May 2009 Archives

Express train to Crazy Town

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I think this is my third or fourth post today? I don't know anymore. Smokey is tired of watching me freak out, so hey, words for solace! Also I type faster than I speak or think, and for some reason I feel like I want to document the ways in which I am rapidly losing my mind.

A friend left me a Facebook comment asking if I was trying to take the express train to Crazy Town by doing organic chemistry in a 6-week summer course. This implied two erroneous assumptions:

  1. That these 6 weeks would go rapidly, fitting express carriage.
  2. That Crazy Town was my destination and not, in fact, the point of departure at which I'd arrived long ago.

For me, the train to Crazy Town was actually a very slow journey through the hills of Italy, when I thought I was en route to Padua and ended up an hour and a half in the wrong direction inCasarsa. I vividly remember staring out the window as the realization set in that this looked nothing like Padua and I'd been on the train twice as long as I should be. It was such an incredibly beautiful day in March, breezy, sunny, fresh tips of vibrant green hinting that spring would imminently burst open and refresh the world with new life and hope.

My heart was in unbelievable turmoil, as I combined crises of the mind and faith with agonizing doubts about every decision I'd made for the past four or five years. It was probably this level of distraction which led to me getting on the wrong train and, for that matter, operating on the wrong schedule almost the entire time I was in Venice (I'll talk about that another time).

I accepted that there was no way I was making it to the appointment I had to view a manuscript in a monastery library, nor any point during the 3-hour windows 2 days a week while they were open when I was going to get there. I gritted my teeth, thinking that despite spending my day trying to see it, there was nothing in the world about which I could conceive of caring less than a WWII copy of a Roman herbal manuscript, and that I really resented the hell out of spending a week of my life in Venice on the verge of tears over similarly obscure and meaningless fine details of art history thesis research.

And then something just broke. Whatever little gossamer tether was holding me connected to reality sort of dissolved into nothing. I got off the train at Casarsa and imagined an infinity of other lives: I was an artist in Tuscany living my dreams, I was a simple quiet farmer's wife in the hills of Croatia who smiled when people asked what I used to do, I moved to an ashram in India and sought rehabilitation through spiritual enlightenment, I escaped to a remote island in Canada and became a recluse writer, I moved to the American Midwest and studied cell biology, I hid out in Paris until I learned French and became a crappy pastry chef, I died in an alley in Mexico City as a drug-addicted prostitute.

I thought about the incredible self-indulgence of an overprivileged grad student having an existential breakdown over travel logistics and academic stress. "I'm still a person, right?" I kept thinking to myself, "there is a whole lot more to life than this."

Then I ran through the inventory of friends I missed, men I can't form emotional connections with, the ways I hurt the people close to me... it just got bleaker and bleaker. I've put so much of living on hold because I'm trying so hard to build this future, with little blocks made of chemistry courses and research papers, held together with some slippery mortar whose stratigraphy I can't begin to fathom and whose moisture content I got all wrong. I came back from Italy hopeless and distraught, resigned to either accept deep and troubling unhappiness all my life, or to put some real effort into living and getting my act together.

If you talked to me on Monday, I would have been an unrecognizably more cheerful person. I sailed the boat by myself and spent the day on the water. I understood wind. I was amped up about everything I learned in LA, my confidence that art conservation was the best career choice I've ever made, my sense of capability and preparedness that I could handle a challenging, but not impossible, condensed chemistry course on an aggressive schedule. I even deluded myself that some day, yeah, someone could actually love me back, I could get married, have a family, live a life full of warmth and home.

Today, I feel like I am back in Casarsa, like the past two months were a dream when I clenched my eyes shut on the rail platform and wished to transport myself forward to a point that made sense. It was starting to feel right, like I was getting it together and finally doing what I'd been meaning to for so long. I might have known it was all an illusion.

The route home is easy enough because I've been lost in this place before. I guess the bigger of a screw-up you are, the easier it is to cope with spectacular failures. It doesn't really matter if I have to stay up all night catching up on chemistry and trying not to fall behind on the class (my professor did, by the way, email me the stuff I need to prepare for lab). It doesn't matter if I'm overtired and feel like crying all the time and can't understand why I can only love people who can't care about me. Or that I'm 27 damn years old and still get distracted by these things.

