Friday, March 25, 2011

Morhaqa

Moved to University Town Tuesday.  Got permission to go back to baladelba7th Wednesday.  Got a ticket today.  Making furniture and settling in and trying to find everything I just packed to pack again.  Fighting with fellowship, landlords, fellowship coordinators over details. Exhausted.  Morhaqa.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Literature

Growing up, everyone in my school (myself included) assumed I would go off to college and major in literature in a foreign language.  After all, I loved to read and I loved foreign languages, and I love analyzing things.  Furthermore, literature and foreign languages were seen as pretty useless topics in my community, and I was one of the few who defended them as topics worthy of study with "real-life" applications.

The problem is that I have in fact always disliked studying literature.  I've been ruminating on this conundrum ever since the last conference I attended, which because it was loghatelba7th focused, rather than discipline focused, included quite a number of presentations on literature, some of it on books that I had read (because I still like reading in loghatelba7th, particularly contemporary literature).  I enjoyed these presentations, a marked contrast to a friend (who is in my discipline, more or less) who told me he was skipping all of the literature panels because he hates literature.

So, I've been thinking about how it is that I dislike literary analysis while at the same time enjoy reading literature, listening to presentations about literature, and even reading blogs by literature academics, where my favorite posts are often related to their research.  On the one hand, I like listening to presentations and reading blogs on other subjects too, like biology or physics.  However, I don't enjoy "doing" science in the same way I enjoy reading.  Of course, literary analysis requires far more than just reading, but it's also true that I do analyze the books I read in some way--I don't just follow the plot, or wonder if this is the author's secret life story, or look up the Wikipedia entry to figure out what to think about it (although if it is really good, I often do look the author up on Wikipedia to find more to read).

I think the part of the problem is that because I find fiction reading one of the most enjoyable things on earth, I don't want to read books I don't enjoy, which seems like a necessary part of literary analysis*.  There are some classic "literature" books that I really dislike and some others that would hardly qualify as "literature" that I enjoy quite a bit.  The definition of "literature" is probably a little more flexible in the actual world of literary analysis than it was in my high school, but it's still there. I should also note that I'd have difficulties with something like "popular literature" as well, because many things I like to read are neither "literature" nor "popular", although I do read a lot of that as well.

Another, potentially more serious problem, is that part of the reason I enjoy reading so much is that there is no reason to stick to what is actually written for enjoyment when you can make up side stories.  When I enter a book, it is like entering a new world, where there are a few guidelines and the rest is up to your imagination, particularly if the plot or characters of the book itself are not up to snuff.  Unfortunately, writing about the stories you discovered when you followed two of the characters out of the story and into a side story is not really acceptable in any sort of literary analysis (or really any discussion of the book), as I discovered in middle school, much to my dismay.  Years later, to even greater dismay, I discovered that not everyone makes up side stories, and it suddenly became clear why they might not want to finish a book if they didn't like it.

So as far as I can tell, these are the reasons I don't like literary analysis, even though I feel like I should, because I usually find its subjects and results interesting.  Luckily, thanks to Amazon, conferences, JSTOR, and blogs, I can usually get the subjects and results I enjoy without having to do the actual analysis, which I dislike!

*Obviously I have to read books I don't enjoy in my field, but they are non-fiction, which is different.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Huwiyya

(I started to write this at the end of the last post, but it got so long and unrelated, I decided to make it a separate one.)

Having traveled back and forth between University City (undergrad, masters, some work) and baladelba7th and then University Town (PhD) and baladelba7th for the last ten years, I'm used to both culture shock and reverse culture shock.  One thing that struck me though, in visiting University Town (where I have actually lived for less time than baladelba7th) was the comparative way in which locals perceptions of me affect this experience.  In baladelba7th, I'm assumed to be a clueless foreigner until I prove otherwise.  The questions strangers ask and the assumptions they make about what I will think usually annoy me immensely, because I generally don't think that, or I think that the issue is too complicated to fit into a nice little East/West Venn diagram.

In University Town (and really, most of Home Country), I have the same problems, but for opposite reasons.  People assume that because we share a nationality, we share the same ideas and customs.  We don't, although I'm not sure why.  Possibly because I have a weak sense of national identity and don't know pop culture.  Thus, in my interactions with strangers in University Town, I often felt amused and puzzled, and then annoyed, because they were assuming we would share something we didn't.  Of course, when baladelba7th came up, as it often did when I was explaining why I was moving there, they too asked me questions that made me feel as though they were pulling out that same East/West Venn diagram and filling it in.  Which is even more annoying.

I hate the dichotomous identities that proliferate my world.  They may be easy, but they are wrong.  It may be possible to set poles and then discuss in a valid and nuanced the range from end to end, but it seems that most of the time people simply want to set identity poles and pigeonhole people into them.  For me, it's the parts that don't fit into these holes that are most interesting.

