June 2009 Archives

Mia piccola rana

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It seems the one fun thing I did this weekend was obsessively clean my sailboat. (I can't even remember - did I mention that as an early graduation present my parents gave me a sailboat? Cause it's pretty much the greatest thing ever.) Now it is also immaculate.

The Kermit is my carrot, the reason I can deal with this class and the oppressive heap of work and stress under which I have been buried. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the little white hull glinting in the sun, and I know that soon, I will be free.

I applied a ridiculously awesome Kermit decal on the stern, and I can't walk by without stroking its sleek sides or patting it lovingly.

Oh, and it sails too. I finally got all the lines and rigging stuff I needed sorted out. I have an adorable blue life jacket and a green float bag and sick green water sneakers. As soon as I finish this class, I plan to spend every available moment out in this boat until I can't remember what it feels like to sit still on land. God, I can't wait!

(Otto doesn't know if he's a sailor or not, but I think he likes it.)

Last night I spoke briefly with a friend who is in the middle of changing jobs. He's very talented, and he works in one of the few fields where there is consistent work and great employment opportunities. I mentioned that he is in the minority of Americans (especially our age), in that he has an established career and not only has one good job, but has plenty of other people happy to give him a new one.

He felt that this was not necessarily an issue of his unique skills or insights, but more an issue of refusing to let himself be misled by delusions. Even the decision to go into his field, he said, was based in pragmatic (i.e. non-delusional) thinking, and I was flummoxed.

My entire life, I have taken advice from literature, music, art, poetry... I follow far-fetched romantic devices to the letter, and when I truly need guidance, I look in my heart. I think first and foremost about the things that would make me happy, then about the things which are most fascinating (these go hand in hand). I consider variety, excitement, chances for adventure, etc etc... and at the very end of the list, I wonder if it is a responsible career decision or something that will benefit me in the future.

It's not that I don't have to worry about money or stability. To the contrary, I'm sure I've belabored the point extensively that I have nothing but worries in that regard. But I don't really know how to make decisions where that gets prioritized. I just make the ones my heart wants to make, and I try to sort the rest out day by day. By contrast, my friend front-loads the worry into his decision-making process and comes out with a feasible plan, which I guess eliminates the worry, but also makes it that your plan is what you have to live.

I kept thinking I would benefit from something like this more practical approach. Then I got all queasy thinking about how my life might look if I did what was considered "valuable" or "useful" instead of what I wanted to do. I talk about love a lot, and I always say that I have faith that if I just follow my heart, then however things end up, I'll know I got to that place by living the way I wanted to live.

My decisions are made in a dead reckoning sort of process that is equal parts intuition and divining, trusting superstitious signs and serendipitous moments to guide me in major changes. And honestly, life is good to me, so I am inclined to keep doing it this way.

My concept of spirituality traipses somewhere between animism and materials science, where everything has a fundamental nature, bestowed on it by its inherent properties. That is to say, the elegance of nature, the predictably unpredictable elements and forces which guide our physical existence, all the strange and paradoxical quirks of The Way Things Are, have parallels in emotional and psychological qualities. People are who they are, at a fundamental level, so you either love them for it, love them in spite of it, or don't love them at all.

My reaction to my friend's declaration that everyone else was delusional (I know this includes me) told me a lot about myself. I recoiled at the sense of acting like someone else in the way I approached life. I know plenty of people with jobs that would make me despair in boredom and frustration, but they seem pretty content. When most people talk about what they do, I'm inclined to think (if not say) "God, that's so NOT ME." I used to beat myself up about this, since it seems tremendously self-indulgent to believe that a person should get to do whatever she wants in life.

Except... I have learned that if you do whatever you want, and you are willing to accept the consequences, life is pretty awesome.

My brother and I agreed, when we were pretty young, that we didn't want normal lives. "Someone out there," he said, "gets to live their dreams. They get to paint or write or captain a boat, they get to wake up every morning and do the thing they love most." I said that person sounded like a lucky bastard, and my brother grinned, then said "Well it might as well be us, right?" We agreed, and have agreed many times since, that we would live a different kind of life, on our own terms, doing exactly what we wanted and following our dreams.