I have a new lab coat and another $250 worth of text books (this is the most expensive class I've ever taken, totaling $550 before tuition and lab fees). I have elastics to tie back my hair, sweaters to take off the chill of the sub-arctic lab, closed-toe shoes, and a capacity to learn. I have a career path, even if it breaks me down completely and means sacrificing all the rest of my life, and in theory, I will one day be able to support myself and not be homeless or a gigantic burden on everyone who knows me.

That I chose to spend my twenties this way kind of devastates me. But whatever, if it doesn't work, I get on another train. The destination is basically the same no matter what I do.

Desire2Learn, argh

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I have a frustration, the likes of which can only be adequately expressed in ragey blog form, followed by covering my head with a blanket and having a good cry.

To start, organic chemistry sucks. I started to say this before, but I am totally out of my depth and feeling incredibly stupid. I'm getting flustered over blindingly simple, really basic thigs and making dopey mistakes. When I left class this morning, I had to work pretty damn hard to keep from crying, but I sucked it up and was like "Okay, I have a lot of reviewing to do, I'll get right on it when I get home."

In the break between lecture and lab, I was finally able to register for the lab (instead of eating lunch, that was awesome). It's a long and boring story that involves getting wait-listed for a while, then not being able to do anything because I was in LA and came back on a holiday when the university was closed, etc. No biggie, I thought, at least I'm registered.

My lab professor is a big proponent of this eCampus thing, with a URL that includes "desire2learn" after the university name, which makes me cringe like I want to turn my skin inside out or peel the enamel off my teeth or something. He declared that he would not give out the syllabus, schedule, or lab notebook guidelines which would be essential for completing tonight's assignment and preparing for tomorrow's class "in the interest of saving paper." Except, you know, we're supposed to go online, download these things, and print them ourselves. So I guess it's in the interest of saving his paper.

Because I set up my university webmail and online eStudent things last night, I figured I'd have no problem accessing the eCampus site (and here is where you can start laughing derisively if you know more about IT than me). Fool that I am, I didn't realize that the course would not show up until the system had done a complete refresh, which occurs at... 3 or 4 am, according to the help desk people whom I desperately and frantically bothered.

"Surely, though, there's something you can do? I mean, I have assignments due tomorrow and I don't even have the professor's email address or phone number..."

"No problem, I'll fill out a ticket and get Wayne, the eCampus guy, to do a single-instance reset for your account, you should be able to get to those documents in about 15 minutes," says my would-be heroine.

The skies stopped looking so gloomy and rainy, and my heart began to unravel itself from the knot it'd tied around my larynx. As it started moving slowly back into my chest, she let out a gasp and said, "Oh, oh dear. Wayne is not here today."

"Oh that's not good, do you mean he left?"

"No, uhh, he wasn't in the office at all today. And umm, he's the only person who can get into eCampus to make this change, but he won't be in until tomorrow I think."

"He's not there on the first day of the summer semester, when tons of non-matriculated students would need help navigating eCampus?"

"Yeah, that's kind of how it goes around here. You should probably get used to it."


"I guess you have to wait until the system refreshes. Get up real early?"

I sighed and was about ready to accept that this was probably as good as I would get, and that my frenetic email to my lab professor would probably go unanswered since his office hours had ended one hour before.

"And if it doesn't show up tomorrow morning?"

"Well you're welcome to call us when we open at 8:30, though actually, you're probably best waiting until 9, he tends to come in late."

"Hmm, my class starts at 9."

"10 to 9 then? Man, it looks like you're out of luck though. Hope it refreshes!"

So... in addition to freaking out about feeling totally unprepared for this class, scrambling around trying to review general chemistry stuff, and feeling tremendously dumb doing my reading and homework assignments for the morning's lecture, I now have the added pressure of having to wake up a little after "3 or 4 in the morning" hoping the system will have refreshed so that I can get to my stupid documents, do my assignment, and come in prepared for lab. I am overwhelmed with the desire2learn, but damnit, I am thwarted, and no matter how many times I refresh my university email (which, why the HELL can't I forward that to Gmail??), I can't conjure a response out of my professor if he is not there to write one.

Can I tell you how much I hate technology right now??

When I was in LA I saw a rerun of the episode of SNL where Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed "Maps" and it got me all over again. I've been listening to it sort of obsessively on repeat since then.

Also Zero, kind of addictive but in a different way.

