Category Archives: Like a Ninja in a Skirt

She’s just like that

Ah, if only I had time to be doing this…

So I had grand designs to blog a lot…especially given we’re out of touch with all our friends. What better way to let everyone know what we’re doing than a blog, right? Well, those plans changed the second I set foot on campus and realized “holy shit, I’ve got a class to write in 4 days!” So that’s what I’ve been doing–my office isn’t even decorated yet! How sad is that?

Oh, I have an office! And a pretty little plaque with my name all engraved on it, and a class of 130 eager students (and a few not-so-eager ones, too). Did you know that all football players sit in the back? I learned that today. And if you have football players in your class at TAMU, you get to have long, involved conversations with the team coach, who tells you that it’s imperative the best players pass, and then you get to say “well, they’ll pass just fine if they study” and he assures you they will, but you know deep down you’ll be dealing with this man come midterm time. Ah, the excitement of teaching at a big football school! At least I’ll get to see some of my students on TV.

Anyhow, just a quick update for all of you: our new addess is:

806 Navidad Apt. A
Bryan, TX 77801

You know what’s weird? (Other than I live on a street that means Christmas…that’s awesome!) I’ve never lived in a place that didn’t have a zip code starting with 9. Stupid new state.

Ok, I promise I’ll keep in touch. Oh, and to Dave–ha ha! You’re evil plan to call me during my lecture didn’t work! I totally remembered to turn off my phone! Of course, I saw you call, and I told my class you were calling to try and embarrass me, and that they should all turn off their cell phones, but whatever. It still didn’t work!

Miss you all–hopefully we’ll post pictures soon. Our landlord is a god’s-honest redneck! He has like 3 teeth and a molar! His biggest advice when we first moved in was “don’t wear a cowboy hat and sneakers–girls will just laugh at you.” Ah, I kinda love him.

We should party. Totally!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

So next Wednesday, a big old truck is coming to take all of our stuff away. What’s a couple to do? Why, invite everyone we know over, of course!

So we’re having a going away party (of sorts…) on Thursday, January 3rd, anytime after 6. Bring your own everything, since all of our stuff will be on its way to Texas.

Come one, come all and help us celebrate our upcoming, long ass drive! Woo!

Need directions? Email us!

Adie and Dean

Well it’s official…

Last last night I got an email from the secretary at Texas A&M University. You see, I applied for a PhD position there (haven’t heard that? Read my blog!) a few months back, and I’ve been waiting for my official notice. After that application was turned in, my future advisor, Dr. Tomberlin, called and said that there was the possibility of a lecturer position. The forensic entomology teacher just retired, and he figured that since I was interested in forensics, I could apply. Hmm…the first forensic entomology PhD in the country AND a job teaching the class? Sign me up!

So, I applied. What a pain in the ass! I had to get my resume all ready again and everything. I hate that crap. Then I heard nothing. It was a nation-wide search for the new lecturer, you see, so that takes time. Anyhow, I get an email from the secretary in charge of interviews yesterday, saying I made the list of candidates (Yay! They liked my resume!) and they would like to set up a phone interview. “How’s tomorrow at 2 p.m.?” “My time or yours?” “Ours.” So today at noon I sat nervously watching my cell phone, waiting for it to ring. They were late. GAH!!

Well, they finally call, and I spend the next hour answering questions about my teaching ability (“What was your best and your worst lecture?” “I don’t have any bad lectures…I’m amazing!”), my visions for the class (“What would you change about the class?” “Um, I haven’t taught it yet, so nothing?”) how I structure classes (“How do you teach graduate students versus undergrads?” “I use really big and really small words”) and what would be expected of the course (apparently they want it huge! I love ’em huge…).

So there I am, pacing in my office, laptop open to my resume and cheat sheet (did you know there’s a site online listing the 64 interview questions you need to know the answers to? It’s like homework for an interview! You should totally go. and the department’s website (why, yes, I’m completely familiar with your department and its 38 members. I could recite them now, if you like!). I’ve made it through 3 bottles of water, and I really have to pee. My office mate is pretending to read email as he eves drops on my interview, and won’t stop making faces at me. Bastard!

The interview ends with the standard “so, do you have any questions for us?” Which I did, damnit! How many TAs do I get? Can I have just one more? Please? Pretty please? And then the head of the department says “Well, I’m looking around and taking a silent vote. I’m seeing all nodes and a unanimous thumbs up. We would like to officially offer you the position.” Me: “Gggg…Wha…?!? Um, why, I’d be happy to accept. Thank you!” Then my future advisor comes on the line and says my PhD application is in committee, but that’s just a formality since I’ve already be accepted by the graduate department, and he’s looking forward to working with me. “Thank you!”

So everybody, it’s official. Dean and I will be moving to College Station, Texas the first week of January. We should party! (TOTALLY!!!)

So you want to know about my surgery, eh?

…if not, then you probably shouldn’t read the next several paragraphs; that’s all I’m gonna talk about now. Woo!

At the moment I’m lying in bed enjoying my very first day of trying not to take massive amounts of narcotics. Those make me loopy! And tired. And a little giggly, but giggling makes my incisions hurt, so that’s a bad thing. Let me start from the beginning.

We’ve been trying to get pregnant (big surprise? I thought that’d be huge!). After years of nothing working and countless procedures, we’ve decided that it’d be in our best interest (not to mention my body’s ever-lovin’ gratefulness) to stop the nonsense and move on.

Well, we’re doing that. It’s been rough, but it’s fine now. However, my body seemed to have a slightly different idea of moving on. Apparently “moving on” in body-speak translates to “give her excruciating pain for months on end. It’ll be fun!” So that’s what it did. We’re talking bad pain here–so bad that it made my old cramps look like a stubbed toe. Starting around may I was spending several days wrapped around the toilet and powering my way through hard tasks such as eating cereal and walking to the car.

By August things had gotten worse–now it was lower abdominal pain pretty much all the time. There we were, out in Virginia, and I couldn’t even get out of bed. It was waking me up at night, I was over-dosing on Tylenol PM just so I could sleep, and for most of the day I couldn’t even stand up straight. You try attending a family party in that state. That was sucky.

Anyhow, it seems that the endometriosis I banished 2 years ago (via another surgery) has come back with a vengeance. I guess I just pissed it off last time. Who knew I could hurt its feelings?

I don’t like my old doctor. I was there a lot (A LOT!!) during the past few years, and it never worked, and he put me through a lot of pain, and we’ve spent the last 12 months desperately trying to pay off my medical bills (“What do you MEAN we owe you another $756?!? We called last month and you said that payment of over a thousand was the last one ever! You promised!” Imagine that for a full year) and I really, really, really didn’t want to go back. So much so, that I didn’t tell anyone how much pain I was in for a very long time. Dean didn’t even know. I remember sneaking out of bed at night very, very quietly and taking handfuls of pain killers so I could sleep. I also found that vicodin took the edge off enough that I could teach without racing out of the class to puke every few moments. Of course, trying to answer stupid questions while doped up was an adventure, and involved a lot of giggling on my part (good thing that’s nothing new, or my students would have noticed!)

Long story short, I didn’t want to go back to my doctor. I actually blame him for a lot of things, the least of which are the permanent track marks on my arms from blood tests. So I didn’t tell anyone because I knew the instant reaction of “go to the doctor” would follow.

Dean eventually figured it out (it’s really hard to puke-and-sob silently, damnit!) and insisted I go to the doctor. The predictable breakdown on my part followed, and then Dean was in charge of finding a new doctor and navigating the murky depths of our health insurance. We looked a two doctors (by “we” I mean “Dean got the names from the endometriosis support group, called the doctors, talked a bit, checked with the insurance company to see if they were covered, then dropped me an email with the name”) and one was covered by insurance. And also happens to be the head of the endometriosis society, the editor of the endometriosis journal, and the foremost expert in minimally invasive surgery in the United States. I choose him!

We go for an initial consultation (hey dildo-shaped ultra sound wand! How I’ve missed you!) and it goes something like this: “Take off your pants–we need to do a pelvic exam. Huh. You have endometriosis. I can feel an adhesion through your abdominal wall…sex must be painful, yes? Well, let’s do an ultra sound…ok, you have poly cystic ovaries. Yes, I know it hurts, just a moment…ah, your left ovary is adhered to the side of your uterus, and your uterus is abnormally tipped. Let’s go see the doctor!”

Ah, fun for me. So the doctor (well, the other doctor. The one that did the exam was a surgeon as well, just not the head surgeon for the center. Woo for having a pelvic exam by a real doctor! That’s new) was very soft spoken and nice–here’s his intro “I will never say I’m the best at what I do. But I challenge anyone who says he is he best and I will win. So I hear you wanted this surgery yesterday?” That won me over. And yes, I wanted the surgery as soon as possible.

