Category Archives: crankiness

O, blogger, where art thou?

Somehow, I managed to let over 2 weeks pass since I last posted. I have been back from Dublin for over a week. It took me a while to readjust to local time, and I spent the week following my return in a bit of a fog. And a bit of a funk.

I didn’t manage to post anything while in Dublin, in large part because the internet connection I had where I stayed was pretty slow. (Okay, pretty agonizingly slow.) While there was a better connection at the conference venue itself, I didn’t tend to bring my laptop with me to the conference. Also, I was generally pretty busy being out and about seeing things, at least when not hunkered down and working and/or conferencing. I did, however, take plenty of photos, which I do hope to share here. (How many times have I said that? Well, I do always hope to.) In any case, the trip was wonderful, and I was charmed by Dublin.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve come close to posting a couple of times, but ran out of either time or steam. Or both.

I’ve been pretty busy since I’ve been back, too, especially the last couple of days. And I’m going to be pushing forward with my degree over the coming months.

Really, these photos have nothing to do thematically with what I’m writing about here, but I wanted to start posting something, and I liked these photos of raindrops on some flowers in my yard that I took last week. These were taken with my iPhone, and I am sometimes amazed at the clarity that its little camera can manage.

So, I’m back home. And back to blogging. (Expect to see some Dublin photos soon!)

the cruellest month

I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

There is a part of me that knows that every month bears its burden of sad anniversaries. There is good and bad to be found in each month. The scientist in me wants to graph the months, and the major events I have associated with each. Major illnesses and deaths, natural disasters, terrorist attacks on the one hand. Birthdays, holidays, wedding anniversaries, exciting trips on the other. I think a clustered bar chart of some sort would work just fine. Perhaps such a graph would show that each month was more or less the same.

Yet somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that the month of April would have a great big tall bar for the bad category, compared to the sorry little representation of happy events. Much of this would be due to April of last year. I have started writing out, in a level of detail that is both agonizing and cathartic, the hell that was April of last year. (I probably don’t need to share that here. I’m sure for someone else there would be far more agony than catharsis to read such a thing.) In short, the month was marked by, in rough order of appearance: impending death, sharing news of major illness with young children, sudden plans for travel, rearranging of work schedules, single parenting, fever, cancelled plans for fun activities, long drawn-out dying, pink eye, death, sharing the news of death with young children, poison ivy, memorial service, funeral, stomach bug, cancelled plans for fun activities, marathon bombing, Officious Dental Hygienist, shootings, explosions, manhunts, and cancelled plans for fun activities. Last April was a relentless series of grieving and petty grievances. And it was supposed to be a month marked by intense productivity for my research.

I can’t help but be reminded that it was also in April, back in 2010, that my nephew’s tumor was discovered, the start of an ordeal that brought on so much stress and worry for many long months and even a few years. The start, in fact, of some of the hardest times I have had in my adult life. (That was also the same month that I had my own run-in with poison ivy, too. It sounds like a small thing, but my doctor said it was the worst case she’d ever seen. I had blisters lasting for 5 weeks.)

April has a bad reputation for me.

So this year, I found that I was bracing myself for April to be another bad month. This is why I picked this month to blog every day. Making myself do something daily that I enjoy has helped get me through the sad anniversaries. Now, there are under 2 hours left of the month, and I think we have come out mostly unscathed. I say “mostly” because the month has not been great. There were some happy things, and some fun things, but also a few bad things of varying scales. I don’t even really want to get into it now. (Really, I don’t tend to think of myself as superstitious, but I find myself not wanting to jinx things. So it would seem that I am superstitious. Also tired.)

So, I bid good-bye to the cruellest month. Next month promises to be a full, and hopefully less thorny, one.


The thorns of April.

Curses. Foiled again.

Really, I just wanted to use that post title. (Because I have these photos of foil.)

All the same time, I am feeling cranky, and somewhat thwarted in my efforts to be productive. I have too many pokers in the fire. I have 2 conferences coming up next month for which I am involved in 4 total presentations (3 posters and 1 talk). Two of the posters are on my own research, and the others on the group research, in which I am also heavily involved. Plus I am working on finishing up a paid annotation gig. You’d think this would make me too busy to agree to various school volunteer things, but I am a sucker, so I helped out at the book fair at the school today, and am also going on a field trip with Theo’s class next week. In any case, I have a lot of work to do tonight, so can’t spare the time to work on the post I’ve been hoping to write.