Karen O is pretty consistently offered as a counterpoint when I say I'm afraid chicks can't really rock, and I completely understand why. She reminds me of Patti Smith sometimes (and nope, I can't really qualify why), but man, the way she sinks into "they don't love you like I love you," and the beautiful little vocalizations around "maps," is just exquisite.

And you know, since I mentioned her:


Still pretty incredible. Maaaaybe chicks rock sometimes.

(If you know me well enough to note that I'm obsessing over music instead of talking about chemistry, well then, you know what kind of day I've had. If not, I'm sure I'll get to it soon.)

p.s. Forgot about "Heads Will Roll"


The soul still burns

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It seems that my default response to most things in life is insomnia.

Dread, anxiety, depression? Can't sleep, clowns will eat me. Joy, exhilaration, falling in love? Can't sleep, too much electricity! Bored, confused, worried, frustrated? Can't sleep, having existential crisis. And so on.

It is therefore not by accident that certain college friends (hi Dan!) believed I was narcoleptic, when in truth I think I was just chronically overtired and prone to falling asleep whenever I finally relaxed. As it happens, video games in the Funston lounge really relaxed me, and I fell asleep with the controller in my hands during Soul Calibur (still won) or mid-sentence making an observation about the delightful decolletage featured in Dead or Alive.

(And I juuuuuust remembered that I had been planning to go as Sophitia for Halloween the year that I couldn't remember my super awesome idea and went as a Vietnamese prostitute. Heh, college.)

Anyway, I have, for what it's worth, been unable to sleep because I worry that I might have a sleeping disorder. Literally, it's kept me awake at night.

The times when I'm not-sleeping are when I tend to do enormous amounts of reading, looking things up, obsessing over music, drawing, painting, making stuff, and getting ridiculous ideas. In a way, it's the time when I'm really myself, or my internal self at least, and I get to indulge in whatever I want inside a dreamy, starry-eyed, and seemingly infinite expanse of dark and quiet.

Tonight I am not sleeping because I start my organic chemistry class tomorrow and I'm all first-day-of-school nervous about it. It runs for 6 weeks, 9-3 every day with lab, and it's going to be really, really intense. I don't actually know if I'm prepared, or if I'm as solid in chemistry as I should be because as I've mentioned, I took the prerequisite for this class almost a decade ago.

I'm also kind of anxious about having to do the same thing every day for so many days in a row. The beauty of my spring schedule, exhausting though it may have been, was that each day was a little different and I was able to change things around as necessary. This chemistry thing throws a big wrench in my freedom and flexibility, makes it that I probably can't take off for long weekends or random days with friends, and well, scares me. I have to become a productive person during the day, and I'm completely screwed if I fall behind.

This is not the kind of thing a 27-year-old should be worried about, but well, I'm not really good at "regularly-scheduled." I tend to need to be erratic.

All that said, I know the responsible thing to do is attempt a normal sleep schedule while I take this class. And hell, maybe it will stick. Yikes.

(Not really related, but I forgot to mention that I went on a trip to Los Angeles last week, and I have lots of photos and stories and stuff to catch up on. Soon, seriously. Soon.)

Talk talk

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Two contradictory points in the way people generally describe me:

  1. I will talk at length on any topic for as long as permitted.
  2. I suck at meaningful communication in a relationship.

I cannot even begin to tabulate the amount of awkward, upsetting, work-endangering, and personally disastrous moments that poor communication has caused me, so I've been trying to fix this particularly sore spot of mine.

I am slowly getting over my phone phobia. I know this is a stupid fear, but the more I admit it, the more I find other people who share it. I used to spend entire days fretting about having to make a two-minute phone call, and now I have consolidated that down into about thirty seconds of cold panic while I look up the number and dial. I'm still really awful about calling people I know, especially if we haven't recently communicated and agreed that I will call them at a specific time and for a specific reason. I guess I still see phone calls as an intrusion on someone's time, so I think I must have some specific goal to accomplish in order to bother them.

(I do not, by the way, feel this way when other people call me, and I really love unexpected calls.)

Texts, on the other hand, are a realm where I am masterfully chatty, especially now that I have unlimited texting on my phone. If you are one of my friends who hasn't heard from me in a while, I recommend texting me. Seriously, I will charm your pants off.

