This Is Nothing

Insane Graduate School Edition


Make ready my vorpal blade!

Everybody talks about how transformative the PhD experience is. But somehow, I didn't get how rapid and last-minute the transformation can be. I mean, in the last set of weeks I felt like I went from piddly slow researcher with a project going nowhere to instantaneous-data gal with too many awesome routes for the project to go and not enough time to address or finish any of them.

All of a sudden I have all these great ideas, great rationales. Thoughts have crystallized into amazing thoughts I didn't even know I had. Who is this person? I am beginning to feel truly human and "real" again, and I'm so thankful. Of course, I still have to finish writing the thesis. . .

Which has sprouted alot of Jabberwocky metaphors in my brain. The thesis is simultaneously horrifying/worst nightmarish and completely conquerable. The difference is in my head and my ability this week to mortally wound the beast. Up until now it's been death by a thousand cuts, randomly adding text and figures here and there. Now I must begin to truly slay it. Never has a writing project been such an act of bravery for me. I'm both excited and overwhelmed. But it must happen, and so it will.



Last day of one extremely epic month

It's not that life isn't always busy. I mean, c'mon . . . if I go back through this blog I'm sure to find plenty of exciting things dispersed throughout the years I've been writing here. But seriously, this month, this March 2010 has been just one helluva month, in a good way.

Here is a list of things I didn't know at the beginning of the month:
1. Would we be staying in Madison for the next four years?
2. Would the peer review for my paper be good?
3. Where would our next apartment would be so that we could get dogs this summer?
4. When would be my thesis defense date?
5. Would I be able to find my next job before I graduated?

I know the answers to ALL these questions now. Having written it out, it's even more weighty than it felt in my brain.

1. We will be staying in Madison for the next four years.

2. The peer review comments for my paper were minimal, and with minor revisions we should be accepted.

3. We signed a lease on a cute little apartment in a great neighborhood and can have two dogs, hardwood floors, and only pay electricity.

4. Thesis defense date is May 12th. I have so much work to do, but I focus on the advice my friend Bethany gave: "At some point, I just let myself believe it would all get done, and it did."

5. Just yesterday I was offered a job at a company I really like, where I think I have something to contribute, where my well-being won't depend on a lab experiment, where I can still wear jeans if I want, and get paid twice what I do now. I accepted the job offer today.

The beauty is, in broad strokes the only thing I have left to do is write my thesis and wrap up my research. I *dreamed* up being in this position. And I got there through hard work and eye always towards opportunity. It's crunch time alright, but yes, it will all get done, and I will be FREE of a crucible I've boiled away in for seven years.

I'll have a week and change between defending my thesis and starting my new job. Though I've dreamed of just never setting foot in lab again, I think I'll be spending it cleaning up my bench and writing my strain lists. And going to pugfest. After that, it's time for a new adventure.


What am I?

Today one of my bosses asked me if I was a "Verbal person" which I replied "absolutely" without even blinking. In my mind, a whole reel of answers poured out:

My standardized test scores would prove it. I'm exceptionally good in the verbal sections, and some perfect scores in reading comprehension. My darn math scores are always OK, but almost embarrassing in comparison. My mouth can't move fast enough for my brain, so I love to type! I was always teased for using "big words" as a kid.

Later in the same conversation, I pointed out that my role in social situations is often to bring conversations full circle. When we get off topic, I like to either find a way to bring it back to where we started, or enjoy announcing when we've made it. I love finding connections between things. That is why I'm nearly obsessed with metaphors and similes. it is why I can enjoy stream-of-consciousness writing style: I have what I call a "blurry-eyed" logic. I can often make connections between vastly unrelated things by doing the opposite of focusing on the details. The big picture.

Oh man, I just have a lot of internal thoughts about myself today, and I'm trying to get them out. Yesterday I had some of those "strong moments" I've read about. Where my thoughts on a topic just opened up endlessly, and I felt like I could see things at a level other people were not. Also, there was a lot of teaching yesterday: helping teach a "Bellydance Outreach" session at a middle school, and teaching a choreography I created for my Level 3/4 class. I already have accepted that I should not avoid teaching in my life. . . heck, maybe I couldn't avoid it even if I tried. After all, Mom says when I was little I was like a professor: always trying to explain things and gesturing with my hands.

It looks like I'll be teaching Bellydancing Basics this fall at the studio, and I'm really excited about it, and kindof amused at the same time that the first official class I'll teach might be bellydance and not science. I mean, I've lectured as a TA in science, but it wasn't MY class. And I guess I've taught the club practices, but that didn't seem like a real class somehow.

Oh well, today is a day where I feel my brain is high in the clouds and seeing things clear. Hopefully it will be useful, but at the very least it's fun and profound!


Tell you something

I was just taking a walk with a friend of mine, rehashing all the events of the past weekend, and was amazed at how many people told me something new and surprising over such a short period of time. To list what I learned and who said them would be tedious at best, and maybe too confidential regardless.

It's mainly just funny how you can try to keep your own life in order only to find that another person can come over and flip it upside down with news. Not that anything THAT dramatic happened this weekend. It's just that continual lesson that life is not lived in a vacuum, and control of that life is sometimes just an illusion.

My life--and brain--are SO full right now, and I know it's not as full and crazy as life CAN get, so it's kind of amazing. Still excited for the months ahead, packed with dancing and thesis-defending. And plenty of joys and trials from the people around me. Just can't wait to see it from the other side of this challenge!


The new year, the new decade, so much to do!

Admittedly, I wasn't that psyched about the New Year. 2009 was a very challenging year, what with Andy finishing his PhD and getting a new job, and me continually trying to plot a course towards my own graduation while, at the same time, trying to figure out "what I want to be when I grow up."

I still think back to the psychic reading I *think* I got in 2008. Her main message was I needed to lighten up and not worry so much about where I was going. I think I made some progress towards that goal, so that's good. I still don't know what the "global focus" message she gave me means, but of course I try not to worry about that so much.

NYE was a good day, in part because I've gotten some good writing done this week: I finished my paper manuscript and sent it out to my coworkers for review, I wrote a blog entry for the American Society of Microbiology's blog "Small Things Considered" which may get posted soon, and wrote one last Tiny Topics blog post for 2009.

