Sunday, July 30, 2006

Time grows short

I can't believe I'm less than a month away from finishing my thesis. Let me tell you: writing a massive paper when you live somewhere that can't get your thyroid meds straight? I wouldn't recommend it.

Not much to report, as I have been holed up in my cave for the last week working. At some point, I went to a pub. Yesterday, a sparrowhawk (first one I've seen, ever) tried to snag one of my garden's resident blackbirds -- he flew about a foot past my open door, which was quite cool. That's really the extent of my incredibly interesting life.

So yeah. First draft of thesis, almost complete. Thyroid issues, legion. Environmentally-related employment outlook, well, I'd rather not discuss that right now because I've only just managed to stop fretting about it. Ooh, but we are going on our honeymoon, finally (!), and I've even decided not to job-hunt intensively until after we return, just in case I land that ideal job and then have to take two weeks off the day after I start. I was really hoping we'd go to Albania, but the country doesn't quite have its international travel together, and so we couldn't quite make it work in a two-week window when we were also going to Croatia. (Buses in Albania run when they feel like it or when they aren't broken, and we aren't willing to drive in a country where drunk driving's relatively acceptable and most car owners have only had licenses for the last decade).

So, it will be off to Albania in the spring, either as the next "big" trip or as my last hurrah before admitting defeat and going home to find work. Here's hoping for the former, particularly since the Other Half would stay here to finish his PhD (I still have no suitable online moniker for him, sorry...). The honeymoon, then, will consist of two weeks in Croatia and Bosnia, ideally with stopoffs at Plitvice Lakes (awesome hiking, potential wolves), Mostar (charismatic Bosnian city still recovering from war), and Lopud (tranquil tiny island within hopping distance of Dubrovnik). The rest of the agenda is pretty open -- maybe a day on the Montenegran coast, since we'll be in Dubrovnik for a bit anyway, maybe a visit to Risjnak or one of Croatia's other parks, definitely a day trip from Mostar to one of Bosnia's villages.

But before then, there's a thesis to write, and a move that requires packing, and a potentially terrifying job hunt. Oh wait, I'm not supposed to think about that last one yet. Augh. Regular posting will resume at the end of the summer, but I promise to maintain at least the once-per-week thing until we depart for the Balkans.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Research methods for the border region

How many people get to say this in their methods section? (Thanks to my dear SuperGeneticist for the inspiration.)

Safety measures taken:

1. Put water commission decals on state car during monitoring tour to avoid being mistakenly targeted in firefights.

Sweet. I love this stuff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thesis progress


1. I'm now done with the massive revisions of 2 major sections. Yes, yes, I do despise the very sight of them.

2. The third major section, the research methods chapter, is but an outline on the Fujitsu. Work on it commences tomorrow from the corner window stool of a certain local coffee house. ("Work", as in, rereading all the articles I don't remember and consulting an old paper to see what I said I'd do on this part.)

3. Most of my tables, maps and figures are finally done, although I still have one substantial conceptual map to build, and I need to track down current and historical numbers on pollutants so I can visually depict the river's condition via a jaw-dropping chart.

4. I have to go back to my introduction to see if what I said I'd write about bears any resemblance to what I've done.

5. I need to create a timeline for the PhD work I don't intend to do, becuase under the guidelines here I'm still expected to fake it.

6. I need to write a conclusion. As it always has been, this small, relatively insubstantial portion of the paper is the part I most dread.

7. I need to maintain a steady tempo for the next five weeks, regardless of how tired I'm feeling or how annoyed I am with the work.

8. I still need to find time to go to the gym, continue rowing, and occasionally read something that doesn't involve environmental governance or riparian conflicts.

9. Oh hell, I need to add one extra bit into the section I just finished, the one that's already about 700 words too long.

10. First, since it's about 90 degrees out, I think I should probably go sit in the shade"brainstorm" a few ideas for the new section. Yeah, napp -- I mean, brainstorming, sounds really good.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Very unapologetic and possibly nonsensical rant

So I just finished watching The Constant Gardener for the second time with a couple of friends who've never seen it...and not five minutes after the film ends, one turns to the other and says, "So, are we still going clubbing tomorrow night?"

How anyone can watch that film and not sit silently devastated by humankind afterwards, or at least sit there and question everything about how you choose to live your own life, is beyond me. Like the first time, I still don't really want to talk to anyone. I just feel completely overwhelmed, and at the same time I don't like admitting it because I've been criticized in the past for being too sensitive or too bleeding heart...but what am I supposed to do? Shrug it off and go about my life thinking that it sucks, but what can I do? Shut my mouth because no one wants to hear it? Fine. Don't read this post.

