Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Excuses, excuses...

“What are you doing?” I asked lightly, entering one room full of freshmen doing Physics experiments from another across the hall. I was in my senior year of undergrad, at a medium-sized university near where I grew up. I started assisting with labs as a sophomore – soon after changing majors – and had been ever so flattered to be asked. It was rough in the beginning, but I got better with practice. I’d never been much on discipline though – limiting myself to disapproving frowns for the most part as students dropped rolling carts or played computer games rather than dutifully graphing distance vs. time.

This, though, was uncalled for. My least favorite of the groups – and they were all ranked in my mind, providing further evidence that teaching is not my niche – hadn’t even begun to build their set-up and the female sat doing some knitting. She barely glanced up when I approached, and I raised my eyebrows at the 2 guys who completed the group. They abashedly looked down at the sheet of instructions I’d carefully printed.

“I don’t understand.” She said, still focused on her craft.

“Knock it off.” I said, clipping my words and settling into a glare. She didn’t, and I huffed with surprised indignation. “Look.” I continued sharply. “Do the work or go home.” I pulled out the appropriate equipment, helped the guys get started, and resisted the urge to kick the stool out from under the knitting girl.

“I’ll be back to check on you.” I warned, and the other groups glanced up with surprised smiles.

“Getting tough?” One student asked as I headed out the door to check on my other room, and I gestured with irritation, then returned his smile.

I liked these students. Found them to be earnest and sweet for the most part, and even when they were difficult or pushed a bit, I generally could let on that I was mildly bothered, and they’d back off. In reward for their good behavior, I was an easy grader. My girls - the roommates - would get irritated with me for cutting them too much slack.

“It’s bad to reward those kids who don’t work hard enough!” Rachel would insist as I carefully marked papers and suggested improvements yet scored them highly regardless. “It makes the ones who do try feel like it's not worth it!” I frowned when I realized she was right, and adjusted the scores accordingly. Now mediocre reports would receive 16/20 rather than 18, I decided happily.

My method worked, I insisted to them. The students were learning – I could see improvement in the lab reports. Plus, it’s not my personality or teaching style to tend toward grading hard. I rolled my eyes at those professors and lab assistants, making faces and calling them names. (Self-important, pompous, you get the idea.) For me, it’s just as easy to not try hard enough because you know you can’t do well as to lack motivation because grades are too easily awarded. So I went with the latter and was generally well-liked.

It was with great shock that I returned to the room to find Knitting et al. gone.

“Where’d they go?” I asked loudly as I walked in the room, and all faces turned toward me.

The guy near the door winced theatrically. “We told them you’d be mad.”

“I’m surprised! How could they just leave?!” But I laughed with the rest of them, answered questions, stayed late so they could write their reports and get them turned in right away, then headed down the hall to the professor’s office. We talked and he decided to take care of it himself.

The story should end there. I could say that I just prefer to look at people in the most positive light possible – offer help, give breaks – but when they push too far, I hold my ground. I’m better now than I once was. But then? I caved. Joe, one of the guys, sent email apologizing for his behavior, saying that the professor had allowed them to complete the work for half-credit, but they didn’t understand the write-up.

On my walk back from his dorm room to help them sort it out, I wondered if I’d chosen correctly. Not demanded enough respect. Let them slide too easily. That’s just me, I thought lightly, and didn’t think much else about it. They were good kids overall, and even if they weren't, my helping them out one Thursday evening wasn't likely to change their lives. I liked that I had taken time to do it - didn't that move me closer to being a good person?

I’m so incredibly far from perfect. I’m selfish. Make mistakes. Hurt people unintentionally. Ignore phone messages and email when I don’t feel up to being friendly. But I’m still a good person, I think. I care about people – certainly don’t mean any offense or harm. They should therefore understand that sometimes I falter, but overall, I’m delightful. Honestly.

In return, I will gracefully accept the flaws of others. Try to decipher motives rather than just taking an action at face value. That lab group? They got overwhelmed. Knitting girl had failed two exams and just zoned out. The guys didn’t want to overrule her, and knew I was getting frustrated with them, so they decided to leave.

Wicked struck me in much the same way. I found dear Elphaba to be a very sympathetic character, and find myself coming up with all sorts of reasons for her behavior when I talk to anyone about the book. I feel badly for her because her efforts were largely in vain. When she did hurtful things or made bad choices, there tended to be reasons. If not that spell then her childhood! The world pushed her! If people had loved her more, or if the world had been more fair, if the educational system had been different… After all, if she didn’t really do anything all that bad, and if she started out with good intentions, then doesn’t she deserve a break?

Convinced I was right, I’ve continued to think about it as I follow Liir’s story. And perhaps I’m a bit off. Then, as I continue to work through my illness here (whimper, moan, blink pathetically as I ask for more sympathy), I’ve had nightmares. I had a dream that there was this sad man. People were mean to him – took away his job, his family left, threw things at him, wouldn’t be friends with him when he was living on the street. I felt so sorry for him as I tossed and turned, finally getting up to moan as I wandered down the hall in search of pain medication.

I fell asleep again and the man was chasing me. I kept yelling over my shoulder that I understood why he was angry. I’d be angry too! But senseless violence is hardly the answer. “Stop chasing me!” I finally said, turning a corner and searching for an avenue of escape. “Damn it! Bad behavior with a good excuse is still bad behavior!”

I woke up gasping, and hurried through the house checking the locks to ensure that no understandably-crazy person was going to get me. Isn’t it better to understand pain? I thought. Wouldn’t it be better to have my sister-in-law try to kill me because I’m so catty to her than to have some random person lose it and hit me with a car? Is it better to have someone angry at me because I did something wrong rather than being dismissive just because he's having a bad day? At some point, does it matter? The brain chemistry and childhood and environment? If you hurt me, isn't that your responsibility regardless of the motivation?

I guess I’m too achy and tired to come up with an answer. But how far is too far? When do you stop being understanding and empathetic and start being pathetic and sad? Do people take advantage because I allow it? Or is it worth it to forgive mistakes because I make them myself? Because I see myself as loving in my gentle understanding?

In grad school, I would shake my head at Carrie when she was mean. She’d snap at people, berate them with any small provocation, not allow any sort of intrusion on what she considered to be disrespectful behavior.

“Grad school will do that to you. I used to be nice!” She informed me when I tried yet again to soothe after she insulted one of the boys. “Eventually you’ll get tired of being sweet and accommodating! You’ll want people to pay attention to you, stop asking you for favors because they know you’ll accept, start dumping work on someone else for a change. You’ll see.”

Have I? And if not, will I?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Migraine this morning.

Nausea (perhaps from too much medication for the morning) this afternoon, yet the headache looms right behind the wall created by too much Advil, Excedrin and Tylenol PM (not all at the same time, but all today).

This is one of those days where "I'm staying home because I'm sick." is really justified. I have done no work. I can't write a blog post that makes any sense. No finishing my talk or dealing with my histograms.

There are, however, alternating periods of rest and writhing in pain. But that's somehow boring to read, right? I can't even work in some sort of analogy that represents my misery in some entertaining way.

Tomorrow will certainly be better. And this is where I close with a small, pathetic whimper.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Grad school, first year

I will say that this was likely the worst year of my life. Inside the span from August of 2001 to July of 2002, I was deeply depressed – to the point of being nonfunctional, physically ill as often as not, desperate to escape a situation that, for the first time in my life, left me feeling inadequate, stupid and unable to learn quickly or perform well enough. Not such good times. However, hindsight softens some of that and allows the good memories to shine through. I can now look back, and after a shudder of recalled pain, think that it wasn’t quite so bad after all.

The beginning of the year wasn’t too bad. Classes had allowed escape from being ignored in Group B, and the schedule seemed pretty tame. Three courses, two with labs, and a seminar. Not a problem for someone who had consistently taken 18 credit hours in undergrad, maxing out at 21 for a single semester by adding a chemistry course at the local community college. That same semester, by the way, I worked an internship at an environmental laboratory, so it’s not as if I had no mental toughness.

I had always done well though. At no point in my academic career could I recall feeling inadequate. (Well, there was one, but that was a mistake!) So after getting our very first exams back, I sat in a room with my peers and realized that I was near the bottom of those scores placed on the board. Only three people scored lower than I, and that was shocking and painful and wrong. I had considered myself prepared, but my “I’ll figure something out when I get there” strategy had failed me against the sheer studying effort of these students. Reeling from the blow to my ego, which is relatively fragile, I tried to pull it together.

Our first lab report was due shortly after. It was a measurement lab – the diameter and width of a penny was on it, among other discipline specific measurements. Simple enough, certainly, which is why we all put it off until the night before in favor of doing required reading, research and social activities.

I broke around 3AM, never having completed an all-nighter. Sleep deprivation is not good for me – I don’t tolerate it to any degree. But I continued to stubbornly battle Excel, and did propogation of error problems that were poetically full of errors. I called M until she said she was going to bed – her report was finished enough, she declared, finally tiring of my tantrums and whining, I think. Then the guys started calling me, and I took some comfort in their identical struggles and tirades until I too grew weary.

