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21 days

April 12, 2011

My final three weeks in graduate hell begin, and I am sitting in a class where the dude up front is going on and ON about fractal zooms, logarithmic algorithms, etc, blah blah blah. This is the look on my face:

Um, sorry, I don't "do" math.


Are we there yet?

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Seeking peace and quiet…so, please SHUT UP.

March 27, 2011

Fair warning: what you’re about to read is likely to be a rather scattered and occasionally meandering post. Why? Well, besides being sick (copious amounts of mucus) and having recently lopped off the tip of my left ring finger (copious amounts of BLOOD…and concurrent typing handicap), I am utterly and completely drained. Of energy, of intellect, of inspiration, of focus…you name it, it’s gone. Right now, as another Sunday night quickly fades to black, I should be pounding away on any number of papers whose due dates, too, quickly approach. However, despite the fact that I am a mere 37(!) days short of graduate school liberation, I can not seem to muster up the resolve to tackle yet another pointless academic exercise. Yes. I have reached my threshold for STUPID SHIT.

But, as I’ve had this particular blog topic knocking about in my brain for the past two months, I must accept the risk of borderline incoherence if only to expel it from my skull. If you have an aversion to wandering, direction-less prose, I recommend you turn back now…or keep some Dramamine at hand in case of motion sickness.

I came across this Atlantic Monthly article in the summer of 2009, and if you haven’t read it, you should. Seriously, I’ll wait…partly because I don’t feel much like summarizing it here (as I do far too much of that in my soon-to-conclude academic life). I, like the author, am an introvert, and that article changed my life. Okay, it did not “change my life,” but it certainly altered the way I tended to myself and my psychological needs. That sounds, you know, deep, and in its way, it was. I had taken the ubiquitous introvert/extrovert tests a thousand times as an adolescent and early-twentysomething and had generally fallen smack dab in the middle…which genuinely felt very wrong. I have long cherished and cultivated my alone time as a necessary part of my day/week/month/life, but the traditional definition of “introvert,” a misanthropic, anti-social, skittish recluse, felt inaccurate at best and insulting at worst. It took this article to introduce me to introversion in a non-pejorative sense, to the notion that I simply drew energy from one direction and expended it in another. It offered the theory that my occasional deeply-felt need for solitude was not necessarily indicative of being “no fun,” but rather indicative of a perfectly-valid need to recover and recharge. Perhaps it didn’t change my life, but it certainly changed my perspective.

As the author suggests, me and my ilk are a largely misunderstood bunch. For instance, from years past when I was working 6 or 7 days a week to today when I juggle a job and two grad programs, I have often committed the crime of “not calling” and/or “not calling enough.” (I have, shockingly, never been accused of this transgression by my mother, who is the one person, I think, with the god-given right to make it.) While I can understand the resulting frustration to a point, I also want to say: shut the fuck up. Why, after hours at work, hours spent dealing with one person or another, hours spent alternately commuting and commiserating, would I want to spend my few precious hours of quiet time talking on the goddamn phone?

Which brings me to my next point: talking on the phone is stupid. I can count the number of meaningful, hour(s)-long phone conversations I’ve had on one hand. The phone is useful for a handful of very specific tasks: 1) making plans (to meet in-person or complete a particular task), 2) confirming plans (to meet in-person or complete a particular task), or 3) letting someone know you’re going to be late (for the in-person plans you’ve made or particular task you’ve promised). I don’t want to sit on my ass with an increasingly-hot piece of machinery glued to my ear listening to a disembodied voice from afar for any substantial period of time. Skype, that I can get behind…make a cup of coffee or pour a glass of wine, pull up a chair, and have a conversation with a real, live human being. But even then, bitches, make a damn appointment…I’m still busy, and I still value my personal time.

Speaking of talking, let’s talk about the state of higher education (Meandering! You were warned!). Something happened between the end of my previous learning adventures and my current graduate experiment. A change in focus, a shift in emphasis, a different tone, one which can be summed up in a single word: participation. Except, no…it’s not really participation, is it? It’s TALKING. You, poor academic noob, shall be judged by the amount of talking you do! Talk every class period? A+! Open your yap on only a handful of occasions? Well, the 20% of your grade devoted to talking is going to suffer! And what shall we say? Oh, nothing. Just something. Unhinge your jaw and let the river of meaningless pontifications flow!