So we schedule the surgery for four weeks hence: October 24th in the morning. Fun! That gives me four weeks to learn all about the possible side effects and have various people tell me all manner of interesting things about surgery (Quick aside–I teach human biology, people! If and when anyone with less education than me feels the need to explain the intricacies of the reproductive system to me, I’m just going to ignore it. You’re invariably wrong, and I’m invariably annoyed. Yes, I know you’re just trying to help, but you have to remember I do know what I’m talking about, and when you say things like “well, you do have two ovaries you know!” I have to fight the urge to scream ‘Do you think I’m stupid?!? Do you want to explain what all those other fancy words mean too? I just don’t know!’ But then that would cause a scene and I’d have to end up apologizing and whatnot, and I just don’t care for that course of action. There. I’m better now).

So pre-op arrives, and I cancel office hours to go, which confuses my students to no end at all. Who knew someone wanted to see me in office hours? Weird! Dean and I go, and we get to sign all manner of fun paperwork. Do I have advanced directives? Yes. I want to live, damnit! Do I have a will? No. Who is my next of kin? Dean. Am I scared? Yes. That last one wasn’t actually on the paperwork, but my quivering innards seemed to give me away.

Well, then we get a stack of prescription papers, the paper with all the stuff they’ll be doing to me the next day (they have to do everything! And it all ends in “oscopy!”) and a list of fun things for me to do the next day.

And let me tell you about the next day. So I’m not allowed to eat after 12 noon, which means no workout. After noon, I can have clear liquids (and Jell-o) and then three o’clock rolls around. At three o’clock I have to begin my colon cleanse, because they need to check all of my innards, you see. All of them.

Anyone had to do a colon cleanse? Well, “suck” is a mild word. So they give you these two, 1.5 oz bottles of saline with other stuff to drink. You have to drink the whole thing–yum. Who in their right mind decided to make a super salty drink lemon-ginger flavor?!? Oh…my…god was it awful. It actually took me 45 minutes to drink the full ounce and a half. Gahhhhh! It was super gross. Now, when the nurse talked to me about the colon prep, she said that it would take about an hour to kick in, then I better be near a toilet. Ooooooohhhhh, was she right! Have you heard of that stuff called “colon blow?” Yep–that’s exactly what happened. For hours. It was horrible. Then I had to take another dose! Oh dear lord! When will this stop?!? By the end of the night I was ready to knock myself out just to get off the damn toilet. FYI–don’t try and go to a movie during a colon prep…worst two hours of all time. And I couldn’t have popcorn!

So we show up at Stanford (yay Stanford) at 5 am the next morning for the surgery. After a long talk with the insurance guy (well, one surgeon is covered but not the other. Don’t worry…we won’t charge you more than $2000.) I get to go into the cold back room, take off my clothes and talk to the nice nurses about what’s going to happen to me. “So, did you have a good response to the colon prep?” HA! Hahahahahah! Ah, the jokes of doctor-types. The last thing I remember is being wheeled into the OR with crazy-making stuff in my blood stream making me laugh.

I wake up apparently 3 1/2 hours later in recovery (I was there for over 2 hours…I remember maybe 40 seconds of it) with a sand bag on my belly. Sand bag! All I could croak out was “what’s on my stomach?” and then “get it off!” For hours. Stupid sand bag. Well, hours of in and out of consciousness later, I get to stay in the hospital over night. That’s where they keep the good drugs. Who knew morphine burned when they put it in the iv? Mmm…burning drugs…. Of course, they had to wake me up every 90 minutes to pee and walk around. Stupid nurses who give me good drugs!

Well, it ends up they did a laperoscopy and removed the extensive endometriosis. They also looked inside and out of my large and small intestines, my stomach, my diaphragm, and my appendix. I got to keep my appendix. Yay! (Did you know they discovered the purpose of the appendix? How awesome is that! And I still have one! Woo!) Then they looked inside of my bladder and discovered I have interstitial cystitis or over active bladder. Ok, I knew I had to pee a lot, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Nope, it wasn’t. They also did a bunch of other cuts and whatnot, but I forget what all they did. I do know it hurt.

So I had to pee after having a camera shoved up my urethra. That burns!! Burns I say! And it also hurts and stuff. Stupid having to pee! Here’s my advice–unless it hurts all the time, don’t tell any doctor ever that you have to pee a lot. They’ll just do horrible things to you that make you pee dye and bleed out of weird places. Don’t do it!

Dean came and got me early the next morning, after my 2 mandatory bowls of vegetable broth, and I got a complimentary ride in a wheelchair to the car. It was bumpy and ouchy! Then I came home and slept. And peed. Then cried a little. Then got all doped up on pills, then did it all again. Now it’s almost a week later, and I’m just about ready to sit up all on my own. I’m (mostly) off narcotics now–I can almost handle the pain all on my own. Yay me!

That’s it for now…this blog took me like 6 hours to write while I tried to sleep or take my meds or something. There you go! I’m fine, although a bit ouchy now, and I’d love to see people if you wanna come and visit. Thank you for all your notes and stuff! Love you all!

So I was in Canada this week….

Alright, I haven’t blogged in a while, and there’s a whole freakin’ mess of crap that happened in the last few months (I’ve crossed off like nine things on my life list! Who does that?!?) I’ve been kinda composing a really emotional essay in my head about the trials and tribulations of being me, but I’ve decided instead to give you some basic bullet points, because I want to spend the bulk of this space telling you about the past week. Ok, here’s what I’ve been up to since my last post (if you haven’t done so, you might want to go back and read my other blogs for an idea of what I’m talking about. There’ll be a short quiz later…):

1) I’m now an EM-T. I spent this last semester sitting a big old long class, and talking bunches of tests and practical exams, and now I can save you if you’re dying. Well, technically I can give you oxygen and transport you to the hospital, but I can also give you cpr and talk intelligently about medical thingies. Yay me! So if you’re dying, call. I’ll tell you when you need to call 911.

2) I taught a record number of students in Bio 21 this spring. A total of 394 kids were enrolled in the class, which is the largest its ever been in the history of class. I’m pretty sure it’s just because I don’t have the balls to tell a student “no,” but whatever the reason, there were bunches of them, all the time, talking to me.

3) I’m infertile. Yep, it’s official. Dean and I cannot have children. We tried what we could, but for whatever reason biology failed us and we will never be able to have a baby together. Yes, I am upset about this. No, I don’t think I’ll be ok for a long, long while. Yes, I know we’ll make great parents. No, we don’t know if we want to adopt.
There’s a weird grieving process that I’m currently going through to deal with this, and it is certainly not easy, so don’t take it personally if I have to disappear for awhile. I have to do things to protect myself. Get me in a melancholy mood sometime and I’ll tell you things that’ll make you cry for days…maybe I’ll write about it sometime; maybe I won’t. I haven’t quite decided yet. Oh, and if you ever, ever want a very strong opinion on how to treat (or not treat) and infertile woman, just ask me. I have a very, very sharp tongue on this issue. Ask, I dare you!

4) Dean and I are in therapy to deal with the whole “we’re as barren the driest desert” issue mentioned in 2. It’s helped a lot–I no longer wish the death of fertile females; That dead place inside of me where I’ve been storing the worst experiences of the past four years has shrunk to the size of a tennis ball. Score! We also get the distinct pleasure of deciding if we actually want to have children or not, because in our particular case we have to go and find a child if we want one. Don’t worry, we’re dealing with it.

5) I actually finished my masters. All done! The thesis was signed on time, stats were finished, I defended in a jam-packed hour of forensic wonder, and I just got the official email saying my diploma is on its way home. I’m officially Adrienne Brundage MS! How rockin’ is that? I know!

6) I’m teaching again in fall, but since I have my masters, I get paid more and work less. What the hell?!? This fall is going to rule.

Well, there you go. The last three months in a nutshell. If you haven’t heard from/seen/talked to/gotten wind of/known about me, don’t worry. That’s just because I went through one of the most stressful semesters of my life (Fall ’06 and Spring ’07 will go down in the record books of my life I think. I’m already saying things like “this is bad, but its no Fall-oh-six.” I expect to be saying this when I’m 100) and somehow came out alive and kicking on the other side. A true miracle!

But this wasn’t the reason for my post. This past week I went Vancouver, Canada for the 6th annual meeting of the North American Forensic Entomological Association. It was held at Simon Fraser University, the home of one of our international members, Gail Andersen. Gail has just opened an admirable new forensic facility specializing in entomology. It was so pretty! I stayed in the prison block (actually, it was the dorms they rented for $50 per night. They were prison rooms) with no air conditioning and the world’s hardest bed. At least it had a tiny fridge. No phone, but a fridge. That was good, since it was incredibly hot for the area (98 degrees) and in order to sleep I had to drench my pjs in the shower down the hall and put them in the mini fridge for 20 minutes before I went to sleep. It was wet.