And I have to say, for as much as I complain and whine and get hopelessly depressed about it all, I'm pretty thrilled with how that's going for me so far. My inner essence is a dreamer - I'm someone who needs to be in nature, who needs to find the poetry of moments and dwell on beauty. I am someone who needs to spend hour upon impractically-"wasted" hour reading the things that fascinate me and thinking the thoughts I want to think, making and doing that to which I am compelled.

It might not work, and I might be totally wrong. But my life is full of beauty, light, and hope. My life is a place where art is center stage and where one's dreams are one's mandate. I am following the bidding of that which I am, in acting my nature, and I feel like that is the only way I'll achieve a harmonious relationship with the universe.

When it comes down to it, I'm really happy I'm made this way.

Young love

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On the 12th, my parents and I went to Pennsylvania for a family friend's wedding.

Greg's dad had been my father's best friend from childhood, so I consider them more my family than a lot of the people with whom I share DNA. It's still kind of surreal going to these big life events without Bill there, but we all believe he was there in spirit.

Greg and Merisa are super young, but very much in love. My parents got married when they were about that age, and they're completely made for each other. I do believe that you know in your heart when you find the person you're meant to spend your life with.

I had a lovely time with friends and my parents and a really lot of champagne. I put a bunch of photos in a Flickr set.

I can't wait to finish this crazy chemistry class, so I can get back to enjoying my summer and for that matter, my life!

Stupid immune system

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My body is freaking out about something. I have a sore throat, earaches, sinus pain, swollen lymph nodes, pain in my side, utter exhaustion, and increasingly constant light-headedness. This is all eerily familiar, and I just don't have time for it.

I have a horrifying awful organic chemistry exam tomorrow, and I'm totally unprepared. The past few weeks have felt like continuous chemistry lectures and labs, and one all-nighter after another, punctuated with the occasional woefully short nap in place of real sleep. I'm not in any way surprised that my immune system is freaking out, but I wish it would hold off another two weeks and let me crash through the rest of this course.

I have a dreadful feeling that no matter how many times I reread these chapters or how many problems I do, I'm going to sit for the exam and draw a blank, which is what keeps happening with quizzes. I look at the questions and I don't even kind of know where to begin. I have never felt so stupid and incapable as I do every day in this class. Ugh.

Bitchin' Friday

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These past two semesters at Pratt, the advanced chemistry courses I was taking were held on Friday mornings. I was often over-tired, under-nourished (Pop-Tarts and cupcakes for the win!), and stressed out by the daily commitments of a grad student with a ridiculously excessive commute, but my labmates totally made it all better. We'd go out to lunch, talk story, laugh our faces off - good times all around. We'd return to the lab reinvigorated for the afternoon's work, and often it was so pleasant, we'd all stay late and go out to dinner afterwards. We came to call these days Bitchin' Fridays, and they were frequently the highlight of my week.

(I <3 my labmates!)

I was bummed when the spring semester ended because we all thought it would be the end of Bitchin' Fridays. Everyone's schedules have changed, we all have new pressures and constraints, and it seemed like the end of an era.

If I thought I was stressed in the spring, I had no idea what was awaiting me in this organic chemistry course. Comparatively, thesis research and any amount of commuting are a cake walk in a sunny park. I can't believe how difficult and frustrating this class is, and this week... well, I had a week.

Yesterday with 45 min still to go in lecture, I put my pen down and covered my face with the sleeves of my sweater. I wished with all my heart for a blanket or poncho to pull over my head to transport myself to some village in Wales several centuries ago (please tell me you readAchewood). My heart sank, and even though I was encouraged that I could spend the whole weekend puzzling the material out, I thought there was no way I was going to do well on my exam on Monday. (I'm still not sure how to make my brain work.) I frowned through lab, even though we finished blessedly early today, and I opened my umbrella with a heavy sigh, thinking the only respite was a few hours of sleep.

