Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why with Power(Point) comes responsibility

How to guarantee that an entire room full of people will want to kill you in 60 minutes or less:

Create an hour-long PowerPoint presentation where every single blessed action is punctuated by a sound effect. Heading? Ding. Bullet point? Ding. New slide? Shutter click. So that your soporific voice is accompanied by the sounds of click, ding. Ding, ding, ding. Ding.  Ding!       DING!!!       For sixty goddamn minutes.

Look, screw you, man. How do you not understand that this is not ok? How is this not annoying the living hell out of you? After all, you are also in this room. You are also, as far as I can tell, not deaf. Although you are, apparently, blind to cringing, eye rolling, and all manner of dramatic displays of frustration.

Oh, and also? When you use the video projector, move your goddamn hand out of the way. Do not point, do not tap, and do not gesture near the camera so that a three-foot high, bloated, disembodied hand flits insistently and seizure-inducingly across the projection screen. 

And you are a teacher? With twenty years of experience, really? For shame, sir, for shame. Because when you are speaking at a five-hour conference, on a Saturday--a conference that many attendees were forced to attend against their will, I should add, and which required them to get out of bed at 6:30 a.m., on a Saturday--and for which the only refreshment offered was a measly piece of too-sweet coffee cake, and you are the last session of the day and thus the only thing standing between me and my lunch (not provided)--well sir, you are lucky you got out of there with your life.

What was the session about, you may ask? I DON'T EVEN KNOW. 

So that was my Saturday. How was yours?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why revenge is squeak

Lately I've been hearing the pitter-patter of little feet. Mostly late at night when I'm trying to sleep, or when I wake up from having been asleep, and suddenly I'm the kind of awake where I know I won't be falling back asleep again any time soon. Suddenly my eyes fly open, wide and sightless in the dark, my body stiff, listening. What is that? And then it comes again--a low whooshing and then a scribble-scrabbling as the sound dopplers away in the ceiling directly over my head. Sometimes it comes from the wall behind me. Though I know it's silly, I can't stop my heart from racing, and I spend the next two hours trying and failing to get back to sleep. It happens just often enough to lull me into complacency--maybe it's done now, I'll think--and then ten minutes later, or twenty, there it is again. Whoooooooosh, clickclickclickclick, and I involuntarily cringe, and wrap myself tighter in the covers. 

But I know what this is. This is karmic retribution. Once upon a time in a former life I was a tormentor of mice, and now they are here to exact their revenge. I would almost be able to appreciate the irony of the situation, if I wasn't so cranky from the lack of sleep. 

So what's up, mice? Why you gotta be so nocturnal? Come on, mice, I've changed, really. I'm not the same person I was. So how's about I promise that I will no longer practice amateur brain surgery on you or your brethren, and you limit your scurrying business to the daylight hours, eh? Your kind is known for being fair and reasonable, so I'm sure we can all work out a mutually acceptable agreement, here. Don't make me get out my rubber gloves and my syringe.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why it's not so much 'ha ha' funny...

So, what the frig am I doing in this picture? Well, according to your guesses I am either a) threading a needle, b) dissecting a worm, c) finding a cure for hangnails, d) drilling a hole in a mouse to make into a lovely pendant, or e) involved in a massive conspiracy theory involving world domination and talking horses. I am sorry to say that it isn't e), though I am almost equally sorry to say that Kono was nearly spot on with his mouse-drilling theory. I am indeed about to drill a hole in a mouse in this picture, which perhaps explains my look of slump-shouldered despair (and the mouse probably isn't too happy about it either).   

You can click on the picture to make it bigger. Go ahead, I'll wait.

It's a part of my life that most of the time I manage to forget about completely. But the other day one of my well-meaning but under-informed professors here asked me, "So how's being in grad school?", like you would to a toddler after her big first day in pre-K. "Well," I responded, "this isn't my first time in grad school. This is actually my third grad program, so..." So lay off my case and quit chirping at me, is what I managed to refrain from saying, and not a moment too soon. (Only sort of relatedly, my parents still routinely ask me how "college" is going. The next time they do I'm going to tell them that "college" is something that parents pay for, and if that's the case they can feel free to step up.)