Anyhow, these meetings are fun. All the big names in forensic entomology are there (just read any article or interview with a forensic entomologist, and I’ve totally met that guy! We hang out) and it’s a really fun group. This year, the organizer set up a workshop and invited the author of the newest calliphorid key to come and teach us how to use it. That’s kind of like having Einstein teach you physics or Beethoven teach you piano. It was awesome. I went to this workshop, and one of the entomologists I met last year came up to talk to me. His name is Dr. Jeff Tomberlin, and he is a professor out of Texas A&M University. In the last year, he’s had well over 20 publications, has worked 30 or so crime scenes, and is known as the midwestern authority on forensic entomology. Oh, and he drinks like a fish. So he walks up to me and gives me a hug. Then we had a conversation that went something like this:

Jeff: Hey Adie! I was hoping you’d be here!
Me: I wouldn’t miss it!
Jeff: So, how have things been going?
Me: Well, I finally finished my thesis! How awesome is that?
Jeff: Great! Want a spot in my lab?
Me: Um, what?
Jeff: Oh, I just opened a dedicated forensic entomology lab and I’m looking for doctoral candidates. We’ll talk about it later.
Me: Um…what? (then the workshop started so we had to stop talking)

I’m pretty sure one of the top forensic entomologists in the country just offered me a doctoral position. Huh.

On Thursday the group took a tour bus around the city, and Dr. Tomberlin sat next to me. Here’s the conversation:

Jeff: So, have you thought about my offer?
Me: Um….
Jeff: Ok, here’s what I’ve got: I just moved into a new forensic entomology lab at the university, and the administration wants me to focus chiefly on forensics. I set aside the first doctoral candidate spot for you, if you want it. It’s a three year program, after which you’d be able to roll your research into a post-doc program. I can’t afford to pay for you after three years, so we’d have to make sure you get your doctorate in three years. I’ll pay for your tuition for those three years, and since you’d be a doctoral candidate, you’re eligible for a $20,000 stipend each year. You’ll have to take 15 units a semester for their first two years, then sit for your exams, and the final year will be focused on your research. While you’re working on your project, we’ll give you the opportunity to collaborate on other papers. You should end up with about 8 publications by the end of your program, although there may be more. Since you have experience with case work, I’ll let you take over some of my cases so you can get more case work under your belt. I also insist that you get experience writing for grants and fellowships, and I’ll do what I can to bolster your resume. I think you’d fit right into the lab. Well, talk to your husband and let me know. I’ll fly you guys out this fall so you can look at the lab. If you don’t want to move to Texas, I’ll help you find a school in your area that meets your needs. Send me a resume! Hey, want to get a beer?
Me: Um…

So, there it is. One of the best forensic entomologists in the country opened a forensic entomology research lab, and set aside the first doctoral position for yours truly. I’ll get a full ride to Texas A&M University, and I’ll graduate with the first ever doctorate in Forensic Entomology. I’m pretty much floating. What do you think? Should I accept?

Bio Blog (or “Watch me study for the GRE”)

Well, in a few day’s I’m going to be writing a long and involved message to you all about everything that has happened in regards to my thesis this semester. But until then, my next project is hardcore studying for the GRE subject test so I can someday get into another hell of a graduate school. Anyhow, I’ve learned through years of hard study and teaching that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Therefore I started new blog I’m hoping will help people who are trying to study for the GRE subject test, and I wanted you all to know about it. Hey, maybe you can take the test with me! Or just read about biology–it is one of the best subjects every, after all!

New Year’s resolutions and stuff

So years ago I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions. I figured that waiting until the new year to come up with grandiose ideas about changing your life where were doomed to fail was a rather stupid way to live. However, I did decide it was a good idea to have life goals, and each new year I go over the list I complied and add new ones. I especially like seeing how what I want to do changes over the years. I don’t take things off my list, though–that seems like cheating. So, in the spirit of the new year, I have decided to list my life goals here…because there’s nothing more motiviating than telling a bunch of people what you’re planning to do; then you actually have to do it. I thought about adding “don’t procrastinate” to my goal list, but then here it is, 18 days into the new year, and I’m only just getting around to doing my new year’s traddition. Who am I kidding?

Adrienne’s Life Goals (List started December, 1996 and updated each year since then)