And then, I remembered that the next day was Friday. That I was going into Brooklyn to teach fresco and Egyptian faience, that I was reorganizing a lab, meeting a new post-doc fellow, seeing my boss and my labmates.... that in fact, it would be... a Bitchin' Friday!

Waking up painfully early to catch the train is nothing compared to stereochemistry and optical actvity, and I am so excited to go to work that I feel peculiar. I mean, I really love my job anyway, but wow... who would have thought it would feel like a long-anticipated day trip? This is the power of a Bitchin' Friday.

(Also, I might be getting a trailer hitch put on my car today, heeee.)


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Earlier this week, my organic chemistry professor pointed out that we had reached the halfway point of the course and were now embarking on the second half. This morning, he marveled at just how much we've already learned, and said, "Isn't that cool, how much you guys know? If you came in here a few weeks ago and looked at this stuff, it would be another language to you!"

I looked at the elimination reaction on the screen that I'd just puzzled out in my notes and realized that yeah, he was kind of right.

Sometimes I look at these crazy diagrams and can visualize the space-filling, rapid-spinning particle-as-wave molecules as they actually are, interacting, changing... it's like magic. Other times, I just see this sea of stick diagrams and random halogens and none of it means anything to me.

(If I ever figure out cycloalkane stereochemistry, I will be so overjoyed, I dont know what I'll do. Get a tattoo of the chair conformation? Make a T-shirt at the very least.)

It is mentally exhausting, yet fascinating to do this work, struggle through the problems and try to make sense of things. In lab we are performing fairly straightforward and simple procedures, but when I stop and really consider the chemistry going on, they're mind-boggling.

We study IR and NMR spectra to visualize bond stretching and vibrations, and the specific environments in which various protons are found in molecules. Working with it every day, these seem like basic analytical techniques, but sometimes I step back in amazement because I can't believe anyone has figured this much out about the universe and how it works. Let alone all the intensely mysterious and beautiful things they've unraveled when you get out of undergraduate science courses.

Despite my new found appreciation for the material, the experience is really wiping me out. This much information, at such an abstract and bizarre scale, at such a condensed and relentless pace... my brain is just turning to goo. Right about when I think I'm getting it, I'll have a day where nothing sinks in whatsoever, or where I run the wrong samples in lab or botch up a quiz so badly I wonder if I am even using the right text book.

I had a few of those days in a row this week, and when I glanced at the schedule in the front of my binder and realized we were supposed to have our second exam tomorrow, my heart absolutely sank. I was set for a full on panic, and I could feel hot tears building behind my eyes because I really just was not getting this and I pictured myself staying up all night agonizing over the book and past-due homework and wow, it was a big dizzy catastrophe.

"Just a quick note," my professor said, "the exam has been moved to Monday and it will include Ch 7 now."

My God, what magic words. Suddenly everything started going better. The pervasive headachey dizziness lifted, and I felt... alright. I can totally do this. I think.

A Sense of Wonder

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I worry sometimes that "going green" is too trendy, that instead of making lasting lifestyle changes, people are jumping on a fad. Then again, sustainability is a movement that really is, well, sustainable, however much people might be sick of hearing about it.

The other night my mother and I watched a fantastic documentary called A Sense of Wonder, to do with Rachel Carson's life and work. Rachel Carson is a personal hero of mine, a phenomenal writer who approached nature and its study with a poet's soul. She is infinitely quotable, in the way she so beautifully articulates what it is to be human and possessed with a sense of wonder.

The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.

She posited that by understanding and appreciating nature, humankind can find the way to heal ourselves and the planet, that to develop respect for life in all its forms was the most important step in forging a harmonious existence.

Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world.
There is certainly no single remedy for this condition and I am offering no panacea. But it seems reasonable to believe -- and I do believe -- that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.

In her ability to convey this deep love for the natural world, she made compelling and enormously important arguments against the use of pesticides and dumping chemicals in nature, and legislation was passed as a direct result of the publication of Silent Spring and the inquiry Kennedy launched.