I've discovered that I truly suck at heartfelt personal notes where it's clear the other person has taken some time to communicate with me. I get emails from old classmates or friends from long ago, and it literally takes me months to write back. I think it's because I want to write something thoughtful and take my time with it, then I don't make that time right away, then I start over-thinking it and freaking out because I don't really know what to say and I don't want to take the wrong tone or give some weird impression, and then suddenly an uncomfortably large amount of time has gone by, and I feel unforgivably rude and I have no idea how to both respond to their initial note and explain why it's taken me months or (ahem) years. At that point, I give up and assume they will just think I'm a horrible jerk and I feel quietly guilty every time I think of them.

Then, if I ever DO talk to them in person, instead of playing dumb or acting like my spam filter must have been over-sensitive I actually feel the need to explain this whole stupid scenario of ridiculous anxiety and the entire course of events that led to me basically ignoring them, even though I really didn't mean to. I have literally had half-hour long conversations about why I didn't return a call three years prior, then found out that call was to ask if I wanted to see a movie, which they later weren't able to see anyway. I suspect, by the way, that if these people are as normal and rational as most, they will conclude I am quite insane and it was a mistake to drop me a line, especially if it was just a simple "hello, I like your art" or "how are you?"

I think that the internet has both promoted and stunted the development of my communications skills (I use this term loosely). On one hand, I do have a forum in which I can express myself through words, a surfeit of blog posts, stupid comments on Twitter and Facebook, a plethora of photos on Flickr, and irreverent by-the-bys on Gmail chat (uhh, it used to be on the IMer but I decided I hate Trillian and I downloaded Psi and couldn't figure out how to transport my AIM screen name and umm, I'm working on it?). I suspect that online contact is one of the only reasons I have any friends at all, but I also suspect it's part of the reason why I become complacent about other forms of communication.

All this is not to say I'm hopeless in person. That's the funny thing - I'm actually quite comfortable in social settings, I laugh easily, I carry conversations, I make people laugh... apart from a tendency to knock things over and blurt out everything I'm thinking, I really do alright. My critical fault comes in GETTING TO social situations, a specific flaw in bridging the worlds of me in my underwear talking to my cat and me fully clothed out in public with other people.

From here forward, though, I am Trying Harder.

Since moving to New Jersey, I've been making small adjustments. Whenever possible, I don't cancel plans anymore. It actually has to be some unforeseen emergency-type situation and not like, I can only find one of my yellow shoes, it must be a sign from the universe that this date is not meant to be.

As a policy, I am endeavoring to Say Yes to Everything. That is, when someone invites me somewhere I want to go, I look for ways to fit it in my schedule, instead of trying to find excuses why I can't make it. This also applies to academic and career opportunities, where instead of thinking about why I can't do a project, I get excited about how I can.

I'm asking people to do things when I think of it, instead of worrying that they'll somehow be offended by an out-of-the-blue invitation. The logic in this is arrestingly simple: How would I feel if they invited me to this event? Would I think about how long it's been since I heard from them, wonder why they invited me personally, try to over-analyze all the possible implications of this invitation...? (since it's me, yes, probably) Mostly though, I would be happy for the invitation and say what I almost always say in my head when I hear from people "Oh yay, it's So-and-So, and wow, that sounds great!"

This is all a very rambly way of saying basically I suck, but I'm trying not to suck quite so much. Also because I've been pretty non-communicative with oh, everyone, lately, it's really nothing personal. And umm, I'm trying harder.

Ink Paintings

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My garden studio ink paintings came out alright.

I posted them, with notes, on my studio blog.

Or if you would like a faster view, they are in a Flickr set: Ink Paintings.

Or if you want to see them all but hate clicking, view a slideshow.

I would say more, but I am late for a barbecue!


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A smattering of amusing and interesting stuff online:

Living Walls, which I have been dreaming about for years. When I saw that post I was all set to link to a roundup I saw in January on Environmental Graffiti, and they've done that already. I have this other dream of a turf-floored room, with a big patch of lush grass growing under a skylight. It'd be perfect for yoga, painting, playing with kids, having a picnic indoors... pretty much anything you could imagine.

Richard Avedon fashion photography at the ICP, opening May 15. Psyched.

Wilco (The Album) now streaming on Wilco's site. Yum. I am very very excited for Wilco playing with Yo La Tengo in Brooklyn on July 13th. I have to make sure I can go (it's a Monday night), and I want to find someone similarly excited to go with me.