1. Rollerblade in every major city in the world
2. Win a Nobel Prize
3. Study insects in the Australian Canopy (I used to get a magazine as a kid that advertised scientist-led trips in the back. One was a trip to the Australian Rainforest where you’d get to help survey the insects. They said you’d probably find several new species. I have to get there).
4. Become fluent in Spanish
5. Be written about in some major tabloid
6. Make a major discovery in cancer research
7. Breed some sort of animal (I finished this one in 1998–I bred crane flies, beetles, crickets, and whatever else my boss brought in for a year)
8. Get married and raise a family (Part one–done 9/3/00! Part two–um, read my other blogs)
9. Get a PhD in Entomology
10. Make a major entomological discovery (I’m really not sure what counts as “major.” I guess I’ll figure that out as I go along)
11. Become a college professor
12. Ear $20,000 a year with my harp (selling it doesn’t count)
13. Read the entire works of Shakespere (did I mention I’m really into Shakespere?)
14. Learn to ride a bike well (I’ve decided the tandem doesn’t count)
15. Study insects in Madagascar (the first day of my highschool freshman geography class the teacher gave us the coordinates for Madagascar. I’ve wanted to go ever since)
16. Visit Kangaroo Island
17. Become the president of something major
18. Be able to give my Alma Mater something big, and have something on campus named after me
19. Rollerblade 10 miles (so, I didn’t have a bike as a kid. I taught myself to rollerblade instead. Don’t do it so much anymore, but for awhile there it was my only means of transportation)
20. Become fluent in sign language
21. Take a major biking or blading trip
22. Become very physically fit
23. Graduate from any higher education institiution with a 3.0 or higher (I only got a 2.5 in undergraduate school…but I did have a 3.2 in my major courses. That counts, right?)
24. Work at the Smithsonian
25. Lear how to spell “Smithsonian” (Done! 1996. Have I mentioned I’m dyslexic? Oh, man, in 5th grade we had spelling tests every week, and my teacher made anyone who failed go to detention after school on Fridays and copy the dictionary. I got through “C” by the end of the year. She was nice enough not to make me go right before Christmas break and the last week of school. After my year she stopped using that as a punishment for bad spelling. I am a liberator of 5th graders!)
26. Live to be 100 (This one will take me awhile)
27. Own a motorcycle (Done! 1999. It got stolen, but who’s counting?)
28. Fall in love (Done! Valentine’s Day, 1997. Can you guess who?)
29. Write a book
30. Visit Canada (Done! 2005. Our anniversary. We took a ferry from Washington)
31. Take a cruise
32. Become the best in Entomology
33. Be rich enought to buy my parents a cabin or car (Part of this list was written when I was a starving student. I mean, really starving…like ducking the landlord, saving up for Taco Bell starving. I lived on popcorn and oatmeal for most of a year. I was super thin)
34. Own a home in Australia
35.Travel the world
36. Own a large house with my husband (I also wrote a good portion of this list right when I met Dean, so “husband” and “love” are mentioned a bunch)
37. Have a large wedding (Done!)
38. Tour Iceland
39. Visit Greenland (Notice I don’t want to tour Greenland)
40. Know a song on the harp by every major composer (As soon as I define what a “major” composer is, I’ll get started on this one)
41. Meet someone famous (so, who’s gonna be famous so I can check this off?)
42. Begin an Art, science and cultural center
43. Weigh 120-135 as long as it’s healthy
44. Create a cross stitch tapestry
45. Learn to draw (Done! Spring 2000. I’m no Ivan, but it’s good enough for government work)
46. Learn to tango (Done! Summer 2000. I hated it)
47. Get a degree in something totally unrelated
48. Own a company
49. Maintain a very large garden
50. Arrange a musical festival
51. Go on an African safari
52. Be someone’s inspiration
53. Stay in the best hotels inthe world
54. Backpack accross America
55. Sponser a Shakespere festival
56. Throw at least 1 major formal party
57. Tour England
58. Visit every major mesuem in the world
59. Love wine (Done! I have no idea when this happened exactly….)
60. Become adept at herbal studies
61. Study at least 3 religions other than Methodist (Done! Mormanism, Judism and Jehovah’s Witness. I ended up with a boyfriend in each religion, which really made the study easy. Mormans wear sacred underwear. Don’t tell them you know!)
62. Watch or be in every Shakespere play
63. Organize 5 missions (So I grew up in a Methodist church, and Methodists are really into volunteering. All through highschool I went on youth missions organized by the church–I’ve been to Mexico 12 or 13 times to work on churches and houses, I went to Yuma, Arizona several times and worked on the Indian reservation there, and I helped organize a huge mission to Alaska, but I couldn’t go. This is something I miss about not going to church anymore. My old church is going to Mississippi this spring to rebuild houses destroyed in hurricane Katrina. I wish I could go)
64. Study scarab beetles (they’re shiny!)
65. Visit Egypt
66. Never have to worry about money (once again, I was a starving student at this point….)
67. Become adept at rockclimbing
68. Visit every state in the union (I’m working on it!)
69. Visit Easter Island
70. Perform in a large theater (Done! Christmas 1997 and 1998. I was part of a Christmas show playing in LA. I played the harp–3500 seats in that theater)
71. Visit Morocco (Ah…here comes my travel list….)
72. Visit Sri Lanka
73. Visit the Philippines (Earl? When we going?)
74. Visit Norway
75. Study cancer (When I add to my list each year, I sometimes don’t go back and review everything first, so there are a few duplicates. Apparently I really want to do these things)
76. Visit France
77. Visit the Eifel Tower (just in case I was gonna miss it while in France….)
78. Visit the Statue of Liberty again (I saw it when my class went there in Jr. High, but I was a bit boy crazy and didn’t really care about the big green woman)
79. Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa
80. Stay in a small Russian town
81. Go to a health spa (Done! I now do this as regularly as possible)
82. Win a major contest
83. Become a photographer (I don’t think I have much of an eye, but I can try)
84. Visit Dublin
85. Become monitarily comfortable (still hungary!)
86. Own a store
87. Learn to fence (Done! 2004. Hated it!)
88. Learn a martial arts (Done! 2004, blackbelt in kenjo ki karate–better known as kickboxing)
89. Visit a homeless family
90. Learn massage
91. Write a major research paper (if only I can get the damn stats done, I can cross this one off!)
92. Work in a vinyard (Done! Spring 1997, Cal Poly SLO. 1 year. It was fun)
93. Witness a controlled burn (Done! Summer 1998. We had to do several controlled burns in the orchard that summer)
94. Save an insect species
95. Discover an insect species (I like me some insect species)
96. Biologically solve a pest problem (I haven’t decided if I want to do this on a grand scale or not…if not, then done! I’ll leave it unmarked for now, though)
97. Read Moby Dick, A Tale ofTwo Cities, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Hans Christian Andersen series, The Metamorphasis, The Fountainhead, It, The Lord of the Rings, and a book by Chaucer. (Some of these are done. The hardest so far is The Lord of the Rings. How do people get through this?!?)
98. Fall asleep in a hammock overlooking a beautiful beach and sea under a full moon (Aw! Aren’t I romantic?)
99. Learn to horseback (Done! Did you know that Dean’s grandfather raises horses?)
100. Take a trip to the bnottom of the Grand Canyon
101. Be interviewed by the press (Done! 2005 FFAS conference. CNN interviewed me about entomology)
102. Go to England to see the Shakespere Festival
103. Help to solve a crime (Done! I’m a forensic entomologist!)
104. Learn to belly dance (I keep meaning to do this one. Someone help!)
105. Discover the purpose of an insect and use those facts to save it from extinction
106. Write out the entire rocky scrip, block it and use it to get a show started (This is half done–I have the script.)
107. Plan an orchard
108. Read the Bible (This may end up harder than finishing Lord of the Rings)
109. Read the Book of Morman (And this will be harder than the Bible)
110. Read the entire works of Edgar Allen Poe
111. Build my own harp (You can get kits for not that much and build your own lap harp. Want!)
112. Visit all the National Parks
113. Live in France
114. Deasgn and build a custm lab for my work (Oh the plans that I have….)
115. Have a maid or cleaning service (I don’t do windows! Or any other cleaning, for that matter)
116. Visit all the amusement parks in the U.S.
117. Design a set (Done! Fall 1997. I designed the sets for a performance of Hamlet)
118. Be a main part in a show
119. Picnic on top of a mountain (Hey Dean, wouldn’t this be a great date? Hint!)
120. Ride the trolly in San Francisco (Done! Summer 1998)
121. Try Sushi (Done! And I never looked back)
122. See 100 Rocky Horro Picture Shows (I’m at 30)
123. Plan a very romantic tript o somewhere and take it with someone I love (Done! We went to Costa Rica for our honeymoon)
124. Help someone in need (I don’t think I’ll ever mark this one off, no matter how many times I do it)
125. Buy my own car (We’ve been give our last several, so I haven’t really had the chance yet. Not that I’m complaining…we’ll happily take anyone’s car off their hands! It’s what we do!)
126. Visit Alaska
127. Be loved by someone I’m not related to (Done!)
128. Don’t die lonley
129. Retire
130. Fall asleep in someones arms (Done!)
131. Have my own CD
132. Pass Music Theory 1 (Done! I got a B! Stupid class)
133. Figure out how to raise Jerseulem Crickets (Done! Those bastards are a pain in the ass to raise. And they bite super hard!)
134. Finance my education
135. Create a large folder of research on raising insects
136. Have something published
138. Turn my car into a work of art (Done! You should have seen it….)
139. Gen an A in Beekeeping (Done! Easiest A ever. I like bees)
140. Manage my own beehive
141. Have a webpage (Done! Ah, remember the early days of the web when webpages were novel and only geeks had them?)
142. Get into gradschool (Done! For years and years!)
143. Learn to se
144. Finish the Chaos book (It’s a book about Chaos theory. I really only started reading it because I was dating this super cute math major who told me it was good. It’s sitting on the shelf with a 10 year old bookmark in it. I’ll get back to it eventually. I’ll probably have to start from the beginning, though. That’s gonna suck)
145. Create at least one of my clothing designs (So I took this design class for my minor–I had to design clothes. I based all of them on insects)
146. Get an award from a scientific association
147. Get certified in some aspect of entomology
148. Present an original paper at a scientific meeting (I may do this in the summer–here’s hoping!)
149. Get my masters (Yes! Please!)
150. Save 1 million dollars
151. Buy a house
152. Visit every state in the nation (See what I mean about duplicates?)
153. Start a consulting business
154. Read every book in the library
155. Visit every country in the world
156. Learn to ride a motorcycle
157. Climb a mountain
158. Start a journal (Done! Just this year! Well, last year, actually)
159. Volunteer somewhere
160. Write a book (I must really want to write that damn book!)
161. Be on tv
163. Create an intricate treasure hunt
164. See a musical on Broadway
165. Be self employed with an actual income
166. Own a cabin
167. Plant 100 trees
168. Read 1000 books
169. See an iceberg
170. Get rid of that dead place inside of me (This is a whole different blog that’s coming soon. It’s going to be hard to write, though)
171. Ride a snowmobile
172. Take a speedreading course (I gotta get through a lot of books, you see….)
173. Learn to surf
174. Walk across a swingy suspension bridge
175. Arrange a harp song
176. Learn latin
177. Visit Walden pond (Then talk about it all snooty like)
178. Create a hedge maze (How cool is my house gonna be?!?)
179. Be a groomsman (You see, I’ve been every part of a wedding–Bride, bridesmaid, acolyte, harpist, flower girl, officiant, guest on the bride’s side, guest on the groom’s side, but I’ve never been a groomsman. That would complete my takeover of all things wedding!)
180. Have a grand library (With a fireplace and leather chairs and a secret door)
181. have a cabin on a lake
182. Take a gondola ride (Hey! Another great date idea!)
183. Hold a hawk
184. Rehabilitate a wild animal
185. Fire a sniper rifle
186. Fire an automatic weapon
187. Fly first class across the ocean
188. Go hot air ballooning
189. Stay on a houseboat
190. Go hang gliding (But not by myself–with a trained professional so I won’t die. I want to live to be 100, remember?)
191. Do that thing with the parachute haingin off a boat (Doesn’t that sound like fun!?!)
192. visit the Bermuda Triangle (And not get lost)
193. Put $500 a month in my IRA (See…I’m well on my way to saving 1 million!)
194. Go see the Ice Hotel (I love the Discovery Channel)
195. See Grand Central Station
196. Drive across America, coast to coast
197. Climb the highest mountain in California
198. Renovate a house
199. Cross the Panama Canal
200. Finish the world’s largest crossword puzzle (It’s huge! And hanging in our hallway!)
201. Go a month without TV (I’m really not sure why…it just sounds like a good idea)
202. Buy some aboriginal art in Australia (I blame Chris and Yanira for this–stupid HDTV showing Australia and stuff!)
203. Be married for 60 years (at least!)
204. Make a quilt
205. Go white water rafting
206. Own a sports car (A green RX-7)
207. Buy a house in Costa Rica (Love it there!)
208. Bike 1000 miles in a year
209. Create the perfect, craveable Thanksgiving dinner
210. Ride the orient express
211. Stay in a haunted hotel
212. Be under 30% body fat
213. Be nominated for a teaching award (Being nominated is honor enough…how humble am I?!?)
214. Visit the poles (The South and North poles you dirty minded people!)
215. Go sailing
216. Go on an Alaskan cruise
217. Attend a movie premiere
218. Spend over 2 weeks at a nice hotel just enjoying the grounds (I got this idea from reading The Shining. Maybe that’s where I got the haunted hotel idea, too)
219. Attend the Rockettes Christmas Show (I hear this is great!)
220. Celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexicao
221. Adopt a toddler or baby (Preferably a toddler. If I can’t have the baby, screw changing diapers!)
222. Visit the Louvere (I wonder if that’s even close to how it’s spelled)
223. Kiss Dean in Paris
224. Do a food tour of the USA: Pizza in Chicago, Blue Crabs in Maryland, Cheese Steak in Philly, and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t come up with yet
225. Learn how to write my name in Japanese
226. Celebrate Christmas in New York and London
227. Air Boat the Everglades
228. Pay off my student loans ($34,000 and counting….)
229. Become known for great Thanksgivings
230. Have an art show (Maggot art, baby!)
231. Live in the mountains
232. Take a trip in a motor home
233. See the great barrier reef (But there’s no need to scuba dive…I’m morally against going anywhere I have to take my own oxygen. We need it to survive, people!)
234. Create a secret garden (I love that book! And play! And movie!)
235. Drink mint julep in the French Quarter (I want to go to New Orleans this year for our anniversary, so this might just happen!)
236. Enter a cooking contest
237. Have a pool
238. Put all my photos/momentos in scrapbooks (You know, this may never happen. Ah well)
239. See all the movies on AFI’s top 100 list
240. Visit Alcatraz
241. Try real absinthe (I blame Melissa for putting this in my head)
242. volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank
243. Look good in a 2 piece
244. Have $100,000 in my IRA
245. Paint a really big painting
246. Get certified with a handgun
247. Ride all the rollercoasters in the US

Well, that’s it for now. There seems to be a few that I should be able to get done this year…I wonder if I will. Happy New Year!