This gives me tremendous encouragement that environmentalism, sustainability, and a deep and profound love of the natural world can never go out of style. In discussing her nephew (and adopted son) Roger, Carson emphasized cultivating a familiarity and intimacy with the natural world. Once you felt one with nature, you could not think of destroying or exploiting it.

In talking about this idea, my mother asked if I felt I'd had nature adequately shoved down my throat. I considered my childhood playing at the beach and river, making toys of sticks and reeds at the park, dreaming about fish and mermaids, running through fields of strawberries, growing our own green beans in the backyard and watching with wonder as tomatoes grew to bursting and glowed a brilliant red. I remembered going bird-watching with my father, taking bike rides to say hello to geese at a nearby pond. To this day, we all drive a different route to get home so we can see deer that congregate in a field nearby, and my father and I watched in awe as an osprey flew close by with a fish held in its talons, narrowly missing our jib.

The best days of my life are the ones I spend in nature, and it is these sensory experiences and wonder that fuel my imagination and creativity. I know I would never be an artist or think the way I do if I didn't have such a rich and fertile bank of memories and associations culled from direct contact in nature, and really, it's what makes me who I am.

"Yeah," I answered my mom, "pretty big fan."

My mother told me about her experience of the first Earth Day when she was in high school and the ways that her family worked to be more responsible global citizens. We talked about how reducing waste, recycling, and being mindful of the environment were values so deeply ingrained for my brother and I that we never considered any other way.

Still, I know I can always do more. So I wear this shirt (heh):

(Green is Sexy)

And I try to keep up on environmental news. I try to think of ways to make the work I do less toxic and more conscientious, and in general, I try to find ways to share how much I love nature with others. I really believe that if everyone felt the way I do about nature, our planet would be much healthier for it.

I was stoked to follow the United Nations Environment Programme on Twitter in an effort to plant over 10,000 trees for World Environment Day.

I also like thinking about the future. I'm getting more and more interested in alternative energy, so it's convenient to see ideas everywhere:

Benthic Microbial Fuel Cells, using energy from the sea floor (via)

Nokia phone prototype that charges itself from ambient radio waves

The Sea Around Us has been my favorite bedtime story for quite a few years now, since I found a secondhand copy in a place called "Here Is a Bookstore!" in Brooklyn. I feel like we have the capacity to solve the problems we've caused in the world, if we just look around with love and wonder, and think about how we can nurture this beautiful home we share.

Battle of the Love Songs

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My friend Jeremy and I talk pretty much every day. Odds are high that if I'm online, I'm talking with Jeremy. We are pretty competitive: we can compete at just about anything, including which of us is the least competitive (I totally won that one).

Tonight's game was a competition of love songs. We each picked five and explained why we thought they captured something fundamental to being in love, losing love, wanting love, etc. Because we overshare, we explained when they were of personal significance too, but I won't get into that part.

Here were my five (forgive the awful videos, just listen to the songs):

1. Mazzy Star - Rhymes of an Hour


For what it's worth, this video features stills from the movie Stealing Beauty, and the scene which this song accompanies is really beautiful and sexy.

I might have also picked Mazzy Star's more famous song Fade Into You, for that similar hazy sense of drifting into another person.

2. Wilco - Radio Cure


I've gone on about this song before, and it's been in pretty heavy rotation for a while now. The line "Distance has no way of making love understandable" just kills me. I still feel like this song a lot, and I love it so much it's a little worrisome.

3. Foo Fighters - Walking After You


Dave Grohl achieves this soft sensitivity in his vocals that made me a fan for life. Also the gentle cymbal is lovely and scintillating. I want to dance very closely with someone to this song or just like, hold each other. It's dreamy.

4. Jets to Brazil - Sweet Avenue


(Ignore the photo of Damien Rice). This song wins for mellow contentment and gorgeous lyrics. Notably:

now all these tastes improve
through the view that comes with you
like they handed me my life
for the first time it felt right

and one of my favorite lyrics ever written:

budding at my fingertips
touching you I start to bloom

I love this kind of love.

5. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Go Easy


No surprises I guess, seeing as I've posted almost all of these songs here before. This one is not really a perfect love song by any stretch of the imagination, but the exact time in my life when I got into it, the promise of sunny warmth and love that was more fun than agony and the possibility of being with someone who just got me... it was pretty exhilarating.

This game was flawed because we were specifically trying to come up with songs that the other didn't know well. For example, we both might have used "Set the Ray to Jerry" by the Smashing Pumpkins, were we not both huge Pumpkins fans. Ditto on Radiohead and several other of my very favorite bands.

Jeremy's picks were interesting, and it was great talking about the meaning and feelings he got from the lyrics and music. I realize, though, that he was at a disadvantage in this game because he likes harder stuff and the music I like is generally mellower and more accessible. I dug his choices still.

1. Vast - Touched


2. Tool - Pushit


(I don't know why he was surprised that I already knew and liked this song.)

3. Stabbing Westward - Waking Up Beside You


4. Queens of the Stone Age - Make It Wit Chu


I said that musically this seemed derivative of the Rolling Stones song "Monkey Man," then we got side-tracked when Jer admitted that he never listens to any of Let it Bleed beyond "Gimme Shelter." I was totally appalled and we needed to spend a while discussing this. The line that Jeremy said did it in this song was "I ain't here to break it, just see how far it will bend."

(It is, I'm aware, a huge character flaw of mine that I can't appreciate that line without hearing Neil Goldman on Family Guy saying "Ow you're bending it" when Lois is dressed as Mystique from X-Men.)

5. Failure - Stuck on You


We stopped keeping score somewhere around the fight over Let It Bleed, so we declared this round a tie and agreed there will have to be a rematch... or a Round 2. I made a list of probably 15 other songs I might have used, so I feel pretty prepared to kick his ass in this regard.

Now it's your turn! What are your love songs??

Enjoy Yourself

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I haven't figured out how to insert my Twitter feed into the sidebar yet (I did break my template quite spectacularly in the process when attempting a while ago), but it tends to be the place where I put little random and daily thoughts. In case you are more in need of those than, say, epic amounts of sorry-for-self-feeling.

I really like Twitter, especially because I can see what my friends are up to from my phone now. I follow several friends on there who don't blog, and with whom I frequently used to lose touch, so it's wonderful to feel connected to them on a day-to-day level. Also, my friends are funny, thoughtful, and awesome, way more than most normal people you encounter in a day. Nothing perks me up in the middle of a crummy mood like firing up Twitter and getting glimpses into the lives of these amazing people.

Something about the format seems to invite tacit statements about humanity, and I'm sure I'm not the first to have addressed Twitter as a pithy way to make agonizingly concise all the complexities of living today. Small statements add up to big proclamations, and I like that. It suits both my attention span and my (undemonstrated yet deeply held) affection for the elegantly-expressed thought.

I've always liked Jenny Holzer's art, this way of letting simple words embody a concept and then stay there, physically present and tangible. The more you stare at the words in one of her truisms, the more inescapable - even through abstraction and deconstruction into bleary shapes and movements of letters - the significane of putting words together becomes.

It is therefore no surprise than Jenny Holzer would take to Twitter like, well, it's the format made for (or from) her work. When a new Jenny Holzer tweet pops up on my home page, I get ecstatic. How often do you get direct, new content from an artist, as they're making it?

Today she posted "ENJOY YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU CAN'T CHANGE ANYTHING ANYWAY," which carries several layers of meaning for me. The way I first read it was in the sense of enjoying who you are, the self that you fundamentally possess, since that is the immutable aspect of your sensibility that makes your experience special. This dovetails nicely with my embracing of all things absurd and ridiculous and loving things and people for their intrinsic characteristics, without seeking to change them.

