Thursday, August 31, 2006

There are good reasons I removed all identifying names and places from this blog

I'm sitting in a half-empty room, boxes and bags accruing in the kitchen, wondering how on earth I'm ever going to move the wardrobe of six people home with me when the time comes. (No, I'm not sure how five other people mysteriously stuffed their clothes into my closet, which barely qualifies as a closet anyway, given that it is the size of a medicine cabinet. I am anything but fashion-conscious, and I often find I have nothing to wear when I need to go somewhere nicer than Sainsbury', obviously, these clothes, they are capable of reproducing asexually.)

In a few days, my parents arrive for a visit. My MIL and BIL were here in July, and it was great to see them, even if I could only emerge from my pile of interviews long enough to gasp a hello and point in the direction of the tea cupboard. Hopefully, I'll be able to be a bit more social with my parents, although I am certifying my status as the world's most shameless daughter by enlisting them in our move under the guise of a visit to Oxford. Which it is. Just with boxes.

It is even worse because they are moving right now, too, although this is a vast improvement over the situation last week, in which they were moving without having found a new house. They seemed cheerily okay with this, as if it is perfectly normal in one's middle age to pack up all of one's belongings and leave for a foreign country without the slightest clue where one will sleep upon one's return. Well, technically, they did have some sort of month-long arrangement involving an eccentric hippy lady with an apartment the size of a spare room. It is decorated in a manner I cannot imagine -- Mom described it as reminiscent of life in 1970s San Francisco, a period which I have chosen to deny my parents ever experienced. Although the fact that anyone from 1970s San Francisco remembers it is quite impressive. But yes, after a month or so with the hippy lady, they would have been consigned to wherever the city puts families who sell their homes and then disappear to Europe.

I did warn CB when we married that my family was a bit crazy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mid-week misery

Occasionally, I forget that being vegetarian does not make me immune to food-related catastrophes of the medical sort, even though I feel I am largely protected from things like salmonella.

Alas, what I am not protected from, it seems, are brie-and-tomato sandwiches from a certain sandwich shop with multiple locations in my town.

I had just left the hairdressers, where my request to "clean it up while maintaining the new length" resulted in a cut resembling either a much-abused cotton swab or a furry light bulb. This produced many stares from construction workers perched on scaffolding around the colleges, along with a few comments -- one of which, I'm certain, was "What happened to her head?" Short hair is not terribly common here, and short, wiry, spiky hair attempting to grow out a few inchees is downright exotic. Or frightening, apparently, given the remarks.

I was crankily shoving bits of hair out of my eyes which were the byproduct of her efforts to "style" it in the manner of someone possessing about three times more hair than me, as hairdressers tend to do. Earlier in the day, I'd been to three bookshops which had each greeted my query about selling used books with a raised eyebrow and a, "Phwhat?" They asked me which books I wanted to sell, but I did not have them with me, as I saw no point to carrying 15 books into town (including an 800-page monster about the history of California's water development) if I simply had to turn around and lug them back again. Naturally, when I explained that I could bring them if they thought I'd have a chance at selling them, they shook their heads. I cannot fathom where they procure the used books for their voluminous secondhand collections, unless they are robbing them from Oxfam and reselling to impoverished students like me who do not realize we will have to carry said books with us on every relocation for the rest of our lives.

I'd also stopped at the department to return my keys and give the building a suitable send-off involving furtive gesturing and ancient Italian curses.

At this point, I was hungry. My hair was rapidly approaching the limp tea-towel phase. I still had 15 bloody books gathering dust in my flat. A brie baguette seemed the perfect solution, so I purchased one and sat on the low wall outside the colleges, munching away and watching a group of shirtless young men leaping from the tops of dustbins and pole-valuting over marble pillars until one of them misjudged the distance required to skip over the iron spikes of a church fence and promptly broke a limb or two smacking into one of the pillars.

The sandwich, it was a bit dodgey. Maybe they'd put too much pepper in it. By dinner, I wasn't hungry, but I assumed this had something to do with stress and my utter disinterest in doing anything creative with the lonely eggplant languishing in my veggie drawer.

Then, I woke up at 5am this morning feeling like I'd had my insides scoured with a wire brush. As it only became possible to stand up without becoming ill two hours ago, I've spent the entire day trying to find comfortable positions that would still enable me to crawl to the bathroom if needed. I ended up crouched at the foot of my bed with my arms wrapped around my shoulders while the Roommate from Hell blasted "Going to the Chapel" over and over again above my head for approximately two hours.