It’s not finished, but it’s over

Well, it’s over. One week ago tomorrow my thesis was due. Did I make it? No. Was it anything having to do with me? No again. Let me tell you what has been going on:

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been massively, massively stressed since around June, when I realized that I needed to finish my thesis and graduate in December or I would lose a class. You see, San Jose State has a 7 year limit on classes–once a class is over 7 years old, you can no longer be used towards graduation units. I started SJSU in fall of 1999. You do the math. Anyhow, in order to graduate and keep this from happening, I needed to finish my thesis. For some beautiful insight on my state of mind these past few months, read my last blog. I’ve never been more stressed or more on edge that I was these last six weeks or so. So much so, that for the next several years at least I’ll be able to deal with any and all stressful situations by sighing and saying “Well, it’s bad, but it’s no Fall ’06.” That’s bad.

Now, some background. I started SJSU in Fall 1999 after meeting with my advisor (Dr. Jeff Honda–if you’ve read my previous blog, or if you know me even a little, then you’ve heard some version of my rant about Jeff. In short: he sucks). I felt very lucky–I was interested in forensic entomology, Jeff had just finished up a murder case and was all jazzed about forensic entomology, and he wanted graduate students who were self starters. Excellent! I’m not fond of being told what to do (once again, anyone who knows me, or who has had to deal with me after a particularly bad day knows this. Try it some time…I dare you) so this was going to be a perfect fit. Besides, I was finally going to be studying entomology exclusively! Yay! Jeff told me to take the first semester and get my bearings…take some classes, learn the ropes, that sort of thing, and then he and I would start working on my project. Neat! So I did. That first semester was a bit rough. I didn’t exactly have the best study skills (I’m a graduate student! I know this shit!) and while I did great in my larval taxonomy class, I completely failed microbiology. Failed failed failed! It was ugly. However, it got me in gear and while I was on probation for the next semester, which meant I couldn’t teach which was surprisingly upsetting, I got my ass in gear and figured shit out. Besides, now I can tell my microbiology students that I failed that class, and I know how they can pass. They never believe me, but it’s still nice.

Anyhow, I continue on in my credits and sit down with Jeff to figure out my project. It eventually gets going: a survey of forensically important flies in Santa Clara County. It was a neat concept–no one knew what fly species were common here, and since forensic entomology is gaining acceptance a survey would be a great thing. So I take the next most of the year figuring out how to get this field work going. Field work is unpredictable and hard–especially if you have to choose between going home and watching TV or hanging countless traps full of rotten liver water on steep mountain trails. So I procrastinated a bit, then got motivated, then procrastinated, then ran a variety of pilot studies, then procrastinated, then got my data. This whole time, Jeff vacillated between being annoyed that I wasn’t consulting him more and being annoyed that I was bothering him with stupid (his word, not mine) questions about silly things like project design and trapping methods. So I begin my project proper, which, at the time, involved one year (4 seasons) of weekly trapping in 3 areas, 4 traps in each area. I’d check the traps once a week, preserving any flies that were trapped during the week for later identification. In the beginning I was also going to put out dead chickens and compare the difference between the maggot masses developing on the chickens and the adult flies I caught in the traps, but that idea went out the window when I realized exactly how much time all this was going to take. That, and when I realized that Jeff forgot what my project was minutes after I talked to him. I actually went into the lab one day and had this conversation:

Me: “Well, the chickens are out, but I’m having trouble keeping the animals from eat them”
Jeff: “What?”
Me: “Oh, my project. I put out my liver traps last week, and this week I put out the chickens.”
Jeff: “I thought you were putting liver in the traps.”
Me: “Yes, I am, but we discussed putting out dead chickens to compare…
Jeff: “You should put liver in the traps”
Me: “I am. That’s all done. Just last time you said I should put out some sort of animal, and we decided on chickens…”
Jeff: “Yeah, just put liver in the traps. Don’t worry about putting chicken in them. I don’t think chicken will attract flies anyhow.”
Me: “Um, OK. I’ll do that.”

So I stuck to the 12 liver traps (STANKY!!) that I checked once a week. This process took hours! Hours and hours! I drove from trap to trap, cleaning it out, collecting the flies, putting the flies in alcohol, and putting new liver in the trap. On average, I was doing 5 hours of field work to get this done. It doesn’t sound like much, but let me tell you, when you’re taking a Sunday morning (OK, afternoon) to drive around and play with rotten meat, and you still have to go to work and do hours and hours of homework, it’s a lot. Needless to say, it wasn’t fun. I started pinning the flies, but found that it took even more time. I was collecting several thousand a week, and it could pin about 80 an hour. So I did a few (usually when we were watching a lot of sports or something) but I didn’t have the energy to embark on total curation of all flies yet. Anyhow, the trapping was going along swimmingly for several months; it was fine, that is, until Jeff started talking about extending the project. No! I don’t wanna! This is painful! So, in my oh so mature way, I started avoiding him. I figured that if I could make it through the year without him extending the project, I could terminate it and it would be OK. I made the mistake of going into the lab on a Saturday to get more vials, though. There he was, lying in wait as Dean and I wheeled our tandem into the building. “So” he says “I think you need to extend your project by another year.” Ever get that heart sinking feeling? Yeah, me too. Me: “But the year’s almost over, and since it’s going to take me so long to do the identification…” Jeff: “Nope. Extend it by another year or so. See you Monday.” Damn.

So this goes on for another year. Granted, it did make it a better project, but I’m of the mind that the project didn’t need to be perfect at the expense of years and years of my life. Maybe I’ll get the nobel prize for this thing. Here’s hoping!! I’m not good at arguing with authority figures, however, so I didn’t argue that much. Besides, I did like doing the project. Now I’m 3 years into the research, and the field work is finally, finally over. Next, I tackle the daunting task of pinning all these damn flies. There ended up being 40,404 blowflies, plus a bunch of of other types. I had some help for a while, but the undergraduate Jeff gave me kept losing buckets full of flies (“I’m not sure what happened! I think I left them outside, and today they’re just gone…”) or kept letting them sit so in water so long they would mold. I lost more data that way…and for the time I put into this, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I took on the curation of the flies myself. This entailed soaking the flies in a restorative liquid (the alcohol I had preserved them in causes them to shrink when they are dried out. If you soak the flies for an hour or so in Stoli, yes, the vodka, then they puff back up. Weird in an intoxicating sort of way) then pinning each one. I spent 9 months doing this. Hours and hours of sitting in the museum, listening to books on tape, eating Top Ramen and pinning flies. When my fingers got so pruney the skin started coming off, that’s when I’d go home. It took forever. However, it was enjoyable compared to what was coming next.

After all the pinning was done, I had to identify these little buggers. That’s much harder than it sounds. I’ve taken several entomology classes, I’m familiar with the dichotomous key used to identify insects, but I’ve never been taught the complex language of fly anatomy. I spent many, many months desperately trying to figure out what phrases like “Greater ampulla with stiff setae; dorsum of first and second abdominal tergites black, posterior margins of abdominal tergites 3 and 4 black” meant. And this was just to tell families apart–I still needed to figure out how to tell the different species apart. Why didn’t I consult my advisor, you ask? I did. Twice. Both times, I had very memorable, if very short, conversations with him. The first time, I wanted to know which key I should use to key the flies out to the species level. I had a couple of old ones, but I wasn’t sure if that is what I should be using. I saw him in the hallway and it went something like this:

Me:”Hey Jeff! I’ve found this key from 1940, but I’m not sure if it’s the most up to date, and I don’t know where to go…”
Jeff (in a disconcertingly loud voice):”GODDAMN IT ADRIENNE! THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE! FIGURE IT OUT!”
Me: “Um…*small sob* Ok.”

That was the end of that. Eventually he found me and said he hoped I wasn’t crying anymore. He also found a key he thought I should use, and all he had to do was search for it on the internet. He just didn’t understand why I couldn’t figure that out for myself. Neither could I, for that matter. I had seldom felt so stupid. You know what’s annoying? When you desperately want to please someone, and that someone is a bastard. I know he’s a bastard. I know it! Yet I still want to make him proud. I hate that.

