getting a piece on my calf, the castle from the Miyazaki version of Howl’s Moving Castle.

My last project is on indefinite hold right now, a situation that I have mixed feelings about. But, looking forward rather than back I am very enthusiastic about my new project, which I’m hoping will be as rewarding. Right now I am uneasy about the idea, possibly because it is a more complicated narrative structure than the last book (multiple main characters set in different time periods, eep!) but I am slowly remembering how it felt to start writing the last novel, and I think I felt just as nervous. I had forgotten how much harder and slower it is to write starting from scratch rather than editing, and the fact that after hours of work this week I have a grand total of one six-page chapter feels both exhilarating (“I have a chapter!”) and frustrating (“Several hours of editing meant like 50 pages a few months ago! What the heck?!”).

I have a stack of books out from the library that I need to get through before I move, which is intimidating, but also awesome. I also need to pack some shit, so I’m going to do that right now.

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skill set

June 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm (thinking, this and that)

I just turned in my final grades for the last class I will ever teach at FSU, and I have three more plays/reading responses due before I finish my last DIS. The only academic work I plan on doing afterwards directly relates to my new writing project that I am super-excited about, but that is still super-secret. 

The handmaiden of such changes has been a mild existential crisis wherein I have realized that most of my skill set is completely useless outside of graduate school. I know I will use my research skills (which are, after three years, pretty boss) and ancient Greek (which is OK considering) for personal writing projects, but in terms of the auxiliary personal goals I’m working towards I am the proverbial babe in the woods.

Thus I am embarking on a project of trying to learn how to “do stuff.” Mechanical things, like taking care of a bike or fixing shit that breaks, or just work better with my hands. Right now I tally my practical skills, as they stand, at:

1. Making Food: I am an awesome cook no doubt. I can pretty much cook or bake anything I set my mind do. I can cook traditional vegan fare and I can veganize omni dishes like a champ. I can cook under a variety of conditions, from crappy, ill-equipped kitchens to kitchens with gadgets, fancy pans, and doodads, to cooking pancakes or stew or whatever on a grill over a coal pit in the middle of the fucking woods. 

2. Knitting: I am a reasonably OK knitter. I can do hats and scarves and mittens and I could probably make a sweater I just get bored by big projects or anything with tiny needles. I have provided warm garments for a number of people I love and plan to keep doing so. 

3. Taking Care of Cats: I have amassed a body of knowledge on this subject, from geriatrics to the tiniest of kittens.

4. Making Kombucha: I gave my mother to a dear friend because I didn’t know if she’d make it out Colorado but once we get up there I plan to get brewing again. 

5. Identifying Birds: In the Southeast I am pretty good at knowing what kind of bird I am looking at.

6. Making Fire: I can do that on camping trips or in fireplaces.

7. Taking Care of Cast Iron: Currently as I am typing this I am re-seasoning my cast iron. The serious kind of re-seasoning, where you scrape it down with steel wool and then coat it in vegetable shortening and bake the fuck out of it. Right now my house smells like pancakes.

8. Make Art Or Possibly Craft Depending on Who You Ask: I’m not sure if this counts but I can do printmaking and painting and I can draw stuff OK. I can also do stuff like re-cover seat cushions and hot glue stuff and sew minor things like Halloween costumes.

As far as I can tell that’s it. So the reason I’m thinking about this is that today I took my bike to my friend’s house (same friend to whom I gave the kombucha) to see if there was anything wrong with it. Basically five years ago I bought a bike so I could bike to campus, and then after I graduated I’ve not used it. Now we’re moving to Boulder, so I know I will want to bike, so I figured I would start biking around Tally to get back into it. My friend, who bikes a ton and worked in a bike shop and is probably opening a bike shop, went over my whole bike, checked everything out, and declared it sound after fiddling with things and putting air in the tires. 

Then came the moment of truth, when he told me to put the front wheel back on my bike. I froze. He showed me how to do it but my fingers fumbled on it and I couldn’t get it to work. I was completely embarrassed because this is a skill I should have, but my friend was very patient, laughed at me for thinking I should be good at everything, and walked me through it enough times so that I could do it. Then he showed me a few little things I could do to take care of the bike myself, with the promise of more lessons later.

