How I survived grad school

I haven't posted for a while because I got it in my head that I needed a masters degree. Five minutes later, I started the Master of English program, and have been going nonstop like Xena running the Gauntlet, while working a full-time job and momming a bunch of adult children.

After the myriad requests I received to write new blogs (a couple of people casually mentioning that they hadn't seen anything from me for a while) I decided to take the time to put something out there, since now I have the time to put something out there.

About my life over the past two years

First:

It is important to note that the summer semesters cost me (aside from tuition) 30% of my sanity and two toes to frostbite (the latter, while only theoretical, and not actual toes, because the classrooms in the summer are unbelievably cold and like a fool, I was wearing summer-appropriate attire).

Source: http://www.qsl.net/pa2ohh/bafcoldbarefootsnow0.jpg

Second:

It became somewhat of a tradition for one or more students to follow me out of the classroom on the last day of class to tell me how much they hated me at the beginning of class, but that at some point during the semester realized I was an OK human being. Many of these people I call my friends now, not because I'm so desperate for friends that I'll snuggle up to the mean kids, but because a) these people turned out to be actually cool people, and because, b) hey...I appreciate the honesty. There's not enough of that.

Third:

I moved more times than I care to admit. Apparently, I have problems committing to living space. I was renting a home when I started the program, because I still had several children living with me, and I decided that when they had all moved out and I had finished the masters program, I would move to Salt Lake City and buy a tiny house or condo that only took 30 minutes to clean to a shine.

Barely into my first semester, the owner came home from whatever he was doing overseas and didn't want to share his home with me and my children, so I moved to a lovely home in the historic district of my town (see photo below of lovely home).

Source: My camera
During my last semester, that owner suddenly, spastically decided that he didn't want to be a landlord anymore, and offered to sell the house to me, but I ultimately declined (based on the advice of an inspector), since, although it's a cool house, it's over 100 years old, and there were some structural issues I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with--also, he was hard-selling it like it was a used car--so I moved into a temporary place while I'm looking for a home to buy. All of my stuff is still in a storage shed because I still haven't found the home I want to live in forever or for the next five or so years.

Also, I realized how much I love the city I live in. Maybe I'm not so eager to leave it anymore.

Fourth:

Hey guys, my laptop died. The. Week. My. Thesis. Was. Due.

I want to make it clear that I recognize there are bigger problems in the world than not having a working laptop. I know with all my heart that my first-world problems are minuscule in comparison with larger, heart-breaking issues.

Suorce: gamingnexus.com/Images/News/grfoht33307/2.jpg
But the week my 55-page project was due, my laptop died without so much as a whimper, and I was sitting there on the floor, staring at a blank screen in the nest of blankets I'd been sleeping in for the past six weeks because my bed was in the back of a storage shed, AND I was out of wine. It seemed like a pretty big deal in the moment. At the same time, I was laying out and formatting Aelurus, the literary magazine for which I somehow ended up being managing editor. And it was tax season, so every client at my work wanted their tax documents from 7,000 different investment companies. So suddenly, everyone in the world (or so it seemed) was waiting for me to complete things I didn't have access to anymore, and I'd forgotten how to breathe. Between lunches at work and my daughter's 11-inch Asus, which sports a keyboard too small for my life-sized hands, I completed the project, finished laying out Aelurus and remembered how to breathe. The night I turned my project in, I drank some (too much) celebratory wine and played Peggle (badly) with my two youngest children.

