Posted by: LadySilver814 | November 24, 2011

Hi, I’m a PhD student and I clean fish tanks for a living.

It’s Thursday again and time for one of my least enjoyable weekly tasks. Fish tank cleaning.

Got to scrub off some (not all though) of that algae off the front so we can see the fish. Got to siphon off 30% of the water (no mouth siphoning or you might get fish tuberculosis!). Got to dump out that smelly water and probably end up dumping half (or sometimes all of it) on the floor and you. Maybe clean out some of the empty tanks that have been sitting there collecting algae since you arrived in August…

Is this really what you do for my PhD?

Responsibility comes with the job – if you want to have fish for research someone’s got to take care of them.

Don’t you have undergrads for that?

Good question, I’m not sure why the undergrads don’t do some of the fish cleaning, they are using some of them for their own experiments. Maybe this is a Michele thing that she decided to spare them the grunge work or just enjoys fish tank cleaning – but she did get me in on that task pretty quickly…I know part of the thing is they fear sucking up any of the baby fish (SHWOMP into the dump bucket you go little feller, sorry bout that!) but Michele handles all of the tanks with babies in them so couldn’t they clean my tanks and leave the babies to Michele and I? (Michele points out that it makes more sense to have them collect data rather than use their time to clean fish tanks during the school year but in the summer when they’re here 8 hours a day 5 days a week then we get them to help. Excellent…)

Does it really take 2 hours?

Well yes, it does actually. I can’t multi-task that well so keeping an eye on filling tanks to keep them from overflowing is a huge challenge when you pair that with trying not to suck up zebra fish or having to hold the siphon in the water because if you leave it the tube will fall right out. But actually this time is much better than it was when I started when it took 4 hours for the two of us to clean tanks. I wonder if some of that doesn’t have to do with the process, you see we were getting in each others way previously but now that she’s not cleaning at the same time as I it only takes me 2 hours and I suspect it only takes her 2 hours as well.

Is this ALL you do for your PhD?

Actually no. I have to put in my time for TAing which usually amounts to grading (at least this semester) and office hours. I attend a couple of classes which means that I have homework to do too. I attend lab meetings which are centered around articles that are useful, the data collection process, and our productivity. I attend lectures that fall into the comparative cognition domain. I actually collect data for my own First Year Research Project (FYRP), work to analyze that data, and, someday, will write-up a brilliant article for submission in a journal. I have to help collect data for the other research project going on (human stuff). I have to pick my own topics for my Second Year Research Project (SYRP; which is essentially a Masters – there’s a long story behind why I won’t be getting my masters… I’ll explain that another time) and eventually for my PhD dissertation. I have to help to ensure that none of our undergrads are entering crisis mode. And I have to keep track of emails

Technically my program has a few fine documents that indicates how well we’re doing in the program but there is one in particular that is the most relevant as it tells us approximately how long it will take us to graduate based on what we’ve accomplished. In order to be graduating in 4 years I need to:

  • To maintain a minimum of a 3.0 (shouldn’t be too hard) to be considered “satisfactory” in the grades department (a 3.7 would be “excellent”) so I need to put in time and care to my grades – but not too much. They worry about 4.0’s if you’re falling behind in other areas like research realized, presentations presented, papers published, etc.
  • I need to select a committee for my FYRP.
  • I need to submit my prospectus for my FYRP.
  • I need to have my prospectus initiated.
  • I need to have my data collected.
  • and I need to have presented or submitted the results for publication.

And that’s just for the first year.

P.S. – I’m getting my second Incomplete in my life… apparently you get INs if you haven’t completed your thesis when you sign up for thesis credit hours. (And yes that totally freaks me out, despite the fact that it’s apparently normal.)

Posted by: LadySilver814 | November 23, 2011


I originally started writing this post at the end of October and as it’s already nearing the end of November I note that it’s been a rather hectic few weeks. (I’m also done having this hang out as a draft in my school email account.)