But I am happy to have this excuse to share these photos I took with my macro lens set up. (Seriously, I think I may milk a couple dozen posts out of the many photos I managed to take wandering around my mother-in-law’s house and garden while the kids played.)

Death and Taxes

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin, 1726

April 15th is known in the US as tax day, the day when tax returns for individuals are due. It is a date that leads to much crankiness and frustration.

The Boston Marathon is always held on the third Monday of April. Marathon Monday is traditionally festive occasion for the state of Massachusetts. Last year was a year when the two dates coincided: tax day and marathon day.


Flowers in Copley Square, from a late summer day several years ago.

With the anniversary the bombing of last year upon us, I find myself thinking back to that day, and the crazy week that followed. I wasn’t in Boston, but my close ties to the city, updates from my school, my colleagues, and my friends, kept me feeling tethered.

I was out with the kids that Marathon Monday, it being a state holiday and the first day of school vacation. Phoebe was recovering from a stomach bug, so we didn’t go far from home. We were parked at the music school before Phoebe’s and my violin lesson when I got text alerts from BU with notification of the explosions, and warnings to stay away from Copley. I couldn’t really process the news, and didn’t want to worry the kids. As the afternoon and evening wore on, I found more detailed reports of deaths and injuries. Like so many, I worried about the safety of my friends, and realized that my friends and family would worry about the safety of me and my family. It was very unsettling to learn that one of the dead was a BU grad student. (I, too, am a BU grad student.) I found myself wondering about the other BU grad students I know. Were they safe? The news that one of the people killed was a little kid left me feeling shattered. Even though I was many miles away, and my family and I were safe, it all just felt so horribly close and personal.


The view from Storrow Drive at dusk, from 2010.

That week, I remember reflecting on my fondness for the city, and spent probably too much time hunting for photos I’d taken there. (Naturally, I have hundreds of photos of Boston, if not thousands.) I am not a Boston native, but I have lived outside Boston for over 18 years. I spend a lot of time in the city. It feels like home.

Today I got caught up in memories, reading stories and articles of the many lives that were so deeply affected by the bombings. I was distracted and contemplative, and managed to get a time mixed up for something I’d committed to, which made me very cranky and off-kilter.

The day ended up rainy and stormy, which actually quite fit my melancholy mood. And probably also the cranky moods of so many faced with the frustrations of tax day.


Under my umbrella this afternoon, waiting to get the kids off the school bus.

Bidding Winter goodbye

Tomorrow is the official first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, in the particular part of the Northern Hemisphere where I live, Winter seems not to have gotten that message.

I’ve gone into Boston for meetings the last couple of days, and the snow is all but gone there. Roofs, roads, and ground are free of snow and ice, save for the occasional fist-sized stubborn lump of ice remaining from what once have been a mighty mound.

Not so in my neck of the woods. Here is my front yard:

This is the mound of snow and ice resulting from shoveling out the top of the driveway. This was this morning. It was 20 degrees out.

It’s true that I have really enjoyed looking at and taking pictures of many of the ice and snow formations.

I have many, many photos of ice and snow. Icicles, frost, falling snow. Snow flakes, snow men, snow caves. Sparkling ice in the morning sun. Smooth frozen puddles with embedded bubbles and cracks. Fluffy untrampled snow, and interesting patterns of tracks in the snow. Quite honestly, I am about ready to move on to another subject matter.

Soon, I hope to fill up my phone with images of green shoots and early blooms. Unfortunately , this is where our first crocuses tend to emerge:

There are many things that I like about Winter. One of them is that it eventually ends and gives way to Spring. So, here’s wishing a fond farewell to Winter. (And here’s hoping that Winter gets the message and departs. Before I have to file a restraining order against it.)

access denied

I’m feeling rather obstructed in my progress these days. Here are 4 photos of gates and doors that I couldn’t get through.


September, 2009. Sevilla, Spain.


August, 2011. Macau.


March, 2012. New York, NY.


August, 2012. Massachusetts.