I received my degree (empty purple cover) at a hooding ceremony on a Wednesday night. My family and some close friends attended, including a professor who isn't in my department, but taught a couple of my graduate classes (and whom I have become good friends with over the last two years), and a professor who taught a few of my ungrad classes years and years ago, and has since retired. I felt honored to have these people (professors, family, and friends) take time out of their schedules to sit through this ceremony with me.
Source: My Facebook page

The highlights of my time in the programs were meeting those fellow students I hope will remain my friends for years to come, and meeting those amazing professors I also hope will remain my friends for years to come. Yes, I improved my writing skills and got a paper accepted to a conference in New York. But basically, I met cool people and wrote cool stuff, including:
  • an essay on how humans refused to stop exploring once they ran out of untamed terra firma, so they dug into the human mind, and ventured out to space,
  • an essay on how strong women in pop culture tend to be highly sexualized instead of intellectualized,
  • a series of feminist poems and essays with a backbone of modernized mythology.
To sum up, it was a rough couple of years, but it was an amazing couple of years. I'd do it again with less relocating and more laptop.

What I'm doing next

Nothing different. I'll keep working the same job, continue to look for a house and relish the time I have to hang out with my children and the friends who stuck with me through the two years during which I virtually disappeared.

For my friends still in the program--I love you, I miss you, I'll see you on the other side.



Time Machines: Part Two

Last week I talked about some time machines from science fiction and what I would do if I had access to one. Today I'll discuss how likely they are to get me to my time-travelling goals. I've compiled a list based on my own limited knowledge of physics (two college courses and abuncha books). This list is not designed to incur the wrath of Stephen Hawking (who possibly reads my blog), Bill Nye the Science Guy, or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. However, if after reading this blog you disagree with me, you should feel free to tell me so in the comments section as long as you post as one of the aforementioned.

That being said, the list below is ranked on probability (as I understand it) in order from least to most likely:

6. The time machine from Napoleon Dynamite: I loved this time machine because it was ridiculously simple, and you can get it online (theoretically). However it didn't worknot even in the movie, so I'm rating it as the least likely time machine to work as intended and the most likely time machine to shock your junk in a non-sexy way.
Time Machine from Napoleon Dynamite
(photo credit: Emergiblog)

5. H.G. Wells' time machine: It's been a while since I read this book, but as I remember it, this machine was designed to arrive at the same point in space, regardless of the time. Perhaps H.G. forgot to take the movement of the planet into consideration and his unsuspecting time traveler should have materialized somewhere out in space, albeit in a different time, attempting to shout "Eureka" in a vacuum for 30-60 seconds until his fluids boiled. Although this would allow me to time travel, I don't believe I would have enough time to affect any significant change before I ceased to exist.
H.G. Well's Time Machine
(photo credit: IGN)

4.The flux capacitor: I have no evidence that this machine works, except that Doc Brown said it did, but I've provided a link to a website that explains it for those of you who are curious. Still, it seems like the classiest of all the time machinesas it is housed in a DeLorean.
The Flux Capacitor
(photo credit: Futurepedia)

3. John Titor's time machine: I've rated this one of the more likely to work, simply because I'd really like to believe that some guy traveled back in time and spent his time posting on message boards about the future and was obliging enough to include the schematics of this time machine. John Titor no longer posts online, either because he went back to the future, or he was really a pimply-faced kid who grew up and got tired of his wife yelling at him every time he tried to post. ("I'm not looking at porn, Angela. I'm preserving the world for our children. (Side note: I've decided that his wife's name is probably Angela.)) Sure, I know his posts didn't come true exactly the way he said they would, but that's because in telling us, he created a paradox, which a) altered the future or b) split us off into an alternate timeline. But then you knew that already, didn't you, John?
John Titor's Time Machine Schematics
(photo credit: Stranger Dimensions)

2. The Tardis: I had to put this second-to-last because it technically uses wormhole technology. Also...it's bigger on the inside, which allows its occupants to enjoy a nice swim as they're bopping about in time. It's the second most probable, because I think anything you chuck into a wormhole is going to get you where you need to go, but hey...why not do it in an 1963 police call box?
TARDIS Mk VII
TARDIS Mk VII (Photo credit: Rooners Toy Photography)

1. Einstein-Rosen bridge: I rated this as the most probable, because I believe that wormholes exist already in outer space and possibly under sinks in Norway, I just haven't found one yetalthough this looks legit.
Wormhole in California? I was too chicken to climb in.
(Photo credit: me)

I also believe we could make one if we have the right materials. I have been collecting and experimenting with what I feel are the appropriate materials including:
  • An acai berry
  • Adderall
  • Three physics books
  • Oxyclean
  • Nutella
  • The sequel to Star Wars I wrote when I was eight.
I just have to find a way to spin them fast enough to vaporize them into a homogeneous gaseous substanceI'm thinking about supercharging my dryer (on econo-mode of course). It just...something seems to be missing from the mix.