Since I haven't eaten in 30-some hours, I am simultaneously ravenous and put off by the mere whiff of food. The packing I was supposed to do remains unaccomplished. My hair is clearly staging a coup along the top of my scalp.

As GIS noted tonight, "You have the luck, don't you? I think Evil Uni Town is trying to spit you out."

Believe me, I'd gladly be gone.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The liver is evil and must be destroyed

I meant to post this weekend, but I instead spent the better part of both days in bed recovering from Friday night.

I assumed that having only three guests at my year-end party would prevent things from getting out-of-hand. Alas, I'd forgotten that my friends were an Irishwoman, a Scotswoman, and a Harpingdon lad with an impressive capacity for beer. In hindsight, I should have considered those factors.

It started out pleasantly enough. We ordered a bottle of Chenin Blanc and chatted over dinner. At that point, it was just the Irish and me. When the Scot and her man showed up, we naturally needed to order them a drink, which I think resulted in a second bottle of wine and two ciders. Halfway through the second bottle, we decided that I had not found a drink worthy of being used for my "end of thesis" toast, and my Scottish friend offered to buy anything I requested.

It was around 10pm. I was feeling brave. I walked up to the bar with her and ordered the one drink guaranteed to make me a very happy girl in a very short amount of time. Its only drawback is the name.

"What can I get ye?" the bartender asked. He was one of the newer employees who had not yet learned to avoid the pack of girls from up the hill who traipsed in every week.

I leaned really close, determined to describe the drink without giving it a name. My friend helped by reiterating everything I said.

"Can I have a pint of Guinness, but can you only fill it about two-thirds of the way?"

My friend -- we'll call her Sheilagh -- chimed in, "Yeah, so not all the way," pantomiming with an imaginary glass.

"And a shot that's half whisky, half Bailey's?"

"So not all whisky and not all Bailey's, but in the same glass. One shot"

The bartender looked like he wanted to be very helpful. "Well, we don't have shot glasses," he said. He looked downcast. Then, his face brightened. "I could nip across the street to t'other pub and nick one from them?"

We shook our heads gravely.

"I'll just put them in wine glasses then," he said, "but separate."

"Make it two of everything," Sheilagh said unexpectedly. She grinned. "We'll make Allie drink one, too."

"Whatsit called annyway?" the bartender asked.

Great. This called for careful subtlety in a packed pub. "Irisharbom," I mumbled.

"Come again?"


He shook his head.

"Irish Car Bomb," I snapped, in a pub which naturally went silent the moment before I spoke.

The bartender looked at me in a half-pitying, half-scornful manner and then went off to fix my Terrorist Special.

We left the bar with one almost-full glass of Guinness, a double shot of whisky in a white wine glass, and somewhere between one and two shots of Bailey's in a half-pint glass. With only one Guinness, I was going to have to drink it all.

Normally, with a Car Bomb, you take the combined shot and drop it into the Guinness. The whole thing explodes in a rising tide of froth, which you have to chug like a parched camel because it curdles in about 30 seconds, all the while gingerly maintaining contact with the rim of the glass so you can slurp the last drop and pull away before the shot glass smacks you in the teeth. It's fantastic. Drink one, you earn a little respect. Drink two, you're a bar legend at home. Drink three...well, I just wouldn't drink three unless you want to be remembered as "that girl who drank three Car Bombs and wound up dancing the tango to an Irish jig."

However, now I was faced with the prospect of pouring the drinks in to the Guinness and hoping that it would have the same effect. By this time, everyone at our table was mesmerized, and the bartender was still leaning at the side window.

"Maybe I'll just..." Damn. Thinking became difficult after your third glass of wine.

"Do y'want something to stir it with?" Allie asked. She rummaged in her bag for a pen. "Here," she said.

I dumped the whisky in and splashed the Bailey's after it. We stared in fascination as both liquids swirled ominously at the bottom of the Guinness. No bomb.

"I think it's congealing down there," Allie murmured.

"Right," Sheilagh said. "Drink it. C'mon!"

I grabbed Natalie's pen and hammered it round for a bit until I couldn't quite distinguish just how nasty the bottom bit had become. The table to our right had gone quiet. I should have just given up on the whole idea, but I was officially in Hyper-Competitive Drunk Irish-American Girl Mode. I was drinking that damned thing, and I was going to drink it faster than anyone ever had. I slammed the whole thing back, marvelling at how many textures and solids could be found in a poorly made Car Bomb. Defiantly, I slammed the glass down on the table. Hah! Didn't even feel it.