I can’t do this, I remember thinking. My tiny apartment closed in on me. The loveseat tucked under the counter that lead into the kitchen. I was ever so proud that my living space was separate from the cooking area. I’d visited rooms where the sink and stove were simply located along one wall of a room, and frowned with confusion and horror. My apartment, 420 precious square feet that was more expensive than I can bear to admit, had a kitchen that opened into a small living space. My bed pressed against my desk, which overlooked a small window. I stared out the window that night – into the dark courtyard where people slowly came and went, even in the early morning hours. Too tired to cry, too crushed to sleep, too frightened to pack and go home – I didn’t think I’d come back and failure was foreign to me. I just sat – completely lost. I let the next call go to voice mail, the first time of many that I’d ignore that ring. I couldn’t help them, I remember thinking. I can’t even figure this out for myself.

I didn’t sleep that night, going to class the next morning in sweats and my glasses – the only time in grad school I’d wear them – and not speaking to anyone. I waited in line to turn in my lab report, and snapped viciously at the TA – a friend – and I can still remember how surprised he looked. It’s not like me to be mean.

I went to the Greek Letters afterward, stealing the chair from the desk that was not yet mine, and scooting over to talk to β.

“Doing OK?” She asked lightly, and her face twisted in sympathy when I shook my head. She patted my shoulder until I pulled away, horrified at the thought of crying in front of these people I admired so much.

χ swiveled his chair around and sighed. “Did I tell you my story?” He asked in his slight Southern drawl, and I shook my head, staring at him pathetically, wide-eyed and nearly broken by a single exam and lab report.

“Flunked out of my first program.” He said easily, and shrugged when I cocked my head in surprise. He’s brilliant. While I enjoy complimenting people, I can say with complete confidence that I’ve met fewer people smarter than he.

“I always forget that.” α remarked, turning from his work with a smile that fell quickly into concern as he looked at me for the first time. “It’s hard.” He said simply, and β and α offered quick agreement. “I kept waiting for them to send me home.” He continued, “Kept expecting someone to realize they made a mistake and that I didn’t belong here.”

“Don’t cry, sweetheart.” β whispered and handed me a Kleenex. Because these people belonged here, I thought, but couldn’t speak as I tried to hold back tears, letting only a couple escape. I had the same thoughts – I couldn’t do this, didn’t belong, had no idea what I was going to say to everyone who knew I’d begun grad school when I left with nothing but a sense of useless failure. But I was right – this wasn’t going to work for me. I simply wasn't good enough. As she patted and soothed, α went to the corner to flip through files and χ pulled a pile of papers down from his shelf.

I thought they were uncomfortable with my display of emotion, and berated myself for not holding it together. But in one of the more exquisite moments of my academic career, they each placed folders in my lap. Their own work from first year. Old exams, lab reports, homework assignments.

“It won’t all be the same for you,” α said softly. “But you say you work best from examples, so here you go.”

“Plus,” χ said, kindly trying to coax me into a smile, “it’ll show you we didn’t know what we were talking about half the time. But we made it. You’ll make it too.

“Sometimes it’s just showing up. Turning something in. Asking for help, then giving it a shot. Don’t worry if you get the very lowest score.”

“Well, don’t get the lowest score,” α interrupted. “If it’s that bad, come get me and we’ll work problems.”

“How is that helpful?!” β glared at him and patted me a bit harder in her agitation. “I got the lowest score a lot and I’m still here!”

“Well… look at you though.” He teased and she continued to glare.

“Listen to χ.” She advised me.

So he continued. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. There are going to be days where this really sucks.” They all nodded. “But you can do it. We all did it, and I’d tell you if I thought you didn’t belong here. But it’s a daily struggle. Go to class and lab. Study. Write lab reports that don’t really matter all that much. Sleep. Go out. Whine and complain when it helps. You’ll be fine.”

He was right – they all were. In some strange way, I did belong there, I think. And if not, I made myself fit. Poring over their work so I could do my own, concepts eventually became clear. That test was an aberration – I did consistently well on exams. I realized that the lab was a small section of the overall grade, and losing sleep over 0.5% of the grade (M and I calculated it after that first report) was asinine. So I decided that some days I’d just show up – put in some effort and not worry so very much. It wasn’t always a success – I spent more nights than I’d like to admit huddled in my bathroom listening to the shower run, fighting back sick panic over failing.

Overall though, I think grad school is like many things in life. You show up. You do what you can. Sometimes it all makes sense and other times it’s horrifically difficult. You get through it because it’s what you do – you make it through today, then the day after.

On Memorial Day, it’s nice to remember that other people show up and do something that I consider to be far more difficult and profound. It’s difficult for me to understand how they do it – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t – but my appreciation is deep. I'm proud that we have people - past and present - showing up, and doing far more besides.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Outdoor analogy

I’ve been wanting to ask about this plant. I have one on either side of my front walk, so I believe it was placed there intentionally by the previous owners. I remembered from late last summer that it produced the sweetest little purple flowers, so I let it grow wildly. Then this spring, it looked a bit sad. So I hacked it down mercilessly and left to travel.

I returned to find that the plant had grown to an impressive size and had bloomed. “Oooh, pretty!” I exclaimed, and marveled over my good fortune. I had tried to ruin it – cut it back just weeks ago – but it had adequate strength and the will to grow and become lovely in spite of my efforts. But I recently found myself frowning when thinking about the plant. It grew too fast, right? It must be some sort of weed – something worth having wouldn’t spring to life within weeks and contain so many blooms without having a negative side.

If you remember my love for the question game, I have a confession. Especially when playing with men, I’ll ask “Too fast or too slow?” quite early on. The joy of the question game is that there’s little context – you can think of driving speed, or starting a relationship, learning or teaching style or sex. It’s not defined at all. I always pick too fast. The people I’ve played with - male and female - overwhelmingly choose too slow. Patience, after all, is a virtue. Deliberate actions – making sure everyone is aware of the possible ramifications of certain choices – tend to work out better in the long run, right? Also, whether you’re at work, at play or in love, isn’t it better to take it easy? Put in time, effort, and thought to make sure no huge mistakes are made? Nobody likes weeds.

I had a similar thought – my affection for speed, my great impatience with most aspects of life – when mowing my grass last weekend. For some reason, this part of home ownership didn’t really occur to me. Or rather, it did in some vague way – wouldn’t it be lovely to spend time outside, happily tending my small piece of land? Um, not so much. It’s time-consuming, rather hot, dirty – I’ve come in with bugs in my hair, and my lot is sadly misshapen. Not a neat rectangle – it’s divided (by the house, driveway and fence) into strange shapes that mar the perfection of my neatly placed strips of mowed grass. Unfortunate.

Anyway, for whatever reason, my fenced backyard – it belongs more to Chienne, actually – grows about twice as fast as the front yard. I curse the property sometimes. Being relatively far from the street is lovely when you consider noise and aesthetics, but when mowing useless space, the front yard bothers me. But it remains relatively neat – requiring a bimonthly cut, picking up of random litter, and an annoying tendency to look unkept right around the driveway.

Oh, but the backyard. It could be mowed twice a week, I think. There are small patches of particularly vibrant grasses that grow at incredible speeds. In fact, I have trouble keeping the lawnmower running when making my way through those regions of darker green. I must admit that I did try to fill in some bare spots with additional seed, but wasn’t aware that I had chosen the crazy grow like there’s no tomorrow! variety. So it was with some dread that I returned home after a 2 week absence. I called my parents to get advice after an initial assessment.

“The front isn’t too bad,” I noted, wincing just a bit at the area right around my driveway. “But the back is awful! It looks like untamed jungle out there! Knee-high weeds sprouting up, those nuclear patches are thick and long. The mower’s not going to make it.” I predicted darkly. I pictured the last mowing expedition where I would quickly push into the lengthy grass, the pull back, preferably before the engine would die and I’d have to huff over pushing it back to the patio to restart.

Dad had advice. “Raise the mower deck all the way so it doesn’t have as much grass to deal with. Then you’ll mow today, then again in a couple days after you lower the blade again. Well, you could mow it twice today, but you probably won’t. You’ll be tired. So just raise the mower, mow, then lower the deck and mow again.”

“I understand, Dad.” Then he gave Mom the phone again.

“You could just go slow.” She offered when I complained about the raise/lower - mow/mow again plan. I heard Dad laugh in the background. Going slowly through the yard would require patience and I don’t have much of that.

But I went out in my garage and was only able to move one of the wheels. So the blade was crooked and the other wheel wouldn’t budge. I poured water on it to remove any stray dirt. I nudged at it with my foot (read: kicked). Nothing worked, and impatience won out so I decided to put the first wheel at its original location and go about mowing as much as I could.

The front yard went well, though I did break for rainy weather. Then I moved to the back and sighed with dread yet again. I moved carefully through the initial patch of grass and found that going slow did, in fact, keep the motor running. I frowned in confusion – I didn’t think it’d actually work. Mom is right so very often, I thought with a smile. It seems like I'd learn to listen. So I continued to edge the lawn at a snail’s pace, sometimes nearly stopping in the bad spots.

It’s like dipping your toe in the water, I decided. The very front of the chamber works with the long grass, leaving the remainder of the blade to turn and mulch. So it’s just nudging its way through the grass – no reason to stop completely. I just have to stay slow so that they mower can do its job. Shaking my head in amazement as we (the mower and I) worked our way around the lawn, the grass was cut to a reasonable level, leaving behind piles of mulched material on a neat bed of green. It took time. It was work – physically due to the energy required to push the thing slowly along rather than moving quickly through the yard and emotionally because it’s my nature to hurry through tasks – but not once did the mower die. It chugged happily along, rolling and cutting and mulching.