- On a shallower note, DIY Mineral Makeup. I always knew it could be done, and I like the idea of customizing it with essential oils.

- Even shallower, What Color Eyes Would Your Children Have? Phenotypic calculator, takes my crush-obsessing to a whole new level. The thought of green-eyed babies makes me want to have babies at all. Should find love-worthy green-eyed man.

Garden studio

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I had a really nice afternoon, painting out in the garden in shorts and a bathing suit.

I shaped the grass to hold paper the way I wanted and I had no qualms pouring water or ink. Occasionally the wind would gust and flip drying paintings over, but sometimes the new marks that made came out really cool.

My soundtrack was the Led Zeppelin box set (yum), which complemented this kind of meditative, drifty process quite nicely. I observed that the sunlight caused a different type of drying than when I make these types of paintings indoors, and I think the grass pulled moisture from behind a little too. These paintings were part of nature. Groovy.

In a way it was like making tides, then watching the ink rise and recede. It was peaceful, a process I've really missed. The ambiance couldn't be beat. Sitting cross-legged in the grass, I was eye level with the dogs (one of whom coughed up dirt on one painting), watching birds fly into the feeder, enjoying the neon green loveliness of new spring life in plants and just a slight chill in the breeze.

I really, really like painting outside. I'm going to have to do it more often.

New hotness

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I don't talk that much about work on here, in part because I'm accustomed to keeping research stuff confidential until published, in part because I worry y'all won't find it interesting, and mostly because, well, I don't talk about much of anything when I am busy.

Currently, I'm really wrapped up in writing about recent XRF research (this was the topic of the talk I gave at Symposium), optimally for publication down the line. My lab is all going to the AICconference in Los Angeles next week to present NMR research, which is super exciting. And I'm looking ahead to my summer research project, which is going to be really, really ridiculously cool.

But, the most tangible and sexy things lately are the new instruments my boss bought today!

A portable FT-IR spectrometer, called the Alpha (pictured), and a portable micro-Ramanspectrometer. I don't think I need to explain how spectacularly cool this is (especially if you follow the links and geek out on the sexy, sexy science!), but just to squee-ify it a little, I'm going to get to specialize in FTIR for my summer research, and it's going to be sweeeeeeet!

(It also happens that the school where I am taking this organic chemistry class (fingers crossed that I sort out registration tomorrow) has an excellent NMR lab and several other instruments I can learn. Nerdistry ho!)

I'm making a website for our lab which will outline all of this soon, but basically we are building a mobile laboratory of non-destructive analytical instrumentation for art conservation, similar to the European MOLAB with whom we have been collaborating. We now have six instruments (I still have a lot to learn on the others), and we are building our repertoire with collaborative research projects and publications.

When I think about the way I stumbled into this job (I don't think I've told that story yet), I am consistently amazed and intensely grateful. It's the kind of opportunity I never dreamed I'd have, especially at this stage of my education and career, and it just keeps getting better!


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When I think of the decisions my mom has made in her life, I would say that marrying my father was one of the best ones. Personally, I'm also quite grateful that they decided to have kids. We celebrated both of those decisions this weekend, as May 10th was also their 32nd wedding anniversary.

Saturday night, I went with them to Moonstruck on Lake Ave in Asbury Park, which was a lovely time.

My mother and I talked especially about the screening of La Cenerentola we saw that afternoon. We had tried to get tickets to this opera during the week but found it almost entirely sold out, so we opted to drive to the university down the road (where we swim) to see the Live in HDbroadcast. This was a wonderful experience - the sound was fantastic, the camera angles were beautiful, and they had cool interviews during the intermission. The production itself was charming, with very playful staging and gorgeous singing. I keep promising to obsess about opera in greater depth, and as this was the final performance of the Met's season, I think that will actually be soon.

It doesn't take much to make me really happy, and good company, wine, and good food are always a winning combo. We enjoyed a really tasty pinot grigio and shared calamari. I regret that I didn't photograph our meals, as they were nicely plated and beautifully prepared.

My mom had linguine with pesto, my dad had a fried seafood combination, and I got tortellini with sundried tomatoes and gorgonzola in a cream sauce (to die for). This place was so good that after sopping up my sauce with a piece of bread (which itself was uncannily good), I still wanted to lick my plate.

The desserts were fantastic as well. My mom went for keylime pie with fresh strawberries (I think this is her stand-by), and I had a rich, intensely delicious chocolate banana pie. I'm not sure when I started liking bananas again, by my word, I'm glad I did.