In trying to figure out what my career/life goals could be for the year ahead, I've ruminated alot on what parts of me are undeniable. Undeniable in the sense that no matter how stressed or tired I am, no matter what was going on in the rest of my life, these parts of me always come forward and express themselves. Lights that shine even underneath bushels, you know? Well, this is what I came up with:

1. I have always cared about how I look and enjoyed shopping, hairstyles, etc.
2. I have always danced (even if it's just in my room by myself).
3. I have always written something (journals, poems, blog entries . . . ).

Sometimes when I've looked at that list I've been embarrassed. I mean, it's such a girly list. Where's the big accomplishment stuff? The sciencey analytical stuff? The straight A's?

This list highlights for me how critical I am of myself, because no matter how hard I focus on all the other things, these 3 things are always welling up, and when I ignore them my life gets alot less "me."

Right now, I'm actually doing more things that respect the 3 things on this list, and maybe long term I'll focus on them even more? We'll see. 2010 is going to be another big year, and I'm excited to see where it goes.


The least wonderful time of the year

For someone who over-plans, worries too much, and gets overwhelmed on a regular basis, the time after Christmas is a tough time of year indeed. Yes, there's still New Year's coming up, but that will be over fast, and it's so easy to peek over the top of it and see the whole semester ahead.

On the plus side, there's alot of good stuff coming up this spring. For one thing, there's plenty of belly dance in it. I'll be dancing in the UW Club Spring Show, which means regular dance practices for that. Plus I'm taking a class on double veil and potentially another tribal fusion class which MAY include sword. Hopefully I'll get to continue TA-ing my dance mentor's mini-courses too.

And none of this should minimize the fact that I'm finishing graduate school and moving on to a new job (hopefully!). I've been aching to be done with this phase of my life. Grad school has taught me alot about myself as well as science. I'm ready to move on.

The tough part is knowing how much work needs to happen to get done. Yes, I'll get all that work done . . . I kinda HAVE to at this point, but as I said before, I'm easily overwhelmed. I've gotten better, but I don't think that quality will ever change.

Frankly, though, my challenges offer rewards, while I know alot of folks facing challenges that don't offer anything good in return. So I'm thankful for what I have, and just hope I can find plenty of resources to keep me sane and moving forward!


Snow Trek 2009

Today was a serious snow day. Nearly every thing in Madison was shut down: from the metro bus to the UW Madison campus to the 24/7 grocery store. Because the buses weren't running, I ended up not going to work today, which at first was pretty lame. I've got lots of lab work to do before the end of the year, and it's hard to take a day off. But to walk to lab would be l.5-2hours of questionable terrain each way, and the temperature was predicted to drop rapidly as evening approached. It just wasn't worth it.

So it was looking like a stay-in-the-apartment-all-day sort of day, until I realized I had to get my fellow grad student Sarah her paper edits. I contemplated transcribing them into an e-mail, but that was just a little too tedious. So I decided to bundle up in my winter gear and hike over to Sarah's house, which is about 1/2 the distance to lab.

It ended up being a magical adventure day. Over the years I've accumulated good snow pants, boots, gloves, and even a ninja-like mask to cover my face, so I was fully prepared for the journey. Of course, I fell almost immediately after making it outside my door, but thankfully my hip is still young.

Growing up on a country ridge, a blizzard meant you weren't going anywhere or seeing anyone outside your house for a couple days. Here in Madison, well, even serious winter weather isn't nearly as, well, serious. I'm within walking distance of grocery stores and even a Starbucks, for goodness sake! During my trek to Sarah's I greeted many other bundled pedestrians, and even a cute black lab. It was a forced holiday for alot of people, myself included. My mini-vacation was a hike around Madison while the snow was still fresh and clean white.

Once I made it to Sarah's I was able to un-bundle myself and chat over hot cocoa and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Since Sarah is graduating in less than 1 month, and I'm entrenched in writing a paper, we rarely see each other, which sometimes makes me sad. On the front end of the graduate school experience we spent alot of time together, but near this end we've just gotten too busy. The snow day surprised me with a chance to catch up!

I managed to make it all the way back home, and now I get to settle in for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow will be frantic catch-up at work, but there is nothing I can do to prevent that. . . time for a long soak in the tub and an evening of putzing around the apartment. Hope everyone had a lovely snow day!


Nervous, but what else is new?

As Iíve said many times over, some of the most worthwhile things in my life have come from just throwing caution to the wind and committing to something I know I want to do but am afraid to do. Things that I know I would not do if I thought too much more about them. The greatest and best example is telling my now-husband Andy that I liked him, even though I was sure there were dozens of reasons it could go awkward and badly.

In the middle of a self-reflection career-planning bout, I pushed to get my 6-month prospectus scheduled with my thesis committee. The 6-month prospectus meeting is basically a final checkpoint on the road to the thesis defense. My understanding is you meet with your thesis committee 6 months before you want to defend your thesis, and discuss with them what needs to be done to be on track for that date. My May-defense deadline was a bit artificial, but very useful in getting this ball rolling. I donít want to be still in grad school for another summer, and itís also a good time to be looking for a job, as far as I can tell.

So I talked to my advisor, scheduled a prospectus meeting for far-away November, and felt awesome. Iím on track, you know? Iíve made another step towards the exit. But now that prospectus is waiting for me on the other side of this week (Thursday) and itís time to get all nervous, because thatís what I do.

Much like the preliminary exam, you hear tales of prospectus meetings going all sorts of different ways, good and bad. One person had a meeting that only went ten minutes. With my husbandís meeting, they told him they felt he could get it all done in less than 6 months! Iíve also heard of meetings where the message was ďjust because you schedule a defense date doesnít mean youíre going to graduate.Ē Eeep!

Itís all going to be fine, because no matter what happens during the meeting, I just canít be graduate school forever. I just hope it goes well, that I prepared sufficiently, and that I emerge with a sound plan to finish out my time here in graduate school!


Voices in my head

In all the reflecting I've done on "how did I end up in grad school" and "what made me think I'd become a research scientist" I kept coming across a "should" voice. I mean, for lots of decisions I've made there was an "I should ____" attached to it. Like:

I get great grades in my biology and chemistry classes, I should go into science!

I really enjoy learning about science, I should go to grad school and learn more.

My best test scores are in reading comprehension, but I should focus on a high-tech profession because being an English major might mean no job.