It’s not really fair, I decided. All these people recognize the value of taking things slow. Patience. And apparently there’s a reason they do so. You’re able to gather enough information – let part of yourself nudge into new areas while the majority lingers in familiar territory and mulches away – integrating what you’re learning with what you already know to be true. Then you can make informed, deliberate choices while I’m already past my second decision and trying to correct mistakes. Perhaps my impatience isn’t so much a character trait as it is a flaw. And I sigh regretfully this time because I’m fond of being impatient. Pushing people and decisions along so we can get something going.

Apparently my plant is the same way. It has a goal. Growing. So it grows, regardless of any obstacle. Apparently it knows my enjoyment of pretty things, because those little purple flowers are saving it. It’s a lush plant and I smile over the purple flowers that peek in over the chair I placed in my front window*. I went out after the afternoon storm to take one last picture and see that yet another plant has sprouted. I’m leaving it alone though – no more cutting down or trying to uproot. Instead, I applaud its quick growth – why go slowly when you can be lush and beautiful now? So maybe impatience isn’t such a curse after all. Good things do come to those who wait, perhaps – I’m not sure on any personal level – I do as little waiting as possible. I like to think good things are here now – you just have to be smart enough to enjoy them.

Or if not smart, then at least impatient. I have therefore decided that, weed or not, I'm fond of the purple-flowered monstrosity in my front yard. It has character. Like me.

*As I don't think I've been silly enough to post house pictures online, I'll take a second to explain this one. The window tucked into the porch is for my office. The window on the right is for the living room, and there's a chair in front of it so I don't have to close my pretty wooden blinds all the time. I'm very aware that I have trimming to do, but the lawn actually looks OK right now. Oh, and I just bought my fern and am excessively fond of it too.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


My grandparents were married in 1943*. She was raised by her grandparents, helping to mind the grocery store they owned. In her late teens, she worked at an ice cream shop. A charming young Irishman with red hair and a goofy smile pursued her, but was rebuffed for being 2 years her junior. He was persistent and charming, and eventually wore her down. I actually don't think it took all that long. They hadn’t known each other long before they wed.

Shortly thereafter, he headed off to war. Grandma had my aunt while he was away. We're nothing if not capable - the women in my family. There’s some element of calmly accepting the circumstances and finding a way to make it work. They were happy – Grandma and Aunt – though Grandma told me she missed Grandpa terribly.

I remember holding on to the railing with one hand when I was quite young, my other fingers curled around hers as we descended the stairs. She removed a box from storage and pulled out a stack of letters. Opening an envelope beginning to yellow with age, she took out a single sheet of paper. Cradling it gently in my hand – I was always careful with other people’s possessions – we proceeded to the globe.

“See this?” She asked, pointing with a perfectly rounded nail that, try as I might, I still can’t replicate on my fingers. “That’s Italy. And that island?”

We squinted together - Sicily is small on globes. Especially compared to the gigantic landmass that is North America.

While keeping her index finger on Sicily, she helped me put mine on Peoria. And we looked at each other – my wide-eyed stare meeting her smiling one.

“That’s really far.” I breathed, turning the globe gently again so I could see her finger.

“It is.” She agreed, pulling me on her lap.

“So since he was far away, and Aunt and I were here, we wrote letters. He’d tell me about how life was there, and I’d talk about what was happening here. And in a way, we were together when we’d write and read and wait for the next letter to come.”

I looked down at the paper in my hand. Carefully unfolding it, I remember examining the blue ink on the fragile yellow paper – translucent from design or age, I’m not sure – and finding it beautiful.

But I couldn’t read longhand script, and I can’t isolate exactly how old I might have been when this happened. It’s all hazy – the dim basement representative of that section in my memory. It’s not light enough to see everything clearly – sometimes it's only glimpses of shapes, feelings, and impressions.

I handed the page to Grandma. “Read it.” I requested. “Please.”

Smoothing my hair back as I snuggled into her, she did. I curse that childhood version of myself for not paying closer attention. Because I can’t bring the words into focus – it’s been too long, or I was too young. I wish I remembered though – it was important and I didn’t realize it.

I do remember ducking my head into a giggle when she got to the part about how he missed her, how pretty he remembered her being, how he was eager to return home so they could be together.

“He liked you.” I said, smiling up into eyes that are identical to those I see in the mirror when I deal with contacts in the morning.

She laughed, and that I remember with perfect clarity. How her shoulders would shake a little, and I’d see her teeth emerge in a full smile.

“Yes, he certainly did. I liked him too.” She finished in a whisper.

We put the letter carefully back in its envelope, and I continued to marvel that it had come from so very far away. It was replaced in the box, because you always put things back when you were finished with them.

Grandpa walked in the door at the top of the stairs, so we decided to make the climb from the basement to meet him. Grandma would have held my hand, helped me navigate the steps covered in bright orange carpet. Grandpa jogged down and swept me up, making me giggle in delight and bury my face in his neck as we bounded up the stairs to the sunny kitchen.

I’d forgotten that until one morning a few months ago. On my commute, I was thinking about something, and I suddenly recalled those letters. Mom wasn’t at her desk when I called, so I sent email before beginning my morning. She replied that she wasn’t sure where the letters were – she didn’t remember them. Perhaps Aunt has them – we’d ask when they returned from vacation.

My parents, in kind of a cool little aside, met before Dad went to Vietnam. He had just been drafted, and she was quickly smitten by the man who selected her in favor of her “horse-faced” friend (charming man, my father) in the Steak 'n Shake parking lot.

He returned to Illinois for his grandmother’s funeral, and in those weeks he stayed, they fell in love. She gave him her class ring – a dark green stone with a tiny gold knight nestled atop. He wore it on his pinky throughout the rest of his time away from her. Tells a grand story about how it caught on the door of the helicopter when he was falling out from his position, providing him a moment of balance that certainly saved his life. (Daddy's also a bit dramatic.)

They wrote letters too, though they’ve never offered to let me see them, and I haven't asked. Perhaps I’m too close to savor the idea of their romance. But I knew those messages existed. Recognized the idea of finding someone, being in love, then having distance forced between you. Resorting to communication – thoughtful, edited, careful – that had to be slowly written instead of quickly uttered. And there’s a record – some set of smudged stationery that proves they felt something, thought of each other, remembered stories so they could put them on paper and send them away.

If I remember the story correctly, he finished his service in September, 1969. They were married in November, and were together 10 years before they had me. I know where the photo albums are – have gone over countless pictures with him when I still lived at home – and held his hand when he said he wanted to make sure there were pictures of him if he didn’t get to come home from his time far away.

Grandma’s engagement ring circles the middle finger of my right hand. It’s been there for 10 years now, and I still ache with missing her. Mom’s class ring is nestled in a jewelry box in my bedroom. I know exactly where it is, and wore it throughout high school and into college along with an opal ringed by rubies. Eventually I started hoping for a ring of my own, and removed all but Grandma’s.

I long ago thought that someday I’d have letters of my own as well, wondering from where they might come on the globe and why I might be separated from someone who liked me. I'd forgotten though - perhaps only subconsciously waited for that part of my story to fall into place.

After all, waiting to hear something new, the thoughts of distance fading to nothing when some event or feeling far away seems so incredibly close to what you’re currently experiencing, pondering how to answer questions, making mental notes of funny lines so you can share them with someone you think will appreciate them as much as you did, going through your day amazingly content with small realizations that someone somewhere cares a little bit - once remembered, it seems incredibly important.

When I pout over being alone – which happens a lot, I know – it’s good to remind myself that this time is not without rewards. I can remember and learn what I think is vital. I can hope that someday other wishes – some held dear and others mostly forgotten – will come true as well. So I wrote this some time ago when I was all aflutter over some emails I received. I smile – not sure if I’m remembering said time with great fondness or chiding myself for foolish certainty that I had found him – but I find myself reading this particular document quite often. Remembering Grandma and Grandpa and sniffling a bit. Picturing my parents in the beginning – young, in love, and just biding time until I would arrive and they could dote on me. (They haven’t said as much, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. Yes, I'm kidding.) Hoping softly that one day, I’ll have a story of my own to weave into those that came before me.

*I don’t know what year my grandparents married. Let’s see. I was born in January of 1979, which means Mom was born in 49. Aunt is 5 years older, which puts her birthyear at 44. I think Grandma got pregnant right away, so I think Aunt’s birthday is in September, which makes things easy. So let’s call it 1943 as a wedding year.

Checking my work. Pearl Harbor was near the end of 1941 (December 7 – I looked it up.) The invasion and subsequent capture of Sicily occurred in July, 1943. Grandpa was stationed there, so I think I’m close, if not completely right. V-E Day was celebrated on May 8, 1945, which puts Grandpa back home shortly thereafter if not slightly before. In just enough time to star in the stories where Aunt wouldn’t let him hold her because she didn’t know him.

That’s an awfully awkward way to begin what should have been a more elegant post, but I’m proud of myself for my reasoning skills. Which is why I couldn’t resist adding a lengthy footnote to celebrate said reasoning and online research skills.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Depressed, then and now.

I was depressed in my tiny studio apartment at some point in my first year of graduate study, curled up on a smaller love seat, though in beige and white stripes like the one where I currently sit. Interesting. I withdrew pretty completely a couple of times. Sent just the most critical emails to explain that I wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be coming to class or work. Grad school was a bad place to be depressed because I didn't have to go anywhere. I could stay in my little apartment for days on end and blame stress or colds or flus or family problems. So I'd probably been there for a couple days - certainly not longer than 3. I'd also been ignoring email - sometimes reading it, sometimes just blankly noting its arrival. And I used dial-up internet access so all my calls would go to voice mail when I was online. So I didn't even have to ignore them - I just clicked the button and sent everyone away.