This is a dessert that I will definitely learn to make.

We had all kinds of plans for Sunday, but I missed a lot of them through a problematic combination of too much wine, late-night worrying, and not enough sleep. Then the weather thwarted all boating activities with crazy amounts of wind, so my mom planted impatiens while my father, brother, and I fooled around with the Cape Dory.

In the evening, my brother made everyone mojitos with Brugal, we had steaks on the grill, and strawberry shortcake. We laughed our asses off, told stories, and generally enjoyed each others' company.

I love getting to be with my immediate family, and it is a special treat to see them as much as I do now. There are some things, like putting the dachshund into my sailboat while we drank beers, that can't really be replicated any other way. The other thing I kept thinking about is how generally wonderful it is to have a support system of people who look out for my interests, help and protect me, know and accept me for who I am, and in spite of all that, truly love me.

I don't ever show it as much as I should, but I feel so very blessed to have the family I do and so happy for the time I get to share with them.

- Regarding yesterday's bout of obsession, the solution is blindingly simple. I rattled it all off to my brother and mother and they both looked at me like I was missing something incredibly obvious.CLEP, duh.

- I'm bummed about the prospect of spending every morning in Organic Chemistry class and 4 afternoons in lab. If I have to spend my summer in a chemistry lab, I want it to be the one I work in, doing my own research. The reality is that I would like to spend ALL of these mornings and afternoons at the beach, sailing, painting on the deck, etc. But those are not activities which result in employment and financial stability, so umm, I may have to opt for the responsible course.

- Responsibility sucks, but if I were better at it, I would not be where I am.

- I resolved a financial mess that has been going on for the past two years at school. And, for once in my life, NONE OF IT was my fault. In fact, the new graduate financial aid person apologized to me profusely while she was in the midst of awesomely sorting everything out. It turns out that I could have been living comfortably in a very nice apartment all this time, rather than imposing on my ex-boyfriend and now parents. When I consider the poor life decisions and staggering amount of fights that I have had about money in the past two years, my vision goes blurry around the edges. The error was, as you might have predicted, both incredibly stupid and obvious to catch. Financial aid heroine even said, "How on earth did Ben (her predecessor) miss this?!" It's not always fun to be right, though.

- My brother and I helped put the mast up on my parents' sailboat this afternoon, but it was too windy to put it in the water or sail yet (wah). While pinning the backstay in place, I looked up at my brother with a sudden jolt of realization: "When it comes to boating, I lack both the strength and impatience to do these things effectively." If you know a lot of boaters, you'll probably understand that sentence completely. To my credit, I am working on impatience.

- My brother, who it should be noted works as a fishing boat captain, is a former merchant marine, and spent a semester sailing a 131-foot schooner, ran through the fundamentals of sailing with me today. It all clicked pretty easily, and I kept restating his points in disbelief. "That's it? That's really all there is to it?" He'd nod, sip his drink, and smile. "Yeah, it really is that simple."

- He told a great story that put a lot of things in perspective. At one point, he was casually sailing, and as I've mentioned, he's really good. For fun, he raced a bunch of college students and completely smoked them. Their coach was talking to him back at the dock and asking why my brother didn't race. As he was asking this, the students came in, furious, saying they wanted to protest, etc. etc., and my brother gestured toward them and said, "This is why I don't race." The coach laughed and said, "I see your point."

- I learned a pretty important life lesson today. I am generally terrible at being assertive. Passive-aggressive, I have nailed. Ditto with complacent, and I'm excellent at not getting my way and going home to cry. But when someone does something I don't like, I'm pretty terrible at calling them out on it or asking them to make it right. Today my family taught me that you don't have to be angry or say mean things or act douchey and rude. All you have to do is say what you want, then tell them what you are going to do. They have the choice, then, to give you what you want, or not, and accept what you are going to do. This still sounds like a threat to me, but apparently it's all in the delivery and there are lots of subtle differences between assertive and aggressive. The key to everything is acting calm and reasonable and to not involve emotions in any way when it comes to transactions and fulfillment of obligations. I very much wish I might have learned this lesson say, fifteen or twenty years ago.

- Being calm, in almost every situation, beats any other alternative. Calm is not the same as passive. Being actively calm is about the best you can do.

Lots of good (and obvious) things learned today.

