Sunday, March 31, 2013

Week 28 The Impossible Paper and Easter

Before I start every paper, it seems impossible. You have word document open, the black cursor blinking on the empty white, and you think "It will never be." Whatever it is you are about to attempt to do will never exist; the words will never appear. You will be stuck in the perpetual loop of black cursor blinking on empty white paper. The impossible paper.

That can also apply to writing fiction, or blogs, or letters. But that is partly why it is so exciting, right? That blinking  black cursor- endless possibilities! It is intimidating but also terribly exciting. There is always so much potential in that moment right before you start.

Anyway, I'm about to delve into pretty serious paper writing mode for the next five weeks or so, and I've already started staring at the blinking cursor.

For some reason Spring has always been a time when I really get a craving to write fiction. Ever since I started writing-little silly and spoof detective short stories when I was 9 or so, I guess- Spring has always been a time when I just want to spew fiction. Maybe I will get a chance to write some short stories, or take another peek at my perpetually unfinished "novel."

But first, I have lots of other reading and writing to do! I don't really, truly mind writing papers- any type of writing can scratch that itch if you allow it. But getting started on writing academic papers is always much harder than getting started on writing fiction. And yet that fiction is so impossible to finish...papers wrap up so nicely...

Spring break is over, and it is time to delve back into the second big chunk of the semester. The semester is flying by at an alarming pace. And then off to the next adventure!

I hope everyone had a fantastic Easter, however you might celebrate it. I have always thought of it as a very family oriented holiday, but this year was very mild for us. Dominic worked most of the day and I read for a paper I'm working on. But I got us peanut butter filled chocolate bunnies for dessert tonight and Dominic brought home a gorgeous lily. Then after dinner we went up to the Deuce (every time I think of that place I get the song from their radio commercial stuck in my head) so Dominic could get his fill of some of the opening night baseball.

I keep forgetting when my camera is on the black and white setting, but I like this photo anyway. 

Of course I can't take enough pictures of this lily. 

And so, on to another week! Happy Easter everyone and a Happy April Fool's Day too ;) 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Week 27 The Missing Week and the Fanny Pack Faux Pas

Well, I finally missed an entire week of blogging. This weekend, however, was not a weekend for any sort of real or coherent productivity. I did the things I had to do- like grocery shopping, cooking, some cleaning. But other than that I took a major breather- I think I did about 30 minutes of productive work. I spent the weekend hibernating, watching movies (I really enjoyed Lars and the Real Girl, which is on Netflix...if you are interested in movies that are more on the unusual side), and catching up on sleep. I even did some one-player video-gaming; I've had L.A. Noire for over a year and still haven't finished it.

I also spent a good chunk of time last night making this fantastic Shepherd's Pie. Ohhh it was soooo gooood.  But it did take two hours to make. Usually I am really against meals that take such a long prep time, but this was actually worth it. I think the beer is what makes it. It makes it so full and rich. Yum.

By extension, that reminds me...thanks to Facebook I have discovered one of my favorite new websites: #WHATSHOULDWECALLGRADSCHOOL

If you are at all interested in understanding grad school culture, this is a great site to start. It is somewhat focused on more hard science based study, but a lot of their posts are applicable to all grad students and I spent a ridiculous amount of time one day browsing and laughing. Here are some good examples:
What My Stipend Goes Towards
Trying to Settle on a Thesis Project
When Someone Tells Me They Saw My PI [or adviser] at a Party

And this one just makes me giggle, every time:
When My PI Drops the F-Bomb

Oh and this is what we woke up to yesterday morning:

It looks like Virginia got some snow this time too though...I'd wonder how our inches compare? ;)

So in the past few weeks I have actually gotten some sizable pieces of the semester over with...I have finished two days leading discussion for archaeology theory, I did a presentation on photovoice in ethnographic methods, and I led my seminar in my violence and inequality class. Now all that's left is to research and write three pretty sizable papers...if I really get started on those this week (SPRING BREAK!!!) I may actually be able to maintain some semblance of sanity for the rest of the semester (haha I'm so funny).