M was worried though, and she came over. Rang the buzzer in front, and I ignored that too. So she kept ringing, and ringing and ringing. I finally answered, told her I was fine, and requested she leave me alone. She refused. So I sighed, frowned at the little intercom, knowing that someone would let her in at some point, and pushed the button to unlock the door. So she came in, quite concerned, and we talked for maybe 2 minutes. I didn't let her in more than a few steps - not offering her a seat or drink, though the guilt at not doing so tugged at me. I was fine - just wanted to be alone so I could think and gather myself and try again at my miserable excuse for a life. So she gave me a hug, a worried look, and left. I think it was the next day that I got a little better and emerged from my apartment.

This is why, by the way, I feel so ... proud of? pleased for? (I'm not sure how to put it.) those of you who blog while still in grad school. It would have been so much more healthy for me than feeling so desperately isolated. I needed the space, but it would have been amazing to have a community of people who expected nothing of me, yet offered support, compassion and stories of their own.

I’m doing fine, mostly. I walked the dog this morning. We waited until 8AM and it was so incredibly hot. I decided to take the long route, feeling guilty over slacking all week and wanted to put in some time on Son of a Witch. (By the way, for people smarter than me – all of you – do you have an opinion on whether the title for Wicked was ironic?)

Anyway the dog, iPod and I endured the heat to wander the neighborhood. I don’t particularly enjoy sweating, so I was getting quite irritable. Apparently I have raised little Chienne to share my distaste of the hot. She, panting and looking annoyed, found some shade right at the halfway point, and sat down. I gave her a moment to rest, then urged her to continue. She glared at me.

I got hysterical. Bent over and giggled until my sides hurt. She reminded me of Mom in New Orleans several years ago - I was still in undergrad. I decided I wanted to visit some of the cemeteries in the Garden District, so we took the trolley from the French Quarter. Eager to get started and walk through the gracious neighborhood, I exited the trolley several stops too early. It was miserably hot – right about this time of year, I think – and we had been walking for many blocks. I remember my mother – hot, tired and angry – snapping my name. I turned from my wide-eyed perusal of the homes around us to glance back and found her standing still.

“Do you even know where we’re going?” She asked with a glare much like the one my dog wore this morning.

“Um…Not really.”

“I’m not going any farther.” I raised my eyebrow and looked around.

“You’re going to stay here.” I clarified.


“In the middle of this neighborhood.”

“Yes! It’s hot. I’m tired, and you have no idea where the hell you’re trying to take me!”

“So… Are you going to live on the street? Or ask one of these people if you can move in?” And I started to giggle – hot and tired myself, but now vastly amused.

She huffed out a mild curse at me and continued to walk. “One more block, Katie Marie.” She threatened over my continued laughter as I walked along beside her. But she ruined it by smiling with me.

I didn’t make the dog happy this morning, but I did tug her along to get home. But when I asked her to retrieve the mail with me this afternoon – my mailbox is on the street rather than at the house – she refused to budge from her sprawl on the couch in the air conditioned living room. She’s never declined an invitation to go outside, so I was surprised. But I found myself laughing all the way to and from my errand. She too has bad days, and today, she'd had enough.

I threw a minor tantrum in my head over revising some consent forms for the IRB people who I’m sure are just trying to be helpful, but instead are kind of getting on my nerves. Some of this stuff is so minor! I whined and made faces at my computer screen. But details are everything when handling human subjects, I told myself in an attempt for calm. And I finished the revisions – minor as they were – and took the copies to the appropriate office. Then I finished a draft for an institutional grant that’s been sitting on my desk for months. I worked a bit more on the freaking histograms that I believe have been sent straight from Hell and are therefore inherently evil. I can’t get anything significant out of the suckers. So that’s on my list of weekend projects with the ever-growing lawn.

But basically? I’m hanging in. Laughing enough to know I’m getting better. Getting irritated at speeds that tell me I’m not quite right yet. Still a little withdrawn, but not so much that I can’t tell you about the time Mom almost moved to New Orleans because she was too hot to find the next sight I wanted to see.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Deviled Eggs Done Properly

It’s been over a month now, but one day, I came home and found a note on my door. My neighbor – I don’t know her well, but I do like her with her Caribbean accent and friendly demeanor – needed help with a recipe. Since a majority of my interactions with her have involved dropping off treats for holidays, she thought I might be able to help.

I changed into casual clothes and wandered over, wondering what we were going to make. She’d been to a church potluck, she informed me, and had deviled eggs for the first time. They’d never made them in her family for whatever reason, but she liked them. Did I know how to prepare such a treat?

“Of course!” I said with a smile, relieved I could be of assistance without consulting google. “It’s not even difficult – just going through several steps.”

I frowned thoughtfully and started to list ingredients. “We’ll need eggs, of course. Mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar. Paprika. What else?” I paused to consider, picturing Mom’s kitchen – just before Easter – at home. “I think that’s it.”

She put a carton of eggs on the counter, and went to gather the rest of our needed items.

“When did you buy your eggs?” I asked, picking them up to make sure none were stuck to the carton. Does anyone else do that? Stand in front of the refrigerated section, open your prospective eggs and nudge each one to make sure they’re not broken or stuck in their Styrofoam nests? My mom does it, so I do too.

I frowned when she told me they were new. “Is that bad?” She asked, noting my expression.

“No. My mom says it’s harder to get the shells off if they’re fresh. We try to use older eggs for hard boiling. But fresh ones will work.” I soothed. “We’ll be fine.”

But I couldn’t stifle a gasp when I noted her ingredients. “Oh, dear.” I said, looking them over. “Um…OK. My mom uses yellow mustard, not Dijon. And this balsamic vinegar is very nice, but it should be white. The big jug you also use to clean your coffee pot? That kind. The mayonnaise is fine though.”

“I don’t have a big jug of vinegar,” she told me in her beautiful voice, “and we like spicy mustard, so I don’t buy the regular kind.”

I sighed, twisted my mouth and thought. This just wasn’t right. I briefly considered – seriously – walking next door and retrieving my vinegar from under the sink (the special vinegars are kept over the stove with the spices, but the white vinegar is stored separately. Like my mom does.), and grabbing my yellow mustard from its perch on the door next to the spicy variety. I too enjoy the more expensive items we rarely used in my childhood, but you need the standard stuff too! Especially for deviled eggs!

I scolded myself for being rigid and forced a smile. “This’ll be good.” I said firmly, trying to convince myself. “Just so you know that I’d normally make them with white vinegar and yellow mustard.”

She patted my shoulder and found a pot I requested. We carefully placed the fresh eggs therein, covered them with cold water (“Something about minerals in the hot water pipes.” I told her with a shrug. “My mom always starts with cold water.”), waited for a rolling boil, then covered them and waited. We had glasses of sweet tea and I smiled sincerely and nodded when she asked if I wanted to see the nursery she was preparing. The baby is due next month. I still need to find an appropriate gift.

I touched all the pretty furniture, covered in padding and pretty pastels. “A little girl?” I asked wistfully, picking up one of the soft cloth dolls. I thought briefly of the two extra bedrooms in my house that I rarely use. Accustomed to a one bedroom apartment, I tend to find myself in the living room or master bedroom. The office is rarely used apart from Chienne's daily napping tour, and I closed the door to the guest room since I never use it. Either one could be used as a nursery had my life turned out differently, I pouted, feeling sorry for myself.

After the required egg cooking time (plus a little extra because I know that the very old, very young and those who are reproducing shouldn’t eat undercooked food), we placed the pot in the sink, removed the lid, and ran cold water over the eggs.

“Can we turn off the water now?” Julie asked after a moment, smiling sweetly when I frowned once again. I sheepishly acknowledged I was being weird and she laughed easily.

“I don’t know.” I mused. “I leave it running for a while.” She nodded understandingly when I said, “That’s how my mom does it.”

Cognizant of saving water, I slowed the flow to just a trickle. After the eggs felt cool to the touch, I showed her how to roll them on the counter to crack the shell.

“See how it’s sticking?” I showed her the egg I had rolled and she frowned over it. “Older eggs don’t do that. They’re more ready to let go of their shells. The new eggs cling.” So we nudged carefully with our fingertips as we took turns under the cool water. Some of the whites tore off with the shell when someone (fine. It was me.) got too impatient. But we eventually looked at the smooth white orbs settled on a paper towel. A few of mine were a bit marred, but I have a different analogy for patience or my lack thereof.

Carefully cutting them in half, I was pleased to see the yolks were all the way cooked – no dark gummy spots mixed with the bright, crumbly texture. She tried to get hers out with a spoon, but I told her that it was easier to get them out with your fingers. Deform the white just a bit, then gently pull the edge of the yolk so it dropped easily into a bowl.

“Mom taught me.” I said softly, focused on removing the yellow from the white. I glanced over to see Julie concentrating as well, abandoning her spoon to mimic my mother’s method.

We added the mayonnaise first, then I let her squirt in the brownish speckled mustard, wincing a bit because it should have been bright yellow. The balsamic vinegar turned the mixture even more brownish and my nose wrinkled further. Stirring and mashing happily, Julie presented it for my inspection. I giggled with her, and nodded approvingly. She was pleased with it, and that was the most important.

