Tag Archives: crankiness

the cruellest month


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.

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.

bracing for the flood

Once, when I was 16, I broke a nail in gym class. The class was divided into small groups of 3 or 4, and we were doing basketball drills. The ball had made contact with one of my long, carefully painted nails and snapped the tip right off. (It seems so alien to me now, that I had invested time into the appearance of my hands, but what can I say? I was 16.) I shrugged off the broken nail and kept going. Another girl in my group of 3 had noticed me dealing with the broken nail and said, “I’d cry if I had nails like that and one broke.” I laughed. Then, before I even realized it, the tears started flowing. To all appearances, I was crying because I’d broken a nail.

The girl who’d made the comment looked embarrassed for me. I was glad that third person in my group was my closest friend, but she too looked baffled and embarrassed for me. I couldn’t explain why I was crying. I know I was lovesick for a boy who had no interest in me, and that was the explanation I gave. But really, my life had just gone through some major upheaval. It was nothing too dire. My mother had recently remarried, and had moved to France to live with her new husband. I had opted to stay in California, and finish my junior year, before joining her in France. I moved into my best friend’s house to stay with her and her family for 2 months. My sister, who was 19, moved into an apartment of her own. While much that was going on was happy, it was a stressful time full of transitions. I hadn’t even realized that I’d had tension building up until I broke a nail.

The trouble with being strong through a stressful time is that my emotions don’t actually go away. I bottle them up until I have time to deal with them. That broken nail in high school was just one such instance. I have had other equally messy and embarrassing episodes, always a few weeks after some major stress.

The past month has been a trying one. I have dealt with one crisis or ordeal after the other and kept going, because there was still more that needed to be done. I have packed my grief away and have carried around crankiness instead. Now, though, the crises are letting up. The pressure from outside is easing, and I sense that my internal pressure is still high. I can’t help feeling that the flood is coming, just waiting for the right catalyst.

I just hope I won’t make too much of a spectacle of myself.

leaves of three (friday foto finder: leaf)

Here is a photo of a rather pretty native plant that is very common in my heavily wooded neighborhood. These shiny leaves show up late spring, often starting out red, and then developing into a lush bright green.

This plant is entirely evil.

In case you don’t recognize it, it is poison ivy: Leaves of three, let it be.

You know what’s even more evil than these leaves of three? The plant when it has no leaves. The vines stretch out over the ground, climb trees and rocks, and grow into bushes. And in the winter and very early spring, the woody stems and vines look pretty much like all the other leafless stems and vines that grow in the woods. But the leafless vines apparently have plenty of urushiol.

This is a photo I took last May on a walk in my neighborhood. This year, the poison ivy leaves are barely starting to bud. Three weeks ago, there probably weren’t any leaves on the stems that Phoebe must have touched while playing outside. She may well have washed her hands well with soap and water before she touched her face and rubbed her eyes, but urushiol doesn’t come off the skin with just soap and water.¹ Even if you use plenty of soap and scrub really hard. It was almost 3 years ago to the day that I learned this fact the hard way. And I really, really wish that we didn’t have to be reminded of this the hard way at this point in our lives.

This week’s friday foto finder is leaf. In general, I love leaves, and have posted plenty of photos of pretty fall leaves. (After all, I do live in New England.) Perhaps my choice of this less friendly leafy subject is somewhat a reflection of my toxic mood. Let’s face it, this has been a really bad month.² One good thing about the month is that it is almost over. With May coming up, I hope to be able to start fresh and turn over a new leaf.

¹ You can use products specifically formulated to work on the oils, such as Tecnu, or liquid dish detergent.
² And by “really bad,” I have a large number of expletives in mind. You can fill in your favorites.

marginal progress

The temperatures got quite warm yesterday afternoon, thankfully, and much of the snow on our driveway melted. When I checked for the crocuses again today, they were bravely poking up through the snow.

Crocuses at 8:30 a.m. 3 spikes have poked out of the snow. (Actually, there are more spikes off camera.)

As for me, I confess that today I’m feeling snowed under (though it’s not the snow that’s doing it). I ran up against a wall with an experiment I’m designing (which is not actually about running up against walls), and then decided to switch gears and work on a different work project (which is not about gears, or switching them). Only to find that I’d managed not to save the file I’d worked on the last time I worked on the project. And another file for a different project to boot. (There were no boots.) I spent a fair amount of time hunting for the files, before determining that I had to retrace my steps. (Though there was no actual stepping). I spent a fair amount of time swearing at myself. (You can bet that there was actual swearing.)

It did not feel like a productive day.

On the bright side, the crocuses are making some progress.

Crocuses at 5:30 p.m., from a slightly different angle. You can see a 4th purple spike just emerging in the middle of the 3.


Tonight finds me cranky. There are a number of things contributing to my crankiness. A pinch of irritating interactions that struck a nerve, a dollop of research frustrations, and some generous quantities of life things have combined to make a recipe for a simmering stew of crankiness. I am the crockpot of crankiness.¹ I’ve spent much of the last few hours trying not to boil over.

We came home last night from my in-laws’, aiming to beat the Sunday end-of-holiday-weekend traffic. (We also had some projects we needed to take care of, including something Phoebe had to do for school for Monday). That all went well, but I was up too late, my sleep was further peppered by a nagging cough I’ve had for over a week.

Today, I spent a ridiculous number of hours trying to tame the gigantic pile of art supplies, craft kits, and kids’ art projects in various stages of completion that has taken over the breakfast nook² portion of our kitchen. This is not the first time I have spent hours trying to tackle this mess, a fact which is also seasoning today’s stew of crankiness. I actually took a break from this task to do some work. And now I have to get back to it. I will tame the beast, or go down trying.³

Here are some other odds and ends that surfaced on our visit to my in-laws’. Phoebe and I had a little sewing project, and we needed to dig out a needle. This image has nothing to do with anything that I just wrote about, but I was amused that this sewing tray contained both a tomato (in the form of a tomato-shaped pin cushion) and a basket, thus handily tying together two of my recent themes. (cf. basket, basket, tomato, tomato, tomato)

¹ The crankpot?
² Really, I don’t know what to call this area. It’s the part of the kitchen where we have our table, and where we eat meals, including, but not restricted to, breakfast.
³ Should I toss the beast into the stew?⁴
⁴ Wow, this is totally not the post I thought I was starting to write. In fact, I changed the title. And then even deleted my original first paragraph. I was going to write about various things I’ve said I’d do but haven’t yet done. Which is often a source of crankiness in itself. But I won’t go there tonight. Hopefully I will have simmered down by morning.⁵
⁵ Happily, few things cheer me up more than getting carried away with a metaphor.