....Didn't feel a thing, actually. Hand-eye coordination seems to be fucked. Bloody wine. Had to be the wine.

The last thing I remember from the evening was being in Sheilagh's room with a few more friends and yelling, "Marine Corps, bitch! U-rah!" as I challenged one of their fiancees, a military man, to a drinking contest. He had a glass of cider. I had a bottle of Jamison's, and I'm pretty sure I actually pulled the cork out with my teeth. I really must insist that someone render me unconscious with a blunt object before I get to the drinking-from-the-bottle stage.

Saturday morning, I woke up under my covers in a necklace and two black socks. Somehow, I'd managed to hang up my coat, but everything else was on the couch in a mash of shoes, clothes, purses and jewelry. My keys were still in Sheilagh's room. Something had happened to my head, as it suddenly felt it had shrunk around my brain. None of us actually got up until sometime after 11, at which point the rest of the weekend was a wash entailing lots of silence, stumbling through grocery stores cursing the cheery flourescent lights, and refusing to go within ten feet of a pub.

Bloody thesis. I blame it for all of this.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Still standing

I am so sorry for the prolonged silence. I embarrassed to admit that I actually turned the thesis in on Monday -- I just needed a few days to try quashing my rising panic about finding work, so I fled to the partner's abode for the week. The panic is only partially quashed, but at least I'm catching up on sleep.

All in all, thesis completion was fairly uneventful...except for a few tips I'll pass along:

1. Avoid disciplines that are OCD about maps to the point where you are forced to create your own by cutting and pasting tiny bits of MapQuest images into a blank Photoshop document, which you then illustrate in Paint because you do not care about Photoshop's ability to create multiple layers but you do care very much about its ability to make a simple freaking blue line without doing "artistic" things to it, like making it transparent or spontaneously transforming it into something that decidedly does not resemble a line. If your discipline is this anal, I would recommend dropping out, even if it is a week before the thesis deadline.

2. If you foolishly decide to create a map using said process, make sure you zoom in to at least 800% on your hastily assembled Paint map monstrosity.

3. This helps you avoid a Paint creation which resembles something drawn by a catnip-intoxicated cat with a paintbrush tied to its tail, because failing to zoom in means you miss all of those tiny little pixels that the "fill" button did not cover, thanks to cribbing pixels off MapQuest.

4. If you do let your cat Paint, at least print a test page of the damn thing before you walk for 40 minutes to reach your friend's color printer.

5. Definitely print a test page before you print the entire frigging thesis twice at 2am and trimphantly announce you are done. Discovering the Paint problem can be a real letdown at that point.

6. Load up your jump drive with Every Single File you used to create the thesis, even the image files you swear you'll never use again. This prevents you from walking back to your friend's house a second time at 9am the following morning to print the Paint image you stupidly created when you could have just drawn the thing on an Etch-a-Sketc and stapled the thesis to it.

7. Beware of the office supply store which charges reasonable rates for thesis binding.

8. Do not leave the office supply store alone with your thesis.

9. I would also recommend against standing more than five feet away from the binding machine, as that's where I was stationed.

10. Even when you are five feet away, do not doubt the possibility that they can bind one half of your thesis upside-down and tear parts of the other copy out of the binding.

11. Do not go home without discovering this.

12. Do apologize to your friend for the 800th time as you trek back again to print the color pages which they bound upside down, since the holes are now on the wrong side of the document.

13. Do call the office store and speak to them in an alarmingly cheerful manner, lacing the end of each sentence with a knife-edge laugh that conveys the impression you are still deciding whether to forgive them or to test the binding machine on their appendages.

It's done, it's in, and if they call me for a viva, I will show up in my best punk paraphenelia and instantly convince them that it would be best just to leave me out on the department steps, laughing/sobbing and throwing bits of my thesis into the wind.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Or not. Here's the latest sonnet from a personal poet:

"You're like, fuckin' Cinderella an' shit."

I guess I deserve it for being daft enough to talk to wood mice.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Light up, light up...

Any normal person would be focused on her thesis right now, what with it being due in 11 days and all.

No one ever said I was normal.