This "I should" voice often teamed up with my dreaded "enough" voice and created some very challenging situations:

I'm not moving as fast as other students, I'm not working hard enough. I should be better at this.

I don't think like the other students do. I'm not assertive or extroverted enough, inquisitive enough. I should be better at this.

This morning, as I walked to my lab, I heard the should and enough voices start in, when another voice pipe up:

So what? Who cares what I should do? Who cares if it is enough? Buzz off.

Life is really interesting right now. Yes, there's so much to do to finish my PhD that it threatens to completely overwhelm me at times. I'm human. But with the end in sight I've seen new thoughts emerge. New lines of opportunity. New discoveries about myself and what makes me feel happy and strong, and what makes me feel sad and weak. And recognizing that the former is worth pursuing and the latter isn't worth my time and focus. Being the introvert that I am, all this self discovery is fascinating to me, exhilarating even. And it's all at just the right time to keep me moving forward and out of this door and into a new adventure.


Recognizing personal achievements

I'm a work in progress--isn't everyone? Far from perfect. I find happiness in understanding myself a little better every day, and after many small changes over the months and years sometimes I just realize I've made a big change, for me.

My life is always full of things that stress me out. And in recent years, I've had the inescapable stress of an unending project (my thesis) and its presence has required me to confront how I deal with stress, or pretty much stop functioning.

I still get stressed. Even sometimes so stressed that I have to just go and cry for awhile. But after alot of reading and reflection on the topic, I'm finding these days that I listen to the stress but I don't hold on to it as tightly. The fact is life will always be stressful, but while it's important to acknowledge things that are stressful it's rather useless to worry endlessly about them. So, in line with Marcus Buckingham's "Catch and Hold" strategy for "strong moments" I'm adding a "Catch and Release" strategy for things that stress me out.

I'm proud of this development, because it doesn't change my forward momentum, and may pay off in the long run for my health and happiness. We'll see!


But I'm a creature of habit!

Leo Horoscope for week of October 8, 2009

Leo (July 23-August 22)
Change your password. Take a different way home. Ask a question you've never asked. Dream up a new nickname for yourself. Choose a new lucky number. Change the way you tell the story about an important event in your past. Make it a little more difficult for people to have you pegged. Eat a type of food you've never tried. Do the research necessary to discover why one of your opinions may be wrong. Add a new step to your grooming ritual. Feel appreciation for a person whose charms you've become numb to. Surprise yourself at least once a day.

This morning I was dreaming of a bath and bodyworks scent of lotion that was themed to a particular group of vampires from Vampire: The Masquerade, followed by a dream of a company that rents out birds for various tasks including publicity and amusement. As I dreamt of a green lorikeet rolling comically down a ramp Andy woke me up and said he was headed to work.

And I realized I had lab meeting on campus in 15 minutes. YIKES!

I had to throw my cultivated wake-up routine out the window. Usually I putter over to the kitchen, turn on the stovetop, start the coffee brewing, then cook some bacon and use a bit of the bacon fat for frying an egg. After the egg is flipped once I put the toast in the toaster, and by the time the toast is done the egg is done. I take my breakfast in the living room while staring at either Food Network, HGTV, or the Travel channel. Then I go pick out what to wear, and brush my teeth and put on my makeup. Then it's time to go catch the bus. . .

But today that all got bypassed, and I'm a little disoriented not to have that order early in the morning. Strangely, though, typing it out has helped :)

So instead of an ordered, slow waking up process I basically threw on clothes, and ran out the door, and ended up having a diet Dr. Pepper and a donut for breakfast. I didn't realize how much I depended on my morning routine!


Freewill astrology horoscope for this week: The Wild Goose Chase

Leo (July 23-August 22)
What exactly is a "wild goose chase," anyway? Does it refer to a frenetic and futile hunt for an elusive prey that's never caught? Or might it also mean the meandering pursuit of a tricky quarry that after many convoluted twists and turns results in success and generates a lot of educational fun along the way? Either definition could apply to your wild goose chase in the next three weeks, Leo. Which one will ultimately win out will probably depend on two things: 1. how well you detect the false leads you get; 2. how determined you are to be amused rather than frustrated by all the twists and turns.

I have a good idea what the wild goose is: my future career path. I'm in the midst of information interviewing to determine which career direction I want to pave my way to. Undoubtedly it will not be a straight path. I'm excited about how brave I can be, because although my nature is introverted I love to cast out lines into the world, ready to catch serendipity when it passes by. . .



Somethingís been gnawing on me a little bit, and I just had to ďwrite it outĒ as opposed to ďwalk it offĒ so that I could get on with my day.

A couple weeks ago Andy and I went to go see the GI Joe movie, which pretty much met our low expectations for mindless action fun. But as the credits rolled, I couldnít help but overhear a guy complaining about the quality of the movie, how the characters were miscast and the plot ridiculous. And I thought to myself, ďWhich is stupider? This movie, or people who come to this movie expecting some sort of masterpiece?Ē

Lately, Iíve been thinking about going to see ďJulie and JuliaĒ which is two biographies crammed into one movie: one of Julia Child and the other about a blogger who decided to try to cook all the recipes in one of Juliaís books in one year. I read the book of Julieís blog, which was fluffy, fun, and self-deprecating because Julie isnít a chef, just some lady trying to find herself through a year-long project. When I suggested an outing to go see it, someone just had to argue that they didnít want to see the ďJulieĒ parts of the movie because sheís just a blogger and not even a real cook.

Last night, I admitted to some of my friends that I was kinda hooked on the ďTwilightĒ series. I fully admitted that itís not high-quality reading. That itís fluff, and not even fluff meant for my age group. Still, someone felt compelled to expound upon why the series was lame, that they couldnít enjoy it because the vampires glitter in the sunlight, and that if Buffy would show up the whole series would be over! Hah hah!

Sometimes, I just get frustrated because I feel folks are missing the point entirely. I mean, there are some movies, some books, some works of art that are enjoyable because they are excellent, a shining example at the top of their craft. But why do folks feel compelled to rule out fun things because they donít meet some criteria of excellence? I remember folks who wouldnít watch the Buffy series simply because of the name. A friend who wonít read Stephen King because he needs a better editor. I remember not reading Harry Potter because I was deep into LOTR and looked down my nose at the latest fantasy fad. When I started reading the Sorcererís Stone, I realized Iíd been, well, kinda stupid.