“Taste.” I told her. “It might need salt.” So she tried, pronounced it perfect, and allowed me to lightly sprinkle salt over the whites before we carefully refilled the cavities. This is my favorite part, and I allowed myself a thought about education. Taking the raw material, adding some extra ingredients, then mashing and stirring it almost beyond recognition before dumping the new material back in. I sighed. No wonder grad school was so painful – all that mashing. Then I smiled fondly at myself because as a whole, this little outing left me feeling a bit freakish. The need to note Mom's instruction, wishing over a child I'm far from having, a silly analogy over egg filling.

We each sat to have an egg since there were three that wouldn’t fit in her container.

“Very good.” I told her, and her husband was similarly pleased. I came home shortly after, and murmured in my head along the way.

“Very good…but wrong. The taste was at the same time more mellow and more sharp than it should have been. The flavors weren’t those I loved. And we can’t even discuss the color – a yellow muddled with brown rather than the bright sunny color as is clearly more appropriate." I was sadly shaking my head when I gasped. We forgot paprika! I smiled and dropped the hand I had pressed to my lips in dismay, acknowledging that I was being overly dramatic.

So what’s the analogy? Why the long story? If you were around for the red velvet cake story, you should have predicted this was going somewhere, right? It’s the answer to Maggie May’s long ago comment. Why I want to have children. Why I’m pretty sure I’ll be a mother even as I fret over finding a man to love. I am, after all, resourceful and driven. If I decide I’m having a child, I’m quite sure I’ll have one. Eventually. Not yet.

But as to why I know I want one? How I’m pretty sure I’ll do reasonably well at the task of mothering? It's hard to explain, even to myself. After holding the Little One for the very first time – feeling more loving than uncomfortable holding such a small person for the very first time at age 25 – I was sure. When I feel overwhelmed with pride and happiness and hope as I look at her, sing songs, read books – I just know somehow. And my feeling is that it’s a lot like the darn eggs.

It feels right. I’ve seen it done by women I love beyond description. Paid attention when I was taught. I know I should give more than I take. I don’t make people feel badly unless sorely provoked. I find something I like about it. I love children. I want one or two of my own. I smile and say good morning to strangers. I frown disapprovingly at people who enter elevators before the occupants have exited. I know I’m to use yellow mustard and white vinegar, because that’s how we make deviled eggs. It just feels right for some reason.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sadly sighing...still

I was sitting in a group meeting today, dutifully offering suggestions on presentations for an upcoming conference I won’t attend.

“Use a san-serif font. It tends to be easier to read.”

“The slide is too wordy.”

“You need arrows. Or circles. It’s too hard to tell what’s important.”

“Move along. 1 minute per slide or people get bored.”

“Could you animate this? Have the descriptions appear as you talk so your audience knows where to direct their attention?”

I was content, I decided, then wrinkled my nose over the lie. I’m not. I’m really unhappy lately. After acknowledging my desperate desire to not return, I realized it’s not going so well. And my typical sunny attitude isn’t fitting so well. I’m putting in the effort, but it’s coming off as fake. I’m too easy to read – people frown at my false smiles, cut off conversations when they can tell I’m painfully bored.

I’m depressed. I could feel it coming – found it far too easy to disengage and just let life happen when I was in Hawaii. It’s atypical for me to be that relaxed. I really didn’t care what happened. Just zoned out and stared at the ocean for hours. Talking to M, but stream of consciousness talking, not really the careful, thoughtful speech I tend to favor. It was just easy, and I realized I want it to be easy for a little while. Well, maybe longer than the 5 days I allowed because I’m stamping my foot and pouting at the idea of doing all this work!

So I don’t do it. But I worry about it. Fret and watch the clock and try to force myself to just open some files and stare at the data in hopes of working up some minor motivation to make progress. Send a couple of emails then battle back the extreme irritation over people who actually respond to them and ask me to make good on the promises to help with their projects. Grit my teeth through meetings while nodding and smiling and offering up “Of course! Definitely! I’d love to attend that meeting/work on the project/take over that work.” That’s how I function – I’d rather accept inconveniences than push them on other people. I hate letting people down nearly as much as I fret over being late.

So when I avert my eyes as I stand in front of mirrors, I’m forcing myself to look up. “Not hideous.” I tell myself sternly, then try to soothe. “Nearly pretty. Nice lip gloss, hair’s getting a bit long, but it’s not bad. I still like the glasses. Losing weight – slowly, yes, but it’s still something. You’re fine.” Yet I sigh before I turn to leave because nobody loves me. Then I roll my eyes because why do I insist on dwelling on the negative? It’s frustrating!

Likewise, when I was sulkily perusing job postings online today, I talked myself back from it. I love what I have planned here. Nothing’s started yet – a few minor projects while I wait for IRB approval and billing resolutions. But in terms of what I could have set up – faculty available, resources, learning opportunities – it’s honestly pretty ideal here. Yes, there are problems. Frustrations, really bad days. But overall? I don’t know that I could do better. This should be a high point professionally. Yet I’m unhappy.

Mom has a phrase she overused when I was growing up. “Find something you like about it.” I hate those words put together in that order. Hate. I’ve argued against them many times – sometimes you can find a better job, get out of a relationship that’s not working very well, buy new clothes, exercise more! But sometimes everything is OK, I think. My surroundings, decisions, life here – all good. The problem is me. Which sucks because that’s the factor that’s constant, right?

Perhaps I’m getting closer to considering how to handle this. My graceless retreat from therapy in grad school seems like it happened a long time ago. I’m certainly not eager to try again, but I’m beginning to consider it. Medications? I’ve always been in favor of them in theory, but hesitate to try for a couple reasons. I’m functional, I tell myself. I’m going to work (though less often and for shorter times than I should be), I listen to people, can laugh at their jokes, am happy when they share good news, and cried today over a profoundly sad event. It’s not like I’m completely distant, but I’m definitely farther away than I’d like. I’m looking at yet another night of taking something to sleep – I get less sad/irritable and much more panicked at night. That’s by far the most unpleasant, honestly. I hate lying in the dark, spinning through worst case scenarios, worrying about issues that wouldn’t normally even register. I also know I’ll get better – I always do – but am getting less tolerant of myself during these down times. I don’t really want to do this forever.

So I sigh, sitting here in my living room sipping a large Cherry Diet Coke. I’m not awful – no reason to worry for anyone other than me. It’s just occupying my thoughts lately and I couldn’t come up with a story for you. Just trying to figure myself out here. And wallowing, of course. Because that's what I do.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Yeah, yeah, yeah… No.

“It’s funny – the Hawaiian method of communication.” I glanced over at M’s husband, waiting. Whether it was profound or a gigantic lie, it would be delivered with grave seriousness. So I tried to pay close attention from my blissfully relaxed state.

“You’ll go in somewhere. Let’s say you want a specific movie. So you go to Blockbuster and say, ‘Do you have Fight Club?’ And the guy just stares at you. So you think, and say, ‘Brad Pitt? Ed Norton?’ When that doesn’t work either, you throw a few mock punches.”

I nod, understanding so far.

“So it’s good when the guy finally says, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ He’s excited, you’re happy, and everything’s going pretty well. But then he keeps talking, standing there behind the counter. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! … No.’ The ‘yeah’ – even in repetitive form – is just a sign of understanding. Not of agreement. So basically he’s saying, ‘I finally comprehend you! But no, we don’t have what you want. Sorry.’” With a nod to acknowledge the truth in his story, he waits until M and I stop giggling.

“It’s like ‘Roger’ basically. Do you know what ‘Roger’ means?” He asked M.

She shrugged and I went to google as I sat on the lanai with my laptop, basking in the joy of wireless signal and a gorgeous view.

“I think it means ‘Understood.’ Or ‘I heard you.’” He mused.

Message received.” I confirmed. “And understood.”

“Right! So when I ask a question, and someone says ‘Roger,’ I keep waiting. Because they just said they heard and understood my question. They didn’t answer it. But I think they think they said ‘yes.’ But they didn’t. I think.”

“Roger, Wilco.” I said, with a smile at M. “Message received, and I will comply.”

I generally find it difficult to say no. If I understand your request – sometimes even if I don’t – I tend to agree. It’s the desire to be liked, wanting to make people happy. The thought of annoying someone by refusing a request makes me cringe. But…

I was cuddled in a nice seat on the plane that would take me from HNL to LAX. A window seat with only 1 chair separating me from the aisle. I was 3 rows back from the middle set of lavatories. I could see the large movie screen quite well, but wouldn’t be distracted if I decided to read. Good seat, I decided happily. I booked early and chose carefully, pleased with my planning.

A girl, age 15, I guessed when I smiled at her, sat next to me. An older woman approached after placing her bag in a seat across the aisle and up one row.

“Excuse me.” She said with a sheepish smile, and, knowing what was coming, I nestled deeper in my seat. “We’re together, and I wondered if I could trade seats with you.”

“Where are you sitting?” I asked, wincing already. I love window seats. I’m not the best of flyers in general, and being able to curl into a wall, watch what’s happening outside – it helps me stay calm. She nodded at the seat on the aisle of the middle section, and I wrinkled my nose.