Of course I've also been doing other research here and there...on dowry, on the TV show project, and I've been trying to tease out some potential long-term research topics (thesis/dissertation ideas...). I've also been trying to get stuff together for my trip to Bangladesh, as there are a lot of forms to submit and deadlines to meet, and that has been stressful just because I'm afraid I will mess up one little thing and not be able to go...that one clerical error could screw it all up is terrifying! [but that's just my paranoia talking, I know]

But let's not talk about scary things. Let's talk, instead, about fanny packs.

Or maybe you find fanny packs somewhat frightening as well. See, I've noticed that there is a lot of nose-crinkling disgust for the practical little thing we unfortunately call the fanny pack. I think this is largely because when we hear "fanny pack" we think of this:

Which is an '80s/'90s brand of cool, but I can see why someone would find this a somewhat unforgivable fashion faux pas. I's bad. The colors are wrong and it is not at all flattering- as a fashion accessory it is an absolute fail. 

But it terms of practicality, it is hard to beat. When I found out I would be going to Bangladesh, the fanny pack was one of the first things I put on my to-buy list. Bag snatching is common; I've read articles about how safety isn't a terrible issue, but bag-snatching is, and people have been pulled off of rickshaws and injured because someone tried to snatch their shoulder-bag or backpack. A fanny pack could prevent this; it is a safer location to keep your camera, money, and other important travel items (though under the shirt pouches are probably even better for things like your passport or credit cards). Not to mention you don't have to have your arms occupied carrying things and they aren't as bulky as a backpack. Plus you can keep it in front increasing your awareness of where your items are. Depending on the size of it, you could even hid it with your clothing.

To further my defense of fanny packs, some modern takes on the fanny pack have been absolutely awesome: fashionable and functional. For example:

The Steampunk Fanny Pack

Now, I am no fashionista and I really don't dress all that well; I have never been much into fashion, nor do I have enough money to worry with it, but I think these are very classy ways to pull off the fanny pack! This is just a handful of some of the actually pretty cool fanny packs I've found online. Perhaps it just needs a renaming? How about the fashion pack? ;) 

Anyway, that's all from me for now. Happy Spring Break to all the Mizzou students and a happy week to everyone!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Week 26 You Know You Are Too Busy When...

I would amend that title to "You Know the Semester is Kicking Your Butt When..." [because, of course, this semester is my life right now...]

1) While doing household or hygiene chores you formulate a list in your head of reasons why the semester is kicking your butt, only to immediately forget everything that was on the list as soon as you sit down to write it.

2) Every conversation you have with someone ends with some variation of "I hate to cut this short but..."

3) Going to lectures is a fun break from whatever it is you should be doing (though I did get to hear some really excellent lectures...more on that another time).

4) You can't wait until the next 24, no 48, no 72, no...well until the next two weeks are over so you can get a break to in respond to all the unanswered things you've put on the back-burner.

5) You literally find yourself dreaming about class projects or archaeological theory.

6) Your dog is at your feet whining to go to bed at 2 in the morning because she just can't stand sleeping on the couch any more.

7) You wonder "where you went wrong" in teaching yourself proper time management.

8) You fell guilty for taking time for practical activities like vacuuming, laundry, or prepping for things occurring in the distant future (you know two months ahead rather than two days).

9) The best part of the week is Friday afternoon when you get to take a nap (especially if the nap occurs with the sliding glass door open, 75 degree weather pouring into a normally freezing apartment, and a gradual sinking into a 1970s couch).

10) You finish a blog post with a "to be continued" or a "will return when I have a coherent moment" at 12:30 am because you still have work to finish up.

So I'll get back to better blogging when I have a coherent leisure moment.

But of course, Underdog pajama pants can get anyone through anything!

I hope everyone had a fantastic St. Patrick's Day! And a happy Monday to you as well ;)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Week 25 Buzzing, Humming, Soaring, Roaring

So this is actually the first week where I have genuinely forgotten to write my blog! It has crossed my mind at random occasions, but there was never a moment where I thought "meh, I don't feel like doing it." It just never crossed my mind to write it, when I had a moment to, until now. And of course right now, I don't quite feel like I have a moment. 

