Archive for January, 2008

To Hell in a Handbasket

But at least I’m enjoying the ride! I don’t know what it is about this semester, but I feel like I’m ten steps behind on a good day (and actually, that’s probably me being overly optimistic). So, I give you some random Wednesday bullet points!

  • The “flavor” of coffee today at the student-run coffee place is “Buzz.” That’s not a flavor. That’s just a crap-load of caffeine. But hey, I’m not picky. One of my favorite coffee drinks is the one with coffee and a shot (or two) of espresso, so I’m not too worried about the warning I received at the coffee place (and we won’t go into the fact that I was rather annoyed they felt the need to warn me in the first place–nothing like making assumptions based on appearances! Although perhaps they were worried because of the way my eye was twitching? Just kidding).
  • I really enjoyed reading The Man of Mode by George Etherege. I haven’t had much experience in reading plays, but a Restoration drama about libertines is always a good time. And Sir Fopling is just what his name describes him to be: a fop. He’s a wannabe wit/libertine, whose vulgarity is overt rather than genteel.  Thus, he’s always good for a laugh.  I was actually quite amazed at how the characters practically jumped off the page–I could visualize the performances in my head.
  • One of my research projects has taken off! And in surprising new directions. Hello again, Edna Ferber! (It’s eerie how I come back to the same ideas…and rather sad. Sad, because that means I could have been dissertating right now if I would have stopped fighting things and just gone with the flow. Argh. But, it’s better to have learned this now, when I can do something about it and am able to acknowledge that I really do want to pursue this direction of research in the future, than to come upon this when it’s far too late).
  • My other research idea is still at the gate.  In fact, I think the plane might be missing.  Or, there’s a crack in its engine, and the flight crew is stuck in traffic.   But it’ll work itself out one day….I hope.
  • I had to make the walk of shame last night (not that walk of shame, get your mind out of the gutter).  I had to take back an armload of unread books to the library and confess to myself that I really should not check out any more in the next few weeks. But never fear, I have an entire stack of unread books from my shelves now piled up on my bedside table, taunting me.  (Oh, and one or two new books from the library might have attacked me and made their way home with me…it’s a blessing, and a curse).

Ok, time to go see if I can find a better basket for my ride…is it getting warm in here?

About those reading resolutions….

So, in the spirit of the New Year and in a rich food/family coma, I made some silly resolve to read more books outside of my coursework this year. Having survived my first week of classes by the skin of my teeth (by the way, that imagery is just plain creepy when you think about it), I’m thinking that I will have to post on coursework reading after all because I have no time…yet. Eventually my schedule will settle into a routine (I hope!) and things will even out, but until then, I just have to hold on tight because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

In general, I like my courses (and I’m really excited about one of my seminars), and the research should be fun (and if not fun, at least informative). But between my part-time job; working out on a regular basis; the countless reading group and writing group meetings; as well as another research job I’m working on for one of my profs–I’m tired. This weekend promises to be full of books, however, as I scramble to get a jump start on my research projects (which are hazy, but coming together), and fill in some gaps. I do think it’s time, however, to start minutely scheduling my time. Here are the books/plays/articles I need to read this weekend:

So that’s a total of 645 pages. That’s actually not too bad for a weekend of reading. If I give myself 3 days to finish all of this, that’s a total of 215 pages a day (again, not bad, this is looking up actually). Sometimes I parse things out on an individual level so that I read a little of each thing every day. It gives me smaller daily goals and prevents me from feeling overwhelmed and zoning out in the middle of one book to think about how much I have to read in the next one. So if I read about 56 pages of The Man of Mode a day, I’ll finish it by Monday evening, etc… Finishing on Monday then gives me time to re-skim, write up/condense my notes, and create summary pages of everything in time for class on Wednesday.