Some of my personal frustration is just people not listening to what Iím saying. I say I like something, even though I admit itís silly. And inevitably someone has to argue how silly something is. All I wanted to do was share. Blargh.

And the other thing is that, in the realm of geekdom, I think itís important to remember that almost everything we as a subculture enjoy seems stupid or un-classic to another group. And the whole notion that what you like can make you cooler just frustrates the hell out of me. I spent too much of my life feeling like a weirdo for what I liked to turn around and try to find ways to be a snob to people.

My final memory on the topic is a conversation I had long ago with a new grad student at a party. I found out she did role-playing games and so I was trying to find some common ground. The conversation in summary went like this:

Grad student: I'm a girl that does Dungeons and Dragons and that's super rare!
Amber: Hey cool! I've done D&D too! What edition did you play?
Grad student: No, you see, I'm a girl that does Dungeons and Dragons and that's super rare!

There I was, saying "hey you're not alone! There are other girls doing D&D!" and her reaction was along the lines of insisting that she was the only girl gamer alive. Like she couldn't hear me, wouldn't hear me. Because if she was less weird, she'd be less special. It really surprised me, because I've felt weird my whole life, figured other science nerds had felt the same way, and we'd all be so happy to finally belong somewhere. But maybe some people are so used to being the odd person out that they start to find their only satisfaction in staying that way. And maybe the dude at the GI Joe movie could only find satisfaction in finding what was WRONG with a movie. I just think it's sad, but I realize that's just my perspective!

Okay, rant done!


Birthday Eve!

Itís nearly my birthday (July 31st)! It feels clichť to say itís not that big a deal and Iím not that excited about it, but hey, thatís just how it is. Iíll be 28, which feels simultaneously very old, and yet still farther away from 30 than it feels like I am. Iíll take it!

Times are just really intense right now. Itís potentially the most un-summery of summers. Andy is still trying to find a job, and as the days tick closer to late August, itís closer and closer to the point where if he doesnít find a job he wonít be able to establish residency for pharmacy school in Fall of 2010. That puts a real tight clench around my heart, you know? The irony of the situation isnít really funny anymore: a graduate from one of the most prestigious Microbiology PhD programs in the country canít get hired? The hardest part for me may be that I myself have never had a job outside of academia. I have no real world experience with job searches and interviews. Itís hard when someone is depending on you to help them with something and youíre not really sure how to help. And itís one thing for me to decide to swallow my pride and get an hourly job as a cashier or something . . . itís another to tell someone you love and respect to do it. Itís hard because I know how smart he is, how meticulous, how personable, and it kinda scares the crap out of me that he canít find something.

All I keep wanting to say is that things are just hard right now. I thought this would be the time for me to hunker down and get my PhD done, that with only one of us in graduate school things would be calmer and less obstructed by worry. But I was just plain wrong.

If I could have anything for my birthday, it would be a job for Andy, or some way to spin the year around to 2010 and be done with all this craziness already. Iím proud to say I havenít let my worries completely consume me like they used to . . . mostly I just convince myself to not care about it and just keep moving forward. And Iíd like to believe thatís all due to a growing inner strength developed from years of graduate school. I just hope I donít have to sustain this for much longer!


For Alice!

Alice requested I update the blog, which I find funny because usually Iím the one nudging folks to update update update!

Man, I really canít wait for the year to turn once around. I canít wait to see where we all end up in July 2010. With Andy having graduated, Sarah and Roger nearing the 6-month prospectus, and me trailing somewhere behind thereís just a lot going on. Layered within the graduation stuff is Andy looking for a job, which isnít ever easy. Sprinkled on top of it all is a million random challenges large and small. Life seems just too big right now. It can be exhausting. My favorite joke continues to be ďyears from now weíll look back at this time and laugh at all the crazinessĒ although Iím not going to claim to know whether itíll be laughing over how simple a time it was in comparison to the life weíll be living.

My docket is continually full, but who isnít busy these days?

On a personal/hobby level: Iím still running with Bethany. Iím still teaching Intermediate Practice for the UW Bellydance Club, taking the Summer Techniques class at the Madison Multicultural Dance Studio, and laughing at myself (due to lack of street cred) in Arielleís Hip Hop Bellydance Fusion class. And the Isadora workshop is coming up next week, and Iím super excited about that. Iím still crocheting up a storm, although Iíve finished my shawl and on the lookout for a new project.

On a professional level: a recent publication nearly scooped the paper Iíve been working on, so thatís lit a fire underneath both me and my boss to get this paper out the door. No new experiments. Iím in writing lockdown. Iím constantly overwhelmed, but using my experience in running to just keep moving my feet, one in front of the other, towards a distant finish line. Iím not allowed to worry about anything else but getting the paper done. I havenít decided what my reward is for completing it. I rewarded my completion of the Couch to 5K program with a massage. Andy thinks I should allow myself to get the latest edition of The Sims (which is total Amber crack). Iím thinking maybe something less time consuming. . .

Life is just so big these days that it is exhausting. Thatís how it sums up currently. Thatís why Iím excited for a year from now. Andy and I might have new jobs, and maybe a house complete with a lady Labrador and a Gentleman pug if weíre lucky. Maybe weíll actually be able to take a vacation, or even just live a little more slowly. Who knows? See you there :)


Unexpected comfort: Marathons and PhD's

In a way this finding is silly, because I've been saying for a long time that getting your PhD is an emotional endurance race. And yet I never looked to advice on running marathons for advice on working towards a PhD. They do beautifully substitute for one another. I finished "The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women: Get Off Your Butt and On with Your Training" by Dawn Dais last night and almost cried at the final passage because it was so comforting to me, not as someone running a marathon but as someone struggling to finish my PhD some time this century.

Unfortunately I forgot to bring the book with me, so I grabbed some random marathon quotes and replaced running words with PhD words:

To describe the agony of graduate school to someone who's never been in graduate school it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.

Graduate school is a terrible experience: monotonous, heavy, and exhausting. You can actually suffer a little bit more going slowly than when you're going really fast.

A faster PhD might even be easier than a slow one, in terms of what it takes out of you mentally.

Get going. Get up and walk if you have to, but finish the damned PhD.

"Good things come slow - especially in graduate study."