Then I considered the more literal (and maybe intended) reading: you have no power to change things, so you might as well enjoy yourself. Both ideas work for me really. At the other end of despair is exquisite happiness anyway, so why not cut to the chase?

Enjoying Myself. What a novel concept.

Squaring Up

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Hey look, it's our old buddy Hitlerstache!

You've guessed correctly that this post is about money, which means you've also guessed that I'm filled with annoyance and anxiety even thinking about it. I have much more interesting and fun things to talk about, but this is the one currently in the forefront of my consciousness. I'll try not to belabor it.

Basically, for the entire time I've been a graduate student (dragging on four years now) I've been indebted to people. It started with moving into a new apartment right at the start of school, requiring a whole lot of money I didn't have saved up despite working all summer, and which I couldn't yet get from student loans, since it took until mid-semester for them to disburse. I had to borrow money from my then-boyfriend and his mother, and it took me many months once I did have loan money to pay them back.

Every semester, it's been a struggle of not quite enough money and way too much debt. When I just about thought I'd evened it out, I was hospitalized and had crazy bills to pay. When I recovered from that, I went to live in Venice and didn't find a subletter for my half of the apartment, so I paid rent where I wasn't living (and therefore blew my budget for when I got back). And so on.

I just about got it right, then my financial aid got screwed up, hardcore, in a ridiculous scenario so frustrating and asinine that it literally took until this Friday to clear up. It has been going on since 2007. And it has made me have to borrow from, beg and cajole, and generally impose upon all the important people in my life for all this time.

Money was one of the topics about which many, many of my fights with my ex-boyfriend centered. It wasn't just that I was borrowing from him, or that I couldn't afford to go to Peter Luger's for lunch so he brought our neighbor and then got angry if I asked for him to help with groceries. It was that he didn't believe I had the ability to ever make money, or to ever pay him back. He felt I was free-loading, that I was always going to be a burden on him, and that any future with me would involve constantly bailing me out. (The idea that I would one day finish school, get and keep a good job, and become financially solvent to the point where I could support us both so he could go back to school was, in his words "absolutely preposterous.")

I wouldn't say we broke up over money, but it was a pretty significant factor. It's part of why we moved to Connecticut and imposed on his mother until she couldn't stand me, it was brought up frequently among my other faults as a human being, etc. It sucked. It made me disgusted with relationships and money and the student loan system in general, and it made me sick in my heart to know I had let material concerns come between me and someone I loved.

With literally no money in my bank account, I moved in the middle of the semester, at my mother's expense, and started imposing on my parents. People often ask me why I live in New Jersey (since it is about a 2.5 hour commute to school and work and stresses me out a lot), and you wouldn't believe how many times I've had to explain that this is my last possible option. I can't afford to live anywhere else.

My parents are generous, nice people, and they try not to hold it against me that I can't contribute to household expenses. Still, I wake up every day in their guest room, knowing that I am 27 years old and I had to move back into my parents' house. That I have to borrow money to take the train and I am dependent on them for food and utilities. That I work my ass off and make the maximum amount allowed for a graduate assistant, and it doesn't even pay for one full class at Pratt.

Last week the bursar canceled my registration for this organic chemistry class because I hadn't paid my bill. This is because earlier in May (over a month ago) I'd sat down with a new financial aid counselor and (I thought) sorted out the problems with my aid, but I still hadn't received the check that I had been told was in the mail. I scrambled around all day begging professors to let me re-register, getting signatures from department heads and deans, etc, but eventually the only thing that was getting me back in the class was paying about $5000, which, obviously, I don't have sitting around.

As I stood there paying with my mom's credit card numbers on a Post-It (and they had to call her to verify that she'd given me permission), everyone in the bursar's office was deeply sympathetic. They all said "oh yeah, those $100 late fees for re-registering, they'll get you coming and going," but no one offered to refund them. They all smiled and said "We've all been there," but I kept looking at their nice clothes, the framed photos of their children (who attend the very expensive university for free), their gigantic engagement rings and wedding bands, and I very cynically thought, "No, I don't think you've been here."