There are a number of books I would like to get to this weekend as well. I’ve started Dostoevsky’s Demons, and I’m loving it. My only other experience with Dostoevsky was from my first year in college, when we read Crime and Punishment. I did not enjoy it, and it’s definitely time to give it another go. I’ve been surprised by how much humor I’m finding in Demons thus far. And then there’s People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, which I can’t wait to start. I would love to read Henry James’s novella, Daisy Miller (there’s a reference to it in The Rise of Silas Lapham) and get a head start on Abraham Cahan’s Yekl, and the Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto. Oh, and the library just informed me that a copy of The Seashell on the Mountaintop just arrived. So many books, and so little time… But I’m hoping to start give mid-point reading updates. For some reason I have it in my head that I can’t share my impressions about a book until I’ve finished it, but by the time that happens, I’m too tired to write anything up. So bear with me…

On libraries…

Today was an adventurous day of sorts. I had a lot of little errands to wind up before my first classes start tomorrow, so this afternoon I set out to do the following things:

  • Buy the remainder of my books for class (it’s a class I’m sitting in on, but could see myself teaching in the future)
  • Get course reader for one of my grad seminars
  • Go to library to photocopy an article in a book that was placed on reserve for the above-mentioned seminar

It’s a good thing I stopped for some coffee on the way, because my little errand-a-thon turned into a two hour session of running around.

First, a bit o’ griping. My graduate seminar has 9 students in it. So can someone explain to me how only 7 course readers get copied? I got to pay in advance to get it copied “on demand,” which translates into something along the lines of: “You can demand it today, but we won’t copy the frickin’ thing until tomorrow.” Harumph, I say. So back to the copy place I go tomorrow afternoon.

I managed to buy my books for the undergrad class I’m sitting in on–another $110 (holy greenbacks Batman!) just went flying out the window.

Now, Gripe #2. The essay I have to copy is in a book that is on reserve at the library. Why it isn’t in the course reader, I don’t know. But, like the dutiful little grad student that I am, I truck on over the the building that could only be described as a 1950s-era Stalin-esque box of cement–otherwise known as the worst campus library EVER! I know I’ve mentioned this in a post somewhere before, but, this is the reading room at my former university’s library:


Stunning, no?

I couldn’t find a picture of my current library, but I think it’s probably better that way. No need to give anyone nightmares. Anyhoo, the book I needed was on a limited 2-hour reserve, meaning, it can’t leave the library. In other words, I can’t bring it over to my department, where I could copy it for free, but instead have to spend more money to copy it on site. But here’s the kicker: to use the copiers, you need a copy card, which can only be attained after traveling to a tiny unlabeled closet on the first floor, successfully solving the sphinx’s riddle, and promising your first-born child to the evil wizard hiding behind the curtain. In this little cubbyhole, you have a change machine that only gives you quarters, but two card-dispensing machines, which only take $1, $5, and $10 bills. Well, actually, they say they take $10 bills, but every other sign (in says they don’t. So I had to go find the business office (in the basement) to get the right change, return to the land of the lost, and then, voila! A cheap little plastic copy card was mine, all mine.

The next obstacle: finding an actual copy machine. After hunting around on three different floors, and leaving a little trail of breadcrumbs, I finally found one on the fourth floor in a room off the stacks and I was able to copy my 30-page article. All in all, the adventure took me an hour, when it should have taken 20 minutes, at most. It doesn’t help that they decided to substantially renovate the library two days before the beginning of the semester. In many ways it’s more convenient–there’s now a cafe near the entrance, with coffee beans roasted by my favorite local roaster. And it’s much more “open” spatially-speaking. But they took down the main circulation desk and replaced it with a bunch of little desks, most of which were still occupied by the tech guys who were still plugging in computers and trying to get things running.

Needless to say, I ended up funneling my anger from the afternoon into my workout (yeah treadmill!). And now I can only hope that I don’t have to go back to the library for a little while, or at least until I feel like solving some more riddles and/or I come across the secret treasure map and decoder ring…

Repacking the school bag

Alternatively titled: Nerdiness and I go waaaaay back

My mom and I often joke that I am destined to be a perpetual student. I like to tell Apparent Dip that I married him with the idea that he would become a millionaire and allow me to go to school for the rest of my life, but it turns out that I made a major miscalculation. As he likes to tell me, geologists–particularly those in academia–don’t really make that much. Sigh. So instead I live the life of a nomadic grad student (although I might be coming home to roost in English once I hear about the M.A. program here). This suits me just fine, actually, because despite all the kvetching about classes and writing and applications and lack of money, etc., etc. etc., the fact remains: I’m doing what I love. And I am reminded about this every time a new semester/quarter begins. I love academia (not everything, mind you, particularly the idiotic bureaucracy that seeks to stymie my every move, but the grand idea of academia–that I love).