The second time I tried asking him for help was several months later when I was staring at the key and trying to define some of the characters I was supposed to see. I knocked on his office door and:

Me: “Hey, what’s a transverse suture?”
Jeff:”God, you’re stupid. Figure it out.” (Slams door).
Me: blink

So I stopped asking him for help. Eventually I guessed that he really didn’t know what a transverse suture was, but that didn’t help me then. My saving grace came in the form of Dr. J. Gordon Edwards (the “J” doesn’t stand for anything…his parents just liked how it looked). He was the old retired entomologist who still ran the museum. He came in nights and took care of things. I could leave him notes with questions, like “What’s a transverse suture?” and the next morning I’d not only have a written answer (Transverse suture: the demarcation between the prothorax and hind thorax, often seen as a horizontal line or suture) but a photocopied packet of drawings with the area highlighted, a book or two explaining the origin and naming of the part, and several reference specimens set out with little notes. This was a fabulous man. He retired at 80 after teaching at SJSU for a million years. He died at 84 while rock climbing in Glacier National Park; he had a heart attack and died on the side of the mountain. I consider him my entomology mentor.

So, with Doc’s help, I slowly but surely figured out how to identify my flies with some sort of certainty. It took me over a year, but I got them all done. Then loomed the task of figuring out what this all meant, and that meant putting all the flies into a database in a variety of ways, and analyzing these data using the magic of statistics. At this point, Jeff tells me that I need two more professors on my committee–I have to have a committee of 3. Um…what? Dang it! I ask who he suggests, and he says I need one stats advisor, then someone else. I talk to Dr. Shannon Bros, the go-to person for stats in the department, and she says she’ll be happy to be on my committee! One down, one to go! I have no idea who else I can have read my thesis, so Jeff talks to some of the other professors and suggests Dr. Mike Sneary. Great! One task down. I talk to Dr. Sneary, and he wants to take a look at my thesis proposal to see if he approves. Wait, what’s a thesis proposal? I ask Jeff, and he says, “you know, the thing you write up to propose your thesis.” I say “I didn’t do one of those….” Jeff says “Oh.” The end. I eventually ask him what it entails and he says “Oh, just write up a proposal.” By this time, I’ve been yelled at enough to not want to try and clarify things he’s not giving up willingly, so I drop it. I spend the rest of the summer wading through books in the library trying to write up a thesis proposal. Granted, once the proposal was written, it did help me organize my thesis. It actually would have been smart to write one before I even started the project, but I had no idea. Live and learn.

I gave my proposal to Dr. Sneary who had lots of suggestions about project design and whatnot, so I had to tell him I had already finished the project (he hadn’t realized that) and I was just starting the writing phase. He told me to send him a polished copy of my thesis once Jeff signed off on it. Ok, check. That takes care of that. I then start my materials and methods. I spend many, many, many, many hours researching and writing and rewriting, and having people read, and rewriting this section. You see, one of my friends in the lab had just graduated, and he said that if you didn’t give Jeff a very polished version of your writing, he got awfully mad and wouldn’t help you fix it. He just made you go back and redo everything. So, wanting to avoid that horror, I worked very, very hard and made this section of my thesis the best I could. Good news: when I finally got up the guts to give it to Jeff I got this note: “Adrienne: looks VERY good. See me about some changes. Jeff.” AAAAAAHHHHHHH! That was one of the best feelings ever. Yay! I was literally walking on air for weeks after that note, and I didn’t want the feeling to end, so I put off any more work on my writing until after Christmas. I was gonna enjoy the praise, damnit!

During this time, I also started working on my stats. of course, right before my first meeting with my stats advisor Dr. Bros, Jeff tells me I should have a different professor do my stats. I say OK, contact the other professor, who says she’ll be happy to help me, and cancel my appointment with Dr. Bros. Jeff then changes his mind (or forgets…I haven’t decided yet) and tells me to go with Dr. Bros. Whatever! Just get me done! So I go and see Dr. Bros during her office hours.

Let me tell you about Dr. Shannon Bros: she’s a transsexual woman…she used to be Dr. Bill Bros until she had the snip and took the hormones. An interesting thing about these hormones–they make you go through puberty again, with all the angst, and confusion, and flakiness that plagues every puberty anyone has ever experienced. So Dr. Bros tends to be a bit flighty. Really, really nice and helpful (when you can catch her) but flakey and an awful lot like a teenager. That’s annoying. She also has a million students and one office hour a week. So I go to her office hour and wait in a line of 9 other students. When she finally gets to me, she only has a minute to talk. I give her a brief overview of my thesis, and she says I need to do some magical stats on it, and have I ever taken the class? No, I say. Should I? No, she assures me. She’ll walk me through everything, but since she has to go and teach she’ll give me some labs to read through and then I should call and make an appointment. She hands me a print out of something called ANOVA and then rushes off. I read the printout in total bewilderment (I haven’t taken any stats since my first year in undergraduate school) and then I wander to the library to try and figure things out.

This pattern goes on for many, many months. I read some confusing lab about some complex statistical test, I make an appointment with Dr. Bros who goes over it with me, then she gives more print outs to read. Eventually she starts sending me to the computer lab to play with fake data and learn to use a variety of computer programs. A semester and a half passes, and I still haven’t even STARTED looking at my own data yet. And I still don’t really understand how to set anything up–the labs she keeps sending me are all using data that is already set up in the program. I finally tell her I want to set my own data up. She says great, and she’ll email me a document that walks me through setting things up. She does this while I’m sitting there then sends me on my way. I immediately run to my office to print the thing out, and find she forgot to attach the document. No problem, right? I email her and ask her about it. No response. I call her. No response. I call again. No answer. I go to her office. Notice on the door: Dr. Bros will be out of town for the next 3 weeks. Please leave a message with the front office. DAMNIT!!

I wait. And wait. Eventually she comes back. She doesn’t have time in her schedule to see me, though, so I have to make an appointment for a few weeks later. I see her. She doesn’t remember my project, what we had talked about, or anything about any document she was supposed to send me. I explain my project again. She says I need to run a test called a PCA. Then she gives me another lab. What?!? What happened to ANOVA and MANOVA?!? She launches into some gibberish about the test and how it will be perfect for me and if I just run this lab with this fake data I’ll understand the meaning of the universe. I nod dumbly and leave in a daze. I spend the next two months searching out all the info I can on ANOVA/MANOVA and trying to set up my data. I finally just do my best, run some stats (which don’t seem to work at all) and email the results to her, asking if they are correct. Three weeks later (while I’m at a conference in Seattle) she sends me an email. No, the stats weren’t right, but she looked over my raw data and since I was on the right track she just fixed the problems and ran the stats for me. Holy CRAP! AWSOME! Now I have this printout of stats that Dr. Bros ran for me, with a short explanation about what they mean. I almost rented a safe deposit box just to house them, but I settled instead on printing several thousand copies and keeping the email in a hundred different places, just in case. So I begin to write my results. They are long and boring and confusing, and I really still don’t understand what is going on with the stats, so it’s very hard to write about. Can you guess what happens? Lots of standing in line waiting for a minute of time with Dr. Bros, lots of canceled appointments because she forgot she was washing her hair or something, and lots of late nights trying to figure out what these stupid math-type words mean.

This brings us to June, when I get a notice from the department that one of my classes is expiring in Fall; I have to graduate or I lose it. I take up the writing speed, once again spending most of the summer in the library trying to get things done. I exchange many, many emails with Dr. Bros, and eventually feel like I have a handle on what is going on. By the time my 30th birthday rolls around, I have a fully finished first draft of my thesis. That, my friends, is a great feeling. I send the draft out to family and friends to proof, and Dean and I go off to my cabin to celebrate for a week. When we get back, I start the endless process of revision. Jeff calls and says he wants to see a version of the thesis by mid August. I comply; he sends it back with suggestions. Well, suggestions may be too strong a word: vague notions might be better. He asks for another draft by September 8th. This is where my last blog started…and where my stress level really began to rise to unheard of levels.

Jumping ahead to this last week. I had been going back and forth with Jeff about a variety of things, the least of which was he wanted a different person on my committee–I’m not sure if he forgot about Dr. Sneary or just started to hate him, but the end result was Dr. Sneary was off and some new guy was on. Whatever. By this time I had neither the energy nor the desire to argue about anything. I just wanted a signature. I give Jeff my thesis, he gives it back, I change things and give it to him again. I even spend the better part of a Saturday afternoon at his house going over my results section, which he had called “unreadable” and “impossibly horrible.” At the end of this meeting, he tells me I need to go to Dr. Bros who should sign off on the results section before he will.