For the last month (plus a few weeks) I’ve been feeling like I have unlimited free time. Of course I was feeling the strain of not having a clue what to do for my Masters or PhD research, but not having a topic was probably also contributing to that feeling of freedom. Then the weekend of the 23rd it finally hit me. You are probably wondering what it was that hit me. It was what Michele and I have come to dub as stage 2 of graduate school: “Oh my gawd, I haven’t done ANYTHING!” (She’s declared that stage 1 is, “Wow! I have so much more free time than undergrad it’s going to be challenging keeping busy…”) Basically I flipped out. It didn’t help that on the 21st I was leading the class discussion for 3 hours on “Theory of Mind”; that I was struggling to find topics for dissertations, defenses, and theoretical proposals; or that I was about to be grading 10 lab reports on my own…

I obviously survived that week. but it didn’t get much better. I spent the following week trying to sit down and write my proposal (or select my topic) for my Comparative cognition class – that didn’t go so well. Two years off from academic writing makes for a challenge that my brain was having a hard time with. I spent that week (and part of the next) flat-out procrastinating. I’d sit down intending to write and then decide to do just about anything else. So Pete lent me this awesome book called How to Write a Lot and it did rather help me kick myself into gear. I managed to pick a topic – a proposal for an experiment on how variable feeding times in fish affect personality. I also spent a full day receiving training about chemicals it was pretty boring and not terribly useful as I had expected it to be more a here’s the dangerous chemicals you might be working with kind of class rather than a these are the classes of dangerous chemicals and here’s how you “generally” store them… Oh well.

That Friday I finally used the public bus system on my own for the first time in my life – and although I was worried I survived it and learned that I am perfectly capable of taking public buses and they are not as scary forms of transportation as I hereto heard.

And then on Friday night I went out with some friends to pre-Halloween parties. We started off at a pub which was just OK. The music was loud, the girlfriend of one of the friends of friends was obnoxious (remember Tim’s ranting about the fake drunk girl? This could have been her twin in personality), it was crowded, the booze wasn’t cheep, and I was getting tired. Then when the three of us (I was with two other AWESOME grads as compared with the sometimes annoying undergrads) declared that we were going somewhere else everyone decided to go too and so we ended up at this bar called the Rack which was way more crowded and loud. By this time we’d walked another two blocks away from campus in the rain and I was really ready to call it a night. Turns out one of the friends of fake-drunk-girl was also exhausted – she’d only had a couple of hours of sleep and was ready to fall over – I was concerned about her so I offered to walk her home (I didn’t want her passing out on the street or worse) and she took me up on it.

So the walk back taught me one very important lesson: don’t try to be helpful at 1 AM in the morning in a city especially along the main “bar” road. We had this drunk/drugged British dude who said he was lost and I tried to help find out where he was trying to go to give him directions but he decided to tag along with us for the next block instead. Then he proceeded to try to get me to take him home (which naturally I refused) so then he offered to give me “the best sex [I’d] ever had” to which I responded that I was not interested in having sex with anyone. He finally left after the block and the other chick and I walked the rest of the way home in peace.

Follow that up with Monday where I apparently impressed the head of our department by wearing my ren fair outfit to class. (She told my advisor that I’d really impressed her and I couldn’t think of anything that I’d done other than dress up. Pete nonchalantly told me to keep doing whatever it was that I had been doing…) And then I spent the rest of the week trying to write my paper which didn’t get finished till the Sunday after Greg arrived – which is also when I made my first batch of Mead. Apparently brewing (be it beer, wine, Loki, or mead) is a very common thing for UofA grad students to be doing, it’s cheaper to make gallons of it than it is to buy the professionally done booze, so I’m making a go of it.

So, yes, Greg came to visit for a little more than a week and we learned that there is a great likelihood that he can move to Canada with me under an open work visa that is (sorta) tagged on to my study permit. Yay! So now he just needs to clear it with work and then he and I will fill out some forms to declare common law status and to apply for his work visa when he comes to visit in February. (No need for us to get married to get him into Canada – which was something I kept pestering him about because damn it all I really want him to be around.) I was not very productive for that week, I just wanted to spend time with him. But I had an article to read and meetings to attend so I did what I had to do and spent the rest of the time back at my apartment with Greg (frequently playing Killer Bunnies).

By the way, I now have REAL internet at my apartment (since Greg needed something in order to be able to work from there). It may only be 250GB per month but that seems like plenty for just me. So maybe we can arrange for a Google hang out sometime so I can see your lovely faces?