Couch to 5K Progress

My coworker Bethany and I have been working on the Couch to 5K program this spring and have made it through Week 5! I'm excited because our progress has survived a thesis defense and several week in general. AND I do believe the farthest I got in the program last time I tried was Day 1 of Week 5. . . and this time we made it all the way through week 5, including the 20-minute run on day 3. I'm really proud of this progress: I've been focusing on pacing myself, running no faster than I need to and keeping up conversation the whole time. I'm also working on a blog to track my progress, and here's the latest:

W5D3 (June 7, 2009)
The big 20-minute run! Up until now the longest run weíve done is an 8-minute interval, and now we were jumping to 20! It was a little daunting to think about, but it actually went really smoothly. Bethany and I paced ourselvesóweíd promised to start out running SO slow weíd get bored. The slow pace definitely helped keep it manageable. It was more boring than tiring, which was awesome. Itís a lot easier to find ways to entertain than ways to gain endurance. We took the bike path near her apartment, so it was a flat, paved track for us with lots of gardens and dogs and joggers and bikers to see. A day later Iím not really that sore, and after run mainly I just felt sortof dazed. We celebrated the 20-minute run with dinner at Bluephieís followed by Mario Kart. Awesome. The week ahead brings increased lengths to all intervals, including a 25-minute run on day 3! I definitely think we can do it!


The thing that took me by surprise was that it was so much like our wedding. There was all this nervousness even though all the hard work was over and the day weíd waited for had finally come Ďround. There was the split feeling of wanting to be done with the darn thing already and wanting to savor the day as much as possible. Because every thesis defense Iíve seen as a graduate student, Iíve imagined it was mine. Envisioned how Iíd do my introduction and my acknowledgments. And so this talk was the strangest of all for me because it was Andyís. Iíve seen all the work that went in to the experiments and papers and the thesis itself. Itís still not my defense, but Iím more attached to it than any other defense.

Thereís also the anticlimactic nature of it all. 6 years of our lives have been driven towards this point. Innumerable long night time walks where weíve talked over our research and the seeming endlessness of the PhD program. Like weíd never get there. And now one of us has!

I cannot lie: I am jealous. A graduate student is naturally competitive, and itís always been a challenge to share his joy when his experiments worked when mine were failing. To be happy for him as a spouse instead of a colleague. And oh how badly I want to be up there giving my defense. Acting the expert and being so beyond it all. But Iím reminded of how much work I have yet to go. How many more miles before I sleep. But I will get there.

Andyís talk went brilliantly. Today he was a scientist and an expert in his field. Iím so proud of him and I continue to feel like heís just too darn good for me, and thatís how it should be.

Now heís at home, hopefully taking a nap. He kept saying ďIt hasnít sunk in yet. It isnít real yet.Ē And I can imagine how that feels. How do you turn the corner after walking down a street for six years? Happily, of course. But the momentum of those years is great, always driving forward with no end in sight. And here it is!

It continues to be a strange existence as both fellow graduate student and wife, but Iím enjoying the challenge! Although I think I could use a nap too. . .


Right now is a strange time. I usually say itís a crazy time, but I think strange, and maybe wonderful covers it better. Andyís defending his thesis this coming Tuesday, and Iíve managed to wrestle together a rough draft of my paper whilst chugging away on remaining research for it. Itís the kind of time where it mostly seems best to keep your eyes on the ground and keep stepping forward, because the big picture is almost too big. You spend so many years imagining the thesis defense, and suddenly his is here! Itís one of those events that reminds you how much time has passed and how distant this time used to seem.

Itís strange to think about only one of us being in graduate school. Weíve stayed parallel up until now. Itís the end of one phase and the beginning of another, and I guess I could be terrified about such change but Iím feeling calm and ready. Thatís part of what I think has made this time strange is that feel like I can handle things. Like my tires are finally gripping the road. Even though Iím not even the one graduating. Maybe itís that Iíve seen Andy go through it and seen that itís difficult but not impossible. I can do that. I can write my papers and my thesis and graduate. Hmm. I didnít really even come to that conclusion until I typed this entry.

In summary, itís a strange time and Iím digginí it. Itís nearly summer here in Madison, and the undergrads have gone home. Bethany and I are running the Couch to 5K program and weíre on week 4 and itís not killiní me. Iíve almost finished my first big crochet project: a throw blanket. Weíve caught 3 mice in our apartment in the last month, and had a bat show up during a seminar. Iíve got nothing to complain about, and plenty to do. Now itís time for the summer to fly by!


Well, you can always tell when I have a big project to work on because itís proportional to the cleanliness of my apartment. Yes, I procrastinate by cleaning. And Iím at home all the week to battle my paper into a coherent, complete rough draft so . . .the dishes are clean, the table cleared off, and all my clothes either hung in the closet or sorted into hampers. The good thing is that I know myself well enough by now to expect this as ďpart of the processĒ even though I wish I was awesome enough to skip the cleaning step.

This last Saturday was the big ďcareer dayĒ for people with PhDís in the life sciences, and as Iíve mentioned on Facebook I should have realized it wouldnít narrow my focus for jobs, only increase the number of non-academic jobs Iíd be interested in. During my procrastinatory cleaning session it occurred to me that Iíd gained some valuable insight on things Iím NOT interested in.

Iíve always known I was a little different from many graduate students in my program. Or at least the really vocal ones. They make statements like ďI canít imagine being anything but a professorĒ or ďI love thinking up new experimentsĒ or ďWith this job Iíd just be doing experiments someone else tells me to . . . ugh how awful!Ē

Thing is, I love ďbenchworkĒ itself. Pipetting things is calming. I like the hands-on stuff. It can be boring sometimes, yeah, but itís actually the part I think Iíd miss. What stresses me out is planning experiments when my brain can think of 500 reasons why it wonít work. Or 100 reasons why my confusing results might mean the end of my project. At this point, I understand that the part of becoming a true scientist is understanding how little you actually know compared to what there is to know. That having a brain that can come up with 500 reasons why something wonít work makes you a good troubleshooter. And throughout the career talks from folks who had ďleft the benchĒ there was the ďconĒ that you donít make the scientific discoveries yourself, as though youíd be giving up some huge benefit, and yet I donít really feel I get a lot out of the few discoveries Iíve made, because it just means more experiments. I donít think scientific discovery is where I belong. There. I said it.