So my Greek teacher would accuse me again of the sin of pride– that I think I “should” be able to do things perfectly because I’m smart and competent– and I would accuse me of the sin of being a pampered little girl who needs to be more independent from the men in my life and the world as a whole. I want to be able to work with my hands, to be more self-sufficient.

We’ll see how that goes. Right now I am just excited that today I “fixed” my bike after my friend messed it up on purpose to teach me, and my house smells like hot shortening because I’m re-seasoning a piece of cast iron that got all rusty after it wasn’t cleaned properly after a camping trip.

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in preparation for moving

June 19, 2009 at 11:45 am (this and that)

Cleaning out the house hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been doing to prep for moving– additionally, I have been trying to find out how to make my favorite dishes from Cafe Annapurna so I don’t go into withdrawl after we leave. I’m going to beg with puppy-dog eyes one of these days for some “hints” to use in my private kitchen. For now, I’m going to play around with the following recipes:

Aloo Achar and Aalu Achar: going to see which one is closer to the one at Annapurna.

There are a million recipes out there for chole, or chana masala, so I’m getting on testing a bunch of them soon.

Parathas are my favorite thing at Annapurna– a flaky, soft flatbread. I’ll be trying this recipe for them, not the aloo kind, just the regular.

What’s got me stumped are the lhasa noodles. So delicious, but there seem to be no recipes for them!

Also they have some sort of tofu in a savory peanut sauce that is stumping me.

We’ll see! At least it will be fun to experiment!

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why would anyone be an abortion doctor?

June 17, 2009 at 11:26 am (this and that)

One brave doctor answers this, simply and eloquently.

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feed me

June 15, 2009 at 7:52 am (this and that)

I remember school lunches in elementary school in Georgia. My most potent memories are of Thursdays, when we had the option of chocolate milk, and food stuffs like foot long hot dogs (which I hated then, and still will not eat hot dogs to this day), beefaroni, spaghetti, tacos, and mashed potatoes. A lot of beef, a lot of starch. I remember when we got a salad bar, too– but I also remember that every kid mostly ate toppings and dressings when we got that, not the actual lettuce (bacon bits, sunflower seeds, olives in ranch dressing, anyone?) But at least there was a pretense at health– there was always a fruit cocktail or vegetable in one of the tray slots. When I moved to Florida and encountered school lunch at the middle school, it was something of a culture shock. I was presented with two options: taco bell bean soft tacos, or square pizza, with fries as a side to both options.

Check out these pictures of school lunches around the world, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see the amount of processed food, and other garbage, that is being fed to kids. Awards of Shame go to France and the USA here. What the heck guys? Malawi, Sweden, and Korea seem to be doing well in terms of diversity on the plate.

I still can’t deal with the smell of corn and red peppers cooking together, due to the imprint of the stink of mexicorn on my sensory memory. . .

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a few days late. . .

June 14, 2009 at 8:04 am (this and that)

. . . but still good. Image is too big for my theme, check out the link.

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i am dr. tiller

June 11, 2009 at 9:39 am (this and that)

Are you?

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June 9, 2009 at 10:07 am (this and that)

I don’t have any pictures to post of Ichabod, my parents’ cat, but I want to remember him today. Because today Ichabod left the world. He was in pain, and my parents made the decision to put him down. A few days ago he crawled into my parents’ closet and started keening, and he didn’t purr when my parents petted him or tried to give him his favorite snacks. They took him to the emergency vet, but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Then Monday they took him to his regular vet, who was similarly baffled. They ran some tests, nothing came back conclusive. Last night Ichabod spent the night wailing and unresponsive and so this morning, first thing, my parents took him in to the vet and put him down. I know he will be missed. He slept between their pillows every night, and took naps with my dad every day. He went from lap to lap while they watched TV, and would start howling if my parents left the room while he was asleep and he woke up alone. He was one of the most friendly, loving cats I have ever met and he will be missed.

Ichabod came to us in the spring of 2004. I was working at the Enzian theater in Winter Park, Florida as part of an internship. The Florida Film Festival had just concluded, and the doors were standing open so people could take film reels in and out. I was alone in the office doing paperwork.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of movement, and then I turned around in time to see a cat jump on my lap. He meowed at me and started purring with his tongue stuck out at me, impossibly pink against his gray muzzle. He was very thin, his fur was ragged, and his ear was torn up. He had fleas. His coloration, steel grey with patches of white, made him look like a tired old man, but he had large, beautiful green eyes. I noticed he had been declawed and this concerned me paired with his fighting wounds and general state of emaciation.