Since Greg’s visit, I’ve worked on writing peer reviews (just turned those in Monday) for the proposals that we wrote for the one class (the one I had a hell of a time picking a topic and writing), I’ve been working on my community service project with my fellow first year grads (the annual pie-a-prof contest to raise money for the Edmonton food bank for buying Christmas turkeys for those in need; it’s eating up a lot of time right now). I’ve been running my fishy subjects and have started the process of turning those pictures into data points I can use which will go into a presentation I need to give on Monday. I’ve presented a paper for my lab meeting on epi-genetics which I didn’t understand at all (but neither did the others) and read a book on epi-genetics which was really cool and made epi-genetics totally understandable to the average Joe (or Jane). I discovered an indoor farmers market which I fully intend to go pick up more vegetables/fruits at on Saturday. I participated in an all night sports event (red-eye) last Friday/Saturday which totally ruined my sleep schedule for the weekend. I got to see the PhD movie which was screened on campus. And I’m currently getting ready for an American Thanksgiving with the department’s fellow American grad students – I’m bringing Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, Szechuan Green beans, & Pumpkin pie.

Oh and if you haven’t seen on Facebook, Chris & Liz (fencing coach and his wife) lost their house and a dog in a fire they had yesterday morning. So now I’m in shock and worrying about them (since I sometimes feel like Chris is that jokingly pestery but completely idolized older brother I never had).

And now for something that shouldn’t be totally unexpected:

Things I’m Thankful For

-Chris and Liz surviving their house fire
-Having a supportive and encouraging boyfriend
-Having friends to share American Thanksgiving with here in Canada
-Having great friends back in the states (whom I wish I could see more often)
-What the Quad Pod has done for us over the years (even if it may be dying out now)
-Having students who appreciate my help
-Having loving supportive family (who are so willing to give things to Chris & Liz)
-Having a great advisor and helpful fellow grad students
-Having a general idea of what I want to study for the next five years
-Having a great previous education at a wonderful institution with wonderful people
-Being productive (finally!)
-Having excellent cold weather clothing
-Having a roof over my head
-The know how to cook well
-Being able to come home and see friends for Christmas
-Plants in my apartment
-A full fridge
-Clean laundry (finally!)
-Cheap electrical bills
-And heat

Posted by: Jess | November 11, 2011


This day shall not go unmentioned!  It is a historic moment.

It’d be totally awesome to be born today.  People might not believe you. Or you might get born with super powers.

This is me not writing that paper I’m supposed to be writing.  It’s about ladies in the South in the 1920s and 30s, when they didn’t have any days that were all 11.  If the 19th century was my undergrad thing, then I’m starting to think Modernism is my new era. Which shouldn’t surprise me, I’ve always liked it.  It is full of both disillusionment and painful amounts of hope.  What’s not to love?

I haven’t really got much to say. I’m only posting because of the date. But I have been thinking of a couple blogs I might write once my life is not being run over by large papers.  I was just never meant to write 25 pages on a single given subject.  So, uh… that won’t be until after Thanksgiving, btw.

Anyway, Happy 11/11/11. Here’s a picture:

Full disclosure: when I was growing up, I thought The Kinks were saying “Sunday afternoon.” Those silly British accents.

Today, I drove the two hours into Virginia to meet my parents at the Briar Patch for lunch. They’d stopped at Keswick Vineyards (this amazing winery they found between MD and SBC) on the way down and gave me a few bottles of wine–as well as a bag of groceries, a case of National Bohemian, and a bunch of little presents from my sister.* After brunch, we drove up to Drumheller Orchards (by Nelson Co. MS and HS, you guys remember it?). I’ve got a peck of apples, a gallon of cider, and enough apple butter and honey to last me until 2012. On the way back to Briar Patch (where I’d left my car), we stopped at Rebec to do a tasting and get more wine.**

Yes, seeing my parents is a lot like a tiny Christmas.

But even if they hadn’t brought me beer and wine and Challah bread and pasta and Girl Scout cookies (yes, Girl Scout cookies), it was just nice to see them and spend an afternoon hanging out. Because somewhere between moody fourteen and aimless twenty-four I’m not only okay with my parents, I like spending time with them–as an adult. They’re fun. They like to drink wine and talk about movies and current events and the stuff I like to talk about. And we’re not some Stepford family either. We bicker, we fuss at each other, we banter (A LOT). But it’s gotten surprisingly easy and good in the last few years and I plan to enjoy it.