So where do I fit in to science? Thatís the latest mystery to me. I know Iíll always keep science with me, but in what way? There are still places where Iíd be at the bench, such as diagnostic labs or forensic labs. Or I could step away from the bench completely and be a science writer or technical communicator. And then there was the talk from the K12 teacher at the private school in North Carolina . . . who basically refuted the reasons Iíve always completely written off being a K12 teacher: no pay and no respect. I know Iíve got to just start information-interviewing people in all these jobs. Try on as many hats as I can, face-to-face.

Whatever I decide, I do need to get this paper done, and I know that, like cleaning my apartment, I tend to distract myself with anything other than the true task at hand, distract even with something more complex like my future career. Which is kindof silly when I think about it. Oh well.


Muppet Belt Complete!

Things got so busy I forgot to mention I completed my "muppet belt" for bellydance. I took it for a test drive in Level 2B practice and it behaved nicely, ESPECIALLY on twisting movements. I agree with Greta that the crochet will likely stretch over time, so I'll need to reinforce it. Here's a photo of one end completed. . . If I get any action photos I'll post em'

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Separation Anxiety

ďYouíve come at the perfect time!Ē I told my parents about a million times this weekend. I could have meant the weather, which was sunny, clear, and mid-fifties (contrasting last yearís visit in March where we were all snowed in together for the visit). The daffodils were just starting to come up here, and theyíd get to see spring happen all over again for their visit. But really, Mom and Dadís visit for Easter weekend was something I had been waiting for all week at the very least. Potentially all month? And of course Iíll never be able to tease apart how much of my frustration with everything else was just a result of my anticipation for their arrival. But I felt like they arrived at the perfect time.

This year is hard. Hard in ways that Iím sure seem laughable to a lot of people, because honestly we have jobs, our health, and very few things to worry about except graduate school. I fully realize it could be harder. Could be more complicated. But that doesnít mean it isnít both those things. Andyís going to graduate in May, which leaves him stressed and anxious above and beyond his normally easy-going self. Iím STILL struggling to write my first paper so I can get that much closer to graduating, and it feels like one of those dreams where the monster is chasing you and you want so badly to run but your feet seem glued. I make agonizingly slow progress towards my goal, and many days I feel helpless to make it all go any faster, even though itís exactly what I need to do to get out of graduate school with the PhD. I donít want to be in school this time next year. I want to move on with my life. But on to what? Oh man, letís not go down that path today.

I put all the worrying on hold for this visit, because I see my parents so rarely now. I canít tell you how many years of my life I spent yearning to get away from my house and hometown and on to exciting grown-up things. But I suspect I donít have to tell anyone, because perhaps we all felt that way once. Nowóin what seems a textbook Cruel Twist of FateóI find it harder and harder to leave my family. So much so that currently I have that awful knot in my chest that pretty much screams I canít let them go. They canít leave. I canít go back to being the adult again. . . And thatís really what itís all about. When they are around I can sometimes pretend Iím just their kid again, and not worry about the rest of my life. We have so much fun together, and I am reminded again and again where I came from. How parts of me I thought peculiar come from them. My sense of humor, my obsessive worrying, my eyes and my skin. But every time I see them they seem a little bit older. I realized recently that they are grandparent age, which seems scarier than actually having a kid of my own. Hereís where I could go on and on about mortality, but I donít think I need to. Suffice it to say that the time I spend with them seems only more precious. Itís a funny blessing to have parents you enjoy being around.

Theyíre going to head back to WV tomorrow and Iíll head back to work. On the bright side, the Spring Bellydancing UW show was this last Saturday and my parents got to see me perform bellydance live for the first time, and our performance went really well. I could fill a whole extra entry about the show, but Iíll keep it to this thought: the hard work paid off better than I imagined it would. This will be my last Club Show and perhaps a little bit of that knot in my chest belongs to it too. But also Iím glad to have that time commitment off my schedule.

The thing is, I need to get a lot of work done in the weeks ahead if I want to graduate anytime soon. At least Iím at the point where I know I need to get out. At least I know a bit about what I DO NOT want to do for a living.


Bellydance "Muppet Belt"

Ok, here's my attempt to re-create a muppet-like yarn belt I saw at a recent bellydance workshop. After doing some research online I was able to determine that the belt base was crocheted, with yarn fringe looped into it. Here is Muppet Belt Prototype 1:

I had to teach myself to crochet, so this was in part to let me practice a single-stitch pattern and make sure I could maintain a consistent number of stitches on each row. Once I had enough stitches I used this prototype to play with yarn fringe. Things looked promising so I moved on to creating an actual dance belt:

You know, I had a heck of a time finding a crocheted bellydance belt until I realized a belt was usually a REALLY long scarf. So I made a scarf 18 stitches long and just worked at it until I got something long enough to fit around my hips. Then I used really long fringe on either side to give me something to tie it on. The fringe is just long strands of the same black yarn attached to the ends with a lark's head knot.

So now I'm in the process of adding colorful yarn as fringe to the bottom of the belt. I decided to get one really colorful, dread-like yarn and then work with other textures that match a color in that yarn. So I've got some wavy golden yellow, blue suede, and black fun fur!

I'll post when I get all this fringe done!


I feel like my life hums in and out of a solid, coherent state. Some days everything is just too much and I want to hide underneath my blanket and cry. There is too much to do, not enough time to do it, and it should have been done months ago. Other times I feel as efficient as a machine, getting a million things done in one day, checking items off the list. What was I so worried about? I think to myself. This is doable, and now is the perfect time for each task. This Monday was really efficient for me. I came in early, and used the extra time to tie up random loose ends that have accumulated over the weeks:

Sending out the next e-mail for Life Sciences Career Day
Moving an experiment to completion
Ordering lots of items that are running low in lab
Getting our 2008 taxes near completion
Sending out all the birthday cards that needed sending
Updating the jewelry insurance
Sorting random junk mail

Days like that remind me that Iím happiest when Iím busy. Sometimes I bully myself about not getting enough done, and thatís unfair. I think I expect to get more done than is humanly possible, and I canít often meet my silly standards. Maybe someday weíll meet in the middle. Iím just hoping this ďgettingí it doneĒ phase lasts for a while longer. Iíve got so much to do it hurts, you know? Then again, so does everyone else.