I called John, and we agreed this cat needed us. We took him home and put him in our laundry room, where he ate ravenously, drank a bowl of water, and went to sleep. That night we took him to the vet to ascertain he didn’t have FIV or Feline Leukemia, and when he tested negative we named him Ichabod because of his long legs and decided that we would try to make it work with our cat Penelope.

After a flea bath, a de-worming, and several days of solid, uninterrupted sleep, Ichabod’s personality emerged. He always wanted to sit on everyone’s lap, purring, rubbing them with his tired gray head, and making a tiny fluttery sigh ever time a hand touched him. He loved people and loved being around them. Unfortunately Penelope did not love being around him and when it became obvious that Ichabod and Penelope were not going to get along my parents generously volunteered to adopt him. 

Ichabod became part of our family, and for five years he sat on laps, cuddled, gave stinky cat-breath kisses, and yowled for attention whenever he didn’t feel like he got enough. He relentlessly sat on tables, against my parents’ rules for all other cats that had ever been in our house, but his homelessness and need for love weakened their resolve to keep him off the counters. He loved to sleep in the sunlight when he wasn’t on peoples’ laps, or under my father’s electric blanket.

We will never know why he was abandoned, or how old he was, or what went wrong with him. But we do know that he had a wonderful life with us for the five years he was in our care. I’m happy Ichabod found me, and I’m happy my parents took him. He was a bright soul, who loved to live, and now he is at peace.

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having faith in humanity

June 4, 2009 at 8:39 am (thinking)

“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”  Charles de Gaulle

On the day that New Hampshire legalized gay marriage, I also read this article over at The Huffington Post. It is getting increasingly harder and harder for me to maintain my faith in humanity. Perhaps describing things as inhuman, such as radio hosts advocating psychological and physical violence toward transgender children, is the wrong way to think about it. Besides the fact that the pejorative “inhuman”  is an inherently speciesist term, especially given that apparently animals have moral codes, more and more I think perhaps kindness, sympathy, understanding, and acceptance are the “inhuman” traits.

Sometimes I think all the goodness in people comes from our animal ancestry, and whatever changed when we got opposable thumbs and developed frontal lobes and walking on two legs or whatever the heck else makes us different from our ancestors– that’s what’s wrong with us. There are just so many people doing awful things that I can’t help but feel that goodness is the aberration, and cruelty, hate, and violence are the norm for our species. Factory farming, callous environmental destruction, animal breeding for pleasure, terrorizing women and the people who help them, denying rights to those different than us, being assholes to kids (one host advocated beating a gay male child with high heeled shoes), shutting down state parks, an eight-year administration in this country based on fear, torture, and worldwide cowboy-swagger bullshit and the backlash against any sort of change to that, it is all so overwhelming.

It is hard to remember sometimes that there are green places in this world. It is hard sometimes to take a step back to think about the expression on a cat’s face when she rolls around in the sunshine, or remember that there are people who do have more love than hate inside them, that there are hopefully many more people who think those radio hosts are despicable rather than amusing. 

But then also there is the truth that even if you come home at night to a person who loves you, or people who love you, that you have something special and unique and you are lucky. No matter how many hugs you might get there is suffering out there of intense, unknowable magnitude–human and animal alike. And it seems like trying to make a difference is so abstract, so impossible, as to be laughable.

But it is not laughable, not if one person’s, or one animal’s, life is improved by kindness and love. Despair is unhealthy. It takes us to a place where we cannot act. But sometimes it is hard to fight, when you know there are people in the world who “look forward to when [transgender children] go out into society and society beats them down. And they wind up in therapy.” 

I need to be better about doing my part to make the world not suck quite so much.

*Update: over at the Post Punk Kitchen the thread on this topic generated this letter by one of my favorite posters:

Dear every right-wing goon in the country:

It cannot be deduced from the pleasurable feelings you experience while producing or listening to this garbage that what you’re enjoying is comedy.

Instead, you are delighting in a vicious desire for violence directed against people you hate. That’s not a sense of humor, it’s a character defect.

Please stop pretending that what you’re doing is funny.

Everybody else

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