Bittersweet

I've just returned from a few days of apartment hunting in University Town.  Yesterday, I signed a lease until July of 2012, which is when I hope to finish my dissertation, and my husband and I will likely be moving in next week.  I'm excited to see my friends, go to dance class, and start writing, but it's hard to realize that I will not be going back to baladelba7th for the three remaining months of my fellowship*.  I will be going back for two weeks in April though, whether my fellowship allows it or not.  Someday, perhaps I will write out the whole story of how I was unnecessarily screwed over on this blog, but at the moment I can't really deal with thinking about it.

I loved being back in dance class though, and I think that dancing is what I am going to dedicate these three months to.  After all, my time is completely my own now, and I fully intend to spend it on things I love, particularly when these things take my mind off of the fellowship mess.  Transcribing just makes me think of all of the data I will be missing, and how my dissertation will not be as good as it could be due to the mess.  Same thing goes for reading academic articles, or really anything to do with my dissertation.  So dancing it is--and the townhouse I just rented has a basement I can dance in!**

*Unless I go back in Fall 2012, which means an extra year of grad school, not something I'd really be thrilled about either.

**University Town is not a place I care much for, but one advantage is does have is too many rentals for too little people, which leads to prices that are often cheaper than baladelba7th and hence my townhouse rental.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Peanut Butter, Lettuce, and iPad!

Today is my grandmother's 91st birthday.  She lives in a retirement community about an hour and a half from my parents, so we drove up to have lunch at a nearby restaurant.  At 91, her balance is a little off, but she has all her mental faculties, including important historical trivia that the rest of us have forgotten/never learned (such as the 1755 Boston Earthquake, largest ever recorded on the East Coast of the US).  She credits her longevity to her lifelong habit of eating peanut butter and lettuce sandwiches for lunch.  The science on this is no doubt iffy, but living to 91 with all of my mental facilities would be fantastic.  I do love peanut butter.  Especially peanut butter and apple butter.  But I don't think I can stomach peanut butter and lettuce just yet!

On the drive up, my father encouraged us to be on the lookout for a Walmart, Best Buy, or Apple store, as today is the day the iPad 2 went on sale at 5:00 pm sharp.  Apparently it went on sale online at 1am or something, but by the time he ordered his online at 7am there was a two to three week wait.  He wasn't up to staking out a store for hours on end, but figured we could stop by a store one of the stores stocking it on our way home.  As luck would have it, we pulled into our local Walmart at 4:58.  We headed to the electronics department, where there was a line of four for the six available iPads.  My father was number five.  He even got the number of gigabytes he wanted, as did the other four.  The woman in front of us said she had called the Apple store and Best Buy in Shopping City* and they had as many people in line as they had iPads at 2:30.  She came to Walmart to get cotton candy, wandered by the electronics section, and realized she could get an iPad on the very day her tax return came through.  Serendipity.

Of course, the fact that my father got his new iPad today was particularly exciting for me, as it meant that I would get his old iPad.  I have wanted an iPad ever since I heard about iAnnotate , an iPad app that allows you to highlight text and take notes on pdfs and then transfer them as a text file to your computer, something I find essential for my research.  I currently do this using the My Notes function on my Kindle, or a program called Skim on my computer.  However, the Kindle doesn't read pdfs perfectly and doesn't support loghatelba7th at all.  My computer is small, but not as portable or as reading comfortable as a tablet like device.  iAnnotate would allow me to have the best of all worlds, and I read a lot of pdfs.  Obviously the iPad does a lot of other cool stuff too, but this was the most important feature to me.  Before I lost my funding, I was planning to buy the iPad 2 as an end of research gift to myself when I came back in May.  After losing my funding, this was no longer a possibility, much to my disappointment.  However, when I found out my father was getting a new iPad, things looked brighter, as after all, the original one does iAnnotate just fine.

We returned home, and my father took his new iPad out to his office to play.  I sat down to dutifully resume my transcription.  Lost in my interviews, I jumped when my father came up behind me and put a package in my lap.  It was the newly purchased iPad.  "But this is your iPad!" I exclaimed, confused.  "Surprise!" chorused my husband and mother who had also snuck in while I was lost in transcription.   Apparently they were all in on the plan, which is even more delightful than getting the actual iPad.  

So now I have a shiny new research toy.  My transcription will no doubt suffer, but when doesn't it? On the other hand, reading research papers will seem downright fun!



*A city about an hour away where most people from my area go to shop.  If you are from anywhere else in the state, it is considered a scenic retreat.  We have better scenery, so consider it a place to shop.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Khawatir

  • I love the feeling after a hard dance practice.  My whole body feels alive, and has no room for stress, which is most definitely not it's normal state.  If only this would last longer.  
  • There are sad, sad things going on in baladelba7th today.  They are all results of deep-seated problems that the glory of the revolution is no longer able to gloss over.  Nevertheless, it is very depressing.  
  • Transcription stinks.  However, it's even worse when you are transcribing an interview that contains both a mumbling interviewee and a techno concert in the background.  
  • On the other hand, pretending that you are crushing inept bureaucracies beneath your keys the faster you type makes it go faster.  
  • My favorite type of choreography music for my folk dancing is now on itunes! If only I had some income :-( I mean, yes, I do have more than $9.99 in my checking account, but I am one of those people who gets very nervous spending money with no income.   