Granted, my memories of school back in the days of yore are fuzzy; however, I don’t remember it being quite like this. Participation was important, sure, but it never felt like a mandate, a ruling from on-high that every word to emit from one’s lips would be tallied up on some semester-wide scorecard. I’ve seen professors pounce on random students every class to say something, anything, heard professors warn us at the beginning of term that if we didn’t speak up every class, our grades would suffer. I even had one professor get in my face specifically before a particular session and tell me I had to talk that day. As if, in the midst of coming to every morning class, taking copious notes, and writing excellent papers, I had committed the unforgivable sin of declining to add another tidbit of redundancy to the already-toxic cloud of inanity hovering over the room. Apologies, sir.

My point being, of course, that talking doesn’t necessarily (and in these cases doesn’t usually) equal worthwhile, substantive participation. Comments generally comprise of two types: 1) “Hey look, everybody, I did the assigned reading!” and, 2) “This one time, in my undergrad/childhood/past life…” And it inevitably turns out the same…we spend more time hearing about that one voice major’s recital program or one English major’s thesis than we do learning from the so-called expert in the room, the highly-educated professor. And in the process, meaningful contributions are inevitably drowned out, since this system favors those who will gladly let their yaps flap at the slightest encouragement, and those people will gladly hijack the entire class. During one memorable session, I nearly clamored up onto the goddamn table before the five individuals who NEVER SHUT UP noticed that, oh, someone else had something to say.

Okay. I’m spent, I need to change the bandage on my finger, and I need to go to bed. Apologies for the meandering screed. Just remember, for the love of god, for the love of introverts everywhere…every once in a while, take a moment, take a deep breath, and SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Here comes trouble!

February 11, 2011

Sometime ca. 1996, I developed the habit of aggravating people who just so happened to be in a position of authority.  If I had to pinpoint the moment of my “coming-out,” as it were, I’d say it all began in an old middle school band room one hot, August afternoon, at a audition for my local youth symphony’s conductor.  Now, I was (ok, am) a wind player and, thus, a band geek.  And, it should be known, we band geeks tend to possess less-than-honed social skills and singularly odd senses of humor, particularly in our teenage years.  So when said conductor, straight-backed, bearded, serious string player that he was, looked down his nose at a scraggly young me and asked if I was ready, I responded, “I’m always ready.”  It wasn’t adolescent petulance that inspired such a turn-of-phrase.  It was simply a recurring tidbit of my self-pronounced cleverness. “Are you ready to go to school?” “I’m always ready!” “Are you ready to go to the party?” “I’m always ready!”  I know.  FUNNY.  Needless to say, Serious Conductor did not find me clever or funny and, rightly enough, decided to take me up on my challenge and put me through my paces.  It was not my best audition, as it turned out.

In my advancing years, I have continued to cultivate this strange talent for ticking off people in a position of authority (or simply perceiving themselves to be), who, more importantly, are DAMN PROUD OF IT.  And, whatdoyaknow, these people have invariably been older men.  Despite proudly waving my Bitch flag at just about any opportunity, I am hesitant to engage in any such gendered stereotyping, to invoke the feminist trope of the Privileged Patriarchy and its concurrent, outdated attitudes regarding female inferiority.  But, no matter how I look at this, there it is; he is older, he has a penis, and I, younger and inexorably vagina-ed, must submit to his superior intellect, experience, and will.  This situation has also managed to cover all sorts of relationships: work, mentor-mentee, teacher-student, love.  I’m beginning to think that it will follow me throughout my life, cropping up every couple years or so, whenever I once again insist on asserting my own goddamn autonomy.  That’s female hysteria (Gk. hysterikos “of the womb”) for ya.

Invariably, it goes something like this:

  • Penis: You should do this.
  • Me:  No, thanks.
  • Penis:  I AM ANGRY.  I CONDEMN THEE.