You just feel so futile afterwards. The filmmakers did an amazing job with the whole movie. It doesn't preach, and yet it just fills you with this sense of anguish, this all-too-concrete realization that the way our lives play out depends in part on the fortunes of where we are born. The understanding that most of these kids, if they make it through adolescence, are going to die decades before us because because they don't have elemental things like food and education and fucking basic health care. Meanwhile here I am, bitching about how I need more this, more that, how I'll never have enough cash to buy my own house...

I think what really destroys me about the film is that, for whatever reason, it's the one thing that really makes me feel like I can't ever do anything big enough or effective enough to alleviate one miniscule piece of the suffering in this world. And I want to, but like so many people I'm too paralyzed to even begin. What the hell could I possibly do anyway? Rent for the rest of my life and save the rest to start yet another foundation pushing yet another solution with yet another plan that never works? Move somewhere else and be the good little developed-world white martyr who thinks that just because she "gets" the problem, she's somehow got the right to put herself in the middle of it and fight the system in ways that aren't necessarily helpful, let alone right? Sit around and moan about how awful the world is without doing a damn thing about it because I can't think of anything that feels ethically okay?

I just keep thinking about fate, fortune, timing. Why I'm here, why someone else is stuck in a brutal world they didn't ask for. Why everything I want to say comes out sounding cliched when what I'm feeling is anything but. It tests my faith, this knowledge that so many people in the world are screwed from the day they're born. What kind of god would do that? What kind of world would allow it? What the hell is wrong with us?

Being a martyr's no good. If you don't get killed, you burn out, wind up sacrificing everything for nothing, a grain of sand tossed by the storm. But the whole reason we seem to need martyrs is because we can't develop the collective will to do something about it, to each move one brick and rebuild the foundation. Instead, we sit around looking at the bricks, muttering about the bloody bricks, grumbling about how someone should do something about the bloody bricks but how there's no sense in throwing your back out because what good would it do if all you did was put one more brick down for a stupid project that will never be completed?

I just don't know what to do. About any of it. If I look back and feel like I never did a damn thing about it, I don't think I could accept my life. But what am I going to do, and why haven't I started yet? Look at me: I'm a bloody student. Whoopee. I supposedly have all this great potential to change the world because that's why I received this bleeding scholarship, but what am I supposed to do with that potential and how on EARTH can I even begin?

The worst part of it is that I don't think I'm going to find any answers to those questions. I just hope I don't waste all my time thinking about them instead of just slogging forward and hoping somehow, some way, I'm doing something that actually matters, something that actually remedies even one iota of everything that's wrong with the world.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

No, really, give me my damn meds

So, I suppose I can't attribute my current stress levels solely to my thesis. My phantom thyroid also appears to be going out of whack, as evidenced tellingly by my dry skin, thinnish hair, general inability to focus and raging mood swings (I'm fairly certain that my GIS now lives in terror of doing anything that might turn me into the alternately raging-or-sobbing psychopartner he never knew existed...unfortunately for him, I never know what's going to set me off, but everyone within a mile radius becomes aware as soon as it happens.)

Thyroid-related depression is always exacerbated by another cruel symptom, the "WTF happened to my thighs?!?" syndrome.

Some people enjoy clothes shopping. I used to be one of those feckless individuals until I suddenly found myself clothes shopping every season this year because my lower half no longer fit last season's wardrobe. Shopping's become a guessing game: gee, which size will I take this time? It never helps that current fashions appear to be designed for an alien race of stick insects with large waists and microscopic butts.

Me? I have a butt. I find it quite handy for sitting, but it's a little annoying when the only trousers I find that will make it past the thigh-butt meridian wind up being about two inches too big for my waist. Hello world! Yes, these are my Ex Officio briefs, thanks for asking.

Since it is somewhat alarming for an otherwise healthy individual with carefully cultivated diet and exercise behaviors to find herself going up two or three sizes in about six months, I visited my GP. Yes, this is the same GP whose full prescription for my motion-inhibiting back pain was to keep moving. I stupidly assumed that thyroid problems would raise more alarm, so after emailing my awe-inspiring endocrinologist back home, I went in to ask for a different medication that's commonly prescribed at home for people who just don't cut it with normal thyroxine. T3 has been prescribed in the US for years.

Note to self: in hindsight, it would have been helpful to know that GPs are very suspicious of anything that the US prescribes regularly, as they think we are a country of overmedicated hypochondriacs popping pills in lieu of afternoon snacks.

My conversation went something like this:

"I think that my thyroid levels have dropped a bit."