Even as I sit around feeling sorry for myself that I am 27 and woefully dependent on other people, I realize that I'm not really going it alone. I could be an orphan or have parents who can't afford to help me (let alone buy me a sailboat I don't deserve). I could have roommates who sue me instead of break up with me when I can't come up with rent. I might be homeless or have to go to a library to use the internet. Whatever, things could always be worse.

I just thought that by this point in my life, I'd be working and making decent enough money to live. That I'd be concerned with starting a family, buying a house, planning for my future with someone else... I thought everything was going to go a heck of a lot differently.

Now that I finally have essentially two years' worth of student loans, you'd think I'd be able to square everything up with everyone, right? Pay back what I owe and still have enough to live on (seeing as the amount I'm allowed to borrow is supposed to be the cost of tuition plus living expenses)? Ha. After I pay for this class and the tuition I owe Pratt for my thesis credit, then pay back all the people I've had to borrow from, I will have very very little left. Not really enough for a year's rent and expenses on an apartment, however much I would like some independence and autonomy.

It sucks. This is the money I've been waiting years for, because it represented freedom and unburdening myself, squaring up, getting on my own again, and it's just... not enough.

Every day I'm keenly aware that I'm still a gigantic burden, and not just financially. I'm so tired of it.

How to lose your sweet tooth

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In a little bout of kick-you-while-you're-down, I got sick this week. Starting Sunday night, when I was all despair-y face about chemistry, I started feeling really nauseous, but I figured it was anxiety. I struggled through my work, got 2 hours of sleep, and was a zombie through Monday.

Monday afternoon, my mother asked me to pick up a new printer cartridge (turns out that chemists must hate trees as much as art historians because I have been printing things out like mad around here). While at Staples, I got a binder, folders, sexy-colored mini Post-Its, more pens and pencils etc. etc. with the crazed zeal of an organizational addict, and I felt enormously optimistc about my ability to get my act together with this class.

Because I'd had a pretty lousy day prior to Staples, I'd asked my mother if she wanted a treat, planning to pick up ice cream on my way home. Generally speaking, I have a gigantic sweet tooth and fatty, sugary things tend to cheer me up.

I hadn't eaten lunch yet, and it was nearing 5:00, so I decided to go to the grocery instead of Carvel (heh), and I got delicious sushi, a bunch of things I don't really need but have been meaning to pick up (waxing strips! a foot pumice! more shampoo!), and most notably (you'll see why later) two parfaits.

Now these parfaits were incredibly deceptive. One was blueberry-strawberry and arranged in a "red white and blue" theme (cute). The other was a key lime pudding kind of thing, and both apppeared to be layered with whipped cream.

It was not whipped cream, but rather that disgustingly over-sweet grocery store cake frosting. The fruit, also, was not real fruit, but that syrupy, jelly-like goo that they put between sheet cake layers, making this parfait little more than a stratigraphy of bakery topping rejects. What I thought were graham cracker crumbs, were in fact just yellow cake crumbs. It was vile.

It goes without saying that I didn't make it through more than a few bites of the first layer before I gave up on the parfait, and my mother fared as poorly. I started feeling horribly nauseous again, and I believed my pancreas was rebelling against the deluge of sugar in which I'd just bathed it. Everything from my ribs down ached, and all my limbs went weird and rubbery. I felt feverish and dizzy, and I kind of knew this wasn't right. Even a sip of Diet Coke turned my stomach, so when my father started talking about making London broil for dinner, I had to go upstairs and lay down.

I slept a few hours and woke feeling even worse. My mother was still up and said she had felt kind of ill all night too. We agreed that it was probably something else that was making us sick, but that those parfaits certainly exacerbated whatever that was. I took Pepto-Bismol and brushed my teeth because no matter what I did, I couldn't get the awful sweet taste from the parfait out of my mouth. I was sure that I was sweating strawberry syrup.

Why any of this is traumatic is because I have pretty severe emetophobia. To me, throwing up is probably the worst possible thing that could happen, ever. If I swallowed poison and I had to induce vomiting or die, I would seriously consider dying.