Or:

  • Me:  I think this action you took was rather dickish, and I think you may wish to choose a different course of action in the future.
  • Penis:  YOU ARE A BITCH.  I CONDEMN THEE.

How am I to remedy my apparent transgression?  Apologize.  Ask for forgiveness, for committing the terrible sin of speaking my goddamn mind.   But of course, I am stubborn, STUBBORN, unlikely to admit a wrong that I sincerely believe was not my own, and here is where I really get in trouble.  I will not capitulate.  I will not apologize for calling a spade a spade, for living my life according to my own priorities.  I will not apologize dishonestly, without candor.

So, here I am again, and again I know what will solve this problem: an apology, or begged forgiveness, or an offer to rearrange my life so as to suit his demands, or most likely all of the above.  Such concessions could be made, emails composed, order restored.  But no.  Fuck him. I have gone too far down this rocky road toward self-realization to turn back now.  Frankly, what Penis is pissed about it is, in dismissing him, I’m saying he doesn’t matter.  And no, he doesn’t matter, not today, not to me.

Choosing your battles

February 2, 2011

In the midst of the hustle & bustle of a new term and this winter’s Smowmageddons and Iceapocalypses (apocalypsi?), a biannual tradition begins anew: the Job Hunt. On this particular occasion, I am participating, and this fact positively delights me (no kidding)! Graduate school has become a tired parade of pointless hurdle-jumping and blatant displays of academic insecurity, and this bitch is WORN. OUT. I long to run free, to read without highlighter, to listen sans analytical acumen…to schedule my days in regularly recurring patterns, to be home by dark, to eat out on Tuesdays! So, to the Hunt I go…whether to be the hunter, hunted, or the damn dog is yet to be seen.

I must say, though, that I have noticed a disturbing trend amongst a few of my fellow hunters/hunteds/dogs: a predilection for hypercompetitivitis. This condition may be diagnosed via a burning look in the eye, a tight purse to the lips, a terseness of speech, a tenseness of limbs, all of which tend to present at the mention that an “other” may apply for the same job as you. I learned to recognize these tell-tale symptoms after (too) many years on the audition circuit… “You are the enemy, and I shall destroy you,” the sufferer’s body language screams. Set jaw, clenched fists.

All of which points to something distinct from ambition. The ambitious strive to succeed, to take on ever greater challenges, to push themselves to new professional heights, to merit reward. The difference lies in the focus inward. The hypercompetitive, on the other hand, turn their attention toward those they see as their foes. Such a focus is inevitably destructive, and I saw the results in every audition waiting room. The scowler, sitting in the corner, separated from the sympathetic comradery of his compatriots in what is, far and away, one of the most competitive job markets around.

Auditioning is, of course, quite different from the future-librarian rigmarole, primarily in that the former requires all job applicants to be at the “interview” simultaneously. This ups the stress approximately a hundred-fold and naturally plays into the competitive idea…most walls are thin and you hear the “questions,” you hear their “answers.” But what you realize fairly quickly (if you are paying attention, if you’re sufficiently open) is that the only person you are competing against is yourself. Your tendency to rush in Beethoven, to drag in Mendelssohn, to skip/add the slightest beat or two in Shostakovich. To forget to breathe. To bite. None of your fellow auditioners can make you do these things; rather, you are competing against your own weaknesses, your own history, your own nerves.

And while the circumstances may be different, the end result is the same. Your c.v. and your cover letter are only fighting against your own lack of experience, your own typos. No one can prevent you from giving a good interview but you. If someone else gets the job, it’s likely because on that day, at that time, they were what the committee wanted. Frankly, on that day, at that time, they were probably better. That is out of your control, out of your hands. And really, do you want to be hired by a library that didn’t want you, weaknesses and all? I know I don’t.

So, indulge this old Lady and try to remember, we’re all in this together. We will, more likely than not, attend the same conferences and sit on the same committees, first jobs will be distant memories, and chances are none of us will remember the drama surrounding so-and-so landing that position at University of Blech over someone else. Cultivate, don’t alienate…chances are you’ll want to hit the neighborhood bar with these people post-incredibly-dull business meeting one day.