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moving On

Although the various inept bureaucracies that run my fellowship keep passing the buck to each other, it looks as though it will be suspended for at least another month, for a total of two lost months of funding.  Contrary to popular belief, graduate students do not in fact stop existing (or eating, or feeding their cats, or paying rent on their baladelba7th apartments) when their funding is suddenly cut off, so this is rather stressful.  At this point, my research is shot as well, so the only reasons I have to go back to baladelba7th are personal.  These are pretty important to me, but it's an expensive ticket (1000 curses on the inept bureaucracies that manipulated me into leaving, and myself for believing they told the truth).    

So, today I finally admitted that I will never get my research back, and that it's unlikely I'll get any of my remaining four months of funding either.  I started looking at apartments near my university, a place I concocted this entire two-year fieldwork plan to avoid.  Sigh.  I'm not sure I can even afford to move there, but I simply refuse to let my life be dictated by inept bureaucracies bent on ruining my life.  While I desperately want to be in baladelba7th, I do have other interests, namely my folk dancing.  My achilles seems to be on the mend, so I can full on throw myself into practicing, and perhaps even return to competing.  There's probably nothing like frustration to give me the furious bursts of energy necessary to do this type of dance.  

So I guess what I'm saying is prepare to hear more about dancing, less about research (minus the inevitable transcription that unfortunately can be done anywhere).  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Big City Library

As I think I've mentioned before, when I was younger I was a voracious book-a-day reader.  On holidays and forced evacuation, this is actually still the case.  As you might imagine, these habits are difficult on a small town library system, and thus I would often beg my mother to take me to the larger library that formed the heart of the system, even though it was farther away.  

At this larger library, I discovered the book Jade, by Sally Watson.  It had everything I wanted in a book: languages, cats, history and most importantly independent-minded spirited girls who went on adventures (as opposed to staying home, playing second fiddle to the boys, or simply not existing).  Examining the back pages once I had finished this amazing book, I discovered that Sally Watson had written eleven more books.  When I returned Jade, I searched eagerly for the rest.  Not finding them, I searched the library system.  Not there.  

This led to my first interlibrary loan.  Summoning up the courage to ask the scary librarian who scolded me for checking out too many books for help, I asked if there was any way to get these books.  She told me about interlibrary loan, and we found a big city library that had them all, although I could only order three at a time.  I continued to use interlibrary loan on a biweekly basis, reading and re-reading all of the books except one that was reported stolen from the big city library.  

Twenty years later, zooming in on Google maps to figure out parking for my achilles appointment, I noticed that Big City Library was mere blocks away.  I could visit the books I'd borrowed for so many years on the shelves, just waiting for some other young girl to discover them!

So after my appointment, I headed towards Big City Library.  Entering it, I was already entranced, as it looks more like a museum than a library, with different wings for each category of books.  I typed in Sally Watson in the catalog, found my favorite book, The Hornet's Nest, listed in the children's section, and headed towards the W's.  It wasn't there.  Confused, I looked around for the librarian.  There was no one in behind the desk, so I waited.  Eventually one came out of a back room.  

Me: I'm looking for the books by Sally Watson, I used to order them from this library as a child because my system didn't have them
Librarian: Sally Watson? (Peers into his computer).  We have four.  
Me: Just four? You used to have twelve.  
Librarian: Are you sure these are the ones? From the fifties and sixties?
Me: Yes, that's it
Librarian: Well, I'll go pull them from storage.
Me: They're in storage? Not on the shelves?

My Big City Library dream was crushed.  No one would browse for these books, discovering the wonderful stories inside, and no amount of pretty library architecture could make up for this.  I glanced at the books when he brought them out, remembering how much I had enjoyed them, but unable to check them out because I don't have a Big City Library card.  Then I headed home, trying to figure out if I made a donation of the reprinted versions of these books to the local library, would they be placed on the shelves? Or put in storage as well? Does anyone even go to the library anymore as a biweekly after school treat?


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Win-lose

My fellowship still will not let me return to baladelba7th, although plenty of other programs have returned. Nor will they give us any money to use outside of baladelba7th, even though it's been a month since we went on hiatus.  In the meantime, my research is ruined, which I guess means I'm now at the writing stage of my dissertation.  Although I kind of need my university's library for that and I can't afford to move there.

The specialist had nothing to say about my achilles other than that it is damaged, which I already knew.  All of the treatments he suggested I'd already found on the internet.  He watched with horror as I demonstrated the type of folk dancing I do, and confirmed that yes, that would indeed lead to achilles injuries.  He said my choice is to stop folk dancing or have surgery in my sixties.  I'll take the surgery in my sixties, as by then I won't be able to folk dance anyway.  So I can dance, but there's nothing I can do to make my achilles feel better that I'm not already doing.

I find myself wishing for my college kick-boxing class.  A combination of punching and bouncing, it was a fantastic way to get out my frustrations, which at that point in life were mostly with the boys I liked who ignored me and the boys I didn't like that I hooked up with.  Now, despite the fact that the bouncing wouldn't be good for my achilles, and I'm a pacifist, it sure would be nice to imagine certain fellowship authorities on the receiving end of my punches and kicks!