Crossing T's in Agony

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Here is a sequence of related facts which bear upon my current state.

  • In high school, I took AP Chemistry, but kind of tuned out partway through, got a lousy grade in the class and a 3 on the AP exam.
  • At Trinity, I was granted advanced placement, but not credit, for General Chemistry I.
  • I started to major in Neuroscience, which involved pretty intense neurochemistry and pharmacology, so I decided to take extra chemistry classes over the summer, including one for General Chemistry II, with lab.
  • I switched majors to Studio Arts and abandoned undergraduate chemistry, thinking I would never deal with math and science again.
  • At Pratt, I began to pursue art conservation and started working in the department of math and science, in a chemistry lab (nice ironic twist of fate).
  • I've taken three chemistry courses at Pratt: Chemistry of Art History and Conservation, Advanced Chemistry I, and Advanced Chemistry II. None of these courses are called "General Chemistry I," but they've required working knowledge through organic chemistry.
  • It bears repeating: I work as a researcher in a chemistry lab. I prepare samples, work with XRF and NMR, write papers, present data, work with international scientists etc.
  • I still have not taken General Chemistry I.

I want to apply for conservation school, and the deadline is January 15, 2010 to start that fall. It is possible to apply for school with some of the admissions requirements pending completion, but I cannot lack more than two courses, and if it's chemistry, it can't be more than one level.

The chemistry prerequisites are at least 16 credits of chemistry: General Chemistry I, General Chemistry II (4 credits each); Organic Chemistry I and Organic Chemistry II (4 credits each), all with labs.

To reiterate the point of the bullet list above, I do not have any actual credit in General Chemistry I.

In the time between now and when I want to apply for conservation school, I could possibly take 3 courses, but because they're sequential, I must do them one at a time this summer and fall. If I were starting where I'd like (with organic), I could have time to complete Organic I and II and Physical Chemistry by the time I apply, which would put me in a nice position.

But... I don't have credit for General Chemistry I. This nagging, detail-oriented voice in the back of my head is shrilly declaring that I need to take that first and actually have the credit and coursework completed. My credit for General Chemistry II dates to the summer of 2000. The same nagging voice is saying I should take that course over again in the second session of this summer... then Organic I in the fall, and I would be applying with Organic II still pending, which makes me feel very perturbed.

Technically, if I were accepted when I applied in January, I would still have time to complete Organic II and P-Chem by the time school started, but it feels gross to consider applying with coursework pending.

The logical, sensible part of my brain says "I got advanced placement for General Chemistry I, I have credit for II, I have 9 additional graduate credits in chemistry, which in some way must amount to at least a General Chem I's worth of work, if not II as well. I should just start at Organic and play the 'I work in a chemistry lab' card as evidence that I'm okay without credit in General Chemistry I because I wouldn't have been allowed to progress through II and so on without that knowledge."

The stupid stickler part that worries about having a meticulous application is saying "Sack up and commit to General Chem I this summer, just to get it over with and on paper." It would be nice to do something without half-assing it.

Meanwhile, there is a whole unrelated part of my brain screaming, incredibly loudly, "EFF THIS NOISE AND GO SAILING!!!"

You can imagine which voice is getting most of my attention these days.

Any painting is painting

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There is a queue of boats in the driveway that need work this spring, and to expedite this process, I am helping bottom-paint the Anne Marie (my parents' Cape Dory) with this toxic copper stuff.

I'm not sure if the copper is involved in the color of the paint (my guess is no), but it is a very specific blue color that I think is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever bottom-painted a boat.

I don't think that the color combination in my current oil painting is any coincidence...

It's something in color I've kind of always known.

There is, by the way, a delightful scene in the 1998 version of Great Expectations where Finn (Ethan Hawke's Pip) is frantically painting away to the strains of the Tori Amos song "Siren." It's a thick green paint, applied in the kind of frenzy of splashy brushstrokes reserved for pastiches of abstract expressionism. The camera pulls out to reveal he is not, as we'd been led to believe, passionately making art, but rather bottom-painting an old boat, as he's abandoned paintingpainting for commercial fishing.

I don't know if it's like this for other artists, but for me and my hands, any  painting is painting. The use of materials, for whatever purpose, is enough to get that rush, and it's easy to get completely entranced by the process.