Clearly, I am able to attach significance to these bits of metal (unlike those of 2 days ago). Also, I do seem to get around, even when I’m not getting through…

The Form of Shame

Two years ago, in a mad rush of research-fueled productivity, I submitted a paper to a major conference in my field. It was a big accomplishment for me, as while I had co-authored a variety of papers on group research projects, this was the first such paper that really felt like my own. The web form by which I submitted the paper asked the usual information about my name, address and institutional affiliation that you might expect. It also asked a little question, “is the first author of the paper a student,” along with an explanation that student first authors would be eligible to be considered for a “best student paper award.” It had the additional caveat that students needed to be “full time students.” In my grad program, as in many others, we typically register as part-time students, but we can additionally be certified as full-time if we meet certain criteria, based on work load. While I was no longer taking classes, I was considered full-time by the university for my funding as a research assistant. So in submitting my paper, I checked the little box saying I was a student. I thought to myself that I should remember to officially change my status to “full time” when registering for the following semester. Then, as you might imagine, I promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to the following Spring semester. I received notification that my paper had been accepted to the conference. Further, it had been accepted for a talk (rather than a poster), which is actually kind of a big deal for this particular conference, as they don’t have parallel sessions for talks. I had gotten really quite glowing reviews. I was thrilled. I felt validated! Successful! Like I was really making progress! Maybe I’d even win a prize!

And then I remembered the eligibility for the “best student paper” award. I was registered as part time. Crap.

I did some investigating and learned that it might still be possible to have my registration status changed, even though the semester had begun. I contacted some people and submitted the required “full-time certification” form.

And that was when I appeared to have awakened the dragon.

My late-arriving form got the attention of someone in the grad school office who apparently enjoys her job very much. She informed me that I had exceeded the time limit for my degree and would need to petition the graduate school in order to change my status, and in order to continue with my graduate studies. I had vaguely been aware of this process, but most friends I had from the program had not had to go through it, even though they had also exceeded the official time limits. They had somehow managed to fly under the radar. I, however, blithely skipped into the radar screen covered in flashing lights and a “kick me” sign stuck to my back.

And so it was that I first encountered The Form of Shame.¹ This innocuous-looking one-page document requires one to lay out each of the requirements of the degree, and list the dates for each of those that have been completed, and give agonizing detail and “expected completion dates” for those that aren’t done yet. When one’s progress through graduate school has been Slower Than Anticipated, such a form feels an awful lot like a big punch in the gut.

After spending a day or two in the fetal position, I pulled myself together and moved into action. I spent several days tying up loose ends for some requirements, and chasing down signatures. After various setbacks and more unanticipated hoops to jump through (including, at one point, being told by the same gleeful bureaucrat whose attentions I had first caught, that “the form had not yet been received at her office,” in spite of me having walked it there myself and handed it to the receptionist several days previously), I was eventually notified that my petition for a time extension had been granted until early 2014. After more setbacks and explosions of my head, I was finally informed that I was officially a full-time student. I received this news 2 days after I presented my talk in Shanghai. In all, the time from my first submitting the request to change of status to actually being granted this change was 2 full months. Over those months, there were dozens of emails sent, dozens of hours spent dealing with formalities, and immeasurable amounts of stress added to my efforts to actually do the work that would eventually lead to me getting the damn degree.

Fast forward to Friday, when I cheerfully dropped of my registration form for next semester at the graduate school office after spending a day running subjects on some new experiments. (You know, work that I’m supposed to be doing for my degree.) Feeling self-satisfied with both my research progress and having gotten some administrative hassles out of the way, I treated myself to a coffee from my favorite coffee shop before returning to my car for the long drive home. By the time I got back to my car, a quick peek at my phone revealed an email from someone whose name looked slightly familiar…

And so it begins again. As it turns out, the extension for time for my degree does not extend into next semester, and my registration cannot be processed until I once more submit the Form of Shame.

It gives me some degree of satisfaction to imagine the words of the email from this individual in the voice of Principal Snyder³. While I recognize that she is almost certainly “just doing her job,” I also can’t help but feel that she takes a certain pleasure in doing so.


¹ Not the official name of the form. The actual official form name is “Documentation to Justify Your Sorry Existence as A Delinquent Graduate Student.”²
² Maybe that’s not the name, either.
³ The principal from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who so relished the thought of keeping Buffy out of school:

Principal Snyder: I have not only the right, but also a nearly physical sensation of pleasure at the thought of keeping her out of school. I’d describe myself as tingly.

Image of stocks is a public domain image from wpclipart.com.