I'm facing some very difficult decisions right now about what comes next, and they are hard to deal with when I'm essentially on my own in a still-strange place. I have friends here, but I haven't developed the level of intimacy with most of them that you need in order to have those "deep" talks. Of the two with whom I can, one has left already and one is leaving soon. This leaves me with one outlet here (because of time zone and long distance issues), and I'm sure you can all relate to how wearing it can be if you're on the receiving end of someone's never-ending stream of stress and worry. I never, EVER realized how much I would miss and need my friends, or how I would come to realize that I would do anything to be back with them again someday. Even if we aren't all in the same city or state, being close enough to be a real phone call away, or even a half day's drive, is enough.

Part of me feels guilty writing about these things because they necessarily involve people who are integral to my life, but I think it's imperative to record not only the "good" moments, but also the "bad," those dark, lonely periods where you aren't sure how you got here, let alone how to get somewhere else. I've been in a pretty dark place for some time now, but I've been hesitant to relate it because of the public nature of this forum. Even though I try to protect the identities of people I know, I'm almost afraid that I'm crossing some sort of line by talking about situations that involve them when those situations aren't just light-hearted and funny. I almost wish that I hadn't told everyone this page exists -- I spent a long time wondering if I should tell anyone at all, but it's too late to reverse that.

I should say from the start that NONE of this has anything to do with my amazing, supportive, incredible husband, whose very presence is probably the reason that I'm still sane here, who has done everything another person possibly could do, who I love and cherish and thank God every day for finding.

The problems are all mine, but they are big and they are getting difficult to confront. I'm in a better spot than I was a month ago, but still, these anxieties creep up on me from out of nowhere and leave me curled up on the bed, hugging my knees and wondering why I can't get a grip. Resolving the thyroid meds helped (oh lord, I never even wrote about that), but I'm still feeling out of whack.

The truth is that I think I have to go home soon to find the job I want, to find the life I need to pursue in order to feel like there's still a "Me" here, because I've lost sight of who that is under the endless papers, the academic hell, the being away from home in a place that hasn't been healthy for me. The problem with that is the tremendous, unending guilt I feel about leaving. I'm not just me anymore. I'm a wife, you know? A wife who is supposed to stand by for better or worse, etc, and who now finds herself incapable of sticking it out for a couple more years because she can't handle a fucking dead-end job.

.The problem is that here, I feel like I become someone I don't want to be. I am depressed, snippy, frustrated, anxious and mercurial. Even though I'm the only one who thinks so, I feel like these problems are slowly, incrementally chipping away at the one relationship I'd do anything to protect. It terrifies me, not because I think the relationship would ever end, but because I think it could become something neither of us wants, something with more tension and less communication, something where the balance has shifted and where one person is always having to pick the other up.

So what do you do when you feel like you actually have to go somewhere else to protect what you don't want to leave?

And how do you ever explain to the person it involves that even though your soul is irrevocably intertwined with theirs, that you still have to do what's right for you now in order to build the best future for both of you in the long run? How can you explain that you're afraid you're losing pieces of yourself that you need to find again? How do you explain any of this and still make them believe (because it is true it is true it is so unquestionably true) that NONE of this is their fault, that there's nothing about you and them which you would ever change, and that you're just afraid of making you both miserable if you don't do something to alter your outlook? God, even the one thing I've realized this year, which is that I really was right when I thought I couldn't leave Seattle for good, is potentially problematic. How do I say that I'm sorry? I'm so, so sorry I can't be different: I spend most of my waking life trying to, but I just can't figure out the answers. How do I reassure him that nothing in the world can ever, EVER change the way I feel about him, but that the way I feel about me and my/our future lives needs to improve so we can both be happier?

Even when I write it, I don't know how to say it.

I finish in two months, and I'm hoping beyond hope that somehow I miraculously find an amazing path in the UK that can keep me here for awhile. Who knows? Maybe everything will get better as soon as we're under the same roof again. In fact, I know that in some ways it will. But I'm afraid that my own personal dissatisfaction with my life will continue to create fissures unless I find a way to remedy it. I'm afraid I can't last much beyond December without that.

I'm afraid of hurting the person I'd die for; I'm further terrified that I'll do that no matter what choice we make.

Fending off the wolves

In a delerium-induced dream, I was forced to interview for a job while surrounded by pointy-teethed, hissing versions of my old advisor and a boss I haven't seen in at least four or five years.