And it was fitting, too, that we spent the day kind of circling Sweet Briar, where I did the last of my growing up. I actually drove around campus a bit while I was waiting for them to get there. It’s strange to me sometimes how proprietary alums feel about the place, but I really do feel that way. It’s a place that feels like it’s yours in the way that other places don’t. And I think that’s really what makes Sweet Briar different as a school. At bigger universities, it’s all about the cycling in and out of people. It’s always the same school, the same general kind of people. But Sweet Briar has this accumulation of experience that I really love. From day one, I was keenly aware of the school’s history and the women who came before us and the women who would come after us. Because it feels like we all have a share in the place, we all shape it, and the personality of a class of Sweet Briar students actually has a marked impact on what the school is like.

Which is why when we talk about it, we know that we can’t really go back, not without the people that made it what it was for us.

But if you do go back, and maybe you drive up Monument Hill and say hello to Daisy, the weight of your experience and memories is still there. You can look at the screaming tree on the big hill and laugh. Or pass the President’s House and remember the taste of champagne and strawberries. Pass Babcock–late nights in the theater, the smell of paint. It’s all still there, ready for us whenever we choose to come back.

Honestly, I don’t think Daisy is the only one haunting the campus. We’re all kind of haunting it–our presences are still there. And it looked particularly haunting today. It helped, of course, that it was a beautiful day and the leaves were turning and the sky was very blue and the bricks were very red. It’s a gorgeous place. But better than that, it’s got a kind of atmosphere and personality to it that makes it uniquely Sweet Briar.

I love that drive up and back 29, too. As you get out of NC, it gets hillier, the mountains swing back East, the air gets crisper and drier. There’s something unique and wonderful about driving alone*** and playing your music loud and warbling along and just thinking. And if you get bored, you can always call Jess and chatter about The Sound and the Fury.

Of course now I’m back in NC and I have writing to do and my heat isn’t on yet so my apartment is about 60 degrees and tomorrow is Monday again.

But it was very good day.

*She’s been collecting stuff  for me over the past couple of months from various outings: a Gaelic Storm concert, Maryland Renfest, a trip to Politics and Prose in DC.

**Two bottles of Sweet Briar Rose, guys. I’m saving (at least) one of them for Christmas. GET READY.

***Of course, driving with you guys is awesome, too.

Posted by: Jess | October 3, 2011

The Fault of Logic: Eugenics

You all know I’m a fan of Logic. Sherlock Holmes and Spock are two of my favorite people.  I’ll favor an intellectual argument over an emotional appeal the vast majority of the time. Logic and I are good friends.

But Logic’s got this… snag.

After Darwin put out his Theory of Evolution, people started thinking.  Animal breeders got together with sociologists and they started talking, and they reached the logical conclusion: we can intentionally select reproductive pairs based on a set of criteria designed to improve humanity.  Improving humanity is good, right? Everybody would like to end diseases and war and various other forms of suffering. It is logical to seek an end to suffering.  If we took our reproduction out of the chaotic hands of nature and applied order, think of what we could do.  In the 1930s, when Eugenics became a serious movement in the Western world, our knowledge of genetics was limited.  We believed things like criminality were hereditary rather than environmental, etc.  But the idea was not logically flawed.

We could end genetic diseases within a couple of generations. We could dramatically increase genetic diversity.  We could select for the healthiest individuals, tall, strong, smart people with little to no family history of cancers or heart disease.  Population could be controlled. These days, sex isn’t even necessary: artificial insemination would work fine.  Embryos could even be planted in willing mothers if the genetic mother did not wish to carry the child.  This is, in fact, already done through birth control, sperm banks, and IVF centers.  The only difference is it’s done on an individual basis.

According to logic, Eugenics is beautiful. It’s the epitome of what we can achieve, the ultimate triumph of humanity over nature.  No more romance emotionally dictating the continuation of our species.  No more religious, racial, or class lines dictating our choice in partner. Instead, our reproductive choices will be focused solely on the child’s benefit and the good of the whole.

But there is a snag.

It’s not just Nazi Germany, either, though that is the historic reason we steered away from Eugenics.  Most obviously, humanity isn’t capable of judging what it needs most, and never has been, and may never be.  But even if you had a council of Vulcans 100% in charge of the entire human population’s reproduction, making perfectly logical decisions, something’s still wrong.