When I was a kid, the beginning of a school year was always exciting. In an abstract sense, it represented a fresh start. In a very tangible sense, it meant new school supplies. My parents got a kick out of the fact that I would pack and repack my bag in the weeks leading up to school. I would sit in my room happily color-coding my folders and notebooks (History? Blue, definitely. Math? Black. Science? Green), and lovingly packing my pencils and pens. A bit obsessive? Most likely. And although the ritual has changed (nowadays the pencils are mechanical with .7 mm lead and the pens are my new fave, the Pilot G-2–particularly as they make it in a .38 mm tip with black ink), and I don’t buy as many new school supplies, or pack and repack my bag, I still go through the motions to some extent whenever I order my books ($240 and counting baby!) and try to solve the never-ending question regarding the best methods for organizing notes and research materials. And let me tell you, computers make my organization-loving heart go weak in the knees. I’ve been playing around with a lot of software lately in an attempt to get a handle on the electronic mess that I call a desktop and here are some of my new favorite toys:

  • Devon Think: This database system is really quite powerful (and made for Macs) and I’m just getting started so I have by no means explored all of the options. I’m using it to store my pdfs thematically to allow for easier access (I also have all of my pdfs organized alphabetically by author).
  • Scrivener: I’m attempting to move away from Word, and I stumbled upon this nifty program in the process. I wasn’t sure how useful it would be, but I’m really enjoying it. I don’t use the full-screen mode because I just can’t block everything out–I need a certain amount of background “noise” (be it actual noise or just open apps and windows on my desktop) to stay sane. But it has helped me to break free of an older, unproductive writing mode and move toward a more free-thinking catch-the-thoughts-as-they-come kind of writing.
  • Toodledo: I discovered this through K8’s blog. I keep a paper version of a to-do list/calendar with me (currently the Moleskine weekly calendar), but this is a great way to organize myself whenever I’m at a computer (and, as it’s web-based, it works at home on my Mac as well as on my work PC). Plus, it works with Google Calendar, which is how Apparent Dip and I stay organized in regards to each others’ schedules (or we would, if we would remember to write things on the calendar in the first place–hint, hint, AD).

Classes start on Monday (Tuesday for me), and although I would really like more of a vacation, I find that excitement bubbling up again. Never mind that once the semester is underway I will discover that I haven’t organized myself as well as I would like, or that I have somehow managed to lose of my pens and pencils by the end of the first day and am inevitably reduced to the indignity of stealing them from AD until we go on our next date at the office supply store (Where the hell do these things go? And yes, we really are that lame. But take heart: we go on dates to the grocery store as well. If you saw our grocery store, you’d understand.). For now, as Anne of Green Gables would say, everything is a fresh page with nothing written on it yet. I even ordered a new bookbag!

Put down the book, and no one gets hurt…

Alternatively titled: Why didn’t anyone tell me (earlier) that I could do a Ph.D. in the history of science?

So here’s the story: I work in a geology department. I’m not tied to the department specifically, but my office is there and, as it happens, it’s just a few steps away from the geology library. So this afternoon I made my way over and checked out some books for the Planet Earth Reading Challenge. I started with Naomi Oreskes’s The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science. And I’m really enjoying it…perhaps too much. And that makes it dangerous–because it’s giving me ideas (damn those books and their ideas!). What the book is really telling me, however, is that I’m a little slow on the uptake. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was a Geology and Russian double major in college, at least I was until the last semester of my senior year, when it became apparent that I could not write two theses and leave college with my sanity in check (and to graduate with a B.S. in Geology you HAD to write a thesis). Although my sanity is still questionable, I’m just a little bummed to discover, too late in my academic career, that a viable option existed in which my love of science could be intertwined with my love of the humanities. (Not to mention, one has a better chance finding some funding to work in the history of science, whereas in English? Not so much. Sisyphus at Academic Cog has a great post about this by the way).