“I’m sorry. I really prefer the window.” I said, turning to apologize to the girl as well. She smiled and shrugged. The older woman sighed and cast me an irritated glance. It didn’t bother me as much as it once would have. And to prove I’m not inherently evil, I did make friends with my seatmate. She was 10, not 15 (we exchanged birthdays. Are children looking older or is it me who's aging too much?). Her phone was much cooler than mine, though she didn’t have nationwide long distance. My iPod was newer than hers, which pleased me no small amount. She lived in LA, so she didn’t have two additional flights lasting more than 8 hours (with 2 layovers). Lucky. But she was in 5th grade and hated school, so she was jealous that I was finally done. I called it even overall. (And no, it doesn't escape me that I was competing with a 10 year old.)

On the same flight, the woman ahead of me asked if she could close the shade over my window. First, she shouldn’t have been reclined into my space at 4PM. Second, I was clearly reading! Using the light coming in the window! But she ambushed me while I was happily listening to music, pseudo-watching King Kong and reading.

“Oh, OK.” I said without thinking. I frowned while she happily slammed the plastic covering down and reclined back in her seat. My new friend had been reading as well. The woman in front of us turned to frown at me when I turned on my overhead light, and my patience ended.

“I’m reading.” I sneered, and opened the window halfway. “And I’d like the window shade open.” There’s no redeeming ending to this story. She made me mad. Therefore my bad behavior was provoked. So there.

I was working from home today, nestled on my loveseat, trying to focus on Wicked (which is getting so good!) and working on this talk I have to give in a couple weeks (I quake with nervousness. Seems like I’d grow up eventually, but I’m semi-terrified about it. Has anyone else noticed I'm looking pretty immature through this whole post? It's unfortunately not intentional.). I saw someone walk to my door, tucked in the L of my house past my front window. I glanced at Chienne – she was sleeping on the couch – and unfolded myself to wander to the door. I leaned down to grab her collar as I unlocked and opened the door.

“Hi.” He said – a young man, rather dirty, wearing mirrored sunglasses. I nodded in response and just stood there, waiting to see what he wanted.

“What’s up?” I finally asked, growing tired of bending over the dog and shushing her as she started to whine.

“We’re working next door. Building a deck. And we tripped a circuit.”


So I continued. “Mine is in the garage. Maybe you could look in their garage.” I suggested, still not knowing why he was here.

“We don’t have a key.”


“So we wondered if we could use your power.” He finally continued.

“Oh. OK.”

“So you don’t mind?” Actually, I wasn’t sure. This was one of those roger-OKs, not an affirmative OK. But it seemed petty to refuse, so I shrugged and said it would be fine. Which meant the dog was locked inside all day since they were in and out of her fenced yard. They knocked twice for me to reset my breaker box. The second time earned them a glare and huffy sigh. This is what I get for being nice to people, I thought irritably.

So I had no trouble sending the Orkin man away when he came to inform me of the neighborhood special. Enough, after all, is enough.

It amuses me greatly that I was attempting to prove that I was more mature by learning to refuse some requests. I fear I actually provided evidence for my selfish immaturity. The truth hurts sometimes, doesn't it?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Grad school, the beginning

“So he dropped me off, and I told him his car smelled really bad. Like gasoline. Gas is highly flammable, you know.” α paused for dramatic effect, and I smiled over at χ. He returned my grin before turning his attention back to α.

“I got out of his car and went back up to the office. And I said, ‘You need to have that looked at. It might catch on fire.’ Remember how I told you when I got back that night?”

χ shook his head. “That was δ.”

“Right…” α nodded, remembering. “So we were working for about half an hour, and the phone rings.” His smile got wider, and I glanced again at χ since I knew the story was about to get more interesting.

“It’s him. On the phone. And he says,” α pauses and switches over to a credible German accent. “ 'Come get me.’ ” Then pauses to huff out some laughter before continuing his story. I started to giggle as well, thrilled to be involved, hearing stories, spending time with my research group.

“So I asked why he needed a ride,” α continued through laughter that I remember vividly. It’s quite distinct. “and he said, ‘The car exploded.’”

I looked at χ, a bit more serious and trustworthy and raised my eyebrows. He nodded, throwing his credibility behind the exploding car story.

“Did you go get him?” I asked, still laughing with them.

“Hell, yes. We wanted to see the car. They had to use fire extinguishers to put it out!”

I actually began research with two groups in the late Spring of 2001. The collaboration was (and still would be in theory) a good one – there was a fit that seemed to work between the advisors, there was a huge gap in the literature that could be filled, and I was excited and enthusiastic about both areas.

It was deemed that Group B would be the more difficult in terms of the initial learning curve, so I would start there. However, the Greek letters asked that I attend their meetings on Wednesday afternoons. It was like Heaven and Hell, and Heaven only allowed me entrance just before noon every Wednesday.

Hell is obviously too harsh. There were facets of Group B that I enjoyed a great deal, but I found the grad students in charge were … well, mean. Ignoring me as much as possible, avoiding direct questions, generally making me feel small and unimportant. I do very poorly in such situations. I’m more productive in friendly spaces, where I feel encouraged and welcome. So going back to the Greek letters after spending time with Group B? I felt like I could breathe, work, learn.

I arrived at work one day to find all my things were gone. Replaced with a larger computer, countless power cords and connecting cables. There were two offices – one with α-δ, and another with some support staff and my desk. But my pretty cup of pens, my little bear holding a flower, the notebook I used – all gone.

Confused, I wandered next door to ask β what to do. She – one of the more impatient women I’ve met – always handled my problems with grace. She would help me, be pleased to see me, I knew. But I didn’t get to ask about my meager possessions. I found them nestled on the desk closest to the door.

“Do I live here now?” I said softly, moving the bear to the edge of the desk.

And α-χ turned to smile at me before α rolled his eyes. “δ got some new computer and spent all weekend trying to run cables through the ceiling." He pointed to the small hole at the top of one wall.

“It didn’t reach.” β and χ stifled laughter, and α smiled before continuing. “There was swearing. But he decided to trade desks with you, so yes. Now you’re in here with us.”

“Yay!” β said. “Sit. Talk. Work.”

I didn’t sit right away. I walked to Advisor’s office and asked if I could leave Group B and stay with the Greek letters full time. They liked me. I adored them. I wanted to do this work, felt I could make quicker progress. Realized I just wasn’t compatible with the training style in Group B. The switch was easy – I was sure it was right. My co-advisor understood – we’d spoken before of my difficulty – and I asked χ to help me move books one day.

So I started to fill the shelves above my desk, would look over α’s desk to see out the huge window, alternately smiled and whined to β as she helped me write loops in Matlab code. I took copies of old homework from α and χ, asked questions, laughed at jokes, learned more stories. I panicked and they soothed. I was sad and they told stories of their own struggles, made me feel like part of a spectacular group rather than the most spectacular of failures.

So there I sat. And talked. And worked.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bored and boring

My biggest concern today - and I'm being completely serious here - is how I'm going to care for my yard. We're getting rain and it's been 2 weeks since I've mowed and it looks pretty bad! I got through part of it this morning. Yes, already. If I get struck by lightning, my neighbors would be justified in cheering. But it's going to rain all week! Plus, I have work to do after my extended vacation. So I was out too early, making the lawn pretty.

Other than that? Eh. Bored and boring pretty much sums it up. I did get to babysit through an exhausted haze. The Little One is great. We were watching her nursery rhymes DVD for about the 7th time, and she started flipping out, trying to move toys. So I helped her, asking what the problem was, and she tapped this little picture of monkeys on one of her toys.

"Monkey?" I asked, because I know I'm supposed to name items when she points. It's a pretty easy form of conversation.

But she frowned at me, then pointed at the TV. "Five little monkeys jumping on the bed?" I said, confused and tired. Then I smiled and praised her brilliance. The monkey on TV didn't even look like the one on her toy! She'll probably rule the world - she's so smart! She was also pleased that slow Aunt Katie finally figured it out.

Speaking of monkeys, I'm back to listening to Wicked on my iPod. I'm nearing the end of part 2 (of 3) and thinking that monkey better find some friends and get airborne. Honestly. I'm getting impatient.

Other than that, I'm home. Back to work tomorrow. Watching the weather carefully to take any chance I get to do yardwork. See? I've been sparing you by not posting. There's absolutely nothing going on and I can't find energy to tell you stories about my life when there was actually something going on. Perhaps soon.

Prepare yourself for a new header image though. When I get bored and lazy, I tend to mess with my template.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sadly sighing

When I was little, I hated the dentist. Actually, I'm not much better now, but that's not really the point. Anticipating one visit, I decided that when Mom and Dad came to tell me it was time to leave, I would cling to the doorknob. They seldom forced me to do something when I was stubbornly resistant, so I thought I had a shot at not having to go. I fell asleep that night, content that I had a "cling to the doorknob and refuse" plan at getting out of something unpleasant.

I didn't try it. Mom explained that it was important to take care of my teeth, so I sullenly went to the dental office and went to pick out a toy afterward as a reward.

I'm trying to think of what I can wrap myself around and cling to so I can stay here. It's unheard of for me not to be eager to return home - my stuff, my puppy, familiar routines, comfort. Everything in me is miserable though. I don't want to go!

But like little Katie, I shall pout and go to the airport soon. Board the stupid plane after clearing stupid security and go to stupid home. It'll be fine once I get there, I'm sure. But leaving such an ideallic place with such wonderful people who like me so much? Seems wrong. So I'm now suffering for my joy over the last few days.