Sadly, I get the impression that finding a job here may be more difficult than confronting suddenly-rabid ex-advisors. I am actually putting off my final thesis edits because they will signify the official end of my program, or the point at which I am expected to find real work here. Of course, only Nobel Peace Prize-winning non-citizens are interviewed for positions here, let alone hired...maybe I could convince them with sheer pathetic humility? Somehow, I thought getting a second degree in something besides English would *improve* my employment outlook, rather than detract from it. Alas, now I seem to be slipping out of the realm of "overqualified admin assistant" to "highly overqualified but utterly useless coffee shop table busser." Who knew graduate school could provide such benefits?

Sorry. Too sick to be clever lately. Will resume intelligent postings (remember those?) when things improve.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Oh hooray. With less than two weeks to go, I have contracted some sort of malicious summer flu. My throat hurts. I can't breathe. My ears appear to have developed an airtight seal which makes my head hurt but still allows my incredibly annoying housemate's voice to boom down from upstairs.

I am very grumpy and easily annoyed. If I were the housemate, I'd pick up on my murderous vibes and tone it down...of course, that implies that my housemate has a self-preservation instinct. Judging by the year's worth of housekeeping atrocities, I'd say that's definitely not the case.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A little unwell

I was going to blog about maps, but I have to admit: this whole security threat has me feeling incredibly freaked.

Maybe it's because they were planning to target services that GIS and I actually use on a regular basis. Maybe it's because my family is flying here in a few weeks and will have to fly back, too, or because we are going to visit friends in California this Christmas and might have to fly out of Heathrow into LAX...which means quite possibly on one of the routes that they were targeting.

I know I should just be grateful that British intelligence thwarted the whole thing, but instead I'm absolutely terrified. As bad as 9/11 was, it still felt psychologically distant: I didn't really know anyone in New York, and there were never plans that came within a whisper of my existence. Now, my fear of flying is going to get worse. I used to love planes, but I've been nervous about flying into and out of the UK since 9/11 -- even more so after 7/, I'm just hoping I can drag myself onto the plane and recognize reasonable fears instead of mistaking them for premonitions. I already white-knuckled parts of the lonely flight to and from my fieldwork, even though I knew it was silly to worry. Somehow, it just makes such a difference when it's directed at the things you use. I know it's just letting them win to change my behavior (and what the heck could I do, anyway?), but I'm just so scared.

I hate this. I hate that anyone could be such an asshole as to target entire planes full of good people going about their own lives, people with families, people with dreams.

Suddenly, I'm beginning to empathize with the Cold War generation. Could one of you please tell me how you got through this? Because I'm having trouble feeling okay with the state of the world.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In which I unwisely blog about academia

I know the rules, I do. Never blog about work, particularly if your work happens to fall into the category of "incestuous academic travails," and if you share the category with cranky supervisors who would enjoy grinding your soul between their fingers if they discover how you really feel about their program.

Oh well. Considering that my last bit of living dangerously involved confronting a massive hairy spider under the gym scale, I think I can risk it. (Why is it that just writing "massive hairy spider" makes my skin crawl?)

I am now approximately three weeks away from thesis submission date, and the replacement advisor has actually taken an interest in my work, meaning it reads my paper when I email a copy. By "reads," of course, I mean skims frantically while multitasking and occasionally writing nonsensical remarks in the margins like "qawlkdso." While I'm sure that failure to qawlkdso is grounds for immediate dismissal from my program, I still have no idea what language it is or how on earth anyone is allowed to advance beyond grammar school with penmanship rivalling a drunken person riding in the back of a truck on a washed-out mountain road.

Regardless, it manages to randomly scatter important thoughts between those impenetrable phrases, which means I have to painstakingly go through the entire document to see which ones make sense. I particularly enjoy comments in which it becomes apparent that the advisor must have skipped the page above its remarks, as the question scrawled in the margin was answered two sentences ago. Also, the comments which clearly come from the point of view of someone who writes about issues from a completely different perspective than my own. While this would be helpful if we were from the same theoretical backgrounds, we are not. I really just want to say something along the lines of, "Yes but I don't care," in response to the next comment about how this really indicates problems with transnational power redistribution, but somehow I think that would not be received well.

And no. Baja California is not part of California, nor is it part of the U.S. Please stop circling it and adding alarmed punctuation nearby.

Next, I'll move on to the new, and possibly most loathed, part of my thesis: maps.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Descending into the bowels of nerdiness

After spending the last six or seven weeks in my room (sad but true), my descent into geekdom was inevitable. Today's highlight? Figuring out how to convert my spiffy demographics table from a Word table into a PDF so I could shrink it down in Photoshop.

Hey, I have barely been out of the house this summer. Don't judge me!