My current, sudden passion is crochet, which happened by chance: at the shimmy workshop the teacher had this fantastic hip belt that was a fantastic array of yarn colors and textures, creating a fringe belt that was, yes, a bit muppet-like but ultimately cheerful with great movement. Researching that kind of belt online I was able to determine its construction: the belt base is crocheted, and then all the various yarns are attached to the loops of the crochet. So I decided to teach myself how, and within two days Iíve kinda gone off the deep end. Iíve lost myself to it for hours at a time, and itís wonderful to have the brain so occupied, so consumed that it canít get overwhelmed by the rest of life. But of course you canít ignore the rest of life forever. Weíll see how long this current passion lasts: I love starting projects more than keeping with them.


Running In Heels

Ok, Iíll admit Iím someone who enjoys reality shows. But by now there are lots of subgenres to reality shows, so Iíll specify: I like reality shows that let you see what someone elseís reality is like. My current indulgence is ďRunning in HeelsĒ on the Style Network, which follows three interns at Marie Claire magazine.

Iíve done internships before, but of course those were at research labs, not magazine headquarters. Is there common ground to be found here?

Nope. And thatís what makes it fun.

As far as I can tell, based on this show alone, being an intern means you mostly run random errands for those higher up than yourself. By luck or hard work you end up eventually getting to help out with more interesting things, but there are no illusions about the fact that you are everyoneís beeotch.

Something about all of this feels refreshing and escapist. Perhaps that your work is straightforward: everyone else tells you what to do and you do it, and gain success by doing it well and reliably.

Oh and thereís lots of infighting and competition amongst the interns. And perhaps this squabbling is the *most* fun, because there are three interns featured and one of them, the D.C. intern, is extremely insecure and competitive. Every time one of her peers succeeds, it is unfair or the other person cheated. They couldnít have actually deserved the praise. This intern focuses all her energy on knocking down or ganging up on the other interns, at the expense of actually focusing on doing anything right. Within three shows sheís switched alliances between looking down her nose (along with the Californian intern) at the Midwestern intern for her behaviour at a party to linking up with that same Midwestern intern to mock the Californian. D.C. intern swivels back in forth trying to gain support of one intern against the other. It will be fun to see with the other side of the triangle, a Midwest-California intern union, works together against her. Itís classic girl drama.

I guess in the end I love this show because it reminds me how much Iíve learned/grown in my life so far, even if I have lots of work ahead of me. When the head of Marie Claire told the interns they clearly hadnít actually studied any magazines ever, they all reeled and acted like they had been torn a new one. I had to laugh, because statements like that are clear ďputting the fear of God into youĒ statements. Sheís putting the scary front forward to get them to respect her and listen to her, but I doubt she actually thinks theyíve never read a magazine. And overall their work just doesnít seem that hard. Yeah, it requires you to have no other life, but youíre just paying your dues. Not that Iím an expert on the fashion industry, itís just interesting to see how another industry lives.


Aaaaand BREAK!

Whoah, itís spring break? When did that happen?

My first clue was that my building was devoid of undergrads claiming every square foot of table space with laptops and papers spread out ďjust so.Ē Then I noticed the buses were less crowded. There was even less traffic? Yep, itís Spring Break already. For grad students like myself, this is really all it means: fewer undergrads. Like me, most grad students arenít even changing their work pattern, let alone going anywhere fun. But as sad as that is, itís still a sort of vacation from all the undergraduate-related crowding, noise, and mess.

Itís also a slight bellydance break for me, which is actually good. I think Iíve taken on one too many dance activities this semester, and with extra show practices it was getting a bit crazy. Lots of sore muscles and exhausted 10PMís for me. But I DO have some pretty nice upper body muscley-ness going on, which is fun, and rare.

The weather is actually warm right now, so Andy and I took walks on Saturday and Sunday around the neighborhood, scoping out houses, dogs, etc. I had to joke that this was our way of affirming ourselves as more than just lab rats. See? We could go outside in the daylight! I like our walks together, because we talk about our lives together and generally catch up on our current state. And I love picking out houses we like, paint colors, landscaping . . . even though we likely canít afford any of it.

Thereís plenty of big stuff to look forward to in the months ahead. Highest on my list is Andy defending his thesis at the end of May. Iím sure itís more terrifying to him than it is to me, but Iím still kindof breathless about it. ďYouíll be FREEĒ I keep telling him. Iím oh-so-jealous. But in the meantime I realize heís going to need lots of support and patience, so Iím hoping to get myself in order to be the less-stressed one. Thatís how it works best, when we take turns being stressed. Ironically, Iíll probably actually be very stressed but oh well.

The Spring UW Bellydance show is coming up, so that will be awesome and all-consuming until itís done, and then it will be a little sad. Iíll go through dance withdrawl all over again. Of course, thereís still plenty of stuff going on in the dance community, and I need to remember that I hope to graduate from studio class level 2B to 3: a big step up in challenge and intensity!

Career exploration has been one big push to get some contacts for information interviewing, and now I need to push myself again to actually meet with these wonderful people. I need to figure out if this career Iím thinking about A) Is what I think it is, and B) Is something I could actually get into after graduating. Once I figure that out, and assuming all looks good, Iíll need to choose a date to finish and just push through all this work I have ahead of me. ďJustĒ. Hah!


Lights, bushels, etc.

God bless my husband. Whatever show we were watching on TV ended, and on came one of my favorite trashy shows ďFashion Police: Oscars Edition.Ē Itís all just a big saucer-of-milk catty comment fest focused on what the stars were wearing at the Oscars (or other awards show). I expected Andy to retreat to the computer room, but he stuck with me. We watched a few dresses together, and to my surprise he had a lot of opinions about color, design, jewelry. And maybe even more surprising was that the fashion experts on the show echoed his opinions.

Fact is, Andy continually surprises me. In this case, he has always claimed to have no fashion sense and yet every opinion he voices is in line with those expert in the category. He hid that light under a bushel, you know? And sometimes I wonder what lights Iím hiding and people would be surprised to see. I become tempted to make a value judgement on hiding versus shining lights. It seems great to shine you light, but itís a lot of pressure and people come to expect it continually from you. But if you hid the light, you are underestimated, but able to surprise at key moments. Hmmm. Just something to think about for today.



ďMicrostepsĒ is a term I picked up recently from a book Iím reading about introverts. A microstep is a movement so small it may seem nearly imperceptible, and yet still it moves you forward. By tiny movements forward, you make progress without overwhelming. Itís a tough thing for a spazmo like me, because I always want to try harder than I need to, and then get overwhelmed when I actually TRY to do that much.