Of course I do have a moment or two- we all do, if we can only slow our minds long enough to take that moment. I looked up quotes in an attempt to tie my thoughts to something so that I could write coherently here, and of course Virginia Woolf provided the best words:

"My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery- always buzzing, humming, soaring, roaring, diving, and then buried in the mud. And why? What's this passion for?" [You can find this quote and a brief bio here]

She wrote this in a letter, and certainly her mind was much more active and much more flurried than my own. But I can't help but feel what she meant (that is part of why I love her so much- it as if I can feel what she means).

Your mind, your heart, your everything is racing by at a hundred miles a minute, thinking of all the things to do, all the things yet undone, and why?

Perhaps the question of why is far too much for me to address in this particular moment. Suffice it to say that I do not think that we stop to think about the why that motivates us quite as much as we should. What is that passion that motivates us? Most of what we do moment by moment or day by day is not directly related to our passions, but it is good to remember, every once in a while, what it is that our passions are, so that we do not waste too much time buzzing about with things that are ultimately not what moves us. 

The past week and a half has been exceptionally busy, and I know that the next two weeks will be as well. I am a bit overwhelmed with all the buzzing in my head, and am trying not to get buried in the mud. I feel a little bit behind on every little thing- assignments, research for classes and individual research, taxes, CLS prep, keeping up with family and friends, etc. etc. But there is always an end in sight. More importantly, I don't want to rush to the end, I want to enjoy the journey as well. Sometimes that just takes more focus than I am capable of at the moment.

Very, very soon I will have to officially start recruiting for my ethnographic methods assignment. I have done a little bit of haphazard recruitment in order to complete my weekly assignments, but I will need to obtain surveys and interviews from people in their twenties regarding their health behavior, their perception of illnesses-specifically cancer- and their cancer experience. If any of my readers would be willing to participate it would be extremely helpful and, of course, completely private/confidential. This isn't going to be published anywhere and is only for in class and practice purposes, but I hope that it will provide me with ideas and maybe a general framework for my long-term research later on. 

It has been a very work focused week and the coming week will be as well- perhaps even more so. I won't outline it all here- it would be more constructive to actually go work on it than ramble on about it here!

So that is what I will move on to...though I haven't shared a photo yet. Of course I haven't taken a single picture this week. However, I have been meaning to write a post regarding one of my favorite artists for quite a while now. I have not gotten around to it yet mostly because I haven't gotten to scanning enough samples of her work, but she does have some of them online. You can look at some of them here and I do have a few scanned versions of some of her ink drawings. Like all art, they are of course better in person, but I think you can get a decent feel for her style and uniqueness by looking at them digitally. And of course forgive my scanner for bad cropping. She is thinking about getting prints made, so if you see something you like or would like to see more, leave a comment here or shoot me a message and let me know. I have plenty more to scan and upload.

Anyway, here are a few original pieces from Karma Rhodes to help us kick off our new week. ;) 

Have a great Monday everyone!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Week 24 Never Give Up, Never Surrender

This may be showing my geeky, silly side quite a bit, but I think this is one of the best life mottoes anyone could have. It is the best advice anyone could give. Whenever you think of your dreams, this is what should follow: "Never give up; never surrender." I know it is perhaps not the most original advice, and is perhaps one of the most obvious tidbits anyone can give, but it is simple and true.

This is the life motto I've been living by for a while now, and I can honestly say it has worked better for me than any more complicated religious faith or detailed life philosophy. It works because it is easy to remember and it is actually easy to do, once you get the hang of it. It reminds you to breathe and keep going. If your dreams are real and realistic, they can happen if you just keep trying (I'm saying "realistic" not to be negative or shatter someone's dreams but to remind you to keep your head in the game- if your dream is to be president well...think about that realistically...maybe your dream should be to get into politics and see where it goes from there. If your dream is to be the next Stephen King, maybe your dream should be to finally finish that novel you've been working on...see where I'm going with this? I'd love to be the next Margaret Mead or Nancy Scheper-Hughes, but I think I'm gonna focus on getting my PhD first). If you choose to believe in God, whichever one or multiple that you prefer, I am sure he/she/they will help you out, but you are still the one that has to do the work. Doing that work requires dealing with failures and setbacks and never giving up.