I send my thesis to Dr. Bros that night (two weeks until my thesis is due, by the way) and ask her to read the results section, and remind her that my deadline is fast approaching. I hear nothing, NOTHING, for a full week, despite my many, many emails, phone calls, psychic messages, and attempts to corner her. Finally she sends me an email saying that there are some significant changes that need to be made and I should come and see her in her office. I get this email on the Tuesday before my deadline. Her next office hour is Thursday at 8 am. I get to her office at 7:30, and join the line of 4 people that has already formed. What did these people do…camp here? Hmmmm…I should totally try that. So, in the last two minutes of her office hours I stick my head in, and she tells me to come back that evening at 5 to go over everything. I remind her that my deadline is Monday. She says “you should get it done by then. Even if it’s not perfect, get it done by then.” I leave, and wait in my office ALL DAY because I want to make sure she doesn’t leave the building without talking to me. At 4:30 I set up camp outside her office and wait for her arrival. She shows up 15 minutes late, but dutifully sits down and goes over the sections with me. Yay! Actual progress! And we make really good revisions. She gives me really good advice. She tells me how to fix some figures that were giving me problems. I’m so very, very happy! The end is near, I can just taste it! Then she picks up her phone, dials a number and leaves a message: “Hi, you’ve reached Dr. Shannon Bros. I’ll be out of town until November 17th. If you need to reach me, please leave a message.”

Wait. My deadline is on the 13th. Dr. Bros just gave me a bunch of revisions to make before she’ll sign my thesis, and she’s going out of town. OUT OF TOWN?!? I quell the quiet panic in my stomach (have I mentioned the intensity of the migraine/stomach ache combo that I’ve been sporting for the better part of six weeks at this point? No? It sucked) and say nonchalantly “So, when you leaving?” She replies “My plane leaves at 5:30 tomorrow morning.” Ah. It’s 7 pm now, at least 12 hours worth of revisions to make, and her plane leaves in 10 hours. Well then.

She blathers on for awhile about her trip, I timidly ask about getting my thesis signed, and she says that once it’s all ready she needs to sign the first page. With that, she flits out of her office and asks me to lock up when I leave. I sit there for a moment, mildly stunned, and slowly realize that one of my advisors went out of town and there is no way, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much sleep I lose, no matter how much I pray, there is absolutely no way I will get my thesis signed off in time.

But it’s not my fault (and eventually I..ll believe this). I did everything I possibly could to get this thing done. I worked my ass off. I put off seeing friends and family, put of doing things I like, doing things I needed to do, stopped playing my harp, stopped playing video games, stopped reading books. I did everything physically possible to get this done, and it all came down to my advisor leaving town. At that moment, my migraine went away. I was suddenly not at all nauseous. I walked home happy for the first time that semester. I stopped at a computer on the way home and found that I could get my advisor to sign a paper that renewed the class I was gonna lose, so that wouldn’t be a problem.

So, the point of this long, long, long story is that it’s over. I am no longer trapped behind a computer writing for my life. I am no longer throwing up breakfast or downing shots of vodka to go to sleep at night. I get to go out again (and I have–I’ve been spending the weekends drunk off my ass lately. It’s like I’m in college again!!) and I get to enjoy Christmas. Thanks for reading, and email me! I can email back now!

It’s not you, it’s me

My thesis is due. In 20 days. We’re not talking due to my advisor for sign off…no. It’s due to the department, ready for binding, with all three of my committee member signatures on it, all spelling errors fixed, and printed on super expensive paper. 20 days from today. I gave my advisor a copy of my thesis on Sept. 8. Last Monday he said he hadn’t read it yet and wanted a revised copy by last Friday. Done. Nine 0’clock on Sunday he emails me some revisions which say things like “I hate this section. Rewrite it” or “I don’t agree with your conclusions. See me and rewrite your discussion. Make these changes by tomorrow.” So I tried. I tried really really hard to make the changes. But my desktop computer, you know, the one that I’ve been using for the past years to store my data, write my thesis drafts and print everything, has decided that it doesn’t want to allow me to use Word, or any other text editor for that matter. So Dean (whose birthday it was by the way, and he was a tit bit tipsy) gave me his windows laptop–which decided it didn’t want to open anything from my version (or my advisor’s) version of word correctly, so all the formatting was off, none of the 20 figures were present, and nothing was italicized. So I tried using my Mac—which decided that Dean’s lap top had the right idea, but wanted to one-up it by not having any of the correct fonts installed and making sure I couldn’t change the margins (which were 3 inches). So I tried on Dean’s desktop. He has a linux box, or something of that nature. It didn’t even TRY to open my document…it just gave me a blank page. So I tried Ben’s computer. It apparently had talked with Dean’s desktop and they decided to show a united front. Now it’s been 2 hours, I work in the morning, and I still haven’t been able to make any changes to my thesis. You know that feeling when there’s a ginormous tumor growing in your chest that then reaches into your brain stem and uses your hypothalamus as a punching bag? Yeah, I had that felling.

Of course, if you don’t know my advisor, then you won’t understand. Let me tell you about him. Dr. Jeff Honda is the only entomologist at San Jose State University. He had just be hired when I interviewed for graduate school. Everyone there said that he was great and they all loved him. When I actually entered graduate school a year later, however, all their tunes had changed. Apparently, that “good teacher, nice guy, great mentor” thing he had going on during his interviews was all a front and he’s really just a great big bastard. I’ve learned over the past three quarters of a decade that Jeff takes offense very easily, holds a grudge for years on end, is willing to ruin people’s careers for retarded reasons, and can’t handle any type of opposition without blowing up. Oh, and if he’s in a bad mood for any reason what-so-ever, he’s perfectly willing to take it out on whomever is nearest (and he’s often in a bad mood). About half way through my master’s program, I thought about changing advisors. Jeff has this habit of not helping with any project or advising on any school stuff, or really knowing what is going on with his students at all. He says it’s because he wants self starters and people who can work independently. He doesn’t–he wants students who magically know what to do and then can read his mind and do it his way. Anyhow, I was tired of just making shit up then being yelled at when I didn’t make the right shit up. So I emailed some entomologists at universities and asked what they looked for in a PhD student. The one thing in common? They really liked seeing a great recommendation from their master’s advisor, and that recommendation carried even more weight if that master’s advisor was an entomologist. I can understand–as an advisor you’re taking on an unknown student and promising to mentor and teach her for some ungodly amount of time. You want to have as much guarantee that the student will work hard and do what is necessary to make it worth your while. But what I also took from this was that I’d have a much better chance of getting into an entomology program if my master’s advisor was an entomologist. Jeff is the only one at SJSU. So, I stayed with him (despite all the advise to the contrary from friends and family). I tried to look at it as a lesson in how to deal with really difficult people. I know lots of scientists, and some of them are big old jerk offs. I’m gonna have to deal with them eventually, so I may as well learn how now, right? So I was still Jeff’s student, just struggling with a badly designed experiment and sketchy support at best. Then comes along another student-let’s call her Laurie. Laurie didn’t know how to deal with big egoed men who weren’t good at interpersonal relationships. Laurie got into many, many fights with Jeff over her thesis work. After every fight, Jeff would hold a grudge for a long, long time, and not give Laurie any advice, or sign any paperwork Laurie needed signed. Laurie went to the Dean of biology to register a complaint. A warranted complaint. One that was long overdue. Jeff got called into a meeting. Jeff left said meeting very, very angry. None of us got anything signed off for an entire semester because of this meeting. None of us even talked to him about anything but how horrible Laurie was for the entire semester. I ended up taking art and aerobics that semester because I had no idea what else I was supposed to do, and I needed my advisor’s signature for any of the higher level science classes. Laurie decided she was going to change advisors. She did. Good for Laurie! However, since she did her research under Jeff’s supervision in Jeff’s lab, she needed Jeff’s permission to use any of the data she recorded–it’s technically Jeff’s data, and any paper or thesis that results from the data has to have Jeff’s name on it. Can you guess what Jeff did? Yep, he refused permission. Laurie had been working on describing a new species of microscopic wasp that Jeff collected on one of his trips to Japan, and Jeff withdrew any permission she had to use any of the drawings, pictures or specimens she had been working on for the past 3 1/2 years. Laurie tried for a year and a half to fight him (with many angry phone calls and emails–after each one, someone still in the lab would get screwed over somehow. I got it when I submitted a poster I was presenting at a conference for Jeff to approve, and Jeff didn’t notice that the authorship took up 2 lines…so after my long full name and title, his name was on the second line. He freaked out, I got a 3 page email in all caps about how horrible I was and how I was trying to cheat him out of his rightful publication, I received a formal letter from the department reprimanding me for leaving off his name, I got called into the Dean’s office to discuss the matter, and Jeff took the keys to the museum, where all my data was stored, away from me. This was because he misread the poster. That took forever to get cleared up). Anyhow, Jeff never signed off of Laurie’s project, and after 4 years of work, she had to start anew. She hasn’t graduated yet; I think it’s because Jeff keeps threatening to show up at her defense. God, what a jerk. So that is what happens when you piss this man off. Now you know.

Back to my story. Jeff didn’t read my thesis when I gave it to him. I said nothing. I’ve actually learned a rather sneaky technique–since I know so damn many professors in the department (I’ve taught for all of them), when I see them in the elevator, I talk about my thesis, I mention how busy Jeff is and how I don’t want to burden him with anything else but I just gave him my thesis and I hope he gets around to reading it, then I mention that he’s a great mentor and I’m lucky to be working with him. Then I look stressed and tired and I leave (that last bit takes very little acting…I am stressed and tired). If you don’t know, professors are the biggest gossips. So when I say this stuff, even to random Dr. Bob in botany, it’ll get back to Jeff via the grapevine. It’s not as direct as talking to him myself (which is pretty much guaranteed to make him never, ever read my thesis) or going to the Dean of the department (which is guaranteed to make it so I will never graduate), but it works. This is how I got him to read find me in the hallway and ask for a thesis revision last week. I, of course, mentioned how my thesis has changed since I sent it to him and I’m glad he didn’t read the first because I hadn’t finished all the stats. This got him to promise to read this version over the weekend. Ass kissing takes forever.