In other words, remember to breathe.

Of swans and assassins

January 10, 2011

I have long identified myself as a feminist, a “bitch”-reclaiming bitch and proud of it. I have been known to spend my rarely-free time frequenting overtly feminist blogs (like muh and shuh) and reading overtly feminist books (like fluh or guh) and writing overtly feminist papers in order to win grad school admittance (which I’m not linking to that because, though delightfully feminist, it is also AWFUL and academically HORRIFYING). As such, I tend to look at my world and my world-related experiences through feminist-colored glasses on a fairly regular basis.

And so it goes those marvels of Hollywood creation, moving pictures. On Saturday, after spending seven hours Master’s-examing away in a room all by my lonesome, I went to see the much-lauded Black Swan, thinking that, post-ridiculous-academic-ass-fuckery, what I really needed was to lose myself in the crazy mind games of underfed, overworked, borderline-psychotic ballerinas. I mean, Tchaikovsky, toe shoes, back-stabbery? COUNT ME IN. But here’s the thing:

I didn’t like it. And I’ll tell you why. (Warning: Spoilers ahoy!)

You’ve got your Nina…innocent! (read: prude!), wearer-of-pink, striver-toward-“perfection”, way-too-long-holder-onto-er of stuffed animals and stage mothers alike. And you’ve got your Lily…fun! (read: slut!), wearer-of-black, potential lesbianesque-lover of certifiably-frigid bitches, possessor-of-big-ass-tattoo (GASP) dancing with hair DOWN (could not find a picture, but it is TRUE, I GASP a second time!).

And look, I get it. You’ve got your dance troupe staging Swan Lake and LIVING the story of Swan Lake for REALZ. Evil twins! Delusions! Handsome princes! It’s like an Oreo cookie, and guess what the white stuff in the middle is? SWAN FEATHERS and DEATH! YAHTZEE!

What I couldn’t “get” was past the fact that this movie’s main characters were your standard, sexist, lady caricatures and that, in the end, the “hero” must die because she, a) can’t have her man, and/or b) discovers she indeed wants the dirty dirty SECKS (and with other ladies?! God forbid!). Swan Lake, the actual ballet danced on celebrated stages across the world, waddles in these caricatures as well, obviously, but Swan Lake is a BALLET. A romantic ballet from another era. About women who are turned into BIRDS by evil SORCERERS, aka a FAIRY TALE. As the legendary Balanchine (who regularly toyed with misogyny in his private life) knew very well, ballet and reality are not one in the same; it is not ballet’s purpose nor its privilege to depict real life on stage. I suppose, in all fairness, the same may be said of cinema, but frankly, I like the Swan Queen a hell of a lot more than Nina. Nina, who, somehow, lives in New York and works in one of the world’s most competitive, intense businesses, yet can’t manage to escape Mommy-dearest and is scared shitless of the slightest criticism. Yeah. Not how it is. Confidential to Aronofsky: Women are actually multi-dimensional creatures. Make a note.

Saturday was also a day marked by tragedy with the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords, the deaths of six innocent bystanders, and the wounding of 14 others. Much has been written about this unfortunate event out in the blog-o-sphere and MSM, so I’m not necessarily going to get into the left vs. right politics of the matter (except to say that one of the more insightful takes, in my opinion, is available here). What I did want to touch upon was the issue brought to bear by Jessica Valenti and Amanda Marcotte, regarding the overtly gendered dialogue which may be found at the root of all this recently circulating partisan vitriol. Here again you have your nice, neat, easy, artificial binary…you are feminine (read: bad) or masculine (read: good), just like you’re a prude (read: bad) or a slut (read: worse). As Jessica demonstrates, female politicians, particularly those on the right, are now employing classic macho language and imagery in order to validate themselves in the eyes of potential voters. And as Amanda points out, such language tends to stem from the idea that all things vagina are weak and unsavory while all things penis are powerful and worthy of admiration.