Obviously you know where I'm going with this. After laying on the floor feeling dizzy and horrible for a half hour, I threw up several times. It was every bit as awful as I remember (yes, it's an event in my life), maybe even worse than usual because it tasted so disgustingly sweet. I can't understand sweeteners so pervasive that they wouldn't have been digested in the first few hours, but it was as if I was vomiting syrup. I actually started to think I would have preferred regular vomit-flavored vomit, and that maybe throwing up wasn't even really so bad, so long as it didn't involve this horrible sweet taste anymore.

I struggled through the bare minimum of work I could do (i.e. two lab reports and a pre-lab) before collapsing back asleep and waking feeling just as nauseous and horrible as the night before.

I can't imagine I need to underscore just how awful a day it is when you start it throwing up in the shower and it STILL tastes like syrup. My parents were out rowing, and I was literally crying as I was getting dressed, brushing my teeth, throwing up some more etc. Usually I eat a sandwich in the morning before lecture, with a Diet Coke to wake up. This morning, I could barely manage to sip water, and even then it was touch and go.

I had a quiz, for which I didn't really study, and a long and tedious lecture to sit through, then a few hours of lab. The whole time I was praying that I didn't throw up anymore. Thankfully lab was computer-based spectrum analysis (no inhaling organic solvents), and I got home early enough that I could sleep a few more hours.

I woke up around dinner time and still felt pretty terrible, but my mother made burritos and I actually enjoyed them. I drank soda like it was the first beverage I'd ever had, and I was so happy that it seemed the awful wave of nausea had passed.

My mother noted my improved demeanor and asked if I'd like cannoli for dessert. The room spun.

"No, definitely not," I said quickly, surprising us both, "I think I'm good on sweet stuff for... a good long while."

I don't exactly feel sick anymore, but the thought of any sugar or anything at all sweet makes me really squeamish. Perhaps this will prove a useful weight-loss tool? Ugh, wasn't worth it.

See you in June

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I survived my first week of Organic Chemistry. I hate it, it's stressful and awful and it's underscoring all my deficiencies as a student, person, problem-solver, make-doer etc.

I got a 6/10 on my first quiz (thank goodness he drops two quiz grades in calculating the average), I forgot all about one homework, I made my first lab report take ten times as long as it should have, I burnt through a rubber tube in lab, I am painfully slow in performing experiments, it takes me on average an hour to read 2 pages in the textbook, I currently have 60 more to read, and I'm having a disaster of a time knowing whether I'm doing the problems correctly or not. I think you get the picture.

(does not deserve to be so stressed and unhappy.)

But then, it was Friday, and I got my life back for a few days.

I spent time laughing my face off with my family, I took pictures of flowers, I soaked up the sun, I got a haircut, I ate and drank and was merry.

I was surrounded by beauty and all the magical little things that nature quietly does, whether I pay it any mind or not.

There is a pair of robins with a nest in our red bud tree. My poppies and peonies are in spectacular bloom. The yard exploded with roses.

I remembered what it felt like to have a heart, to love and care for other people, to have faith in the inherent benevolence of the universe. I pet dogs and cats and felt the joy I was sharing. I was filled with warmth and happiness and deep contentment, and I resolved that nothing should get in the way of that.

So chemistry sucks, and it will probably continue to suck. I can adjust my schedule and try to be more efficient so I can get sleep (note I didn't say "more sleep," but any sleep at all. Ugh.) I can stop being angry and irritable and feeling sorry for myself about it. I can choose to handle it like an adult and accept that yeah, it might not come easily to me, but I'm a person, and I'm capable of learning and doing what I need to to do well in this class.

(Don't you get tired of self-affirmation around here?)

Anyway, if all else fails, I have lots of photos of flowers to get me through it. And the knowledge that I'm 1/6 done already. Yikes.

-> lots of other photos in a Flickr set here - Sun in May - or view a slideshow.

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