So this is why I was so damn stressed about not being able to make the revisions on Sunday night–it’s taken me months on end to get him to the point where he’s willing to read my thesis at all, let alone give me revisions to do with some sort of guidance. If I don’t follow his directions, he will get all pissy and not work with me for a few weeks as punishment. He’ll be “too busy.” Yeah, too busy trying to make me cry. He’s done it before. So I freak out. And then I can’t sleep, because I’m freaking out. Horrible. I wake up after almost 3 hours sleep just before my alarm goes off yesterday and try and figure out how the hell I’m gonna keep him on my good side.

He came into my office hours yesterday (I work for 12 hours on Mondays…I use my office hours to eat breakfast. Not the best time to get my stress level rising). I printed out his revisions from my office computer, and made some vague comment about making the changes on my laptop. Luckily, he believed me. He then when over all the changes he wanted made. Good! At least I know a bit more about it now. There were some major and minor things–and several sentences he just read incorrectly, then tried to revise based on his incorrect readings, then got more confused, so he just underlined them and said “this is very confusing! Rewrite!” He reiterated this sentiment during our meeting yesterday. I nodded and promised to fix them. I’ll fix them by just taking away the revisions. Done! At the end of the meeting, he asks for the updated version by Friday. I counter with “what about Wednesday?” He says “Well, if you want to do it that way…” I nod eagerly. You see, once Jeff decides that the thesis is good enough, I still have to send it to 2 other committee members who will hate it and make me make changes. All this in 20 days.

So, what I’m trying to say with this long-winded tirade, is that I have 20 days to play politics and get some damn good writing done before I lose my graduation standing. I’m not sure if I’m gonna make it, but I’m gonna work my ass of and try. So please, don’t be offended if you are one of the many, many people who have sent me emails that I haven’t responded to, or the hundreds of friends who just want to say “hi” which I ignore. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ll be much better in just under a month, I swear. Come over for International Day of Baking Goodness, November 22. I still like you, I do! It’s just I may murder someone very soon, and I don’t want it to be you. See you in 20 days,



No, I’m not going to effen relax!

For those of you who don’t know, we’re trying to get pregnant. (See EVERY other blog I’ve written for more details). Now, after reading all that background blogging, you should know we’ve had a bit of a hard and painful time accomplishing this goal. I’m not complaining…well, I am complaining, loudly and at length, it’s just a saying…and for the most part people have been truly supportive. But, from the bottom of my heart, and for the sake of every woman in my situation, I have one request: PLEASE, DON’T TELL ME TO EFFEN RELAX!

Ok, here’s where I’m coming from. When you start infertility treatments, it’s not something you do on a whim. Oh no. They won’t even *look* at you if you haven’t been actively trying to get pregnant for a year (and by active I mean charting your cycles and using ovulation tests and all that). If you haven’t, they tell you you, you guessed, start charting your cycles and use ovulation tests. Then they do some basic tests–sperm count, hormone levels, mucus viscosity, that sort of thing. It’s not until several cycles later that they actually begin the pills and ultrasounds. What I’m saying is this: it’s not like you can walk into a doctor, say “I think I’m infertile” and they’ll send you home with a packet of needles and book on test tube babies. No, it’s a long and involved process that weeds out anyone who just hasn’t gotten lucky (well, they’re assuming you’ve gotten lucky a little bit–otherwise you’d need a whole different lecture).

Now, during this year or so of unsuccessful, at home fertilization, you have a lot of sex. I mean, A LOT. As anyone who’s trying for a baby–they’ll tell you it’s been mere hours since the last attempt. They’ll also probably tell you the position they tried and how long she stayed with her legs in the air to ensure proper spermatozoon flow…parents-to-be are a strange breed. Anyhow, lots and lots of sex. During all this sex, you are most likely going to have an orgasm. Well, I’m assuming. If not, sad for you! Let’s just say from experience, you’re going to have an orgasm. Maybe not all the time, but definitely more often than if you weren’t doin’ it several times a day. Do you know what orgasms do? They release endorphins in your brain. You know what endorphins do? They relax you. Completely and totally. Here’s a quick science lesson about endorphins:

Endorphins are released by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus of the vertebral brain. They act on receptors in the brain that, when bound up, cause the body not to feel pain and bring about a general sense of well being. These same receptors respond to opiates and morphine. However, anything injected into the blood stream has a very small chance of getting to the brain because of the blood-brain barrier (the brain is very selective as to what it lets in, so there’s a barrier between blood and the brain. Only certain substances make it in, and only a tiny amount of those substances at that). Endorphins are produced in the brain, so a little bit goes a long, long way. Acupuncture for pain management induces the brain to produce excess endorphins, thereby eliminating any pain in the body. Small amounts of endorphins cause muscles to relax, blood pressure to drop, heart rate to slow, adrenaline levels to lower, and breathing to become deep and regular. They basically put you into an extremely relaxed state–hence the desire to fall asleep after sex. Well, after good sex. Sometimes sex elicits the desire to sneak out without waking the partner and throw up in an alley on the way home, but I digress.

What I’m saying is simply if you have a bunch of orgasms, you’re going to be extremely relaxed most of the time. Even if you get into a stressful situation, residual endorphins will make it seem much less stressful than normal, and allow you to relax much more quickly once the situation has passed. What does this have to do with my bitch-fest above? Read on and all will become clear.

Once you’ve gone through this year or so of bliss and have decided to embark upon the rocky road of infertility treatments (rather than just buy the damn motorcycles and start doing illicit drugs already–a decision many women going through these treatments regret every few months…) then you will begin to notice a strange phenomenon: everyone, and I mean everyone, seems to know how to get you pregnant. You’ll be talking with a friend, say, and telling her about your latest adventure in the doctor’s office. This friend has been on birth control for 12 years, hasn’t had sex for 6 of those, and has no desire to become a mother. Suddenly, she is an expert in fertility, and is happy to share her knowledge with you. Well, fine. I realize that many people show their support by trying to help you out. I actually appreciate it. I listen, take mental notes, look up info I don’t quite understand, and print out resources to add to my notebook. However, after talking with EVERYBODY about this subject, I have noticed one thing in common: they all end their lectures with “You just need to relax. You’ll never get pregnant by being all tense like this. Once you calm down and relax, everything will work out fine.”

This is the point where every infertile woman has her head explode. JUST RELAX?!? Are you kidding me?!? I just spent over a year of my life awash in sperm and endorphins–more relaxed than a pot head on a semester-long bender, barely able to stand upright because my muscles simply refused to tense up, and dealing with situations that make most people bleed out their eyes in frustration by saying “Really? Bummer. I’m gonna go take a nap. Wanna get a slurpee?” and you’re telling me all I need to do is relax?!? Did it every occur to you that maybe, just maybe, there is actually something wrong? That the doctor didn’t cut me open and poke at my uterus for shits and giggles, but because he was taking something out? That I don’t have Dean inject me with painful chemicals because I like that burning sensation, but because I don’t produce them on my own? Did it? I mean, lord, do you honestly think that I’d be putting myself through hell via daily doctors visits if all I really needed was a weekly massage?!? Dear god, shut up! I do not need to relax! We tried that, it didn’t work. Now we have to try something much less fun and much more invasive. I’d appreciate it if you would understand that then either 1) nod sympathetically, give me a hug and buy me presents to make me feel better, then look away when I burst into tears, or 2) find an article on alternative treatments, cutting edge surgery techniques, specialists in the area, or witch doctors who may help, cut it out and hand it to me. Either way, you’re giving me what I need–actual support and friendship during a very, very rough patch in my otherwise extremely happy life. By telling me to relax, you’re basically saying “Any tool can get pregnant…I can’t believe you haven’t figured that out yet! Well, since no one else has let you in on the secret, here you go.” I feel broken enough already! I don’t need you telling me that the answer to my problem is so simple an idiot could do it. You know how that makes me feel? Destroyed. Every time someone gives me this simple, one word answer to my extremely complex situation, it reminds me that I can’t do the one thing my body was designed to do. I can not pull off the single act every other organism on the plant can accomplish. I’m broken. Completely and utterly broken.

So, on behalf of infertile women everywhere–please don’t tell us to relax. We’ve tried that. We’ve tried that for years and it hasn’t worked. Yes, going through these treatments is stressful. Yes, hormones released in stressful situations can inhibit pregnancy. Why do you think the orgasm evolved?!? To relax us when it counts the most! But the one thing that causes my blood pressure to skyrocket more than anything else I’ve been through these past few years is someone telling me “Just relax. Once you stop trying, it’ll happen on its own.” Fuck you. Fuck you all.