Sadly sighing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Since I sincerely doubt anyone's going to feel too sorry for me for being so tired last night, I'll just post a picture for today. But honestly! I was exhausted! A beautiful hike in the morning followed by plate lunch (I love plate lunch! Took me until this trip to really get on board, but now I'm set.) followed by an afternoon watching the waves and drinking maitais at Turtle Bay. Then we had to drive all the way back to Honolulu - joking all the while about how we should have checked the tires and brought emergency supplies for our lengthy road trip - but actually had to stop for dinner - we were tired and needed a break from the car. Then, as if I hadn't suffered enough, M has a friend who was housesitting in this spectacular property, so we helped ourselves to the hot tub, wine and excellent conversation. I returned to my little suite to take out my contacts and stumble into bed.Not to worry though. Today is my last day here. My flight leaves around 11:30 tomorrow morning, then I shall return to my life - stress at work, feeling inadequate, sadness over being alone. So a return to our normal programming is forthcoming. Just not quite yet.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Pout - the Playlist

Jane asked for my playlist, I'm sure not realizing it's about 80 songs and lasts nearly 6 hours. I don't screw around when I decide to mope. But I'm not one to turn down requests for posts, especially as I laze around watching pretty Hawaii sparkle in the sunshine. So here you go.

Bad Day - Fuel - Something Like Human
Do What You Have to Do - Sarah McLachlan - Mirrorball
A Sorta Fairytale - Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk
Find Your Way Back - Michelle Branch - Hotel Paper
I Still Believe in You - Vince Gill - I Still Believe in You
Fallen - Sarah McLachlan - Afterglow
Thank U - Alanis Morissette - Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
The Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel - Collected Works
Piano in the Dark - Brenda Russell - Greatest Hits
Baby, Now that I've Found You - Alison Krauss - Now That I've Found You
Close Every Door - Andrew Lloyd Webber - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Breathe (2AM)^ - Anna Nalick - Wreck of the Day
Hotel Paper^ - Michelle Branch - Hotel Paper
Joining You - Alanis Morissette - Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
Citadel - Anna Nalick - Wreck of the Day
Coffee and TV - Blur - Cruel Intentions
Dragons^ - Edwin McCain - Far From Over
Wreck of the Day - Anna Nalick - Wreck of the Day
Mouth^ - Bush - American Werewolf in Paris
Loser - 3 Doors Down - The Better Life
Glycerine - Bush - Sixteen Stone
Letting the Cables Sleep^ - Bush - The Science of Things
Bad Day^ - Daniel Powter - Daniel Powter
When I'm Gone - 3 Doors Down - Away From the Sun
Please Forgive Me - David Gray - White Ladder
My Lover's Gone - Dido - No Angel
Babylon - David Gray - White Ladder
Too Busy Being in Love - Doug Stone - Greatest Hits
Write Me a Song* - Edwin McCain - Far From Over
Shimmer - Fuel - Sunburn
Jesus, He Loves Me^ - Edwin McCain - Far From Over
Message in a Bottle - John Mayer - Any Given Thursday
Ghosts of Jackson Square - Edwin McCain - Messenger
Go Be Young - Edwin McCain - Messenger
Comfortable* - John Mayer - Inside Wants Out
Sign on the Door - Edwin McCain - Messenger
Haunted - Evanescence - Fallen
If You're Gone - Matchbox Twenty - Mad Season
Lenny/Man on the Side - John Mayer - Any Given Thursday
My Last Breath - Evanescence - Fallen
Something's Missing - John Mayer - Any Given Thursday
Hemorrhage (In My Hands) - Fuel - Something Like Human
The River - Garth Brooks - Double Live
Innocent - Fuel - Something Like Human
Dear Joan - Matchbox 20 - Napster (before it was all illegal)
Slow - Fuel - Something Like Human
Unanswered Prayers - Garth Brooks - Double Live
Tourniquet - Evanescence - Fallen
Ireland - Garth Brooks - Fresh Horses
You Move Me^ - Garth Brooks - Sevens
Acoustic #13^ - Goo Goo Dolls - Dizzy Up the Girl
Foolish Games - Jewel - Pieces of You
The Heart Won't Lie - Vince Gill - Souvenirs
Come Back to Bed - John Mayer - Heavier Things
Split Screen Sadness^ - John Mayer - Heavier Things
Because of You - Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
Somewhere in Between - Lifehouse - No Name Face
Hold On* - Sarah McLachlan - Mirrorball
True Companion* - Marc Cohn - Marc Cohn
She Will Be Loved - Maroon 5 - Songs About Jane
I Can't Tell You Why - Vince Gill - Common Thread
Never Goin' Back Again - Matchbox 20 - Napster (before it was all illegal)
Unwell* - Matchbox Twenty - More than You Think You Are
Tuesday Morning - Michelle Branch - Hotel Paper
If I Am^ - Nine Days - The Madding Crowd
Sweet Misery - Michelle Branch - The Spirit Room
Leave Me Alone - Natalie Inbruglia - Left of the Middle
Silent Movie - Natasha Bedignfield - Unwritten
Problem Girl - Rob Thomas - Something To Be
Good Enough - Sarah McLachlan - Mirrorball
To The Moon and Back - Savage Garden - Savage Garden
Fear - Sarah McLachlan - Mirrorball
Hopeless - Train - Drops of Jupiter
Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of - U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
We Are - Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
Tryin' To Get Over You - Vince Gill - I Still Believe in You
Losing Hope - Jack Johnson - Brushfire Fairytales
Angel - Sarah McLachlan - Mirrorball
Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton - Time Pieces

^really good song
* cry every time

Rainbows and beaches and sleeping on planes

I feel really far away right now. I guess I am – a lengthy flight across the Pacific Ocean separates me from most of you, and the time change underscores the fact that I’m in a very different location than I normally reside.

I can’t sleep on planes. I also can’t swallow pills (I chew them up. Don’t make faces at your screen! It’s not that gross!). I just feel the need to be aware of my surroundings when tucked among many strangers. I can’t relax, get comfortable, let go. So it was with a heavy sigh that I left LAX Sunday night. I knew I had hours to go before rest and comfort were available, but cuddled into my window seat, tucking Pickwick into the pouch in front of me with a bottle of water. I put on lip gloss, fastened my seat belt, and turned to stare out the window.

I felt sad, to be honest. I was already yawning and despaired over the thought of being awake for another 7 hours or so. I wanted a shower now, not after arriving in Honolulu! I probably wouldn’t be able to focus enough to read my book, I whined in my head. And I had work to do, but wouldn’t pull myself together enough to do it. I frowned at the man sitting next to me – the armrest conveniently notes where your space ends and where mine begins. Get off my side! Then I noticed him holding his wife’s hand, thought it was rather nice that she was sitting on the aisle while he suffered the middle seat. This thought made me resist the urge to poke him with my elbow.

We’d been in the air for an hour when I got uncomfortable and bored. I thought despondently that I wouldn’t even be able to mope properly at M’s house. She’s effervescent – so bright and lovely, cocking her head at any complaint, pursing her lips then offering a bright side. I want to be depressed, I pouted. And I want to sleep. I’m tired, but I can’t sleep on planes. Ever. Poor, miserable me. I prayed for a moment – asked for some peace because I don’t like being so very hopeless for no good reason. It's ridiculous, after all. I'm headed to Hawaii for fun and I'm working myself into a pretty good state of sadness.

Shaking my head – because enough, already, right? I decided to dig out my laptop – disturbing the space hog beside me and the reclining boy in front to do so – and got some work done. Satisfied with my progress on my histograms, I considered reading more Dickens, but decided instead to rest. I’d been listening to my Pout playlist on the iPod, and tucked the pillow between my shoulder and the window, and nuzzled in while I listened. It’s too bad I can’t sleep on planes, I thought vaguely. I’m comfortable, the music is nice, the turbulence seems to have passed.

I don’t remember taking off my headphones, though when I heard the captain speaking, I looked down to find them neatly coiled around my foof-covered iPod. We were halfway through our descent, currently at about 15,000 feet, and my ears ached accordingly. I glanced down and saw O’ahu sparkling in the darkness – all orange lights from that distance.

I slept, I thought, completely amazed. For about 2 hours, I think. I felt rested, happy, excited to see M. This time I knew we’d pass by the island, head over the ocean and turn toward the airport again. It concerned me on my first flight, but I knew what to expect this time. We got lower and lower and I watched carefully, half expecting to see a splash from the wing as we were certainly not far above the ocean’s surface. My wing dipped a bit and I couldn’t see the lights, waiting impatiently until they appeared once again.

We landed and the guy seated directly behind me applauded. He did so alone and laughed when his friend told him to stop.

“We’re here, bro! I’m so excited!” He returned, bouncing in his seat when I glanced behind me.

It’s funny, I mused. I tend to expect the worst – assume I can’t sleep on planes when clearly I’m able to do so. But then when something good happens – a giant vessel descends from the sky safely and lands gently in paradise – I’m surprised when someone expresses pleasure. It was just supposed to happen – you get on a plane with the expectation that you’ll be able to get off of it safely in some pre-determined time.

I guess I’m trying to applaud a bit here. I knew it would be a lovely trip, but I feel amazingly relaxed and happy – distant from most things that bother me back home. The worry comes less frequently and doesn’t linger for so long. I find it interesting that serene happiness feels pretty foreign to me – especially over a long period of time. It shouldn’t, right? It seems as though I’d be able to look around at all that’s good in my day to day life and smile rather than try to figure out what happens tomorrow.