Sometimes art becomes too much in my head, and I forget that it is rooted in my everyday sensory experiences and sensations. I can't keep ignoring the physicality, the sensuous loveliness of gushy, supple paint.

I finally upgraded my phone from a glowing picture frame for my cat to an adorable and wonderfully functional LG Voyager. This thing is supersexy, with a touch screen and full keyboard, and since I got an unlimited data plan while I was at it, I can browse the internet, text, Twitter, and yes, post to my silly blog whenever I want. To say I am ridiculously in love would be a gigantic understatement. Hooray for the 21st century, I am so glad to finally join you!

Venez m'aider

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As you know if you follow me on Twitter, I learned in boater's safety class that the distress call "Mayday" derives from the French "venez m'aider," which means "come to my aid."

In further Wikipedia research on the subject of what the heck May Day even is, I read of pagan celebrations that occur exactly one half-year from November 1, another cross-quarter day subjugated by the Catholic calendar into All Saint's Day. For those not keeping score, November 1 is my birthday, which means I am halfway to 28 today. Yikes.

I've started to embrace this animistic worldview that ascribes spiritual dimensions to everything around me. But I'm not doing it in a supernatural way, so much as recognizing a "soul" as the intrinsic properties which any objects or beings possess, giving them their fundamental character and qualities. It is akin to recognizing the ways that water's molecular structure and tendencies provide its fundamental properties, and as such, make it an integral part of life.

Extrapolate this, from a micro to a universal scale, and it is the same natural order which gives all of us the traits we uniquely possess. That natural order could be interpreted as God or a higher power, or it could be recognized as the beautiful unifying principle which guides our growth and development through all phases of existence. These two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

It used to really bother me that I could not prove some grand magical influence taking place around me, that I couldn't pinpoint a mystical deity at work. Now I think that expecting something to show itself in a way which would not fit its character was unrealistic and robbing myself of the recognition of just how very magical daily existence already is.

Spiritually, I was crying "Mayday" all the time, frantically, because I thought I was in a sinking ship. I see now that what I should have been saying, calmly, was "venez m'aider," not in the sense of "show yourself and fix things," but more "help me understand" or "help me go through this." And I shouldn't have been saying it to someone else, but to myself, calling on what's already inside.

I feel like that particular distress call has been answered and allayed by everything and everyone around me, recognized by quieting my mind and opening my eyes. The peace I feel inside is more honest than any fervent belief I've held in the past.

As for faith, which must rely on the unproven, I've realized I truly do have it, just not in the ways I thought I should. I have a deep and unshakable faith that the universe is inherently benevolent, that despite its ups and downs, its cruel surprises and disappointements, ultimately, life is beautiful and magical, and I am lucky to go through it the way I am.

For many many years I have struggled to change who I am, banging my head against the wall in frustration because I couldn't become something or someone else. This was a ridiculous strategy because if I succeeded, I wouldn't be true to myself, and I would have done it by acting in a way which is disgenuine to my basic properties. This has been, over time, a source of great unhappiness in my life, that I am just this flawed, ridiculous, awkward, embarrassing person who can't keep her mouth shut and can't seem to change. But I have come to recognize the absolute absurdity of disliking myself for being who I am. To try to change the things I don't like about myself would also mean taking away anything that makes me good or useful or happy in any way.

So, I'm choosing to laugh in the face of absurdity, to embrace that I am always going to be who I am. And I have faith, just as I have faith in gravity and electromagnetic radiation, that if I behave the way I'm naturally inclined and follow my intrinsic properties, I will put into the universe what I am meant to, and I will take out things more magical than I could have dreamed.

Oh hai!

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The great blogging paradox: the more a blogger has going on in her life (as such, the more content about which to blog), the less time and inclination she has to blog about it.

This is to say, I have a lot of catching up to do. All kinds of exciting things have been going on lately, some small daily bits of wonderful, others hugely, mind-bogglingly amazing torrents of extraordinariness.

(Have a camellia!)

In no particular order, we have to talk about:

  • Symposium & assorted science and conservation stuff
  • my trip to Boston (wheee!)
  • the greatest thing ever, no really EVER
  • the last 2 or 3 operas I've been to
  • spring flowers
  • fitness and exercise stuff

And... I still haven't really talked about Pompeii, the Herculaneum, Venice, my thesis, the state of my master's degrees, and quite a few other things.

Like I said, I've been busy.  We'll talk more soon!

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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