You can’t have the good without the bad. Moreover, you don’t always know what’s good until it’s lost.  With Eugenics we lose the random factor.  Maybe everyone is healthy and no one gets cancer, but maybe there is no Mozart or Mme Curie or Picasso.  Maybe in elevating everyone, Genius is lost.  Or maybe it’s not: maybe there would be even better genius to invent interstellar travel and teleportation.  But then maybe we’d lose our charity, the part of us that gives us the strength to sit with the sick and dying, to care for the weak.

Or maybe it’d be something else.  We can’t be sure. But we have a feeling in our gut that it’s not the right path.  In Star Trek, Earth had the “Eugenics Wars” and the infamous Khan is a result. In Doctor Who, the Daleks are a result of their own eugenics.  In Star Wars, it’s the clones.

But the Logic of Eugenics remains, tugging at us like SweetGrass Voice.

Now you all know I just wanted to reference Digger for no good reason… Anyway I’m pretty sure out of the 5 of us I’m the only one who’s ever wanted to start a breeding program but… any thoughts on the subject of eugenics (or Digger) are welcome. Also in case you’re curious, I have been thinking about Eugenics because I have to read this book: Eugenic Design. Bye, now!

Posted by: LadySilver814 | September 25, 2011

Why the heck is my Apple Chips video so popular…

I just got a complete surprise. I was chatting with Greg in Gmail when this email from YouTube came in inviting me to earn revenue from my videos. Curiosity struck and I went to go see what all it entails. In brief they say stuff about copy righted material not being eligible and so I went to see which videos would be affected by it (basically my not so exciting video of room cleaning, my video from the snow storm, and the video/slideshow I made for the Westat’s Holiday party last year). But in looking at these things I noticed that my apple chips video had 321 views… WHAT THE?!? Greg says the only remotely exciting things about the video are the 1) speed apple washing and 2) the fact that I never included my head (I was avoiding including my head on purpose). So I just don’t get it.

In other news, I’ve dropped the grad stats courses that are required since they’re very basic statistics (remember Behavioral statistics Julia? we don’t get to ANOVAS till nearly the end of the semester). So I will be signing up for more advanced statistical courses later on to fulfill my “statistical requirements”. In the mean time I’m still in two courses which each meet once a week:- Professional and Ethical Issues meets on Mondays (more like a here’s how grad school works + a set of ethics modules for us to complete, which I’m already done with) and Learning and Comparative Cognition (which I absolutely love!) which meets on Fridays. I have just one 3-part paper assignment for the Learning & CC class (no exams/midterms), but I also have weekly readings, it’s expected that I partake in discussion with my 5 other classmates, and I lead one discussion for the last week of October – basically stuff I did my freshman year of college is being repeated just with animal cognition rather than behavioral medicine.

In addition to classes I’m spending time down in the wet lab where I work with fish. Currently I’m practicing the methods to do an experiment for my first year project (or FYRP as it’s been abbreviated to in the department) because there’s a lot of things that I have to get the timing down right or I’ve screwed up the trial. I’m finally starting to get good at the timing. I’m still not sure when I’ll start collecting data for my part of the project but I guess I’ll find out at my Monday lab meeting. And at some point I need to broach my idea for a Masters/PhD research topic to Pete so I can find out if I’m being an idiot or not…

One really cool thing about my apartment (that I’m sure you guys will approve of) is that I have an Eco-container for collecting my compost materials for the school’s compost program (and there’s a larger bin out by the waste disposal area for me to dump it into when it gets full)! Oh and I have spices growing in my windowsill because I missed having plants from day 1 of the move here. Thyme and marjoram – although I’ve never really used marjoram so I’ll have to figure out how to use it. I’ll put up some pictures soon since they just started sprouting! Yeay!

Laundry update for Julia – laundry pretty much takes about 12 hours to dry (typically). My sheets and lighter weight things have been taking less time (up to only 4 hours or so) while my heavier items such at jeans have been taking the full 12 hours. Of course the weather has been nice so far and I can leave the windows open to speed up the process so I’ll have to give you a winter laundry update when the snows actually hit.

And I mentioned on Facebook that on Thursday I went to a fashion show (with friends) and one of the designers has this fashion line Cultivated Artillery which is like zombie-pocalypse meets modern design. (You can see some of her stuff here or here, just go left in the second one to see just Cultivated Artillery stuff.)