Now, as Apparent Dip likes to tell me, I can still do this fun history of science research on my own, but to that I say: harumph. I know I can do it on my own, but I would like to teach it as well, and at the college level, which requires….a ph.d. Besides, he can cheerfully inform me of my options because he has long had the luxury of knowing what he wants to study. He loves geology. From the moment he went on his first field trip in his freshman year of college, he knew. Me? I’m still trying to figure out what I wanted to be yesterday much less when I grow up. I love everything (as a brief glance at my CV can tell you)–it’s a rare subject that doesn’t fascinate me in some way. Unfortunately for me, there is no such thing as a ph.d. program in everything. But it is comforting to know that I have a billion back-up plans hovering in the wings. And one day, I’ll find a way to incorporate everything into one massive dissertation that will truly earn the name of “loose baggy monster.” Until then? I’ll be opening my books with caution…

Planet Earth Reading Challenge

170nbadge.jpgI broke down and joined another challenge. How could I resist? I mean, I’m married to a geologist and I was a geology major myself for two and a half years in college (I’m beginning to think that there wasn’t a subject that I didn’t major in at some point in my life). The challenge is being sponsored by Sylvia at Classical Bookworm (clickity-click on the image to get to the specific challenge post). Here are the rules in a nutshell (perhaps I should say geode, in keeping with the overall theme):

What I propose for this reading challenge is to read one book about each of these four parts of our planet, or two or three books on geology (since there are so many of them), and one on another topic.

The four parts of the planet are as follows:

  • Lithosphere: the rocky (and molten) part of our planet
  • Hydrosphere: the oceans and the water cycle
  • Biosphere: evolution and the global ecosystem
  • Atmosphere: our thin, blue blanket of air
  • Despite the fact that my head is in the clouds most of the time, I’ve decided to remain firmly planted on the earth–I’m choosing to read 3 geology-oriented books and one that Sylvia lists as part of the biosphere section. Here’s my tentative list of potential candidates (all given a thumbs-up by Apparent Dip):

    • A wildcard pick that might not be exactly in line with the requirements, but which sounds interesting is Excavating Victorians ~ Victoria Zimmerman. According to Amazon, it is a book that “examines nineteenth-century Britain’s reaction to the revelations about time and natural history provided by the new sciences of geology and archaeology.”
    • And if I’m feeling really ambitious, I might try to tackle The Age of the Earth ~ G. Brent Dalrymple

    So, in addition to Russian and French literature (and my three courses this semester), I will be shaking things up a bit and satisfying my craving for non-fiction with these earthy reads. Come join the party!

    And I’m back…again

    Sorry once again about the unintentional blogging break. My parents were visiting for a week (we got to celebrate a second round of Christmas-ing which was fantastic) so blogging went on the back burner. It was a great visit–my parents (with Apparent Dip’s devious help) outdid themselves. Not only did I get an Ashford Joy spinning wheel (I made yarn! Soooo exciting!), but they also gave me a trip to London and Paris! LONDON AND PARIS!!!!!!! In May, Apparent Dip and I will be traveling across the pond. I can barely restrain myself! (Hence the overuse of exclamation points and all-caps). Of course, my first reaction was to run to my bookshelves to see what I have that needs to be read as background for the trip. And then there was the obligatory trip to the bookstore to get more guidebooks (because you can never have too many pretty pictures and descriptions of places to visit). I’m still in shock really, and can’t quite grasp the fact that this trip is happening–it’s not just an idea, the tickets are purchased and the hotels are booked.

    This makes my decision to read more French literature this year rather prescient. I’m still devising a list of books that I want to read, so keep the suggestions coming (thanks already to Eva, Nessa, and Kate for some book ideas that I have promptly placed on the list). I’ve already read quite a bit o’ British fiction in my coursework, so that part of the trip is covered. I will, however, also be reading Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography. And perhaps I should finally get around to reading We’ll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930 by Harvey Levenstein. And then there’s Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey.

    On another note, I have some posts in the works. I do plan on reviewing Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union; I have joined another reading challenge even though I said I wasn’t going to (I’m a liar, but we all knew that…); and I will be creating a list of French books that I would like to read for my own personal challenge. In addition I have decided not to begin my year with a re-reading of War and Peace for the Russian Reading Challenge because, well, as much as I want to dive into the new translation, I feel I should start with something I haven’t read before. So, Dostoevsky’s Demons is once again in my bookbag. This time I will finish it! It’s part of my overall plan for 2008–I’ve decided to pick a theme for the year: completion. It’s time to clean up some of the unfinished clutter in my life. I need to complete some knitting projects, some spinning projects, and a whole pile of books and challenges. So, with that in mind, it’s time to get back to work and to get going on those posts in progress! Sorry for the rambling nature of the post, but I’ve had too much coffee this morning and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I get to travel this year (and that my winter break comes to an end in a few more days…).  Sigh.