However, I found myself disagreeing with Amanda for the same reason I disagreed with the bird movie: in her (I think) reasonable attempt to illustrate the attitude women often face when confronted with that gendered binary in flesh-and-blood form, she unfortunately makes caricatures of both sexes. The intelligent, professional lady, faced with the obnoxious, oblivious “mansplainer”…a more female-positive caricature to be sure, but caricature nonetheless. I think if there’s anything we can learn from the Sarah Palin Experience (it’s like Disneyland! except more sickening!) is that such dichotomies are quickly falling by the wayside. Women, some of whom are dumb as rocks (just sayin’), have taken up the macho credo and implemented it toward their own ends, with great success. I think instead of looking at that dickweed Loughner as yet another example of the classic overly-defensive male, we need to look at and tear down the “man up” dialogue that permeates our excuse for political discourse in this country. I think that would be a far more productive and potentially healing course of action then yet again laying the blame on a regressive male gender and their recurring inability to cope with smart women.

And I know what you’re thinking…don’t get your fluffy down in a bunch, Lady. Alright, I’ll cut the crap now. Anyway, I have to go yoink some black feathers out of my freakin’ back. Damn it. I always sprout these damn things when I’m horny.

Apathy. I has it.

December 12, 2010

The view outside my window:

Snow in Bloomington, IN

It's really snowing out there, you guys.

The view inside my apartment:

Delicious tomato soup

Tomato soup & grilled cheese.*
*grilled cheese not pictured as it is already in my tummy.

The view inside my brain:

Academic apathy

Don't wanna.

I am done. Done. I want to nap and eat and read (for pleasure!) and watch movies and practice and stare into space with abandon. I can not seem to wrangle my brain into continued intellectual submission. I am tired. I submitted a term paper on Thursday and my final website project on Friday, leaving just a final exam to take next Wednesday. And, honest to FSM, I’ve been trying to study all weekend, surrounding myself with two open laptops, a textbook/anthology, and a pile of handwritten notes. But,

I JUST. DON’T. CARE.

Shit.

Mid-semester bitchage: Nov 2010 edition

November 9, 2010

Missed me?

DAMN STRAIGHT YOU’VE MISSED ME. DON’T EVEN LIE.

Anyway…

Heeeeeeyyyy!

Grad school, you guys. It is eating my time AND my soul, because grad school is really fucking HUNGRY.

Quick update: classes continue interminably and, so far as I know, I continue to get passing grades, yaaaay; I write papers at 7 am because my schedule UGH; the weather in this state is cray cray, with 70-something one day and snow the next, i.e. WHAT HAPPENED TO FALL??; the German exam has been successfully passed, but here I am with buttloads of German to translate for a paper due next month, so the language continues to fuck me over regardless; I. hate. information. architecture.

Other: heya, joint meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society of Music Theory! A mouthful which, incidentally, I had to spit out on the street in addressing the question, yelled by an older lady from a car, “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?” Music nerds, biatch, THAT is what’s going on here. And what did I learn?

  • Fuck heels. Seriously, fuck heels. Even if they’re “comfortable” in theory and/or past experience, they will slap your shit up if you attempt to make them trudge the streets and hotel hallways that such a conference requires. Better ugly shoes than giant blisters. On three toes.
  • Some papers are going to be good. Fewer presenters are going to be good. Great paper + not-so-great presenter = snooze fest. It’s all in the delivery, people.
  • Free wifi is apparently a rarity. Why? Beats the shit out of me. Seriously, these days, shouldn’t it just be free? Like cell phone signals? The Omni didn’t charge me $10 to connect to 3G…why wifi?
  • Free booze is not always worth it. I KNOW. But when access to free booze is dependent on cramming thyself into a hot, crowded, loud room with several hundred other music nerds? After spending hours listening to academic wankery in their presence? No.
  • $12 “Pamatinis”. DA-HAMN.

And so, it continues. I survive on thoughts of future vacations, future jobs, future massages, future lives; cute cat videos on YouTube; the Savage Love podcast and the possibility of one day spotting Dan around town; coffee; chocolate; the healing power of belted show tunes in the car/my apartment/my cube; dinner with friends; and amusing pajamas. Amusing beer-stein covered pajamas. Thanks, Mom! 🙂