But wait, did I say this is my third grad program? *Counts on fingers* What? That's right, I've been holding out on you. You may remember that I received my Master's degree in French literature in Boston. What you don't know is that three years prior to that, the reason I moved to Boston in the first place was to enroll in a different grad program there. A much, much different program. You see, once upon a time in a land far, far away, I somehow got it into my head that the answer to the question of "What do I want to do with my life?" was something I vaguely defined as "research." I had glamorous fantasies of wearing a white lab coat, scribbling data onto clipboards, and making important "discoveries." For which I would become famous, naturally. Now, the important question here is not why I would base my future career goals on such a tenuous understanding of the word "research." After all, I was young, and as such, stupid. The real question is why in the world a top-ranked research institution would accept as a student someone whose post-high school scientific knowledge was limited to two weeks of a freshman biology class that I signed up for as a senior and then immediately dropped because it was "too hard." I suppose the lesson here is never to underestimate the power of a compelling essay. That and the fact that I had once put some pigeons in some boxes was apparently enough to put me over the edge, and I was in.

I quickly realized that I was in way, way over my head.

In the picture in question, I am about to perform brain surgery on a mouse. Not a dead mouse, no. That would be too easy. In this picture, I am about to drill into a live mouse's brain while trying very hard not to kill it. (No pressure). Not only am I about to drill into a mouse's brain, but I am attempting to drill into one very specific and very small part of the brain. One millimeter to the right or the left and the whole thing is pretty much ruined. Again, no pressure. Oh, and you only have a few minutes until the anesthesia begins to wear off, so better hop to it. (Nooooo pressure.) Now, I realize most of you have probably had the good fortune of never having to look at a mouse brain, but let me assure you, it is small. Think of a mouse head. Now think smaller. In color and consistency, its brain is not unlike a wad of chewed gum. (Wrigley's, not Bazooka Joe.) But smaller, like a doll-sized wad of used up chewing gum. Now imagine that you are trying to locate one very specific point in that doll-sized wad of chewing gum. Now breathe. When it is all over you will need to perform tiny mouse stitches on the tiny mouse head. (Quick, quick, before it wakes up!) When your shaking hands fail to be able to even thread the needle, your (male) lab adviser will look at you in disbelief and say, "Have you never sewed anything before?" 

And that was just the mice.

Then, on a day I will never forget, my adviser informed me that his class of undergrads would be dissecting rat brains. He brought me a cage full of rats, a bucket of dry ice, and a rusty pair of Fiskars. "So I'll need you to get their brains," he told me. (And you think your job is bad.) If you ever wonder how you might react in a seemingly impossible situation, I will say that you will probably do what needs to be done. That you really can get used to almost anything. I am neither proud nor overly ashamed to admit that I did what needed to be done. I did my job. And years later, now that my bread and butter are books and not blood and gore, I can look back from a safely removed distance and and think how strange it all is, that life I once had. I don't want to get involved in any controversy on so controversial an issue; that is not the point of this story. It is something I once did and no longer do. Now I am a vegetarian about 80% of the time and am neither for nor against animal research. Rather, I am both for and against it and I know there are always two sides to every story. Again, that is not the point. Once I was young and led a completely different life. Like lots of people, I guess. I did my job.

Until one day when I went into my adviser's office with a quick question, and as I was leaving he stopped me with, "Oh, and one more thing..." I looked up. "How do you think things are going?" he asked, and I knew it wasn't an innocent question. "I just don't feel any passion from you," he said. "The spark just isn't there." Are you breaking up with me?! I wanted to ask. It was true, I lived every day in silent misery, something I had thought I could hide. 'Just one more year' was my daily affirmation and just-barely-coping device. One more year and I can get my Master's and get out. Don't let me have been miserable for an entire year for nothing. Just let me get my Master's. But when I brought this up, no dice. "I don't think that would be a good use of anyone's time," my adviser heartlessly said. He said anyone's, but he meant his. He said time, but he meant money. It didn't take a mouse brain surgeon to read between the lines.

I walked into the lab that morning like any other morning, but when I left that afternoon it was for the last time. I wondered how I was going to explain this to my parents. Though I had carried out every last gruesome, disgusting order, I was kicked out of my grad program for lack of enthusiasm. It could only happen to me. I went home and cried my eyes out. There I was, in a big city with no friends, no job, three months left on my lease, and absolutely no reason to continue living there.

Within a couple weeks I had found a job, met a guy, and ended up staying for four more years. Said guy had recently spent a couple years living in Mythaca, a town I had never heard of before, but after hearing his stories I soon felt like I knew it well. And while I spent countless hours musing over what our future would hold, never once during our time together did I imagine that one day I would find myself thirty years old, alone, and living in Mythaca without him. Isn't life funny?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why a picture is worth at least a few words

Because today is Monday, and because I have nothing to post about, and because my life is hopeless despair kill me now boring, I would like to post the first in what will hopefully be a series of photos entitled, What the Frig Am I Doing In This Picture?!?!?!?!?! 