Annoying GP: "Oh?"

"You see, I seem to have developed a bunch of secondary symptoms --" At this point, she is already checking her watch. Appointments last 10 minutes here, unless you are extra-special ill, in which case you can book for 20 minutes if there's space. Generally, I think this means that they have to chuck a sickly child back onto the street to make room, judging from the number of people who appear to be living in the waiting area every time I visit. Hence, you just don't take up 20 minutes unless you are a sociopath because what kind of person would put their piddling autoimmune problems ahead of a snuffly child?

I start listing my symptoms. When I get to weight gain, her eyebrow arches.

"It's just that I've gone up two sizes since Christmas," I said. "For me, that's not normal."

The eyebrow climbed higher. She asks me to step on the scale. I do, and she informs me that I've actually lost weight. This is not possible. I ask her to check again.

"Look. Your BMI is still normal, so until you're fatter..."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Row, row, row your boat

Straight into a barge...

See, the Rowing People (for rowing is a way of life over here, complete with its own language and clothing), they tempt you into this by telling you that rowing is fun, that summer rowing is particularly fun because you really just use the rowing as a pretense to reach nicer pubs on the outskirts of town, where you then spend most of your practice time posing by the boat and telling cute passersby that yes, yes you do row.

The Rowing People are fucking liars.

Contrary to all assumptions, rowing is insanely complicated. You have to lean back from the hips with your arms out in front of you, then move your arms forward and down, roll forward (back straight!) from the hips, slide slowly forward until your knees are fully bent, then shoot backwards while you keep your arms and your back straight until you finally have to bend the elbows and pull the blade to chest height.

Got all that? Good. Now do it about three times faster on a narrow channel that masquerades as a fully navigable "river," complete with psycho boat people from Serious Boat Clubs and full to the brim with barges, sculls, the occasional river kayak and the rare inebriated cyclist who tumbled off the bank into the water. Although you may be tempted to brain all drunken obstacles with the flat of your blade, do not do this, as it may wreck the blade. Did I mention you also have to keep precisely to the rhythm of the person in front of you? Well, you do. This is always fun when the person in front of you has been rowing for years and decides to set a just-shy-of-Olympic-record pace that leaves you flailing hopelessly, snagging duckweed and half-swamping the boat as your blade gets caught beneath the surface. Then, she has the audacity to glare at you when your handle smacks her squarely below the shoulder blade because you're out of synche...At this point, I'm thinking the only way to slow her down is to break a rib or two, so obviously I'm just not smacking hard enough.

Serious Boat Clubs are by far the worst. City bumps are this weekend, we think, as there were many Serious Boat Crews out on the river this evening. Some of them are polite enough to slow down until we novices can steer for the nearest bank to let them pass. Others roar right up behind you, apparently intent on honing their bumping skills by crushing our fiberglass boat. They then become highly annoyed when you yell at them...but you can't really do anything, as the boats are apparently so fragile that sneezing on them will cause permanent damage. Seriously, after we heft this 8-man boat out of the water (and it is surprisingly heavy for frigging fiberglass), we have to stand there grunting with the boat numbing our palms as the cox wipes it down because IT CAN'T STAY WET.

It is a BOAT. It is supposed to go in WATER. Yet, water hurts the boat.

You will also enjoy the Weekend Boaters. You know, those fine, perpetually sloshed lads and potbellied middle-aged men who loll on seats at the riverside pubs and make snide comments about your rowing abilities. "Oh, bad form," they'll tut before returning to their pint glass. You can almost hear them: "When I rowed back in university..." You want bad form? Yourself in a speedo, darling.

So, at the end of the day, you finish with numb forearms, screaming glutes, seeping blisters below your fingers, and a growing distaste for the Rowing People...and yet...and sign up for the next outing and promise you'll learn how to hold the blade square by next time.

But you're definitely clotheslining the next Serious Boat Crew.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The posts, they're sort of a problem

Sorry about the delays, AGAIN. I think it's going to be like that this summer, at least until the end of August when the thesis is done. I will post sometime in the next day or two with a real, honest-to-goodness, humorous update. Promise.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Seriously, this sucks

The aforementioned meeting resulted in 10,000 words or so of my thesis draft due to the advisor by Wednesday...and I'm suffering from the worst case of "can't untangle my fieldwork to write about it"-itis I've ever had. I'm 4000 words or so away from done and I've spent most of the day staring at my computer in absolute frustration and agony.

And to help that writer's block, my examiner's comments for my other program papers came in today. Not bad, but not what I wanted, so that sort of threw any remaining will to succeed out the window.

Back after Wednesday.