If only I could find a unicorn hair.

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My favorite time machines and what I would do with them

Cover of "Physics of the Impossible
Cover via Amazon
I'm currently reading Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible, which discusses the plausibility of ideas proposed by science fiction writers. So far, I am enjoying it as much as Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Paul Davies' How to Build a Time Machine. So this and several future blog posts will be about how science fiction writers have written the future without realizing it.

Let's start with:

TIME MACHINES

Stephen Hawking said: "I have experimental evidence that time travel is not possible. I gave a party for time-travelers, but I didn't send out the invitations until after the party. I sat there a long time, but no one came."

Some physicists believe it's only ever possible to travel to the future, and the past is set in stoneunchangeable. If we tried to interfere, we would be as ineffective as sandals in a snowstorm. Others believe we could conceivably travel to the past, but the consequences of even the tiniest bit of interference could be catastrophic. I prefer to believe in the Back to the Future version of time travel, which would allow me to travel to the past and through a series of well-intentioned mistakes and a little bit of tomfoolery, make my life even awesomer than it already is. I'd like to believe that at some point in my existence I can travel to the past and erase such bad choices as:
  1. Not going to college immediately after high school, thereby condemning myself to struggle through college in my 30s, while attempting to raise five children and navigate a divorce.
  2. Wishing I spoke another language but not really doing anything about it.
  3. Not investing ALL MY MONEY when I was younger.
  4. Giving up practicing my piano skills because my younger sister was better at it.
  5. Eighties hair.
I'm not obsessed with my past missteps, and wouldn't change it in a big wayno fiddling with the stock market, inventing the Internet first or handing a younger me the pages of The Harry Potter series and trying to convince her she wrote it. I think if I had a time machine, I would do something less world-changing and a little more self-serving, like:
  1. Give 15-year-old me a flat iron with the explicit instruction not to show it to anyone ever (of course 15-year-old me was kind of a brat, so she would totally show all her friends anyway, thereby changing the course of history).
  2. Tell 18-year-old me to stop goofing off. Living in a party house is cool for five minutes, but it will never help you get a better job.
  3. Tell new-mom me that though it's possible something terrible might happen to my children, it's not okay for me to hover over them and make sure nobody ever says anything mean to them. Ever.
(Also, it's okay to let them make mistakes. Also, obsessing about possible fire escape plans for your entire family when you should be sleeping is unhealthy.)

Scientists posit that the tiniest change could have world-changing ramifications. If I choose not to make some of the mistakes I regret, though it may save me some embarrassment and suffering, it could have unintended side effects. Like, you know, maybe Bluetooth would have never been invented or the new Star Trek movies wouldn't have been made. Big stuff like that. So before I go back in time to change these events and uber-awesome my life, I have to step back and consider the potential consequences:
  1. Sadly, straight hair wasn't cool in the 80s. Defying this trend and my hair's natural poofiness could have stunted my educational growth (as I would have been alienated from clubs and extracurricular activities) and would have made me look out of place in my legwarmers and oversized cut-up sweatshirt.
  2. Going to college later in my life meant I took it much more seriously, and though it was rough, I loved everything I learned. Also, my children got to witness my struggles and triumphs, which would later help them through their own collegiate struggles and triumphs.
  3. My children turned out okay, despite my hovering and obsessive midnight theoretical disaster planning. Better than okay. They're amazingly awesome, in fact. 
Now on to the fun stuff. Let's look at some of my favorite time machines from history:

H.G. Wells' Time Machine
H.G. Wells' Time Machine
(photo credit: National Geographic)

Einstein-Rosen bridge
Einstein-Rosen Bridge
(photo credit: Mr. Barlow's Blog)

The Tardis
The Tardis
(photo credit: Vibrant Oxymoron)
The Flux Capacitor
The Flux Capacitor
(photo credit: Jimsmash)
John Titor
John Titor's Time Machine
(photo credit: LindaJM)
Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite
(photo credit: Brian Terrill)
Next week: How time machines work

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Watch, Read, Live, Love

A Renaissance manuscript Latin translation of ...
A Renaissance manuscript Latin translation of The Republic
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I just finished reading Plato's The Republic. As I was finishing it, I happened to be sitting across from a kid on Frontrunner who was ALSO READING Plato's The Republic. This prompted him to start a conversation, in which he tried to either sympathize with women, or pick a fight with me. I couldn't tell. He said his favorite part of the book was where Plato advocated the education of women, but it was unfortunate that Plato also claimed they were inferior in every way. I just smiled and told him I was glad he was enjoying the book.

It's funny how strangers can bond over a book. There are forums online where strangers form relationships based on their mutual love of The Harry Potter series, LOTR, and The Twilight Series. Unfortunately, like clubs, political parties, sports teams and religions, it can also create a strong divide.

Some people get unbelievably pissed off when you don't like what they like or believe what they believe. This seems to be a case of intense egocentrismmy way of thinking is the only way of thinking. The obvious case is religion. We don't need to get into that, but child-rearing, book and movie preferencesthat's what baffles me.

Years ago, my neighbor asked me if I spanked my children. When I told her that instead, I used time out and other less physical methods, she coldly told me that she spanked her children and that was the only way to effectively discipline them. We never really spoke after that and she stopped letting her children play with my childrenlike they had the no-spanking disease she was afraid her children would catch. She had asked me a question, not because she really wanted to know the answer, but because she wanted me to confirm that she had made the right parenting decision.

I've been blacklisted for not loving crude humor comedies like Dumb and Dumber and Anchorman. I've been snark-eyed for electing not to read Fifty Shades of Grey or for not loving (or even liking) the Twilight Series.

This morning, I sat across from a 20-something, who was wearing yellow skinny jeans and a scarf. He was alternating between reading a novella and sleeping. Behind him sat a woman, almost completely covered in black cloth, her eyes barely peeking through the material as they scanned her laptop screen. Across from her sat another 20-something wearing a collared shirt and khakis, watching Super Bowl commercials on his iPhone. Behind him, and across from me, sat a woman in her 40s, wearing a bright floral dress, engrossed in a romance novel. I formed the fourth corner of we-come-from-different-places square in my hybrid outfit of office clothes, comfy leggings and scuffed-up boots for the commute, carefully navigating a much-loved copy of Graham Swift's Waterland. We all read or watched what we were reading or watching and got off the train when we were at the appropriate stop. Nothing terrible happened.

The point is, that it doesn't make sense to feel anger towards someone who didn't like Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games Series. Instead of immediately writing off people whose opinions and experiences differ from ours, it would make more sense to listen without judgment to their views. You can agree or not agree, but just maybe you'll expand your horizons a littleI don't mean change your mind even, just understand a different way of seeing the world.

Shōgun
Enter Shōgun by James ClavellEnglishman-meets-Japanese culture. The Englishman thinks the Japanese are barbarians for their tradition of seppuku and sexual diversity. The Japanese think the Englishman is a barbarian for his poor hygiene and food-preparation techniques. Ultimately (a thousand pages later) they come to a mutual understanding, and even respect for each other's culture. They come to understand that there is tradition and belief behind the "barbarism."

See what I did there? We're all just people who have been somewhere, trying to get somewhere with whatever tools and knowledge we have available.

Watch. Read. Live. Love.

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