And then it is funny, when things finally start to fall into place. You maintain a sense of fear; you are waiting for that next setback. You know it will come, it is only a matter of time. But you can't let the potential for failure stifle you, and sometimes it is more successful than any failure itself in holding you back. You cannot surrender to that fear. You cannot let it keep you from taking the risks necessary in making your dreams come true. Never surrender.

In November of 2011 I was having my doubts regarding my own dreams. I was doubting what I was going to do next, where I was going with my life, if my hopes and dreams were worthwhile or if they were just childhood remnants of idealism. I honestly was not sure. The year before I had applied to five programs for graduate school and had failed to get into a single one. I wasn't surprised by this (I knew the competition was intense) and decided to try again, but by November I was extremely anxious about reengaging with the process. Extremely is a understatement. I remember one night talking to Dominic and trying to decide if this was what I really wanted to do.

I think I was so anxious because I knew, deep down, that anthropology was absolutely positively what I wanted to do with my life but I knew it was also a very challenging path. I was terrified of not getting into school again, and I knew that going for my PhD without funding would be more stress on my debt level than I would be able to handle. So there was the additional fear that I would get in but would not be able to go because I would not get funding.

And then what? Try again the next year? Keep waiting, indefinitely? When do you know you should give up and do something different with your life?

And was I ready to make the sacrifices I would need to make in order to continue towards my dream? There would be many. I would have to move. I was (am) so lucky to have Dominic, who said he would be willing to move anywhere with me. He is important enough to me that if he had said he was staying in Virginia, well, I probably would have too. But the move would mean being away from my family and friends. It would mean I would not be there for them when they needed me and vice versa. I would have to indefinitely postpone a nice wedding and having children so that I could live in relative poverty to get my education. This would further mean watching many people my age get on with their adult life- getting career jobs, saving money, going on fancy vacations, buying houses, getting married, spending on nice clothes, food, and weekends, etc. etc.

But what was my alternative? At the time I was working part time, just barely making $17,000 a year (before taxes) and just paying bills, not really saving for anything. Already I had friends far surpassing this measly income and I was feeling pretty worthless. I knew I could try for something more lucrative...I could get a 9-5. I could get my own little cubicle and come home every night to a glass of wine and a good meal. I could save up for a nice wedding and then start having kids. I could go for that American dream with the house and the white picket fence and instead of feeling lesser than many of my peers, I could live like them.

Cue the panic attack. Sure I could strive for all that- but that kind of 9-5 was extremely depressing to me. During the two years between undergraduate and graduate school I had one of the worst jobs I have ever had, and I was extremely depressed with it. I dreaded it. I had to leave work early one day because I was sobbing; someone there had told me they hated me- that everyone hated me- and I should not be there. Really, I agreed with him. I should not have been there. But at least that job taught me something. It taught me that having a 9-5 that I hated would genuinely ruin my life, and I knew that that lifestyle was not worth it to me. I'd rather live in relative poverty than live everyday with dread, anger and fear of a job that felt empty and pointless.

I moved on from that job to another that was absolutely heaven in comparison, but it was still a dead-end; I had no solid future there. I really enjoyed it and I loved the people I met there, but I knew it was not a long term arrangement. I kept wondering, how long was it okay to work part time? How long was it okay to not work towards anything at all? How long should I take to decide? I think the answers to these types of questions depend entirely on the individual and that each of us is different in our life course and our comfort level with our life course. I don't regret either one of those jobs because I learned something from them, and they were absolutely what I needed at the time. But I was getting restless. I need to be making some sort of tangible progress towards something or I feel wasteful, twitchy, uncomfortable...

I decided, despite my almost crippling fear, that I would try again. I decided that if it didn't work out, then I would decide what to do next. Baby steps. But I learned from my initial attempt at getting into graduate school and the experience I had gained the first time around paid off. I had worked harder on my GREs, I had gained more experience, I had written better essays. I applied and I got in to 4 of the 5 places I applied to.