It reminds me of learning Jiu Jitsu: I was working with this tiny, fierce lady whose name I canít remember. As we went through one particular move, she shook her head, and pointed out: ďYouíre taking too many steps. More steps than you need to. Stop thinking about the move and just DO it.Ē I took a deep breath, shut off my brain and just did the move, quickly and without a lot of fancy stepping: the move went seamlessly.

Many years later, I was in an Argentine Tango class and having trouble. I kept losing my balance, kept getting yelled at for making my moves too big. ďYou have to collect your feetĒ one of the dancers advised me. Collect my feet? The phrase means to return your balance to underneath yourself after every step. Especially for such a close, subtle dance like Argentine tango, you have to always be collected and in control of your own balance, though you might lean a little into your partner.

A year or two after that, I found myself learning another lesson in bellydance: turning. From my early days in ballet, I wanted to whip around, up high on my toes. But that was a big no-no. Basic turns in Middle Eastern Dance, I found, were actually just walking. Your feet kept going calmly forward while you turned over yourself.

And now here I am, working very hard on my shimmies. The shimmy weíre learning starts simply: alternately bending and relaxing your knees to get your hips moving up and down on each side. By drilling it slowly, I can get up to the middle pace and keep the movement relaxed, but at fast speeds my knees tense up and the movement becomes a shiver. ďItís just that your legs are moving SO FASTĒ observed my teacher about a year ago. It was only yesterday that I realized I might be trying to do the move an order of magnitude faster than I need to.

It all comes back to how Iíve treated academic challenges in life up until graduate school: Iíve thrown myself into the assignmentótypically at the last minuteóIíve overextended myself to get the task perfect. But there is no calm control in this approach: I try to do too much, too late, and expect it to be too perfect. And Iíve gotten by with that approach for a long time, with much success. But long before this flailing approach failed in graduate school, I was already being told it didnít work in Jiu Jitsu, tango, and bellydance. Maybe the body is just more honest, or maybe I just canít wield it as well as my brain.

Iím starting to see the value of the microstep. Of the small movement that seems too easy, but is all you really need to move forward, and leaves you ready to make another microstep, instead of flailing about and losing balance and focus. Weíll see how this impatient young lady can implement this concept . . .


Todayís weather is foggy, snowy. Quiet. And thatís really ok with me. I fully realize that life-craziness is highly dependant on both outside and internal forces: sometimes outside craziness just rolls off your back, and sometimes it hooks into you like a burr. Last week it was just too hard to shake off the stress. Iím not trying to say my life is crazier than yours, more that I was having trouble shaking it last week.

And Iím not saying, really, that this week is any easier. External forces remain constant: writing a journal article, trying to move my project forward. Practicing how to teach bellydance, learning 3 separate choreographies . . . beginning to design my own choreography for the first time. Iím still immersing myself in the self-help section of the bookstore, learning to embrace my introverted self and stop brushing my right-brain-ness to the side. In tiny microsteps Iím trying to move my career exploration further. That is starting to gel a bit, so Iím waiting to see if I feel the same way as the days pass over it. I might have an idea, the vaguest hint of a plan. My worryóas with all decisions I makeóis that my mind will change and Iíll be trapped somewhere I donít want to be.

My freewill astrology horoscope is exciting this week, and maybe Iíll apply the idea to this whole life-path thing:

"Dear Rob: In my dream last night, I was playing with a lion in my garden. Suddenly it jumped up, put its paws on my shoulders, and got face-to-face with me. I realized it could either swallow my head or kiss me. I was excited by the possibility of the kiss and also scared because I sensed it wanted something from me but I didn't know what. Can you offer any insight? -Leo in Limbo." Dear Leo: A lot of Leos are dealing with themes like this right now. Here's how I'd sum them up: The thing that's most appealing to you happens to be wild. You need to exercise caution even as you go forward to engage with it more intimately. Just as you want something from it, it's asking for something in return. You'll have to know exactly what that is in order to protect yourself from its wildness.

What does the wild thing want?


Veil work

Last Saturday night, we were all over at Rogerís to watch some more of Season 1 Heroes. I joked that although there was an awesome ď80ís versus 90ísĒ music battle going on at Club Majestic, I wouldnít be going because I was an old fogie who didnít boogie down anymore. To which Andy astutely replied: ďyeah right, and just how many bellydance events are you going to tomorrow?Ē

Two. And I couldnít be happier about that! Actually, one was just a council meeting, but the second was our first practice of the club advanced piece for the spring show in April. Iíve been practically gasping to get this started, because I get to dance with veil and Iím so excited to learn it.

My mom has pointed out that I was actually in my first dance performance around age 3, and it was with scarves. I donít remember that, but I DO remember trying to make a ribbon stickólike the rhythmic gymnasts useóout of a twig and toilet paper. TP canít withstand high velocities, it turns out: it kept breaking every time Iíd flick it around.

The point here is, Iíve always loved dancing, even though I forgot I did for most of my adult life. It brings me such absolute joy, and Iím so happy to have an activity that counters the stress and challenge of grad school. And I definitely felt bellydance withdrawl over the weeks when no classes had started up, and practices had yet to begin. And now here we are! I was wiped out by studio practice on Thursday, and after last night my shoulders are a little funky, and my right hamstring just continues to be cranky despite stretching. Itís all awesome. I like hearing what my body has to say, because when I get stressed I feel like a kite floating miles above my body.

Veil work is challenging. I mean, at first blush it seems like it should be easier: a light, floating piece of silk that is much flashier than anything you can do with your body. But Iíve heard the phrase ďthe veil never liesĒ before, and I get it. If your posture and arm carriage is bad: it highlights it. If your movement of the veil is off, it looks awkward. Not to mention that dancing with any prop adds probability for error in your performance.

But heck, itís so darn pretty!

Here's a link to my **FAVORITE** dancer, doing amazing veil work (as always)

In other news: I dreamt that I went to Washington D.C. and was sitting at a kitchen table with President Barack Obama. There were lots of people at the table and we were sharing jokes and laughing. Iíve never really dreamed of a president before, and I had this weird sense of knowing him really well even though Iíve never met him. Itís probably just media over-exposure and celebrity. But it was a cool dream nonetheless!