Posted by: Julia | September 20, 2011

A brief, silly revelation

As I’m sure none of you know, Step Singing was yesterday. The only reason I know, of course, is because my facebook exploded with Step Singing pictures today.

You know, I really don’t miss it.

Seriously. I value my time at Sweet Briar. I’m proud of the things we did there. Most of the time, it was pretty awesome. But all of my stuff (my hat, my signs, my odes, etc) went in a box that’s now in storage and I am frankly okay with that. They’re there when I want to reminisce, but I don’t need them.


As you know, there was a brief spike in tap club numbers while we were students. During our tenure at SBC, not one, but TWO new tap clubs were messily and bitchily birthed into existence.

I remember those ICC meetings. It was bitchy. The end.

One of these was BAM, which, as far as I can tell, borrows here and there from other traditions and makes a place for people who want to be in a tap club and want to be able to say they want to be in a tap club. I can respect that, as I’m sure you all can.

What continues to make BAM distinctive, however, is that they have no rival (as far as I know).

I know we’ve joked about made-up tap clubs in person and in The Noise (LONG LIVE THE NOISE), but, guys, I really think we missed an opportunity with BAM.

Because we could have made SPAM. And we didn’t. WHY DIDN’T WE!?!

I’m picturing a tap club that has no interest in class spirit or community service. It only serves absurdity. A tap club for which your greatest asset is your sense of snark/irony and the traditions are all so optional, it’s ridiculous. For which the application process is a submission of satire or social criticism. A tap club for which the mascot is Angry Piggy (who, incidentally, will wake up on your face, but it’s not hazing, it’s an accepted occupational hazard). For which your best “Are you f***ing kidding me?” face is all that’s required of you on tap day. A tap club that would celebrate nerdom and geekery. A tap club to end all tap clubs. SPAM.

Inspiration, WHY do you strike so late sometimes?

This message brought to you by Julia gchatting with Jessica, exhaustion, and white wine.

/end transmission

PS. This also begs the question: what would you have done with an extra year at Sweet Briar? DISCUSS.

Posted by: Jess | September 20, 2011

A Vlog!

But not a terribly important one. Just me trying to use iMovie and not doing an excellent job of it.

Assuming you all watch it on QP and not youtube, description:

Really not a great summary of the book. Morgan, the author, is analyzing how the economic situation of colonial Virginia influenced the choices made which led to slavery, and how these same choices led to our concept of freedom.

Posted by: Liz | September 20, 2011

What Tyrion’s Emmy means

I don’t know about you guys, but I literally screamed myself hoarse on Sunday night when Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for playing Tyrion Lannister, the most charming and backstabbed intriguer I’ve ever loved. I exploded out of my chair and danced back and forth across the entire first floor of my house, screaming with glee. I’d hardly dared to hope that he’d win; his performance was incredible, but the odds were thin. When he did win, it felt like vindication. But not for Game of Thrones, even though that was its only win of the night.

What had me rejoicing like a banshee, even more than the well-deserved recognition of Dinklage, was the next big crack in the genre glass ceiling.

Back in 2003, I was thrilled when Lord of the Rings mopped the Academy floor with any and all comers. But part of me seethed with fury on behalf of the cast. The technical wins were well-deserved; the directing award was overdue; the Best Picture win was the blissful capper of the night. But I scoffed at Tim Robbins’ award for Best Supporting Actor, angry that Sean Astin’s heartbreaking performance hadn’t even been nominated. Frodo lost the Ring, a finger, his innocence, and any recognition by the powers of Hollywood. The only actor nominated from the whole series was Ian McKellen for Fellowship, which I suspect was due more to the fact that he’s Ian McKellen than because he was a note-perfect Gandalf. “You can be a spectacle,” was the message, or at least the one I heard. “We love to look at you. But you can’t really move us. There’s nothing about you that’s real.”