And so I ask you, Internet... what the frig am I doing in this picture?!?!?!?!

Guesses? Speculation? Let's start with the who/what/when/where/why. When was this picture taken? Where? What am I thinking? And what twisted series of events could have led me to the situation I find myself facing here? Answer away, and feel free to be as creative as you'd like.

I desperately urgently creepily eagerly await your response! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why I'm comfortably numb

Since I arrived in Mythaca a year ago, I've been back and forth on this whole online dating thing. It's not like in Boston where I could just go on thirty first dates in the span of a few months. When you go from a city with a population of 4 million to a town of 30,000, let's just say the pickings get a bit slim. But, since everyone knows that you can't win if you don't play the game, I re-activated my dormant OkCupid account back in November, went on two dates (and we all know how that turned out), and promptly took myself back offline. By May, I was feeling that itch again, and so I dipped my toe back into the great online dating puddle, went on zero dates, got fed up, and pulled the plug. Again. Most recently, a few weeks ago I was sitting in my room at my parents' house (the fact that I was most likely bored out of my mind goes without saying), and figured, Well, I can at least see who's out there... and before I knew it, bam, I was back in the game. But, you know they don't call me the Charlie Brown of dating for nothin' (lest you think this is all a sneaky backdoor intro to some kind of "Holy crap guys, I'm in love!!!1!" -type announcement), ((spoiler alert--it's not)), but one thing I have noticed is that this time around, at least, the rejections have gotten a lot easier to take. Case in point, this e-mail I recently received from a guy I had e-mailed back and forth with a few times back in May without ever meeting, and promptly forgotten about:


For what it's worth, I wanted to say sorry for cutting off talking with you. It was soon after a break up, I thought I was ready to get back to it, and I was wrong. I know that's not much of an excuse, but it's a reason, a selfish, immature reason. So again, I am sorry.

Take care,

My initial response: Wait, who are you, again? Then, after some brain-racking and archive-searching, this was my actual response:

Hey Josh,

Actually, I took my profile down pretty shortly after we started talking and just put it up again about a week ago. So... I guess I didn't really notice. But thanks for letting me know. Best of luck!


Then we have this e-mail I just received today from a guy I met for a drink last weekend. It reads:

Hi Rachel,
It was nice to meet you the other day. This whole dating thing will always be strange to me, so exploratory and ever-changing. Anyway, I've met someone else and we are loosely seeing one another. I'm not really sure where it's going, but I wanted to let you know. 

Pretentious Grad Student Guy

My response:


Thanks for the update! Best of luck to you.


Even Pete has gotten in on the action, sending me a text message a couple weeks ago that read, Even though you'll be passing through the town where I live, and even though I already told you a week ago that we should totally hang out, actually, since then I've sort of started seeing someone, and even though it's definitely not going to last for more than another week or two, tops, I really don't want to do anything to mess that up right now, so in conclusion, I actually can't see you this weekend. Don't hate the player! (Ok, so I may have loosely paraphrased, here. Except for the last line. He totally said that. And used a smiley face emoticon.) My response? Hey, congrats, and good luck with that! And I meant it, too. 

What is happening to me? Have I finally become immune to rejection? You know what they say about falling off a horse; you have to get right back on it. But what they don't tell you is that if you fall off the horse enough times, eventually you'll suffer nerve damage and not be able to feel anything at all. It's like... it's like... when I was a child, I had a fever, right? And my hands, they felt like... two balloons? And now I have that feeling once again, oh... I can't explain it, you wouldn't understand. 

But you know what I mean? It's like... numb, but... not in a bad way? Like, comfortably numb?

Ach, forget it, I don't know what I'm trying to say. 

All I know is this can't bode well for the blog. What will I write about if I can't get all worked up and angsty and offended over all of life's great injustices? The next thing you know I'll be one of those blogs writing about home decor, or something. I may even write a life list! And check things off one by one as I accomplish them! I know! 

Aging: it's like a sedative for your soul! But don't worry, I will not go gently into that good night. I'll get back the angst of my twenties, Internet, never fear. And as always, I'll be updating all of you every step of the way. 

Until then, shine on, you crazy diamonds.