My work towards something better had paid off in spades. Not only did I get in, I was offered some form of funding from all four places. Two of them had a great deal- one was Kentucky, offering full funding for one year and then likely more after that, depending on my performance. The other was, of course, Missouri.

Another difficult decision to face. Kentucky was a lot closer to home, which was a huge plus. But Missouri offered guaranteed funding for five instead of one year. What if I went to Kentucky and then I had to pay for the next four years? This was a surprisingly difficult decision to make. I honestly didn't want to leave home- if I had been able to fulfill my dreams by staying in or close to Virginia I would have stayed. I love my home state and Kentucky was appealing to me because it was so much closer to home. Not to mention I had never once set foot in Missouri.

But I don't regret the choice I made for one second. Missouri ended up being the better choice not just because of the funding; I have a fantastic adviser here (not to say that at Kentucky I wouldn't have, but my research interest in Bangladesh is much better represented here), I absolutely love Columbia, and I am still making great friends here. Being relatively far away from home has been less challenging than I thought because Dominic and I have wonderful family and friends. We've already had tons of visitors, countless Skype dates, and hardly a week goes by where we don't get some form of good mail: a package, a letter, etc.

I'm going on and on about all this for two reasons. 1) The more I push past my fears and continue moving forward, the more I realize how fruitless fear is. Even if you fail, it is not the end of the world. This is an absolute truth. 2) I know some people who are struggling right now, like I was less than a year ago, and I want to show them, the best way I know how, that things can get better and sometimes the harder path really is the better one. You do have to make sacrifices- you absolutely positively do- but sometimes it is totally worth it.

So what inspired me to go on about this now? One of my biggest dreams is about to come true, and I so want other people to know this feeling. I want other people to work towards their dreams and then have that moment when suddenly that dream is a reality. It is such a wonderful feeling, and part of the reason it is so wonderful is because you worked so hard for it and you were so uncertain about it for all those years: people questioned you, people doubted you, you doubted yourself. And then suddenly there it is, right in front of you, and you can hardly believe it. I can hardly believe it. I literally woke up the other day and thought I had dreamed it. Sometimes I'm terrified that somehow it won't be true- that something will happen blah, blah, blah...but no. I shall not surrender to that fear.

Instead, I'm going to go to Bangladesh. There are not even words to explain how shocked and elated I was to find out that I got into the CLS program [I will go ahead and say this now, though I will probably say it later as well, but this blog is no way affiliated with, or representative of the CLS program- all opinions are mine and mine alone, etc. etc.]. I have actually applied to this program before and did not get in, and as a first year grad student I had expected that I would need to apply again next year or the next before actually being presented with the opportunity to go. I couldn't believe it when I opened that email. When I saw that "Congratulations"...Wow!

Going to Bangladesh is a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to see that part of the world. I can't believe that I am now presented with the opportunity to do so. Learning the language, experiencing the culture, living there for two months. I am so insanely excited!

In sum, this is what I want to say. I did work hard for this. I did experience failure and rejection to get where I am. And I am going to experience so much more. I am going to get turned down for grants and funding. I am going to get rejection letters on papers I write and proposals I submit. I absolutely am, just as I have before. There will be times where I struggle to find a job, where I can't quite get where I need to go, where I will need to make sacrifices. But I will keep moving forward, I will never give up, and I won't surrender to fear. And neither should you. We all have our down moments. We all have our moments of pessimism, of depression, of frustration. But don't let it cripple you. Accept that those moments are part of life and then get on with it. There are plenty of things standing in your way; don't let yourself be one of them. Plow through them. Be flexible. Bend as needed. Keep moving forward.

Okay well, enough of that I suppose. Let's do photos...

This is our new chair. Yes, we did find it on the side of the road. Still sits just as well ;)

Ripley enjoying a toy shipped all the way from Richmond!

Dominic started experimenting with the black and white option on my camera this week. He took a lot of really cool photos, I will ask if I can share them next time. This is just one of them.

Snow Round 2

Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone. And remember- never give up, never surrender!