I woke up this morning and came out on the lanai to call Mom. We talked for a while, then I decided to head back to bed. Mild hunger sent me back upstairs shortly after – I wanted the other half of the blueberry muffin from yesterday and had forgotten my lilikoi passion drink on the patio furniture. I emerged on the patio with my laptop and book to enjoy the soft rain and thought to look for a rainbow. I found one, and cooed with delight before rushing back to find my camera. It – likely like this relaxed state of bliss I’m currently enjoying – was fleeting. It’s almost gone as I type this. But I have pictures. And I’m going to try to remember how this feels – just complete enjoyment of the current moment with little thought for the next.

In the time it took me to edit - add links, upload photos, the rainbow had disappeared. But I just glanced up and it's back! This gentle arc of color - a long bend of light - it's impossibly pretty, guys! A world capable of creating such beauty is rather amazing. I'll try to remember to be more serene and happy upon my return home.

As for now? I'm having such a good time.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Oh, I'm lovely. But how about you?

I slept until I wasn't tired anymore. Then I unpacked, wiped smelly soap of unknown origin off of everything in my toiletries bag, brought up the gifts I carried from home for M and her husband, and came out on the lanai (look how local I'm trying to be!) to watch it get light outside. So that's the view, and in this case, the picture says it all. I'm doing really well. No headache - and I was up to 2 Advil every 6 hours, watching the clock nervously as I felt the pain being to return. No tension - sleeping downstairs eased out all the aches and soreness that walking through hilly Seattle and a day of travel accumulated. M's not awake yet, but it's hardly quiet. Unfamiliar birds and animals are chattering away and I get to watch the lush greenery move in the soft breeze while I glance out and sigh over the ocean. Not a bad way to spend a few days.

But I didn't get through all my Bloglines feeds last night, so I'm going to see what's up with you guys. Oh, and to be fair, it doesn't look exactly like the picture as I'm sitting rather than standing. So I'll leave you with what I actually see here from my lawnchair, drinking guava nectar. I also changed my time stamp, because most of you are in the future! I'm 5 hours behind my precious central time now, but I find it's not bothering me much at all.


I have stuff that I wrote in the airport, but for now, I'm just checking in.

"That's all the hot water that will come out." My cheerful little friend - one of my favorite people in the world - nodded decisively. "See? You can turn and turn the knob," she demonstrated, "and that's it! But it's enough to take a shower. Seriously."

I looked at her and we giggled - just like countless times in grad school and on the phone since then. It's my second visit to Honolulu to see her since she left me alone to finish my PhD while making insane amounts of money in paradise with her Masters. It's my first visit to this particular house with its aging charm and gorgeous view.

I'm happy. I'm showered (I did, in fact, have plenty of hot water. I also giggled the entire time over the meager flow.) and relaxed and so pleased to be with someone who knows and loves me. Where I can be honest and sad and silly. Laugh and cry and sleep and watch the ocean and fly to another island and have dinner with her family on Mothers' Day. So, more soon. Precious M has wireless that reaches my guest suite downstairs. But for now we're in the living room, both amazed that I'm awake and cheerful after a long day of travel that had me near tears at one point.

It's lovely to look around and realize I'm exactly where I want to be in this moment though. It doesn't happen all that often, so it's good to know times like this happen.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cast of Characters

To tell you much about my graduate experience, I’ll need to introduce some people. Since the structure of my group was so well defined, it might be easiest to remember us in order of seniority. Therefore, I’ll use greek letters for identification.

Some general rules (which may be violated in certain instances). We are separated in seniority by about a year. This makes the hierarchy quite simple and we follow it relatively strictly. It’s a friendly group – bright and fun and helpful. I fell in love with these people from the very first moment and they continue to impress me a great deal.

We come from a few departments and do varied research in the same general niche. Therefore we can all help with general concepts – programming questions, processing steps, technical details – but apply said knowledge in different areas. This offered an incredible opportunity to be exposed to a variety of projects while understanding the core of each.

I wrote this out then decided it was one of those “what the hell are you thinking?!” posts. So I’ve changed details as much as possible while retaining some semblance of reality. My stories won’t make sense otherwise. That way I won’t worry about taking this down should I be discovered here online.

α - Our leader. He grandfathered in when Advisor started the group and is handsome, brilliant and charming. He graduated after my first year, and is now in a tenure-track position.

β - She took me under her wing at my first visit, and I huddled there for some time. We’re friends, yet similar enough to be viciously competitive and catty at times. She’s smart, funny, and a bit resentful that the boys excluded her. We were friends because she needed a companion on the lab. But the relationship has been beneficial to me, plus I really like her a lot. She graduated mid-way through my second year and is now a faculty member at her post-doctoral institution.

χ - Likely my favorite of the group. Vibrantly intelligent, he’s one of, if not the, best teachers I’ve come across in my years of education. I know more about my field and its intricacies from him than any other person. He’s also incredibly kind and was supportive beyond all bounds of what should have been expected. I still ask him for advice – big and small – first. He’s completing his post-doc soon and will decide whether to continue in research or teach.

δ - This is where the system gets complicated. δ joined the group as an undergraduate right around the time χ appeared. He has done a great deal of research in his graduate career. By far the most aloof of our little group, I told him after the first year that he was “mean” and he’s since made more of an effort to cater to my sensitive feelings.

He’s undeniably sharp, but makes you work to obtain his knowledge. He’ll suggest reading, ask intimidating questions, try to prove how very much smarter he is when compared to you. His teaching style – to me – is that anti-χ and therefore doesn’t work all that well. He is incredibly funny once you get to know him. I’ve laughed harder and more often at him than anyone. I like him a lot, but it took me the longest to get comfortable with him. He remains at my graduate institution, likely to finish within the next year.

ε - Officially at δ’s level in graduate progress, but clearly below him in the hierarchy. I feel like you all know me at a more personal level that hints at who I am professionally but perhaps isn’t identical. I’m exceptionally sweet and accommodating – an easy collaborator, eager to learn, willing to do the inconvenient work to make progress. I’m impatient at times (a lot of the time), but always willing to hear stories, giggle at jokes, commiserate over bad luck. I’m smart, but I rely on other people a great deal – some out of laziness, some because I feel it’s highly efficient to use outside knowledge to make internal progress. I’m right around the one year mark of my post-doc. Notice that the departure order got screwed up with me. I should have left behind δ (or around the same time), but fled early.

φ - Arriving about a year after I did, he was the reason (or part of it, anyway) for the graduation order snafu. He was completing his work in 3 years rather than the requisite 5, and it freaked me out enough to finish up as well. But that’s not really the point, though it plays in to one of my stories.

He is one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve met. Soft-spoken, well-read, incredibly polite. He wanted nothing other than to read his books, do some experiments, write some code that he would freely give to anyone who asked. A teacher, undeniably, but one who becomes lost in the material – engrossed to the point that the casual student will quickly grow frustrated at the amount of detail presented from φ’s sheer joy in how elegant and lovely our work is. While I resented his quick progress a bit – especially since he employed a different strategy than I did - I feel quite protective of him and am proud of his progress. He’s also nearing the year mark of his post-doc.

γ - He joined us about 6 months after φ. Hit the ground running – I got incredibly jealous when his publication record shaped up much faster than my own. A natural programmer who rivaled χ in skill as well as teaching ability. Friendly, smart, easy to work with. An excellent student, and a guy I like a great deal. He’ll do well, and remains in the middle of his graduate work while providing assistance to less senior students.

η - She joined a year after γ, and I mentioned her earlier. Oh, she thought she was brilliant, and didn’t fit with our outwardly humble group attitude. Immediately established some mild hostility from most of us due to her lengthy stories and lack of appreciation for our delightful tales. Her progress has been slightly slow, but I think my leaving helped her a great deal in becoming more independent. She would say she’s always been quite capable and needed minimal help. I would disagree. But she’s hitting her stride – still a bit blunt, can rub people the wrong way, but is smart and capable.

Example? Because I feel I'm being overly hard on her? I asked her how things were shaping up for her graduation and she said, “No offense to you, but I wouldn’t leave in 4 years. If I’m going to do a PhD, I’m going to do it right.” I shook my head and smiled. Offensive, wasn't it?

ϕ - The order’s going to get screwed up again here because we have someone who started as an undergrad. So I’m struggling to rank the last 2 members. He’s still early in his research, but has a strong grasp of the material and is more than capable of making quick and high-quality progress once he escapes from coursework. Friendly, funny and quite sweet. I don’t know him well, and regret that. I like him – we email occasionally and it’s always pleasant.

κ - I helped recruit her and just can’t convince myself it was a good thing. She just doesn’t fit – has little interest in the research, struggles with classes and has stayed quite stationary in terms of research progress. I think she knows little more now than she did at the beginning and is at the stage of her career where that’s becoming unacceptable. I don’t believe it’s a question of ability, but rather one of interest. She’s one of us, but we frown over her lack of excitement in a field we all adore.

So, some dramatic detail was added, but these are loosely based on my graduate companions. Stories to follow.

My internet runs out tonight around 8PM local time (countdown to doomsay begins – should anyone seem me wandering the streets of Seattle late tonight, I’m searching for wireless signal) and I’m continuing on to a small but well-populated island in the Pacific for a few days. So I’ll be flying (and flying and flying due to a crappy reservation and multiple layovers) tomorrow but will update when I can (likely in a couple days).