And then there was college. Much as I love Carrie and JGB, I got really sick really fast of having to discuss the purpose of fantasy every time I turned in a story that didn’t take place in our modern world. “How do we make real what isn’t real?” Well, we’re writers. That’s what we do all the time. A story’s ability to move you should be judged on whether or not it moves you, not on whether its setting confers the right to move. It didn’t help that my favorite fantasies – Kushiel’s Dart, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Farseer Trilogy, the Lioness Quartet – touched me and affected me and changed me far more deeply than any “acceptable” literature I read for class. Here were people just as real as any in Jhumpa Lahiri or William Trevor. Why were their struggles somehow invalidated by the fact that their worlds couldn’t be found on our maps? How could genre dictate, in and of itself, whether or not a story deserved a fair reading?

That was why I didn’t think Peter Dinklage stood a chance of winning a well-deserved Emmy. The performance would be tainted by association with the imagination. The nomination was a courtesy nod to a fine actor, not a real promise of a potential win. This was the mindset I had run into time and time again, the one that patted my head and turned away when I insisted that genre fiction was as rich and rewarding as any kind of writing out there.

And when he won – when that mindset cracked and admitted that this character had moved them – I rejoiced. Because I’ve been waiting eight years for this moment, and I was so afraid that it would never come.

Posted by: Jess | September 15, 2011

A Life Update, more or less

Seeing as I’ve been in Alabama for about 5 weeks, and in school for 3, I figure it’s time for a report! Also I’ve wanted to write a post for a few days but haven’t been able to come up with a decent subject.

So, how’s Alabama? How do I like it, how’s the adjusting?  How’s being back in school going? How do I feel about my life?

Let’s start with Alabama.  It is, in fact, hot.  Except to people from Texas, who find it refreshing.  The high today was 95.  It does not rain here except when it storms (so far).  The trees are big – the kind of trees that demand respect – and there are bug noises day in and day out. Cicadas, many kinds going by the different sounds, and crickets. And there are bird noises I don’t recognize.  The ground is made of red dust, and because there are no mountains the sky is wide, and very often remarkably blue.  It is, despite people’s best efforts, beautiful.  Speaking of the people, thus far nothing’s really jumped out at me as strikingly different about people here versus people at home.  Obviously, there is a Southern accent which is strongest in the people 1) not from a city and 2) who have lived in the state their whole lives.  It would be easy to come here and apply preconceptions and stereotypes and to see only that, but you could do that anywhere.  This is not to say that everything is identical or that everything is paradise.  Race exists in a strange way here, and I’m still getting to know how it works, so I’m not really going to get into it yet, except that I am very clearly, automatically, privileged.  There are counties near me with 20% unemployment rates.  Lumbering is still a major industry.  Environmental laws remain lax, but at the same time this is one of the few reasons industries move here.  Alabama is, as all places, complicated, with good and bad historical moments, people, and choices.

As to how I like it and how I am adjusting, so far I like it very much, but there’s still plenty of stuff I haven’t seen or experienced yet.  I’m also in a town heavily influenced by a large, wealthy university, and spend a lot of my time at that university, so my view of the city is not a complete one.  But, still, I love the weather. No, seriously, I set my AC at 80 in August, and it’s been off since September started. I leave the door open in the mornings, sometimes in the evenings, like now. People tend to be nice, more open than I’m used to.  It is, for example, customary to chat during business transactions, which I am terrible at but at the same time it makes me feel more… welcome?  Included?  Not rushed. omg not rushed.  People say it’s slow in the South, but I’m starting to think it’s more that nobody’s having a panic attack just trying to get to work.  As far as me, personally, maybe I’m just happy because I’m getting like 8-10 hours of sleep every night. :D

How I’m feeling about school is pretty closely tied in to how I’m feeling about this place, and it’s probably not possible for me to separate the two.  I have resisted panicking about the large papers looming at the end of my semester, and reminded myself that I have done all this before, it is not different.  A certain amount of anxiety makes sure I get the work done, anyway.  The classes are just starting to dig into the material this week, and they’re getting good.  My brain is both reeling from the quantity of information I’m forcing it to absorb and also squeeing because it is no longer required to perform the same monotonous tasks 40 hours a week.  There are smart people and less smart people in my classes, but at least so far nobody’s revealed themselves to be a complete flake.  At least they all show up. :)  There will be stress when I am writing my 20 and 25 page papers later, but I think (I hope) at Christmas time I’ll be very pleased with this whole school thing.

As to my life, I am happy here, but I still don’t know what to do after this, or what I even *want* to do.  For the short term, though, I’d like to get to know people here better, and keep exploring.

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